an ode to plaid
plaid: n.1. any fabric woven of differently colored yarns in a cross-barred pattern; 2. a pattern of this kind.
Not all that frequently, but occasionally, I run across fabric or a garment patterned in plaid that catches my fancy. I find myself thinking, “I don’t really like plaid, but something about this plaid is really appealing, and I think this needs to come home with me.”
Until I wrote yesterday’s post, I had never noticed just how much plaid has figured prominently in my life.
Maybe my love of plaid led me to weaving? But weaving unsettles me because it (most often) occurs with sharply defined perpendicular lines, within a larger grid. The repeats for plaid are often small, when I greatly prefer larger repeats. Most times when I look at a plaid design, I can’t help but imagine organic lines and shapes climbing it, lattice-like. Indeed, I have 2 hand-woven pieces that I embroidered over in just such a way.
A plaid is very geometric, clearly human-made and not organic at all. Yet somehow I am captivated. A puzzle.
A quick inventory of my wardrobe showed me many pieces with plaid designs.
I have fewer fabrics of plaid
, but in my mind’s eye I often recall a linen plaid I didn’t buy but wonder if I should have. Even though I don’t know what I would do with it.
Since moving to Maryland, in warmer weather I commonly see men wearing shorts made of colorful madras cloth in a patchwork design. Rarely, I might see a young woman wearing a short skirt made similarly. I wish I knew where I could buy something like that, but of course, no telling if it would fit me.
Last summer, Spouse and I were at Lands’ End so he could buy some new shirts for work. I spied a pair of blue plaid men’s shorts that my eyes and interest kept returning to. (I have often liked the designs of men’s shorts, especially in Patagonia catalogs, but never bought any because I wasn’t sure what size to get, or if men’s shorts would fit me at all, since I have a woman’s hips.) Something about these particular shorts made me think it was time to find out if I could wear men’s shorts. I found a pair in a size  that fit over my hips; they were huge around my waist, but that’s what belts are for. I bought them, and I love them.
I hoped if I wrote about plaid I might figure out why it appeals to me so much but I remain perplexed. I don’t like orderliness; I don’t like designs that are predictable. I don’t like grids. I do like horizontal or diagonal lines, but I like them better if they’re not perfectly straight, and I really like meandering lines.
However woven plaids often create unexpected colors, from two colors crossing, or from optical effects of juxtaposed colors. I do like that. I like the range of values: light or white; half-tones or medium; dark. I like how a plaid makes something interesting out of a monochromatic or analogous colorway. And I like how more colorful plaids give you a way to make a fairly complex design out of colors that probably would not appear together in other contexts (like a floral pattern). I wear a lot of men’s shirts, many of which are plaid, and their color combinations are zippier than non-plaid designs. Maybe plaids are kind of a stealthy way for men to add colors and complicated patterns to their clothing, which otherwise tends to be monochromatic or just bland.
But I think this question deserves further thought…