The Box Pleated Kilt Swings Again!
Our feature in the November 2009 issue of Tartan Herald
which told of Lady Chrystel's unique "double box pleated
kilt" design, has led to a lot of interest in the original,
historic box-pleated kilt, so we sat down with kilt maker and kilt
historian (and newest Governor of the Scottish Tartans Authority),
TH: Matt . . . many know you as the director of the Scottish
Tartans Museum in Franklin, North Carolina, but you're also a
renowned kiltmaker. How long have you been doing that?
MN: I've been with the museum since 1997, and at that time I'd
been involved in historical reenactment, so I had some experience
of sewing my own clothing in that regard. But it was not until 2005
that I started making kilts. I was driving into the museum one
February morning and I distinctly remember thinking that I should
ask Bob Martin if he'd be willing to teach me how to make a four
yard box pleated kilt. A short time later the phone rang and it was
Bob. He said words to the effect of "Matt, you really ought to know
how to make your own kilts; let me teach you." I think it was
TH: Bob Martin, of course, is a long time member and good friend
of the STA - a recognized authority on the kilt, with over 30 years
experience as a kilt maker, and author of All About Your Kilt . . .
and . . . a superb portrait painter into the bargain!
MN: Correct. By that time he'd retired as a kilt maker and had
moved to within an hour's drive of me, so I couldn't refuse his
TH: What was it that attracted you to the old style box pleated
MH: Well,at that point I owned one already that I 'd made for my
wedding. I liked the style for a
number of reasons; the chief one being that it's an historical
style not often seen today. The fact that it requires less cloth
also makes it very comfortable and less expensive.
TH: Did you think there was a market for this older style of
MN: That wasn't what I was thinking. Initially I wanted to learn
the kilt making process chiefly for my own education, and also so
that I'd be able to make kilts for my own use. However, I found
that I enjoyed the process and I made a few for myself and for
friends. But there are only so many kilts a person can make for
himself. So to support my kilt making habit, I thought I'd offer
them for sale, both via my personal web site as well as through the
Scottish Tartans Museum gift shop.
TH: Has that been successful?
MN: More than I imagined. I anticipated I'd get one or two
inquiries a month from people with a special interest in historic
clothing. But there's been much greater interest in this style than
I expected and I've made over 400 kilts since I started, almost all
of them four yards and box pleated; only a small handful of those
have been for historical re-enactors.
TH: Why do you think they've proved to be so popular?
MN: Well, some people seek me out specifically because they know
I specialize in the original tailored kilt. But other than that,
when I'm talking to someone interested in acquiring a kilt, I don't
push one style above another. I just give all the options and help
steer them towards the style of kilt I think they will most enjoy
wearing. Those that choose the older box pleated kilt do so for
varying reasons. Some like the idea of wearing something a bit
different from the norm. Others like the fact that it is historic.
A lot of people are attracted to the idea of a four yard kilt,
either because of the reduced cost, or because they want a lighter
weight kilt. Today's four yard kilts are generally marketed as
"casual kilts." They're machine sewn, and usually not made to the
same standards as a traditional kilt. My box pleated kilts are
entirely hand sewn, so they're a good option for those who want a lower yardage kilt,
but don't want to sacrifice quality in construction.
TH: So you wouldn't consider a four yard box pleated kilt as a
MN: It's a kilt. Period. The good thing about a well made,
quality kilt is that it works equally well for both formal and
TH: Do you think the four yard box pleated kilt is going to
supplant the eight yarder any time soon?
MN: No, and I really wouldn't want it to. The eight yard knife
pleated kilt is a great style, and I own and wear those, as well.
It's the standard kilt of today, and has been for more than a
century. But there's a place for both. People shouldn't get the
impression that a "real" kilt has to have eight yards. The kilt is
a traditional garment with a long history, and part of what I do is
help people realize that there are many styles within that
tradition. We've seen a resurgence of interest in the kilt as
day-to-day clothing and people want to bring the kilt "up-to-date."
But it would be a grave mistake, in my opinion, to abandon
tradition. When it comes to Highland attire, we should always be
looking to the future and to the past because modern fashion should
be an organic development from the past. So if you want to make the
kilt relevant as a day-to-day garment, you should look back to a
time when the kilt really was the everyday clothing of the Scottish
Gael. That was the heyday of the four yard kilt.
TH: So would you consider your kilts to be historic or
MN: They're modern kilts based on an historic pleating style. My
kilts are not exact replicas of museum pieces. Many features of my
kilts are inspired by some of the earliest tailored kilts; they
have four yards of cloth, they're box pleated and I usually don't
add a fringe on the apron, for example. But they also have modern
features; leather straps and buckles, an interior lining, tapering
from waist to hips for a better fit, etc. My kilts should not be
thought of as something for historical reenactment only. They're
kilts, pure and simple and they can readily be worn with
contemporary Highland dress.
TH: Matt, it's been a pleasure. Any closing remarks?
MN: Just to share a bit of my own experience. I've worn many
kilts in many different styles. I have kilts in my wardrobe made
from worsted wool, medium and heavy weight, various tweeds; some
are four yards, six yards, eight yards; some are box pleated, some
knife pleated. I enjoy wearing them all. However, I must admit that
the kilts I reach for most often, whether for formal or casual
events, all seasons of the year, are four yard box pleated kilts
made from good heavy weight worsted wool. In my experience, these
are just the most comfortable and versatile kilts in my wardrobe,
and a pleasure to wear. So I'm very pleased to see this style
making a resurgence. I give Bob Martin full credit for reviving it
with his own kilt making back in 1982, and thank him profusely for
passing that knowledge on to me. I'm also very grateful to Barb
Tewskbury for working with me last year to make a supplement to her
Art of Kiltmaking book adapting that method to making four yard box
pleated kilts. I'm confident that the work we're doing will ensure
that the style of the original tailored kilt doesn't become a
footnote in the history of Highland Dress.