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Ancient, Modern, Muted, Weathered... What's the difference?

By USA Kilts August 7, 2013


When you look at the tartans available from the different mills in the UK, you often come across what appear to be more than one tartan for the same clan or more than one version of the same tartan.  Using the MacDonald Clan tartan as an example, you may see MacDonald Ancient, MacDonald Modern, MacDonald Muted, and MacDonald Weathered.  Does that mean there are 4 MacDonald Clan tartans?  What are the differences between them?

Strictly speaking, the MacDonald Clan tartan (as shown below) is defined by it's thread count.  By thread count, I'm referring to the sequence of colors and the # of threads of each color.  When that sequence is stacked up warp and weft (horizontally and vertically as you weave cloth), you have a tartan.  For the example of MacDonald, it's thread count is:

/Blue 18, Red 4, Blue 8, Red 10, Blue 25, Red 4, Black 25, Green 25, Red 8, Green 6, Red 4, /Green 18 

Below is a picture of the MacDonald tartan, showing that thread count  The image was taken from the Scottish Tartans Authority:






The terms Ancient / Modern / Muted / Weathered (aka Reproduction) are color palettes for a tartan. The thread count does not change, but the shades of the colors within the thread count does.  This does not make it a different tartan, as only the shades of the color have changed, not the thread count itself.  To use a parallel example, take a dark red Chevy Corvette and a bright  red Chevy Corvette and put them side by side.  So long as the year, make and options are the exact same, they are BOTH identical Corvettes with the same performance, just slightly different colored versions of the same thing.  

The same holds true for tartans.  Just because the color palette varies slightly doesn't make it a whole new tartan, just a slightly different color version of the same tartan.  Below are examples of how the color palettes change for each version:

Ancient - The Ancient color palette is meant to simulate older plant dyes, which would generally come out lighter in color.  In the tartan cloth, the following colors (as defined in the tartans' thread count) have the following shades:

Red turns to orange
Blue turns to a light sky blue
Green is a grassy green
Yellow is a pale yellow

Here's an example of the MacDonald Clan tartan in the ANCIENT color palette:

Modern - The Modern color palette is meant to emulate modern, bold colored dyes.  These are darker in color and more bold.

Red is a bold red
Blue is a navy blue
Green is a dark bottle gree(like a beer bottle)
Yellow is a bold yellow

Here's an example of the MacDonald Clan tartan in the MODERN color palette:

Muted - The muted color palette is meant to emulate soft, natural colors.  It falls between the lighter ancient color palette and the darker modern color palette.

Red turns to blood red
Blue is a stormy sky blue
Green is an olive green
Yellow turns to a gold

Here is an example of the MacDonald Clan tartan in the MUTED color palette:

Weathered (aka reproduction) - The Weathered color palette (also known as "Reproduction" by one mill) is meant to look like the tartan has been recovered from a bog and affected by the weather.  It uses lots of browns and grays to drive that look home.

Red turns to a "salmon" red 
Blue turns to bluish grey 
Green becomes brown
Yellow turns to pale gold
Here is an example of the MacDonald Clan tartan in the WEATHERED color palette:

If there's one thing to take away from this article, it's that a tartans thread count (how a tartan is 'defined') doesn't change going from Modern to Ancient to Muted... just the colors within the tartan itself turn different shades of the defined color.

What is your favorite color palette for your clan tartan?  CLICK HERE to view the stock tartans offered from all of the Scottish mills and see for yourself the differences between Ancient, Modern, Muted and Weathered for your own tartan.

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