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A Shepherd's Plaid for Northumberland.

My very first Shepherd's Plaid was woven for Peter, the president of the Northumbrian Language Society who wanted a distinctive garment to wear at official functions; what could be better than a traditional Northumbrian Tartan plaid?

I was aware of the existence of plaids but I didn't know too much about them so I did a bit of research and set about designing Peter's plaid. The basic features of a Shepherd's plaid that I incorporated into my design included; the Northumbrian Tartan, a simple tartan and one of the oldest; the length of the plaid which is generally over three metres (nine feet ten inches) ensuring there is enough fabric to wrap around the body multiple times and natural, un-dyed wool, in this instance, Welsh Mountain.

The structure of Northumbrian Tartan is very simple and follows a six dark, six light colour sequence and is generally woven in 2/2 twill, a fairly straight forward fabric to weave for any competent weaver. What makes a plaid slightly less than straight forward is its size; at a starting length of over four metres, the fabric can be quite physically trying to weave and consistency is required in the beat of the weft to ensure even squares.

I didn't experience any difficulties in the weaving of the plaid but taking it off the loom is not the end of the story. Traditionally wool fabrics are 'fulled' or 'waulked' which is a finishing process designed to felt the cloth in a controlled manner to make it more robust and hard-wearing. Waulking was often a community process but, in this instance, I did the finishing in a bath of hot, soapy water and bare feet!

The process is not difficult but can be time-consuming depending on how much shrinkage is required and a close eye is needed to make sure shrinkage is equal across the cloth. Once the fabric was dry all that was left to do was give it a good press and present it to Peter.

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