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Tartan Plaid

It is not possible to say precisely when the tartan cloak evolved into the long gatment known as the belted plaid (and which itself was the forerunner of the modern kilt), but it was probably around the tenth or eleventh centuries. This long plaid was wrapped round the body and was known in Gaelic as the feileadh mor, meaning large and folded, or pleated. It was normally made up of two pieces of material, each approximately 4 metres (4—5 yards) long and 70 centimetres (28 inches) wide, the measurements being dictated by the size of the loom. The two pieces of cloth were then stitched together.

It is generally believed that the Highlander put his plaid on by laying it out on the ground with a belt underneath and then pleating it until two aprons at either end remained. He would lay down with the material about knee-height, fold over the aprons and fasten the belt. Then, he would stand up and adjust the rest of the plaid to suit either his mood or the weather.

When it was not being used as a cloak, the tippet part of the cloth was pinned, but the sword arm would normally be left free. The belted plaid was a superb garment to wear while campaigning. Made of pure wool and closely woven, it was both strong and warm, but could easily be east aside in battle.

Centuries ago the hem of this garment was higher up the leg than it is today. The plaid worn by the pipers and drummers in modern pipe bands is a stylised version of the old feileadh mor. It is interesting thatin North America where the kilted plaid is still sometimes worn as evening dress amongst the members of Caledonian societies, the
feileadh mor is known as the breacan feile, which means ‘kilted—tartan in Gaelic. The word plaid can also carry quite a different meaning in North America, where it is sometimes used to refer to tartan in general. In Scotland, however, ‘plaid’ originating from the Gaelic word plaide, meaning a blanket, refers specifically to a particular type of garment.

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