If you are looking for a kilt you can treasure for the rest of your life, and pass on proudly to future generations, this is it. I make my heirloom kilts from the best and most traditional kilt cloth available. Each length of tartan will be custom woven just for your kilt.
This has several advantages, not the least of which is that your heirloom kilt can be provided in any tartan you desire, not just those kept in stock by the woolen mills. You can even create your own personal tartan, or a custom variation of your clan or district tartan!
In addition, you can specify more detail about the colors you desire for your kilt. While the standard color schemes of modern, ancient, and weathered (reproduction) are fine and certainly can be accomodated for your tartan, there are other options. I have had clients request their tartan in the ancient color scheme except with the red stripes in a true (modern) red. The result is rather pleasing! Perhaps you would like to substitute the bright red in your tartan with a more subtle claret shade? Anything is possible.
One color pallette I especially reccomend for my heirloom kilts is the traditional colors used by the old firm of William Wilson & Sons of Bannockburn. (Examples of this are below). The first large-scale commercial weavers of tartan cloth, Wilsons opened sometime in the 1760s and by the end of the eighteenth century had standardized their dye colors. These traditional shades have been researched and reproduced by Scottish Tartans Authority's chief researcher, Peter MacDonald, and are now available as an option for your kilt. Somewhat softer than today's modern colors, they are not nearly as light as the so-called ancient colors. Instead, a balance of light and dark tones is achieved, creating a very aesthetically pleasing tone for your kilt.
The cloth for your kilt will be custom woven by traditional tartan weavers D. C. Dalgliesh in Selkirk, Scotland.
The Dalgliesh mill has been specilizing in tartan weaving since 1947. They still produce their tartan on old flying shuttle looms, some of which are nearly 100 years old. Their cloth is known throughout the world as some of the best and most prized cloth for kilt making. Scottish clan chiefs from the Duke of Argyle to MacGregor of MacGregor have cloth for their kilts woven by D. C. Dalgliesh.
Their tartan not only has a superior look and feel, but the traditional shuttle looms used to weave the cloth allow it to be woven with a true closed selvage, essential for kilt making.
The word selvage (or selvedge) comes from "self-edge" and referrs to the practive of weaving cloth with a closed, finished edge. These old flying shuttle looms pass each weft (sideways) thread backward and forward, never being cut. This gives an edge to the cloth which is completely finished, with no need of a hem to keep the yarns from unraveling. This is why kilts have traditionally been made to the edge of the cloth, with no hem at the bottom.
Click on the image at right for a close-up view of the traditional selvage woven by D. C. Dalgliesh.
Peter MacDonald, foremost expert in early Scottish textiles, especially eighteenth and nineteenth century tartan weaving, says, "I've worked with D. C. Dalgliesh for over 30 years during which time we have recreated examples of many original tartans from the 18th and early 19th centuries in shades matched to the originals. No other manufacturer has the interest or ability to weave such small custom runs and the finished product is second to none. I rarely work with anyone else and wholeheartedly support and recommend Dalgliesh as the supply of first choice."
In addition to being able to craft your heirloom kilt from any tartan, in any color scheme, with a traditional kilting selvage, we can also have the tartan for your heirloom kilt finished in one of three ways.
Once the cloth is removed from the loom, the general practice is to send the cloth out to the "finishers." These are people who wash and condition the newly woven fabric. This not only cleans it, but also slightly softens the wool, making it a true pleasure to wear. After it is washed, the tartan is straightend, dried, and finally pressed before it is packaged and delivered into your kiltmaker's hands in perfect condition.
In addition to this standard finishing technique, I am happy to offer two other options for your heirloom kilt. As your cloth is being woven specifically for your kilt, I can request the tartan be given special treatment. One option popular with reenactors and others interested in more historic cloth is to simply have it delivered unfinished. This unfinished tartan is somewhat stiffer and more "crisp" than what is normally used in kilts today. Though definitely rougher than normal kilt cloth, this is the closest thing available today to the historic "hard tartan" that was produced in the nineteenth century by mills such as Wilsons of Bannockburn.
In Tartan: The Highland Textile (1990), James D. Scarlett writes of the modernization of the tartan weaving industry. "[T]he old, thin, hard tartans, so unkind to the soft skin at the back of town-bred knees, were supplanted by soft and hairy ones which were also thick and heavy."
If you are one of those who prefer a "soft and hairy" tartan for your kilt, that preference can also be accomodated. A final option for the finishing of your tartan is to have it teasle raised. The teasle is a native Scottish plant, the prickly heads of which are perfectly suited to brushing the woolen cloth to give it a softer, raised finish. The little spines of the teasle have a slightly lower tensile strength than woolen fibres, meaning while the teasles will brush and raise the wool, they will not damage the cloth. The teasle spines will break before the wool does. (See the images at left for examples of teasles before and after they have been used to brush finish the cloth).
Tartan finished with teasle raising will be softer and "fuzzier," resembling more the heavy weight saxony of a generation ago, or the regimental weight cloth of today.
Regardless of which options you select, your heirloom kilt will be so much more than an article of clothing. It will be a reminder of your heritage, of old-world Scottish tradition, and a family heirloom that your children and grandchildren will treasure for generations.
Take a look at some of the heirloom kilts I have made for past clients below, and contact me today to discuss the creation of your own heirloom.
Scottish Tartans Authority