The Tartan : If you are trying to recreate an 18th century fileadhbeag or the larger fileadhmuir and want it to look authentic purchase some non clan tartan in muted colours - Harris tweed makes some fantastic tartans which are very suitable for this project - you may get a shock at the price per mtr but please remember this is hand woven in Scotland and very high quality , it is well worth the money !
First step : For the fileadhbeag you will need 3.5 - 4 mtrs in length so lay it out and see what it looks like , my first one was made out of some left over tartan ( not Harris Tweed ) and it was too short ! , no problem as if you are careful you can match the setts and sew them together to achieve the required length , pictured below is a photo showing the tartan pinned together ready for sewing , if the join is between sets it will not be seen as it will be inside the pleat.
After you have the total length you then need to figure out the width, it will be different depending on your leg length. But remember the fileadhbeag & the fileadhmuir were worn a lot shorter than the modern Victorian kilts that are popular today, some detailed accounts mention them being worn at mid thigh !. Find your natural waist then run a tape measure down to were you want it to stop . For me it was about 40cm add another 5cm for the turn down . Next you need to measure the length of the apron , this section does not require any belt loops and I made mine at 55cm . You need to make this at both ends , you can make it slightly longer or shorter to suit the sett if required. The first one I made used 12 tape loops but my Harris tweed one uses 14 loops . Pictured below is the 12 loops sewn in place .
To figure where the loops need to go take a look at the tartan sett and decide how deep you want the pleats ( they do look better deeper ) then place pins about 5cm down from the top and cut your loops. try placing the belt loops on every 2nd sett to see what it looks like ,Even though the loops will never be seen they do look better made out of the same tartan, you can fold them over double and sew them to make them stronger if need. They could also be made out of linen tape , leather etc. Pictured below is a photo of me working on my first Harris Tweed fileadhbeag with matching belt loops. The loops I made were about 3cm wide x 10cm long this will allow a wider belt to be used if needed, although the belt I have used was just some linen tape or woven cord which I found very comfortable.
Take your time and hand sew every belt loop on well , they need to be strong as this is what will hold the pleat shape in place once gathered with the drawstring. The picture below shows my red check fileadhbeag with a woven tape for the drawstring in place. Once all the belt loops are sewn on and the belt , cord is threaded through the loops you will get an idea of what the pleats look like , of course you can always do a test with the loops help in place with pins top and bottom to see what it will look like once finished.
The above picture shows the over apron rolled up and the under laid out flat , someone else was using the table !. Now is time for a test fitting , take off the horrible trousers and throw them away as you will not be needing them anymore ! Hold the pleated section together and put it around your waist at the back, then do a bow at the front with your belt or cord. The two apron ends will be hanging down so just take the right under apron and fold it over to the left side and then take the left over apron and fold it over to your right side. Have your kilt belt nearby and put it on with the buckle at the front. The top will now fold down covering the belt.
You can easily adjust the pleats whilst wearing it , by checking your rear end in a full length mirror or your lassie may offer you a helping hand to adjust the pleats. Once you have worn it a few times it is very simple to put on and if folded carefully will lay over a regular trouser coat hanger ready for the next time you want to wear it. The pleats should look natural as pictured below and there is no need to iron it nor sew the pleats down at all.
The turn over at the top will be hidden by your waistcoat and should look like an authentic 18th century fileadhbeag. You can easily employ the same method to the fileadhmuir and you will no longer have to lay your plaid out on the ground and pleat it each time. While this has been the common method , I personally do not believe everybody rolled around in the wet, boggy ground pleating their plaid every time they wore it . The drawstring method makes a lot of sense and recently there has been research that shows a drawstring was sometimes employed in hold the pleats together .
For further reading and a more in depth historical study of the drawstring method check out the great 2004 article by Matthew Newsome Did the early belted plaid have a draw string ! I hope this detailed post has been informative and should offer enough info for you to try making your own drawstring plaid .
Best of luck
Don Speden - Jacobite in Japan