Hand Sewing a Kilt

How and Why we Started The Kiltmakery

We started The Kiltmakery in 2017, it was started by myself - Amanda Moffet and Nikki Laird. We met when I attended a Kilt Making Course run by Nikki, she was at this point the youngest Traditional Kilt Maker in Scotland.  

I was co-owner of ScotClans, a family business based in Edinburgh, Scotland.  I had always sold hand stitched kilts but when our Kilt Maker retired I was unable to find anyone to replace her and everywhere I looked I hit a dead end.  The message I was getting was hand sewn is finished and the future of Kilt Making is only machine sewn  A company approached us, claiming that machine sewn was better, we tried them out but the kilt was badly made and ill fitting, I just found this so sad, surely this can't be true?

Out of the blue I came across a Kilt Making Course that had just started up. I made contact and myself and one of my employees attended the course.  Over the course I started to find out about why Traditional Kilt Making had more or less died out.  Learning to sew kilts I learnt first hand the amount of work that goes into making this iconic piece of clothing. Nikki was an incredible teacher.  After the course had finished I ended up employing Nikki at ScotClans.  We both shared a passion to start something that could save and support Traditional Kilt Making.

And so The Kiltmakery was born. 

The Reason Traditional Kilt Making is in the state it was

Kilt Makers used to work in workrooms together. The workrooms were shared by the main Tartan Houses in Scotland. From what we understand one person set up the kilt then passed it to the person who then made the whole kilt. You learnt to be a Kilt Maker apprenticing under an existing Kilt Maker for many years.

This is a wonderful video from the 1930s

Unfortunately, the workrooms began to close down,  Kilt Makers were expected to work from home and their pay changed to piece work, the Kilt Maker was now paid per kilt.  A large gulf grew between the sales person on the shop floor and the craftsperson, one that is evident today.

The older sales people from the original kilt shops had now left, new Kilt Shops opened and so the understanding about the craft of Traditional Kilt Making was lost.  Hiring a Kilt rather than a once in a lifetime purchase became popular.  Not many of these 'new' salesmen and women quite knew what goes into a kilt or how long it takes to make one.  They would take measurements then orders were placed with the home working kilt makers.

As far as a lot of them were concerned it was just little old ladies sitting at their kitchen tables doing a little bit of sewing for pocket money, one kilt retailer even  called this ‘gin money’. 

Due to this attitude and the isolation of the Kilt Maker it led to very poor pay.   Kilt Makers stopped talking to each other.  It was a vicious circle, as a Kilt Maker you couldn't complain about the pay because you were worried about loosing work.
Some Kilt Makers understandably began to cut corners.  Skills  stopped being passed on, now a Kilt Maker could not afford the time or potential future competition of taking on an apprentice.

 Last year Kilt Making was added to the Endangered list of Crafts.  These are crafts that are at imminent risk of dying out.

The Guardian - The KiltmakeryArticle from The Guardian 

A Kilt Making Community
When we began The Kiltmakery we initially wanted to create a Community, offering a safe place and support to those who might be feeling isolated as well as open our doors to them to use our space and get to know one another. By creating this community we could educate the public and make sure that retailers pay and respect the Kilt Maker. By Kilt Makers talking to each other we could make sure people knew the danger of de-valuing the craft and accepting low pay per kilts.

By working together we have a louder voice.  We need to educate the consumer about the value and quality of a hand stitched kilt as well as the Industry.

Some of the Kilt Makers at The KiltmakerySome of The Kilt Makers at The KiltMakery

The Next Generation of Kilt Makers

Here at The Kiltmakery we are offer Kilt Making lessons and ongoing support after the lessons have finished.  We now have an ever growing community.  We have worked hard to demystify the process of kilt making for our student and also the consumer. 

Most people who have learnt to make Kilts  are more on the hobby kilt making side and we still have work to do to make this a viable job for new Kilt Makers.

We have worked with Dumfries House as part of their "Get Into" programmes which is designed to get young people aged 16 to 24 who are not in employment, education or training into a positive destination at the end.

Here you can see Graham Bone in his hand stitched kilt who trained with us. Graham went from being a Steel Worker build the Queensferry Crossing to becoming a Kilt Maker.

Dumfries house - from Glasgow Times

 Photo courtesy of The Glasgow Times. 

We also currently have two 16 year olds who are going through the full training program with us. This gives us such hope for the future.