Woven into the nation’s identity, with a chequered history that has seen it outlawed then embraced on everything from shortbread tins to punk rockers, little says ‘Scotland’ quite like tartan.

But while traditionally the cloth told a story of ancient clans through symbolic colours reflecting character and the landscape, a new wave of tartan is emerging, designed by enthusiasts from around the globe inspired by everything from beloved pets to favourite lunchtime sushi and space travel.

Last year a record number of new tartans were lodged with The Scottish Register of Tartans, with new designs flowing at a rate of almost 35 every month.

The Herald: Clockwise: Lori Nason's Lighthouse tartan, Jared Zimmer's family tartan, a tartan created for a Ghana royal and Chris Scholl's Star Trek influenced designClockwise: Lori Nason's Lighthouse tartan, Jared Zimmer's family tartan, a tartan created for a Ghana royal and Chris Scholl's Star Trek influenced design (Image: Contributed)

So far this year alone, there have been 63 new designs. They range  from one in muted tones to reflect the shades seen by someone who is green deficient colour blind, to a dazzling bright blue and yellow tartan lodged by Scottish supporters of Belgian football club, Sint-Truidense Voetbalvereniging.

In all more than 4,000 tartan designs have been included in the 15 years since the register was launched in 2009 with the intention of cementing the fabric’s Scottish identity and creating a database that would recognise, classify and authenticate tartans.

Last year’s total of 418 was almost double the number registered in its first year, when there were just 126, and a rise of 36 on 2023’s figure.

The register reveals new versions are being lodged by people with increasingly diverse reasons.

One registered last month in shades of light blue, beige, green and shot with cerise pink was designed for two American ladies who lunch and said to be “inspired by their favourite lunch special at Sea Ranch in Evanston Illinois, United States”. The restaurant specialises in sushi dishes.

Another lodged in recent months by Steven Sim, an Arbroath kiltmaker, used Artificial Intelligence site, ChatGPT, to design it.

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It emerged in shades navy blue, bright gold, two shades of grey, red and green, said to “represent mankind's vast knowledge, enlightenment, impartiality, journey of learning, creativity and innovation, and the environmental impact of AI's evolution.”

One was inspired by a beloved Italian greyhound called Hazen, featuring a blend of colours inspired by his coat and the sunset. And another, called Beyond the Blue, was created for Space Force Veterans and Veteran-Guardians who have served in the US Space Force.

Among designs for pipe bands and couples seeking tartan as a symbol of families coming together, are scores of new tartans created by people from around the world seeking to connect with distant Scottish roots.

In Iowa, Jared Zimmer, unravelled his family tree to Scotland in 1771 and an ancestor by the name of George Lesley.

He is now the proud owner of three kilts, with a fourth on the way.

“I was thrilled to find the Leslie tartans,” he says. “I do not wear kilts daily, but I wear them as often as I can.”

His tartan has a pale grey-blue background with thin lines of blue, black, yellow and red, which he says are inspired by the colours from his German heritage and the Zimmer coat of arms.

Why tartan though, and why bother registering it? “I decided to design a tartan in an effort to show respect to both my Scottish and German lineage,” he explains.

The Herald: Jared Zimmer, of Iowa, has designed his own tartanJared Zimmer, of Iowa, has designed his own tartan (Image: Contributed)

“I will be getting the tartan woven and made into a kilt. I am excited about that.

“I made the decision to get the tartan registered because I appreciate and respect the work that the Scottish Register of Tartans is doing. 

“Without some documentation of the tartans, many would be lost to history.

“The registry saves the data about individual tartans so future generations can enjoy them.”

In Nova Scotia, glass artist Lori Nason was inspired by the lighthouse near her Peggy’s Cove home to create a tartan with colours that tell a story of the scene: dark blue of the ocean, white for the waves and lighthouse, red for the light, grey and blacks to represent the granite and lives lost to the ocean.

The Herald: Lori Nason creates tartan glassware at her Nova Scotia studioLori Nason creates tartan glassware at her Nova Scotia studio (Image: Lori Nason)

With Scottish roots, she incorporates tartan into her glasswork: “My tartans have found their way to several countries abroad, Scotland included,” she says. “We have a lot of Scottish roots here in Nova Scotia, including mine.”

