MAC Tartan Tale: A Lady & Her Tricks Brush Set Review, Photos, Swatches

MAC Tartan Tale: A Lady and Her Tricks Brush Set
MAC Tartan Tale: A Lady and Her Tricks Brush Set

MAC Tartan Tale: A Lady & Her Tricks Brush Set

This year, MAC has three brush sets to choose from, and the one I am reviewing this year is A Lady & Her Tricks ($49.50). This set includes special edition sizes of the 168, 187, 209, 219, and 252. For reference, the other sets are Sweep Me Off My Feet (129SE, 190SE, 227SE, 212SE, 275SE) and She’s Got It All (194SE, 204SE, 224SE, 266SE, 275SE).

I do not recommend MAC’s brush sets, as cute/pretty as they can sometimes be. I just don’t think the quality is representative of MAC’s full-size brushes, and instead, they’re sub-par variations. $49.50 isn’t pocket change, and while it’s certainly a good deal when it comes to purchasing five MAC brushes, it’s not a good deal if the quality isn’t there. I find that these brushes are scratchy, and in the past, seem to get scratchier with time/wear.

The biggest problem I have with this particular kit this year (I did not bother last year or the year before) is these brushes really don’t seem to have been made very well. The 219SE is incredibly rounded, no pencil tip is distinguishable, while the 252SE is quite thick. The 187SE doesn’t seem to flare out enough and doesn’t have the same firmness as the full-size version.

I also think it’s a shame that they include the 252SE; it’s one of MAC’s biggest eyeshadow brushes, so it feels a little unwieldy for eyeshadow application. I’d rather see the 217 or 239 included, both are very popular brushes with more utility.

When it comes to buying MAC brushes, buy them slowly, over time, and build up your collection. I spent two or three years doing so before I completed my brush collection. If you need brushes in the meanwhile, consider more affordable brush sets available through brands like EcoTools and Sonia Kashuk. Affordable brushes have come a long way in the past few years!

The included bag is similar to the lip bags, except it’s a good deal larger–definitely more like a purse.  It also has a glossy black strap that attaches so you can wear it as a shoulder bag.  It doesn’t feel cheap, and it seems sturdy enough to be used for more than just toting brushes around.

If you want to know more about how products are evaluated, read out Rating System FAQ! 🙂

  • Product: 18/30
  • Value: 8/10
  • Ease of Use: 4/5
  • Packaging: 4/5

RECOMMENDATION: If you’re sold on having to have MAC brushes, and you feel you’ll actually use all the included brushes in the set, it may be worth it. I don’t personally think the quality of these brushes is on par with full-sized brushes and would pass.

AVAILABILITY: MAC Counters/Stores on October 28th

MAC Tartan Tale: A Lady and Her Tricks Brush Set
MAC Tartan Tale: A Lady and Her Tricks Brush Set

MAC Tartan Tale: A Lady and Her Tricks Brush Set
MAC Tartan Tale: A Lady and Her Tricks Brush Set

MAC Tartan Tale: A Lady and Her Tricks Brush Set
MAC Tartan Tale: A Lady and Her Tricks Brush Set

MAC Tartan Tale: A Lady and Her Tricks Brush Set
MAC Tartan Tale: A Lady and Her Tricks Brush Set

MAC Tartan Tale: A Lady and Her Tricks Brush Set
MAC Tartan Tale: A Lady and Her Tricks Brush Set

MAC Tartan Tale: A Lady and Her Tricks Brush Set
MAC Tartan Tale: A Lady and Her Tricks Brush Set

About Reviewer
Review FAQ

Christine Mielke is the editor-in-chief and has been reviewing products for over 14 years.

She has normal-to-dry skin with occasional dryness on cheeks and nose. She has a light plus skintone with subtle, warmer yellow undertones (view her foundation matches here).

Learn more about her review process here.

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I definitely wouldn’t recommend these to anyone! I have a few MAC brushes and I LOVE them! I wanted the brush set so badly, but when I saw it at Nordstrom over the summer, I was so disappointed. I took one look at them and was quick to dismiss. I think MAC should up the quality on these brushes. If a person were to buy these without knowing how incredible their full-sized ones are, they would be let down big time and probably wouldn’t want to bother with the regular ones. Not a swift move on MAC’s behalf, I’d say.

There’s a sad truth in that having testes a few of MAC’s brush kits. ^_^

I was tempted to get one for the bag but seeing the size of the bag means I’m not interested in them anymore.

I thought I wanted these really bad but when I saw the actual size of the bags I was discouraged…I wanted to use them as a makeup bag not a purse. I don’t carry enough to make this worth it.

Has anyone tried Sigma? Wondering if its a good starter set

I completely agree with u Christine. Yes, MAC brushes are a complete waste of time. This is an example where u are just buying the name of an item.

