Prickly Thistle: Returning Tartan To Its Ancestral Home

It's only fair to share...Buffer this pageShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

“Life is a one ticket journey, and we do not all need to follow the same path. Be kind to others who wish to create a new one.”

– Clare Campbell, Prickly Thistle

We at Sass3 passionately believe in leaders who have an innovative idea to create change within their local communities. Yet, sometimes, we are lucky enough to meet pacesetters or pioneers who have greater goals and higher purposes to use their vision to spark change well beyond their borders. When we think of these qualities, there is one particular person that immediately comes to our minds – Clare Campbell, the founder of the tartan and textile company Prickly Thistle. We are proud to present her story through our most recent interview where we discussed her passion to forge changes in the tartan industry by establishing The Black House Mill Project and her journey to create the most authentic tartans in the world.

Clare Campbell embodies strength and courage, becoming a trailblazer for transformation in her industry. Come and learn about her campaign, synonymous to a modern day uprising, to support this important endeavor of bringing authentic tartan production back to its roots in the spiritual and majestic Highlands of Scotland.

The Influence of History 

Tartan has long been admired for the beauty associated with the diversity of its textile designs, while also eliciting a heartfelt connection to the history that is connected to it. One significant moment in history that is reflective of the tartan is the Battle of Culloden. This was Scotland’s last war for freedom and demonstrates the high costs of war – loss and retribution. Most notably, the Highland Clans’ way of life was dismantled by the enactment of the Act of Proscription in 1747 which forbade the wearing of traditional tartan. It wasn’t until 36 years later that tartan was readily worn again, primarily due to the growth of the Highland Regiment in support of the Crown and the belief that the Jacobite cause was permanently extinguished. The removal of the tartan encompassed an entire generation, and this impact can still be seen in the industry today.

Clare Campbell’s Story 

Photo Courtesy / Prickly Thistle

Clare’s diverse and successful career helped her recognize that her true passion was to “form a business that gives people around the world an emotional experience and champions an economic uprising for the Highlands in one of its most iconic industries.” She has since brought to the forefront that tartan is more than a textile. It is a cloth that represents purpose, heritage, identity, belonging, and a lasting family legacy that can withstand time. Clare continues to embody these same principles, established over 200 years ago, in her current endeavors to breathe new life into tartan again.

Her fight to build the only weaving mill in the Highlands has personal significance to her. She shared that “Prickly Thistle is a brand born from my passion to create a legacy for all of my clients through a bespoke tartan design and then create the perfect product collection for them. This style of cloth has become synonymous with identity and, in our fast paced global society, we crave this more than ever.”

“My heritage has influenced this as a I am a born Highlander. I am proud to be part of the Highland community and call this place my home. Personal loss in life, my heritage, and being with those I treasure the most has all played a significant influence on my life choices. My passion to work every day helping others, to create something truly special to them on a personal level, is an honor.”

The Inspiration Behind Her Products

Today, the admiration of strong women who are leaders within the community continues to grow. It is their strength and courage to strive to form new paths, take alternate perspectives, and look wholeheartedly to the future, without forgetting the past, that will make a difference in history. Clare’s project is one such example. We asked her what were her hopes and goals for the future. Here is what she told us:

“It does, indeed, require a lot of strength to put your vision out to the public and be assessed in a very public way. The ultimate goal is to be able to say to backers from around the world that tartan has been restored to the Highlands – those who can support this project will be in the history books for sure. I have many hopes. Foremost, I want the mill to be a northern beacon for change by taking home-grown talent, raw materials, and restoring the manufacturing to the Highlands. We can then lead a new way for this truly powerful cloth, that has immense purpose, to fit within the modern world and transfer to a global audience.”

Black House Mill

Pixabay / CC0 / 2431772

 “The mill site is just a few metres from my family home on the Black Isle. I was born in Inverness and grew up just across the firth from where the mill is. I can see my home town in the distance and surrounded by landscape that provides me with the comfort that I am indeed home.”

“When it comes to the origin or provenance of tartan, you have to absolutely respect the traditional elements to see natural dyes revived and combined with the local wool resources. These are two ingredients that are not being fully embraced in the Scottish industry presently, for various reasons. The commercial factors have an influence on this. However, these are ingredients the international arena admire us for, and we need to not let this just become something we used to do in the past. Artisan crafts keep us human. Without including these natural elements, there is a tendency to become overly driven by the modern world. I believe we are natural animals ourselves and are soothed by all things natural, whether we are aware of it or not.”

“Our ancestors gave us a gift, an industry, that in many respects we should be leading in at all times. I believe it is part of our national identity. If we can build the mill, it will be the only one in the Highland region as per the current mapping. Most tartans are produced in Aberdeenshire and the Borders of Scotland.”

The Art of Design: Creating New Stories

Tartan will always have a purpose: to tell a story. Clare also provides a service to help others reflect their own personal history by creating a specially designed cloth, a personal memoir reflected in color and design, that can be cherished for a lifetime.

“Each bespoke design takes its own journey to tune into the client’s story, the aspects that resonate with them. It takes time to refine what has the most significant importance to them, and it is these elements that I incorporate through color and thread counts, and what order they weave together. Most designs involve face to face meetings, and with modern communication abilities this can be a skype call with anyone around the world. To capture the whole journey I use my unique design portal – a private space where the client and I document chapters of the journey through narrative and images. This is one of the elements of digital that is hugely positive, as this enables the client to access their experience at anytime and share with others.”

