Tuesday, 27 March 2012

ABC Wednesday – K is for Kilt

The kilt is a knee-length garment with pleats at the rear, originating in the traditional dress of men and boys in the Scottish Highlands of the 16th century. Since the 19th century it has become associ-ated with the wider culture of Scotland in general, or with Celtic (and more specifically Gaelic) heritage even more broadly. It is most often made of woollen cloth in a tartan pattern. Although the kilt is most often worn on formal occasions and at Highland games and sports events, it has also been adapted as an item of fashionable informal male clothing in recent years, returning to its roots as an everyday garment.

The kilt first appeared as the great kilt, the breacan or belted plaid, during the 16th century and is Highland Gaelic in origin, a full-length garment whose upper half could be worn as a cloak draped over the shoulder, or brought up over the head.

The philibeg or small kilt, also known as the walking kilt (similar to the modern kilt) did not develop until the late 17th or early 18th century, and is essentially the bottom half of the great kilt. It is said by some to have been invented by an English Quaker from Lancashire called Thomas Rawlinson sometime in the 1720s for the use of the Highlanders employed by Rawlinson and Ian MacDonnell, chief of the MacDonnells of Inverness, in logging, charcoal manufacture and iron smelting, for which the belted plaid was too "cumbrous and unwieldy".

One of the most-distinctive features of the authentic Scots kilt is the tartan pattern, the sett, it exhibits. This is a check type woven piece of cloth that has been Registered with the Scottish Tartans Authority in Crieff. Each tartan has a thread count and colours attached to the count. There are over 6000 tartans. The association of particular patterns with individual clans and families is a recent phenomenon and it was only in the Victorian era that the named tartans known today began to be systematically recorded and formalized, mostly by weaving companies for mercantile purposes. Up until this point, Highland tartans held regional associations rather than being identified with any particular clan.

By contrast, it seems that female curiosity as to what is worn beneath the kilt is not a modern phenomenon – this cartoon dates from 1815!

This is Kilt Rock on the Isle of Skye, one of the Inner Hebrides off the Western coast of Scotland. Located on the east coast of Skye’s Trotternish Peninsula, Kilt Rock is a 200 foot high sea cliff with a striking rock formation.

It is said to resemble a kilt, with vertical basalt columns forming the pleats and intruded sills of dol-erite forming the pattern.

This entirely natural phenomenon is similar to the basalt rocks on the Isle of Staffa near Iona.

The Mealt Waterfall , a spectacular 200 foot high waterfall plunges over the cliff edge down to the pebbled shore beneath with Kilt Rock in the background.

If you would like to see more examples of how the letter K has been handled by the Alphabet Wednesday crew please visit the ABC link site.


  1. Fabulous post for our K week! I'm sending this to my daughter as she wants to be piped in and out for her wedding next year! Hmmm, I wonder if her fiance would wear a kilt.

    abcw team

  2. Known tartans all my life, of course but didn't know the details. However I'd rather have a long peek at the Kilt Rock than under the kilt! Those cliffs are magnificent. I could spend a life-time in a place like that!

  3. So you may have enjoyed Kilt Rock but did you hear the fence sing?

  4. The kilt plaids are beautiful! Thanks for the history lesson. The Mealt Waterfall is breathtaking!

  5. Whoa, that waterfall is breath taking (and from a dizzying height!). I love kilts -they're so much more characteristic than the modern pants. I wouldn't mind if hubby would wear a kilt! But I don't know how the Scots think about foreigners wearing them...

  6. love waterfalls
    never had the legs for a kilt!
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  7. The falls is stunning.

    Korean Souvenir
    Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

  8. Thank you for another set of beautiful pictures and very interesting information! I always thought the clans and families had developed their own tartan patterns centuries ago, so I have learnt something new today.
    I love tartans, by the way.

  9. Very interesting to Know such history. I have always been facinated by the kilt and its history

    PhenoMenon, ABCW Team

    My post is on kite flying...


  10. The rock formations are amazing!
    Lots of kilts are to be seen at our family gathering. My brother is coming to pipe our Lillypad out of the church, but I think he'll just opt for a suit.

  11. Wonderfully informative. Not sure I ever saw a great kilt in such detail before. Seems it must take a while to get dressed for a formal occasion wearing all that! The waterfall pictures are beautiful.

  12. What a beautiful outfit in the first picture ! That's still real folklore, I also love the rough rocks !
    ABC Team

  13. Is it possible to be homesick for a place you've never been to? If so, I am homesick for Scotland! I've been to England (many times) and Ireland (fairly recently), but not yet Scotland and I have such a yearning to go there!

    What a great post - all I ever wanted to know about kilts! The photos of kilt rock and the waterfall are simply stunning!!

    Hope you are doing well! xo Silke

  14. I learned a lot from this post. It's good to know that even the 1800s women's curiosity were stirred by the kilt ^^


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