The Sewist

I sew, knit and crochet hats. (Not all at the same time. Whaddaya think I am - a machine?)

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Tartan vs. Plaid

plaid (plad) n. a long, woolen garment, usually with a tartan pattern, worn as a wrap by Scottish Highlanders; a. marked with stripes.
tartan (tar'-tan) n. woolen cloth of colored plaids, each genuine Scottish clan possessing its own pattern; a. made of tartan.
I got both of those definitions from my coverless edition of the Webster's Dictionary. I thought it was important to define both words since people use them interchangeably. But they don't mean precisely the same thing. I even read in yesterday's edition of Life Magazine (after reading about how actress Maria Bello is down on marriage) that plaid comes from the Gaelic word for blanket. The fabric with erratic, crossing strips is more accurately called tartan, says Life. All this plaid talk got me looking at other dictionary definitions of that word. Did you know that buffalo plaid is a broad checkered plaid pattern usually of two colors? See the definition at Merriam-Webster's Online. I can only imagine a buffalo wearing plaid - this large, shaggy mammal covered head to toe in a fabric more obnoxious than a neon green stop sign. Send that creature down the catwalk to scatter the crowds and make fashion headlines! And a glen plaid? That's short for glenurquhart plaid, from Glen Urquhart, valley in Inverness-shire, Scotland; glen plaid is a twill pattern of broken checks. That's also from Merriam-Webster. Betcha you didn't know that shepherd's check (also known as shepherd's plaid) is a pattern of small even black-and-white checks? I didn't until I looked up the definition of plaid, again in Merriam's.
All this talk of criss-crossed stripes has me thinking of the vintage 1930s plaid. The really loud, W.C. Fields style version. Unusual colorways - the above yardage is a good example. You can find it here on eBay. I just love the tartans from the Depression-era. The way I look at it, people during that time were used to standing in lines for food (hence the stripes) but they lived their lives in Technicolor as a form of escapism (thus the Crayola colors). The two together? Pulsing plaid!
Anyhow, I've got my share of vintage plaid in my fabric stash. One has more stripes than a test-sheet from my printer. I cut it out to make a Ginger Rogers-style pencil skirt -- two years ago. Maybe I'll get around to sewing it in another 600 days. How about you? Do you have a favorite tartan? One from your childhood that brings back memories?

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