Some though, such as Christopher Scholl in Michigan, have no strong Scottish links yet are still drawn to tartan.

He first took notice of it after seeing an image of Sir Sean Connery wearing a distinctive hunting jacket and later learning Madonna had registered a tartan.

“That might have germinated the idea,” he says. “This past year, I was watching the original Star Trek series again and in one episode, Scotty attends a formal dinner wearing his "futuristic" dress uniform Nehru jacket with a kilt, fly plaid, and hose.

“That was the final element to push me forward on designing the tartan.”

The new tartans flow in from around the globe: in Ghana, Tony Williams describes himself as Chancellor and Master of Royal Orders, and is the designer of three tartans on the register.

He says the latest is to honour the Royal House of Gbi Hohoe Ahado, a Ghanian Royal House under Her Majesty Queen Adziwonor III.

Far closer to home in Inverurie, former Gordon Highlander Andy Clegg hopes his series of ‘Spirit of Le Man’ tartans inspired by classic cars will tap into a modern trend among enthusiasts.

They are being distributed around the world, to be used for car upholstery and a range of other products.

The latest, Spirit of Le Mans (Old Red) is his take on the colours and style of a 1964 beach buggy.

He says demand comes from enthusiasts who want to restore classic cars, particularly 1960s Porsche models which originally featured tartan seats and trim.

The Herald: Andy Clegg has designed tartans for use in car interiorsAndy Clegg has designed tartans for use in car interiors (Image: Andy Clegg)

Others want to introduce vibrant colour to their vehicles and put their own tartan stamp on their cars.

“They say fashion repeats itself,” he says. “I now have distribution partners in America, Holland, Germany, Australia, China, South Korea and am hoping for Japan where there’s a big car culture and they love tartan.”

While in Forres, kilt designer and maker, Andrea Chappell of Acme Atelier, has created the first in what will be a series of tartans which tell a story of the area’s landscape, people and the changing seasons.

The Herald: Andy Clegg's Spirit of Le Mans range of tartans are being used to revamp car interiorsAndy Clegg's Spirit of Le Mans range of tartans are being used to revamp car interiors (Image: Andy Clegg)

The first, called Biscuit Crumb, was inspired by the avenue of trees in the town’s Grant Park, gifted a century ago by Sir Alexander Grant, a local baker who went on to invent the digestive biscuit.

Its colours of burgundy, umber and red are inspired by lichens and moss that cling to the trees’ bark, and the thin line of light brown represents the biscuit.

Further tartans are planned to reflect spring, summer and autumn, interwoven stories and colours from the area.

“I think its important that we promote the idea of tartan as a passionate part of Scottish heritage,” she says. “But we didn’t invent it and don’t have exclusive use over it.

“We should celebrate it as an international and for everyone.”

The register is administered by the National Records of Scotland and takes advice from the Court of the Lord Lyon and representatives of the Scottish tartan industry.

The Herald: Forres-based Acme Atelier's Andrea Chappell's tartan Biscuit Crumb is a celebration of the baker behind the digestive biscuitForres-based Acme Atelier's Andrea Chappell's tartan Biscuit Crumb is a celebration of the baker behind the digestive biscuit (Image: Acme Atelier/Andrea Chappell)

Prior to its establishment in 2009, tartans were recorded by the Scottish Tartans Society, the Scottish Tartans World Register and the Scottish Tartans Authority.

National Records of Scotland Chief Executive Janet Edgell says: “2023 was a record year with 418 tartans registered.

“It’s lovely to see so many people and organisations worldwide registering tartans and keeping this most iconic of Scottish traditions alive.

“Tartans come in an enormous variety of colours and patterns. Most have been designed and registered on behalf of individuals, families, companies or organisations like charities, sports clubs and societies.

“Anyone worldwide can register a tartan but there are strict rules about what can be included. The design must be unique and sufficiently different to any other design on the Register so that it cannot be easily confused.”