Scottish Costume Patterns

Scottish Costume Patterns: A Guide To The History And Styles Of Traditional Scottish Clothing

Scotland is a country with a rich and diverse cultural heritage, and one of the most distinctive aspects of its identity is its traditional clothing.

The patterns are the designs and motifs that adorn the fabrics and garments that make up the Highland dress, the most famous and recognizable form of Scottish attire.

In this article, we will explore the history and meaning of some of the most popular Scottish costume patterns, as well as the occasions and ways to wear them.


Tartan is the most iconic and widely used Scottish costume pattern. It consists of horizontal and vertical stripes of different colors that form a criss-cross pattern on the fabric.

Tartan is also known as plaid in North America, but in Scotland, plaid refers to a specific type of garment, a long piece of tartan cloth that is draped over the shoulder.

Tartan has a long and complex history, dating back to at least the 16th century when the Highland clans used it to distinguish themselves from each other and from the Lowland Scots.

Scottish Costume Patterns
Tartan is a well-known Scottish pattern.

Each clan had its own distinctive tartan pattern, known as a sett, that represented their family, region, and allegiance.

Tartan was also a symbol of resistance and rebellion against English rule, especially after the 1746 Battle of Culloden, when the Dress Act banned the wearing of tartan.

The ban was lifted in 1782, and tartan regained its popularity and significance as a national and cultural emblem.

Today, tartan is worn by people of Scottish descent all over the world, as well as by anyone who appreciates its beauty and variety.

There are thousands of tartan patterns, some registered and some not, that reflect the diversity and creativity of the Scottish people.

Tartan is used to make various garments and accessories, such as kilts, skirts, jackets, scarves, ties, hats, and bags. Tartan is also worn for formal and ceremonial occasions, such as weddings, funerals, festivals, and parades, as well as for casual and everyday wear.

Fair Isle

Fair Isle is another famous and distinctive Scottish costume pattern, named after a small island in the Shetland archipelago, where it originated.

It is a type of stranded knitting, where two or more colors of yarn are used to create intricate and colorful patterns on the fabric.

Fair Isle patterns typically consist of geometric shapes, such as stars, diamonds, and chevrons, as well as motifs inspired by nature, such as flowers, birds, and animals.

The knitting has a long and fascinating history, influenced by the island’s geographic location and cultural connections.

Fair Isle scottish custome pattern
Fair Isle is another Scottish pattern.

Fair Isle is situated in the North Sea, halfway between Scotland and Norway, and has been inhabited by various peoples, such as the Norse, the Scots, and the Flemish, who brought their own knitting traditions and techniques.

Fair Isle knitting also reflects the island’s harsh and isolated environment, where wool was a precious and scarce resource, and where knitting was a vital and creative activity for survival and expression.

Fair Isle knitting is widely practiced and admired by knitters globally due to its intricate designs and charm. These patterns are used to make a variety of accessories such as gloves, hats, socks, vests, and sweaters.

Similarly, Fair Isle clothing is suitable for both formal and informal occasions and is popular for its warmth and comfort.


Sanquhar is an equally impressive Scottish costume patterns for knitting, but not as well-known as the Fair Isle pattern. It is named after a town in Dumfriesshire where it originated.

Sanquhar is a type of stranded knitting that has some unique features and characteristics. Typically, Sanquhar patterns consist of two contrasting colors, usually black and white, and have a checkerboard-like appearance.

They also have names that reflect their origin and meaning, such as the Duke, the Prince of Wales, the Rose, and the Shepherd’s Plaid.

Sanquhar knitting has a relatively recent history, dating back to the 18th century, when the local knitters developed it as a way to make a living and to express their identity and loyalty.

It was especially popular among the miners, who wore Sanquhar gloves and socks to protect their hands and feet from the cold and damp conditions of the mines.

Sanquhar knitting was also a form of art and skill, as the knitters often personalized their products by adding their initials, dates, and messages.

Today, Sanquhar knitting is a rare and valuable craft, preserved and promoted by a few dedicated and passionate knitters and enthusiasts.

Sanquhar patterns are used mainly to make gloves, socks, and other items, such as scarves, hats, and cushions. Sanquhar is also worn for special and historical occasions, such as exhibitions, competitions, and reenactments.


Scottish costume patterns are not just decorative and fashionable designs, but they also express the history, culture, and individuality of the Scottish people.

These patterns are a matter of pride and identity for both the Scots and Scots-at-heart, and they serve as a means of communication and connection with others.

Moreover, the Scottish costume patterns showcase the beauty and diversity of Scotland, and they are a testament to the skill and artistry of its knitters and weavers.

Learn more about the Knit Cable Sweater Pattern.

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