There are two Clan Arthur (MacArthur) tartan setts or patterns. The most commonly known sett dates from around 1842, black and green background with a single yellow line. Thread count: 64 Black, 12 Green, 24 Black, 60 Green, 6 Yellow, 60 Green, 24 Black, 12 Green, 64 Black. This design originates from the tartan revival period and may in fact be a historical copy error.
As with most Clan tartans, there are two Clan Arthur colour schemes. Modern colours are derived from synthetic dyes and generally give darker more formal colours, whereas ancient colours are derived from natural dyes and result in a lighter more muted effect, which could also be regarded as being more authentic. Colours can also vary from weaver to weaver. Lochcarron's Clan Arthur tartan in ancient colours is a very pale, almost gray green, whereas Dagliesh's version of the same cloth uses a much brighter, almost grass green thread. Both mills’ modern Clan Arthur colours are near equally dark.
The late Chief of Clan Arthur, James Edward Moir MacArthur of that ilk, rediscovered the Clan Arthur old sett from a family portrait dating from before 1815. This more ancient design shows a black and green background with a double yellow line. Thread count: 30 Black, 4 Green, 8 Black, 36 Green, 4 Yellow, 36 Green, 4 Yellow, 36 Green 8 Black, 4 Green, 30 Black.
It is claimed that this double yellow-lined sett is in fact the original MacArthur, a sample of which is said to be in the Highland Society of London Collection (1815). Thus the modern single-lined version taken from Vestiarium Scoticum (1842) is possibly an erroneous version of the Highland Society sett.
The Chief has decreed that both setts are regarded as genuine MacArthurs - although the single-lined version is still that promoted by the weavers.
Traditionally tartan cloth was woven on a handloom up to 28” wide. Two 16 feet lengths were joined to make a feile-mhor or traditional plaid, with eight yards being required for a feile-beag or modern kilt. Now modern weaving looms produce double width cloth 56” wide, and four yards, split and joined, is equal to one kilt. There is usually little difference between the cost of single and double width material, therefore double width is more economical. The material is also supplied in different weights. 15/16oz is heavyweight and the normal choice for kilting, whereas 12/13oz is medium weight and usually reserved for skirts, etc. but also favoured for kilting in warmer climates. Again, there is little difference in cost for either weight of these cloths.
A much lighter "tie weight" material is manufactured by Inglis Buchan. This is currently produced in 1842 sett, with the 1815 sett becoming available soon. Ancient colours are similar to Lochcarron. Lighter weight tartans use a thinner thread resulting in a smaller sett or pattern, making this material ideal for smaller garments.
Clan Arthur 1842 (single line) sett is normally available from the weavers' stock in medium and heavy weights, ancient and modern colours, usually in double width. Clan Arthur 1815 (double line) sett is only available to order. Both Clan Arthur setts and colours are also available in silk, but this material is very expensive.
-from "Reminiscences" by General Douglas MacArthur
Jeffrey MacArthur-Fox is a tartan designer who designed and registered his own private tartans in 2000. However, Mr. MacArthur-Fox has confirmed that the green and dress tartan can be used by any individual or for dancers, pipe bands or other social groups. These will show up occasionally in weavers’ tartan guides and recently on some Scottish Highland Clan merchandise, but none of the below should be considered official Clan Arthur tartans.
Private family tartan.
Replaced by the MacArthur-Fox Green tartan.
THE TARTAN STORY
In recent years, academic historians have gone to great lengths to explain that there never was such a thing as Clan Tartan. Instead, they surmise, that there were only ever local tartans. Their plausible theory suggests that local weavers used local dyes and therefore plaids of similar colour and sett (or pattern) were woven in a locale where one Clan (or name) was predominant. These local tartans were only latterly ascribed Clan status during the “Tartan Revival” of post 1825AD, being spurred in particular by the publication of the Vestiarium Scoticum in 1842AD and Costume of the Clans in 1843AD written by the Sobieski Stuarts. This theory may be partly true, but it is certainly not the whole story, and there is a folk legend in Scotland that suggests a very different evolution.
After the Jacobite defeat at Culloden in 1746AD, the wearing of tartan was proscribed (banned) by the British Government and the Clans who had supported “Bonnie Prince Charlie” were placed on a “Death List”. If you bore the name or were caught wearing tartan, you could be executed on the spot! The story recorded by the people of Scotland remembers that during this dark period, many Clansmen changed their name to avoid a horrendous death. A lot of these Clansmen changed their names to colours and this is why there are so many surnames in Scotland like, Black (or Blackie), White (or Whyte), Grey (or Gray), Green (or Greene), Reid (or Reed meaning Red), and Brown (or Broun / Broon). Notably, the coloured surnames of Orange, Purple, Blue and Yellow are virtually absent in Scotland.
In some instances, the Scottish tartan folk legend further reports that the Clansmen changed their names to the predominant colour of their Clan tartan. This aspect of the legend is neither provable nor dismissible due to the large variety of Clan tartans, but a large proportion of Scottish “coloured” names are septs of major Jacobite Clans.
The tartan folk legend is given further credence from another local story that Clan Gregor (MacGregors) met in Ayrshire sometime after Culloden and decided to split into the four branches of Black, White, Grey, and Green.
Further afield, several 3,000 to 4,000-year-old mummies have been discovered buried in the deserts of Northern China and Southern Mongolia. These Caucasian people were up to six feet tall, had red hair and, in some instances were dressed in plaid (tartan) woven from European wool! It appears that tribal tartan may be a truly ancient concept.