16 January 2015

Of Kilts And Quilts

I only got into the kilt thing because of the annual Kilted to Kick Cancer campaign but it is an interesting garment with an equally interesting history (TL;DR, if it weren't for the hated British Army kilts may have no longer been with us, they were banned from 1746 to 1782 except for the Highland Regiments of the British Army).

A traditional kilt (the one that everyone thinks of when you say "kilt") is a tailored garment, but a Great Kilt is essentially nothing more than a blanket, 54 to 60 inches wide by 7-9 yards long, held on with a belt. Kilts may be pleated to the sett, which repeats the pattern around the pleated part, or to the stripe, which centers a selected stripe of the tartan on each exposed portion of the pleat. Most "military" kilts are pleated to the stripe because it was easier and therefore faster to do.

The traditional kilt only needs half the length of material to make than the Great Kilt because modern looms weave 54-60 inch widths; it is essentially cut in half and sewn together to make the length. The Great Kilt requires the 54-60 inch width so it can't be cut in half and must have the entire length.

(Here's an interesting note, the Great Kilt was originally made from cloth woven on 30" looms; they needed two 7-9 yard lengths sewn together to make a 60" width. Since modern looms weave a 54-60" width rather than 30" you only need one 7-9 yard length to make a Great Kilt now.)

American patterned kilts have an apron length 1/3 of the waist, but the traditional Scottish pattern has an apron length 1/2 of the waist. Since the Scottish pattern has less pleated length it actually uses less material.

At any rate, once you check into kilts you find they are damnably expensive, partially because of the work involved in the pleating process and partially because of the cost of the cloth itself. The cost includes the weight and the dyes; true tartans are not printed, they are woven from individually colored threads and so it takes a lot of work on the part of the weaver to create specific tartans.

Additionally, the tartans are registered and sometimes can only legally be made by one manufacturer. The U.S. Navy Edzell and Seabee tartans, for example, are registered to and can only be legally made by Strathmore Woollen Company and will run you 31 pounds sterling (currently a bit over 47 USD) per meter for the lighter weight fabric and 35.17 pounds ($53.51 USD) for the heavier fabric.

The amount of cloth needed to make a kilt depends on the style of kilt you are making, the waist measurement of the intended wearer, the sett (distance until the pattern repeats) of the tartan, and the desired pleat width (which can itself be a function of the sett). The formula for determining how much material you need, for the American pattern, is:

{[(waist/3 x 2) x (sett + pleat width)]+(waist/3 x 2)} x 1.2

For the Scottish pattern (waist/3 x 2) is substituted with waist/2 in the formula, so the second term simply becomes the waist measurement, simplifying the equation:

{[waist/2 x (sett + pleat width)] + waist/2} x 1.2

American kilts are 1 1/3 waist length and Scottish kilts are 1 1/2 waist length, but the pleated parts are 2/3 waist length and 1/3 waist length respectively, and since the pleated portion gets multiplied by sett+pleat width the American pattern takes more cloth. For the American pattern, using the Edzell tartan at 5 5/8" sett with a 1 1/8" pleat width and a 40" waist, you would need roughly 3.5 yards; for the Scottish pattern using the same measurements you would only need a bit over 2.5 yards (I would need 4.1333 yards and 3.1 yards respectively and I'll thank you to leave that math alone).

If you haven't guessed yet, I'm considering making my own kilt for this year. My mother's family name, Roberts, is associated with Clan Donnachaidh so I could conceivably claim any of their tartans (although I'd certainly want to get the DNA testing done first), or I can use the Roberts of Wales tartan, or there is the US Navy Edzell tartan, and if I really want to stretch it I might be able to lay some claim to the US Navy Seabee tartan from my paternal grandfather (although in that case I'd want to pleat to the sett rather than to the stripe).

However, since some historical records indicate that the clan adoption of individual tartans didn't occur until after the ban was lifted (before the ban they depended more on the individual weavers and thus were more regionally associated) it really isn't critical that I use any specific tartan. Given the costs involved I'll probably just find something suitable and use that, at least for my first attempt.

And so, armed with a couple of websites, I make my plans. Maybe something will come of it and maybe not.

(The astute observer will note that, despite the title of the post, no quilts were mentioned...until now.)


Angus McThag said...

The expense is why I have a black-watch pattern Sport-Kilt and not a proper MacTavish tartan.

Larry said...

And also why I have the USN Edzell Sport Kilt, which is pleated neither to the stripe nor to the sett.