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  Great Kilt

In George Buchanan's History of Scotland (1581) it is suggested 'They delight in variegated garments, especially stripes, and their favourite colours are purple and blue. Their ancestors wore plaids of many colours, and numbers still retain this custom but the majority now in their dress prefer a dark brown, imitating nearly the leaves of the heather, that when lying upon the heath in the day, they may not be discovered by the appearance of their clothes; in these wrapped rather than covered, they brave the severest storms in the open air, and sometimes lay themselves down to sleep even in the midst of snow'. (Translation by James Aikman 1827).


So it seems the ordinary Scots did not always employ the colourful stripes and checks that later gave rise to stylised Tartan. This would have been an expensive form of dress and would have been used mainly by high born and military people.

The Breacan an Fhéilidh or Féileadh Mor (Great Kilt, above, pron. Philamore) was originally a length of thick woollen cloth made up from two loom widths sewn together to give a total width of around 4.5 feet, up to 16 feet in length (depending on loom capacity).

The great kilt, also known as the belted plaid, was an untailored draped garment made of the cloth gathered up into pleats by hand and secured by a wide belt. The upper half could be worn as a cloak draped over the left shoulder, hung down over the belt and gathered up at the front, or brought up over the shoulders or head for protection against weather. It was worn over a lČine (a full sleeved garment gathered along the arm length and stopping below the waist) and could also serve as a camping blanket.

A description from 1746 states: 'The garb is certainly very loose, and fits men inured to it to go through great fatigues, to make very quick marches, to bear out against the inclemency of the weather, to wade through rivers, and shelter in huts, woods, and rocks upon occasion; which men dressed in the low country garb could not possibly endure'.