Kilts and Accessories

Married in a Tartan Dress

bella tartanThe warmer months are coming, and so is the wedding season. As it’s considered to be one of the most important days in one’s life, it’s usually carefully planned and thought-over in every way possible. If you or your partner has Scottish ancestry, it might be a great idea to get married in a Scottish style!


The groom’s outfit is a quite complicated one, but the one that shines the brightest is of course the bride! There is a vast array of wedding dresses on offer, but the one for a Scottish Wedding should be special. Traditional whit or ivory might suit you well, but what about a tartan dress? Which pattern should you choose? When to start planning? What about the guests?

Read about Tartan on the Catwalk

tatan setAt kilted weddings, both the bride and the guests wear the tartan of the groom. It was thought of as a sign of respect and honouring his clan, but nowadays it’s not as obligatory as it used to be, especially at marriages between a Scottish bride and a foreigner. There are a variety of options – every guest can come wearing their own tartan, and the bride’s “transition” from one family to another can be marked by a traditional ceremony of pinning the tartan. The member of the groom’s family, usually the groom himself or his mother, pin a rosette or a sash in her new clan tartan to the wedding dress. Today it is sometimes done the other way round – if a groom with no clan is being accepted in the bride’s clan.

The other option is wearing one of the universal tartans – there are plenty to choose from. Each one has its own meaning, so you may do a little digging into the subject and choose the one that suits you and your partner best. In fact, you can even design your own tartan. It’s a pricey choice (if you hire a designer rather than make your own pattern, this can cost around £1,000, but it’s the weaving of fabric that is usually the most expensive undertaking), but on the other hand – you may be establishing a new tradition for your family, and besides having your own pattern is always an original choice, designating family identity and being a one of a kind souvenir from this special day. The tartan might be used also as a nice accent in your flat or house – the accessories in the family tartan will make your home look cosy and warm like nothing else.

Bring back the memories of The Royal Wedding!

bustierBut what about the dress itself? There are plenty of designs available here too. The 2015 trends vary – according to the brides.com portal, on one hand we have over the shoulder necklines, on the other – tulle in every possible form. The colours also tend to be unconventional – the pastel versions of every kind of colour seem to be appropriate this season, especially soft browns and blues. The other interesting trend is wearing a cape – and that’s a perfect way to show off your clan adherence! The trend opposite to the over the shoulder necklines is the collar – made of see-through fabrics or in the form of a strap around the neck, exposing the shoulders. This glam style is also in fashion, being a tribute to elegance, while at the other end of the catwalk we can watch dresses in a totally relaxed and nonchalant style, being appropriate for a beach wedding or if you want to have a ceremony in a less formal style. The other styles that seem to have the fashion gurus’ approval are deep V’s, cutouts, elements made of short dressfeathers, flouncy sleeves, turtlenecks, laser-cut floral patterns, crop tops, fringe, metallic fabric, corset bodices (another great idea to combine with your tartan!) and sheer skirts. As you can see, there are a huge range of styles to choose from – and the tartan patterns fit perfectly into many of these. If you want to show off your heritage, the kilt and Scottish-related shops are worth visiting – they might have your perfect tartan dress, but… you’ll have to be patient. These dresses are usually at least made to order, if not to measure – and that means that it takes time to prepare them and you should leave extra time for fittings once the dress arrives. What is more, if you did design your own tartan, or your clan’s pattern is quite rare, you have to bear in mind that it’s again the process of weaving that will take most of the time (it might be even several months), so if you are considering this option you have to make up your mind quickly and order the dress in advance. When ordering a brides dress, you may also consider buying the whole wedding outfit, with a matching kilt for the groom and all the accessories. It is usually a bit cheaper since it’s a set, so it may be a bit of relief for your budget.

Read How to Make a Kilt

Remember that the dress doesn’t have to be flashy and catwalk-like – if you prefer a more modest style and like making practical purchases, you can always wear a simple, knee-length tartan dress. This solution has many advantages – it’s significantly cheaper, the dress can also be worn during other occasions, and the whole outfit is certainly more comfortable. This can be perfect if you have a small ceremony for the closest family and friends.

Whichever dress you choose – you have to feel good while wearing it, be yourself and be proud of your Scottish heritage!

Sport Kilts

While the idea of doing sport in a kilt might seem mad at first, and in fact it is – at least without some improvements – as doing exercise while wrapped in heavy wool with a kilt pin would be uncomfortable at best and downright dangerous in some situations! But it turns out that there are some crazy people who want to do sports in a truly Scottish way – and there are special kilts for them too!

kilt moroA sports kilt differs from a traditional one in several ways: firstly, it’s made of lightweight fabric, so it is much more comfortable and easy to wear, and of course you’ll get less sweaty. Usually it is not made of wool – using synthetic fabrics means that you can wash it in the machine without any problems, which would be impossible with a kilt made of real wool. Secondly – they usually feature Velcro fastenings, sometimes with an elastic waistband to make the fit even more adjustable and comfortable for strenuous activity. There are no buckles or straps, but of course you can wear any kilt accessory you want along with it – even a sgian dubh if you find it convenient (and safe). The third thing is how down to Earth and practical these kilts are – they are much cheaper than traditional 5 or 8 yard kilts, so it is far less of a worry if they get dirty or damaged during outdoor sports and other pursuits.

So what to look for to find the perfect sport kilt in terms of both comfort and attractive appearance? We’ve got some tips!

  1. Pay attention to the fabric. Most sport kilts are made of poly-viscose, which ensures that they are light, non-allergenic, and easy to care for. Sometimes however, sport kilts are made of microfiber – if you choose this type you have to be careful while ironing the garment, as too high a temperature will make the fabric melt. Microfiber is also extremely lightweight, so bear in mind that you might have some problems with controlling the material when the wind blows!

