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  1. #1
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    So, just what is a Contemporary Kilt?

    Many of you have heard me use the term "Contemporary Kilt" but may not understand what I mean by it.

    Many automatically think contemporary to mean a modern "Utility" kilt or perhaps one that is machine sewn with construction like that used in blue jeans.

    Quite the contrary. The way I use the phrase is to describe "A kilt which has evolved to meet the needs of today's kilt wearers.

    I describe this evolution as "The DFF&P difference".

    The "D" stands for Durability. Durability equals longevity. Many kilt wearers today wear their kilts more often than the once a year Burns dinner or annual Highland Games. Many of my customers wear the kilt daily and I'm sorry but many guys are pretty rough on their clothing.
    Over the years I have had the opportunity to see many kilts when they come into my shop for alterations or repairs. This has given me a unique opportunity to see many types and styles of kilts. To see what the cause behind any failures. I have seen kilts made by some of the largest and most famous names. I have seen military and civilian kilts. I have found some built-in weaknesses in even the best name kilts.

    I have tried my best to identify and correct these weak points to make the contemporary kilt less prone to the common failures.

    1) Kilt wool is inherently weak. Even a light pull on the fabric will show stretching. So I have developed a method to build in additional strength to reduce the stretching.
    2) The left hand side strap hole is a very evident weak point. Many kilts show tearing around the strap hole. I have adopted an older system of fastening a kilt where there is no strap hole. (This small feature has the added bonus of allowing a Contemporary kilt to be re-sized in a matter of minutes.)
    3) I have added hidden bar tacks and/or other strengthening stitches at stress points. Similar in idea to the rivets that made Levi Strauss blue jeans famous.

    The "F" stands for Fit. All traditionally styled kilts, (and I include all those that are designed like traditional kilts), are meant to be worn at the anatomical waist. This is much higher than guys today have ever worn clothing. A kilt designed like this will have the top of the kilt about three or four finger widths below the bottom of the breastbone.

    It is quite common for guys today not to understand this high waisted fit. It is totally outside their experience. They try to wear their kilt like they wear pants which causes the hem to drop below the knees, and more importantly the bottom of the Fell to drop below the crest of the hips and butt.

    I found that there are three places on the human body where clothing will fit without riding up or sagging down. I describe these as "Full-Rise", "Mid-Rise" & "Low-Rise". I design my kilts to fit where the customer wishes to wear his kilt and where it naturally wants to fit on his body.
    A traditionally styled kilt is one of the only garments today where the wearer must learn to adapt and change his expectations around the garment. I prefer to adapt the garment to suit the expectations of the wearer.

    The second "F" refers to Fabric. There are so many different fabrics available today. Some are almost totally wrinkle free. Some are machine washable. Some are better suited to climate than wool. Wool will still give the ultimate swish and is far better looking for formal occasions, but if the customer wishes to wear his kilt for some other purpose the kilt maker should be able to offer the fabric best suited to the intended use.
    But, using fabrics other than kilt wool, does require the kilt maker to have experience working with these fabrics.

    And finally we come to the "P" in the DFF&P difference. A guy just has to have Pockets. A kilt is perhaps the only male garment today made without pockets. Not traditional? Well, OK. But it just makes sense to be able to offer pockets to those who would like them.
    I have tried my best to design pockets that can be totally invisible, and which do not bulge if loaded down with all the stuff guys today carry.

    I use the word "Traditional", not to mean how someone accessorizes their kilt, but to mean those style features which have not changed over the years.
    Two overlapping, flat fabric aprons that are approx. 1/2 of the wearers waist.
    A garment designed to be worn at the anatomical waist.
    Some form of pleating formed in the rear of the garment.
    A garment designed to have the hem hit at the top of the wearers kneecap.

    I use the word Contemporary to mean a garment that retains much of the traditional styling features but which may be modified or evolved to better suit how guys today wish to wear their clothing.

    Last edited by Steve Ashton; 7th August 17 at 02:24 AM.
    Steve Ashton
    www.freedomkilts.com
    Skype (webcam enabled) thewizardofbc
    I wear the kilt because:
    Swish + Swagger = Swoon.

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  3. #2
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    A very nice explanation, its just a shame that your on the wrong side of the puddle for me to order from you.

