The Healing Power of Stitch: In Conversation with Kirsty Kinnear

The relationship between self-worth and working with your hands is undeniable...

I, personally, can’t remember a time when I didn’t resort to sewing, making, working with my hands to feel better about a situation.

It was a way of re-focussing, channelling comprehension and coming out the other side of something feeling better. I had made bits and pieces my entire life; clothes for dolls, knitted scarves, enough drawings to wallpaper the entire kitchen and then some. The accomplishment of making something from scratch, whether it be turning a blank sheet of paper into a work of art or turning an old tshirt into something new to wear can be completely rewarding.

I decided to see if my friends and colleagues in the kiltmaking industry had experienced a similar sense of pride and worth in their work.

I wanted to hear from the kiltmakers I work with to learn a little about how, especially through the difficulties of lockdown, picking up a needle and thread may have helped them. I am so pleased that so many find such a sense of positive wellbeing in their work, here’s what some of them had to say:

The words of Kirsty Kinnear resonated with me the most. Kirsty is both a kiltmaker and the Head of Edinburgh Kiltmakers Academy – she taught me how to make kilts. Her path into kiltmaking came from having to make a change, look for something new to do, something she’d look forward to doing everyday. In many ways, like me, kiltmaking found Kirsty.

“Being self employed I was grateful for the surge in popularity of highland wear (and the backlog of kilts that had accumulated at GNK) and was kept fully employed for the first 3 months of the lockdown! It gave me the chance to try out and master new techniques that I can now incorporate into the EKA kiltmaking course. Those three months just flew by. I won’t say it was all plain sailing, I did have a few wobbles, living as I do, just me and the dog, I did miss the work and company of my colleagues and students and sometimes felt a bit lost. But having a kilt to sew and seeing my skills improve gave me a great sense of satisfaction, which sewing always has done, but hand sewing is a whole new level.

The thing I’ve always loved about garment making is the process of starting with a piece of virgin cloth – in the case of dress-making a meter or two of beautiful unspoilt cotton (or similar) – and turning it into a useful, wearable, hopefully beautiful and well-fitting garment. The challenges for me being creating well-formed collars, sleeves and cuffs on the right way round, patterns matching etc., making it very satisfying.

With kiltmaking and hand sewing every kilt is hugely satisfying. Firstly you get to transform not one or 2 meters but 7.4 meters (!) of beautifully woven tartan wool into something that will last the customer a lifetime and in which he will feel amazing – as so many first time wearers of the kilt will admit to! The challenges can be getting the maths right, pleating up a different tartan every time (there are so many of them!) generating the correct number of pleats, ensuring every pleat is perfectly formed from the waist to the hip to the hem with every single horizontal line matching the pleat following to create the perfect sett and fit. And the finishing touches – the fringing, the waistband and the buckle chapes, all to match perfectly with the tartan and all hand sewn. I love it and I love to pass on my skills and passion to any budding kiltmakers out there who would like to learn. Contact us now to be put on the wait list for next year….. haha!”

Kirsty is forever adding to her knowledge, isn’t scared to keep asking questions and learning all the time – the mark of a great tutor, someone who is never done learning. Both her warmth towards her students and encouragement even when you’ve made the same mistake five times keeps EKA students coming back…and I mean when they have graduated and become fully fledged kiltmakers…Kirsty is always there to keep her current and former students on the right track. It is in Kirsty’s teaching that Gordon Nicolson Kiltmakers boasts the most beautiful kilts you can find with kiltmakers that are changing the face of the industry. The mystery has been lifted, a conversation has begun and instead of turning our noses up at different approaches to the skill we are, following our tutors example, continuing to learn, collaborate, grow…and never stop getting better and better. We work now, to make the kiltmaking industry a positive place, where people take pride in their work and find an unparalleled sense of self-worth in what they are doing.

EKA 2018/19: Morag, Audrey, Liz, Susan, Emma and Rachel with Gordon and Kirsty in the middle.