  2. Sport kilts are very popular among athletes of Scottish descent, although the Highland dress may cause some problems while doing certain sports, such as running or gymnastic endeavours. Think thoroughly about what activities you want to do while wearing your sports kilt – the athletics, they are best suited for things such as weight-lifting, hiking, or casual team sports such as football. On the other hand, your sports kilt doesn’t have to be limited to the playing field – many men find this garment extremely comfortable as leisure wear, and wear the sport kilt on a daily basis.

  3. Look out for pockets! They say that the kilt without a sporran is called a skirt, but wearing it while doing sports would be pointless or even a hindrance. That’s why sport kilts tend to have several pockets, sometimes one of them in the front at the usual place of the sporran. The placement, style, and number of pockets will differ between kilts, so it’s best to figure out for yourself the ideal configuration for your needs.navy utility

A sport kilt might also be an interesting and practical alternative to a casual kilt – with all the pouches and an elastic waistband it could be a perfect choice for a party or a night down the pub. There are various options available – alongside the men’s kilts you will also find kilts for kids, ladies tartan sport dresses etc, so you can be pretty sure that you will find something that will suit your taste and needs. These garments are also usually available in a wide choice of tartans, so it’s likely that you will be able to wear your clan’s colours – though universal tartans are always a good back-up option to keep in mind!

Nevertheless, we wouldn’t recommend it as a replacement for a traditional kilt – wearing such a kilt during official, formal events will be perceived as inappropriate. But if you don’t have any wedding or serious celebrations ahead of you and you’ve never had a kilt before – a sports kilt might be the best purchase possible! As a more comfortable and less pricey version of the traditional Highland outfit, the sport kilt may become your favourite garment for years!

Party in a Kilt!

It’s been a while since 2015 started; which means the party has fully begun! We hope that you’re going to have lots of fun this year – same as we plan – and we’d like to encourage you to emphasise your Scottishness every night you can! Don’t worry; you don’t have to wear a full Prince Charlie Outfit with a fly plaid, which would probably ruin the evening for you. The elegant 5-yard and 8-yard kilts aren’t always the best choice either, due to the limited comfort of wearing these traditional but heavy garments. Jackets, waistcoats and formal shirts are also not always required – you can enjoy your Highland charm without any restrictions thanks to the marvellous party kilt, a Scottish innovation growing in popularity.

moro kiltDon’t think of party kilts as a cheaper version of the traditional ones, the garments are in a completely different class from one another, and their usage is not only a matter of comfort, but also of etiquette – you have to follow some savoir-vivre rules. The party kilt and casual kilt are lighter and more easy-to-wear, and this has some consequences. Firstly, as indicated by the name – they are only appropriate for parties, sporting events and everyday casual wear – but absolutely not for a wedding, or other occasions where formal attire is required. The “light kilts” are made with less fabric of a lighter weight, so as a result give less warmth, the “swing” is less impressive and they also have shallower pleating. Moreover, they are cut more or less at the same waistline of trousers, while traditional kilts raise a couple of inches above the hips. This is the price you have to pay (uh, well, they are financially much cheaper…) for the freedom of cool comfort and movement during the party of your life.stewart kilt

Read when to wear a fly plaid

Which to choose? The selection, as you may suspect, is broad. Nevertheless, as these kilts are considered to be a cheaper option, it’s easy to get fooled by a dishonest seller and get a product of poor quality and even poorer finish. Remember – this is still a kilt, not a skirt! And it has to be done properly. You might have also a problem with choosing a tartan – and as the party kilts are usually manufactured only in a limited range of patterns, you may find that your clan tartan is not available. There is a solution to this – choose from the vast array of universal tartans which may be worn by all the people of Scottish descent. The ones that you may consider, among the others, are Black Watch, Jacobite, Scottish National and Pride of Scotland. We especially recommend the Heritage of Scotland and World Peace tartans. Generally Royal and Balmoral Tartans have restrictions and can’t be worn by everyone, but tartans such as Royal Stewart and Earl of St Andrews have no such limitations. There is also a range of so called district tartans which refer to specific districts or cities. They are usually worn by those who want to underline their place of origin, or their local identity.

Read how to make a kilt

comonwealthThinking about appropriate accessories? As we mentioned above, a party kilt is not formal attire, so the finish of the outfit should be casual too. Probably the best pick for a Scottish styled top would be a ghillie shirt. Some wear the party kilt along with a simple t-shirt, or even a wool jumper for daytime wear, but as it is a matter of taste, we leave it up to you. More traditional accessories such as casual leather sporrans and tammy hats are also absolutely acceptable. Hose looks perfect, although there are many options and variations that you may consider here – not necessarily the traditional one with flashes. The popular choice of heavy boots and some warm, longer socks might not appeal to everyone aesthetically, but if done with taste can look stylish and “cool” – certainly better than grubby trainers or out-of-place overly formal footwear. As this is the party version, don’t hesitate to try to stand out in the crowd and make some innovations –good taste is your only limit here! Additional accessories such as dirks and sgian dubhs can stay at home – you don’t want to hurt yourself or, even worse, someone else! We also strongly advise to abandon the idea of wearing a fly plaid along with a party or casual kilt. Firstly, it really doesn’t look that nice with informal attire, secondly – it swings, slides and can be very annoying, so if you value comfort it’s better to go to the party without it.

Read about worldwide influences on kilts and tartan

Whatever you choose to wear, the most important thing is to be yourself and to feel comfortable. We wish you all best for 2015, and hope you have a wonderful time at all the parties this year is sure to bring – wear the kilts with pride!

When To Wear A Fly Plaid?