A Mission To Spread Her Vision In NYC

Pixabay / CC0 / 1590175

Most recently, Clare visited New York City to help spread the word of this campaign and meet other supporters who believe in the new future for tartan.

“NYC was fast paced and city that never sleeps! A little different from home, although long days are comparable.  I loved the US ambitious spirit and real can do anything attitude. Culturally, this is very different to Scotland. We tend to be a little more coy about these things. On November 10th, I spent the day reflecting on the great Scottish ancestors who influenced such an incredible bond between the US and Scotland. I enjoyed watching New York pass me by – feeling the buzz of excitement, the people rushing, and observing the number of plaid scarves! It seemed that every second person was wearing one, but I am slightly obsessed with spotting tartan/plaid everywhere I go. From gift paper to coat linings to ribbons in little girls’ hair, I see so much of it everywhere and feel proud of my Scottish heritage.”

“I met so many amazing people who shared so much admiration for what I was trying to do back in this tiny little country. Many, if not all, were shocked to hear how small the tartan weaving industry really was and that there were no mills in the Highlands.”

“In addition to visiting with supporters, it was 9 a.m. meetings for coffee most days, then up and down Fifth Avenue to various office locations, and down to the One World Trade Center. Of course, I thought I could walk everywhere and I did, most of the time. This is where I was able to savour all of the quirky artisan stores from shoemakers to book collectors, delighted in both craft and history.”

“One of my most memorable moments was when I was visiting the Carnegie Corporation on Madison Avenue. Sitting in the Louise Carnegie boardroom – looking at the images of the Great Andrew Carnegie, his family, and his best friends – I was reminded that on that day he decided to inspire millions. As one of our greatest Scots in history, I have nothing but admiration for one man who gave and continues to give so much. His faith in mankind, his hope to achieve greater things, and I love that his first ever job was in a textiles mill. He was a bobbin boy!”

We learned that Clare’s trip to New York City also coincided with a significant date in history. November 10th, 1997 was a day that Scottish Americans received official recognition by the United States Congress for their achievements and contributions to science and technology. The official government title was Special Resolution 155. However, this act is more formally recognized as National Tartan Day. It is a holiday that inspires grand celebrations on April 6th of each year.

“One of my favourite places is Grand Central Station, such a stunning building, [with] so many people on a life journey passing through each tunnel.  I stood for a long time and just watched, and staring up at the amazing grand hall artwork – trying to imagine on the 10th of November 1997 who would have walked through here that day and were they talking about the resolution.”

The Influence of Outlander

“The Outlander series and books have created one of the most significant spotlights for the Highlands of Scotland for many years – our community has benefited in so many ways. Being a very rural region with many geographical challenges and lost industries to centralised hubs, the Outlander effect has most certainly carved its way into the real history books of the Highlands. The positive impacts on tourism has been phenomenal. For me, I am just overwhelmed on a daily basis about the continued level of support. So many fans have connected with the vision and believe in why this is so important to revive this industry within the Highlands. The sad fact of today is that many in Scotland, I believe, have accepted that the industry has been lost and that it cannot be restored because of failings in the past. But times have changed. If we do not fight for something we so passionately believe in, then, all is truly lost. I think the Outlander fans can re-invigorate that lost pride, and I think this is already happening with this campaign.”

“This campaign was always built with the importance on the size of the crowd, to prove tartan woven in the Highlands is wanted by many across the world. I feel it in my heart. I know there are hundreds of thousands out there that would connect with this cause and be thrilled to be part of the story. This is why I continue to strive to reach out to them from my little design studio nestled in the north of Scotland. This crowd can categorically say they built a mill in the Highlands that changed the tartan textile industry of Scotland forever.”

“So all who believe in this cause, who have shared the message, and suggested to others to add their name on the Highland Register, are helping to build a mill in the Highlands and change history. Just like Claire and Jamie changed history in Diana Gabaldon’s books, the fans of today can have a great impact on the future.”

There Is Still Time To Change History!

Now is the chance to come together, as one clan, with the united goal of helping to build the first female led tartan weaving mill in the Highlands of Scotland. Please answer the call to become a patron of this project. It will not only change the future of tartan production, but, more importantly, it is empowering the return of artisans who draw inspiration from history and traditions to develop a sustainable future for generations to come.

With only NINE days left in the campaign, Clare Campbell invites you to share her vision to build the mill. A single pledge can make a difference. If we can come together as a global community, we can ensure that tartan is once again returned to its rightful ancestral home in the Highlands. Be a part of building a new future for the cloth that is admired around the world for its embodiment of legacy and heritage. Together we can make a difference.

You can become a patron to the Black House Mill Project by donating to Prickly Thistle’s Kickstarter campaign by clicking here

Learn more how you can help by visiting Prickly Thistle’s website at

Thank you, Clare, for sharing your story with us. We have become proud patrons for this project, and we hope we can inspire others to follow your inspirational journey to make a real difference for the future.



References found on 11/25/2017:

Feature Image: CC0


All photos from our blogs are owned by Timeless Sass3nach Journeys, unless noted or attributed. The use of our photos is not permitted unless consent is given.

It's only fair to share...Buffer this pageShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone