Essential sewing keeping me clothed and sane



Have you read Outlander? Have you watched the TV series? Are you?


Get a cup of tea, or in keeping with the theme, a glass of golden, smooth whiskey… be savoured and slowly, very slowly enjoyed: sipped and tasted recalling ages past and past lives.  Irish is of course much better but I am a wee bit biased although I will totally allow you to enjoy the Scottish equivalent while you read this. Don’t ever go for blended – single malt cannot ever be beaten. Take my word on this.

I’m hooked on Scotland and I blame my wayward and totally original, unique friend ReAnn who makes me do all sorts of things and pushed me to reading this series. To say I’m becoming obsessed with Scotland and all things Scottish may be a slight understatement: books, Amazon Prime viewing, whiskey (apart from the blended) and now clothes……..I’ve always had a hankering for the northern hemisphere, believing myself to be descended from Viking stock whether I am or not and Scotland meets my beliefs half-way. I holidayed in the very far north of Scotland last summer and had the most wonderful time. If you have nothing else to read – go to Scotland.

As a consequence of Outlander and all that tartan (plaid) I was compelled to make a kilt. A kilt is a man’s garment – an extremely long length in the region of 5 – 8 yards of clan tartan, loosely pleated by hand around the back, held in place by means of a belt and the excess draped over the back to be easily hauled up over shoulders as an impromptu cape and sleeping quilt. The quintessential clothing item – provides for all eventualities.


You really must watch this….


and this…

A kilt skirt is the female version. Now the real problem between a kilt and kilt skirt is the ratio between waist and hips. Conveniently, I happen to have 10″ between the two: 30″ waist and 40″ hips. I did not consider this as I was pleating but more on this later.

With 3m of Linton Tweed wool in a non-traditional check, in other words, not a clan tartan that I had to divide into useable length. My married name is Forrester and my maternal family name is Stewart so there are recognised and recorded tartans for both. I know it’s unbelievable to most of us but there is an organisation who regulates tartans – brilliant!

I took the 140cms width of Linton wool and bravely sliced up the centre, resulting in 3m of length and 70cms (27″) of drop. This was to be the basis and total width of the kilt skirt also determining the length. Nothing like working to restraints to focus the mind. Bear in mind that a man’s kilt can use up to 8 yards of fabric……

With the total width laid out flat I set aside 70cms – 80cms or so on each end for the flat front overlaps and then proceeded to pleat the backside. This had to fit 40″hips. I marked the side “seams” which are not seams at all because this is one single length of fabric but it helped with construction.

There are two types of kilts nowadays: the first being the traditional hand pleated version and the second being the military style which is pleated aforehand and secured with straps. This is the version I followed.


There was simple maths involved: this width between the non existent side seams had to be reduced by pleating to comfortably fit 40″ hips. Easy. For example, if the fabric measured 80″ then each pleat would be 2″.

However, not as easy as that….

I pleated this way


and then that way


and maybe another – to follow the sett, ie. the lines of the check.


I spent a whole week, every day pleating this way and that. To pleat to the sett/ the check / the plaid (pattern) or to go random. To go knife pleats or double pleats or box??


Interestingly, the pleat depth and style changed the colour of the tartan – see pleated and non-pleated on the right – and almost created a brand new fabric. Then the penny dropped with me – straight pleating of fabric just simply makes a large rectangle of fabric a smaller rectangle of fabric. There is no shaping……

To fit a female’s body, the pleats have to be tapered. Each pleat had to be slightly angled from the 40″ hip width to fit the 30″ waist. Look, I couldn’t be bothered to do proper maths and just re-pinned each pleat so that I had the required waist width, combined with the necessary hip width. Use your tape measure. Waist = 32″, hip is 8″ below this and measures 42″.  You have now included ease and wearability as well as a personalised kilt. Use your own measurements in accordance.

DSCN7896Each pleat was tacked in place and pressed to within a thread’s breadth of its life. I scorched the wool in this process [see the brownish tinge above] and the whole house stank. Thankfully, it was on  the inside. So take caution at this stage. I know you want sharp pleats but burnt wool does not make a pleasant smell, nor a perfect garment. Take the time and pleasure in tacking those knife pleats in place, pressing and then take as much care and diligence in ripping out the tacking ….


To keeping those exquisitely pressed pleats in place forever involves a little bit more behind the scenes work. There’s a lot of fabric bulk in pleats: if you have a very slim hip girth in this area might be beneficial but for those of us with more girth, this needs to be trimmed – as scary as this may be.

Machine sew down the length inside of the pleats ending with a strong double-double  stitch to prevent unravelling. This is where I strongly recommend you take some of that strong whiskey to fortify you for the next job in hand, however you do need a steady hand so use with caution.