I bought this set last year…And while I’ve never felt or used the real 187 or contour brush, I found it decent for me. I mean I’m sure they aren’t as good as paying full price for each, but mine wasn’t horrid. And I do have a full pencil brush and yeah it is rounder on the SE one.

I think for someone that doesn’t use brushes often it could be good. My cousin doesn’t wear make up much, but she is getting married and wants to buy brushes cheap. I’ve told her about Sonya ones and Sigma, but she just wants to buy the one set with the foundation brush.. She doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on brushes and she doesn’t wear make up often.

So I don’t think she’d be too disappointed you know? IDK.

I just think you can buy cheaper foundation brushes (or brush sets) that are better quality than MAC – probably for half the price! 🙂

I notice that a lot of makeup gurus that use high quality brushes use these also. Um going to try S.K. our then, abs urs for a great price. has the new 2010 limited edition

I really wish I knew more about MAC holiday brush sets when I dropped my cash on the one from last year. What a huge waste. I can attest to these brush sets being horrible! (not just sub-par). I have the 252SE. I could get the same effect by walking to the farm next door and rubbing a bunch of straw across my eyes. The 219SE is useless. The only one that is half-way decent is the 187 & that’s me being nice.

I recently stopped by Nordstrom & the MA told me that THEY expect the brush sets to last ~ 1 year. I’ve never heard a MAC artist say anything like that about their full size brushes – they always say “if you take care of them, they will last you forever”, so that little comment should say a lot.

Once burned, twice shy. I will NEVER buy a brush set again. MAC newbies: you’ve been forewarned!

I’m SO sad to hear about your experience, Anjali! 3-4 years ago, I liked their brush sets – they didn’t seem so bad, but they’re definitely below standard these days.

I agree, I bought a MAC holiday brush set about 6 years ago and the brush quality is fabulous. They are soft precise.. and still going strong! I bought another set last year, thinking it would be similar quality and was really disappointed. They are scratchy and stray hairs fall out all the time.

I’m SO happy to see others sharing my experience with the 252 SE!!!! (not happy that you HAD the bad experience, but happy that I’m not just imagining things, lol)

It’s making my eyelids itch just reading about it; the TRAUMA! LOL

Hi Maria,

I reviewed them in full here:

and here:

I’m personally not a fan of Sigma copying MAC’s numbering system, and though it’s good they’ve changed it now – they still utilized the numbers for quite awhile. The brushes are nice to decent, but I think it’s better to think of them as an affordable brush brand and not MAC substitutes, because many of the copies aren’t close enough. I had some dye bleeding issues, as well as loose ferrules and smelly brushes, with Sigma–issues I’ve never had with MAC brushes, too.

Just want to give you props, Christine, for doing this during midterm week. I’m a grad student and would probably faint if I had to tackle schoolwork *and* A Tartan Tale at the same time!

Thank you so much for doing these reviews Christine! I’m new to your site and absolutely love it, you are so helpful. 🙂 I am such an avid MAC makeup lover and so I was thinking about buying these brush sets since my Estee Lauder ones are getting too worn out. But I’m so glad that I know not to waste my money now! Do you think regular MAC brushes are the best ones to buy? Thank you again!

I don’t have a ton of experience with makeup brushes above MAC (just MAC and more affordable brands), but I’m really happy with my MAC ones!

I agree 100%. I purchased a brush set from the Trip collection that included a 168 and 187. The 187 sheds horribly every time I use it AND wash it and the 168 is very scratchy. The other brushes were ok(212,219,275) but I have brushes that are far less expensive and much better quality. I think I will try and build my collection slowly over time as you did, and I definetly wont be purchasing any more brush sets!

The difference between these Special Edition brushes and regular brushes isn’t just the size. The REGULAR brushes are HAND MADE! So a lot of time and care goes into the brush itself, which is part of the reason it is more expensive. These ones are machine made. Which means they can cut down on cost and well the quality isn’t there!

Woah! I just called my local MAC boutique and told them to pull the brush sets from my order. This was going to be my first foray into MAC brushes. I’ll just pick up the full size 239, 263 and 190 brushes instead. Thanks so much for the ‘heads up’ Christine!

Christine talking about MAC brushes I wanted to ask you something , not so long time ago I bought 129SH , and it’s a very bad brush imo. So my question is – is normal 129 better than 129SH ? I have full size 187,168 and 217 and I am very happy with them but 129SH is just bad!;-(

oh I’m torn the only reason I really wanted this brush set was for the bag but that might be a true waste of money if the brushes are that bad and besides I have them full size.

Oh no! I actually preordered this because I thought they would be good! I definitely do not want it anymore! Hope I can, well not return it haha since I haven’t gotten it, but just cancel my order at the counter…

The first set of brushes I got were a holiday set, from MAC, and this was back in 2000. I still use those brushes, and I find they’ve actually gotten better over the years. It’s too bad that the quality has gone down so much – these used to be good value!

