I have only a wee bit of Scottish blood, on my mother’s side, but I still find myself drawn to tartans, especially this time of year.
From time to time, I happen upon some fine examples of tartanware on ebay as well as in a nearby antiques shop. These napkin rings would be just the thing to begin a serious collection of Scottish tartanware. Made in the town of Mauchline in southwest Scotland, tartanware is made from the wood of the plane tree, known as the Sycamore here in the United States. Originally, the tartans were hand-painted on the wood, a time-consuming and expensive process. Two brothers, William and Andrew Smith, are credited with inventing the machine that was able to reproduce and ink the country’s beloved tartans onto paper. The paper was then carefully glued onto small wooden household objects, including napkin rings, sewing kits, letter openers and knife sheaths, as well as snuff and card boxes.
The paper seams were disguised with black paint, and then the entire item was coated with multiple layers of hand-applied shellac, creating a rich patina. Tartanware was produced in this fashion from the early 1840s until 1933, when the equipment, and subsequently the manufacturing business, was destroyed in a devastating fire.
Although, my fondness for plaid does seem to grow this time of year, as you can see from the photo below, I like tartan well enough year round to have a family room wing chair upholstered in a cheerful Ralph Lauren plaid.
Last year I looked and looked for some good-looking plaid wrapping paper, but to no avail. All I could find seemed either to have a metallic edge or to be overly red and green, kind of like the paper was trying too hard. (And, yes, as I write this, I realize how ridiculous it is that I could even bother about such details.) Nevertheless, this year, as I was wending my way through Target, I came upon this red wrap, which has a lovely muted plaid. The paper itself is thin, but the rolls are large as well as wide. In a moment of inspiration, I used the paper to cover my Christmas binder, the notebook in which I store decorating ideas, holiday recipes, and so forth. Looking quite festive, I think! And, although I’ve had them for years, I’ll be sure to don my plaid cheaters for reading Christmas novels and holiday cards.My last dash of plaid this season are these well-loved dinner napkins. I’m afraid they’re no longer up-to-snuff for company, but we use them for casual family and friends suppers all season long. Despite their being a bit care-worn around the edges, these napkins are wonderfully soft, and they make an ordinary dinner seem somehow festive. Surprisingly, they look great with my old Blue Willow English dishware!
If you are still yearning for tartan—or perhaps for the occasion to wear it (um, yes, I have these shoes, too)--then be sure to check out Tartans & Tidings at The Entertaining House.
It looks like a terrific holiday event for those in the MidAtlantic as well as a great fund-raiser for disadvantaged children in Baltimore.
So, tell me, does the holiday season make you mad for plaid?