There are many excellent sites on the internet that give the history, description and details of tartans. It is not our intention to explore this further other than in relation to the production of true tartan hose.

Strictly speaking no highland outfit is complete if matching hose are not included, but due to the cost and difficulty of getting these made, it has now become normal practice to wear plain hose with kilts in evening wear and for some bands. Only in Highland Dancing Competitions is the strict code still applied and points are lost if "not properly dressed".

The purpose of this section is to give you some idea of the work involved in producing a pair of hose to match your kilt.

Structure of Tartans Cloth

  1. The first requirement of a tartan cloth is that it should be a twill woven fabric.
  2. The second requirement is that the warp (the lengthwise threads) have a strictly defined number and sequence of coloured threads, known as the "Sett". In most tartans (about 98% of them) there is a centerline to this sett and the number and sequence of each colour is symmetrical about this centerline.
  3. The third requirement is that the weft (the crosswise threads) of the weave follow the exact same "sett" sequence as the warp.

The main wide blocks of colour are known as the "undercheck", and each block normally has one or more thin lines of other coloured threads known as the "overcheck". The three requirements above give the cloth its characteristic checked appearance, with solid coloured squares of the undercheck and overcheck repeated along a diagonal, and in between there is a mixture (or marl) of the colours.

Structure of Knitted Hose

The tartan check is the result of the interaction of the multiple warp and weft threads in the weaving process. In knitting however only one thread is used in a plain fabric, or one thread in each coloured area in an intarsia (see terminology) fabric. It is therefore impossible to copy the checked structure of the cloth in a knitted fabric. The nearest approximation is to replace the undercheck with diamonds of solid woven colour and marls.

In knitted hose the main colours of the undercheck are represented by solid diamonds along the front and back of the leg, and the marls are the diamonds on the sides of the leg. The diamonds also have overchecks to match the tartan.

If the tartan has more than two main colours, it may be necessary to have "split diamonds" in order to incorporate all of them. Similarly if there are multiple colours in the overcheck, it may be necessary to make a two colour overcheck. Both these operations involve significant extra work and therefore add to the cost.

Matching colours

With thousands of tartans already registered (for official registry refer to, and new ones being registered every day, it is impossible to exactly match the colours in all the tartans produced in different mills and slightly different colour specifications. The Company tackles this problem by having its own yarn spun to 1/40nm. It is then dyed to the most commonly used tartan shades, but even this means that we hold about 20 shades of "green" and similar number shades of "blue". The photograph shows a small selection of our dyed colours.


For each pair of hose ordered, solid and marl yarns are selected and twisted on our 130 year old spinning machine to give the best match for the tartan.

winder1-70 a_Winder_2-70

Single yarns on winder Folded to 4ply solid and mar

These facilities mean that we can quickly respond to customers demands and produce matches for old and new tartans, and output from different mills. With the introduction of so many new tartans, we have to make marls for many of the new "main undercheck" colours to achieve "best match", and we will in future make a surcharge from this additional work.

Types of Hose

There are two types of hose, seamfree and fully fashioned.

Seamfree hose are produced on a cylinder machine with a fixed number of needles, this type of fixed needle machine is normally used for sock production. It produces a tubular hose and the calf muscle being accommodated by loosening the stitch size. It is suitable for juveniles and young ladies where the difference between ankle and calf circumference is not too great, the limit is a 15.5" calf measurment.


Mabel on seamfree machine

Fully fashioned are made on flatbed machines so that the number of stitches can be varied to allow for the shape of the leg. These are then sewn together and have a seam along the back of the leg. These are the more traditional type of full clan hose and can be used for all sizes but must be used if the calf measurment is over 15.5 inches.

May-70 Carol-70

May and Carol knitting fully fashioned hose


Finally two very different examples of our tartan hose. A pair of children's seamfree Dress Red Erskine hose. A pair of adult fully fashioned with split diamonds to accommodate all the colours in an Ancient Hunting McPherson tartan.

Hope you have found this short description on how tartan dance (or dress) hose are made, interesting. If you have any other questions please Contact Us


You can also find us on


Kilkeel Dancing Hose
44 Newry Road
Co. Down
BT34 4DU

Tel: 028 4176 5717
Fax: 028 4176 3241

Click Here to make an enquiry.