How to Make a Kiltmaker's Pincushion

I promised my pal Dave from Kilt school that I'd send him some of my favorite Japanese sewing needles.  Which immediately shifted to the rear burner when I got home and remembered I had to finish writing a book.  And writing two new classes.  And making a new sweater.  Dave's been been patiently waiting through all that, just to get some needles.  I got them finally, and decided it would be nice to send a little surprise along with them.  

One peculiarity of the kiltmaking process is that the maker needs a pincushion that can be operated with one hand.  When you reach for a pin, your other hand is always holding a pleat firmly in place.  And most pincushions lift off the table when you grab a pin one-handed. And yes, those magnetic thingys are heavy enough to stay put, but you can't be assured of grabbing the non-pointy end of the pin every time. Ow.

So, self-proclaimed Clever Beastie that I am, I decided to solve the problem, while making a weighted pincushion for Dave.

At the end of every kilt, there are leftover scraps from where each pleat is cut away.  I thought it would be a fun forget-me-not to use some of mine for Dave's surprise.  I cut two scraps into circles, and applied some iron-on interfacing to their backs (kilt tartan, though heavy, is actually somewhat loosely-woven, so the interfacing will keep the twill firm).  Then I cut two more, slightly smaller circles from scrap fabric.  The size of my pincushion was dictated by the size of my tartan scraps; about 5 1/2 " in diameter.

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I considered several options for material to weight the pincushion. Pennies would be too hard to tuft through.  Fishing weights were too expensive.  Beans or rice might mildew in time. Buckshot would have been ideal, but I was all fresh out and much too lazy to procure any. Finally I just pilfered a handful of pebbles from my neighbor's footpath.  I washed them with soap and water in a strainer and let them dry completely.  Next, I stitched the two smaller circles together, leaving an opening for pebble-insertion.  Sidebar: Barb Tewksbury, our kiltmaking teacher, is a geologist by trade.  I feel sure she'd approve of the rocks.

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I stitched my tartan circles together, leaving an opening for stuffing, and poked the bag-o-rocks inside.

With the pebble packet on the bottom, I stuffed the upper part of the cushion firmly with wool roving, and sewed the opening closed by hand.

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I threaded about 2 yds of narrow ribbon through the longest ribbon embroidery needle in my collection, and stabbed it straight through the cushion from top to bottom.  It took a few attempts to wiggle the tip of the needle through the pebbles and make it come up in the center of the bottom, but eventually I got it right.  I used a thimble and pliers to work the needle through all the layers, and left a tail of ribbon about 8" long on top of the cushion.

Here you can see how I made the "petals" of the cushion.  I just worked a big "stitch" with my ribbon, around the edge of the cushion, and back up through the center where I started.

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I pulled the ribbon snug, then made another stitch on the opposite side of the cushion, again coming back up through the center starting point.

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Here are two more ribbon wraps, just like the first.

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I made a total of 6 ribbon wraps, pulling each one snugly.  Then I made a small (1/4") ribbon stitch on the underside of the pincushion, bringing the needle back up through the center of the top.  I passed each end of the ribbon through the shank of a button, knotting securely, and buried the ends inside the pincushion.

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Done and Done.  I tested it, and am happy to certify that this is an Official Kiltmakers One-Handed pincushion.  I'm predicting a few more of these in my future...

What I Made at Camp

Did ya miss me?  I've been away at summer camp!  Hosted by Freedom Kilts in beautiful Victoria, BC. I attended Kilt Kamp with Barbara Tewksbury last week.  We learned the art and science of traditional kiltmaking, under Barb's expert tutelage.

Traditional kilts are sewn completely by hand, and contain anywhere from 4-9 yards of fabric. The tartan weighs 16 oz per yard, so it's no wonder that an 8-yd kilt (like I made) is often referred to as a "tank". Dinnae fall in the Loch. 

Every kilt is custom made to precisely fit the measurements of its wearer.  At the same time, the pleats have to be engineered to exactly accommodate each tartan's unique weave.

The tartan I chose is Scott Green, in an Ancient colorway.

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The first step in making a kilt is to do some "tartan whispering". The maker has to determine what the pleating options are for that particular tartan, making sure that none of the rules for how to pleat are being broken.

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Then come the layout (measuring, re-measuring, marking and basting) and pleating phases.  My kilt has 20 pleats, but there can be as few as 15 or as many as 30, depending on the pleating style and the tartan.

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8 yards of heavy tartan are a lot, when the temperature is 90 degrees F. Our workshop went "shoes-optional" right away.

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Each evening Barb retired to the tennis court opposite the kilt shop to practice piping.  At which she is also an expert. Not to mention a fashionista - get a load of those sassy tights!

For some reason, I was the only camper who had matched my pincushion to my tartan.  Who knew?

See the horizontal line of beige stitches at the top of the pleats?  That's the STEEK.  Yep, knitting stole the word from kiltmaking.  It's Scots Gaelic for "secure" Thanks, Scots!

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Every kilt has a hidden piece of cotton broadcloth installed at the waistline to stabilize the pleats.  Since Barb is an American, she always uses this print, which she kindly shared with me.

In addition to the steek and the stabilizer, kilts are reinforced with heavy canvas interfacing, which is also pleated, for even more rigidity.  This causes the back of the kilt to hug into the small of the wearer's back, not unlike a weightlifting belt. It feels fantastic to wear.

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Barb shows me how to choose the right scraps of fabric with which to attach the buckles. The straps have to match the tartan exactly, even though they are invisible when the kilt is buckled.

Putting the lining in my nearly-done kilt.  Fingers flying too fast for photos.

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Done. And. Done.

All the Happy Campers, on the front porch of the kilt shop.

Kilt camp lasted 5 days, with most of us campers working 12 hours or so each day.  Although an experienced kiltmaker can complete a kilt in 20-40 hours, we newbies were much slower.  Of the 10 campers attending, I was the only one to finish in 60 hours.  

So am I ready to hang out my shingle and become a real kiltmaker? Sadly, not even close.  I need some more practice first.  

Which should not be a problem, because my family are already placing their orders!

Want to learn more about the making and wearing of kilts?  CLICK HERE, and have fun.

Feeling Kilty

I'm starting to think about all things Festive, which always puts me in mind of Highland Dress.  Hogmanay is coming, after all, and I wouldn't want you to be caught unprepared.

So in honor of the spirit of my ancestors, I give you

"Kilt By Association"  CLICK HERE for the pattern.

These are big fun to knit, and the pattern includes lots of information on how to customize their fit.

Kilts and Kilt Hose are the exclusive domain of Gentlemen, in Scotland.  Ladies officially wear Kilt Skirts, which contain about half as much fabric, and fasten on the opposite side.  Their legs are covered by tights or stockings, rather than hose.  In Scotland.  But since I'm actually American, I break the rules.  My ancestors are dead, and even if they weren't, it would be a mighty long trip for them to come here just to slap my wrists for going in drag. 

The fact is, Kilt Hose are Dead Sexy, and cozy warm, to boot.  No wee lassie should be denied the luxury.  So I hereby give you ladies permission to make and wear your very own kilt hose, if you want to, and tradition be damned.  I'll take the rap for it when I meet up with my forefathers, at that great distillery in the sky (or wherever else we all end up).

Oh, and Bailey would like me to assure you; This Pattern is Scottish Terrier Approved.