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Polaris Tartan

I started thinking about kilts when I discovered or rediscovered that there is a tartan that was specifically designed for the officers and men who served in the Polaris Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines stationed at Holy Loch near Dunoon, Argyll and Bute, Scotland.

Here follows the tale of my pursuit of a Polaris tartan Kilt.

It is said that then Captain Walter F. Schlech, Commodore of SUBRON 14, had the idea for a tartan design for the men and officers of the Site 1 Submarine Base at the Holy Loch. Similarly worded blurbs abound on the internet. As best I can determine, Captain Schlech served as SUBRON 14 from August 1961 to November 1962. The Polaris Tartan was designed by Alexander MacIntyre of Strone.

So I solicited three kiltmakers - two in Scotland and one in the US. Actually the two in Scotland are highland outfitters and not strictly kiltmakers. One of the Scots never replied to my query. The kiltmaker here in the US informed me that the Polaris Tartan is "under restriction". That kiltmaker interpreted the restriction to mean that the rights to the tartan are owned by the US Government and as such only the US Government can grant permission to have the tartan woven. The outfitter in Scotland concurred but included this note in his email (unedited except for the line break in the middle of the thread count and I have removed an email address):

Polaris Military
Thread Count:
BL24 K4 BL4 K4 BL4 K28 G24 GO4 K4 RB4 K4 GO4 G24 K28 BL28 K4 BL4

[here the pattern reverses - not enough room on the line]

K4 BL28 K28 G24 GO4 K4 RB4 K4 GO4 G24 K28 BL4 K4 BL4 K4

Called 'Polaris' for very many years, its correct name is 'Polaris Military'. Designed in 1964 by Alexander MacIntyre of Strone, Strone House, Argyll for the officers and men of the American Submarine base at the Holy Loch - making the Polaris submarine the first ship in history to have its own tartan. The idea came from Captain Walter F Schlech of the USS Proteus AS19 who was Commander of the submarine squadron. The Lord Lyon of the time blew a gasket apparently when the tartan was submitted to him and is quoted as saying "We don't record tartans for submarines. It is nonsense. I have never heard of a ship's tartan in the whole history of Scotland!". There has been confusion about the colours between the two gold lines but this version appears to be the correct one and is based on a first generation copy by Jamie Scarlett of D C Stewart's original Sindex cards (stored in the Inverness Archives). The Polaris as originally woven by Lochcarron and supplied to MacIntyre of Strone for sale on the Polaris base was yellow - green - ancient blue - green - yellow. Where that sequence came from isn't known. To complicate matters, Kenny Dalgliesh says that he wove the original piece for the submarine commander.and has since woven over 200 yards and used Gold - Dark Blue - Sky Blue - Dark Blue - Gold. The next weave was undertaken by Scott Brothers of Hawick in July 1978 who seem to have reverted to what is now regarded as the correct sequence YKBKY. The navy blue represents the naval uniform, the dark green the depths of the oceans and the Royal Blue and gold overchecks represent the 'Blue' and 'Gold' crews who alternate. Sample in STA Johnstone Collection. Only available from Bells of Dunoon (Sept 2004)

A scan of the Scottish Tartans Society (STS) sindex card that was provided to Electric Scotland by James Scarlett has a date of 1964. I presume that this 1964 date is the date of "registration" with the STS. This fits with information found on the Scottish Tartans Authority's web site. The Electric Scotland site has been edited and no longer contains the sindex card nor the complete story of the color controversy. Being the sort of pack-rat person I am I have saved a copy. STS is now apparently defunct.

Polaris sindex card

Bells of Dunoon. I've been there. Had a cap that I got there and wore everywhere til I misplaced it. So, I email Bells. They claimed to be the only ones using the tartan but they weren't using it in a weight suitable for kilts. If I wanted them to make me a kilt they or I would have to buy enough cloth for at least eight kilts. They elected not to do that.

Also from the Electric Scotland site I learned that kilts made from the Polaris tartan are worn by the Pipes & Drums of the Brigade of Midshipmen at the US Naval Academy. So, I sent them an email inquiring about their kiltmaker. I never got a reply.

So there it sat. I wanted to wear a kilt to Ann's and Gina's wedding so I ordered a kilt from White Thistle Kiltmakers (apparently now out of the business) in the County Wicklow tartan. I love it but it isn't Polaris.

So fast forward to November of 2006. I've found a kilt maker who can make me a kilt from 16 ounce Polaris woven by DC Dalgliesh. This kiltmaker, Alexis Malcolm, is the kiltmaker for the USNA Pipes & Drums. Now all I need is enough money. Doesn't help that I just bought a rather expensive antique kilt pin (the photo shows the pin on a swatch of Polaris that Alexis sent to me).

This image of the Polaris was created with Nick Wedd's Tartan Generator.

Update 2008 December:

I got notice in late October that Elsie Scott Stuehmeyer will be giving her kiltmaking workshop again in late March / early April this year. Signed up right away. Sent an email to D.C. Dalgliesh in Selkirk, Scotland. They said that they could weave me eight yards of single width Polaris tartan as a special weave. By the time we'd figured out how I was going to pay for it, someone (I'm guessing Alexis Malcolm) had ordered enough of the Polaris that our two orders would be woven on the double-width loom and my tartan wouldn't be as expensive as single-width.

Got my tartan before the end of November. I'll try to post progress pictures and comentary though if this project is similar to the X-Marks kilt project ...


Last modified: 2011 Mar 12 1523:13 UTC