Tartan edges

Working almost everyday with woven cloth makes you very aware of the type of edge  that you have, ideally making kilts you want to have a finished edge at the bottom of the kilt, but one that isn’t actually hemmed. The  traditional shuttle weaving produced a selvedge ( self-edge),  a term that is widely and also a  little inaccurately used today. A selvedge  by actual definition is the  clean edge formed when the shuttle on the loom goes back and forwards with a continuous and unbroken thread ; this method when carefully managed produces a beautifully pure edge with no added weight of change of feel, it is the most desired edge for kiltmakers.

a traditional kilt selvedge

Of course it isn’t always quite that simple, over the years kilting cloth has been produced on different types of looms and most weavers today use high speed looms which no longer can make a true selvedge. These looms can weave in a few hours what a traditional hand weaver  would have woven in a week or more.  With the change of loom there has been a change of fabric edge.

 

 

a tuck edge

The most usual one for kilts is now called a tuck edge where  one thread is woven at a time and then folded back upon itself for about  a cm and then the next thread  is introduced and forms the next line of cloth,  working with a single length  of thread is very much faster and looms use a variety of high speed methods for shooting the thread across including compressed air  or even water, but the key thing is that a shuttle is no longer needed. This edge is slightly firmer and often a little more stable, but it has a little line of  cut threads about 1 cm from the actual edge, these are not terribly noticeable depending on which side of the cloth is used. Most tartan weavers now use this edge for the majority of their production.

 

leno edge with fringe

Another edge that is sometimes seen is a leno edge, which has a distinctive extra few twisted threads often  white at the edge and a fringe from the uncut weft threads,this is the possibly the faster weaving method but it does mean that any kilt fabric will have to be hemmed. One excellent Scottish weaver has worked out how to have a selvedge  on one side and a leno on the other, they use this on single width tartan and this means that a kiltmaker still has the  chance to use a good edge at the bottom of the kilt, and the leno edge is cut off and used for the waistband, and hidden from view.

 

 

 

While a selvedge is the favourite  it is not always the easiest to produce these days and is now more expensive with only a few weavers offering this. When it is well done it is excellent, but some weavers try  it and fail miserably, this is an example of a rushed and imperfect selvedge, however with a lot of ironing, steam and pulling and stretching it can be made a little better, and if it wasn’t for a special order it would have been returned, a kiltmaker has enough to do without trying to fix  a weaving problem. Often I’d rather have a tuck edge than having to spend time remedying a weaver’s  problems.

a rather poor and imperfect selvedge

Watching a weaver work is a wonderful experience, seeing the magic work of converting a mass of threads into a cloth is fascinating. Traditional looms for weaving tartan  haven’t changed very much in hundreds of years,  a strong wooden box like construction , but actually very simple, relying on the skill of the weaver and a flying shuttle ,it was the only way of producing any from of tartan until the beginning of the 19th century.

Mechanisation happened and the introduction of power looms  made the mass production of tartan possible, dobby looms which followed around the 1850’s  revolutionised the speed  of weaving and the possibility of more complex designs.

It also meant that some weaving could be done at home or outbuildings which is largely how the Harris tweed industry came about, with a benevolent investor many looms were bought and  the local community began to change what was already a low level cottage  occupation into a world wide industry. The looms most associated with Harris tweed are the Hattersley single width looms  many of which are still working nearly one hundred years later. They are wonderful work horses   excellent for the substantial tweeds. These looms do produce a selvedge  but realistically with the heavy yarn it’s not  often usable without a hem for kilts. One edge will be smoothish and the other will have all the carried threads, but as  the tweed is generally for pattern based clothing this presents no problems

traditional Harris tartan tweed with a loopy edge

One last little nugget; occasionally  I see a thread that has been attached to a length of cloth this tells me that there is a fault of some sort, the thread is always at the edge ( this time a tuck edge)  and the flaw will be roughly in line with it, when the cloth is rolled up it is easy to see how many threads to judge what sort of quality to expect, this is supposed to be the origin of the phrase “no strings attached” meaning that the cloth was good quality and that no extra work was needed to  put it right!

definitely a case of strings attached

Kilt alterations

It seems to go with the job of a kiltmaker that they end up doing alterations, to be fair I don’t mind very much, but it’s seldom straightforward as you never really know what to expect once you start to open up the lining and look inside. Perhaps that challenge is exactly what makes me still do them, but I know some makers who will only adjust or alter their own kilts.
There isn’t a single way to make a kilt, and as they are usually expensive items many makers try and find short cuts. Some of these  seem reasonable, like a little extra machine sewing to save time over hand seweing, but I do draw the line at iron-on interfacing instead of pad stitched hair canvas. This, time heavy tailoring process,however is one of main shortcuts that one  of the largest commercial kilt maker uses. In fact they are the supplier to various British Army regiments, so it must work, although I suspect cost cutting is not only on the mind of those kiltmakers but also in the mind of the Quartermasters. A few years ago it was rumoured that all kilt making was going to be out sourced to the subcontinent, because of an economy drive that was stopped because of a public outcry, but I do wonder if the kilts would have looked  or been constructed any differently.

The most frequent alteration I am asked to do is so try and  make the kilt a little larger, in time most  gentlemen’s waists get a little bigger, and despite the kilt having an adjustment range of plus/minus 4″ it’s often not enough. Moving buckles and straps works for an an extra 2″ , but any more than that means that some extra  unpicking and sewing is needed. Most simple buckle moving can be completed within a few hours, so almost while you wait.

