Clan Plaids & Plaid Cans

‘Clan Plaids & Plaid Cans’. Try saying that fast three times. I can barely get it out once. However, a pattern (literally) has been more prominent in and around my life of late. Plaids. Firstly, my ‘new’ 1958 farmgirl Glamping trailer has become my playhouse. She has a name now: EmmyLou (after my fave country songbird). Anyway, EmmyLou loves vintage plaid goodies and I’ve managed to collect some 50s plaid accessories for her. And, now that Christmas is nigh, plaids are back on the scene – wrap, ribbons, table clothes etc. Ever wonder why tartan plaids play a signifigant role in holiday decor? Me neither, but my curiosity woke up.

Choosing a model to show off a plaid kilt was easy. ‘Nooooo-body does it better’ than Sean Connery (to borrow a phrase from a Bond song) :o) Ok, maybe some of you young gals wonder about that, but if you’re of my generation, you totally get it. Not all things get better with age, but SOME things age amazingly well … and Sean is surely one of those things. Ok Shery, quit oogling and get back on topic!

PLAIDS … or more accurately, TARTANS. Such a rich and colorful history (pun intended). Tartans are woven patterns of cloth that signify a Scottish family’s specific clan. Colored yarns are woven with alternating stripes that cross each other at right angles. The lines create color blocks that repeat in vertical and horizontal patterns.

Tartan has its origin as far back as 100 B.C., when it was created by ancient Celtic folk. Although the print had been around for centuries, it didn’t take off as an icon until the late 17th century as the signature apparel of Scotland. Plaid became a sign of rebellion against the English so much so that authorities banned it after the Scottish rebellion of 1746. The Dress Act of 1746 attempted to bring the warrior clans under government control by banning the tartan and other aspects of Gaelic culture. It was not until the mid-nineteenth century that specific tartans became associated with Scottish clans or families. Below: John Campbell. *(Also, someone should’ve told John that large-scale patterned mini-kilts are not for the portly figure. Just sayin’. I’d look similar. Not going there. Tartan shawl, yes.)

To be spot-on accurate, we need to call plaids by their proper name: TARTAN. In Scotland, the word, ‘plaid’, simply means ‘blanket’. Americans mis-labeled tartan awhile back, but it stuck. It is believed that the word, tartan, originated in France and referred to the pattern of intersecting lines of color in woven fabric. Today tartan is mostly associated with Scotland, however, the earliest evidence of tartan is found far from the British Isles. According to the textile historian E. J. W. Barber, the Halldtatt culture of Central Europe, which is linked with ancient Celtic populations and flourished between 400 BC to 100 BC, produced tartan-like textiles. Elsewhere, tartan-like leggings were found on a 3, 000 year-old mummy in western China.

In the absence of an official register, several independent organizations located in Scotland, Canada and the US documented and recorded tartan. In the 1960s, a Scottish society called the Scottish Tartans Society was created to record and preserve all true tartan designs. The society’s register, contains about 2,700 different designs of tartan. Some commonly known tartans are: Blackwatch, Stewart, Campbell, Gordon, MacLeod … and my own link to Scottish ancestory, the Douglas family tartan (below).

Royal Stewart:


In the Victorian era, tartan-clad garments were featured in fashion catalogues. By then, tartan had shifted from being mainly used for men’s garments to become an important part of women’s fashion. As a consequence of its association with the British aristocracy and military, tartan developed an air of dignity. Because of this, tartan has made reappearances in the world of fashion many times. Tartan patterns decorate so many things in our everyday lives: dishes, home upholstery, holiday gift items, even 70s era ‘punk’ fashion. In the here & now, the ‘hipster’ generation also adopted tartan as part of their thrift-shop fashion statement.

If you’ve an interest in tartans because of Scottish roots, you might enjoy these websites. The first offers a vast selection of tartan blankets that feature familial/clan patterns.

The second site covers every aspect on the topic of tartans.

Moving right along … I just wanted to share OUR clan’s most recent gathering on Thanksgiving. My sister was the hostess. Her 70s A-frame ski chalet style home was bulging at the seams with family. We over-ate, of course. I was in charge of providing the relish tray and fresh salads. I made a cream-cheesy grape salad and a carrot salad. My sister’s beau, his mother and daughter joined us for the first time. It was a good day. My little sister deserves a purple plaid ribbon!