A fly plaid was originally part of the large piece of cloth called The Great Plaid (Féileadh Mòr). The roots of that garment reach Roman times, and the most “archaic” version was the tunic and a cloak (a “brat”) worn by Celtic warriors. Later on, when wool was more accessible, the cloak grew in size (up to 9 yards!) and became gathered up, belted and finally pleated. The additional length made it possible to drape it over a shoulder and use it as a kind of a shawl and hood. It could also be used even as a camping blanket – the size didn’t only indicate the wealth of the wearer, it also enabled multi-functionality. As centuries passed, The Great Plaid eventually lost its practicality, got smaller again and took shape of the small kilt – the fèileadh beag – with the fly plaid evolving into the separate garment that we know today. However, one of the most troubling questions is: when to actually wear it?fly plaid

The opinions differ. First, you must learn how to wear a fly plaid! It’s not only about draping it correctly and being careful with the pins – you should develop an actual “sense of flying”, as the name of this cloth wasn’t given without a reason. Certainly you wouldn’t like to knock all the glasses from a table with one clumsy move, would you? Let’s just say that wearing a fly plaid requires a certain amount of skill, and you simply have to get used to having it on. Try to practice where to pin it – if it’s not done properly, you’ll be forced to fiddle with it all evening, which is both annoying for you and inelegant. You may use a sizeable pin or run it through an epaulette if you have one to make sure the fly plaid is secured and always in place. You may also try pinning it to the waist or tucking it into the belt at the back to prevent it from whipping around, tangling or becoming a menace to unattended stemware!

The next consideration is the dress code for particular events. One of the most popular comments on this issue is that a fly plaid is suitable for the so called “black/white tie events” – the most formal and elegant ones. A fly plaid is a popular choice to finish off the Scottish outfit at your own wedding – undoubtedly a groom is one of the two most important people on that day and a fly plaid won’t be regarded as over the top. But remember that for daytime weddings it is advised that only the groom can pull this look off – even the best man should wear something more modest. During other events it is advised to be careful – it’s easy to have an “exaggerated” or old-fashioned look. If you’re going to attend some kind of an official celebration, perhaps contacting the organisers with a question about the expected attire would be a wise move. This is the case especially if you are not a central figure during the actual event (coming back to the wedding issues, it would be a serious faux-pas to sartorially outshine the groom). You may hear the opinion that the fly plaid is much too formal by contemporary standards unless royalty or the Nobel Prize Awards is involved, or even that the fly plaid looks a bit like a costume accessory of the idealised Scottish outfit. Regardless of these opinions though, the fly plaid is a well-established part of Highland clothing, and you must judge for yourself the appropriateness of wearing it in any given situation.

Read about the Tartan on the Catwalk

And what is our advice on what not to do with a fly plaid? It certainly is not frequently seen as an everyday garment. If you’re wearing a casual kilt it will look bizarre to pin a large tartan cloth to your shirt, not to mention it will probably be extremely uncomfortable! Remember that casual kilts have been designed to make them easier to wear, they are tailored with less fabric and therefore are lighter – there is no point in ignoring their design and pairing them with inappropriately formal accessories! There is also a dispute over if the fly plaid is acceptable when not kilted, but simply worn as an accessory with trews. Some have given it a try, but others regard it as too extravagant and associate the fly plaid with proper Highland kilt outfits only. There are certainly differences between fly plaid etiquette in the UK and the USA; Americans are likely to wear it to events that Brits would view as too informal for that type of attire.

The discussion over whether to wear a brooch is also lively. As wearing a brooch is very popular in the States, it  has grown in popularity in Europe. However, in more traditional circles it is sometimes regarded as suitable only for the ultimate formal occasions, being too flashy to look good at more somber events. The suggested alternative for these cases is to use a plain pin, hidden in the folds of fabric, to secure your plaid, or to simply thread it through your jacket epaulettes and adjust as needed to keep it in place. Sometimes you may also stumble upon the so called day plaid – also known as the Laird’s Plaid – which is simply folded lengthways into a rectangle and slung over the shoulder, without any brooch attached. It also shouldn’t be tucked into anything – just flapping loosely. These are not seen frequently, but are occasionally worn to less formal events where the wearer is playing an important role, such as Highland Games or Clan Gatherings. As is hinted at in the day plaid’s alternative name, these are often worn by Scottish lairds or clan chiefs at these events.

If you like the overall look, but you are not attached to the idea of wearing a fly plaid itself; a day plaid may well be a safer and more versatile option. They are certainly less formal, and a day plaid can be put on along with an everyday Scottish outfit, they are marvelous with a casual or semiformal jacket, such as a tweed argyle!

Read about How To Make A Kilt

To sum up, the best way to decide what to wear and what to avoid, is to ask the organisers or past attendees about acceptable attire and figure out the details of your outfit from there. But, as you might have noticed, everyone has their own idea of what is elegant, so don’t get too bogged down in listening to other people! If you are assured that wearing a fly plaid will not be a breach of good manners, simply make your choice from the available options so you yourself feel attractive, comfortable and confident. There are also various help books covering the issue of fly plaid etiquette – reading one of these might be helpful too. The plaid in all its forms has a rich past in Highland wear, and the potential to set off an outfit beautifully if worn under the right conditions. Elegance, formality and tradition are the key words for wearing a fly plaid – and ones which you should never forget!

Tartan on the Catwalk

As has happened for the last few years, now the cooler weather is coming in, warm woollens and vibrant tartans are back in the minds of fashionistas everywhere as they prepare their wardrobes for another long winter. Scotland’s renaissance in the world of fashion continues, with classic and comfortable designs rising in popularity after the last couple of years of punk rock style. Today we’ll look at a few of the top trends, and explain how you can get the look for yourself!

As we said, the harsh punk vibe of the last few years has mellowed out. But hints of this still remain (albeit in a far more comfortable and achievable sense for day-to-day wear). The grunge styles of the early 1990’s are making a nostalgic comeback and soft flannel or wool tartan shirts, skirts and dresses are perfect for this. Paired with tough biker boots and a leather jacket, even a hint of Scottish tartan style is enough to meet this trend, and it’s perfect for young women and teens!

cape plaidHowever, one of the biggest high fashion trends right now is the blanket cape. Popular in many shades and patterns, but most of all in bold tartan prints, this casual but stunning garment is perfect for cold weather events. All of the major fashion houses have come up with their own versions for this season, but we feel our classic lambswool designs are just perfect to provide a more economical alternative. On the other hand, if you truly want to indulge yourself, silky smooth luxurious cashmere is always an option, and Heritage of Scotland can guarantee to provide a traditional and correct tartan pattern which is not the main concern of many other fashion retailers. The blanket cape needs confidence to pull it off and may swamp a smaller figure so it’s perfect for layering with jeans and heels for coffee with the girls, or with a jumper and boots for walking on a crisp autumn day. You should definitely not wear it with an overcoat, for one; even Scotland doesn’t get cold enough to require that level of wrapping, and secondly; it will be guaranteed to overpower and add bulk rather than flatter your figure. If you are particularly petite, consider wearing a lavish tartan stole instead, or for girls check out the miniature versions of our capes! The key note is that unstructured, flowing layers are in style, and even better in traditional Scottish materials and designs!