Thanks Christine!

While I love all your reviews, it is really helpful to know what not to buy sometimes because I was seriously going to get these and never buy the regular brushes…ever, lol.

I’m SO glad I read this first because this was one of my definite buys from this collection! The main one I wanted was the 187 but it just looks so thin here (not flared out at all!). I’m probably gonna get an eye shadow set instead – unless you hate them too!! and maybe a full size 187 🙂

I have to agree. I own two brush sets from previous collections, and although some of the brushes are ok, I ended up buying a regular size version from all the brushes that I use regularly. Talk about an upgrade! I had an angled liner brush in one of these sets that was actually sooo scratchy and thick, I would never use that on my face. Seriously, it’s so harsh, that I’d think this was the cheapest knock off had i not purchased it from a MAC store.
I also own the regular and travel size of the 224 and 239, and both travel sized ones are incredibly scratchy,the 224 sheds like hell.
I strongly advise not to go for the eye brushes, because those can really end up incredibly scratchy on your eye area-which I guess is the most sensitive.
Every year these sets sell out super quick here,but I honestly feel a huge difference in the quality. With the sets, I always end up with at least 1 brush that I simply can not use at all, it’s so bad. Shame, really. 🙁

Awwww…. sucks for me to read such negative comments about the MAC brush sets, after I just pre-ordered this set 🙁 I’m planning on picking mine up on Thursday, when the line launches. I do have a few full sized MAC brushes but thought a travel set would be nice. If I hate it, I may exchange them for a few full sized ones I’ve had my eyes on. I wonder what makes the kits so different from the full sized brushes?? Are they made by a different company? It’s so strange…..

I was seriously thinking about getting this set because I wanted 3 of the brushes and the bag is so cute. However, I saw it in the store and some of the brushes looked so flimsy, I really don’t think I want to spend that much money on the set. It’s too bad because those bags are really really cute. 🙁

Thanks so much for this honest appraisal Christine …. now I don’t feel so bad that I wasn’t going to get them anyway … only because I can’t afford to buy everything in this collection.

I completely agree with you. I got two brush sets from Adoring Carmine and I was soooo disapointed. They’re very scratchy and definitely don’t worth the money.

I had one SE set and the lip brush shedded. The 129SE came apart and I had to glue it back together. I vowed to never buy one of their SE sets again. I know that bag is cute to some, but my opinion is to take your money and buy some crown brushes. They are better quality than these and cheaper to start a brush collection with. Their handles are about 6 inches long, so you can travel with them!

Thank you so much for the honest review. I had a terrible brush set from MAC before, and was still totally eyeing this one. I will definitely pass on it and save the $50 for something else.

I have an SE MAC brush and it works really well for me..I’m just wondering that if that works so well, how well will a FULL SIZE brush work?!

Darn I was thinking about getting one. I guess all brush sets are not good then. I heard some said brush set quality are bad, but I didn’t know they were that bad.
Which brushes besides Mac,Sonia and Eco. That you would recommend to start with?

Thanks save me some money again. I can’t find harely any Eco except online or Sonia in my area. But I’m looking at Stila and Trish Mcevoy for now.

Christine, thank you SO much for reviewing these. I can’t even express how happy I am that I read this! I was about to buy all 3 sets and you saved me a lot of money and disappointment.

Do you know how big the bags and their straps are? I’d like to use one of them as an actual crossbody bag.

P.S. Thank you for being so dedicated. I know how difficult it can be with school and all -I’m having the same problem. I haven’t been updating as much as I want to. =( Good luck on your projects/midterms!!

I got the brush set from last year, and the positive thing I would say is that I really like the shiny makeup bag! Haha. The 187 is the only brush I use sometimes. I quite like the 187 on a shorter handle, but of course higher quality would be nice. The other brushes are totally useless – the 168 is TERRIBLE. So scratchy.

man I hate the brush kits ! Bought the Hello Kitty one but that was more for the HK brush holder than the brushes. They were awful and I never used them ! I’d rather save up and buy only one or two good quality brushes at a time instead of having 5 low quality brushes !

MAN! I wish I would have read this before I dropped my money on this set. I pre-bought mine last week. Will they let me return it? I rather spend my money on the duo brush, which is the main reason I purchased the set in the first place. I should have known something was fishy because the set was in a case. When I asked to touch the actual brush, she showed me the full size brush. Does any one know if the set is returnable? I purchased mine from Macy’s MAC counter.

I’m so glad you did this review, Christine!! I bought a holiday brush set last year before being really into MAC makeup. I was very shocked and felt cheated that the good quality wasn’t there. Thanks for warning people out there to not make the same mistake I did!!

This makes me so sad! The bag is adorable and i really really want a few of those brushes. I wish that mac could be consistant, even if it cost a little more.

