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  1. #1
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    Misconceptions about pleat depth - what to know before you fire your kiltmaker

    Over the weekend, I had a surprising and unsettling conversation with someone from a well known pipe band that was about to fire their kiltmaker because the pleats in any given one of their band kilts were not all the same depth. They suspected that the kilmaker was cheating them and trying to get more kilts out of less tartan. While there's a very slim possibility that this is the case, it's far more likely that the band members don't understand what governs pleat depth in a kilt and that a perfectly made kilt can very well have pleats of different depths. This article explains why.

    Let's look first at a very simple case of a kilt pleated to the stripe. Because each pleat picks up an identical element of the tartan, most kilts pleated to the stripe will have one pleat every X inches, with X being identical in all pleats. Such a kilt will have pleats of identical depth.

    This isn't always the case, even for a kilt pleated to the stripe. Below, you'll see an example of a kilt in the Weathered Stewart, Old Sett. The sett is enormous - over 15". It's also an ABAC type of tartan - in the photo below, the full sett is shown with arrows, and the narrow red stripe in the black occurs twice per sett. But!! the red stripes are not the same distance apart in the two parts of the sett. In one half, they are 7 3/8" apart, and in the other they are 7 3/4" apart.



    Viewed from the outside, the kilt is perfectly pleated, and the red stripes are equal distances apart on the outside of the kilt.



    But, because the red stripes are not the same distance apart in the sett, the pleats will alternate between being slightly deeper and slightly shallower. This shows up on the inside of the kilt as pleats that, on the inside, have different "inside reveals". *There is nothing wrong with this kilt* - it's an unavoidable consequence of the fact that adjacent red stripes are different distances apart in the sett.



    This situation is far more common in kilts pleated to the sett, because a kiltmaker cannot arbitrarily pick up a pleat every X inches and, at the same time, re-create the sett across the back of the kilt *and* make pleats that have nicely balanced elements. What element is chosen and whether it is centered or placed on the edge of a pleat will be governed by many factors, including the size of the pleat and the amount of taper from hip to waist (e.g., most kiltmakers try to avoid "losing" a stripe in the taper).

    Here's an example from Hamish's 100th kilt. From the front side, the kilt back almost perfectly reproduces the tartan.



    But, from the inside, it's clear that, to accomplish that, the elements selected weren't exactly the same distance apart, resulting in variations in the "inside reveal" and, hence, variations in pleat depth. Again, there's nothing wrong with this kilt.



    And now on to a very common misconception. Many people tell a kiltmaker, "I want lots of deep pleats in my kilt." The fact of the matter is that the depth of the pleats is governed solely by the size of the sett. If the sett size is 8", then the pleat depth will be about half the sett size. For an 8" sett, the pleats are going to be about 4" deep if the kilt is pleated to the sett and a little less if the kilt is pleated to the stripe.

    You can't just ask, for example, for 5" deep pleats. That would only be possible if the sett size were either about 10" or about 5" (and the latter would require one pleat every two setts and, perhaps, more tartan than you would want to have in your kilt....). If your tartan has a sett size of 6", there's not much you can do about the pleat depth - it's going to be about 3", because the kiltmaker wouldn't be able to get enough pleats into the kilt making one pleat every two setts (which would be every 12").

    And some of you may have read about kiltmakers "cheating the pleats". This is an unfortunate phrase that doesn't mean that the customer is being cheated. It refers to the necessity, for a tartan with a large sett, of having to pick up more than one pleat per sett in order to get enough pleats into a kilt. Black Watch, Hunting Robertson, and other large-sett tartans may require this if the sett has been woven really big (more than 11"). What does happen, though, is that it's common for one or two pleats to have to be full sett pleats in order for the pleating to work out if the kilt is pleated to the sett. Although this does not show from the outside of the kilt, it's easy to see on the inside. Again, it doesn't mean that your kiltmaker has blundered. It means, actually, that your kiltmaker knows what he/she is doing and has done the best job to match the sett across the back of the kilt and still have a typical number of pleats across the kilt back. The alternative is to have a kilt with 12 or 13 really wide pleats, and that wouldn't be acceptable for a trad knife-pleated kilt.

