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  • Emma Baker

Weaving a family tartan shawl as a special gift

Updated: Apr 2

Introduction - Finding out about the Scottish Register of Tartans

I recently became aware of the 'The Scottish Register of Tartans'. The Scottish Register of Tartans was established by an act of the Scottish Parliament in November 2008 when members of the Scottish Parliament voted to establish a single, independent Scottish register of tartans which promotes and preserves information about historic and contemporary tartans from Scotland and throughout the world. The register was launched on 5 February 2009. The register is an amazing resource with detailed weaving information on how to weave each of the registered tartans (of which there are many). The website also has a resource which allows a weaver to design their own tartan and compare it to the other registered tartans. Whilst perusing the website I came across the Robertson tartan. In need of a special gift for a friend with that surname I decided that I would weave her a shawl in the family Tartan. This blog details the process of creating the merino lambswool tartan shawl.

Obtaining the weaving information for the Robertson tartan

Robertson tartan shawl image

A quick search of the register showed this image of the Robertson tartan. Once registered on the site I was able to request an emailed specification of the threading information for the tartan. I weave mostly in 2/17nm merino lambswool and was fortunate to discover that I had a cone of yarn in each of the three colours required to weave the tartan.

Designing the shawl

The repeating pattern of the tartan was 328 threads and as the yarn needed to be woven on a sett of 15ends per inch I decided that one repeat would create a weave which would be approximately 22 inches in the reed. After shrinkage it was decided that this width would create a lovely generous shawl.

Setting up the loom

The first step is measuring the warp using a warping mill (not shown). I decided that I would have a warp length of around 7m. The plan was for the shawl to be around 2.5m long but I decided to weave a longer length than required giving me sufficient for errors and some further fabric for other projects. The warp was put on the loom using the raddle at the top of the floor loom to spread the warp threads. Tartans are woven in a 2/2 twill. This weave can be woven on 4 shafts but I decided to use all 8 of my shafts and threaded the heddles in a straight 8 design.  

Threading the reed, securing the warp threads and then weaving

Next step was threading the reed. I have a 10epi reed so two threads were threaded in one slot followed by one thread in the next slot with this threading repeated across the reed. The warp threads were then secured onto the front warp beam and weaving then started.

Weaving error!

threading error circled on a woven tartan weave
Weaving error - 8 not 6 blue threads!

After weaving around 30cm I noticed an error. In one area there were 8 blue warp threads rather than 6. It is unlikely that this very subtle error might have been spotted by anyone else. However, having decided to weave a family tartan as a gift it just didn't seem an option to weave 'almost' the family tartan! The first 30cm were cut from the loom. 80 warp threads we rethreaded and the warp threads again tied onto the front warp beam before the weaving again commenced.

Weaving underway again with the odd broken warp thread

A pin securing a new warp thread on the weave of a floor loom
A broken warp thread secured with a pin

Weaving started again with the odd broken warp thread. It is not uncommon for warp threads to break. Where this happens a new thread is knotted onto the existing warp thread with the new thread secured around a pin. Before washing this knot is then removed and the warp threads woven in correctly with a needle.

After many hours of weaving, the fabric was removed from the loom before being washed and fulled. The fulling process is a really important part of the finishing process. The fine merino yarn is fragile and comes with a coating of spinning oil. This oil stabilises the yarn to help minimise the snapping of the warp threads. Upon washing the spinning oils are removed and the fibres, soften and felt together with a degree of shrinkage.

The final touches

A Robertson tartan shawl of length 2.4m was created. The signature woven label was sewn into the shawl and it was then wrapped up along with the details of the tartan design from the Scottish Register of Tartans.

So, what did I think about this project?

I enjoyed weaving this fabric. I have previously designed and woven a few metres of tartan fabric and I didn't find it that enjoyable. I enjoyed weaving this fabric for a number of reasons.

  • I was weaving with yarn colours I would never have chosen so that was interesting. At the outset I perhaps would have admitted to not liking the colours but standing back I can now see that together they have woven a really impactful fabric. I particularly like the teal coloured area created where the blue and green yarns have been woven as warp and weft.

  • It was 'relatively' quick to weave compared to previous tartans I have woven. As there were large blocks of colours the shuttles didn't need to be changed that frequently speeding up the weaving process.

  • Only three yarns were used and as I have 3 shuttles I didn't need to keep changing bobbins in the shuttles.

So in summary, I don't think I am quite finished weaving tartans. I might event use the resource on the Scottish Register of Tartans website to design my own tartan.

The shawl has now been gifted but I had sufficient fabric for a further two shorter shawls which are now for sale in my website for UK delivery and my Etsy shop for delivery elsewhere.

If you are interested in knowing what is on the loom, off the loom and workshop dates then do sign up to receive my weaving news emails by clicking here.


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