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V&A Dundee Tartan Exhibition - Review

The first major tartan exhibition in Scotland for 30 years, has opened at the V&A Dundee! Exhibits include the oldest known tartan dating back to circa 1500 - 1600, a kilt worn in the First World War and from Chanel, an Ottoman silk cape from 1922 in the Gordon tartan plus much more!

V&A Dundee Marks 5th Anniversary With Major Tartan Exhibition

Tartan at V&A Dundee marks the 5th anniversary of Scotland's design museum. The first Victoria and Albert museum outside of London.

About Dundee

Dundee is known for its three J's, Jute, Journalism, and Jam. Today the city is a hub for creatives in gaming, design, and fashion. It is also the home to RRS Discovery, the 3-masted ship that took Scott and Shackelton on the Antarctic expedition between 1901-1903. With artefact collections exhibited over 2 decks and galley. A firm favourite is also the Dundee Cake.

Outside fisher and Donaldson bakery in Dundee
Since 1919, the family bakery has the best Dundee cake!


"Tartan is a textile, a pattern, a cultural phenomenon, a byword for all things Scottish.

Traditional and rebellious, adored and divided, tartan is a pattern of endless contradiction."

With more than 300 objects the tartan exhibition illustrates the universal and enduring appeal with examples of fashion, architecture, graphic and product design, photography, furniture, glass and ceramics, film, performance, and art.

Highlighting the ways tartan has shaped identities, embraces tradition, expresses rebellion, and conjures fantasy. From a checked cloth woven in multiple colours in the Highlands, tartan's distinctive pattern can now be found on every surface imaginable. No other textile pattern has been categorised to such a degree, with more than 11,000 known examples of tartan recorded worldwide proving its iconic grids continue to offer unlimited possibilities and inspiration.

Christmas Card from Fisher & Donaldson featuring a tartan box coming out of a flying helicopter and Santa waving.
Fisher & Donaldson Greeting Card

Tartan At V&A Dundee

The tartan exhibition at the V&A Dundee is organised around five themes: Tartan and the Grid, Tartan and Innovation, Tartan and Identity, Tartan and Power and Transcendental Tartan.

Through each theme historical, contemporary, everyday and luxurious objects are juxtaposed, while fact and fiction are explored in equal measure.

Tartan By Jonathan Faiers (book)

The official companion to Tartan the exhibition and inspiration. Objects have been gathered from more than 100 international lenders including high fashion of Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen to architectural drawings by Dutch Benedictine monk Hans van Laan exhibit the amazing ways tartan can inspire across design disciplines.

Photograph of the front cover of Tartan the book.
Official Companion Tartan the book by Jonathan Faiers

Tartan Film Exhibits

Tartan in conflict is explored in two film exhibits, 1745, the BAFTA nominated film by Gordon Napier focuses on tartan worn by enslaved people who fought against their situation. Also, an extract from the 2006 production by the National Theatre of Scotland, Black Watch by Gregory Burke tells the story of new recruits from the legendary Scottish regiment. The 'Fashion' sequence is a stunning piece of choreography of the dressing of young soldier Cammy by the rest of his company staged as a runway-meets-history lesson of Black Watch uniforms from 1739 up until 2004 and inspired by the military exercise of assembling a cannon.

Significant Exhibits

Portrait of rugby legend Doddie Weir (1970-2022) by Gerard M. Burns, fragments of tartan worn by Bonnie Prince Charlie, along with the MacBean tartan which rocketed to the moon on Apollo 12.

Family-Friendly Activities At Tartan

Beginning with a fashion textile workshop Use Your Voice taking place from Saturday 1st April through to Sunday 16th April. A collaboration with Fashion Revolution, where you can use scrap tartan and paper templates to design a fashion activist T-shirt. Taking place in the museum's transformed learning studio. Louise Gray has taken inspiration from Tartan's themes of activism, expression, and rebellion.

How about learning how to make your own handmade kilt? Join Gordon Nicolson Kiltmakers and The Edinburgh Kiltmakers Academy until Friday 14th April for a demonstration and the opportunity to try your hand at making your own handmade kilt. Kilts at different stages of construction will also be on display.

Additional Linked Tartan Events

The cinema at Dundee Contemporary Arts is showing a short season of tartan-inspired films: The Ghost Goes West, Clueless, and Highlander.

Gentleman from India wearing a tartan inspired kilt.
Scottish Tartan At Home Around The World

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the incredible tartan-related exhibits and discovering more about the process of how tartan is made. Did you know that for a weave to be classed as tartan, the design must incorporate The Grid? Tartan requires a minimum of two different colours, and where these two colours meet a third colour emerges. There is something for everyone to enjoy in this fascinating and in-depth tartan exhibition.

My visit was around 3 hours long, enjoying the exhibits, reading the descriptions, watching the films and of course sampling the delicious refreshments at the newly refurbished Tatha Bar & Kitchen. I can highly recommend the Cullen Skink soup!

You can see Tartan until January 2024.

Entry to the exhibition is free for those under 18 and members. Adults £16, Concessions apply and £2 discount when booking online.

Tickets are available at: V&A Dundee - Tartan

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