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An early kilt

An early kilt

As I prepare to portray a bagpiper of the NorthWest Co., I decided that I needed a correct kilt (fèileadh beag in Gàidhlig or anglicized to philabeg).  Although I have a number of really nice, traditional kilts, they are not correct to the 1790s and early 1800s.   Much has been written about the historic fèileadh beag by great folks such as Bob Martin, Matthew Newsome, and Peter MacDonald, and there are even a few extant kilts from this period.  Because of this, I will not go into length on the evolution of the kilt throughout history.  What I will do is explain what a kilt of this period should be like and then show you the one I made.

Starting in the 1790s, we see the fèileadh beag/kilt go from being a gathered length of tartan that was belted around the waist to a sewn garment.  Kilts of this period were typically made of 3-4 yards of tartan, usually woven in 25″ width.  The middle of this length was pleated into a number of box-pleats(typically 6-11) and stitched into place for the top 5-8″.  Unlike modern kilts that had a taper to the top and a more fitted/tailored shape, kilts of this period were straight and unfitted.  The pleats were sewn on both the outside and the inside, this was partly because, unlike modern kilts, there was no lining (nor was there a stabilizer or canvassing like “modern” kilts).  Fastening could consist of a button, twill tapes, or a pin.  

For my kilt, I built pretty much what is described above, but due to the fact that present widths of tartan are around or just over 30″, I had to cut mine to 25 and then add a covering/band to the top like many kilts of today.  For fastening, I used black wool twill tape.   Here are photos of the kilt in construction.

 

And of course… photos of the final kilt being worn…

For further reading about the history and evolution of the kilt, check out the following:

-Martin, Bob. All about Your Kilt, revised edition. Scotpress, 2001.

-Barb Tewksbury and Matthew Newsome’s Making a Traditional Box Pleat Kilt

-Matthew Newsome’s blog… Albanach and his Kiltmaker Blog

-The research of Peter MacDonald

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