Learn about St. Andrew

Regardless of which garments you choose, bold tartan patterns are set to be massively popular this tartan dressseason as well. Dress tartans are the perfect choice for this, with their white backgrounds and vibrant focal shades, they really jump out and demand attention. One of our favourites is the Stewart Dress, with its detailed grid-work of bright red and bold black; however there are dozens of patterns to choose from. DC Dalgliesh, a dedicated hand-crafting tartan mill who utilise traditional looms and apply exacting standards to create their gorgeous fabrics, have a range known as the Dancers Fancies – a selection of vivid designs inspired by traditional clan tartans such as Baird, Longniddry and MacPherson. These fancies are especially suited for dancers because they not only replace the backgrounds with white as in traditional Dress tartans, but also tweak the colours of the pattern lines, so one tartan might be available in four or five shades, from delicate purples to rich reds, fresh greens or jewel-toned blue, meaning that the dancers stand out on stage very clearly and the swishing fabrics of their skirts make for a wonderful display. These designs are also perfect to ensure that fashion-lovers can choose whichever colours suit you best and still wear a tartan that is meaningful to you with pride! Our favourite combination for bold picks this season would be a flirty billie kilt teamed with thick tights and leather boots for a sensible yet sexy ensemble to flash your Scottish heritage!

Read about Kilt Accessories

The subject of modern Scottish identity is a huge preoccupation for Scots at the minute and, as with all such things, when it becomes such a major focus it easily spills over to influence other parts of our lives. Between the recent Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the 2014 Year of Homecoming, The Ryder Cup at Gleneagles; Scotland has been thrust into the global limelight in a way not often experienced by this fantastic, yet modest, nation. All of these great events are of course being recognised through fashion, from the usual fare such as baseball caps and T-shirts, to stunning bespoke garments made using specially designed commemorative tartans. The Scottish Independence Referendum coming up this week has also seen the eyes of the world turn our way, and while a serious political event has naturally inspired more thoughtful reflection than fashion trends – it is also natural that such concentrated thoughts have led to a rather great focus on the Saltire flag of late! Whichever side of the political division you fall on, Heritage of Scotland is proud to support all Scots and much of our clothing, and even home-wares, feature the Saltire and Union Flags – for spirited Scots, blessed Brits, and everyone else who shares our wonderful nation!

We look forward to your comments as always, and can’t wait to hear how you will continue to include your Scottish pride in your winter wardrobe this season!

Bagpipes History

Love them or hate them, it can’t be denied that bagpipes are the quintessential sound of Scotland. In this blog post, prepare to learn more about these “instruments of war”, used to celebrate, commemorate and even intimidate, throughout much of Scottish history!
Bagpiper in EdinburghAlthough bagpipes are thought to be Middle Eastern in origin, possibly dating back as far as 4000 BC, the instrument spread throughout Europe during the early part of the second millennium AD. Unsubstantiated claims for their use in Scotland date from around 1300, but the first concrete evidence of “warpipes” being used in their traditional role on the battlefield comes from writings about the Battle of North Inch in 1396. This early association with the military has always stayed with the bagpipes; their penetrating notes were used to unsettle the enemy, and communicate with allies. The unique construction of bagpipes means that the high pitched and VERY high decibel shrills and skirls emanating from them can be heard for several miles, and with their aggressive tones they quickly supplanted the horns and trumpets which had been previously popular.

Modern pipes are made of four main sections; the blowpipe, chanter, bag and drones. Traditionally, the bag would have been made from a full animal pelt, in the distant past goats, sheep, even cows and dogs were used to make this part of the bagpipes! In modern times, thankfully it is more common for synthetic materials to be used for the bag – with a fabric covering often made from tartan – either the official band tartan, or the regional sett, or for soloist pipers their own clan design. The bag is a reservoir for air blown by the piper; as the bag is continually squeezed under the piper’s arm while playing the air is forced out through the drones to create sound. Five sticks emerge from the bag, three drones, a chanter and a blowpipe, and we will look at the role each of these plays now.

Read about Orkney

The blowpipe is used to inflate the bag; the pipe will prefill the bag before he starts to play then continue to keep filling the bag while playing. The blowpipe is usually made from hardwood though the exact wood type varies, and new techniques in the manufacture of this essential part of the instrument mean that pipers can fill bags more easily – leading to a smoother sound and more ease of playing. Unusually for a wind instrument, no reeds are played by the mouth directly, the blowpipe is just a filling device, and the reeds are contained within other areas of the pipes.

Also made from hardwood, the Great Highland Bagpipes has three drones – two tenors and one bass. Essentially, the drones create the music when the pipes are played; each one has a reed contained within and they can be tuned to different keys. As the air escapes the bag a constant low “droning” noise is heard, the distinctive noise of the bagpipes and the reason for this part’s name! When the bag is squeezed harder, more air escapes, increasing the volume and pitch of the drone, with the tone differing depending on the piper’s finger position.

The chanter is the most well-known part of the bagpipes, and is essential for player input. Held by the piper in both hands, the Angel playing bagpipeschanter is a long stem drilled with holes acts as the finger-board. As the player moves his fingers to cover or uncover the holes, the airflow within the instrument changes and the notes differ, just like with instruments such as the clarinet or flute! It was traditionally made from Scottish woods such as holly or laburnum, then later from exotic hardwoods such as cocuswood or ebony, though nowadays synthetic materials which are easier to maintain are also popular. Chanters can also be purchased with a mouthpiece attached, separate from the bagpipes themselves, as practice instruments.