    More importantly I have seen the second picture many times, but only just noticed that you appear to have a piece of string for laces on your right hand foot, is this just a trick of the light or a last minute repair.

  4. #3
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    No, that piece of string is one of the hazards of working in a kilt shop. I was fringing an apron and that is just one of the wayward yarns that seem to fall everywhere.
    Steve Ashton
    Forum Owner

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  6. #4
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    Funnily enough, I was wondering about this whilst wetting a line the other day. I did think about starting a thread about this topic, but thought perhaps it might be taken the wrong way. Anyway, in the spirit of education I venture on.

    Your explanation and description of "your" style of kilt, apart from probably the type of cloth(non wool) are precisely what is on offer from any bespoke traditional Scottish kilt maker. All it needs is the customer to ask and usually the kilt maker will consider the request and either agree or not agree if he will follow the customer's request. All that is needed is for the customer to have the knowledge to ask, and most don't.

    If the customer goes into the shop and says can you make me a traditional kilt in MacOnion tartan, then you will be measured, shade of wool tartan chosen and down the line there will be a fitting and in the end you will have a traditional kilt. Probably, in Scotland, that will mean two or three buckles, it will be knife pleated and pleated to the sett with no belt loops. Box pleating would not be considered unless specifically asked for and even then you may be told to obtain your kilt elsewhere. I know, I have asked out of interest nothing more, a few kilt makers to see their reaction!

    With input from the customer----- bespoke kilt makers like to discuss details and is after all, the reason for going to a bespoke kilt maker-------then number of straps, kilt height around the waist, style of fastening such as you provide Steve, belt loops, pleating choices, inside pocket(I have only known of one kilt with an inside pocket, my Grand Father's and I cannot say if that was a tailors fitting or afterthought) there may be more out there, I don't know as most people in Scotland do not discuss kilt construction as a matter of course, like we do on this website. The reinforcing at the undoubted pressure points is an excellent idea and some kilt makers may do that anyway, but I don't have the knowledge of kilt making to know.

    From a conversation I had with one bespoke kilt maker who told me that he could tell who made a kilt as he would recognise the individual quirks of an individual kilt maker be that Willie MacKarrot from Oban, Jack Denials from Dallas, Texas ,or Steve Ashton from Canada. Although, he was probably only talking about Scottish kilt makers, as his knowledge probably only stretched that far! Is the above not exactly what you are offering Steve and that sounds awfully traditional to me.
    Last edited by Jock Scot; 8th August 17 at 05:06 AM. Reason: can't spell!
    " Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the adherence of idle minds and minor tyrants". Field Marshal Lord Slim.

  7. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jock Scot View Post
    From a conversation I had with one bespoke kilt maker who told me that he could tell who made a kilt as he would recognise the individual quirks of an individual kilt maker be that Willie MacKarrot from Oban, Jack Denials from Dallas, Texas ,or Steve Ashton from Canada. Is the above not exactly what you are offering Steve and that sounds awfully traditional to me.
    That is a good point. However, how do you think traditional kiltmakers would respond if you asked for trouser-style pockets, or for a kilt designed to be worn at trouser height with a slope in the waist so it doesn't hang too low in the front or too high in the back (like even modern utility kilts tend to do)?

    P.S. Just noticed the name of your fictional Texan kiltmaker...

  8. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dollander View Post
    That is a good point. However, how do you think traditional kiltmakers would respond if you asked for trouser-style pockets, or for a kilt designed to be worn at trouser height with a slope in the waist so it doesn't hang too low in the front or too high in the back (like even modern utility kilts tend to do)?

    P.S. Just noticed the name of your fictional Texan kiltmaker...
    There is a bespoke kilt maker in Edinburgh who will, I am pretty sure, make you a kilt as you describe. Although, I can think of some bespoke kilt makers in Scotland who will certainly consider what the customer is asking, that is what bespoke kilt makers do after all, but the consideration might only take a couple of seconds for the ideas to be rejected!
    " Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the adherence of idle minds and minor tyrants". Field Marshal Lord Slim.

  9. #7
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    Will,

    You and I have had discussions over our definitions of the word "traditional" before. If you don't mind I would rather not re-hash those old disagreements.

