what are kilts made of ? – Kilt Construction


The creation of that famous Scottish garment, the clan kilt, is a bit of a mystery to most people outside of Scotland – and for many of those living in Scotland also!

As part of this series to discover more about Scotland I made it my mission to find out more about this unique piece of men’s Scottish clothing. After several years of wearing off-the-peg cheap kilts, I wanted to learn all about this intriguing process and fully understand the (sometimes bewildering) array of options available to me before ordering my first made-to-measure kilt.

First of all of course – which cloth should I purchase? As I was having a handmade kilt I wanted a family connection and these links drew me to select a Fraser tartan fabric, but with so many different clothes bearing the Fraser name how was I supposed to decide which one was “right”? Looking into this revealed all and here are my two top tips for deciphering tartan names…

  • Words such as Hunting, Dress, Wedding, and Old refer to different “setts” or patterns. These often originated in circumstances where a different pattern was desired for social events and occasions. The clan is often used to show the standard pattern. 
  • Words such as Ancient, Weathered, Muted, and Reproduction refer to the shades used to dye the threads and affect the color of the tartan but not the pattern. Modern is the default.

After selecting my cloth (Fraser Red Reproduction) I began to look into ordering my kilt. Since the popularisation of the modern kilt, a number of aspects have become available for personalizing your individual garment. I will not pretend to understand the minutiae of all of these aspects as kilt-makers in Scotland train long and hard to attain the knowledge and skills they hold, and space here is limited, however, the main points are as follows:

Aprons – the flat front panels of a kilt that are wrapped from hip to hip.

  • Apron fringe – a layer of fringing along the edge of the over- apron to provide a finished edge to the front of the kilt, some people choose not to have a fringe and some choose to have a very thick, long fringe, known as a triple fringe.
  • Fell – the part of a kilt from waistband to the seat where the pleats are stitched into place to stop them flaring out over the rump and to allow the rest of the pleated area to move and “swish” properly.
  • Pleats – the kilt pleats are the most important defining feature of a traditional kilt, these appear at the rear of the kilt and, while the number and depth will vary depending on the amount of fabric being used, and pattern size of the cloth, they are an integral part of any proper kilt. Two pleating methods are used, knife pleats which all face the same way (kind of like a folding fan!), and box pleats. One box pleat consists of two knife pleats facing each other, giving a flat portion facing out. Of course, kilts that utilise box-pleating generally have far fewer pleats than knife pleating!
  • Pleating Pattern – kilts can be pleated to the stripe, or pleated to the sett. When pleating to the stripe one vertical line of the pattern is picked and this line is used to determine the folding point for each pleat. In the finished product, the horizontal bands of the pattern are emphasized. The other method, pleating to the sett, will have pleats of varying depths as the aim is to preserve the pattern of the tartan across the pleated section of the kilt, so each pleat will have to be folded at a different point. This is a much more popular method of pleating in modern times.
  • Kick-pleat – the purpose of the kick-pleat on a knife-pleated kilt is to ensure that the pleats lie correctly on both sides, this pleat is smaller and faces in towards the last pleat, keeping it in place and giving an even look from the front of the kilt. The kick pleat is also the only part of a kilt that will have ahem, as this pleat is at a slight angle a curved section of less than half an inch is hemmed up along perhaps 3-6 inches of selvedge to ensure a smooth finish.
  • Buckles – the average Scottish kilt will have either two or three buckles, usually three. The under-apron has one buckle which slots through and fastens on the left hip, the right hip has one buckle at the same height, and a second buckle just an inch or two beneath that. This extra buckle allows the wearer to secure the over-apron more securely.
  • Sporran loops – two loops are often provided on the back of a kilt for the sporran strap to be threaded through and ensure the weight of your sporran does not pull the chain down and out of place.

I have now placed my order and expect to receive my finished kilt in just a few weeks. A hand-made 8-yard kilt, knife-pleated to the sett, with double fringe, three black leather straps, two cloth sporran loops, and a whole lot of Scottish pride*!

Now my next goal is to convince my good lady wife (by the way, I should tell her more about tartan for ladies) that a pair of matching tartan trousers for the golf range is essential. Although to be quite honest, a good Scottish kilt is very versatile and can be worn to almost any event. Teamed with a rugby shirt and stout boots for hillwalking (or pub crawling!), with a leather sporran and Argyle jacket for day-time smart events or dinner parties, or with the full regalia of Prince Charlie, cantled sporran, polished ghillie brogues, and a whole host of other Scottish accessories for weddings, and black tie – the possibilities with a traditional tartan kilt outfits are endless and I cannot wait to try mine out when it arrives!

*If you are interested I have bought this kilt.