The kilt on the table at the moment is quite the reverse, it was sized at about  a 52″ waist and needs to be reduced to about a 44″, this is a rather major job. For the client the loss of weight is certainly a good thing, but for a kilt maker it adds may challenges. The main issue was that the front apron overlapped the pleats at the side by more than 6″ , catching on them and proving to be very annoying, and the fact that it just didn’t feel right.Obviously the  buckles and straps were in the wrong place as well, and the kilt was no longer centred.

To solve the problem the kilt had to be largely disassembled and put back again with fewer pleats. The waistband was removed, 4 pleats on either side were unpicked and then the excess fabric cut out, and the newly exposed edges sewn back together again. Doing it this way meant I didn’t have to resew all the pleats, and as the inside of the pleats had been cut out already I couldn’t have just unpicked the whole thing successfully.

There was no original stabiliser and precious little canvas, so all new support materials were needed.

After that the aprons were reduced by a few inches as well so  a new fringe was created , I  added a triple instead of the existing double, then the waistband was sewn back on, and  original buckles   but new tabs and leather were sewn on in the new spots All  the kilt needed a very thorough steam press to remove the previous fold and crease lines, although some bits were pressed at several stages during the remaking.

There was a  lot of slightly crude stitching as well, for example on the bottom edge,

which I removed and replaced with something a little more subtle!

The lining was beyond   re-use, so I’ll get some more plain black cotton over the next few days, once that is done and a complete repress, hopefully it will be as good as new, and  once again in a fitting condition.

finished alterations, 8 pleats fewer, buckles repositioned properly

Altering a kilt is something that takes time and effort, depending on the changes needed costs do mount up, a simple buckle position change means that the kilt can be worn again and is given a whole new lease of life, major changes need to be more carefully considered, as the work gets close to  completely sewing a kilt from scratch, with the exception that sometimes the actual tartan was a special weave or difficult to get hold of so the decision is much easier to make.

sensitivity on kilt attire

A post on facebook caused quite a lot of comments over the last few days and it been been occupying my thoughts far too much, it’s best that I don’t give  all the details, but it was all about fashion and style and how a kilt is worn, or more precisely how some people thought a kilt should be worn.

The original poster, who is very proud of his outfit as he had a hand in designing it, frequently posts photographs of himself in various guises –   sometimes more formal and sometimes more casual – but largely it’s the same kilt with different accessories. Nothing wrong with that so far, but the photo in question raised the ire of a few people who decided that they knew best. Various comments were made about colour combinations, which while perhaps fair as an opinion were made fairly bluntly, and the kilt wearer took them to heart. As a kilt wearer myself ,I know to expect comments wherever I go, usually favourable but not always and I know that either I try to deal with them in an  unemotional way, or simply ignore them and move on. Social media is a little different, many people feel a freedom to say things that I doubt very much  they would in person, and unless you are prepared for that, feelings will get hurt, which is exactly what happened. The kilt wearer answered some of the comments in a similarly blunt way and of course things escalated. He left in high dudgeon, deleted the thread, left the group ( he had only become an admin a few days before) and then proceeded in other groups to tell his woes.

I’ve been a member of the original group for sometime, and there are so many unbelievable comments or statements  about Scotland, tartan, or kilts that it is almost laughable, and those views are incredibly strongly held, and immovable, if any attempt is made to try as discuss those thoughts the thread disintegrates very quickly. Things like:  I’ve traced my family tree to  – William Wallace, or Robert the Bruce, or Rabbie Burns, any of which is rather difficult to do, read impossible in truth really, but people do believe the strangest things sometimes. To be fair it’s not all  posters in the States, who often have a rather rosy idea of their history, but there are all some very strongly  minded people in Scotland as well, so the fault lies with both.

Sometimes I long for a reasoned discussion, often forgetting I’m looking in the wrong place.

But back to the original photograph, I have to say that I’m not so keen on the outfit in question, it’s all a bit much, and the colour combinations don’t work for me, I’m not usually afraid of strong colours or bold combinations, but it this case it didn’t quite work. I’d never have said anything as it’s his kilt,and his choice, and entirely up to him what he chooses. I do think though that if you put up a photograph of yourself in a bold look, you can expect a certain degree of negativity as well, and if you don’t you are being a bit naive really. I’m sure we have all posted things we were especially  pleased with, just to feel deflated with some discouraging comment. So it’s up to all of us to be strong  within ourselves and not to allow ourselves to be hurt too much, easy to say of course , but I don’t think we can expect, when people on social media are able to post their opinions so openly and directly, that people will necessarily be kind and supportive all the time. Leaving one group and then complaining on another one of the earlier bad treatment isn’t a very helpful solution either.
I  would have loved to have ventured an opinion, but I’ve known this poster for many years and I know how sensitive he is to any form of critique, although he is very forthright, and frequent, in  declaring his Scottish style, he doesn’t always easily accept reasonable  comments, which would be meant kindly, but it is hard to  hear a written post in the way it might have been said.

There are some posters who just seem to want to start a row, disagreeing with the smallest of details, I think we have to learn that whilst they have an opinion, it’s not widely shared and should be treated accordingly.

I suppose my thoughts are to whether when I post a photo I should expect nice or nasty responses, either way I should take  all of the comments with a pinch of salt, not to act in  haste, and just accept graciously that not everyone thinks the same as me, and certainly not to lose any sleep over them!