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Sunday, May 07, 2006

A novel way of fastening the kilt

My wife and I attended the first annual East Tennessee Scottish Heritage & Music Festival this weekend, in Knoxville, TN. We had a great time. The weather was perfect, the facillities were great, and there was lots of good music. Bands in attendance included the Glengarry Bhoys, Rathkeltair, Searson, Smithfield Fair, and the BorderCollies (who will be playing at The Taste of Scotland in Franklin, NC on June 16 & 17). I have to confess that I didn't have much time to hear the bands, as I was busy giving two lectures on tartan and the kilt, and answering questions for people at the Scottish Tartans Museum tent.

I did see an old familiar face while there -- Larry Long (pictured here at right) of the Clan Maxwell Society. Larry is an expert in historic Highland clothing and textiles. It is always interesting talking to him, and I always learn something new. This time was no exception! Larry was wearing a lovely jacket of Harris Tweed, a hand knit broad bonnet, a leather sporran that he allowed me to droll over for a minute, Kinguisse pleated kilt in the Nithsdale tartan (Larry has written an article on tartans for the Clan Maxwell Society, Harris Tweed cadadh (hose), and buckle shoes.

I know for a fact that Larry made his own kilt and sporran -- I suspect he more than likely made everything else he was wearing (with the possible exception of the shoes and sunglasses!). Larry is truly a man of many talents.

What he wanted to show me, and what I really got a kick out of, was the way his kilt was fastened. It used a single long leather strap for a closure, and no buckle. As the below pictures illustrate, there is a leather band (about 1.5" wide I would estimate) attached to the inside apron at the waist. The strap passes through a hole in the left side of the kilt (just as in most standard kilts today), only instead of attaching to a buckle, this long strap runs around the back (through three small belt loops in this case) to tie to another leather strap on the outer apron. The two straps tied together in something that Larry called a "dwang" knot.

I have never, in a decade of studying the history of kilts, encountered anything quite like this! I asked Larry about the historic provenance of this method of closure. He told me that someone in the Clan Maxwell Society had asked an old regimental kilt maker to make him a Maxwell kilt. When the kilt arrived, the kilt maker had used this form of closure. Larry said he believed this had happened sometime in the 1920s. He has never seen the kilt, but fashioned this one from the description. I'd sure love to see that original kilt, and if anyone knows about it, or any other kilt that uses this method, I'd like to know about it!

It works just fine, of course, though it does use a lot more leather than a typical closure method. Larry says it really helps in creating a snug fit across the back of the kilt. I'm tempted to give it a try myself. I've seen kilts closed with belts, pins, ribbons, buttons and buckles, but this is a first.

My father always told me that you should learn something new every day -- this certainly fit the bill!

Thanks, Larry!

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