What is Plaid ? {Plaid Vs Check Vs Tartan}

If you asked me to define Plaid, two months ago, I would have drawn a blank. I knew checks – Every fabric pattern with the stripes intersecting was a check. But then, that is me.

The word “plaid” is an often used word by many people –  in many contexts with many meanings. For one, plaid is a woolen cloth; for another, it is a fabric pattern; for yet another, it is a type of clothing

what is plaid

The original meaning of Plaid

In the book “An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language: By John Jamieson” Plaid is described as an outer loose weed of striped and variegated cloth, worn by the Highlanders.
In the book Scottish Culture and Traditions By Norman C Milne, Plaid is described as  a piece of tartan traditionally made from dyed wool homespun, at the cottage or by local weavers;  The plaid was a length of tartan cloth, about 5 ft wide, made of two single widths of about 30 inches sewn together normally 12 to 18 ft in length.

“Plaid, in the context of modern Highland dress, can refer to any of the tailored or untailored garments worn about the shoulders – be it a fly plaid, piper’s plaid, drummer’s plaid, or a folded picnic blanket”. A fly plaid is a fringed tartan fabric stitched into pleats, used as an evening wear.
Piper’s or Drummer’s plaid is a heavily pleated tartan cloth worn across the chest and shoulder and wrapped around the back.

It is also mentioned that In the Dress Act in 1947 Highland dress including “Plaid” was forbidden. Here Plaid is refered obviously as a piece of clothing, no matter what the pattern of the fabric is.

Since then the usage of the term plaid has changed somewhat or rather, the meaning has somewhat expanded to include the fabric pattern as well.

By today’s usage, I would define plaid as any type of fabric with a check pattern consisting of long bands (stripes) running horizontally and vertically, intersecting each other. The plaid pattern could be made on the fabric as part of the fabric weave ( the dyed yarn is woven in this pattern) or it could be a printed pattern

The plaid fabric could be woolen or cotton or blends. A plaid fabric in flannel is used to make casual and cozy shirts for men, skirts for girls.Thick plaids made with woolen yarn is used to make warming jackets and kilts. Know more about kilts here

Plaid Vs Checks

All plaids are checks but not all checks are plaid. The plaid pattern is different from the usual checkerboard pattern consisting of squares of colors. As already said, it consists of stripes of different colors intersecting each other. Check out the post on different types of checks (Checkered pattern)

The check pattern of the plaid fabric could be of two types – it could be evenly patterned with symmetrical patterns of stripes making up checks 

or unevenly patterned with irregularly patterned stripes

Tartan Vs Plaid

Tartans are usually confused with plaid and are usually used interchangeably with plaids. We often refer to tartan patterns – but what I have come to understand from my reading is that tartan is the woolen plaid fabric which is used for making the highland dress – the Scottish kilt worn by men.

Tips for Sewing with plaid fabric – how to match stripes when sewing

Sewing with checks/plaids can become a disaster if one is as careless as me. Look at this post on making boxers – anyone (experienced sewists) would be excused if they think I am insane to cut the check fabric differently for both the legs. 

mens boxer shorts pattern

If you are not careful the plaid fabric you have been reserving to use for a special project can turn out to be this disastrous. Which is why  I thought I will try to learn how to do it properly. Let me list what I learned

  • Buy at least 25% extra fabric; you will need that much or more to match the stripes and checks
  • Choose a simple pattern. The more lines you have to match the more you will get confused- especially when you are a beginner – say you have to make welt pockets and they have to match.Patterns with curved seams, slanting darts etc may not look good with plaid.
  • If you have small checks you may not need to match the checks. But with big checks you have to; it would be too obviously unmatched. Even-plaids are easier to match than uneven-plaids
  • Pattern pieces you will have to match are bodice pieces which are cut on the center, sleeves, legs of pants/shorts, yoke pieces etc
  • If you are using patterns, trace  it into a tissue tracing paper so that when you keep the pattern on the fabric for cutting you can see the striped lines through the paper and will be able to match properly
  • The aim is to get both the pieces of the pattern identical – strive to achieve this. And do not  forget to consider both vertical and horizontal locations of the plaid
  • A printed plaid fabric is more difficult to match than a dyed yarn woven plaid fabric. One difficulty being that printed plaid fabric may be off grain.You will have to check this at the showroom itself. 
  • When sewing patch pockets Lay the pocket pattern in the position it will be when completed. Trace the location of the pocket carefully on the fabric and then sew.Bias cut plaid pockets are usually seen on plaid fabric, as they bring in an interesting pattern.

Learn the names of 80+ Fabric Patterns here

Reference : kiltmaker.blogspot.in

Comments 1

  1. There is an excellent explanation of the difference between the design of ‘plaid’ vs ‘tartan’ on the Canadian government web site. If it isn’t still on the site, or you can’t find it, let me know and I’ll do a deep dive in my archives and see if I saved the information. It’s the kind of thing I like to have to hand.

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