I have been learning to make kilts. Mostly hand sewn traditional kilts. It is a long process doing this all by hand. Somewhere around 40 to 50 hours of work for one kilt for the inexperienced kilt maker. An experienced kilt maker could do it in 30 hours.
I have found the hardest part is sewing the pleats. You have two difficulties to overcome. The hardest for me has been keeping the width of the pleat constant and true to the desired measurement. The pleats taper from the hip to the waist. If you are off just a little on each pleat you could be off inches in the final measurement. The second is keeping the horizontal stripes aligned so you have a straight line after sewing each pleat. Otherwise you have a horizontal stripe that looks like a stair step.
Below you will find pictures of the various steps involved.
Start with a lot of material. Depending on the sett size, person's measurements, and pleat style you could have 4 to 8 yards of material wound up in one kilt.
This one is 16 oz wool that is made for a kilt. Material comes in double width so if you need 8 yards in a kilt you can buy 4 yards, cut it half and join the two sides for 8 yards. This works if the tartan is symmetrical. This tartan is Wallace Hunting. This is the tartan you see on the Scotch Tape packages. For this kilt I only needed 4 yards as it was a box pleat design which takes less material. In the picture above I had 3 yards so I had to join both sides to get my 4 yards. I should have ordered 4 yards then I could have made two kilts.
Before you even go to this point you would have determined how you wanted to pleat this kilt. Type of pleat: knife, kingussie, reverse kingussie, box, double box, or military box. There may be more options but those are the ones I am familiar with. Are the pleats to be pleated to a stripe (one of the vertical color lines), if so which one, to the sett (so it looks just like the material laid out not pleated). Once you have that and the measurements you can layout the kilt. In the picture above I have marked the front apron. In the next picture I have marked one of the pleats. This is a box pleat so they are wider than if I was doing a knife pleat. I have a hard time keeping the width correct so I have started to mark the edge of the pleat with a chalk line and pin it multiple places. The pleats are sewn down from the "fell" line to the top of the kilt. Note the taper to the waist. The waist line is 2" down from the top of the kilt. The taper stops at this point and the pleat width is then straight to the top of the kilt.
Now it is time to sew the pleats. This take the most time. Starting out it took me an hour for each pleat. If you have 25 pleats and it takes an hour that is 25 hours just for pleats. Even longer if you sew one (or more) in and they are wrong. Then you have to remove the stitches and do the bad ones over. You are sewing from the top of the kilt to the "fell" line (middle of the butt). For me that is 7-1/2".
Pleats are all sewn down at the top. Now it is time to get the bottom part of the pleats in place. They are not sew. Wool can be shaped with steam and pressure. So we will press the pleats in place. That will leave a nice crease along the edge of each pleat. To make sure they are in the correct position the pleats are "basted" down. I put in 3 or 4 rows of basting. Here there is one row at the bottom and I have started on the one just below the fell line. You can see the white thread. At least two more rows will be added.
Next I will work on the internal construction of the kilt. Wool will stretch so I can not just have the wool holding the buckles. The kilt would quickly be stretched out of shape at the top. So a stabilizer is added between the two points where the buckles are attached. This is just a length of cotton that won't stretch. I decided to put a little surprise in the kilt should anyone ever take it apart. Used this Star Trek material. You won't see this once the kilt is complete. It will be covered by the interfacing and lining.
I must not have taken any pictures of the remaining internal construction of that box pleat kilt. So I am showing a different knife pleat kilt. This one was pleated to the sett. In a knife pleat kilt the inside of the pleats above the fell line are cut out. It is just unnecessary bulk that can be removed. Not an issue in a box pleat as there is not that much material. The cut out pleats are covered with a stabilizer. Historically, this would have been horse hair canvas. This is a synthetic canvas used here. This stiffens the top of the pleat. The interfacing is installed in all traditional kilts regardless of the pleat style.
Here is a picture of me cutting out the pleats. Up until this point I could have removed all of the stitching of the kilt and started over making changes to all that I have done. Once I cut the material out I am committed to my design. This is the area of the pleats that are sewn down. So the inside of the pleat is just a closed loop that has no purpose. So we cut this excess material out. This area will be covered by the interfacing.
Other work that has to be done is adding the waist band and finishing the apron and under apron edges. I add a fringe edge to the apron. The edge of the apron is curved and when folding back the edge we try to keep the stripes aligned. This causes the material to pucker. Being wool this will shrink and flatten out when pressed. The stitching helps hold it flat during this process. All the white basting will be removed when we are done. In the next picture the waist band has been added. The stripes in the waist band must align with the strips on the front apron. Unfortunately they will not align for the remainder of the kilt. They will be off even when the kilt is pleated to the sett.
The last step is to add the lining. This covers the interfacing. At some point the buckles and straps are added. I use an inside strap and buckle on the underapron. Most kilts are made with all buckles on the outside of the kilt . This requires a button hole for the under apron strap. I also only use two buckles. Many kilts are made with a third buckle that is really not required. Maybe it is for a dancer's kilt but for the rest of us it is not. I don't think the third buckle was on traditional kilts. That was more of a modern addition.
Completed box pleat kilt
Completed IPA (International Police Association) tartan kilt. The QA inspector is looking it over. I guess it passed as she is taking a nap after all the hard inspection work.