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A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi. (In front of you, a precipice. Behind you, wolves.)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Kilt Kraziness

In exchange for my work as editor for our clan newsletter, my relative, Gussie, sent me kilt material in our tartan. 
For the better part of a year I was petrified to cut into the material. At $100 a foot I didn't want to mess it up in any way. OK, I'm a chicken. I asked knowledgeable friends (who had pleated kilts before) to give me a hand with it, since I'm such a visual learner; they all had other things to do with their time. My sister, ever the practical one, said I most assuredly should take it to a tailor and have HIM do it. If he messed it up, I could make him reimburse me for damages. (Not that our tartan is all that readily replaceable.) Perhaps I should have. But I am a stubborn Scot cuss from both sides...;o)
This year (I think it was 2008) I decided that I wouldn't let another St. Patrick's Day go by without being in my own kilt. So about two days before the big day I got out the material. There it sat in all its tartan glory, just daring me to make that first cut. I tell you it was nerve-wracking. I just knew that as soon as I made the cut, I'd remember that it really needed to be about two inches longer.

Finally, the next day, I summoned up the courage and just DID it. And it went amazingly well. Of course there are all of those nice straight lines to help me out! That was easy. So then I spent another several hours reading the instructions Gussie sent with the tartan, and getting on the computer to see if there were any more visual tutorials. They pretty much said exactly what Gussie's instructions said.  Not nearly enough.
Finally I just bit the bullet and trusted in my intuition. I began pleating, following the instructions to the T, except for the inverted pleats that were supposed to go next to the two aprons and looked unnecessary. It went pretty well. I basted at the top AND the bottom—a thing I refuse to do with any of my other sewing. Plus there were three layers of pins. I felt CONFIDENT! So I held the thing up and...


So I took all the dang basting out and all three layers of pins and made the pleats smaller. You still have to include the full sett (the entire pattern square) in each pleat. I just made them closer together. Then I re-basted and re-pinned and took a deep breath and held it up.

It was still HUGE!

Bother! This was taking a century. So I took it all out and re-pleated again, this time without the dang basting. Who needs it anyway with three layers of pins? I held it up again and (sort of like the Three Bears) this time it was just right. Everything fit. It looked smashing! So I ironed all the pleats flat and began sewing them in. 

By this time it was evening and we were going over to a friend's for dinner and a movie. The kilt went too. Try sewing on expensive material and eating popcorn while watching a movie and also trying to avoid getting cat hair all over it—lots of jumping up to wash hands. I sewed and sewed and sewed, all by hand. Yep, I have a perfectly good sewing machine, but I was being a SCOT! Hah! 
So I got nearly to the end of sewing the pleats after having already sewn in the waistband and noticed two things. 1. I had messed up the pattern on one of the pleats about a third of the way in, (Was I temporarily insane? Drunk on ice water? Sleep deprived at 11:30pm? Who knew?) and 2. I would really have to have that inverted pleat you remember I'd thought I could ditch. It looked funky. So I painstakingly went back and picked out the waistband next to the wretched botched pleat and fixed it. Then I had to figure out what to do about the inverted one.

That thing was annoying to fix. I had no idea whether it was supposed to go over the gore or what. Finally I put it right over the last pleat and called it good. I sewed it in and held up the perfectly pleated, deceptively lovely thing and gaped in horror.


Both of the aprons are supposed to go from hip to hip and the pleats go from hip to hip too. Now it was ten inches too little! How the freaking heck did that happen? What to do? Firstly, I ditched the whole thing since it was nearing 3am. That night I dreamed about that stinkin' kilt, since the tartan with the mind of its own had lain there taunting me all day and much of the night while I worked on it. 

That tartan pattern nearly gave me nightmares and my husband wondered why I was so bleary-eyed the next morning. (Just kidding. He didn't notice anything...;op) But then I dreamed that I was able to make the inverted pleat where it was supposed to be and it would look better. Not a bad come-back dream, eh?

The next morning was St. Patrick's Day and my kilt looked funky, so I got up early to work on it. I asked my husband how I looked in it and he nodded and said, “Uh huh...fine.” He's the helpful sort. I had to wear my green 9th Aberdeen 'jumper' (a sweatshirt which I got from one of the Scottish Scouts who came to visit here recently) so the kids wouldn't pinch me black and blue while I was getting my kilt conquered. I had to re-pick the waistband out for a few inches both ways and move the pleat. Amazingly, it worked. The kilt was still too small but it didn't look nearly as odd as it had before. Some of it I could even disguise under the dagged corset I wear over it.

I wore my kilt plus a Scout 'muffler' (scarf) I'd gotten from one of the 9th Aberdeen Scouts, to my Cub Scout Pack meeting and we tossed the caber and hammers and had a lovely (though squirrelly) time! Then for the next Sunday, I made the girls all scarves and the boys and my husband each a tie with the leftover bits. According to several non-Scot churchgoers, our “outfits” looked smashing!

So. I know several ways, now, NOT to do kilts. I'd be happy to do consulting for the intrepid kilt-maker. And eventually I will either pick out the hours and hours of sewing and re-do it all again to my exact measurements, or (best case scenario all around) lose ten disgusting inches of girth! I think I'll go with the last one. Someday. In the meantime, remember I can toss the caber.

This is a great treatise on pleating a modern kilt:

This is a really good site to look at for pleating an early kilt with photos:
Don't worry about the noisy tartan background on the type. There are pictures...;o)

This is a good site to look at when deciding for box pleats or for knife pleats:

This is a good one if you want to go shopping for accessories:

Finally, when someone asks you what you're wearing under your kilt (a common question) you smile brightly and say, “Shoes and socks!”

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