Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Developing a Fabric - the story of our tartan silk (Including guest post by DH)

I'm starting this post in August 2015 but don't expect to post in its entirety until 2016. I'll be saving it for my own benefit and it's easier to put in my steps as I go along.

My husband is a McClure. The McClures were largely based in the south west of Scotland. The clan was a precept of the McLeod clan - this effectively means that the smaller clan got protection from the larger in return for support in battle etc. Or so we believe. The small clan is a separate clan,  with its own tartan.

Over the years,  however,  while the patterns for the McClure tartan still existed, DH was not aware of that as he had not found any information about them and it was impossible to buy the tartan - or at least he could not find a source and could not find a anyone who was aware of the existence of the tartan. While DH was young, he could only find links to McLeod tartans when searching on his name in available tartan reference books. There was McLeod of Harris and McLeod of Lewis,  dress,  hunting,  ancient and modern tartans. He clearly would have preferred a McClure tartan but had been led to believe that such didn't exist by other local McClures. A teacher at school with the McClure name wore a kilt made from McLeod tartan and said that was the one that was meant to be worn. DH didn't take this any further at that stage.

Fast forward a number of years.

My husband had never had a kilt. One reason was the expense of the kilt outfit. The other was that he had no real desire or incentive to get a kilt. For years,  I had been trying to persuade him to get a kilt. I wasn't keen on him getting one in McLeod tartan as I didn't like it. We decided to look at various options as we were now firmly in the Internet age; visits to tartan shops with clan tartan reference books weren't successful.

We did a lot of online searching,  coming up short in most tartan websites. However, we eventually found mention of and a picture of his own clan tartan! There were two tartans with green and red/orange being the main colours with additional blue, white and black - the green is the dominant colour in the hunting tartan,   and the red/orange is dominant in the dress tartan.

We can't remember all the details - this was in 2003 - but our reference source led to us contacting Lochcarron mills. This mill was prepared to access the online pattern information we had found and use this to set up a special weave. This was very expensive, since apart from anything else,  there was a minimum weave amount. We had the option of different weights of tartan and chose the heavyweight, in double width. Later, the mill made up a kilt from the tartan. A traditional kilt takes nine yards of single width tartan - hence the saying 'the whole nine yards'. We have a fair bit if this heavyweight tartan left.

Zoom forward another few years.
Our youngest daughter requested a skirt for herself made from the tartan.

More time passed
Our youngest daughter asked a few more times.

Eventually, we got in touch with the mill again. It was still operating.  After discussion,  they were able to custom weave the same hunting tartan we'd had before in a medium weight tartan (light weight was also available) - subject to the minimum order of 30 metres. They still had the details on record.
I still haven't made that skirt....

Meantime, this same daughter got engaged. She requested integration of our tartan into the wedding (corsages etc) - and her fiance requested a waistcoat to be made with our tartan at the back. Officially we were still thinking of the wool tartan.

I thought it would be nice to have printed silk or cotton as I thought that medium weight wool would be very heavy for the back of a waistcoat. I was a bit concerned with ordering from US sources because of import duty which is hefty and also because of time delays in posting samples.

The first few sources I chased up were no use.

Then Kate of Fabrikated (Fit and Flare)  gave me a couple of leads. One didn't work out as they largely supply silk scarfs. They suggested another source.
The other source from Kate looked very promising and I sent off for silk and cotton samples and colour samples in these mediums.

The instructions and guidance from them is excellent. Currently,  however,  we are stuck as DH's Colormunki isn't working. This is needed to calibrate the colour on the computer monitor screen, so we can be sure that when we order what we see it's an think it should be. We have scanned direct from tartan,  copied the tartan and we also have the original printout from 2003, complete with weaving instructions and colours used,  unfortunately using a different system.

I like the look of the silk satin weave and like the look of the colours on it. I think this would make a great back to A's waistcoat (he'll be wearing morning suit by the way) and also sashes, corsages etc.

Hopefully, we will be able to move on to the next step soon.

That was started last year. I have since made the waistcoat (blogged here).
Helen and Anthony at the reception; waistcoat front
Waistcoat back showing tartan silk

Many have asked for further details about the fabric printing and I asked David to write up a 'guest' blog post for inclusion here. So here we go:

The McClure tartan by David McClure

My wife has already given a brief history of how the printed silk back for the waistcoat worn by my new son-in law, Anthony, was created. This is my account which in no way contradicts Anne’s version and really adds only a few asides, personal thoughts and minor technical details.

