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






Linton Green 1

Here we are at the next set of Linton tweeds: green this time and I’ve got my head back.

I am truly happy with my Linton Pinks but I have a few more Linton’s to sew and hopefully transfer their meticulous weaving  into wearable garments.


I have wanted a herringbone wool jacket for ages and ages that I could wear with jeans and skirts and really and truly just be a good wardrobe staple that will see the years and fashion trends into oblivion.


This is a really great little jacket pattern V8887 that I’m sorry to say is OOPS and probably for many years now but is a little gem that allows you to sew as is (as I have) or you can have the option of adding tailoring, couture variations at will. I choose to tailor the collar and sleeve heads but otherwise I left it alone. It’s a perfect jacket pattern for those entering the tailoring journey : you can select what to spend time and effort on and what not. Previously I’ve made this twice before – flowery cotton and blue fleece.

DSCN7923Makes for a more relaxed jacket that will soften with wear and with the leftovers, I managed to sew up a skirt. So now I have a suit that was not planned. Nice. The skirt is a simple straight A line but I added welt pockets – just because.


Then I had the green check to coordinate/match with the brown olive greenish herringbone. I think went for the most complicated – a kilt skirt without a pattern.


Truly, this this probably the most simplistest of garment ever if we followed the traditional version – a long length of woollen fabric wrapped around the waist and held up with a belt, but a kilt is a male’s garment, a kilt skirt is a female’s, and we all know that there is a distinct difference between waist and hip ratio in the genders.

I watched a lot of online videos on how to make a kilt: I read books and researched it in depth; in the end I just did what felt right….I think I’ll leave this for another post entirely because I’ve a lot to show and tell.

Going back to what I actually made though …. I had enough fabric to make a dress tooDSCN7910

McCalls 2401-  always a good staple with so many variations all in one envelope. Reach for the pattern and all will be well. I have used this pattern many, many times and it has become my go to dress for Christmas and beyond when you only have a metre or so to use.


As I was using whatever fabric I had left over from the kilt thing, I didn’t really care at this point if the checks matched…….I’ve seen worse in RTW.   And so have you.

This is not my usual standard I’ll have ye know but fabric dictates the limitations…


It didn’t help that I inadvertently reversed the pieces because the inside and outside of this fabric looks the same. I did get patch pockets though and used the selvedge as trim around the armholes, frayed the hem and pockets too.


Anyway, I sewed the jacket I’ve always wanted and got a skirt to match. Then I sewed a kilt and got a dress out of the bargain too… so by my reckoning, two free items. Two metres of herringbone got me a jacket and a skirt: 3 metres of green check got me a voluptuous kilt and a dress.