Vestiarium Scoticum, genetic and family tartan setts

Artist Jim Pattison talks about how family history, DNA, the history of tartan and The Mitchell’s Special Collections came together.

My mother, Margaret Brown Pattison was born in Fisherow, Musselburgh in 1925. She left school at 14, and before beginning nursing training at 18, she worked at Stewart Christie’s in Edinburgh as an apprentice tailoress under the guidance of master tailor Jimmy Robertson. It was during the four years there that she gained the kilt making skills that she has employed many times since.
I am always intrigued by the different stages involved and enjoy watching my mother draw the pattern assuredly onto the tartan with tailors chalk, cut the pieces out and begin the skilful and time consuming processes of pinning, pattern matching and assembly.
My mother often asked me if I’d like her to make me a kilt, but I’ve never taken up this offer - partly because the family name Pattison doesn’t have a tartan of its own (but can use Lamont). Talking to my mother again about kilts and tartan has prompted me to look at ways in which tartans are recorded and assigned, and to consider ways in which it might be possible to design personalised tartans using information from my family history and from my own DNA.
Originally, tartan cloth was coloured using natural dyes, hand woven, usually supplied locally and the designs were unnamed - certain colours and patterns may have been more common in some areas than others but there is no evidence of any regulated or defined "clan tartan" system.  At the end of the eighteenth century, large-scale commercial weavers began producing tartan - the most notable of these was William Wilson & Sons of Bannockburn. As they were producing cloth in such large quantities, they developed standard colours and patterns. At first they used numbers to identify the patterns and later, as a marketing method, began to assign names to identify one tartan pattern from another. In 1815 the Highland Society of London began the naming of clan-specific tartans and prior to the visit of King George IV to Edinburgh In 1822, which was partly organized by Sir Walter Scott, each clan chief was asked to come to greet the King in their own clan tartan. At this time some clans still did not have an assigned tartan or lost theirs during the 36 year tartan proscription and had to refer to suppliers such as William Wilson for advice - new tartans were no doubt created, or renamed, for the occasion!  From this point on the idea was firmly established that in order for a tartan to be a proper tartan, it had to have a name.
It was around this time, and in this context, that the Sobieski Stuart brothers began work on “Vestiarium Scoticum: from the Manuscript formerly in the Library of the Scots College at Douay: With an Introduction and Notes”, by John Sobieski Stuart was first published by William Tait of Edinburgh in a limited edition in 1842. The Sobieski Stuarts claimed that it was a reproduction, with colour illustrations, of an ancient manuscript of the clan tartans of Scottish families. It was printed using a new printing method invented by William and Andrew Smith from Mauchline on shiny paper with aniline dyes and presented a bright, new and dramatically different depiction of tartan.
Shortly after its publication  it was denounced by some as a forgery and the claim of the "Stuart" brothers, to be the grandsons of Bonnie Prince Charlie, were viewed with similar suspicion. Nevertheless, the role of the book in the history of Scottish tartans and in their portrayal is hugely significant, with many of the designs reproduced passing into the realm of "official" clan tartans.


My display at The Mitchell Library has the Library’s copy of “Vestiarium Scoticum” as a centrepiece.

The work in this series has evolved from a personal response to tartan as experienced through the wide range of designs and colours that my mother made kilts from, and has progressed in response to the problems of finding an “authentic” assigned tartan into an investigation of alternative ways of producing a personalised named tartan. Four distinct themes have emerged as this work has developed: Vestiarium Scoticum: Maide Dealbh, Family Tartans, Genetic Tartans and Markers.


Vestiarium Scoticum: Maide Dealbh

I have combined two pieces of tartan myth in this series, seen in the display in the accompanying book.
The paintings borrow the form of the fictional pattern sticks to record the half repeat patterns that would be required to weave the mainly fictional tartans from “Vestiarium Scoticum”. The thread counts for the half repeat patterns are derived from the plates from “Vestiarium Scoticum”, and the format of the paintings also make reference to the colour strip method developed by Donald Calder Stewart to define and record tartans.

Family Tartans

The designs marked * are tartans that are specific to me – Lamont is the tartan assigned for Pattison, Gibson/Lamont combines my parents assigned tartans and Gibson/Naysmith/Lamont/Swankie combines my grandparents assigned tartans.
With further research into my family history it would obviously be possible to incorporate assigned tartans from earlier generations, which would result in increasingly more complex patterns.
  • Gibson (My mother’s and maternal grandfather’s assigned tartan)
  • Naysmith (My maternal grandmother’s assigned tartan)
  • Lamont (for Pattison)* (My own, my father’s and my paternal grandfather’s assigned tartan)
  • Swankie (My paternal grandmother’s assigned tartan)
  • Gibson/Naysmith (My maternal grandfather’s and maternal grandmother’s assigned tartans overlaid)
  • Lamont/Swankie (My paternal grandfather’s and paternal grandmother’s assigned tartans overlaid)
  • Gibson/Lamont*(My mother’s and father’s assigned tartans overlaid)
  • Gibson/Naysmith/Lamont/Swankie* (My maternal and paternal grandparent’s assigned tartans overlaid)
The Family Tartans archival digital prints and those from Genetic Tartans are printed using the same dimensions and format as the colour plates from “Vestiarium Scoticum”.

Genetic Tartans

I had the idea for using information from my DNA to design tartans after noticing the formal similarity between the Colour Strips method of recording tartans as developed by Donald Calder Stewart, and the strip notation used to describe genetic markers - these are genes or DNA sequences with a known location on a chromosome that can be used to identify individuals or species.
These designs are based on information from my own genetic ancestry.
Practically, I sent a sample of saliva in a test tube to 23 and Me - a genomics and biotechnology company that provides genetic testing.  A personalized analysis of my DNA taken from the sample revealed aspects of my ancestral origins and lineage. I then translated some of this information via a system of colour coding into bar charts, which I used as half repeat patterns to design these tartans.
  • Neanderthal 2.7%
  • 99.8% European 0.2% unassigned
  • 90.6% Northern European, 9.2 Non Specific European, O.2% unassigned
  • 26.4% British and Irish, 0.2% Scandinavian, 64% Non specific Northern European, 9.2% Nonspecific European, 0.2% unassigned
  • Haplogroups - Maternal Line H11a2
  • Haplogroups - Paternal Line R1b1b2a1a2f
  • Maternal + Paternal Haplogroups (1)
  • Maternal + Paternal Haplogroups overlaid (2)
In molecular evolution, a haplogroup is a group of similar haplotypes that share a common ancestor having the same single nucleotide polymorphism mutation in all haplotypes. Because a haplogroup consists of similar haplotypes, it is possible to predict a haplogroup from haplotypes.


Around 1825 William and Andrew Smith from Mauchline developed a pantographic machine for printing tartan onto paper. “Vestiarium Scoticum” was printed using this innovative print process in 1842, as was the Smiths’ own publication, The Authenticated Tartans of the Clans and Families in Scotland, in 1850.
The Smith brothers also produced Mauchlineware which often incorporated tartan, printed using the same process, on holiday souvenirs, book coverings, decorating accessories, home furnishings and jewellery. These objects brought the new analine dye based tartans to an even wider audience and became hugely popular by the late 1840s.
In these paintings I used designs from my Genetic Tartans to decorate bookmark forms. The decorated bookmark was a popular Mauchlineware souvenir and makes a link here with genetic markers.
Images from these paintings can be seen in the book which accompanies the display.

"The pattern we call history is not in the past, but in ourselves." - Anthony Burgess.

Highlights from Jim’s paintings are on display in The Mitchell Library Granville St Foyer, Friday 29 May- Monday 15 June 2015.
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