As Anne pointed out we both laboured under the impression that my ‘family’ tartan was that of the Clan McLeod. I had no real problem with this since one of my best friends at school was a firmly established member of this clan, being related to Dame Flora McLeod.
McLeod tartan. Image source: Lochcarron of Scotland –
However the tartan was a very vibrant pattern with a strong bright yellow component which Anne found not entirely to her taste. Initially we decided that we would not pursue any incorporation of this particular tartan into any garments which she constructed, but just to make sure that we were not missing any alternatives I carried out a fairly exhaustive search using what are now very familiar tools namely the internet and Google.
I found a link to what appeared to be a very authoritative site with well referenced sources which indicated that there might be an authentic McClure tartan. Eventually I traced images of a Dress and Hunting pattern for a tartan listed as the McClure tartan. Unfortunately this was several years ago, the initial search trail has long since gone cold and, as is the way with these things, become a bit blurred. In other words I cannot remember where I have filed the web addresses and images of the tartan found originally. However I did determine to try to obtain a real sample of the cloth and possibly even consider having a kilt made with the ‘Hunting’ version of the tartan.
First a small aside which might cast some light on my early assumptions that no tartan other than that of McLeod was available to me.
As with many Scottish clan names the meaning of the name can be traced to possible Scottish or Irish Gaelic origins and the clan ‘home territory’ can be linked to some part of Scotland. The McClure name is apparently found in greatest density in the south west of Scotland. This was the area which I considered home being a native of what was Ayrshire. In fact in my years at secondary school there were four McClures all of similar age. We were, in our own way, the strongest ‘mini clan’ in the year. There is however no clan chief or clan stronghold.
Apart from the group of four McClures in my year we had one other noteworthy McClure in the school, namely the PE teacher, affectionately known as ‘Stiffy’. Unfortunately this teacher had also come to believe that the McClure name was inextricably linked to the McLeod tartan and since we are referring to the period 1963 to 1969 during which time the internet and Google were not readily available, this was accepted as fact. I wonder if he still wears his McLeod tartan kilt?
However back to the present. Having established that I could claim a tartan as my own rather than one borrowed from someone else, I set about finding a supplier of the cloth. This was not too difficult since there are not too many tartan weavers left in Scotland. Unfortunately none of them had any stocks of the McClure tartan and in fact most of them did not even recognise the pattern. There was one well established firm who were able to locate the source of information which I had identified as an authentic record of the pattern and who would also weave the tartan to order, namely Lochcarron of Scotland. Not only would they weave the tartan but they were also kilt makers and could advise on the quality of cloth required, the amount and make the kilt.
The company sent a detailed print of the pattern with specifications of the colours of threads used; this print showed a full ‘cell’ of the tartan pattern which would, of course, be repeated in a regular fashion.
Source sheet for McClure ‘Hunting pattern’ tartan. From Lochcarron of Scotland.

