tartan for kilt on a wooden background

Every once in a while, I like to take a break from my usual sewing projects and make something different and unique. Or I switch to knitting or crochet. It helps me to recharge my batteries and continue my work with new passion and vigor. Whatever the motivation, it is nice to take on some versatile projects. A kilt is a great idea to try something different. So, today, I will show you how to make a kilt. It will be a basic guide, even though kilt-making can be way more complex. But, I believe that the first attempt should be easier unless you are a professional. In which case you don’t need a guide anyway. 

A kilt is a traditional piece of clothing of Gaelic men originated in the Scottish Highlands. While we relate it to Scottish and a little bit less to Irish people, it became a brand and inspiration worldwide. You can find kilt fans among fashion designers, hipsters, and people who want to feel different or just to draw attention. Most of the nations have some traditional garments, but none of them could match the popularity of the kilt. I can’t really explain the lure of the kilt. Maybe it’s the ambiguity of it. Is it a uniform, a heritage dress, or a garment? It resembles the woman’s skirt yet it conveys a message of manly honor. Whatever the reason, the kilt is here to stay. So, let’s see how to make an entry model.

How to Make a kilt

Step 1. Choose Your Tartan and Take Your Measurements

You will need a lot of material.  Traditionally the width of kilt varied and even the experts disagree on ‘true’ measurements. For your first kilt, 4-yards will do. But, before you start working you need to take your measurements. Measure your waist and distance between waist and knee. Traditionally, a kilt should cover one-third of your knee. 

Step 2. Making the Pleats

There are two traditional styles of pleats. You can pleat a kilt ‘to the sett’ or ‘to the stripe’. There are several differences between these styles, but basically pleating to the sett mimics the pattern of the tartan and it looks pretty much the same on the front and on the back of the kilt. When pleating to the stripe, the pattern on the back of the kilt is different from the pattern on the front. Pleating to the sett is a safe option, because every tartan looks good pleated to the sett, while some tartans aren’t suitable to be pleated to the stripe. 

The first section of your fabric will go from your left to your right hip, so you leave this part unpleated. The width of this part should be half of your waist. Then, you start pleating. Fold approximately 6 inches of your fabric underneath itself to the right side. Different tartan patterns or ‘setts’ have different widths so you don’t fold exactly 6 inches. Instead, you follow your pattern so that each pleat looks the same. When you fold the next 6 inches or so, you fold it so that 1.5 inch of the previous pleat is free and visible. Repeat the process, until you have about 20 inches of pleats or the same length as the apron( the first section of your kilt). 

Step 3. Ironing and Pinning

Once you have pleated the desired width check out if the pleats are perfect. Then iron it in the direction of the pleats. Be careful while ironing because if you disrupt the pleats you will have to do it all over again. Now, it’s time to pin it in order to prepare it for sewing. You will need two pins for each pleat. Make two rows of pins. The first row should go along the top of the fabric, well, 1 inch from the top to be exact. The second row should go 6 inches from the top. 

Step 4. Sewing the Pleats

Now, it’s time to use your sewing machine. Sew a straight stitch across the entire width of the pleats following your pin rows.

So, it means that you sew one inch from the top while removing one pin at a time. Follow the same procedure on your second row of pins. Now, it almost looks Scottish.

Step 5. Trimming and Fastening the Kilt

Your kilt is almost done. Check out the measures once again and cut off excess fabric if there’s any. Trim the fabric from the back of the pleats to avoid bulky waistline. Skip the first and the last pleat and cut off the fabric from the waist to the hipline on remaining pleats.

As for fastening, you can add straps and buckles or hooks and eyes, but the simplest way is to use velcro. It is not traditional, but it is practical, cheap, and easy to do.

There you go! Get a sporran and a bagpipe and you are ready to go to a Renaissance Fair or any Scottish celebration.

Final Words

Truth be told kilt-making is a form of art. There’s so much tradition behind it as well. Each tartan pattern tells a story. Traditionally, each kilt should be hand-made. There are almost countless rules that define the ‘true’ kilt. However, it can all be overwhelming for beginners, especially for those who don’t have Scottish origins.

This guide is meant to help inexperienced sewists or people who need to make a kilt on short notice. I know that true kilt maker would never make this simplified version of the kilt. Still, I believe that we don’t need to stick to the tradition rigidly. After all, making any kind of kilts celebrates the Scottish culture. And once you get acquainted with the kilt and kilt-making process, chances are you will be making more elaborate kilts in the future. Anyway, welcome to the world of Gaelic heritage and enjoy it!