What Makes A Kilt, A Kilt?

It's important to define what a kilt definitely isn't in order to really understand what we mean by the term "kilt".

It's not a "skirt", it's definitely not a "quilt", it is a Kilt.

Now we have cleared that's what makes a kilt a kilt from a professional kiltmakers perspective:

A kilt qualifies as such if it ticks these boxes: ~ it's made of wool ~ it's hand sewn ~ it's made up of two flat aprons and pleats at the back

A further qualification accepted by many and disputed by some: ~ it's made in Scotland...

A hand sewn kilt takes between 16-24 hours to tailor from start to finish, putting particular effort into ensuring the lines in my pleats are perfectly matched and the stitches are completely hidden but unbelievably strong and hard wearing. Edinburgh Kiltmakers Academy teaches kiltmaking to an exceptionally high standard, this standard being upheld by Gordon Nicolson Kiltmakers. A well made kilt is an investment, designed to last a lifetime, grow with you...within reason...withstand dancing all night long and, for some, be passed down through generations.

So, how's an 8 yard hard sewn kilt in a matching tartan pleated to the sett created? ~ A kilt contains 8 to 9 yards of 100% wool cloth depending on the size of the client - needless to say, the bigger the body the more yardage is required. The client is measured around the natural waist, around the hip loosely enough to create a flat front apron and from the waist to the middle of the knee cap to find the length.

~ The cloth is carefully checked for any flaws before any work commences. The centre of the cloth is found to ensure the kilt mirrors back and front, then the cloth is cut to length, ensuring the neat selvedge forms the bottom of the kilt.

~ Other details include ensuring the twill direction runs the correct way depending on if the cloth is heavy or medium weight - true attention to detail.

~ A kilt is made up of three sections - the front apron, the pleats and the under apron. When the kilt is on the front apron covers the under apron and the pleats run around the back. The first part of the set up involves working out your measurements (there is a lot of maths involved in kiltmaking), picking a centre line in the tartan to become the centre of the apron, then neatly chalking out and tacking up your front and under aprons - don't forget to put three bands of layered up fringe made from the tartan in at the edge of the front apron for that lovely traditional finish.

~ Once satisfied with the apron set up they can be meticulously sewn into place, remembering to create hidden darts in the facings to create a beautiful fit to the body.

~ The yards of cloth between the front and under aprons will now become the pleats. This stage begins by roughly figuring out and pinning the pleats to recreate the sett of the tartan (sett = the repeating design) beginning from the centre back to yourself until you meet the under apron, then forward from the centre to the under apron. This method creates a kilt that mirrors front and back. The first pleat where the apron meets the pleats is called the spring pleat and where the last pleat and under apron meet is where a box pleat is formed.

~ These pleats are now all meticulously measured out to fit the client perfectly and hand sewn on to the next, always aim to achieve no less than 27 pleats where possible.

~ Once carefully sewn, the pleats are then tacked together, followed by steeked together keeping them perfectly aligned, pressed, then the canvas; sporran loops; waistband; buckles; straps; lining are all carefully measured into place and expertly sewn on.

~ A pair of tartan flashes are created from the off-cuts too, resulting in very little wastage from the cloth.

~ The kilt is pressed 2-3 times throughout the process to make sure the pleats are as sharp as a knives edge (they are even referred to as knife pleats).

~ The tacking is released before the customer's event so the pleats swing! There's a few things you don't want to see on a kilt: not enough well sized pleats or too many small pleats, messy visible sewing, a kicking spring pleat - that apron should be sitting flat at all angles, the pleats should be shaped right in the small of the back - no gaping and the front and back should mirror perfectly.

The kilt has evolved significantly and is still evolving for todays audience. It has been adopted all over the world by kilt enthusiasts even without any Scottish heritage, it has being worn more casually and in different fabrics other than tartan - tweed, denim, silk blends and even lottery tickets!

Learn more about the level of skill and dedication that goes into kiltmaking by watching a short video featuring Kiltmaker Emma Wilkinson on behalf of Gordon Nicolson Kiltmakers.

Watch Now!

Videography and Editing by Julien Borghino