Sir John Watson Gordon. James Hogg, 1770 - 1835. Poet; 'The Ettrick Shepherd', 1830. Location: Scottish National Gallery Image: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sir_John_Watson_Gordon_-_James_Hogg,_1770_-_1835._Poet;_%27The_Ettrick_Shepherd%27_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
You will certainly know this cloth pattern ... It has so many associative names. Glenplaid, tartan, twill, herringbone, Border tartan, the Falkirk tartan, houndstooth pattern ...
Let's take a closer look at a perennial fall/winter favorite named houndstooth. This attention-grabbing name is not the only one that describes the classic woven pattern. Historically it has been named a Border tartan and is also known as Northumbrian tartan, Shepherd's Plaid or Border check. It is a design used in woven fabrics that historically are associated with the Anglo-Scottish Border, including the Scottish Borders and Northumbria. Possibly the most identifiable Border tartan garment has been the plaid. Its proponents were writers and famous intellectuals - Walter Scott, James Hogg, Robert Burns and many others.
And what was it then? From the ancient tartan evolved the modern Border tartan with a distinctive cross-weave of small dark and light checks. Traditionally, the yarn for the light squares was simply untreated sheep's wool and the darker yarn was the same wool dyed with simple vegetable dyes, such as alder bark or water flag, or just the untreated wool of a black sheep.[11.]
Contemporary Border tartans are almost invariably a bold black and white check, but historically the light squares were the yellowish color of untreated wool, with the dark squares any of a range of dark grays, blues, greens or browns; hence the alternative name of "Border Drab." [3.] Historically, this fabric has been used as a component of camouflage clothing as at a distance the checks blend together. It is also used to hide minor stains in clothing. This style of tartan is also one of the most ancient in existence. [3.]
One of the historically important fragments of such houndstooth check was discovered in Falkirk, Scotland. This textile fragment, known as the Falkirk tartan is the earliest check or tartan fragment that so far has been found in the British Isles and dates back to Roman times (around the 3rd century CE). [10.]
From Falkirk, it may also come with its alternate name: the Border tartan. As Falkirk is at the crossroads of all roads through the region, tartan's alternate name may have emerged as the Border tartan.
Exactly from this early general check pattern emerged the Houndstooth variant, first developed in Lowland Scotland. [1.] The term "houndstooth" itself is derived from the protruding jagged teeth that define that particular block. [6. ]
And that's it. A classic Scottish tartan cloth pattern, which is an essential part of the men's classic wardrobe, as well as a quite popular pattern for women's skirts, trousers, coats and jackets.
References & Further Reading:
1. Dunbar, J.T. The Costume of Scotland. - London: Batsford, 1984.