Guides and Insights

Weaving tartan: finishing the fabric

Weaving tartan: finishing the fabric
By Nick Fiddes

tartan fabrics ready to go for finishing

This is the last in a series of in-depth articles describing the seven stages of creating a bespoke kilt length at DC Dalgliesh, the world's only specialist hand-crafted tartan weaving mill.

Quality control is not just a final step in our process. Our reputation relies on getting the product perfect every time. So quality always comes first. Every member of the production team is responsible for checking quality standards at every stage of the process. And if any imperfection arises they are empowered to stop for as long as it takes to rectify the issue, including re-weaving a fabric length from scratch if necessary.

But the most detailed inspection comes when your fabric comes off the loom. At this stage woven wool tartan has a slightly harsh feel to the touch. And the material will be a little uneven, without the smooth, flat finish most customers of course expect. At this stage the quality is known as 'hard tartan'. In fact some clients, such as historical re-enactors perhaps, specify that this is what they want, as it maybe more resembles a raw fabric from days gone by.

Natural teasel raising

Just as our dye-house is within walking distance, our finishers are just a few minutes away. Here we send our fabrics for washing, softening, and pressing. And for larger volume orders in double with fabric, we can also provide an almost unlimited range of finishing services including teasel-raising of the fabric for an even softer finish, fireproofing, teflon-coating, and much more.

But for most orders the demand is more straightforward (not least because pure new wool is naturally fire-retardant so for this quality flame-proofing is little concern). The first stage is a cleaning process, to remove any dust, grit, or fluff that may have found its way onto the fabric at any stage of its spinning, dying, or weaving.

Mostly our kilt lengths are washed in pure fresh water much as it runs off the local hills. Perhaps it's romantic to feel you can almost detect a faint scent of heather. But we add no softener unless we know the fabric is destined for uses such as upholstery, as this would change the essential character of a kilt length. The washing itself slightly softens the yarn, giving your tartan the tough but soft character that is our hallmark.

Our local river at DC DalglieshThe only other exception with woollen fabrics is that for our range of dance fabrics and a few dress tartans that include large areas of ecru or white, we will sometimes scour the material using solvent liquor instead - a process much like dry-cleaning. This guards against any slight bleeding of colours which can very occasionally occur if a batch of dye was not fully fixed, which would be imperceptible with most tartans in other shades.

Inspecting blankets at the finishing stage

Finally we straighten and press your cloth. This task is most arduous with larger double width pieces, whose vast weight when wet has to be hoisted onto tenterhooks (from which comes the expression). From there we straighten your tartan to ensure the lines are perfect, dry it, and smooth it out in a sandwich blower press, to leave your material in perfect condition. But with a single width kilt length, the fabric is stretched out on pins to dry, ensuring the tartan keeps its shape. Then it receives a light press, giving your kilt length its final robust but smooth finish for which our kilting fabrics are renowned.

Your fabric is now brought back to our mill once again, where it receives yet another inspection. If any small flaws are detected it goes back to the darning station for further attention, now called 'clean darning'.

Only when passed as perfect is your kilt length sent to Scotweb CLAN's central operations hub in Edinburgh. Here it receives yet another inspection, before we pass your tartan as ready for our expert tailors, seamstresses, or upholsterers. We'll cover this next stage of the process soon in a further series of articles about kiltmaking.

What next?

We recommend also reading the rest of this series. This covers:

  1. Weaving tartan for kilts at DC Dalgliesh
  2. Picking and winding your yarns
  3. Stake-warping your kilt length
  4. Tying-on to the loom
  5. Chain-making for the sett pattern
  6. Weaving your fabric on the loom
  7. Inspection and hand-darning
  8. Finishing the fabric (this item)

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