Having placed the order I was contacted by the company and invited to inspect the weave on the loom. This, I thought, was more of a favour and a courtesy than any indication that I was going to be able to verify that they were producing the correct item. However, as I was to discover later, and have now come to understand, this was indeed a vital part of the process. I was delighted to be able to visit the mill and see the tartan in production and dutifully took along a bottle of single malt with which I toasted the birth of my tartan. In due course the bale of tartan was completed and the kilt produced.
Anne may already have reproduced this image in her blog but I include it here because it gives some substance to my possibly protracted tale:
Kilt in the McClure tartan modelled by me! Photo by Joanne McClure.
Apart from a request from Helen for a plaid skirt using the tartan, incorporating the tartan into garments associated with Helen’s wedding was seen as a particularly attractive possibility. Having a panel of the tartan as part of Anthony’s waistcoat was one way of achieving this and would allow for a very interesting ‘reveal’ at an appropriate point in the ceremony if the opportunity arose. The only flaw in this plan was the nature of the tartan, namely heavyweight wool cloth. Not exactly ideal for a June 4th wedding, even if the wearer of the garment was acclimatised to southern English temperatures and the wedding was to be in sunny Newcastle upon Tyne. The obvious solution was to have the tartan reproduced in a lighter weight material e.g. silk. After all printing on silk was a well established process and there would be no problem finding a company who could carry out this task
Well not exactly. Although in a global community, where the need is for industrial quantities of product and the timescale is measured in months or years, this is probably a relatively easy undertaking, a small piece, sourced locally as a one off, did not prove so easy. Eventually we heard of Lacuna Press and read several very encouraging reports of the experience of others who had used their services. Initial contact, by email, directed us toward their web site and their extensive, detailed and very informative help files. These files guided us through the process of creating an image file of the pattern to be printed onto the fabric. In addition a range of different fabrics can be used and a test sample is offered as a 1 meter wide 10cm section. The cost of this test print is then offset against the cost of any final order.
The important stages of producing the image for printing are the colour matching and sizing of the image. Here the help files are vital and although working through these for the first time was a bit daunting, they are presented in a clear and logical manner. I used a combination of Adobe Photoshop to produce the image file and a ColorMunki calibration device to ensure that my monitor was correctly adjusted.
Here I will further lengthen my tale by including another aside. Lacuna Press stress the importance of ensuring that the monitor or screen on the computer used to view the image as it is being prepared, is correctly adjusted to show the true colours of the image. This can be achieved ‘manually’ using various methods including a set of detailed instructions in Photoshop. However by far the easiest method is to use one of the commercially available devices specifically designed to perform this function. Since I am interested in photography to the point where I have almost as much photographic kit as Anne has sewing associated items, I had, and was in the habit of using, a ColorMunki. This is a calibration device which synchronises the colour settings for monitors, printers and scanners. Unfortunately I appeared to have electrocuted my munki. I plugged it in via its USB ‘tail’ in order to calibrate the monitors of the computer I was about to use and it promptly ceased to be a ColorMunki. It was now a DeadMunki. There then swiftly followed a short period of my expressing my thoughts on all munkis and a slightly longer period during which I tried the manual calibration methods before admitting defeat and buying a new munki. I also rebuilt the USB stage of my computer just in case a fault in that area had caused the munki’s demise. The monitors were then calibrated and the task of having the tartan printed on silk recommenced.
Producing the image file was possibly the most tedious part of the whole process. I had my bale of tartan cloth which I could use for the image. A simple photo of the cloth would have been sufficient. However I wanted to have the finished item look as good as possible so I started off with a photocopy of the reference cell of the tartan provided by Lochcarron. I then selected the representative cell and proceeded to copy and merge this to create an image which would print to produce a 1 meter wide pattern. There were two main difficulties in this process. One was achieving alignment and register of the pattern and the second was the rapidly increasing size of the file as the process progressed. Fortunately Adobe Photoshop is extremely comprehensive in its provision of tools to achieve virtually any image manipulation task which can be imagined. In addition many of the tasks are possible using Photoshop’s automated features. Thus the alignment was helped immensely by the photomerge function and the file size, though increasing rapidly with each duplication and merge of the image, was no real obstacle.

In this image the representative cell has been copied and merged to produce a single strip of the required width which will be copied lengthwise to create the 1 x 1 meter print.
We decided that the full size cell of the real tartan was too large for the waistcoat and opted for a reduction to approximately one half of the original size. Lacuna Press allow some choice in the resolution of the final print and I chose the maximum 300 dpi quality meaning that for a 1 meter by 1 meter print my final image needed to be 11,811 by 11,811pixels.
This is the image which was used to produce the tartan sample on silk. Initially the file was massive but saving it at 300 dpi in Photoshop reduced it to manageable proportions.
This is a very truncated version of the process since any attempt by me to provide detailed instruction would probably be completely incomprehensible and could not possibly be better than the excellent help files available through the Lacuna Press website. However as a final comment on this stage of the process I think it is worth adding that the colours of the final print were adjusted to be muted by comparison with the original since this blended much better with the fabric of Anthony’s waistcoat.
I can now put a little twist in the tail of this tale. As I mentioned earlier my daughter Helen expressed a wish to have a plaid skirt made in the family tartan. However the fabric produced for my kilt is the heavyweight version and while it would be possible to use it for a plaid skirt, it would be better to have a lighter weight fabric. I therefore contacted Lochcarron again with a view to having a length of the tartan produced in a medium weight version. This is when I discovered that my participation in the creation of the original fabric was not simply that of a customer placing an order. Before I was able to order more of the tartan from Lochcarron, I had to establish that I had the right to use the pattern. It seems that in placing the original order I was now part of the ownership formality for that tartan. The tartan was regarded as a private tartan by the mill with only a few able to have it made for them. Not only was it my family tartan it was MY family tartan. I’m still not sure of the implications of this but I am strangely very pleased at the thought of this exclusivity. The bale of medium weight tartan now rests securely with the rest of Anne’s fabric stash where it is supremely safe since no one in his or her right mind would try to penetrate that gargantuan collection.
Finally an image of Anthony modelling the waistcoat.
Incidentally the malt used to christen the tartan was a 15 year old Dalwhinnie.


