Kilt - General Guide
Table of Contents
1.1 General definition of a kilt
1.2 Design and construction of a kilt
1.3 Kilt care
1.4 Altering a kilt
1.5 Styles of kilt wear
1.6 See also
1.7 Kilts photo gallery
1.8 Clan societies links
1.9 External links about kilts
2. Kilts Videos
- the modern form of the traditional Scottish garment (further defined below);
- the historical form of this same Scottish garment (see History of the kilt);
- the Irish kilt (see Irish kilt);
- the Welsh kilt, or cilt (see Welsh Kilt and St David's Tartan);
- the contemporary kilt, such as the Neo-Kilt™ or Utilikilt™ and
- certain types of school uniform skirts for girls (see School uniforms).
Traditionalists emphasize that the plural of "kilt" is "the kilt" rather than "kilts", though the latter term has been used alongside the former and continues to gain acceptance in modern English.
The modern traditional kilt is typically seen at modern-day Highland games gatherings in Scotland and elsewhere throughout the world. Historical forms of the Scottish kilt have differed in several particulars (some quite substantial) from the modern-day version. Specifically, the organizations which sanction and grade the competitions in Highland dancing and bagpiping all have rules governing acceptable attire for the competitors. These rules specify that kilts are to be worn (except that in the national dances, the female competitors will be wearing the Aboyne dress). The word kilt as used in this article refers to those garments as typically seen in such competitions. 
Depending on the occasion, a kilt is normally worn with accessories such as a belt, jacket, sporran (a type of pouch), special footwear, and – optionally – underwear. These are discussed in the separate article kilt accessories.
Kilt, the Scottish national dress, is a wide strip of cloth, respectively frilly skirt. The male version is worn with a sporran - a small leather bag, that is suspended along hips.
The earliest known form of kilt-like garment was leine chroich – a saffron-colored skirt worn by people who have come from Ireland to settle in Scotland around the third century.
It was a cloth, thickly pleated, long to the ankle, which could be tucked in if necessary and upheld with a belt at the waist. Initially, models of kilts were intended only for the nobility.
The more significant clans had several tartans, a separate model was also for the leader of the clan and his family.
The kilt, as referenced above, is a tailored garment which is wrapped around the wearer's body at the waist, hanging down encircling and covering the upper part of the legs above the knees. The fabric is cut so that it is open along a line from the waist to the lower edge (the selvedge on a kilt) with the opening being secured by means of straps and buckles.
The two ends of the kilt fabric overlap considerably to form what are called aprons. These aprons are positioned in the front while the remaining length of the fabric (around the sides and in the back) is pleated.
In addition, the kilt exhibits certain peculiarites of design, construction, and convention which differentiate it from other garments fitting the above description.
The typical kilt as seen at modern Highland games events is made of twill woven worsted wool which, in conjunction with its tartan pattern (see below), is commonly referred to as tartan. A twill weave is a type of weaving pattern in which each weft thread is passed over and then under two warp threads at a time. The result is a distinctive diagonal weave pattern in the fabric which is referred to as the twill line. In contrast, the Irish kilt traditionally was made from solid colour cloth, with saffron being the most widely used colour. 
Kilting fabric comes in different weights, from very heavy (regimental) worsted of approximately 21 oz. (per yard) weight down to a light weight worsted of about 10-11 oz. (per yard). The most common weights for kilts are 13 oz. and 16 oz. The heavier weights are more appropriate for cooler weather, while the lighter weights would tend to be selected for warmer weather or for active use, such as Highland dancing. Not all patterns (setts) are available in all weights.
For a kilt for a typical adult, about 6 to 8 yards of single width (about 26 to 30 inches) or about 3 to 4 yards of double width (about 54 to 60 inches) fabric would be required. The exact amount depends upon several factors, including the size of the sett, the number of pleats put into the garment, and, of course, the size of the person!
All over the world tartan is recognized as a symbol of Scots and their culture. It is a constantly evolving part of Scottish history, as well as a worldwide known piece of fashion.
Looking through the Scottish Registry of Tartans, we can find a definition of the tartan. Tartan is a design which is able of being twist which consists of two or more alternating coloured
stripes. They are combined vertically and horizontally to create a checkered pattern.
Traditionally, tartan is performed with sheep's wool. Today tartan can be made of other fabrics, such as poly-viscose, leather, silk or even denim.
Setts (tartan patterns)
One of the most distinctive features of the authentic Scottish kilt is the tartan patterns (called setts) which such kilts exhibit. Many of these patterns have come to be associated with Scottish clans. The process by which this came about is the subject of the history of the kilt.
For purposes of description, it is first of all necessary to point out that these patterns, in addition to other characteristics, are always arranged horizontally and vertically, never set at a slant or diagonal. In addition, the setts are registered with the Scottish Tartans Authority which maintains a collection of fabric samples characterized by name and thread count.
The actual sett of a tartan is the minimum number of threads that completely determines the pattern. The pattern itself is then repeated in both the warp and the weft which, with very rare exceptions (mainly in the case of some very few old and rare tartan patterns) are identical. This identity of warp and weft means that the pattern will appear the same if the fabric is rotated through an angle of 90 degrees.