    My post, within my own section, was to clarify how I define my own product. My definition is the one I use in my shop when speaking to my customers and also the one I use when teaching kiltmaking to clarify for my students the difference in the construction techniques used by Barb Tewksbury from myself.

    In "The Art of Kiltmaking" a traditional kilt is defined quite clearly on page 25-

    "A traditional kilt is a Knee-length, hand-made garment of hard, worsted wool twill that wraps around the wearer and buckles at the waist. Only the back is pleated, and the front has two overlapping un-pleated layers, the apron and underapron. A kilt always wraps toward the right hip, and the fringe or open edge of the apron is always on the wearer’s right side.

    The kilt extends above the wearer’s waist in a rise of at least two inches, a custom which originated as a way of keeping the wearer’s midsection warm when the kilt was worn with the short jacket of the time. The rise means that the top of a kilt is designed to lie above a person’s true waistline, which is significantly above the level at which many men wear their trousers...the bottom line is that there is really only only kind of kilt...”


    This is the way I use the word traditional and why I make the distinction.

    I have been able to see first hand over the years that there is not just one type of kilt, that there are many ways to make a kilt and that the kilt has evolved and changed over time. Even among the more established names. Different kiltmakers over the years have modified and improved their methods in a search to improve their product, to be competitive, to meet the fashion of the day, and to adapt to the needs of their customers.

    Here, in my advertisers section, I felt that perhaps my customers would like to hear how I define the word "contemporary". My only intent was to clarify, and not to say or imply anything about how others may define the words they use, or about the products they make.

    While I do agree that the most common kilt that I make these days looks more like what people think of when they say traditional, than to the utility style kilts, remember that I started out making kilts that look more like the utility style. Today however, even one of my solid colored kilts with cargo pockets is made exactly the same as those that are made of Tartan. The distinction I make about the DFF&P difference is about how the kilt is made, what is inside the kilt and may not be readily apparent to the casual viewer looking at the outside.

    I see what I am doing as a continuation of the evolution of the kilt. "Contemporary - belonging to or occurring in the present.".
    Last edited by Steve Ashton; 8th August 17 at 12:59 PM.
    Steve Ashton
    www.freedomkilts.com
    Skype (webcam enabled) thewizardofbc
    I wear the kilt because:
    Swish + Swagger = Swoon.

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  11. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Wizard of BC View Post
    Will,

    You and I have had discussions over our definitions of the word "traditional" before. If you don't mind I would rather not re-hash those old disagreements.

    My post, within my own section, was to clarify how I define my own product. My definition is the one I use in my shop when speaking to my customers and also the one I use when teaching kiltmaking to clarify for my students the difference in the construction techniques used by Barb Tewksbury from myself.

    In "The Art of Kiltmaking" a traditional kilt is defined quite clearly on page 25-

    "A traditional kilt is a Knee-length, hand-made garment of hard, worsted wool twill that wraps around the wearer and buckles at the waist. Only the back is pleated, and the front has two overlapping un-pleated layers, the apron and underapron. A kilt always wraps toward the right hip, and the fringe or open edge of the apron is always on the wearer’s right side.

    The kilt extends above the wearer’s waist in a rise of at least two inches, a custom which originated as a way of keeping the wearer’s midsection warm when the kilt was worn with the short jacket of the time. The rise means that the top of a kilt is designed to lie above a person’s true waistline, which is significantly above the level at which many men wear their trousers...the bottom line is that there is really only only kind of kilt...”


    This is the way I use the word traditional and why I make the distinction.

    I have been able to see first hand over the years that there is not just one type of kilt, that there are many ways to make a kilt and that the kilt has evolved and changed over time. Even among the more established names. Different kiltmakers over the years have modified and improved their methods in a search to improve their product, to be competitive, to meet the fashion of the day, and to adapt to the needs of their customers.

    Here, in my advertisers section, I felt that perhaps my customers would like to hear how I define the word "contemporary". My only intent was to clarify, and not to say or imply anything about how others may define the words they use, or about the products they make.

    While I do agree that the most common kilt that I make these days looks more like what people think of when the say traditional, than to the utility style kilts, remember that I started out making kilts that look more like the utility style. Today however, even one of my solid colored kilts with cargo pockets is made exactly the same as those that are made of Tartan. The distinction I make about the DFF&P difference is about how the kilt is made, what is inside the kilt and may not be readily apparent to the casual viewer looking at the outside.

