The short answer to that question is "just about any tartan you need." I order cloth for my kilts from some of the top producers of tartan material in Scotland, including Lochcarron of Scotland, the House of Edgar, and D. C. Dalgliesh of Selkirk. Hundreds of tartans are available from the stock of these major mills, all of whom are specialists in providing the highest quality cloth for kilt making.
If the tartan you desire is not available from stock, I will be happy to have it woven for you. Working closely with the Scottish mills, I can have enough cloth custom woven for a single kilt. This way you can have just the tartan you want, without having to invest in a bolt of fabric you do not need. The only exceptions to this would be certain copyrighted or proprietary tartans which cannot be produced without permission. We adhere to ethical business practices and will not infringe upon any other company's or individual's design rights. However, this is not a concern for 99.99% of the tartans we are asked about.
I firmly believe that a quality kilt begins with quality fabric. I use 16 oz heavy weight worsted wool for the styles of kilt that I make. The heavy weight cloth has a more masculine hang, holds a pleat better, and provides a higher quality, better looking kilt all around. It also does not wrinkle as easily as lighter weight cloth, therefore requireing less maintenance on your part. Most people who choose lighter weight cloth over heavy weight for their kilts do so because they believe it will be cooler to wear. However, as my kilts are all lower yardage than the typical eight yard modern kilt, they will be lighter and more comfortable even with the heavy weight cloth. So there is no reason to sacrifice quality!
All tartan used in my kilts is 100% wool and woven in Scotland.
I have put together a listing of all of the heavy weight tartans that are available from stock from the various Scottish mills providing me with tartan.
The above list also includes some 18 oz Regimental weight options, which also make for very good, durable kilts. If you do not see the tartan you are looking for on the list, I will be more than happy to have your tartan woven for you.
The most complete database of tartan designs is the International Tartan Index, maintained by the Scottish Tartans Authority. It is considered the industry standard. You can browse through the Index on the STA web site using their "Tartan Ferret" search engine. >CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE TARTAN FERRET
If you do not yet know what tartan you wish to wear, I am happy to make recommendations. There are no strict "rules" about who may wear which tartan, other than the tradition of using tartans as representative symbols. When you wear a tartan, you are identifying yourself with what that tartan represents, be it a clan, family, district, occupation, what have you. It is up to you to decide what tartan you choose to wear. I will make what recommendations I can -- if you email me with a surname I can let you know what, if any, tartan is traditionally associated with that name. But ultimately the choice is yours.
And if you are looking for something truly custom, I also offer a full tartan design service. If you wish to have a new tartan for your family, business, club, school, chuch, etc., or even a personal design just for yourself, please contact me about your needs.
You will notice that tartans are typically woven in a variety of different color schemes. The most popular of these are ancient, modern and weathered, though you may occasionally see others, such as muted or antique. For an explanation of these terms, please read my article on the topic, "Tartan Colors: A Photo Essay." In brief, the so-called modern colors are the standard, while the ancient colors are meant to represent what a tartan might look like after many, many years of fading (rather like stone washed jeans are made new to already look old and worn in). Weathered colors (also called reproduction) are meant to represent what a tartan might look like after a few hundred years buried in the earth. They are all legitimate choices, and each represents the same tartan woven in different hues; they are not considered different tartans.
There is one color option I want to point out especially to you, and that is the color palette used by the old weaving firm William Wilson & Sons of Bannockburn. Wilsons was the first large scale producer of tartan cloth, opening their business sometime c. 1765. As you may imagine, most tartan in this period was hand woven in small lengths, from yarns dyed in small batches, and so colors varied greatly. Wilsons produced tartan on a larger scale and were the first to standardize their colors.
Photo from an old, faded Kennedy tartan kilt, showing the original darker colors inside the pleats. The inspiration of the "ancient" color scheme.
While the common practice today is for tartans to either be all dark (modern colors) or all light (ancient colors), in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the practice was to create a balance of light and dark in the tartan. Wilsons' standard colors followed this practice. The most noticable difference is that the greens used are a bit lighter than generally seen today, leaning more towards a loden shade. The reds are also a bit more subdued. As we have the ability to have short lengths of tartan custom woven for your kilt, we can easily have cloth woven in the historic colors of Wilsons of Bannockburn if you desire. Below are a few examples of tartans we've had woven in these traditional shades. You can view more examples of tartans we have had woven in the historic Wilsons colors in our Google+ photo gallery.