Human Growth, Growth Pleats, and the Kilt (a long, expensive tale of major purchases and teen angst)

Every time I get an enquiry about making a kilt for a younger dancer, the question always comes up: “Can you leave room for growth so that she(he) can wear it for several years?” This is a difficult question that may have several different answers depending on the young person in question, his or her age, and body type. The following post may be rated PG.

First scenario: the mom of a 9-year -old wants a kilt for her daughter. She wants me to “leave room for growth.” I can do that, but it has its limitations. What I CAN do is to plan the kilt so that the apron is several inches smaller than the pleats, which will allow for enlarging the aprons at a later date without destroying the proportions of the kilt (an apron that is TOO wide looks bad). I can also make sure that there is as much fabric as possible in the facings and the deep pleat at the front left-hand side, including the insertion of a “hidden pleat”, which is really just an extra fold of fabric that can be used for alterations. I can leave up to about a 4″ hem–deeper than that, and the pleats never seem to lay right. This will give the girl 2 years guaranteed, and 3 if she is later- developing. It will NOT get her past puberty and well into her teen years, and here’s why:

Little girls have not really developed hips at this age, so their waist measurement tends to be pretty close to the hip measurement–within 4 or 5 inches. A 23 inch waist and a 26-28 inch hip is pretty typical. In a girl who is heavier, the waist and hips tend to be very close; maybe 26 waist, 28 hip. When planning a kilt like this, there’s not a lot of shaping. You can’t make the kilt too big all over because it has to be snug around the waist in order to stay up and so that it won’t twist around to the side as the child dances. These kids are straight up and down, and often benefit from wearing suspenders with the kilt to keep it in place.

So, even if a deep hem is left, and there’s room to make the kilt bigger, problems arise when the girl hits 11 or so. At this age, the long bones start to grow (the dreaded “growth spurt”), and then the hips start to get wider. This happens before breast development. So I can tell if a girl is in this stage when I measure her and there’s 6-8 inches difference between waist and hips, and the mom tells me that she’s grown 6″ in the last year. The problems start when I try to alter the old kilt to fit. If the pleats don’t have enough taper, you can never make it up in the aprons, and even if you can get the old kilt to go around the girl, the shaping is all wrong. The other thing that happens when you let a kilt down is that you have to lengthen the fell (the sewn-down portion of the pleats). You can end up making the seat (back part) of the kilt a BIT bigger than it was originally, but not too much. So, in practical terms, all of this means that although it is often possible to enlarge a kilt 2-3 inches in the waist and hips, and to let it down 3″ or so, that may not be enough to achieve a really good fit. The other part of the equation is of course that doing the alteration takes time–about the same as making half of a kilt. The entire kilt has to be taken apart, right down to the pleats. It then has to be pressed out, rehemmed, remarked, and reassembled.

The biggest misconception that people seem to have is that just because their kilt has a “growth pleat” doesn’t mean that the pleat is just under there waiting to be revealed–the buckles, straps, lining, top band, front interfacing, and a bunch of other stuff has to be undone in order to get at the hidden pleat, which is located at the left side of the apron. This is a major alteration, because it usually means making both aprons bigger, and it also means LOTS of pressing. That growth pleat is really just an extra fold of fabric that allows the aprons to be enlarged and still have enough for a deep pleat at the apron edge.

So, on with the human development. Once the long bones grow, then the hips start to get wider. After this, breast development may start. About 18 months after the breasts start, the girl may start having her period. Once this happens, MOST of the growth has usually already taken place, and it is unlikely that she will grow too much taller. It could be another inch or two, but not a lot more than that. What will continue is the change in shape. Most 13-14 year olds that I make kilts for have about a 10 inch difference between waist and hips (25″ waist, 35″ hips are typical) Many 15-16 year olds have 11-12 inches difference, particularly if they are very slim and fit as dancers tend to be. By 16, the femur, tibia, and fibula have usually stopped growing. At this point the smaller bones in the spine and torso may continue to grow a bit more, so the torso lengthens slightly, “catching up” with the long bones that grew earlier.

The point of all of this is that there is a great deal of change in the female body between the ages of 9 and 16. Parents should expect to have to re-outfit their dancer every 2 years at this age. In a Premier dancer, it might have to be done every year in order to achieve a perfect fit. I know that this is expensive, but there ARE ways around it. My first suggestion would be to sell the old outfit. You can get back 1/2 to 2/3 of what you paid for a new outfit by doing this. The second suggestion is to stick with the same tartan so that you won’t have to buy new socks ($200-$225) or a new vest (lots of money) every time. I would leave the jackets for older dancers, because the chances of getting one to fit for more than one year for a girl who is 12-14 years old is practically 0%. As the parent of a dancer who had 6 different outfits between the ages of 10 and 16, I am sympathetic to your plight.

A short (but totally true) story: About 10 years ago, someone told me about a mom who ordered a kilt for her daughter ANTICIPATING her adult height. She didn’t want to have to buy more than one kilt, so she was determined that this one was going to do the job from the time the kid was 10 to adulthood. She said that the doctor had predicted that the girl would mature to about 5’8″, and she wanted a kilt long enough for that. She also had it made too big around (for of course the girl was going to grow) and big enough in the hips for an adult. I later saw this kilt on the poor kid–up to her bra, held up by suspenders, and the whole thing impossibly large–it never did fit her, because it wasn’t made to a real set of measurements. It was a disaster, and never looked right.

So, I hope that this is helpful to those of you now struggling with a growing dancer–sometimes you have to just find a way. As I said in an earlier post, now you know why I’m a kiltmaker–it was one way to have enough extra money so that my daughter could participate in Highland Dance, travel, learn to play the harp–all of the things that parents end up paying for. Highland has been worth every penny that I spent, and every hour that I spent working on a kilt.


4 thoughts on “Human Growth, Growth Pleats, and the Kilt (a long, expensive tale of major purchases and teen angst)

  1. Nice post and a great explanation!I get asked this question a lot about socks as well. I will have to write something up about it I think. You can make hose longer in the leg, but not in the foot and so there is a limit there as well to how long the hose will fit. Your quote on hose prices is a little high if one orders directly from the maker…..if there is a retailer in between then those prices are about right.

  2. So, even if a deep hem is left, and there's room to make the kilt bigger, problems arise when the girl hits 11 or so. At this age, the long bones start to grow (the dreaded "growth spurt"), and then the hips start to get wider.

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