Plaids are one of the easiest types of fabric to adapt to needlepoint. Especially symmetrical plaids, such as tartans, make wonderful needlepoint. First we’ll talk about plaids and how they are constructed, then we’ll cover how to turn that into needlepoint.
Plaids are woven patterns of different colored stripes. Because of the way the stripes interact in the weave, we get the type of pattern we call plaid. Plaids can be classified into two types. Most plaids you see are symmetrical, with both the horizontal and vertical stripes the same. The plaids pictured above are symmetrical plaids. A less common type of plaid is an asymmetrical plaid where one set of stripes is different from the other. Personal plaids, like my Birthday Plaid Mini-sock, are asymmetrical.
Tartans are a particular type of symmetrical plaid and must be registered to be an official tartan. I love this site which has hundreds of tartans pictures and indexed by name.
The pattern of a plaid, particularly of a tartan is called a sett. It is defined as a sequence of stripes of a specific width in a specific color. I have even seen books which told the sett of different tartans.
But you don’t need to have the sequence written out for you to figure it out. You can look at a plaid and learn the sett. We’ll use the plaid above for our sequence. Begin by writing down the colors. This plaid uses black, white, and red.
Now find the narrowest stripe, and call that width one. This plaid has a sequence of narrow stripes white, black, red, black. Then there is a wider white stripe, then two narrow stripes and then a very wide black stripe before the pattern repeats.
It looks to me as if the wide white stripe is as wide as four narrow stripes, so that would make it four. The back stripe is twice as wide as this whole area, which would make it 20.
The whole plaid, starting from a narrow white stripe is:
And so on.
Now that you’ve analyzed the plaid it’s time to turn it into needlepoint. Remember that the plaid is created by weaving the stripes, creating an over-under pattern. We can mimic that in needlepoint by stitching every other stitch and making stripes, first in one direction, then in the other. I’ll use a simple 4 stitch wide stripe plaid to demonstrate.
Begin by making vertical stripes, and be sure to skip every other stitch. Your canvas will look like this.
Now make the horizontal stripes, filling in the stitches you skipped. This diagram shows only the horizontal stripes for clarity.
And magically the plaid appears!
It is so easy, once you know the sequence you can make a plaid easily.