Today is National Tartan Day, a celebration of Scottish heritage which is held on April 6 to commemorate the Declaration of Arbroath, a declaration of Scottish independence submitted to Pope John XXII in 1320.
Making a kilt is different than most garments; it’s basically following a set of instructions (described very well in the book) as opposed to cutting out and assembling a pattern. Some construction details and reinforcing aside, a kilt literally is 8 yards of fabric gathered into pleats. You start with three key measurements: natural waist, hips, and length from your waist to your knees. (Traditionally, kilts are worn at the top of the knee, maybe as low as the middle of the knee cap. Too many men wear them way too low.)
Each pleat is sewn down from the waist to the “fell”, or widest part of the hips (usually about 1/3 of the overall length.) It’s painstaking work; everything needs to be straight and regular for the pleats to hang correctly and look good.
By the time you finish sewing down the pleats you have a real appreciation for why hand-made kilts are as expensive as they are. Once the pleats are finished, the next step is to neatly arrange them, baste them together, and steam press them. Once pressed, the wool will hold the pleats sharply for a surprisingly long time.
Most of the rest of the work is internal; the insides of the pleats are cut away to reduce bulk, then stabilizing stitches reinforce the area to keep the pleats in place. Hair canvas is sewn in to give the area a bit more stiffness, apron edges are finished and finally buckles and straps finish the kilt, seen here with a matching, bias cut waistcoat in polyviscose tartan, shortened Harris Tweed jacket, hand-knitted and felted Balmoral bonnet, and hand-knitted plaid hose.
It was my privilege to wear this kilt while making a presentation on behalf of my Masonic Lodge to the 12th Duke of Atholl on his visit to Athol during the town’s 250th anniversary celebrations; the Masons of Athol have a history of amity with the Dukes, and we wanted to continue the tradition.
Since then I’ve lost a fair amount of weight – and while that’s a good thing, I do miss the kilt, which no longer fits. The strap and buckle closure does allow for a range of a couple of inches, but beyond that you need to actually move the straps to fit a smaller waist, but they can only be moved so far before things start to fit and look strange. I have to make a replacement one of these days.
People occasionally ask if I offer kiltmaking as a service, but so far I haven’t hung out a shingle for that; there are only so many hours in a week!