One of the joys of this particular trip to Europe is that I could combine research for That Autumn in Edinburgh (the follow-on novel to That Summer in Cornwall ) with a search for some of my husband and my families’ more obscure tartan patterns. In our joint two clans, we have the Scottish names McCullough, McVicker, McAllister/Alexander, McGann, Hunter, Pattison, Harris, Brown, Gibbs, Forester, and Bell.
My husband Tony’s surname is “Cook,” and he always assumed it was of solid, English origin.
“Oh, indeed not,” his late father, Howard Cook, declared emphatically a number of years ago. “We were the MacCooks, but they lopped off the Mac to make us sound more American.”
I speedily went online and did a search for tartan names and found it–voila–as “Cook/MacCook.”
And then, long after we were married, we discovered that we both had the name “Bell” in our family lines. Turns out on this trip that that we learned there are a number of Bell regional tartans, but the most colorful one both Cook and Ware family members have been emailing me about has prompted them to ask if we all could coordinate and make a single, combined order for yardage? (I imagine there may be a number of sofas and upholstered arm chairs dotting California’s interior landscape soon…)
The answer was given me: yes we can make a special order, and so can many tartan-loving souls by contacting D.C. Dalgliesh, one of the last traditional mills remaining in operation that are willing to do custom orders for the lesser known patterns–and will do a “run” for fewer than 30 meters, when most mills won’t bother with a set-up for less than that amount of yardage–and prices vary widely from mill to mill.
The sad truth, we discovered as we made our ways through the stunning Tweed Valley where the textile trade once thrived, is that many of the mills that had manufactured tartans and other woolens for some two centuries have fallen to the onslaught of cheap, often inferior goods manufactured in the Far East. Other companies have, themselves, sold out to overseas manufacturers who apparently desire the cachet of a “Made in Scotland” label to further their global reach.
Just recently, E-Land of South Korea bought Lochcarron weavers and the sister-company, Peter Scott, a cashmere operation based in the Scottish Borders region. So far, everything made in these factories appears to be of the highest quality, though some of the goods are already being designed with the Japanese, Chinese, and Korean markets and sensibilities in mind.
Interestingly, some indigenous Scottish textile companies that are managing to survive and even thrive, such as Johnstons of Elgin (and Hawick, south of Edinburgh and having last week earned the Royal Warrant), tend to be the ones catering to the high-end, luxury market that demands top quality merchandise–and can recognize it when they see it. With price usually no object, these buyers want items made in Scotland by the Scottish! One other very noteworthy development is a company called ScotWeb that offers many varieties of Scottish goods for online purchase.
Behind a modest wood stairway in Edinburgh leading up to a large warehouse, Dr. Nick Fiddes is sourcing genuine Scottish goods to customers based all over the globe. He is also a tech wizard offering his expertise to a quasi governmental agency, the Scottish Register of Tartans, to create a giant database of known tartans (and the “recipes” to make them on existing looms) to help the diaspora of Scots living in the far corners of the globe to track down their family tartans or buy goods with obvious Scottish origins. This was the same database where I found the unusual version of the Bell tartan.
Scotweb recently purchased the old-school weaving company, DC Dalgliesh, that owns perhaps the largest library of tartan patterns in the world and will also help a customer design a brand new tartan for a family or business entity desiring one of their very own.
A big push, thanks–rather ironically, it seems to me–to Bronx-born garment and home furnishing designer Ralph Lauren is the use of tartans in American home furnishings. On this trip I discovered that the RL label even plays big in the stately homes and manors here in Scotland.
But more on that fascinating story in a future blog post…
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