AT the heart of every tartan is a special story – that’s what makes the cloth unique. Tartan is so much more than a textile, it is culture, kinship, place, time, and belonging – it brings people together simply through colour and line.

The Young Women’s Movement echoes exactly this, so creating a tartan on behalf of The House of Edgar for this brilliant charity was a truly wonderful project to be part of.

The Young Women’s Movement is Scotland’s national organisation for young women and girls’ leadership and rights. Its history dates back to 1924 as YWCA Scotland, and although it goes by a different name today, the organisation is proud of what it has achieved over the last century.

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Tartans are, at their root, a series of numbers that create a unique pattern. Hidden within The Young Women’s Movement tartan are numbers that celebrate 100 years of the organisation.

The colours are bright and vibrant, echoing the Movement’s positivity – this was an important aspect of the tartan design, and allows it to stand out in a crowd of now thousands of registered tartans.

I am proud to see a charity for young women sporting tartan, something we generally associate with masculine Highland dress in the form of kilts. It’s exciting to see more women embracing tartan and making it their own!

My own career has been all about preserving and respecting the past, while pushing this iconic textile forward into a promising and exciting future. I do believe in looking back, and understanding what has been and where it came from, in order to strongly move forward.

My role at tartan designers and weavers Macnaughtons allows me to do this every day, while working with our fantastic customers who are so passionate about the world of kilts and tartan.

I graduated with a degree in textiles in 2018 and found myself disappointed at the lack of encouragement I received while studying to pursue a career in Scottish textiles – our rich and lasting history of textiles in this country ignored for being seemingly “old-fashioned”.

But I looked past this criticism and since graduating have not stopped working with and studying tartan. I started my career as a handmade kilt maker, learning how to hand weave in my spare time so I could understand tartan to the very fibres it came from.

Now I am a tartan designer for The House of Edgar, the Highlandwear division of Macnaughton Holdings.

Macnaughtons, like tartan, has a long and rich history. Founded in 1783 by the Macnaughton family in Perthshire, the business has stood the test of time.

Known across the globe for the beautiful cloths we create, our tartans are at the forefront of the Highlandwear industry. The head office remains in Perth and our weaving mill is located further north, in Keith. I am so proud to be a tiny part of the Macnaughtons team.

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My niche choice of career has opened up so many opportunities, often in very male-dominated fields, from exhibiting alongside whisky distilleries to meeting the King to appearing on television talking about our fascinating culture – to now being a Trustee of The Scottish Tartans Authority.

I have carved out a small place for my work and have found so far that the voice of a young woman has been well received. I hope I set a positive tone for a new and exciting chapter in this industry’s future.

A recent stand-out project in both my role at Macnaughtons and as a trustee has been the recreation of the Glen Affric tartan – the oldest tartan specimen found in Scotland, dating back to c1500-1600.

We brought this tartan back to life earlier in 2024. It is a piece of living history that people can enjoy once more today.

I am proud to be, and hope to continue to be, a voice in the world of tartan for the rest of my life, because it’s so much more than just a job.

I am incredibly fortunate that lots of hard work, peaks and troughs and determination are paying off and I get to design beautiful tartans that mean the world to people – such as those who are part of The Young Women’s Movement – every day.

Emma Wilkinson is a tartan designer for The House of Edgar. This piece was written on behalf of The Young Women’s Movement which is celebrating its 100 year birthday anniversary this year.