Learn About Tartan Colour Meanings

Using a practice chanter can be essential for new players. Playing the pipes properly is a whole body effort – you must blow air into the pipe constantly, squeeze the bag under one arm at a controlled level to ensure the air is escaping at the desired pressure, and keep up with precise patterns of covering and uncovering the holes of the chanter to create notes – all while keeping the drones balanced on your shoulder and making sure no part of the unwieldy and large pipes slips or is dropped by accident! Understandably, this is very difficult to master all at once, so practicing just on the chanter allows the piper to thoroughly learn the finger movements required without the pressure of managing everything else all at the same time. As they gain more experience they can move onto using the full pipes, though many pipers will return to the practice chanter when learning a new piece of music until they are confident of their performance.

Bagpipes are often played in Scotland as part of an ensemble of pipers and drummers. All the pipers play the Great Highland bagpipes and provide the melody and complexity of the music, with the mixed drum corps providing the rhythm from a selection of snare drummers, tenor drummers and one (or occasionally two) bass drummers. Musically, the band follows the direction of the pipe major, though when on parade the drum major may be responsible for leading the band on their route and keeping time with a mace. The pipers almost always play traditional arrangements, but the drum scores are often composed by the drum major himself – and the drummers are judged not only on performance, but also on how well their drumming complements and suits the traditional sections played by the pipers during competitions.
Pipe band in the CanongateIt is in pipe bands that the bagpipes military roots can be seen most clearly; with drums and pipes being truly historic in their use on the battlefields, to provide direction or convey commands, to boost morale or to strike terror into the hearts of enemies. All battalions of the Highland Regiment still have pipers, and the practice has also been adopted by many other Regiments, not to mention civilian entities such as police forces, fire brigades or universities.

Read about Kilt Accessories 

As a solo instrument the Great Highland Bagpipes are also popular, from christenings to weddings, ceilidhs or funerals, even in modern times no Scottish life event is complete without a piper. Soloist pipers play an especially important part in traditional weddings, where they will often compere the event to keep things running smoothly (especially during the speeches!) as well as playing the bride down the aisle, providing accompaniment as the happy couple leave the church or registrars, and again when they enter the reception to be welcomed by their friends and family.

As Scotland continues to develop and grow into a strong 21st Century nation, the bagpipes continue to be a vital and vibrant part of its citizens lives; traditional soloists are everywhere, in our personal lives, working in partnership with Highland dancers, or even busking on the streets of our beautiful cities. Pipe bands bridge the traditional and the modern with innovative drumming and amazing displays of virtuoso technique. Even more encouraging, the pipes have been adopted by modern musicians in rock bands – or rather rock music has been adopted by pipers! With groups such as the Canadian Real MacKenzies, or Scotland’s own Red Hot Chilli Pipers blending electric guitars and punk vocals with the traditional sound of the bagpipes, it can truly be seen that this instrument goes from strength to strength and is one of Scotland’s best-loved and most defining features!

How to make a kilt?

kilt freedomAs we continue to share with you all aspects of Scottish life from places to visit, to important festivals and sporting events, to the ins and outs of Highland wear; we thought you would like to learn some of the “behind the scenes” aspects to kilt-making so you can celebrate this wonderful garment with a new-found understanding of the hard work and traditional methods that many kilt-makers still use to this day!

Once you have selected your tartan cloth, the next step will be taking your measurements. Every kilt maker will take at least two measurements – your waist size, and your drop (overall kilt length). They will probably also take your hip size as if this is larger than your waist it will affect the overall construction, and perhaps also the fell length – this is the vertical distance between your waist and hip measurements.

Read About How To Wear A Kilt Outfit


Next, the kilt maker will determine the exact length of fabric required, firstly by calculating the expected pleat depth. For a standard knife pleated kilt, each pleat will be a full sett deep and have approximately one inch of fabric showing, so your precise pleat depth will be determined by the sett size of the tartan you have chosen. The sett size is the size of one iteration of the repeating pattern which makes up the tartan. For example; a tartan with a sett size of 6 inches will use 7 inches of fabric per pleat, a tartan with a sett size of 8 inches will require 9 inches of fabric per pleat. Kilt makers will also add extra pleats, or extra depth on certain pleats to accommodate a client who wishes to have a full traditional kilt made with more fabric, such as 8 or 9 yards. But, for our purposes today, it is sufficient to stick with the first situation.

Once pleat depth is determined, the kilt maker will multiply this value by half of the hip measurement, lindsay modern tartanand add the full hip measurement (as the front of the kilt has two overlapping aprons, remember), plus an extra 15% for any adjustments required to centre the pleats, add an apron fringe etc. This will be the required length of fabric. Let’s look at two examples:

Gentleman A has a hip measurement of 34 inches, and has chosen 13oz Lindsay Modern tartan, which has a 6.5 inch sett size. Each pleat needs 7.5 inches of fabric, this times 17 (half of the hip size) gives 127.5 inches. Adding on the original 34 inches, for the front aprons, gives 161.5 inches, and the extra 15% for adjustments and other requirements gives a final length required of about 186 inches, or just over 5 yards – perfect for a standard kilt. The kilt maker could also add extra pleats by making the visible portion of each less than an inch, to make this a full 8 yard kilt.

Learn About Tartan Colour Meanings

black watch tartanGentleman B however, has a hip measurement of 38 inches and has chosen 16oz Black Watch tartan, with a sett size of 8 inches. Each pleat will require 9 inches of fabric, and 9 multiplied by 19 equals 171 inches. Adding to this the full 38 inch hip measurement gives 209 inches, then an extra 15% on top for adjustments gives a final required length of 251 inches, or just under 7 yards. In this instance, the kilt maker will be required to reduce the number or depth of the pleats to allow the kilt to be made with the usual 5 or so yards of fabric – or encourage his client to go for a full 8 or 9 yard kilt and add in extra pleats and depth.