Setts are further characterized by their size which is the number of inches (or centimeters) in one full repeat. The size of a given sett depends not only on the number of threads in the repeat, but also on the weight of the fabric. This is so because the heavier is the fabric weight, the thicker the threads will be and thus the same number of threads of a heavier weight fabric will occupy more space when woven.
The setts are specified by their thread count, which is the sequence of colors and the proportions thereof. As an example, the Wallace tartan has a thread count given as K2 R16 K16 Y2 K16 R16 (K is black, R is red, and Y is yellow). This means that 2 units of black thread will be succeeded by 16 units of red, et cetera, in both the warp and the weft. (Typically, the "units" will be the actual number of threads, but so long as the proportions are maintained, the actual pattern will be the same.)
The colors referred to in the thread count are specified as in heraldry (though tartan patterns are not heraldic). The exact shade which is used is a matter of artistic freedom and will vary from one mill to another as well as from one dye lot to another within the same mill.
Tartans are doubly symmetrical. The weft is the same as the warp. If you rotate the piece of tartan you are looking at 90 dagrees – it will appear unchanged. In its structure, a tartan is essentially a checked pattern. The pattern of an individual tartan is often described as a "sett".
Each clan has a tartan, sometimes even several. Each person may wear them alternately or together. If you do not have neither a clan or family tartan, there are many other tartan categories. If you are looking for some more information concerning tartan and its usage, click here: http://www.heritageofscotland.com/p,complete-tartan-guide,page.php.
Would you like to order a kilt? You don't know which tartan you should choose? Firstly - start from your clan name or your last name. Then you can easily type your surname in our Clan finder. If you don't like the given sett, check relevant district tartans. If you are not happy about their colours or patterns either, go for some memorial ones which you can feel connected to, or universal tartans, such as Freedom, Highland Granite, Flower of Scotland or Heritage of Scotland - they are actually dedicated to anyone. After you have chosen the sett, remember one more important fact - each sett can be in a different color schemes. There is a dark color scheme (modern) and a lighter one (ancient). Your choice depends only on your preferences.
The kilt is tailored to the individual proportions of the wearer. This means that in order to make a properly fitting kilt, certain of the kilt wearer's individual body measurements must be known to the kiltmaker. Most kiltmakers require at least three such measurements, and some want a fourth as well. The three measurements which all kiltmakers require are those of waist, hips, and length. A fourth - the fell, or the distance from waistline to the widest part of the hips - is sometimes also required.
Generally, kiltmakers will supply instructions and a diagram explaining how (and where) to take the required measurements and these should be followed precisely as otherwise the kilt will not fit properly. Again, most will recommend that another person do the actual measurement, especially for the length (the distance from the waistline to the top of the kneecap). Prospective kilt purchasers should follow the measurement instructions as detailed by the kiltmaker of their choice.
Pleating and stitching
Now that we know how to choose a fabric, tartan and how to measure ourselves. It is time to get to know what types of pleats we have to choose. There are two styles: knife pleats and box pleats. The first one is simpler. Besides, it is more common in modern kilts. Knife pleats are created by folding the fabric back on itself over and over again. Box pleats are formed when two equal folds of fabric are folded away from each other in opposite directions on the front of a length of fabric.
There are two methods of pleating a kilt. First one – 'pleating to the stripe'. This system of pleating uses particular vertical stripe of the tartan pattern and then the pleats are arranged so that this chosen stripe runs down the center of each pleat. It is also called military pleating. The other one is called "pleating to the sett". In this case one full sett of the tartan pattern is taken up in each pleat. Result – pattern is recurring across the whole kilt.
Pleats are characterized by width and depth. The 'width' is the size of pleat. More specifically - on the back of each kilt there is a portion of the pleat which is protruding from underneath the overlying pleat - that is the width of the pleat. The 'depth' of the pleat cannot be seen. It depends on the size of the tartan sett. This is the part of the pleat which is folded under the overlying pleat.
The number of pleats depends on how much material will be used to create a new kilt with the size of the sett. What about the location of the pleats? Usually it is dictated by the tartan's pattern. It is chosen in order to produce a pattern across the back of the kilt.
The next important thing is the 'fell' - distance from waistline to the widest part of the hips. Pleats in this place of the kilt are stitched down. It can be hand or machine stitched. This is quite important in Highland dancing. If the pleats were not stitched down, the movement would be different. The pleats should hang straight down from the hipline. In other way the kilt would run to flare out and this could break up the tartan pattern.
Wool kilts are a luxurious pleasure to wear and to see worn properly - however they don't come cheap and most men will only purchase one or two during their lives, handing down their outgrown kilts to younger relatives. When cared for properly, a traditional wool kilt can last almost a lifetime, and here is the place to find out how to carry out these all-important care tasks!
There are four main threats to the life span of your kilt; damp, tears and rips, chemicals, and insects. We shall look at each of these threats in turn and explain how to best protect your kilt against these hazards.
A properly made kilt, when buckled on the tightest holes of the straps, should not be so loose that the wearer can easily twist the kilt around the body. Nor should it be so tight when buckled on the loosest holes of the straps that it causes "scalloping" of the fabric where it is buckled.
