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New Obsession for Late 2011: Kiltmaking

2011-12-04

The Art of Kiltmaking, Beeswax, Tailors Chalk, Guttermans thread and 10 oz. black cotton denim.

I was probably in high school the first time it occurred to me that a kilt was something that I could theoretically own. I have some Scottish heritage but it’s not anything that my family has particularly celebrated. Highland dress is not something I grew up with a context for, so I’ve let this interest sit by the wayside for a long time without pursuing it. I recently decided that if 20 years have gone by and I still want a kilt, then it’s about time I found a way to make it happen.

In a long-ago weaving class, I had entertained the notion of weaving enough fabric to make a kilt. When I saw how much I’d have to spend for yarn and how little class time I’d actually have to do it, I dropped the idea like a hot potato; it just seemed utterly daunting and impractical.

Years later I have finally acquired my own loom, and I recently wove my first tartan in 15 years: a couple of scarves in the MacPherson Hunting tartan. The entire process only took a week or two of nights and weekends; that’s including measuring the warp, dressing the loom, and the actual weaving of about 4 yards.

MacPherson Hunting scarf

Suddenly, weaving a kilt length seemed a lot more realistic. I began poking around online to see if this was something anyone else had attempted and documented before and that led me to a site called X Marks the Scot, an online community of dedicated kilt enthusiasts. It was there that I learned of a book called The Art of Kiltmaking by Barbara Tewksbury and Elsie Stuehmeyer, which you could call the bible of traditional kiltmaking.

Even while contemplating weaving an entire kilt length, I had sort of been assuming that I would then hand it off to someone to have it made into a kilt. With the discovery of the book, I found myself down a rabbit hole.

First I decided to have a go at making a kilt myself, but hold off on weaving a full 8 yards of fabric until I’ve woven a few more, smaller projects. Tartan can be ordered online from places like Scotweb and it makes sense to me to use commercially woven stuff as a controlled experiment before trying to work with handwoven. I’ve ordered a few swatches, and while waiting impatiently for them to cross the Atlantic I’ve decided that before I jump into this project with an expensive piece of wool tartan fabric, I should make a practice kilt using something slightly less precious. To that end I picked up 4 yards of double-width black 10oz 100% cotton denim. I’m not a huge fan of so-called “sport” or “casual” kilts in non-traditional colors and fabrics, but who knows - apart from being a practice piece it may grow on me.