As most tartans are woven at double-width, around 55-60 inches depending on the mill, for the vast majority of people less than half of that width will be required for the length of the kilt. Therefore, kilt makers will often purchase half of the final required length and cut it lengthways, sewing the two pieces together and hemming the top to give the actual required length. Excess width will now be trimmed off, to make the fabric as wide as the required kilt length, this excess will be kept for making the waistband and sporran loops.

Once this is all done, the real work can begin. The fabric will be laid out flat with the selvedge at the bottom and, working from right to left, the kilt maker will mark the various sections as needed. The first mark will be for a few inches of excess left to hem the under apron, then the under apron itself is marked, and will be half of the initial hip measurement. Then the reverse pleat is created – this pleat is folded from right to left at a slight angle and prevents the rest of the pleats from fanning out too much around the side of the kilt, giving a smooth and tidy silhouette to the finished garment. After the reverse pleat has been marked, the rest of the pleats follow. These are measured straight along the lines of the fabric from selvedge to hip, then angled in towards the centre at varying degrees from hip to waist (if the waist is smaller) and are followed by marks for the over apron; again (if all the measurements have worked out correctly) a bit of length will still be left to allow for the final finished hem and fringe.

Read About Measuring for a Kilt

Now all of the pleats will be folded and pinned, then pressed to ensure they are all lying straight and flat as required. Often the final pleat will be up to double the depth of the others, again to prevent unwanted flaring. At this stage many kilt makers will baste along the bottom and middle of the pleats – basically putting in two rows of a long running stitch which can easily be removed later to make sure nothing slips out of place while the work continues. Once the pleats are all pressed and temporarily secured the kilt maker can move on to actually sewing everything properly into place.

Firstly he will sew along the top of the pleats, kilt just a quarter of an inch from where the waistband will be, then the very edge of each pleat will be carefully stitched down onto the pleat beneath for the length of the fell. This important step will prevent the kilt from flaring out over the wearer’s rump which can give a skirted appearance, and is one of the key features of a true Scottish man’s kilt. Next the pleats will be steeked, basically a horizontal line of stitching is added from the inside, about an inch above the fell line, to further stabilise the pleats. Now too the slit for the under apron strap to pass through is created, usually the edge of the second pleat from the left is used and it will be hemmed sturdily to prevent this from becoming a weak point.

The edge of the under apron will now be hemmed, as will the over apron. For the over apron however, a piece of excess fabric may be stitched into the hem so the raw edges run along the length of the apron. This raw edge is deliberately frayed, then trimmed neatly to leave a fringe. Then a cotton lining about one quarter to one third of the total kilt length will be sewn along the top edge, and down the apron hems; folded and tucked where needed to follow the shape of the kilt.

Read About Kilt and Tartan 

A waistband will be created from the extra fabric cut off at the beginning, the final width of this will only be about half an inch and it simply gives a polished and tidy finish – ensuring no fraying will occur and maximising the lifetime of your kilt. From the same excess fabric two sporran loops about three and a half inches long and half an inch wide are made; these are sewn to the pleated section at the back, about a third and two thirds along.

The final step is to add the straps to the edges of the aprons, and the buckles to the pleated section, with the edge of the metal part just half an inch or so shy of touching the edge of the outermost pleat on either side. For a five yard kilt, two buckles are normally used, one each on the under and over aprons, but for 8 yards kilts many kilt makers prefer to use three, adding a second strap a few inches below the first on the over apron with its corresponding buckle to the right of the pleated section.

And at last your traditional Scottish kilt is ready to wear! We very much hope you have enjoyed this thorough explanation of how Scottish kilts are usually made, remember however that every kilt maker will have their own quirks and methods so this process will sometimes vary slightly! As always, we welcome all comments and discussion – perhaps there are some kilt makers reading this – or perhaps it has inspired you to find out more and learn to make a kilt for yourself!

Worldwide Influences On Kilts And Tartan

Scottish kilts have a reputation that spreads across the globe! From adventurous ancestors, Scots have now put down roots worldwide and the diaspora has a strong presence in nations as diverse as Australia, Italy, the United States, Poland and Canada! But we haven’t only influenced other nations with our characteristic national dress and reputation for great hospitality – they too have influenced us. The kilt, and Scottish culture in general, is vibrant and modern; always changing in this fast-paced world, and always willing and able to adapt to new situations. Perhaps it is for this reason that kilts remain so fashionable and popular into the modern age!

Read about Kilt And Tartan
kilt, CamouflageOne often noted aspect of outside influences on the Scottish kilt is in design variances. Men don’t always want to wear the full, traditional version of the kilt, especially to casual events. Taking notes from American style jeans and military fatigues, utility kilts are fast becoming a popular alternative to the typical tartan kilt. Usually made from a plain coloured canvas or cotton fabric, utility kilts often feature elements such as stud fasteners instead of buckles, box pleats as standard (whereas for tartan kilts, knife pleating remains more common), and even side pockets to negate the necessity of wearing a sporran! Originally most commonly seen in black, and popularised by punk and goth fashions, utility kilts are now available in a range of shades such as khaki or tan, and are in fact very practical garments – allowing for high intensity or dirty activities such as playing sports, hiking, manual labour, and many other things, without worrying about ruining a precious or expensive garment as the traditional kilt tends to be!

Read about Contemporary Kilt Alternatives

Utility kilts are often cooler than traditional ones as well, an added bonus for kilt hot climates or strenuous activity; but many people do still prefer that traditional kilted look. The Scottish diaspora in these hot places have found that using lighter fabrics than the expected 16oz worsted wool can relieve them considerably, and make it possible to wear the important tartan designs that are so meaningful to clansmen and women worldwide. Most commonly men will opt for 13oz wool, or a medium-weight polyviscose fabric as a smart and breathable alternative, although in East Asia and other very hot locations, 10oz wool, cotton and silk tartan fabrics have all been used for men and ladies to display their Scottish heritage. This has meant a change in how the kilt and other garments are worn of course, as very light fabrics cannot really be used to make kilts – but waistcoats, sarongs, even turbans! have all been made in tartan patterns to allow those with proud Scottish links to show their affiliations no matter where they are!

