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  1. #1
    M. A. C. Newsome is offline
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    Contributing Tartan Historian
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    What's the Difference between a 4 yd box pleated kilt and an 8 yd knife pleated kilt?

    One question I get asked frequently is "What is the difference between a four yard box pleated kilt and an eight yard knife pleated kilt?" Most people in the market for kilt for the first time are not aware that different pleating styles exist. The kilt that most people are familiar with today, that you see being worn by pipe bands, Highland dancers, and men on parade and at Highland Games, is a knife pleated kilt (the pleats all run in the same direction) made from appoximately eight yards of cloth. This is the typical kilt of today. But it was not always so!

    A Brief History
    The original form the the kilt, the feilidh-mor or "belted plaid" of the seventeenth century, was (on average) about four yards in length. This was made from two widths of cloth, some 25" to 30" wide, sewn together to form one double-width peice. The next development of the kilt was the feilidh-beag of the eighteenth century, which was worn as a single width peice, from the waist to knee only. It also was about four yards in length.

    Both of the above forms of kilt were untailored garments. That is, the pleats were not sewn in. Rather the cloth was gathered and held in place with a secure belt. When the kilt began to be tailored at the end of the eighteenth century, with the pleats sewn into place from waist to hip, they continued to be made with about 4 yards of cloth, and were box pleated. That means that the pleats ran in alternating, opposite directions, to form little "boxes" (hence the name).

    The earliest tailored kilt that survives today is a regimental kilt in the Gordon tartan from 1796. It is box pleated and contains exactly 3 yards and 2 inches of cloth. In the beginning, all military kilts were box pleated to the stripe. Civilian kilts were also box pleated, to no pattern. By the second decade of the nineteenth century, civilian kilts were also typically pleated to the stripe. Four yards was the average amount of cloth used in a kilt.

    Knife pleating (or side pleating), where the pleats all lie in the same direction, was first introduced in the Gordon regiment in 1854. It was after this development that additional cloth started to be added to the kilt. The extra cloth went into the back of the kilt, making the pleats deeper and deeper. By the end of the nineteenth century, the knife pleated kilt, made from approximately eight yards of fabric, was the norm. (Pleating to the stripe was still the most common, though pleating to the sett was beginning to be seen at this time).

    Some illustrations:
    Here is a four yard box pleated kilt, seen from the bottom, to show the shape of the pleats.


    Here is a photo of a typical eight yard kilt, knife pleated.


    Here is a side-by-side comparison of a four yard box pleated kilt (left) and an eight yard knife pleated kilt (right), both in the Moffat tartan, pleated to the red line.


    A note about yardage
    Are all box pleated kilts four yards? Are all knife pleated kilts eight yards? No. These measurements refer to average amounts of fabric used. The specific amount may vary depending both on the size of the gentleman and the size of the tartan pattern. Your box pleated kilt may in fact only have 3.5 yards, or it may have five. Your knife pleated kilt may contain seven yards, or more than nine! Each kilt is made differently.

    Many kilt making firms now are also making knife pleated kilts from four or five yards of cloth. There is also a modern form of box pleating used in the military that contains about eight yards of cloth.

    In general, however, the typical knife pleated kilt of today will average eight yards of cloth, and the historical form of box pleating only requires about four.

    Why wear a four yard box pleated kilt?
    There are several reasons:
    1) It is an historic form of pleating. Many people are wearing the kilt for reasons of heritage and tradition, and are drawn to this style, which is both historic and also suited for modern wear.
    2) It is unusual. The typical kilt of today is knife pleated. This makes the box pleated kilt different from the average kilt. To some this is a plus. It makes you stand out.
    3) It is less expensive. Since it only requires four yards of cloth, it costs less than the typical kilt made with eight yards.
    4) It is more comfortable. The reduced yardage makes it lighter than a typical kilt, even when it is made from heavy weight kilt cloth. It is also a more balanced garment, with about the same amount of cloth in the front and back of the kilt, making it very comfortable to wear.
    5) Personal preference. You may just like the look of it!

    Why wear an eight yard knife pleated kilt?
    There are several reasons:
    1) It is the standard form of pleating. When people think of a kilt, this is the style they imagine. It is the most recognized form of kilt today.
    2) The swish and swing! All that extra cloth is contained in the back of the kilt, which makes this kilt heavier in the back than in the front. This makes the back act as a pendulum when you walk (or march, or dance), giving the pleats that swish and swing that is associated with the modern kilt.
    3) All the pleats! The eight yard kilt will contain many more pleats than the four yard kilt. To some this gives the kilt a more formal look -- though you can certainly wear a four yard kilt formally, or an eight yard kilt casually.
    4) Personal preference. You may just like the look of this style!

    More info:
    If you want more information on box pleated kilts, including more history, more pictures, and information about ordering, please see my web site:
    http://kilts.albanach.org/index.html
    Last edited by highlandtide; 19th March 09 at 04:52 PM.

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