For Christmas 2020, one of the items in my Christmas stocking was a piece of the tartan fabric you see depicted above. Unfortunately, the colours in the photo are not terribly accurate. When seen in person, the background green is a dark forest green, and the red is very dark, more like a burgundy. There was 4.5 metres of it, and I don't remember how wide the fabric was, but I think it was more than the standard 150cm/60" wide. This sizable roll of fabric was my crazy generous sister's idea of a stocking stuffer (we use... large... stockings in my family
), and Alanna's expectation was that I would make a suit for myself out of it.
It took some time for me to evolve a plan to use all the fabric (there was SO much of it), but my first concern was actually to identify the tartan. When I asked my sister where she had bought it, she told me loftily that she "never reveals her sources", so that was a dead end. (Alanna rather prides herself on her shopping abilities and takes her shopping Very Seriously.)
I theorized that the tartan probably wasn't an official tartan, as if it were, it would have been labelled as such and Alanna would have told me what that label was, but I thought perhaps it might resemble one. I did a bit of cursory and discouraging googling, and then I turned to the Metafilter community
as I tend to do when stymied on any sort of research. The consensus there was that it resembles the Princess Mary tartan.
The Princess Mary tartan
, which is based on the Royal Stuart tartan, was created in the twenties and named after George V and Queen Mary's only daughter, it then being the fashion to name tartans after the British royals. My fabric is indeed quite similar, except that it is without the lines of blue that are in the Princess Mary tartan, so I'm going with that.
That settled, I began to think about what I would do with the fabric. I didn't want a tartan suit, as I have no place to wear such a thing, and the fabric wasn't really my colour palette anyway. But I thought perhaps I could make a skirt, trousers, and a waistcoat out of it that I could wear. I estimated how much fabric it would take to make the three items out of the fabric, and then decided I would not make the trousers, but instead make just a skirt, waistcoat, and a set of placemats. The placemats wouldn't be for me, as they wouldn't go with my dining room, but I thought they'd make a nice gift for my friend Lindsie, and that her partner would like them too, as he has Scottish roots and he and his entire family is very into their Scottish ancestry.
When thinking about the placemat design, I did some Pinterest research. I initially had ideas about doing some sort of applique design on one side of the placemats, perhaps of a Christmas tree or a stag's head, but I soon ruled that out. I saw a number of unadorned tartan placemats on Pinterest, and I liked the clean, spare look of them. Tartan doesn't need tarting up -- it stands on its own. Besides, fancy placemat design is wasted effort in the end, because one can't see the design once the place settings are on the mats.
I made a set of eight tartan placemats and they turned out pretty well. They are 18.5" wide and 12.5" inches deep. I didn't get the cuts as straight or as centred as I would have liked, but they'll do.
Now it was time to make the skirt and waistcoat. But after I dragged my heels on that for awhile, I began to think it would be nice idea to make a set of napkins with tartan trim to go with the placemat, so why not forgo the waistcoat and do that?
The idea of the waistcoat vanished into the ether, and I made a set of nine 16" x 16" napkins to go with the eight placemats. There was enough of the white fabric to cut out a ninth napkin, so I made nine. Lindsie will have a spare if one gets stained or torn, and meanwhile she can use the extra to line a bread basket.
I wasn't that thrilled with this phase of the project. The tartan trim was so much stiffer than the napkin fabric that the resulting finished napkin felt a little unwieldy. My mother thinks the tartan will soften from repeated washings, which is something to hope for. I also underestimated how much time the trim would take to do. The machine sewing didn't take that long, but then I had to handstitch the tartan binding in place on one side, and it took well over two hours to stitch down the binding of a single napkin. When the end of December 2021 came and I only had two napkins done out of nine, I resolved to stitch one side of a napkin each day in January. I kept that resolution fairly well and had the remaining seven napkins finished by the end of January 2022.
Once I'd made the tartan napkin bindings, there wasn't a lot of fabric left. I could no longer make a pleated skirt, but only a straight one. And I began to think about what I'd wear that skirt with, and how I would probably have to get a new sweater and shoes to wear with it.... and then I began to think about a table runner.
And yes, the rest of the tartan fabric did in fact become a table runner. The finished item is 10.5" wide and just a smidge over 8.5' long. It's not one long piece of fabric as it should be, but I was able to piece the tartan in a fairly well matched way on one side, and Lindsie can always put a centrepiece or something over the seam if she wants to.
My photos of the napkins, placemats, and table runner on the floor were so unimpressive I decided to do a little staging. Here's how the table runner will look on a not too-large table with a centrepiece hiding that inconvenient seam.
I put together a table setting, using my own tableware, to see how the placemat and table napkin would look in action. Not too bad. I do consider this table set flawed, but it presents well enough if one doesn't look too close.
And what began as a gift I was making just to use up fabric has become my gift for Lindsie's 50th birthday. She and my friend Christine, who are my two closest friends, are both to reach the half-century mark in May 2022, and late last year I decided I would make them each a special gift for this milestone birthday -- something that they could use and enjoy for years -- and also have them both to Swan's End for a birthday lunch. The date of the lunch is yet to be determined as one of them can't make weekend plans right now due to some family stuff, but I'm looking forward to it. I haven't seen either of them since before the pandemic began, and as I've told them, it was so considerate of them to be born only nine days apart so that I would only have to prepare one birthday meal.
In addition to the table set, Lindsie is also to get two tissue cases, a jar of my lavender jelly, and some cookies, which I'll bake once I know the date of the lunch. I think she'll feel appropriately celebrated.
As for Alanna, I think she's a bit miffed I didn't make myself that three-piece tartan suit, but she did approve of the table set, and at least her gift wasn't wasted -- I didn't throw out more than a handful of scraps of that tartan.