Although I am a kilt maker, not a cloth merchant, I am more than happy to bring the weaving skills of one of Scotland's finest artisan weavers to my clientelle. This is the same cloth used in my heirloom kilt line.
The Dalgliesh mill has been specilizing in tartan weaving since 1947. They still produce their tartan on old flying shuttle looms, some of which are nearly 100 years old. Their cloth is known throughout the world as some of the best and most prized cloth for kilt making. Scottish clan chiefs from the Duke of Argyle to MacGregor of MacGregor have cloth for their kilts woven by D. C. Dalgliesh.
Their tartan not only has a superior look and feel, but the traditional shuttle looms used to weave the cloth allow it to be woven with a true closed selvage, essential for kilt making.
The word selvage (or selvedge) comes from "self-edge" and referrs to the practive of weaving cloth with a closed, finished edge. These old flying shuttle looms pass each weft (sideways) thread backward and forward, never being cut. This gives an edge to the cloth which is completely finished, with no need of a hem to keep the yarns from unraveling. This is why kilts have traditionally been made to the edge of the cloth, with no hem at the bottom.
Click on the image below for a close-up view of the traditional selvage woven by D. C. Dalgliesh.
Peter MacDonald, foremost expert in early Scottish textiles, especially eighteenth and nineteenth century tartan weaving, says, "I've worked with D. C. Dalgliesh for over 30 years during which time we have recreated examples of many original tartans from the 18th and early 19th centuries in shades matched to the originals. No other manufacturer has the interest or ability to weave such small custom runs and the finished product is second to none. I rarely work with anyone else and wholeheartedly support and recommend Dalgliesh as the supply of first choice."
In addition to being able to craft your heirloom kilt from any tartan, in any color scheme, with a traditional kilting selvage, we can also have the tartan for your heirloom kilt finished in one of three ways.
Once the cloth is removed from the loom, the general practice is to send the cloth out to the "finishers." These are people who wash and condition the newly woven fabric. This not only cleans it, but also slightly softens the wool, making it a true pleasure to wear. After it is washed, the tartan is straightend, dried, and finally pressed before it is packaged and delivered into your hands in perfect condition.
In addition to this standard finishing technique, I am happy to offer two other options for your tartan cloth. As your cloth is being woven just for you, I can request the tartan be given special treatment. One option popular with reenactors and others interested in more historic cloth is to simply have it delivered unfinished. This unfinished tartan is somewhat stiffer and more "crisp" than what is normally used in kilts today. Though definitely rougher than normal kilt cloth, this is the closest thing available today to the historic "hard tartan" that was produced in the nineteenth century by mills such as Wilsons of Bannockburn.
In Tartan: The Highland Textile (1990), James D. Scarlett writes of the modernization of the tartan weaving industry. "[T]he old, thin, hard tartans, so unkind to the soft skin at the back of town-bred knees, were supplanted by soft and hairy ones which were also thick and heavy."
If you are one of those who prefer a "soft and hairy" tartan, that preference can also be accomodated. A final option for the finishing of your tartan is to have it teasle raised. The teasle is a native Scottish plant, the prickly heads of which are perfectly suited to brushing the woolen cloth to give it a softer, raised finish. The little spines of the teasle have a slightly lower tensile strength than woolen fibres, meaning while the teasles will brush and raise the wool, they will not damage the cloth. The teasle spines will break before the wool does. (See the images at left for examples of teasles before and after they have been used to brush finish the cloth).
Tartan finished with teasle raising will be softer and "fuzzier," resembling more the heavy weight saxony of a generation ago, or the regimental weight cloth of today.
Regardless of which options you select, your custom woven tartan cloth will be a reminder of your heritage, of old-world Scottish tradition, something to be made into a family heirloom that your children and grandchildren will treasure for generations.
Scottish Tartans Authority