Plaids. Tartans. Checks. What is who and who is what? It’s enough to make your head spin when it comes to identifying all the various patterns. Fortunately, here is quick primer to ensure you always know the difference between a Black Watch and a gingham.
Plaid: Contrary to current vernacular, plaid refers to the material which a tartan pattern is printed on. In the US, plaid and tartan are used interchangeably. Tartan is made with alternating bands of colored threads woven as both warp and weft at right angles to each other. The weft is woven two under the warp, advancing one thread at each pass. The resulting blocks of color repeat vertically and horizontally in a distinctive pattern of squares and lines known as a “sett” which is what gives each tartan their unique pattern.
Check: A check pattern can be identified from a tartan because it typically uses two colors. Additionally, a check such as buffalo check, rarely involves variation in the width of the pattern. The check size is consistent in both the horizontal and vertical plains which explains why the pattern has an exact repeat unlike a tartan.
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