    I see what I am doing as a continuation of the evolution of the kilt. "Contemporary - belonging to or occurring in the present.".
    Actually Steve I did not notice that your posts are in your own section and I would have held my tongue had I noticed. For that I apologise and will delete my post if requested.

    In fact, I really don't think that we, you and me, are that far apart in what we each are saying. I see your kilts as just a variation of the traditional kilt theme. I think where I differ from you is that I do see the traditional kilt as an everyday garment when worn appropriately TODAY. For example, should I be allowed to( rule11), I could demonstrate with pictures of the traditional kilt being worn in fairly strenuous circumstances and where I have problems not only on this website but elsewhere in the world, including in Scotland, is where people wear their traditional kilts just for best and once or twice a year. Perhaps we ought to be rather more vociferous on this aspect?

    You know as I do, wars were fought around the world for at least a couple of centuries in the kilt, the kilt was most certainly not kept just for parades for some Field Marshal or other . So I really fail to understand this idea that the traditional kilt cannot be worn to the pub , race meeting, hiking or out on the hill doing traditional Scottish sporting activities yesterday, TODAY and tomorrow. Whilst a traditional wool kilt is an expensive item for many, so I can understand people's reluctance to risk their investment, but in fact the kilt is tougher, much tougher than people give them credit for. Yes indeed, there are times when the kilt is not the best option, but those times are pretty uncommon.
    Last edited by Jock Scot; 8th August 17 at 02:14 PM.
    " Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the adherence of idle minds and minor tyrants". Field Marshal Lord Slim.

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  13. #9
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    Well, responding to that interchange, I need to tell you that I had the chance two months ago to watch Steve and Sam (using Steve's methods) building kilts. I use the word "building" on purpose, because I saw a construction that was unique, precise, and I believe, superior in strength and durability to what was done in what usually considered to be "traditional". They aren't "made", they're engineered. Honest.

    Now, full disclosure: since joining X-Marks, I have come to consider Steve a friend. We don't agree on everything, but we have a lot of mutual respect and gentle affection.

    So, having said that, and having watched the process, I have to agree with Steve's description of this being the next step in the evolution of the kilt. Not a huge step, but significant and imporant, partly because of its subtlety. I also told him that I would personally not have called his kilts "contemporary". That is based simply on what they look like, and my personal use of the word. We've all seen the pictures, and unless you look very carefully, they look pretty traditional. It's the subtle, invisible, hidden differences that are to me, superior and indeed, the next steps in kilt construction.

    Further, having taught mathematics, I'm impressed with his engineer's approach to the geometry of pleating a repeated pattern which allows for precision that most kilt-makers achieve on the basis of personal skills and experience. Any careful worker could apply Steve's geometries and achieve impressive precision. Being an "old stick-in-the-mud" I'm grateful that Steve produces something that looks like a traditional kilt.

    I want one some day! Maybe Maple Leaf?
    Rev'd Father Bill White: Parish priest, retired Elementary Headmaster, lover of God, people (most of them!) dogs, joy, humour and clarity. Theologian, teacher, leader, philosopher, linguist, dreamer, traditionalist, bon-vivant, encourager of hearts and souls and a firm believer in dignity, decency, and duty. A proud Sinclair.

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  15. #10
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    I am a user of guns, tractors, combine harvesters, watches, kilts and so on, how they are built is of interest to me purely as a means of doing the job for the longest possible time without trouble. Trouble, means extra expense and a rise in blood pressure. So I buy on experience and reputation.

    Experience tells me that I like what Steve writes about the build quality of his wares and what people say about his kilts and his method of doing business ticks the reputation box and if we then add that I like the traditional look of his kilts then I would happily buy one of his kilts should the need arise. The pocket aspect is not a consideration as a selling point, for me, it's more of an on the spot decision at the time of ordering.

    Steve is an engineer and a kiltmaker and I am an end user and I really don't need to go into the finer points of how the kilt or anything else that I buy is made, frankly I am not interested. If it does the job and does it well then I am a happy chap.
    " Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the adherence of idle minds and minor tyrants". Field Marshal Lord Slim.

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