Thank you SOOOOOO much for being honest about the brush sets! And I was SO relieved to see your comment about the “scratchiness” of the brushes, as I thought it was just me (I bought the 252 in a set a few years ago and it feels like I’m using a broom!!!). The people at MAC always try to push the “value” of the brush sets, so I’m very thankful for your honesty!

So would you say the 252 (regular version) is worth purchasing? (I was a little gun-shy before because I thought it was the brush itself that was so coarse, now I know it is because it is the LE version).

I agree. I don’t know if it’s because I have more and more experience with quality brushes, but these brush sets do seem to get worse every year.

I totally agree with you these SE brushes don’t even come close to the original brushes you’re better off just getting cheaper brushes or build up your original collection over time. I’m very fortunate to have a CCO close by so thats where I’ve been able to get most of my brushes over time.

I read your review and still I just went out and pre-ordered this brush set – mainly for the adorable bag! However, I’m still so conflicted! I know what I’m getting myself into, but I don’t know if I can justify $58 CAD for a bag! I have until Wednesday evening to change my mind..

Oh, MAC, you are so good at suckering me into these things with your packaging!

I used to really like their brush sets when you got a 217 with them, and 239, but with out a 217 I won’t be buying them. My duo fibre brush sheds like mad! My foundation brush cracked!

this is such a shame that a company like mac would put out such shoddy products geared to people who are new to makeup or fans of the brand. last year i bought a brush set by nordstrom that was orginially $30 but got it for $10 and they are really great, soft, and have never shed. suprisingly with a ton of brushes and a beautiful case. i was going to buy a brush set from mac but thankfully saw this instead.

I will willingly pay $49.50 for each of these bags, which i have already pre ordered, I am aware of the bad quality of the brushes and I will give them away, but there is no way that I`m passing out from these lovely Mac plaid bags, once i saw them i fell in <3 with them all, they kinda look like my Coach ones.

Dear Christine,Do u have any updated information about that
November luxe collection?I wanna get that limited edition duo fibre brush so badly.

Leaving it instead of buying all three sets like I planned I’m going to buy the full size brushes starting with the eyes. Thanks C you’re the Bomb!

Last time I bought one of those holiday sets was in ’08 and it was awful. The handle color chipped off, one of the brush heads wasn’t secured enough so it fell off and one of the brushes was missing the MAC logo. One of my biggest purchases I truly regret.

I just want to thank you for writing this honest review! Sometimes I feel like people don’t really say anything bad or give an honest opinion about products. Most of the time, I feel like most beauty gurus just rave about all the products they have. I know they can’t like all of the products they have. But, I know when I read your reviews they will be honest and fair. Thanks 🙂

It’s a bit upsetting that MAC would put such low quality into their travel size kits like this. I have always heard nothing but good things about MAC brushes. When Fabulous Felines came out over the summer I picked up the travel size 188 brush to test out and see if MAC brushes were as awesome as I had heard. I was MASSIVELY dissappointed and wondered what the hype was if my scratchiest E.L.F. brush felt soft compared to this pokey duo fibre. Then I dug a little further online and found out that MAC skimps on quality in the travel kit department. For shame on MAC. If a customer wanted to try out some travel size brushes to see if they wanted to invest in the full size think of how dissapointed they would be when they got them home to try. It’s such a shame that they would charge so much and yet invest so little into the quality of the brush. I think MAC should provide the same high quality in their travel and kit brushes as they do in their standard brushes.

I hope it’s the right place to ask – what will you recommend – MAC’s brush set or Urban Decay’s (the pink one) ?
I’d like to buy a TO GO set….

I only own a set of MAC face brush from 2008 Holiday collection. The only brush that is very bad quality from the set is the 168. It’s so scratchy and I don’t use it, not even when I’m travelling. I always bring my full-size with me.

thankyou so much for reviewing this set 🙂
i was planning to buy either one of the brush sets, but after reading your review, i think i’m gonna skip this time.

I bought this particular bag and know I’m receiving the other two brush sets for Christmas. Needless to say I’m a bit disappointed to learn that they are regarded so poorly. However, I’ve never really owned makeup brushes so I think the three SE kits will be a good starter (and travel) set for me while I work on building my full-sized collection. I haven’t really had problems with scratchiness or hairs falling out yet, but then again I don’t have experience with better brushes. But still, I really love those little plaid bags. 🙂

I’m not a brush expert but this brush set is really cheap, the bristles are not tight at all, they seem flimsy esp with the stipling brush, and the small blending brush has very hard bristles.

The eye brush set is better but also not very convincing. I guess I rather buy one brush at a time as you always recommend. Also because I already got some nice angled brushes by Bodyshop and Muji as well as face brushes. Only need a few good blending brushes now, and for the price of one bad brush set I might just as well get two nice original sized blending brushes.

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