Sharks and Kilts

Shortly after writing my most recent post (yes, that one that was published months ago) I started working on a sewing project. I was pretty excited about this one; it had been in the works for almost a year, realistically probably more than a year. I’m kind of bad with time. (Understatement of the year right there!) I was on a school break and my kids were about to go on a trip that this particular project needed to be on…

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It’s a shark dress for my shark-loving teenage daughter; my kids (and two of their cousins) were going on a road trip with my parents and they would be seeing the ocean for the first time.

As I said, this simple retro dress took a long time to materialize. Not because it’s complex or anything, when I actually got to the making of it it only took a couple days, but because the fabric and pattern had been sitting on my sewing table for months and months waiting to be made into something cool, fun, and totally unique. Back in late December, over Christmas break, I had thoughts of constructing this for my daughters upcoming 16th birthday. Obviously that didn’t happen but there I was in late March with a teensy bit of time for sewing and a deadline. Deadlines make things happen!

I picked up the vintage Simplicity pattern at a garage sale years ago. At the time it had no specific purpose but when I saw it in my excessive stash of patterns I knew it was perfect for this material. The clean cut style compliments the size of the material’s print, the pattern’s darts give it a lovely fitted shape, and it’s got pockets. Actually the pockets are probably my favorite part of this dress. That and the coilar that’s made from a remnant of formal dress material; I think it contrasts the simplicity of the cotton material and it matches the blue in the print so well.

My daughter loved the dress…but, much to my disappointment, she did not end up wearing it on their trip. She did get to see a couple real, live sharks in the ocean though.

This second project, a kilt as the title of the post suggests, is another school break project. Currently I am on my longest break of the year, I’ve got most of the month of May off school. While I’m enjoying dental school the pace of it is intense and I’m happy for the chance to take a break, regroup, and get my house in order (literally get my house in order…the place is a disaster). And after the last two months of driving two plus hours a day to sit in a classroom for hours then coming home and trying to cram as much studying in around the never ending parenting and household duties I was ready to make something fun. Really I was ready to make anything… I miss having time to be “crafty” and create things when I’m amidst the craziness of end-of-semester-dental school.

I made a very costume-y kilt a couple years ago when my oldest son was in the high school Shakespeare class production of Macbeth.  It was made of cheap, colorful flannel plaid and, while it was very fun, it was not what one might call quality.

After seeing the quick and dirty kilt, my brother-in-law (who has some Scottish heritage and a last name that actually has a plaid to it) asked about making him a kilt. It’s something that had come up a few times since then but any decently authentic kilt material is crazy expensive.  I had been keeping my eye out for a good price on some MacGregor plaid but had not come across any so this idea stayed in the realm of hypothetical ideas for quite a while.

Almost a year ago (11 months yesterday to be exact) my sister, this brother-in-law’s spouse, unexpectedly died. There’s not much of anything positive that can be said about that and we’re all still just trying to cope with the loss. BUT my sister was a smart, pro-active woman and she had life insurance and a will and trust all set up. (She was a lawyer and had a side business doing will and trust work for individuals.) With that and the fact that her student loan debt died with her, my brother-in-law is in a pretty financially secure situation. He decided to treat himself and finally bought the good stuff…Authentic kilt wool!

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Coincidentally I was planning on making this kilt over my spring break back in March but the shark dress took precedence and I had to set this aside until this May break.

20190507_122727.jpg20190506_133328.jpgSince I’ve only ever made the one kilt I was quite nervous to cut into the fabric, especially knowing how expensive it is. I spent a day Googling “how to make an authentic kilt”, measuring and folding the fabric. It was helpful but I knew if I was going to get this thing done I just needed to cut and go for it.

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I had measured my brother-in-law’s waist and hips and then, for good measure, wrapped the green lining material around him and cut it directly to fit. That was very helpful in the end because it reassured me that I was, in fact, doing this right and making something that would fit.

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Turns out my fretting was unnecessary and I DO know what I’m doing (a little bit). The kilt is awesome. He came and picked it up yesterday and, other than a little tightening at the waist, the fit was perfect. One of the great things about the really nice material is that it had a finished top and bottom edge so I didn’t have to hem this thing. (Yay!) I had to cut the finished top edge to make the kilt the right length but I was able to use that cut edge for the waist band and enjoy the benefit of not having to fold that under again.

The last detail of the kilt is probably my favorite part of it: the buckles. My brother-in-law asked that the kilt be as authentic as reasonably possible but I was having a hard time finding authentic buckles and straps for it. Neither of us wanted to wait for something to be shipped so I made a trip to the local fabric store and came up with this. 20190509_092738.jpg

 

A couple clasps and rings and some leather scrap.

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I cut the leather into strips and used the thing that looks like a plug (but should definitely NOT be inserted into an outlet) to punch holes in the leather. The holes functioned like stitch markers; using quilting thread I stitched it all on nice and tightly.