Read about International and Occasional Tartans

The tartans used in kilts and other garments are hugely important too of course. A hundred or so years ago very few patterns were in use, and by far the most common tartans to be seen were clan or “surname” tartans, linking a person directly to their family of birth. While clan tartans are still massively popular in the present day, many people can no longer trace which clan (if any) they precisely belong to, and might only know of a vague and distant genealogical link to Scotland. Due to this, tartans relating to one’s district, vocation, hobbies and many other aspects making up one’s personality are growing in popularity – with more and more of these registered every year. Naturally, these are especially popular among emigrant Scots who wish to adopt traditional dress while honouring the land that is now their families home, and may have been for several generations. The United States especially has a long list of American-specific tartans, many states have an official design registered for their district, likewise for the armed and emergency services, and many other corporations, universities and clubs are following suit.

Read about Kilt Accessories


Isle of Skye ModernIn fact, one of the most popular “universal” (can be worn by anyone) tartans was not designed in Scotland;  Isle of Skye is a beautiful design honouring the rugged landscape of Skye, but was in fact designed by an Australian (who traced her lineage back there and loved the island so much she eventually moved “back home”). World religions too are represented, with tartans designed to illustrate the faiths of Muslim, Christian, Sikh and Jewish Scots (among others) all being available. The way in which tartan, that most striking example of Scottish design, has been used to portray and represent all these wonderfully diverse different groups of people truly does show how varied and widespread Scottish influence has become, and in turn how Scottish culture and tradition has been shaped and influenced by the different cultures and countries which it has touched.

Read about Tartan for Ladies

Do you have a fond memory of a time you influenced or were influenced by Scottishness abroad? Or perhaps you have a story about your life as part of the diaspora, living, possibly even born, outside of Scotland – while holding onto your heritage? As always, we look forward to your comments!

How To Wear A Kilt Outfit

KiltOne thing is for sure, as much as we all love and respect the kilt and all its traditional and interesting accessories, it can sometimes be confusing how to put it all together. Kilt outfits are such a long held traditional form of dress in Scotland that people often make the assumption that the knowledge of how it is all worn will naturally already be known.

Read about Tartan Colour Meanings

However these garments and accessories tend to be worn fairly infrequently in modern times, even by the most ardent Highlander, and as they are so different from the usual clothing worn nowadays, it is easy to become confused. Today we will aim to dispel that confusion and explain the best and proper ways to wear your Scottish kilt outfit to look and feel great!

First of all, let’s look at the most important centrepiece of any Scottish outfit – the kilt itself. The waistband of a well-fitting kilt should rest at navel level, or slightly higher, and the selvedge should fall to NO LOWER than mid-knee when you are standing – many traditionalists prefer that the kilt falls no lower than the top of the kneecap, but it is not mandatory to wear it this short.  However, a kilt should never completely cover the knee or trail onto the calf under any circumstances; this gives a sloppy and more “skirt-like” appearance to the garment which is (of course) not at all desirable. The other essential piece of information about kilts is of course that the pleats always go at the back! A very obvious piece of information you may think – and we don’t meant to patronise any of our dear readers by pointing this out – but if no one ever tells you, how are you supposed to know? And, as one of the most common errors that even a lay-person will notice, it’s worth mentioning to make sure you always remember this pertinent piece of information!

Read about Kilt Accessories 

Next we’ll consider the hose. Traditional kilt hose Flashesare long, and the extra length should be folded into the turn-over at the top to make a tidy and padded cuff. There should be a gap of at least a couple of inches between the tops of your hose and the bottom of your kneecap – which is another reason it is important you shouldn’t wear a kilt that is too long for you. When wearing kilt flashes, always remember these go to the outside of your calf, and likewise for your sgian dubh, which is traditionally worn in the right sock, but if you are left-handed it would make sense for you to wear it on that side.

Ghillie brogue laces should be crossed around the calf once and then tied securely at the front or out sides of the legs (as long as both match!). Wrapping the laces around your leg too often can make the brogues look too much like ballet style shoes, and will likely lead to them sliding down, causing you to trip.

The kilt pin can also be a source of distress for many a kilted gentleman. All too often an enthusiastic Scot, getting fully kitted out for the first time, will tweak his kilt aprons into the perfect position and pin them in place with an ornate pin…only to hear a terrible rip the first time he sits down as the aprons try to separate and the wool is torn away from the pin. This type of damage is impossible to fully repair, so please always remember that a kilt pin should be secured through the top apron of the kilt only. A kilt pin is used simply to add a counterweight to the light apron on a kilt, and stop it from blowing around in all but the strongest of winds. They add a decorative aspect as well of course, so by all means choose something which reflects your tastes and style preferences – just don’t allow it to damage your kilt! Another way to minimise damage are to ensure kilt pins are changed or removed as infrequently as possible to avoid stretching the pin holes, or adding extra holes. These same guidelines should be used when considering the use of a fly plaid with plaid brooch, where the brooch should be pinned to the plaid but not your jacket, and used as a counterweight to prevent the plaid from slipping back and off your shoulder.

SporranFinally today, we’ll look at the very uniquely Scottish sporran, the storage bag worn around your waist in place of pockets. These come in a huge variety of colours and styles, but should always be worn centred to the front of your body, with the main pouch of the sporran resting just beneath the pubic bone, or slighter higher if that is more comfortable. The sporran should be held up with suspenders around your belt or, more commonly, a sporran chain – which can be passed through the two belt loops at the back of your kilt waistband to prevent it sliding down. These belt loops should not be used for your kilt belt, which is a purely decorative item that should be placed over the kilt and not pass through any loops at all.

We feel this list is a pretty comprehensive overview of the common pitfalls to avoid when first learning the ropes of Scottish Highland wear, but if you have any questions please feel free to ask in comments as always, or if you have your own advice to give please do share it below!

