A brief guide to the craft by Robert McBain late of the Keith
Kilts in various forms have been worn in the Highlands of
Scotland since well before the events of 1745, with the feileadh
mor - or greater kilt - regarded as being the original. This was a
single piece of fabric of some 8 to 11 metres in length wrapped
around the body and gathered at the waist with the end of the piece
worn over the shoulder.
Since the time when the wearing of the greater kilt was
commonplace, there have been many developments and variations, one
of which was known as the feileadh-beag - or little kilt - which,
because of its styling and its more conservative use of fabric, can
be recognised as the forerunner of today's kilts. The one aspect
which has not changed over the years however is that kilts are
still made from one single length of fabric and it is the making of
the garments from this one basic component which is so specialised
and so demanding of tailoring skills.
Essentially, the kilt is made with two overlapping aprons of
unpleated tartan to the front as the material is pleated at the
back in such a manner as to ensure all round continuity of the
tartan design. The stylish appearance of a well constructed kilt is
derived from a number of skills, amongst them top quality hand
stitching, the ability to match the tartan material in the pleated
area, together with the careful selection of the minor component
parts. It should also be said that well built fabric is essential
to achieve the desired effect.
A kilt for a man of average height and build requires 8 metres of
single width tartan (approx. 30 feet) with an even selvedge with
which to form the bottom edge of the finished garment. The
allocation of material can almost be seen as an exercise in
mathematics. For example, a man with an 88cm waist and a 100cm seat
will have 44 cms of pleats at the waist and 50 cms of pleats at the
seat area. This at the outset may seem to be a simple exercise and
the calculation is not at all difficult: adapting these figures to
a set of working measurements however, is somewhat more complicated
and is reliant upon the experience of the Kiltmaker.
There are several basic rules to follow when marking out
• A tartan with a small check will inevitably produce more
pleats per given distance than a tartan with a large check.
• The sizes of setts can vary according to the tartan cloth
manufacturers who are known to have their own sett sizes for
• The number of pleats is an important aspect with the average man
requiring between 25 - 34 pleats. It should be noted that fewer
would produce pleats, which will look "too wide" and any more than
34 give the appearance of the pleats being too narrow.
• The depth of the pleats will vary depending upon the design of
the tartan, bearing in mind that to ensure continuity of appearance
all round, the tartan checks have to be matched both vertically and
Different types of pleating allow the kiltmaker some choice in
the pleating of various tartan setts. There are essentially two
main styles of pleating for kilts:
This is the term used to describe pleats which, when sewn,
reproduce the sett (or design) of the tartan in the pleated area.
The ease (or on the other hand, the difficulty) of producing
correct pleats wholly depends upon the design of the tartan,
particularly the intricacy of the various checks and overchecks. It
is the experience of the kiltmaker, which is important in
visualising the end result.
MILITARY PLEATING ~ pleated to the stripe
Military pleating as the name suggests, is the style of pleating
used for the production of kilts worn by Scottish Army regiments.
It is said that military pleating was introduced to create a more
striking effect and to introduce a very defined appearance of
uniformity amongst the ranks. Also important is the fact that
military pleats are very cost effective because in certain tartans
more pleats per metre of fabric can be achieved than with regular
tartan fabrics. Military pleats should have a prominent line or
lines running the length of each pleat.
MILITARY PLEATS (alternative) ~ pleated to the sett
This is a variation of conventional military pleating where the
prominent design feature runs the length of each alternate pleat as
opposed to each individual pleat. A good example of this style of
pleating is displayed in the kilts of the well known Queen Victoria
Boys school of Dunblane which are made up from Hunting Stewart
tartan with the pleats running in the alternating colours of red
and yellow to the fore. As indicated previously, this also serves
to minimise the use of fabric whilst still producing an acceptable
though somewhat lighter weight garment.