It’s Plaid Week! (Kind of)

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How much do you know about plaid? The word “plaid” encompasses many more fabric patterns than you may realize. For Plaid Week, I’d like to show you samples and uses of this very versatile and historic fabric. We’ll be delving into its history, the differences of balanced vs unbalanced plaids, how to cut, sew and line them up correctly, and even take a quiz to see how much you learned! I’m really excited about the quiz aspect of these posts, so I hope you pay attention!

A plaid gown from the Met Collection.

Historically, plaid is a fabric that consists of any arrangement of colored warp threads (threads that run lengthwise) that are woven with weft threads (run selvedge to selvedge across the fabric) in the exact same order as the warp threads are drawn in. This produces a plain (or sometimes a twill) weave, which has the same number of both warp and weft threads every inch. The particular colors used and the order in which they are woven is up to the weaver or manufacturer.

All of these garments (and many more) can be found on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website.

There are many different fabrics that can be called plaids, and one of the most commonly seen variations is tartan. Many people confuse tartan with being a word that is interchangeable with the word plaid. It is not! Tartan refers only to certain plaid patterns (woven in a particular fashion), and is Scottish, with each pattern designating particular clans. In North America, the word “plaid” is a generic word that refers to fabrics with checks and stripes of all kinds. In Scotland, a “plaid” is a cloth that is worn over one shoulder and made of tartan, and the tartan is woven out of a pattern of plaid. All tartan is plaid, but not all plaid is tartan. See why it can be confusing?

Registered Scottish clan tartans

Tartan could make up and entire week of posts on its own! If you would like to read more about tartan, I would suggest that you look up Tartan: Romancing the Plaid by Jeffrey Banks and Doria de La Chapelle. It is a beautiful book, full of the history and incredible photos of tartans. If your family is Scottish, look up your clan’s tartan here!

And when you’re thinking about plaids, who could forget bright madras? It is a lightweight cotton, that is yarn-dyed and woven in India. Madras originally were made using vegetable dyes (which easily bled when washed), but now are produced with mostly artificial dyes. They are commonly cut up and sewn into yardage of patchwork fabric.

Madras fabric from

To discuss plaids as a whole though, you must know that the word plaid encompasses many more fabrics than you might have realized, besides tartan and madras. Gingham? That’s a plaid. Houndstooth? Yes, it’s a plaid. Square, check and windowpane fabrics? All plaids! Even floral patterns with hidden plaid motifs that you have in your fabric stash could be considered plaid, and you may never have realized it! Plaid also refers to printed plaids, and not just woven ones.

We have a lot more to learn about plaid fabrics, so we’ll look at more fabric examples and talk about balanced and unbalanced plaids. Get ready to dig thru your fabric bins!

Updated: Hmm… who plans to write and post information-packed blog posts during the week of Thanksgiving? THIS GIRL! And who makes poor scheduling choices? MEE! *sigh* This week is chaotic, to say the least. I am working on these posts whenever I have a free moment, but there’s a lot to write about plaid! So, to save my sanity, Plaid Week is going to extend into next week, to give me some breathing room around the holiday. Thanks for understanding!

See the other plaid posts here!

Balanced vs. Unbalanced Plaids

Cutting Out Plaid

Sewing Plaids