    So, the moral of this story is this. If you have any questions about how your kilt was pleated, be sure to ask your kiltmaker. Chance are good that the explanation is neither shoddy workmanship nor sharp dealing!
    Last edited by Barb T; 27th July 10 at 04:04 PM.
    Kiltmaker, piper, and geologist (one of the few, the proud, with brains for rocks....
    Member, Scottish Tartans Authority
    Geology stuff (mostly) at http://people.hamilton.edu/btewksbu
    The Art of Kiltmaking at http://theartofkiltmaking.com

  2. #2
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    Gosh do people really get so wound up with such minor detail?It seems they do! Superb thread Barb, even if I have never looked at my pleats and their depth-------ever.

  3. #3
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    An excellent explanation Barb though I doubt very much that Hamish has any intention of firing you!
    [B][COLOR="Red"][SIZE="1"]Reverend Earl Trefor the Sublunary of Kesslington under Ox, Venerable Lord Trefor the Unhyphenated of Much Bottom, Sir Trefor the Corpulent of Leighton in the Bucket, Viscount Mcclef the Portable of Kirkby Overblow.

    Cymru, Yr Alban, Iwerddon, Cernyw, Ynys Manau a Lydaw am byth! Yng Nghiltiau Ynghyd!
    (Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Cornwall, Isle of Man and Brittany forever - united in the Kilts!)[/SIZE][/COLOR][/B]

  4. #4
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    Great post. I'll never again look at the inside of a kilt the same way. And what a tantalizing view of the W. Stewart, Old Sett. I won't be firing you, either!

  5. #5
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    Hee hee - yup - that's your kilt.

    Quote Originally Posted by KFCarter View Post
    Great post. I'll never again look at the inside of a kilt the same way. And what a tantalizing view of the W. Stewart, Old Sett. I won't be firing you, either!
    Kiltmaker, piper, and geologist (one of the few, the proud, with brains for rocks....
    Member, Scottish Tartans Authority
    Geology stuff (mostly) at http://people.hamilton.edu/btewksbu
    The Art of Kiltmaking at http://theartofkiltmaking.com

  6. #6
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    Thank you for this very concise, helpful article. Great photos, clear explanations and good humour.
    artificer Pronunciation: \är-ˈti-fə-sər, ˈär-tə-fə-sər\ : noun : 14th century :a skilled or artistic worker or craftsman
    Artificer Custom Sporrans
    *Home of the Original Kenneth MacLeay Sporran Project & Functional Brass Cantles*

  7. #7
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    I'm not surprised Barb had to have this conversation but I'm really glad she was there and had the after-thought to write this down.
    Great read and full of the important details and specifics. (Reads a lot like your chapter in your book on pleats!?!).
    I must admit that I did a tremendous amount of research before hiring the kilts in my wedding, not everyone is aware of the details that define this community :o)

  8. #8
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    Barb - great article, thanks for submitting it. If you were to work with a single color fabric, what pleat size would you recommend for best look and swing?
    -john

    ____________________________________
    You see, ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself (Rick Nelson "Garden Party")

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by jrmiller View Post
    Barb - great article, thanks for submitting it. If you were to work with a single color fabric, what pleat size would you recommend for best look and swing?
    I'd aim for a pleat size (reveal) at the hips of somewhere around 3/4-7/8" and a pleat depth of 3 1/2" or so. If you're an average size person, that will use up about 8 yards of tartan (4 yards double width).

    Barb
    Kiltmaker, piper, and geologist (one of the few, the proud, with brains for rocks....
    Member, Scottish Tartans Authority
    Geology stuff (mostly) at http://people.hamilton.edu/btewksbu
    The Art of Kiltmaking at http://theartofkiltmaking.com

  10. #10
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    What a super post, like most kilt wearers I suspect, I had no knowledge about the thought and skill that went into kilt making.
    I was invited down to watch my last kilt under construction, but didn't take up the offer. I am really regretting that now....

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