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Clan Donald Tartans

Tarsuinn Breacan Domhnuillach

The following is a history of tartans since 1782.  For evidence of tartans existing long before the 17th century click on the antiquity of tartans.

Two Gaelic words used for tartans are tarsuinn meaning cross or checkered pattern and breacan which is the same word used to describe a hill with patches of heather or an individual with freckles (i.e. multi colored).  One source for tartans claims that the word tartan refers to the way the thread was woven to make the cloth with each thread passing over two threads then under two threads, and so on. This weave gives a distinctive pattern that includes the twill tartan weave (short diagonal stripes that make up a straight line) and the blending of colors as they cross.  However master weaver & tartan design consultant Peter MacDonald points out there are a few  tartans that lack these traits. You can actually see the twill in the samples below.

Terminology Used to Describe Tartans

Different tartans are distinguished by their "sett".  A sett is the single crossed pattern that when repeated makes up the tartan. Setts can be as simple as one stripe crossing one background color or as complicated as several colors and several different stripe widths. MacDonald of Donald is one of the more complicated tartans.  Most tartans are a mirror image half sett (meaning one half is a reflection of the other).  Some MacDonald tartans (such as the dress tartan) are not mirror image half setts.  This is an important characteristic to determine before making a kilt from any tartan.  Another characteristic to consider is the size of the sett.  It can totally change the look of the tartan. One oft quoted source suggested that the more ancient tartans were less complicated.  Another "Internet legend" is that anciently the number of colors of a tartan was determined by the wearer's social status.  Sixteenth & seventeenth century paintings of several clan chief's tartans are less complicated patterns which casts doubt on the "number of colors" theory. The older paintings of Clan Donald chiefs have them wearing a tartan more like the Keppoch, Sleat, or Red MacDonald of the Isles tartan shown below.

1819 Key Patern Book

Varieties of Tartans

Some tartans are available in a variety of colors or shades such as MacDonald of Donald which is the most recognized Clan Donald tartan.  It is available in modern colors, ancient colors, and muted colors, but they are all the same tartan weave.  The dress MacDonald tartan actually has a different weave because it introduces the broad, white stripe.  Narrow white stripes make the Clanranald and Glengarry tartans distinct from MacDonald of Donald.  There are at least 27 different tartans associated with Clan Donald.  When you pass the courser over the tartan "swatches" below you will see the official name of the tartan and the date that pattern was first recorded.

FREE Tartan background for Your Computer

The following 22 "swatches" of MacDonald tartans are like a sett. If you right mouse click on the tartan and save it as wallpaper (as a "tile" setting) you can display your Clan Donald branch tartan proudly as the background on your computer screen.

Macdonald of Donald modern colors registered 1810MacDonald dress colors registered 1815










Clanranald registered 1816MacDonell of Keppoch registered 1815










MacDonell of Keppoch artifact 1750MacDonnell of Glengarry registered 1819










MacIain of Glencoe artifact 17th centuryMacdonald (MacIain or MacKean) of Ardnamurchan registered 2003










Macdonald of Sleat registered 1908Macdonald of Loch Mhaddy 2003










Red MacDonald of the Isles artifact 1750Lord of the Isles VS registered 1842










MacDonald of Kingsburgh artifact 1746Macdonald of Prince Edward Island artifact 1772










Macdonald of Glenaladale registered 1745Macdonald of Boisdale registered 1810










Macdonald of Staffa registered 1810Flora Macdonald registered 1819










Macdonald Lord of the Isles Armadale 1893Macdonald ancient colors 20th century











MacDonald muted colors 21st centuryMacDonald of the Isles hunting 2003



1 The Antiquity of Tartan Attire 12706
2 Macdonald Tartan Attire in Art 4753