Making a Kilt – Part 1 of 2

Today, I’m going to attempt to make a kilt.  My partner, Paul, decided a little while ago that he would quite like one and I (stupidly?) offered to make him one.  But here we are, and its time to start!

Being an engineer, I made a list of the requirements he wanted from his kilt:

  • Formal looking – so he can wear it for calling at Ceilidh’s at posh events
  • Light-weight – he overheats very easily so the lighter the fabric the better
  • Swishy – for when he dances in it

The next question was how to sort out these requirements.

  1. Formal looking: this is easy enough to sort, a kilt should look formal anyway, and I’m going to make it a little below knee length to make it nice and formal
  2. Light-weight: this means a synthetic tartan rather than a woollen tartan
  3. Swishy: this should be a characteristic of the kilt whatever!

So with that sorted out, we went tartan shopping!  We have no suitable tartan shops nearby so we were reduced to using the internet.  We discussed the possibly of using a Welsh clan tartan that he can wear, but we decided that a) the cost and b) the woollen fabric were not ideal.  So instead we went for a nice universal tartan:

A universal tartan
A universal tartan

Now its my part, making the kilt!  I’m going to do it in two stages.  The first stage, today, I’m going to make the basic kilt, complete with hemmed edges and completed pleats, and then on Wednesday I will use darts to fit it to Paul’s body before adding the finishing touches.

So the materials I need for his kilt:

  • Tartan
  • Lining fabric (I’m using some left-over tartan as its a thin synthetic material)
  • Tape Measure
  • Tailors Chalk
  • Sewing Machine
  • Hand needles
  • Thread for both
  • Iron
  • Ironing Board
  • Petersham ribbon (to use as a waistband)

Step 1: How much tartan to buy in the first place

Kilts require a lot of fabric due to all those pleats.  I used this website here (http://www.scottishdance.net/highland/MakingKilt.html) to work out how much material to buy.  I also brought a significant amount extra…just in case!!!  In a confusing way, tartans often come in double width and single width.  The one I’m using comes in double width which has been confusing me a lot!!  So has working in inches…but that’s another story!

Measurements

Waist (where the top of the kilt will sit): 34 1/2 inches
Hip (the widest point): 37 1/2 inches
Length: 23 1/2 inches
Sett width (the pattern width): 4 1/8 inches

From these measurements, I need:

2 x Apron (the flat bit at the front of the kilt): each of width 17 1/4 inches
Pleating material width: 17 1/4 x (4 1/8 + 1) = 88 13/32 inches
Extra 20% for additional pleats and centering = 24 93/160 inches

Total material length required: 147 1/2 inches

As its double width tartan, I’ll actually need to buy 73 1/4 inches (2m of material, although I brought 3m just in case etc.)

Excellent.  Now we can do some actual making!

Step 2: Preparing the fabric

The important thing about kilts is to keep the pattern going all the way round, despite any seams!  In order to do this I’m going to fold the fabric in two and cut the fabric to length.  I’m not going to cut it into two long strips yet.

Then I’ve hemmed the top and bottom edges as Paul decided he wanted a hemmed edge to his kilt.

Kilt2
Hemming the edges

Now, I’ve folded it in half and cut off the fold at the desired length of the kilt, allowing about a 1/2 inch hem at the top.  I have then sewn them together (being careful to match the pattern) and have also hemmed the top to make a neat non-fraying top to the kilt while I’m doing the pleats.  Finally I have hemmed both ends of kilt, again to reduce the fraying of the material while I work on the pleats.  So finally, I have a piece of fabric with no fraying edges…that is longer than my house is.

A neatly pattern matched seam
A neatly pattern matched seam

Step 3: The Dreaded Pleating

Actually, its not as bad as it sounds.  I measured the length of the underneath-apron so I knew where to make the first pleat, and then made simple knife pleats all the way round, pinning them in place.  There are some more complicated pleating methods you can use to make sure the pattern is centered and so it all looks perfect, but as this is my first time using pleats, I decided to keep it simple.

Kilt4
The first two pleats and my cardboard template for making edge pleat. The two lines show how much of the previous pleat should be visible.

I did this until I had enough pleats to cover half Paul’s waist length.  I had plenty of fabric for the other end of the apron, but for now I’ve just pinned it to the right length so that I have plenty of leeway for adjustments when I fit it on him.

Lots of pinned pleats!
Lots of pinned pleats!

Once pinned, I then pressed all my pleats on both sides to make crisp creases.

Some pressed pleats
Some pressed pleats

Finally, I used a simple straight stitch, and sewed along the edge of each pleat (on the right side) from the waistline and down about 5 inches to keep it in place.  The bottom of the pleats hang free to give it the characteristic kilt look, but for now I’ve kept them pinned in place to avoid any confusion.

Sewing down the pleats
Sewing down the pleats

This is as far as I am going today.  But the basic kilt has been made, albeit far from finished!  The finishing touches will be using darts to fit it to Paul’s body at the waist, sewing a lining across the top of the pleats, adding a petersham ribbon waistband and kilt straps and a small amount of velcro to hold it all together.  I have high hopes that this will turn out well!

Read part 2 here!

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