This morning I looked at X Marks the Scot–a very interesting discussion forum. I wish I had time to spend writing in and giving my opinion on a couple of topics, but work calls, and I have to be careful with my time. If you want to know what people are thinking and saying about a whole range of Scottish and kilt-related subjects, check it out.
The one discussion topic that caught my eye was one on how to tell if you have a well-made kilt OR whether it’s cheaply/shoddily constructed. I will say that I see a lot of awful kilts out there, and even more that just plain don’t fit the wearer. When I do see one that is nice, it’s a real treat. The problem is that many people just have no idea of what to look for in a kilt that makes it a quality garment.
One thing that Elsie (who taught me how to make kilts) is that even if you ask questions, you WILL get an answer, but there’s no guarantee that the answer you get will be the right one. If you ask ANY kiltmaker if their kilts are well- made, what are they going to say? If you ask if the fabric that you have is enough for a kilt, someone will tell you that they can make it work. People ask me stuff about kilts all the time, and I try to answer to the best of my ability, and I try to be truthful without ending up with hurt feelings. It’s hard, though, because there is a mountain of misinformation out there on the Internet, and customers often come to me with misconceptions that can be hard to change.
Here’s what I will say: most kiltmaking companies who work on a larger scale are in it to make a profit. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it means that they have to keep production costs down any way they can, and the easiest way to do that is to have their kiltmakers take every shortcut they can figure out. For some this means using machine stitching on the hem, the aprons, buckles and straps, at the join in the center back, and even in attaching the interfacing, or just using a minimal amount of interfacing. For others it means skimping on fabric, not having as many pleats, and not putting in a deep enough first pleat or inverted pleat. For many it means not having enough stitches in each pleat to hold everything in place. The end result is a kilt that is NOT well made.
When the kilt is new you’ll never see the difference, but with use, the kilt will lose its shape unless every detail is in place. It is possible to use a blindstitching machine to put in the interfacing, but what you sacrifice is all of the real shaping that tailor-basting over your hand will give you. You can make a kilt for a customer with 4 fewer pleats (and the saving of a half yard of tartan in the process), but it may look skimpy and not have the “swing” that a kilt with more fabric in it might have. You can leave out the steeking, and use the lining to keep the pleats from sagging, but the kilt will never move properly. You can sew the fringe edge on using a sewing machine, and machine sew the buckles and straps on to it, but you lose the beauty and artistry of a truly handmade article.
So, the questions you might want to ask a prospective kiltmaker are, “Are your kilts hand sewn? How much fabric will you put into my kilt? What kind of interfacing do you use, and how is it applied? Do you put in a deep first pleat? I could go on, but you get the idea. You will be paying them (or me!) a LOT of money for your kilt, and it’s nice to get an idea of precisely what you will get for your money.
If I make a kilt for you, You are paying for 16-20 hours of my time, plus the cost of the fabric and supplies. I do use a blindstitch hemmer, which saves about 3 hours over doing it by hand, and I do sew on the top band by machine, but that’s it. Everything else is painstakingly sewn by hand, even though I could save some time by using the machine. I would rather have the kilt look right, even though it took me longer to do, than send out an inferior product, or one that is made using non-traditional methods.
I’m just sayin’.