Knife Pleated Kilts
Knife pleating (or side pleating) is the most commonly used pleating style for kilts today -- so much so that most Highland Dress enthusiasts are barely aware that other pleating styles are possible. While the typical modern day knife pleated kilt is made with an average of eight yards of cloth, I offer mine made from a more comfortable five or six yards.
While the original form of the tailored kilt was box pleated, pleating styles did not remain static during the nineteenth century. Very often it was the military that set the trend in Highland fashion. For example, while civilian kilts were at first pleated to no pattern at all, regimental kilts were originally pleated to stripe. Within a decade or two, civilian fashion soon followed suit and pleating to stripe became the norm for non-military kilts, as well.
Much the same can be said of the knife pleated kilt. Box pleating was the norm during much of the nineteenth century. Knife pleating would become much more common after it was adopted by the military. The first regiment to make the switch to knife pleated kilts was the Gordon Highlanders, in 1853. It took a while to catch on. Bob Martin writes that, "acceptance was so slow that in 1880 it was still being considered an 'incorrect' form of pleating" (All About Your Kilt, pg. 18).
Though it may have taken some time to catch on, it has been recognized now for well over 100 years as the normal way a kilt is made. Though eight yards of cloth is the nominal norm for kilts today, this was not always the case. The original tailored kilt (box pleated) had only four. In the early 1840s, kilts were often made using closer to five yards. In 1870 five yards were prescribed for the regimental kilts in the Seaforth Highlanders' Order of Dress. Even in the early twentieth century, most military kilts were made with only six or seven yards of material.
Today, we are seeing somewhat of a resurgence of the kilt as normal clothing. And many people interested in wearing the kilt as a practical garment see no need for a full eight yards. Many Highland Dress suppliers now offer an alternative, often called a "casual kilt" or some variation of the name -- these are typically made from four or five yards of cloth and are generally machine stitched. Often, too, they are offered in lighter weight cloth, in an attempt to keep the kilt as low cost and light weight as possible.
While I see no need to use eight yards in a kilt, there is nothing "casual" about the knife pleated kilts I make. (The hallmark of a well made kilt is that it is neither formal nor casual in itself, but will easily serve both purposes if accessorized appropriately).
I make my knife pleated kilts from either five or six yards of material, depending on your preference. A five yard kilt is lighter weight, while a six yard kilt will yield more narrow pleats and come closer to the look of a modern eight yard kilt (most people will never know the difference).
As the standard practice in the nineteenth century for both civilian and military kilts was to pleat to stripe, this is how I will pleat my kilts most of the time. If you desire an alternate pleating style, please let me know. The width of your pleats will depend upon the size of the repeat of your tartan, as well as how much material you want in your kilt.
Scottish Tartans Authority