Guides and Insights

Weaving tartan: inspection and hand-darning

Weaving tartan: inspection and hand-darning
By Nick Fiddes

This is the seventh 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.

At last your tartan is visible in all its glory. But the fabric is far from ready. Two important processes remain before we can deliver to you a tartan worthy of the DC Dalgliesh name. The first of these starts with a careful inspection.

Tartan fabrics ready for inspection on the light table

With so many years experience, our darners are eagle-eyed and fastidious in their dedication to ensuring that no tartan leaves their hands until perfect. She will examine every inch of every fabric produced at our mill. Our darner painstakingly inspects the entire piece in three ways - by eye, with her fingertips, and with the flat of her hand - each of which might reveal different imperfections. Because the material has not yet been for cleaning and finishing, at this stage the process is referred to as 'greasy darning'.

Hand-darning the tartan before finishing

The main elements our darner is seeking are tiny knots that may emerge from the behaviour of yarn, and the loose ends of threads that result from yarn breakages or weft changes. Using a sewing needle, each time she detects one she will employ a variety of techniques to mend it in ways that will be both permanent and imperceptible. For loose ends this might involve sewing it into the weave and snipping away the end to leave no visible trace. A more serious break could require a new piece of yarn to be knotted onto the trailing end, also to be sewn in. This tiny knot, where necessary, is hidden on the reverse of the fabric so that the 'good' side is always perfect.

Talking of imperfections, it's worth mentioning that there's an element of acceptable variability of which we're entirely proud. We sometimes compare this to the difference between fine cuisine created by a skilled restaurant chef and foods manufactured in standardised processes at a factory. The latter is undeniably more uniform. But whilst the chef's dishes might differ slightly from day to day, few would deny that each will be more delicious. So it is with weaving. A modern loom may well provide a slightly more uniform result. But it's this very richness of texture that gives a hand-crafted weave its distinctive character. This is something to be treasured.

Now your tartan is almost ready. But the material still needs to be Finished, to bring out its full beauty.

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 (this item)
  8. Finishing the fabric

Also, if you've found this article interesting and helpful, we'd love if you could help others find it too! Please link to it on your own blog, or your social media. We can't tell you how much we'd appreciate this. Thanks. :-)

Posted in: Guides and Insights