Plaids and Checks, Do you know the Difference?Kristin Crane
Plaids and checks. These two words often show up together, but they are not actually interchangeable. They refer to different types of patterns. Before we get into the differences between a plaid and a check, it’s important to know that both words traditionally describe a woven cloth.
So, let’s start by talking about weaving.
Plaids and checks are both designs historically made as woven cloth. And to understand woven cloth patterns, you need to know the basics about weaving. Weaving is a process of creating fabric by interlacing two yarn systems, the warp and the weft. The warp yarns run lengthwise through a fabric and are wound onto a loom. The weft yarns are put in one at a time by a weaver, crosswise through the fabric. The two yarn systems interlace at right angles to each other. The weaving process is the same, whether done by a person sitting at a loom or by a mechanized loom.
Now, let’s get back to plaids and checks.
Many fabrics are woven on a solid color warp, but plaids and checks are both made on a warp with a stripe pattern. The stripe pattern for the warp contains varying different color threads and different size stripes. In plaids and checks, the stripe pattern is not random across the warp’s width but has a regular, repeating pattern. Likewise, the weft yarns are also in a stripe pattern of different colors and sizes.
The difference between plaids and checks lies in these repeating patterns. Checks are two colors and have the same stripe pattern in the warp and the weft. The finished cloth is always symmetrical. Plaids have more than two colors and more variety in their stripe layouts. They sometimes have the same pattern in the warp and the weft, but not always.
Common Check Patterns
Gingham is a small check of two colors, one of which is usually always white. The stripes in the warp and weft directions are the same size and form small squares. Examples of gingham are those classic red and white picnic tablecloths and Dorothy’s blue and white dress in the Wizard of Oz.
A Buffalo Check is similar to a gingham but larger in scale. It is also a two-color check, and one color is usually always black. The first Buffalo Check was designed and produced by Woolrich Woolen Mills in 1850 and has been in their line ever since. The most recognizable Buffalo Check is red and black, something that would bring to mind a lumberjack.
A windowpane check is one with one large stripe and one small stripe. The small lines appear to make a grid over a ground cloth, giving it the windowpane name. A classic pattern, especially in menswear, this check is also quite versatile. Just changing the color of the stripes can make for a conservative or contemporary look.
Pin checks are basically a very tiny gingham. They are so small they almost appear to be solid with a bit of distance. Yet, they have more interest and sophistication than a solid.
Common Plaid Patterns
Tartans are perhaps some of the most famous and recognizable plaids in the world. They are traditionally woolen fabric produced in Scotland. Tartans are multicolor, and patterns have specific names that identify a community or clan. Royal Stewart and Black Watch are among the most popular tartans.
Glen plaid is short for Glenurquhart plaid, named after the Glenurquhart Valley in Scotland. The stripe patterns in the warp and weft are two dark and two light stripes alternating with four dark and four light stripes. This fabric is woven with a twill pattern creating a mix of houndstooth and pin-checks throughout the design.
A Tattersall plaid is popular in shirting and flannel shirts. Thin, regularly spaced stripes in two alternating colors repeat out to form the stripe pattern. The stripes repeat out identically in the weft to create neat squares.
Madras plaids are bright, vibrant, colorful, and a summer favorite. Named after the city in India where they originated (now modern-day Chennai), madras plaids were designed by India’s master artisans. Lightweight cotton with meticulous stripe patterns, these fabrics were perfect for hot weather.
As technology has evolved, so have plaids and checks. They are no longer reserved solely for the loom. Today, print designers often create plaid designs meant for printing on fabric. Why print a plaid? In some cases, it’s more economical to do so. Creating a striped warp can be very costly. But it’s not just about cost. Printed plaids also allow for more freedom in design. A loom has inherent limitations that do not apply to print. This freedom allows for fun and unexpected plaids and checks.
Do you have a favorite plaid or plaid textile in your life?