 

Tartan Colour Meanings

Royal Stewart TartanHello readers, I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and a Happy Hogmanay – we certainly did here in Scotland and are now recharged and refreshed after the festive break.

To kick off our 2014 blog, we thought it would be great to go back and look in more depth at a topic we have covered slightly in the past – the terminology for different colour-ways of tartans, and the meaning behind colour selection for some modern tartans!

First we’ll consider the standard clan tartan, in this example transcribed as MacDonald Modern (occasionally, MacDonald Clan Modern). The ‘Modern’ here lets you know that the colours are the standard modern chemical dyes used in tartan weaving. The reds, yellows, blue and greens will be strong and bright, while navy, bottle green and black will be very dark. ‘Modern’ colour ways are of course the most common, and are usually considered the standard by which all other colour variants are derived from.

MacDonald Ancient TartanThe next most common colour way is the ‘Ancient’ tartans, as in MacDonald (Clan) Ancient. These colours are still produced using modern chemical dyes (as are all the colourways), but are attempting to mimic the appearance of cloth which has been aged for many years. Ancient colourways became popular in the 1950’s and 60’s when the fad for vivid ‘Modern’ colours had waned slightly. One reason for the enduring popularity of the ‘Ancient’ shades is that the lighter, faded style makes it easier to identify and differentiate the lines in certain patterns. In the Black Watch Modern tartan, for example, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the areas of navy and bottle green as they are so dark. Some people like this subtlety, but others prefer the ‘Ancient’ version where the colours more easy to tell apart.

Aberdeen Distrcit Modern TartanReproduction’ cloths were next to come along, after the discovery of a tiny fragment of tartan fabric, dating back almost 200 years inspired the weavers at DC Dalgleish to try and recreate the colours present in the sample. These tartans are stronger in hue than the ‘Ancient’ ones, but the colours are overall softer and more natural looking than the ‘Modern’ dyes. Other mills have tried to capture their own versions of this, giving rise to two new colourways which are growing in popularity; ‘Muted’ colours are slightly less bright and artificial looking than ‘Modern’, but not quite as natural as the ‘Reproduction’ colourway, and ‘Weathered’, which is a more extreme version, aiming to look as though the fabric was not only dyed using vegetable dyes, but was then aged for many decades. The ‘Weathered’ palette tends towards greys and browns and may look very different than the original ‘Modern’ scheme, but the pattern and thread-count will remain the same, only the definition for what constitutes red, or blue, or green has differed.

Stewart Muted Blue TartanAs previously mentioned, pattern variants are noted by a term just after the clan or district name. This may be seen in the MacDonald Old Modern tartan, as an example.  These terms will describe in some sense the reason that this variant is different from the main tartan. In the cases where the term ‘Old’ is used, it means either that a new design has been adopted, or that this is an earlier design which was previously unknown, the colourway designation ‘Modern’ here still only refers to the dying process which has been used on the threads. ‘Hunting’, ‘Mourning’, and ‘Dress’ are the other terms commonly used in this way, and it is quite self-explanatory as to the circumstances under which each variant design was used. ‘Hunting’ tartans tend to be developed by clans with a very bright or complicated standard design, to allow for outdoor pursuits in a less showy outfit, ‘Mourning’ tartans are very rare, but consist of replacing the background of a tartan with white, and making the entire overcheck black. Finally we have the ‘Dress’ tartans, which are frequently worn by Highland Dancers. These variants see the background of the tartan be replaced by a pure white ground which makes the overcheck even more vibrant and noticeable when dancing. Dress tartans, along with ‘Hunting’ tartans are by far the most common pattern variations.

But what about colour symbolism? Of course, with most clan tartans, any colour symbolism would only apply to the standard variant, as all the different colourways or other variations can dramatically alter the colours of the finished tartan. However in fact, despite never-ending rumours, the majority of old tartans (i.e. those designed before the 20th century) don’t have any specific symbolism attached to the choices of colours at all. The reason for this is quite simple; when tartans were first developed, the colours were determined by the local availability of dyes, and the wealth of those wearing them. Tartan designers didn’t think of themselves as such as the time, and their selections would have been based on what was naturally pleasing to them while being readily available and affordable for the people they were weaving for. Furthermore, many tartans were “invented” during the Victorian revival of Scottish and specifically Highland fashions. This was not done in a malicious way, but because many of the truly ancient patterns and designs had been lost or forgotten during the period known as Proscription, so clan chiefs had to try to piece these back together from incomplete records, or have new designs made. As such these patterns, while not false, do not necessarily have the same connotations as the older, lost designs.

Modern tartans however, are frequently designed with specific colour symbolism in mind. Because there is no specific system equating particular shades with particular meanings, one shade of blue may be used by three different designers to mean three different things! Perhaps the background of the Saltire flag in a commemorative design, the waters of a local river for a new district tartan, or even the blue eyes of a loved one in a personal tartan! This means there are unlimited possibilities for symbolism when designing a new tartan and it can be very interesting and enlightening to read the notes attached to every official tartan registration to see if there is a particular story or meaning behind each design.

World Peace TartanOne of our favourites is the World Peace Tartan; a new design registered only a couple of years ago. The tartan was designed to promote a global message of peace and features a very distinctive light blue background – chosen for its similarity to the striking light blue used by the United Nations. Red and black lines cross the overcheck, representing the everyday reality of war and violence which affects our planet, and lines of purple and green, representing the thistle, mark Scotland’s position at the heart of this initiative to raise awareness and promote peace. Finally, strong white lines run through the centre of the black lines, symbolising hope for a peaceful future. Isn’t it wonderful to see how, with just a few ideas for symbolism and using only a handful of common colours, a talented designer can create such a beautiful design?

We would love to hear from you about any tartan symbolism you’ve encountered, or any colourways or variants you have been drawn to – perhaps you have eschewed your standard clan tartan for something a little more offbeat, or perhaps you have designed a tartan yourself in the past? As always comments are welcomed!