A Scottish co-worker asked me if I could make him a kilt to wear at formal events. Kilts can be quite pricey and it had been his dream to own one for a long time so I wanted to make this project perfect.
I began with a lot of kilt research and was very surprised at the kilt’s origins and adaptation over time. A kilt was originally a long piece of wool fabric, about 7 or 8 yards depending on how big the man was, that was a very useful article of clothing. It was a blanket at night and in the morning, it was arranged around the waist, flat in the front and folded in pleats or tucks in the back. A large belt would be used to hold the fabric in place and extra fabric was thrown around the shoulder. A tunic top that goes past the hips is worn underneath. If it was cold, they could wrap the extra fabric around both shoulders or if it was raining, they could cover their head with the extra fabric. The reason why the kilt ends at the knee is to keep it from getting wet while walking through tall grass. I own a sari from India and was surprised at the similarities; It is also pleated, although in the front, and the extra fabric is thrown over the shoulder.
The traditional wool fabric used for a kilt is called tartan. Historically, there would only be one weaver in an area and that weaver would use their local resources to dye their wool. Over time, the color and pattern of the tartan would become known to be from a certain area – the area that the weaver served. Since families lived close together, the tartan would also be known for certain clans of family. Because of this historical and familial aspect of the tartan, my co-worker wanted to pick a tartan that he had a connection to, either from his family history or place of origin. That task proved to be a bit difficult so he chose The Black Watch tartan which is considered a generic tartan. If you are trying to pick out a tartan and having trouble finding a connection to a particular tartan, don’t worry too much about it. Pick a pattern you like; I promise the tartan police won’t be after you!
My co-worker had some special requests for the kilt so I ended up using a combination of instructions with Scottishdance.net and Simplicity 8913. While typically kilts are worn around the waist, my co-worker wanted to wear the kilt around his hips because of a large belly. In addition, Simplicity 8913 only goes up to a 44″ waist and my co-worker’s hips were 48″. Because of this, I used the Simplicity pattern instructions as a reference but didn’t cut out any of the pieces. The Scottishdance.net instructions were helpful for the sizing and how to fold the pleats.
As mentioned, I figured out how much fabric I would need by using Scottishdance.net. I used one long piece of fabric, as is traditional, but I could have saved some money by buying half as much and sewing two pieces together. The seam could be hidden in the pleats.
After measuring, measuring and measuring some more, I cut out the large rectangle of fabric and brought out my blind hem foot to make the hem. It’s best to hem a kilt before doing the pleats. My co-worker had already given me a waist to knee measurement of 18″ so factoring in the seam allowance on the top of the kilt, I was able to hem it correctly. The blind hem foot was a lifesaver since I had to hem 6 yards of fabric!
When I made the pleats, I made them one inch in size and tried to keep the pattern consistent. I did this by using a ruler to make sure it was folded even and eye-balled the pattern. Something I wish I had done is laid a piece of the fabric flat above the kilt so that I could more easily match the pattern.
I chose to use velcro on the inside of the kilt and a metal clasp on the end for closure. The velcro made it so my co-worker could adjust and still wear the kilt if he were to gain or loose some weight. I also added belt loops since he wanted to wear the kilt around his hips and use a belt.
One funny mistake I made was I modeled the belt loops off a pair of my DH’s jeans. My DH is only about 34″ around and only had 5 belt loops on his jeans. My co-worker had to give me the kilt back after he wore it once to put more belt loops on! I didn’t even think about how I would need more belt loops if the kilt was bigger (he needed 2 more)!