Additionally, the length of the kilt, when it is buckled at the waist, should be such that the kilt extends to the top of the kneecap. If it does not, it is either too long or too short.
Kilt too small or too large
Commonly, the kilt will be made with four holes in the straps and it is made to fit on the second (tightest) hole. This allows at least some room for weight loss or weight gain.
If the holes on the straps are insufficient to accommodate weight changes, then one could move the buckles, both the one at the waist and the underapron buckle.
Kilt too long or too short
Normally, a kilt is made without a hem, instead being made on the selvedge. One common exception to this rule is a kilt for a young and growing child (many Highland dancers fall into this category). Here the kilt is often hemmed so that as the child grows, the hem can be let out to accommodate the growth by lengthening the garment.
If the kilt is made on the selvedge, as is normally the case for an adult, it can be shortened by hemming it, although this works best with the lighter weight fabrics as otherwise there may be a visible hem. The only other way to shorten the kilt is to take material off the top of the kilt. This requires removing the stitches from the rise (that portion, about a couple of inches in length, which lies above the true waist) and maybe also a portion of the fell, removing the excess material, and re-stitching.
Today most Scotsmen see the kilt as formal dress or ceremonial dress. For Scotsmen, the kilt is usually worn with a Prince Charles or an Argyll jacket. Irishmen on the other hand commonly wear the Brian Baru or the Kilkenny jacket with the kilt. They are often worn at weddings or other formal occasions, while there are still a few people who wear them daily. The kilt is also used for parades by groups such as the Scouts, and in many places the kilt is seen in force at Highland games and pipe band championships as well as being worn at Scottish country dances and ceilidhs.
Certain regiments/units of the British Army and armies of other Commonwealth nations (including Australia, Canada, and New Zealand) still continue to wear the kilt as part of dress or duty uniform, though they have not been used in combat since 1940. Uniforms in which the kilt is worn include Ceremonial Dress, Service Dress, and Barracks Dress. The kilt is considered appropriate for ceremonial parades, office duties, less formal parades, walking out, mess dinners, and classroom instruction/band practice.
The kilt has become normal wear for formal occasions, for example being hired for weddings in much the same way as top hat and tails are in England or dinner jackets in America, and the kilt is being worn by anyone regardless of nationality or descent. Although a white tie style exists, the more common style of formal Highland regalia is seen in Black tie.
The kilt has also become increasingly common around the world for casual wear. It's not uncommon at all to see kilts making an appearance at Irish pubs, and it is becoming somewhat less rare to see them in the workplace. Casual use of the kilt dressed down with lace-up boots or mocassins, and with tee shirts or golf shirts, is becoming increasingly more familiar at Highland Games. The small ornamental Sgian Dubh dagger is often omitted where security concerns are paramount (for example, they are not allowed on commercial aircraft). For the same reasons, the traditional Sgian Dubh is frequently substituted by a plastic alternative, as its use is now purely ornamental (with only the hilt showing over the top of the hose).
- Scottish Roots - Ancestral Research Service
- Scottish Directory
- Scotland Directory
- Scotland Inter.net
- http://schotland.startpagina.nl/ - Scottish directory - Netherlands
- How to Sew a Kilt
- The Scottish Tartans Authority
- The Early History of the Kilt
- Reconstructing History
- Acts Against the Highland Dress
- Kilted Life -Kilt wearing links, history and community
- Wearing a kilt in Scotland
- Kilts and other unbifurcated garments
- Kiltmen - Promotes the wearing of kilts and other male unbifurcated garments; links to many suppliers of both traditional and modern kilt
- http://www.thekiltedman.com - USA located kilted performer
- ^ Just to cite one example, Buckhead School Uniforms , a supplier of school uniforms mainly for the private school market in the United States, offers what they call a "kilt" as part of their line of girl's uniforms. There are many, especially in the Scottish community, who do not consider the use of the term "kilt" as applied to such garments, to be entirely appropriate, believing instead that the more correct term in such cases would be kilt-skirt or kilt-styled skirt.
- ^ Rules of the British Columbia Pipers Association - in which "acceptable highland dress" for solo pipers and pipe bands is specified
- ^ Costuming regulations of the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing
- ^ Kilts Measuring Guide on a 3D model from Heritage of Scotland - Example of measuring instructions.
- ^ Andrew Bolton, Bravehearts: Men in Skirts (Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2003 ISBN 0810965585)
- Barbara Tewksbury and Elie Stuehmeyer, The Art of Kiltmaking (Celtic Dragon Press, Rome, NY, 2001 ISBN 0-9703751-0-7)
- J. Charles Thompson, So You're Going to Wear the Kilt (Heraldic Art Press, Arlington, VA, 1979 ISBN 0-86228-017-6)
Most of our kilts require at least one measurement – this is your waist size at navel. Made to measure kilts require at three measurements. Please look at the picture below to learn how to measure yourself for a kilt. We recommend that you ask someone to help you with the measuring.
All measurements on our site are given in inches (1 inch = 2.54 centimeters).