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I really love how the fasteners turned out. They’re my favorite part of the kilt and if/when I make another I’ll use this method again.

 

So there you have it, sharks and kilts. I’ve realized that when you have very limited opportunities to make things you should choose to make the things that you are excited about. 

A Quick & Dirty Kilt

A few months ago my son, a high school senior, was debating trying out for his school’s production of Macbeth. He wasn’t actually in Shakespeare class but he had an independent​ study block that hour so it would work. I encouraged​ him in this venture as it would be something new and different for him; an experience. And for once he actually listened to me. He did it and got the part he tried out for; I’m still not even sure which. It’s a small one with just a couple lines, something just big enough to say he did it, that he was there, and just big enough to require a costumes. A kilt preferably, my almost man-child informed me over a month ago. Low and behold this week it was time to make the aforementioned kilt. Past time, really, since dress rehearsal/tech week had snuck up on us. It wasn’t just a case of my normal procrastinating ways that pushed the kilt making to the very last minute, this spring has been remarkably busy with multiple graduations in our family (mine, this kid’s, and my daughter’s 8th grade) and my return to working full time mixed in with the usual end of school year chaos and spring activities.

Naturally my first course of action was to Google “How to make a kilt”. As it turns out kilt making is a very specific age-old art. I did not have the time (or the funds for nine yards of plaid) to make an authentic kilt. And thus the Quick & Dirty kilt was hatched.

My Google research lead me to a wikiHow site which had comprehensive instructions on measuring, calculating yardage, and making proper pleats that I skimmed over and proceeded to follow only loosely. For example, instead of measuring my son’s waist and hips and calculating the pleat width to determine how much fabric I’d need to buy I went off my sons pants waist size, asked to see what two yards of the potential kilt fabric looked like and deemed that Good Enough. In retrospect two and a half yards would have been closer to ideal.

In keeping with the theme of in-authenticity I selected a lime green and navy purple-ish shirting flannel. It’s soft but not baby blanket soft. The main criteria was color (not traditional green or dark blue) and price. I didn’t want to break the bank on a one-time quick costume.

The fabric was about the right length straight off the bolt which made my life easier. I kept it folded over at the top (which became the waist) to give it a little more heft and thickness. After cutting a five inch strip off one end of the fabric I set to work making pleats. The instructions recommended a 16-20 inch flat front panel followed by pleats and some excess fabric to wrap under the front.

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I started with 17 inches for the flat front (but ended up pulling one more pleat over) and pinched about an inch of fabric to bring towards the front in a pleat. I think making the plaid look right on the pleats is more important than having a specific measurement for each pleat. For this particular plaid the pleats ended up covering the navy lines in the plaid.

Once the pleats are all folded and securely pinned ironing is a must. Spray starch would have been helpful here too but, alas, I didn’t have any on hand.

With the pleats all pressed in place I straight stitched across the top of the pleats and then down each one ending with a short diagonal that covered the width of each pleat. My original plan was to sew a line across the top parallel to the waist and then another about six inches down and call it good but after running the top line I didn’t think that was going to secure each pleat well enough. I was going for quick & dirty here not super crappy and likely to fall apart.

Now that all the pleats were all sewn down and in place it was time for the waist band. Remember the five inch wide strip I cut from the end of the fabric way back at the beginning? That was to become the waist band.

Basically I laid it out on the emergent kilt to match it’s width and make sure the plaids weren’t totally off before trimming it up to get semi straight lines. Then I employed the fold-press fold-press waist band construction method. What, you haven’t heard of that? Yeah, probably because I just made it up. It’s exactly as it sounds: Fold the band in half (wrong sides together) and press it good and hard. Then fold whatever seam allowance you’re going to use up on one long edge and press that. Repeat with the other long edge and tuck the raw ends of the short edges under. Press those too while you’re at it. And, voila!, a waist band.

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To attach the waistband pin it right side down along the top edge of the skirt part. Sew that down then flip it over, press everything flat, and fold the band over the other side of the top edge of the skirt part. This is wear all that pressing pays off. It should lay nicely with the midline press of the band at top and the pressed under edge over the part you just sewed. Pin it all down, press it (for good measure) and run your stitch across it.

Now all that’s left is the finishing touches. After making a button hole on the edge of the waist band and attaching a couple buckles I had my son try it on to see where the closures needed to be. It turns out the bottom edge of this kilt is a little sparse but he’s planning to wear shorts under. Again, we’re not aiming for authenticity here. Between that and a bit of velcro I think we’ll avoid unintentional flashings.

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kilt finished back

Check out those pleats!

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The Quick & Dirty kilt.

From start to finish this took about two hours to make. As you can see I did not hem the bottom edge. If it’s getting out of control I’ll go back and do that later…or maybe I’ll take the pinking shears to it. We’ll see.

kilt on side 1

It even matches his socks.

kilt on side 2

Apparently the flat front could be more narrow but overall not too shabby!

kilt on back