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Tartan Ferret


A brief guide to the craft by Robert McBain late of the Keith Kilt School.

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 pleats:

• 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 specific tartans.
• 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 horizontally.

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.

© Scottish Tartans Authority
Scottish Tartans Authority (Scottish limited company no. 162386), c/o J & H Mitchell, 51 Atholl Road, Pitlochry, PH16 5BU
Scottish Charity Number SCO24310

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