Trim the pleats. I used pinking shears and cut very, very carefully. – do NOT imbibe too much whiskey at this stage. All the cut offs were held in reserve.

Those cutoffs were then sewn together and formed a belt which combined with other bits and pieces then became a sporran. I absolutely really and know that this is not a traditional female accoutrement to a kilt but it is nevertheless very useful. Where else do you store bits of string, smooth beach stones that your child found 20 years ago, front door keys and other stuff that have no specific category but nevertheless are essential.

DSCN7895 2Then all of a sudden the kilt skirt began to take shape. But the job was not done yet. Waist finishing, closings, hem and front wrap opening all had to be completed.

Luckily and with a wee bit of foresight, I had intended the hem to be the straight selvedge edge, so at least that was sorted. I cannot imagine having to hem and then knife pleat double wool fabric.

DSCN7955 2

The over front lap was stitched with a very small machine stitch (1mm) to prevent excessive fraying and hand frayed to this mark. Which, hopefully matches the hem fraying.


Now on to the waist. With no darts for shaping to fit the female shape the front of the kilt is angled or rather dropped to accommodate a smaller waist to hip ratio. Personally, I find this quite attractive, even though the checks don’t line up. I’m not bothered and put this into the ‘design feature’ category.


The top waist is interfaced with horsehair, folded over to the inside and edge stitched to hold it in place. Then pressed to within an inch of its life but this time without scorching……

The kilt pin is from Tapit Hen if you’re interested…they have a tonne of stuff and were most courteous. Mine is a celtic twisted blade.

Back to the kilt – There is a half skirt lining inside to accommodate comfort, protecting the pleats and the practicality of not sticking to your 21st century opaque tights.


Underneath that is fusible interfacing that holds those precious pleats in place. But only you and I know that. And only you and I know how scrappy this is…

DSCN7952.jpegI managed to source kilt belts and buckles from a local shop which in Belfast is really quite extraordinary. Hooray for HabFab. You want kilt buckles? What colour, what size? This is really what I want from a real life shop – they can provide you instantly with what you need instead of having to wait for Internet delivery.

Those little cutoffs from the pleats were then pressed flat and sewn together to form a button belt. From the reasonably sized leftovers I made the aforementioned sporran.


Because the kilt skirt has no pockets, this provides an alternative. Wear this or not to the other side of the kilt straps to ensure balance. I added an elaborate clasp with drop jewels and beads just for decoration.


I just love wearing this – honest and truly I feel at home when wearing this – the back swing, the flat fitted front which is reminiscent of pure A-line. Have I come home?


It’s been quite cold here this week and wearing this kilt skirt has provided extra warmth, comfort and extreme pleasure – no wonder it was so popular in the Highlands.

DSCN7902 2

Since finishing this I have worn it a hundred times and more. And every time, someone always comments on how they admire it. Do they also have my ancient heritage…  ?

Are they delving unknown into their past heritage?

Isn’t life really interesting?

Whatever your inspiration or motivation….. make whatever feels right





30 thoughts on “Kilty

  1. I found myself reading this like an adventure story, “What’ll happen next!”
    The plaid is gorgeous! So brave to tackle it. I have a treasure fabric that is too
    precious to cut into so it is tucked away like a sacred cloth brought out to admire
    from time to time. So glad YOU are not so silly.

  2. fab! The missus us still waiting for me to kilt her up…but I don’t think I’m precise enough [actually I KNOW I’m not lol] . Very swooshy. Donald, where’s yer trooziz?

  3. Such a coincidence! My daughter and I are taking my great-grandson Teddy to have his Christmas photo taken tomorrow–with kilt! Many years ago the magazine Threads had a tutorial in the construction of kilts. My Aunt Belle in Darvel sent appropriate yardage of my clan tartan and from it I made two tiny kilts for my two daughters for their Christmas photo. The oldest daughter is the grandmother of Teddy, now 4 years old, and she loves all things Scottish, including Outlander!

  4. My paternal grandmother’s family was Scottish, and, apparently, according to family lore, my maternal grandfather’s ancestors were granted an honorary tartan. But I have no knowledge of any more details of my Scottish heritage. That said, I loved this! My first introduction to kilt-making was the challenge on the GBSB a few years ago, and thought it the most complicated thing ever!

    I love your kilt. It’s absolutely beautiful, and I loved reading your adventure.

  5. What an awesome project and post ! Your kilt is so nice and looks so good. You make and wear clothing that is perfect..I wish I had a bit of your height. What’s next????

  6. Glorious work, Ruth. Really. Just outstanding.

  7. Thank you for such detailed instructions. You are one amazing woman…… and patient too.

  8. As someone with some Scots blood in me as well, I very much envy your kilt! What patience and skill you have to have made all of those pleats. It really is gorgeous! Your love of all things Scottish reminds me of the Monty Python sketch where aliens turn everyone in Wimbledon into Scotsmen and they all start wearing kilts. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’m sure you’d enjoy it!

