Creating a tartan for Derbyshire

The University of Derby's end of year fashion show 2016 featured garments by students using the new Derbyshire tartan. Photo ...

The University of Derby's end of year fashion show 2016 featured garments by students using the new Derbyshire tartan. Photo Steff Postles - Credit: Archant

Nicola Allen meets Fiona and Leslie Trotter who have designed and produced a distinctive cloth for their adopted county

Fiona and Leslie Trotter at home with the fabric

Fiona and Leslie Trotter at home with the fabric - Credit: Archant

Sitting in the living room of their Ripley home, Fiona and Leslie Trotter nervously waited for the delivery that would make or break their dream of creating a tartan for Derbyshire. It would be the culmination of months of hard work, painstakingly researching the colours that could represent the county they had come to call home, designing the material, checking who had the rights to the name ‘Derbyshire’ and having it woven to their strict specifications.

Although Fiona and Leslie had spent the majority of their working lives making garments for their own business, Tweeds with Style, this was the first textile design that they had created. They had chosen the colours and carried out the design using a computer programme so they had no idea what ‘Derbyshire’ Tartan would truly look like until it was delivered to their house.

Fiona said: ‘We didn’t know what the cloth was going to look like until it was finally woven. There were a few things we weren’t sure about. We had to have the green specially dyed because we couldn’t find the green we were looking for. Also, in most modern tartans the pattern repeat is five to six inches but we had a traditional set size which was 11 and a half inches and that takes longer to weave. We had 50 metres of it delivered. We were told the day it would arrive and we sat in our house and it got to 1pm, 2pm and then it came at 4pm. It was a big heavy roll and we just sat there saying “Do we open it or don’t we?”

‘When we saw it, it was amazing. It was just as we thought it would be, we were so relieved.’

The University of Derby's end of year fashion show 2016 featured garments by students using the new Derbyshire tartan. Photo ...

The University of Derby's end of year fashion show 2016 featured garments by students using the new Derbyshire tartan. Photo Steff Postles - Credit: Archant

The idea to create ‘Derbyshire’ Tartan was sparked by a chat with two ladies at Ripley Town Hall, where local businesses had been invited to a Peak District tourism event.

Fiona said: ‘We had moved from the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides in 2012 to be closer to our son who had been boarding at Alderwasley Hall. Our business at the time was making garments from Harris Tweed and we went to this meeting at Ripley Town Hall where we met two ladies who thought we actually wove Harris Tweed. We talked about how the colours for Harris Tweed were chosen by taking inspiration from the rugged landscape, the beaches, the sea and the sky. One of the ladies said there should be a Derbyshire version, although the comment was tongue in cheek.

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‘Not knowing Derbyshire that well at the time and having never designed textiles it was not something that we really thought about.’

At the time the couple’s eldest son was part of a pipe band and Fiona had always wanted to make a kilt. She read a book called The Art of Kiltmaking and it detailed how colours represented each family and that was when the couple thought they could make a tartan for Derbyshire.

Leslie and Fiona present a mounted piece of the tartan to Cllr Steve Freeborn, Chair of Derbyshire County Council

Leslie and Fiona present a mounted piece of the tartan to Cllr Steve Freeborn, Chair of Derbyshire County Council - Credit: Archant

Leslie said: ‘We asked people we knew in business if they thought it was a feasible idea and they thought it was and they were more connected to Derbyshire than we were so we decided to do it. We researched what Derbyshire was famous for and that’s where the colours came from, looking at the county’s history.

‘We decided on green to represent the countryside, red to signify the industrial heritage including Midland Railway and Derwent Valley Mills, black is the coal and lead mining and purple was inspired by the Blue John minerals and heather, white is the limestone quarries and yellow is the Tudor rose emblem which has been the county badge since the 1470s.’

It wasn’t all plain sailing from there though. The couple wanted to register the tartan with the Scottish Register of Tartans so that it could be considered as an authentic tartan. Registering the Tartan also gives it its place among tartans around the world and places certain restrictions on how it can be used.

Fiona said: ‘When you fill in the form to register the tartan you have to say what it’s going to be called and we didn’t know if we had the right to use the name Derbyshire. We wrote to the Chief Executive of Derbyshire County Council and got a letter back three weeks later saying that nobody had the rights to the name Derbyshire. In order to register the tartan we had to send written proof of the research that we had done. Once they checked it was not too similar to any other tartans then they registered it. It took about four weeks before we found out that we had been successful. We checked the register on the internet and there it was and within 24 hours we had two different companies contacting us asking to weave it.’

Since ‘Derbyshire’ Tartan was produced, the couple have been spreading the word about the fabric.They have worked on projects with local students, created their own garments and licensed other people to use it.

Fiona said: ‘We met a hand-weaver from Belper and we knew a kiltmaker who would make kilts to our specifications as most kilts are pleated to the white stripe but we wanted it pleated to the black stripe. I had a kilt made in it for Cameron’s graduation. We also decided to have the material woven in a lighter weight so it would be more suitable for fashion fabrics. It’s just got out by word of mouth really, we’ve done a lot of talks, attended events and handed out leaflets. A friend once said to us that it’s weaving its way out through Derbyshire and I thought that was quite appropriate. We also presented a piece of ‘Derbyshire’ Tartan that had been mounted to Derbyshire County Council.’

The couple have linked up with Made in Derbyshire and they are also working with Derbyshire Community Foundation – for every metre of fabric that’s sold they donate a percentage to the Foundation. They also approached the University of Derby, donating material so that three final year Fashion students could make garments for their end of year show, and worked with Kirk Hallam Community Academy, again donating material so the students could make accessories for a special project.

Leslie said everybody who has seen ‘Derbyshire’ Tartan loves it: ‘Some people have said that the green is a bit too bright for them but we have plans to create a more muted version. There’s just so much mileage in it, it can be used for clothes, accessories or it could be used in guest houses and hotels. We just want it to be accessible to everyone. We would like to make it in polywool so that it’s washable. We’ve done cushions for a guest house in Belper, we just want to get it out there and for people to see it.

‘There are a lot of tartans out there. Canada has one and there are even corporate tartans – Asda has it’s own tartan. A lot of people think it’s a Scottish thing but it’s not. The very first type of tartan was not a clan tartan, as everybody thinks, it was a district tartan that represents an area. There are lots of different categories.’

Fiona and Leslie are passionate about retaining as many local links as possible when creating ‘Derbyshire’ Tartan products. ‘We want to keep it local, to involve as many local businesses as possible. We make garments from it but we also licence other people who want to use the fabric to make things. The licence places certain restrictions as to how they use the fabric so that it remains authentic. They also get a label and a card which needs to be with any item that’s sold. We’ve had orders for bags, kilts, sashes and ties.

‘We wanted to work with Derbyshire Community Foundation because we wanted to give something back to Derbyshire. This tartan is for the people of Derbyshire, it’s just something that we felt we wanted to do.’

It appears that ‘Derbyshire’ Tartan could be just the start for the Trotters as they have now designed a tartan specifically for the Peak District, which is in the process of being registered. As Fiona concluded: ‘We are very excited to be working on this new project with the Peak District National Park Authority and, once again, are really looking forward to seeing the new tartan when it’s completed.’

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