As ANTA and others prove, there’s no endgame in sight for tartan.
Tartan sets the tone of the catwalks each autumn season. It’s like a leaf waiting to turn into a blaze of colour. Vivienne Westwood, the original alchemist who turned prim to punk, and imbued this cloth with a sense of rebellion, continues to declare her love for tartan. This infatuation is recurrent rather than revolutionary and this enduring textile enjoys regular revivals and never really goes away.
Tartan demonstrates the cyclical nature of trends, drawing on the classics and reinventing them for a modern age or new context. Tartan is a timeless Scottish cloth with inexhaustible potential. It has now found a home as flooring and it’s invigorating to see how fresh it looks. Wendy Dagworthy, the esteemed former professor at the Royal College of Art reminds us that tartan needs to be worn in a modern way and, she says, works best “if mixed with other things like a flower or stripe; tartan works.” It’s an approach found in interiors too. Alternative Flooring follows her edict and mixes its wool tartan Fling and Dotty runners.
ANTA, the highland-based company, creates tartans based on traditional setts for both fashion and interiors. It has also made traditional flat woven wool carpet and rugs for thirty years. A tartan makes a striking stair carpet and a tartan carpet injects a sense of drama into a room.
Owner Annie Stewart’s designs sometimes employ wild colour combinations, yet retain a natural Scottish twist of sobriety. “Colour balanced by proportion is my objective as a designer. Similar to gardening and influenced by nature, the desire to create order or mimic nature in some small way preoccupies me.” In a country full of contrast the Highland landscape is breathtakingly beautiful and shockingly harsh. Here it rains and rains a lot. It is the rain that makes the difference to the living landscape, the vegetation, the rivers and lochs. The light alters with the fast changing weather, and in the north lingers almost all night in summer. The colour of the Scottish landscape changes hourly as well as seasonally.
Tartan is a most abiding and adaptable of cloths. As with all good design Annie says: “there is practical purpose to the application of twill weave to carpets and this is because it makes it more hardwearing.” For carpet cloth ANTA stick to a twill weave, sometimes introducing a herring-bone and the three-ply yarn twisted together to make it as durable as possible.
Lovat green, typically used as camouflage, is a mixture yarn, made up of bright turquoise blue, strong yellow, black and white. The blue and yellow fibres mixed together create the green, the black and white fibres are present to play the light – the black absorbs it and the white reflects it. This gives the tweed its lively quality. Introduce a twill weave, a diagonal rib from bottom right to top left which can be suddenly reversed by introducing a change in direction to form a herringbone, and the colour is far from flat.”
“Originally carpet was woven in this way as a flat weave, using a great deal of raw material, almost 2 kilos per metre. As there is little more than a kilo of useable wool taken from a mature sheep each year it is certainly extravagant. Later in the 18th century the technique of weaving wool as a loop into jute backing, sometimes known as Brussels weave, was developed to make a thicker carpet using less raw material. Soon the pile was trimmed and cut pile carpet was developed; as it was found that wool cross cut and presented on its end was still harder wearing.”
At Tulach Ard in Balmacara, the stairs and landings are covered with ANTA Ballone tartan carpet to maximise the dramatic effect of the semi-spiral staircase. Pure wool, as well as its thermal insulating qualities, also protects against sound and Annie says, “it is for this reason a soundproof cell is lined with wool, and good reason to put it on stairs and passages too.”
Tartan is famous for its balance and colour harmony. It can take a lot of colour but in an ordered way and this makes it an easy pattern to use on floors. If you used the same number of shades in a print it would look riotous but with a tartan it’s much more rigid. It can also have a quieter, timeless spirit reflected in a relatively muted colour palette inspired by the surrounding landscape.
“Lovat green, charcoal grey, and yellow, natural colours all found in the garden and beyond, line the walls of the bedrooms as upholstery tweed, the floors are carpeted wall to wall with ANTA pure wool tweed carpet cloth. The house, now no longer damp, cold and draughty, though generous in scale feels cosy. Close to the Isle of Skye, a long way from any disturbance by man, it’s hard to detect a storm when curled up in bed at night.’
For interior designer Katharine Pooley, tartan has a sense of heritage, classicism and longevity as well as being practical and providing warmth. “I selected a variety of tartans for use throughout my home, a 16th century fortified tower in the Scottish Highlands, to celebrate the extraordinary history of the property and its magical location. The tartan for the chairs was woven with wool using traditional techniques and the blue and green palette was chosen to complement the historic building as well as the natural landscape that surrounds the castle. I chose to use a number of traditional tartans sourced in the local area to provide warmth in the cold Scottish winters, as rugs on the flagstone floors and as throws on the beds.”
It may not be to everyone’s taste but enthusiasm for tartan endures. “Tartan is wonderfully unisex, as well as cosy and stylish,” says decorator Nina Campbell. “It really is a great British classic, up there with paisley and chintz.” Elizabeth Machin
Article originally featured in Selvedge Issue 68
Find out more about about ANTA here: www.anta.co.uk