  9. Wonderful! Love the sporran.

  10. Ruth – you are such a star. This in a wonderful garment and you look great in it. I loved reading the blog and the video is fantastic. I have a Scottish Granny and she often presses tartan items on me. Always up for a celebration of our roots. Just wonderful.

  11. Looks wonderful! I wouldn’t have thought to use fusible interfacing to tame the pleats but what a good idea. You want this one to last and last.

  12. I love Scotland too. So wish I could wear all those muted colours and not look sick.
    You look wonderful in your kilt. Fabulous sewing.

  13. You did wonderful here Ruth. I am inspired by a piece of tartan that I have to give this a go. We were in Scotland in October. I wanted to go because I had always enjoyed “Hamish MacBeth” and wanted to see some of that beautiful scenery. I am familiar with Ireland, my husband has lots of family there! However, haven’t been to the north, it’s on my list and I will contact you and hopefully we can meet up one of these days when I do make it there. I can bring you sewing stuff from Canada! All the best.

  14. Ruth, Thank you for sharing your sewing expertise and story! SSC

  15. that is beautiful! I would wear it all the time as well. love it.

  16. Your kilted skirt is gorgeous. I’ve made just one kilt. The only way I could figure out to set the pleats was to lay the whole thing basted on a table, hang the hip-to-waist portion off the edge, steam the hack out of it, and lay a heavy board over it for 24 hours.

    Never again. But I was so proud of my one kilt!

  17. My earlier comment doesn’t appear to have posted – I’m having account problems. I like your kilt skirt and am glad you enjoy wearing it and feel good in it.
    I am Scottish as is my husband. My husband occasionally wears his kilt and enjoys malt whisky and Irish malt whiskey too. We had his family tartan woven specially for us (I have posted about this on my blog) and my daughter wanted a skirt made from it. It was extremely expensive and she was vague about what she wanted so I’ve had two practices with cheaper plaid. With the pleated skirt, I fretted over that waist to hip ratio (I also blogged about this) but still ended up with the waist being too big. My daughter found it too loose and too long but still can’t say what she actually wants. I have LOTS of tartan.

  18. Well the video was indeed a hoot! But your kilt skirt–what a triumph. Clever of you to have figured the whole thing out, and the result is glorious. I can feel the comfort and fun and elegance of it through the screen. And the swish of the pleats behind! No wonder you wear it so much.

  19. You had me at Outlander! Love the books and the show even more. I need a kilt skirt too but I want Mackenzie tartan for it😁

  20. What at glorious kilt! I loved the process (because I wasn’t the one pleating and then re-pleating) – thanks for sharing! And the video of how to create and wear a traditional quilt was fantastic.

  21. I take my hat of to you on those pleats, working those out would have done my head in – it’s amazing! And I’m going to click on the Hab Fab link right now.

  22. Wow, great job Ruth, I love it! I thought I was a Gay Gordon, but it turns out my great grandfather changed his name when he immigrated from France, I was sorely dissapointed! My husbands side are Scott so a weathered Scott kilt was the ideal present for our son’s 21st. He loves it and does it wear it from time to time for formal occasions. I didn’t make it though; so proud of you 😉

  23. Great photos and clever techniques to make all that fabric fit your body and look so flattering! I had to make a kilt a long long time ago and it was easier than I thought ounce the pleating got going and not having to insert a zipper or make a hem was great! My first husband was Scottish and played in a bagpipe band and wore a professionally made kilt and wool jacket complete with sterling silver buttons and he could/would drink any whiskey that showed up. Once we went to Scotland and he did the rounds in pubs where they wanted to show off their single and double malt varieties and he drank until he could not stand up. Your new outfit is just stunning!!!!

  24. I’m loving Outlander and I’m saving the new series to binge when The Management is out. I had forgotten how lovely kilts are – I always had one as a child. I’m tempted to try in something unusual. Or maybe just a plaid to be safe.
    I’m absolutely with you on a good single malt. Cheers!

  25. Pingback: Simple, not Stupid: Linton Blue 1 | corecouture

  26. Just fabulous! Both your kilt skirt and Outlander, haha. They really have done such a wonderful job on the costumes for that show! My maternal side originates entirely from Scotland – clan Wilson here! And all though school we wore wool kilts – I remember when my grandmother came out to Australia to visit she asked a lot of questions about the plaid and why it was chosen! I LOVED wearing my kilt in winter time – wonderfully warm, long and swishy. Seeing you in yours has got me pining for one as well!

  27. Extraordinary! you are one patient and determined woman… Beautiful kilt skirt.

  28. Just Beautiful!

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