Wednesday, 23 January 2019

A long time ago....

Those of you who have read my blog in the past will be aware that I have been trying to make a tartan skirt/ kilt for Helen, my youngest daughter, for yonks, using the family tartan we had specially woven; many many many yards of it (yes, that many!) We have two weights of the tartan - a heavy one woven many years ago (some of it made into a kilt for David) and a medium weight one woven two or three years ago or more specifically thinking about Helen's skirt. Yes, she requested it that long ago! Actually, it was even longer ago as she requested this using the heavyweight tartan before I started sewing, when we going to get it made. I can't quite remember. It took us a long time to decide that the heavyweight tartan was too heavy and to elect to get a medium weight cloth woven. The story of the tartan is here and in earlier blog posts.  Here, for example

The tartan

In the past, I have had two main attempts at tartan skirt toiles, using plaid fabric but not the real deal. It was slightly problematic as Helen wasn’t then, and still isn’t, exactly sure of the style she wants. She is clearer than she was though. She now wants ‘a cute pleated mini skirt’ in the family tartan.

The first toile was a fully pleated skirt. Narrow waistband. Pleats stitched down part way. Very classical. It was knee length and so was far too long for Helen’s taste, but it was designed to see if she’d like the style. 

Christmas 2015!! I didn't realise it was that long ago!

I didn't use a pattern, as that was the advice I got from books and in person from those who might know. At the time, I got the impression she didn’t like it but I think on reflection that was to do with the length; I thought I could just have made it shorter. She told me this week that the issues were that it wasn’t a mini skirt but also that it made her look very hippy on the side opposite the zip as it didn’t lie flat and the pleats seem to twist around (I thought it was too big at the waist when I saw her wear it previously but that was a while ago). She says she does like it, and it fits well at the waist, so she’s tempted to go for a shorter version of that. I didn't use a pattern, struggled a bit and wasn't at all happy with the zip closure, by far the weakest part. Helen held a Burn’s Supper in her flat at the weekend (yes, early!) and wore it then so her thoughts on the skirt are current.

The second toile was a shorter circular skirt - at that time, she hadn’t settled on pleats. I used a commercial pattern. This just wasn't what she had in mind.

I have this pattern:
This has many good elements but Helen doesn't want a yoke like this and it's probably too long. Maybe it's still doable

Originally, she was against the idea of a proper kilt (or maybe that was us as kilts aren’t for girls in theory and by tradition at least) - but isn’t now. She has said too that she’d be happy with box pleats (but not like the pattern I showed her as she found that one frumpy). 
No to this
Modern Simplicity pattern; I don't have this pattern and I couldn't get any of the older ones.
I could buy this one but kilts are usually made directly on the fabric

She has recently bought a skirt from Pretty Little Things that she likes. I've seen a photo but not the real thing. It's fully pleated.

Helen tried on and liked a skirt from Jack Wills; she took photos of her trying on the size 10 (UK), a perfect fit, but didn’t buy it. I decided to buy it but unfortunately could only get a 12 so it will be going back after a bit of examination! It’s not on the website. I tried the 12 on Missy, the dressmaking model adapted to Helen's size (see here)  and it just slipped down below the waist onto the hip.

We're going to have a chat on the phone, but I think I’m clearer. I have already said to Helen that our tartan is a heavy wool and pleats will inevitably make it bulkier - and therefore make her look hippier. I also said that I thought the kilt-type closure is potentially better for fitting.

I have a pattern for a short full pleated skirt. 

It’s slightly long but could be shortened by the 2” required. A bigger issue is that although it is shown in tartan, the tartan repeat (the spacing of the checks) is not the same as ours. Therefore, I can’t really follow the pattern, though it might give me a better idea of how to proceed. When I made the previous full pleated version, I didn’t use a pattern and wasn't sure how to finish off. I had one long piece sewn together at one side, the zip side - maybe that’s why the skirt twists on wearing?

A big issue with pleating tartan for a woman is waist shaping. When I made the full pleated version, I carefully increased the depth of each and every pleat towards the top to try to achieve the reduction in width without compromising the pattern match. This took a long time and involved lots of calculations.

My preference is for a version of the Jack Wills kilted skirt. This has the kilt wrap at the front but there are two pleats each side of the plain wrap. The side seam is smooth for about 2” each side of the seam. No zip of course. The back then has two pleats plus a dart at each side, but the centre is smooth.

The JW skirt is pretty good but isn’t exactly matched - so perhaps that issue is less relevant to Helen than the overall ‘feel’ of the garment. Having the side seams free of pleats and using the darts will help with the shaping. Having just the two pleats allows me a far greater flexibility. The pleats can be 'any' width to fit in so I can match the pattern to the set size. In the full pleated version, the pleats had to match all the way around. A lot of calculation and experimentation and careful measurement. Of course, each tartan is different, so those calculations are worthless now.

Another issue is that I’d like the selvedge to form the bottom of the skirt as a hem would be bulky. This is traditional in kilts. I need to examine the tartan to see if this is possible. I won’t be doing that, though, until I am well into the process of pattern making and toileing.

I think I’ve decided what I want to do, unless Helen has a strong opinion to the contrary. I don’t think she does as she said ‘whatever is easiest’. I don’t have a pattern, so this may not be the easiest route, but think I can manage to create one. I hope I can manage. I asked for advice in sewing bee - and there are complexities I hadn't considered, mainly to do with shaping.  The RTW skirt has a curved hem and waistband. I tried to make a kind of pattern but it was difficult, even with help and the conclusion is that I'd be better doing straight from the fabric. I'd make up a toile of course. I have some pieces of plaid that will work for that. Just for the shape and rough size, not the pattern matching.

Any thoughts?


  1. I do not envy you this task. I made a tartan pleated skirt years ago, and it was quite a job (and yes, I know that women wear pleated skirts and not kilts!). And having to work it out yourself...This should keep you occupied for quite some time, I think! Wishing you the best with it.

    1. It's going to be a process to be enjoyed! Thank you for your good wishes


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