Now back to tartans. In answer to the question I posed at the top of the page – in regards to how tartan became established as a popular Christmas pattern standard – I don’t have an answer. Try as I might, I found no information on the subject. So, you get my opinion and it is only that. Christmas customs and traditions, as we know them in this country, are fairly new in the grand scheme of things. The Edwardian and Victorian eras are largely responsible for so many of the historic ‘things’ we hold dear … including Christmas ‘things’. In that opulent time frame, women’s fashion included tartans and the female contingent embraced it. THAT is where I think the broad use of tartans may have come into play. But, that’s just my 2 cents worth. America was still discovering who we ‘are’ and much of the cutting edge fashion did not originate here. It came from abroad. So, it stands to reason that we adopted tartan, like so many other foreign goodies. Also, many Americans have roots in the British Isles and we like to maintain ancestral ethnic ties. Americans of other ethnic flavors feel the same way. My roots are exclusively northern European: Germany, Scotland & Scandinavia.

So, how in the world did tartan patterns find their way onto 50s era camping gear? I don’t have an answer for that question either. Perhaps, the company owner chose his family tartan as a sort of trademark? At any rate, I’ve been having a heyday finding tartan goodies for EmmyLou and she’s now ready for her unveiling! She is shown in her winter garb. Summer will require flowery vintage linens for a change of face. Whuddya think? I figured on painting the ceiling and walls of whatever trailer I might eventually find — due to the need for it. But, this little beauty’s walls, ceiling and cabinets are made of maple and the inside of the camper glows like amber when the lights are on at night. No Way am I painting over that. Seeeee?

EmmyLou’s first social encounter will be our farmgirl flock’s Christmas get-together. Now that I have her pretty much squared away, I need to gear up for our farmgirl Christmas craft show and Christmas in the general sense.

The other day, Anita, Michele and I went on a tree hunting expedition. Anita’s grand daughters came along. Rather than get the usual Juniper that grows right here, we decided to drive to a higher elevation and get Fir trees. The weather couldn’t have been nicer. First, we stopped to buy permits. I cut a small tree for my parents and a larger one for us. Here are photos of the outing …

Then, there remained the task of bringing the tree inside. I like to place our Christmas tree in something other than a traditional stand. My great grandmother’s saltglaze crock is perfect. But, it is a three gallon size which means the fill-gravel moves too easily – the tree can lean. So, here is how I solve the problem. Maybe you can use it too. Put a smaller (1 gallon) container into the large one, fill the outside space with ‘pea’ gravel. Then, place the tree into the small crock and fill it with gravel. It is very secure.

And, Vwah-lah … here ‘tiz:

About the only ‘ranchy’ thing I’ve been doing lately is feeding our baby ‘replacement’ heifers. All that remains of our fallwork is to take some odds & ends cattle to the sale barn. My husband has started to feed hay to the cows, but not full-time. There is plenty of grass left over and thus far the snow we’ve received has melted. Normally, we begin to feed the cattle daily right around Christmas. I’m a kindred spirit with my geraniums this time of year, we like a sunny window. They live on my work-table now. I can’t bear to say goodbye and in return they bloom for me all winter. So, here is where I’m ‘planted’ when I make crafts.

Until next time, enjoy your holiday preparations. The commercialized human rat race can’t make you move any faster than you’re willing to go. Put on a Christmas CD and let ‘O Holy Night’ really sink into your soul. Nothing puts peace back into holiday busyness like revisiting an ancient stable. Take time for the little things … like deciding what to wrap your gifts in. Me? Plain brown paper, cheery tartan ribbon and a spray of fresh juniper.

  1. Debbie says:

    Happy Holidays Shery! It’s safe to say you are in a very festive mood by the sound of things here! Looks like it too!
    Emmylou looks adorable all dolled up in her Christmas Garb! I’m on my way over!!! Thanks for all the wonderful info on Tartan too! My curiosity hadn’t led me there but I’m glad yours did. We love our holiday music around here! It’s tradition to start listening right after Thanksgiving. Plus, this year our daughter has been working on another composition and it’s a Christmas tune! Her first! We’ve had a house full of music already! Love your gift wrap idea. I like brown paper too. One year I did brown paper with red and green raffia and pinecones.

