Dundee Science Centre

The Science of Tartan

The science behind tartan will be explored at V&A Dundee this week as part of a collaboration with Dundee Science Centre.

As part of a week-long residency, Dundee Science Centre staff will showcase a range of tartan-themed, drop-in activities in the museum’s Designer Residency Studio. As well as the general public, the activities will be available to school groups.


St Fergus R C Primary, School Dundee enjoying the science of tartan! Supplied by V&A Dundee.


Elise Marr and Isla Dickson from Barnhill Primary School, Dundee.

Visitors can make their own Cipher Tartans, using an algorithm to transform their name into a tartan design, and make sugar density ‘tartan’ rainbows in test tubes. They can also enjoy tartan weaving and explore the natural dyes traditionally used to create tartan, including those found in leaves, bark and small flowers.

Caitlin MacInnes, STEM Development Lead, Dundee Science Centre, said, “Tartan is an important part of Scottish culture. It sends a message out to those who see it. It can tell you where someone is from, what family name they have and, through more modern tartans, can represent causes they’re passionate about. It’s a great example of communicating messages with symbols!  We’ll use cryptography, the art of keeping information a secret, where a message can be transformed from normal written word into a code to create a colourful, unique tartan.   Come down to V&A Dundee and explore the science behind your favourite tartan!”

Tartan group

Caitlin MacInnes with P7 pupils from Barnhill Primary School, Dundee.

Gary Jamieson, Schools Development Officer, V&A Dundee, added, “By exploring tartan through a scientific lens, we hope to capture the imagination of the next generation of designers and scientists. This unique collaboration with Dundee Science Centre, inspired by our current Tartan exhibition, showcases the city’s rich cultural heritage and its commitment to fostering dynamic partnerships between our diverse educational venues. As the worlds of design and science collide, visitors will discover how tartan can be used as a learning provocation beyond the traditional fashion and textile approaches”.

Tartan V&A pic

Tartan, V&A Dundee. Credit – Michael McGurk.

The Dundee Science Centre activities will run from Monday 30 October to Sunday 5 November 2023 inclusive, 10am to 5pm. Running until January 2024, Tartan presents a radical new look at a globally recognised design and brings together many different voices from around the world. More than 300 objects illustrate tartan’s universal and enduring appeal with examples of fashion, architecture, graphic and product design, photography, furniture, glass and ceramics, film, performance and art (visitors aged 18 and under go free).

For more information, visit www.dundeesciencecentre.org.uk or https://www.vam.ac.uk/dundee