Old fashion trends have a tendency to come back in style, and now a team of researchers and designers is taking this idea to a new level: They’ve created a wearable fabric that mimics the oldest surviving example of Scottish tartan, which could date back as many as 500 years.
The Glen Affric tartan was discovered in a peat bog in the Scottish Highlands in the 1980s. After conducting radiocarbon testing on the fabric, researchers with the nonprofit Scottish Tartans Authority determined it dates to between 1500 and 1600. That means it was made during the rule of the Stuart monarchs, including Mary, Queen of Scots and her father, James V.
Tartan is a type of cloth that features vertical and horizontal stripes in various colors, similar to plaid. In Scotland, different clans eventually became associated with their own unique patterns—and the Scottish government even maintains an official register of tartans. Early tartans got their vibrant hues from natural dyes that came from trees, plants, roots, berries and other materials.
To determine what the Glen Affric tartan would have looked like before it was discolored by the peat, researchers conducted a careful study of the dyes. After analyzing eight samples from the artifact, they found traces of green, red, yellow and brown.
Armed with this information, designers at House of Edgar, a manufacturer and distributor of tartan fabrics, recreated the 16th-century pattern—with a few minor tweaks. While they were careful to “maintain the pattern and colors,” they also “[refined] the shades to something that would have existed at the time but which also work today,” says Peter MacDonald, head of research and collections at the Scottish Tartans Authority, to CNN’s Amy Woodyatt.
The recreated fabric is now part of House of Edgar’s “Seventeen Eighty Three Collection,” a nod to the year House of Edgar was founded. Buyers can then have the fabric made into a kilt or accessory.
“I create new tartans every day, but this project is truly special—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to recreate a piece of history,” says Emma Wilkinson, a designer at House of Edgar, to the PA News Agency. “Tartan is such an iconic piece of Scotland’s identity, and it has been a true pleasure to see this fabric come back to life to be enjoyed for generations to come.”
The Glen Affric tartan was part of the recent “Tartan” exhibition at V&A Dundee, along with more than 300 other items. The exhibition, which ended earlier this month, was a success—and the Glen Affric tartan, in particular, was a “major draw” for museum-goers, says James Wylie, assistant curator at V&A Dundee, to the PA News Agency.
He adds: “I am excited its legacy can now live on through the studious efforts of the Scottish Tartans Authority and House of Edgar in reinterpreting its design, for the enjoyment and interest of all who cherish tartan’s historic allure.”