    Bum bump and have fun at your " farmgirl " gathering…

    We might pass each other about Iowa since I’m headed your way for a taste of Christmasy salt air ;o)

  2. CJ Armstrong says:

    How fun, Shery! Love your tartan information, much of it I had studied because of my own Scottish heritage and travels to the land of the tartan. My own family is part of the Gordon clan, a Highland clan and my hubby is an Armstrong. The Armstrongs are a Border Clan and were known to be rascally "reivers". So I have a collection of tartans and clan jewelry for both. Tradition states, however, that if your husband is Scottish and has a tartan, a women wears that one. AND, tradition states that women do NOT wear the kilt . . the tartan fashioned into other garments, but not the kilt. Thanks for sharing the info!
    AND, I think "EmmyLou" is just FABULOUS! I’m SOOOOOOO totally jealous . . . have fun with her.
    By the way, you are RIGHT ON with Sean! I’ve always thought in one handsome Scottish hunk!!!
    Merry Christmas!

  3. Isn’t it wonderful how our ‘trailers’ speak to us…. and tell us their personality….
    I had posted the other day about how I came about nameing my ’59 Aljo….. it all started with a Junkshop find…and the rest is "Herstory" as we say! lol!
    I absolutly love EmmyLou’s Tartan theme! With so many colors, reds,greens, blues, yellows, browns,,, you can change her "outfits" according to the seasons if you so desire…. and now I have even seen Pendleton Woolin Mills put out Spring (pinks/lt.greens, etc.) colors of plaids… I mean Tartans. Check out their catalog for some cute sewing/deco ideas… old wool blankets/throws make great deco pillows.
    And don’t toss away those old westerny blingy t-shirts,,, they too make great deco pillos.
    Happy Trails…….

  4. hereford girl says:

    Hey Sherri! I think Sean Connery is the BEST POSSIBLE model you cold have chosen, and I am a mere 45. What a hottie!
    EmmyLou is the perfect name for your "glamper" – would you believe the human EmmyLou is my uncles first cousin? We are practically related! HA! Your EmmyLou looks positively welcoming and warm-what a great job you have done with her! Merry Christmas!

  5. linda says:

    Love your Emmylou! But my husband wants to know how in the world you get any people inside?


    People? :o)  Well, there is room…for a couple farmgirls on the fly!  shery

  6. Karin says:

    Shery, EmmyLou looks absolutely adorable. You are so lucky to have found her. I have always loved tartan (when I was in high school tartan kilts, and matching sweaters and knee socks were the thing to wear)and I absolutely agree with you about Sean Connery! Oh my, that voice!
    As always thanks for letting us live vicariously through your blog. What a wonderful life you have.

    Farmgirl #2708

  7. Ruth says:

    I never tire of reading your words and descriptions of the ‘simple’ things of life and your pictures always add so much! It transports me to a most wonderful place every time, no matter the subject. Love it all! Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Sheri! Hope you have a peaceful, joy-filled Christmas season! Enjoy every moment!


    P.S. Your side-note about John and his misguided attempt at apparel for the portly gave me a great laugh, too!! HA! Indeed!

  8. Carol Norwood says:

    Hi Shery … I love how you have EmmyLou decorated for the winter! I’m so happy for you! I also love all the tartan "stuff" you have collected – it’s so festive. Thanks, too, for sharing the wonderful photo of Sean Connery … Whew! I’m fanning myself … as I type. Have a wonderful holiday season!

  9. Kathie says:

    I too have a tartan passion. Clan kilts are very expensive. I was delighted to find a pre-owned kilt on my clan’s web site. It was a very large kilt so I sized it down and was able to make a matching kilt for my scottish terrier. Hamish Macbeth and I attend the Door County Scottie Rally every May and volunteer at The Midwest Pet Expo. We help raise funds for puppy mill education, rescue and canine health research. Not only does Hamish wear a Grant Clan kilt but he wears dog sized bagpipes ( with prerecorded bagpipe music) He favors the Red Hot Chili Pipers cd! Slainte!!!

  10. Kimberly Diener says:

    Merry Christmas Shery! I too have Scottish ancestory, Irish, English, Danish, German, Swedish, French, Native American…Anyways I too love tartan! And EmmyLou looks pretty, I wouldn’t paint that lovely maple wood either!

  11. carol branum says:

    hi Shery, I am so jelous of the camper,I have wanted one for years.You have decorated her wonderfully,Stay warm this winter.Intresting about the plaids,my dads family is from Scotland originally,so,I will have to look that up.Moma sewed me several little plaid church dresses as a child,with smocking,I always loved.Stay warm this winter!Merry Xmas!Carol Branum

  12. Laura says:


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