Deaf got Tartan



Silvia Marinas with the winning tartan and Arnaud Balard in front of his design of the Sign Union Flag.

A new BSL (British Sign Language) Clan tartan has been designed through a partnership between the Centre for Translating and Interpreting Studies Scotland at Heriot-Watt and the University’s School of Textiles and Design.

The enthusiastic response…. has been an excellent demonstration of the support for the Bill and for Deaf culture generally across Scotland.
Professor Graham Turner

The design marks the recent passing of the British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill, in which the Centre’s team was involved in an advisory capacity. Centre Director Professor Graham Turner said the tartan represents the sense of identity among the country’s Deaf community.

“The notion of the BSL clan derives from the distinct identity of the Deaf community in Scotland. In times gone by, Scots formed clans in specific geographical locations through shared values and notions of allegiance and security as well as kinship. More recently, with increased mobility and migration, the importance of location has diminished, but the sense of belonging remains. So too with the Deaf community, united by common cultural values and the shared use of British Sign Language, but geographically disparate.

“In the same way as a clan, this community forms a small part of wider Scottish society, and members of it feel a stronger allegiance to it than they do to the majority hearing culture:  Deaf first, Scottish (or British) second.”


The tartan was designed by third year Design for Textiles Course student Silvia Marinas. In recognising the importance of the BSL clan to Scottish Deaf people, she was inspired by the words and work of Deafblind artist Arnaud Balard, who has created a Sign Union flag to represent the worldwide Deaf community. For the Scottish part of that community, Silvia used the same colours in designing the tartans, adding white to connect them to the Scottish Saltire. She said, “When I graduate from Heriot-Watt I want to work in the community creating weaving projects, so this seemed an ideal challenge for me to undertake. It’s been great to be part of something as historic as the BSL (Scotland) Bill.”

Professor Turner added, “The tartan design was just a bit of fun alongside our work in developing the BSL (Scotland) Bill, but the enthusiastic response to it has been an excellent demonstration of the support for the Bill and for Deaf culture generally across Scotland.”