Kiltmaking industry at risk as skills "die off"


Handmade kilts may soon be a thing of the past

By Cara Sulieman

THE FUTURE of Scotland’s national dress is under threat as the number of authentic kiltmakers has dramatically dropped.

Only 10 “proper” kiltmakers remain in the country, with few apprentices training to learn the craft.

Industry experts worry that the art will die out completely, leaving the cheap mass production companies as the only suppliers of the dress.

The crisis comes as kilts and tartan are experiencing a boom in popularity thanks to celebrity backing from the likes of Alan Cumming, P Diddy and Madonna.

The fear is that the lack of interest in learning the trade will lead to the Scottish garment being made overseas.

Stuart Reid, 38, owner of Clan Kilts in Stirling and Falkirk said: “The art of traditional kiltmaking could be lost for ever.

“Traditional kiltmaking cannot be learned from a manual or the internet.

“It is learned by watching your teacher and seeing it hands-on.

“The loss of this skill would be to the severe detriment of our business and force us to re-evaluate how we supply our customers with a top-quality Scottish garment.

“The kilt is our national dress and as such should be worn with pride. We must ensure this continues.

“Should we lose this skill we run the risk of our national dress becoming like so many other clothing lines that once were made in the UK and are now made overseas.”

The Scottish Tartan Authority estimate that there are perhaps as few as 10 authentic kiltmakers in Scotland, down from 100 just 20 years ago.

Ian Chisholm, founding member of the Kilt Makers’ Association of Scotland, said the average age of kiltmakers is around 50.

He said: “Kilts machine-stitched to a pattern or size are a sad reflection on Highland dress and take away from the reputation of Scotland abroad.

“The majority of people want to buy a kilt to last for years, like their father or grandfather had.

“It will be a challenge to meet the demand in the future if we don’t address this soon.”

One of the few young apprentices, Alan Beith, 27, works with Chisholm’s Highland Dress in Inverness.

He recognises that he is an exception, and is also worried about the industry he has chosen to make his career in.

He said: “Kiltmaking is a dying art. Not many shops are willing to train you up because they train you and then you set up your own shop.

“Interest in tartan is increasing and is far more popular than it has been.

“But kiltmakers are a dying breed.”

The dedication to the art by the old-style craftsmen can be seen in 71-year-old Margot Brodie who makes all the kilts for Alex Scott & Co in Aberdeen.

After leaving school at 15, she did a four-year apprenticeship in the city and has made kilts ever since.

She said: “It’s a dying trade. People are not interested now.

“They want big money, and you don’t get that making kilts. They prefer offices and IT and computer.”

But Margot has no plans to quit her life-long trade just yet.

She said: “I’m going to work as long as I’m able.”


  1. As the owner of a business in Inveraray which makes handcrafted bespoke kilts in Scotland, I am curious about the 10 kiltmakers who are left in this country. My perception is that there are more but that they find it difficult to survive when some shops (not us) offer them as little as £65 per kilt for 2/3 days work – which then is sold at over £400.
    As I remember, there are several providers of SQA certificated training for kiltmakers not just one.
    I fully accept that the average age of a kiltmaker is probably 50 but it has to said that kiltmaking is a middle to late career choice for many and requires a level of patience and attention to detail that more often comes from experience in other areas of employment. SQA has developed a kiltmaking qualification which could be used for apprentices but, for as long as the market is flooded by cheap imports, it takes guts and a willingness to deal with a lower profit margin to continue to offer quality handcrafted kilts and to invest in training.

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