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Excerpt courtesy James McBain of McBain 22nd heredity Chief. Author of The Clan McBain (MacBean)
Family tartans have a fairly recent history (if over 200 years is recent). Historical evidence of tartan material goes back to 1600 and before, but there seems to be no evidence that any particular design or pattern could be associated with a clan. There is some evidence that in the early 1700’s some patterns became associated with the Chief, and use of that design was limited to the Chief and his family. The only remaining use of this custom is the British Royal family Tartan which is designated exclusively for the Royal family and cannot be used by others in the UK. After the failed attempt to regain the British throne by Charles Edward Stuart, the government moved to outlaw “things associated with the recent rebellion” including bagpipes (except in government controlled military units), all manner of weapons, and tartan worn by men. This ban was lifted in early 1800’s and Scots rushed to proclaim their Scottish heritage by wearing the now legal tartan. Books were published showing which tartan went with what name, and where none was known to exist, the tartan weaving business was happy to create a pattern for your family.
The MacBean tartan appeared at this time and it was in some ways similar to the Mackintosh tartan. It was considered quite bold and striking as befitting a “warlike Clan. The earliest recorded sighting of MacBean tartan was by the author Mclan 1847.The earliest fabrics were treated with vegetable dyes in many cases and the colors were softer than that which are seen with modern chemical dyes. These colors are still offered today (made now by chemical dyes) to resemble the older tartans. These are now designated as our Ancient tartan.
The next design to appear was a result of these new dyes and is currently the most recognizable style of McBain/MacBean tartan. It is known as the standard or modern tartan. It’s appearance varies from weaver to weaver as each mill independently interprets the colors. I have in my Files six examples of early MacBain tartans and they are quite different from each other. Variations are the Coulson Bonner, the Johnston, the Mclan, the Dalgleish, the MacGregor-Hastie and the Highland society of London. The tartan offered today conforms to the acceptable standard of MacBean/McBain. The McBain dress tartan was created by Jamie Scarlett at the request of McBain highland dancers who require a whiter design
to show their performance in the best light. Also, many members of the Clan wished to own a “dressier design”. It is simply a modern tartan with most of the red removed and the addition of a Mackintosh stripe, making it a most unique dress tartan. McBain hunting tartan is the most recent designation. When members of the Clan approached me asking for a hunting McBain, my first response was that I did not want to have too many different tartans in our Clan. Stewart for example has over 20 different ones. So the suggestion came, “why not use the muted tartan as a hunting tartan?”, and I felt it would be perfect. The muted or reproduction tartan came from the thought that, when wearing the tartan was banned, some people buried their tartan material in the ground for a future time when they could use it again. Well, if tartan or any material is buried in the soil of Scotland it would be stained a darker tone because of the peat in the soil. Therefore when the tartan could be worn again, it was dug up and used with the brown stain, the cause of the “muted” tartan. Somewhere along the line it also became known as a “reproduction” tartan. This then is the source of the hunting tartan. Darker shades made it more suitable for hunting or any activity where the bright colors could be a disadvantage. These are the stories of the McBain/MacBean tartans.