Sunday, 2 August 2015

The Durham Tartan and another tartan mystery

I mentioned the Durham tartan in my last blog so I thought that I would give you more details about this lovely fabric. But first of all I must tell you the story of how I found it.

My friend Richard sent me a picture of a set of Northumbrian small pipes.  These pipes had been made in 1800 by R Reid in North Shields which is just north of Durham.  They had been in a museum in London but unfortunately they were stolen and all that is left are two black and white photographs of the pipes.

The description of the pipes shows that it must have been a special commission because of the materials used.

The stolen pipes

This is a luxurious object.  The chanter and drones are made of ivory and there are 7 silver keys.  The ends of the drones are carved in a lovely thistle pattern.  The bellows are silver mounted. The two photographs were taken using different processes so the black and white images are slightly different.

The stolen pipes picture two.

The picture is not very clear. The description of the bag says that it is an old velvet tartan.  I scoured the books about tartans but could not find anything resembling this pattern.  Tartan velvet was and is a luxury fabric and although the photograph is in black and white it is possible to make out the plaid pattern. The warp and weft are different but it has a very distinctive set of white or light coloured stripes which may make it possible to identify a particular tartan or plaid pattern.

I tried to make a drawdown from the black and white photographs of the pipes.  This is not an accurate tartan pattern but gives some indication of the distinctive white stripes. This may help in identifying a possible pattern. Of course, there is no indication of the actual colour of the velvet tartan bag. The white stripes are the only feature which could assist in any identification. The warp and weft colour order is different, which is also unusual.

My attempt at a drawdown from the black and white photographs.

These pipes were a luxury item made as they are from ivory, silver and tartan velvet.  It would seem probably that they were made for a specific client but who and exactly when we do not know.  If the tartan could be identified this may give another clue as to the reason these pipes were made.

If anyone has any idea what the tartan might be, do get in touch.

If we could identify the tartan, it might give some clues as to where the pipes were used.  Velvet is a luxury material so the velvet tartan might have been a special commission. It is probably made of silk. Nowadays, velvet tartans are used for the waistcoat to match a kilt.

The Durham Tartan.

What I did find in my search for the old tartan pattern, was the Durham tartan.  There is no reason why Durham should have a tartan. The Durham district tartan first appears in the record books of Wilsons of Bannockburn in 1819.  It is an early tartan.

Why it is called the Durham tartan is a mystery.  It may have been named after a person not the county of Durham or Durham city.

Here is the pattern.

The Durham tartan
It is in 2/2 twill.  The warp colour order is as follows.

Red                            4
Blue                     12      12
Black             12                   12
Green       12                               12
Black   4

It is a lovely pattern.

County Durham has not made much of use of this tartan, but I gave the pattern to Douglas in the Durham Guild and he has woven it many times.
Click here for a useful link which shows the range of District tartan patterns:

Susan J Foulkes August 2015


  1. I found this fascinating to read! The idea that you can use clues from the photo to identify and maybe replicate the old fabric is so intriguing! Good luck!

    1. If we find anything out about this tartan pattern, I will post it on my blog. I am pleased that you enjoyed the account of our search.
      happy weaving
      Susan J Foulkes


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