  1. Well, the yellow tartan is certainly cheerful, but the McClure (exclusive) is much more wearable. What a lot of work and effort to go to get to the bottom of the tartan mystery. And such a nice colours for the wedding as well.

  2. What an interesting story and it has worked out very well. I love the idea that you "own" it now. I hope you make the skirts as a wedding waist coat and a man's kilt (while very splendid) are not perhaps everyday outfits and if I had a tartan I would want to wear it out and about, frequently. Also thank you for the mention. I am glad I was of some help.

    1. Thank you, Kate, and thank you for the recommendation. I *will* make that skirt for Helen!!

  3. Thank you for such a detailed and fascinating story. Having visited the Lochcarron mill, I agree that the quality of goods they produce are top notch. I was able to examine a few of their kilts and the workmanship is impressive. I hope you find uses for the remainder of your yardage. Several years ago my DIL had a particular design and colorway in mind for the nursery. No fabric existed so I designed a pattern and had Spoonflower here in the US print it on organic cotton knit for crib sheets. I sympathize with David's task of creating the digital file for printing. I found the learning curve for this steep. The printing company you used does ship internationally and I will definitely keep it in mind for future projects as they will print on silk yardage.
    Wonderful idea to scale the size of the tartan as it looks perfectly proportioned for the vest. Hopefully he will wear it again maybe pairing it with Helen in her family tartan skirt.

    1. Thank you, Mary. You may be aware that the majority of voters in the UK have just voted to leave the EU - the pound has crashed in value against the US dollar so maybe now is the time for you to purchase from the UK?
      Anthony is wearing the waistcoat next week at a wedding and has a few other outings planned.
      The silk is nice; there were a few choices including crepe de chine. There were also a number of cotton choices. I'm not sure what else as I enquired only about those two.
      I'm sure designing your own fabric and having it printed makes it very special. Sounds great.
      I'm less sure how to make the skirt Helen wants as I had problems with my test tartan version (blogged around Christmas). So that's a dressmaking issue! I must make it for this autumn

  4. A wonderful read Anne - a great example of dogged searching and not giving up after years and years. I do like the colours in 'your' tartan very is most wearable and streets ahead of the 'yellow/mustardy' one.
    Should yourself and DH contact the head of the McClure Clan to advise them of your findings - of course folk could purchase the tartan and you could be in line for royalties LOL !!!!

    I hope you are now somewhat rested after all the jollifications at the wedding. Hope your Mother is settled too.

    We are heading 'over the water' on 18th July but not even past your part of the world this time. Our son has sold his first home and now we are 'homeless' and realise now the value of the holiday home we had for over 3 years while it was vacant.
    We are renting a cottage at Coldingham (not far away from him) as his present home is very small (now that he has money there is an extension in the offing). We also like to be independent and whilst we will see them very often we want to be able to do our own things as well. We are going to drive as far as Dumfries the first day and stay there overnight and then Moffat and Selkirk etc. We have timed this break to coincide with the Border Union Agricultural Show on 29th/30th July.
    I know the weather on the East Coast can be unpredictable but we will take whatever is thrown at us! Wellies in the boot etc. Cottage has all mod cons of course.
    Thanks again to both of you for a very newsy read.

    1. Thanks, Joyce. We're finding that it's taking longer than we thought to rest and return to normal after the wedding. Still no sewing -that's a long way off I think. My mother is reasonably settled but still requires extra visits to sort things out. Getting there. She'd hoped to move with us 'down south' but the UK EU referendum result has put that on hold because of the political and financial ramifications of the brexit vote.
      I hope you have a great holiday. I've never been to the agricultural show you mention though we are fairly often in the Borders. The weather is no problem. When I'm golfing they say -'there's no such thing as bad weather, simply the wrong clothes'
      Best wishes

  5. Very impressive and informative thanks for the great post. Silk Organza Fabric NYC

    1. Thank you! I still haven't made that skirt for my daughter!


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