Kilted to Kick Cancer: The DIY Edition

One of the biggest challenges for me in participating in Kilted to Kick Cancer was, well, coming up with a kilt to wear in the first place. While campaign sponsors Alt.Kilt offered discounts for KTKC participants and even offered a $100 gift certificate as part of the prize package for the top fundraisers, I simply wasn't willing to shell out a few hundred bucks for a kilt that was no longer going to fit by the end of September.

Case in point: in the two week interval between getting measured and buying material for one of my DIY kilts, my waist measurement decreased by two inches. It's even smaller now.

So, in between staring avariciously at the Steampunk-inspired kilts in the Alt.Kilt online catalog, and vowing that when I reach my weight-loss goal that I'm going to treat myself to one, I surfed the Intarwebz for patterns for DIY kilts. If I was going to go kilted for an entire month, I'd need not just one kilt, but half a dozen.

The one I settled on was this DIY cargo kilt from Instructables.com.

The author lays out, in easy-to-follow instructions, the steps necessary to making a Utilikilt-style cargo kilt. Since the fabric I bought was 60 inches in width, we had enough to make two kilts from each cut of fabric – one for me, and one for Husband In Law –  with material for the pockets and belt loops to spare. Counting snaps for closure and decoration, the cost in materials to make two kilts was roughly $60.

I went with 100% cotton canvas in OD green and black for the first two kilts, and the material was $10/yard for 4.5 yards of fabric. Snaps cost around $15, and we wound up not even using half the ones we planned on.

 

The author of the Instructable, UglyMike, modeling his DIY cargo kilt.

As you can see, the kilt pattern makes use of the extra snap closures for decoration on the front apron, and for securing the cargo pockets (which are removable, by the way). I opted to not include those features for a couple of reasons: 1) as I continued to lose weight, I'd be cinching the kilt tighter, and those snaps on the front apron would have eventually been off-center, and 2) as we were making the kilts, the Boy Spawn expressed his desire for a kilt like his Daddy's, so we sacrificed the pocket material to make a matching kid's kilt.

As you can see, it turned out pretty well.

Once we figured out our system, it took us about four hours to make a complete kilt. The kid's kilt took about an hour to make. However, the kilts as designed were a little bit plain for my taste, so we looked for ways to embellish them a bit, plus devise a functional means of tightening the waistband as I continued to lose weight. I had in mind to sew leather closure straps to the kilt, but luckily my girlfriend, who used to own a tack shop, came up with the perfect solution: spur straps.

 

I bought a pair of plain, latigo leather spur straps from the local Tractor Supply Co. for $5.99, and hand-sewed them directly to the waistband of my first kilt. It turned out pretty well, although the quality of stitching is nothing as good as you'd expect from a skilled leather craftsman.

 

You can also see the western-style, cartridge head snap closures I chose, too.

Husband In Law, after watching me struggle, sweat and curse for a solid three hours trying to force a heavy needle through a piece of thick leather and a double layer of cotton canvas, hit upon an easier, and far more elegant solution: he added brass eyelets to his kilt, and attached the spur straps through them via a pair of silver belt conchos (Hobby Lobby, $4.99 each). This also allows him to remove the leather straps for washing the kilt, and allows him to transfer the closures from kilt to kilt with ease.

As you can see, HIL choose a more ornate, hand-tooled spur strap in natural finish.

Closeup of the eyelet arrangement, with the spur strap removed.

The strap on the right hip is functional, allowing you to cinch the waistband tighter. The strap on the left hip can be tightened a notch or two without noticeably creasing the fabric, but is mainly decorative. It can be made as a functional adjustment, however, by the simple expedient of attaching the strap side of the arrangement to the inner apron, and making a buttonhole in the waistband to feed the strap through. One then attaches the buckle side on the outer waistband in the appropriate position, allowing you to tighten both sides of the kilt.

You can either use this arrangement as the primary closure of your kilt, or as a supplement to the snaps. We also added some D rings for additional functionality. In the first two kilts, we added them on the front two belt loops, but in our black kilts, we simply added a loop of fabric as a D ring hanger when we sewed the finished waistband to the rest of the kilt. You can hang whatever you like from them – keys, sporran, whatever.

I also added a horizontal loop on the right hip of my kilts to keep the belt clip of my Don Hume IWB holster from sliding around. It works perfectly.

One accessory that adds decoration and functionality to your kilt, especially for those of us who are paranoid about having a Marilyn Monroe moment and exposing our junk for all the world to see, is a kilt pin. Most of these are removable pins, often shaped like a sword or an enormous safety pain, that affix to the right front corner of your front apron, providing additional weight. We used the same eyelet – belt concho arrangement to do the same thing.

 

So, the final cost of making a cargo kilt:
 

  • Fabric: $10/yard x 4.5 yards = $45 (obviously, if you're skinnier, you'd need less fabric, and this is enough to make two full kilts with pockets)
  • Spur straps: Average $10/pair, depending on how fancy you want them. Remember, one pair can be moved from kilt to kilt.
  • Snaps and eyelets: $10 (and you'll have some left over for future projects)
  • Belt conchos: $5 each x 5 conchos = $25
  • Total cost: $90, or roughly $45 per kilt.

 

You can see how the transferrable straps and conchos dressed up my $29.95 Thrifty Kilt from Stillwater Kilts:

A final few observations on making your own kilt:

  • When you make the waistband, use the stiffest interfacing or fabric stabilizer you can find. The stiffer the waistband, the less likely it is to roll over.
  • Wash your fabric before you sew it. Experienced seamstresses know this. I didn't.
  • You need a big workspace, because you're working with a lot of fabric. A long folding table or countertop is best.
  • If you're a fat hefty husky portly large big-boned whole lotta man, an additional row of snap closures on the waistband, centered over your front apron, will come in handy. Also, if you're losing weight, you can add additional rows of the female side of the snaps to your inner apron, allowing you more room to adjust as you lose weight.
  • If you're going to DIY, do not start with tartan or any type of fabric pattern, unless you know a very experienced seamstress. Matching the sett on a tartan is painstaking, time-consuming business.
  • Invest in a seam gauge if you don't have one. They only cost a few bucks, and they make pleating go much faster.
  • The pleats we used are knife pleats, and they are very simple to make, but they do not drape as well, particularly with stiffer fabric like canvas. I have found that I like the look of box pleats much better. If you want a decent tutorial on making box pleats, check out this YouTube video.

The only thing I haven't addressed is concealed carry of a firearm while wearing a kilt, which we'll cover in a future post on concealed carry options, and a review of a concealed carry sporran.

Stay tuned…

Edited to add: I should credit The Ex for the labor that went into making the kilts. All I did was help mark and cut material, and fold the pleats. She's taking orders, too, but only for a few select friends. It's not many ex wives who will devote hours to helping you fashion garments for a charitable cause, but I'm lucky to have a good one.