Borders firm revives the art of traditional kilt-making

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A unique ‘school’, set up in the Borders in December to preserve and pass on traditional kilt-making skills, has just produced its first batch of graduates.

And its reputation is such that the new intake of students for its introductory course includes someone who is prepared to travel more than 160 miles each week to get there.

Based at Mount Pleasant Farm near Duns, Border Kilt Craft is the business brainchild of Rachel Hammerton, whose passion for tartan and clan history inspired the enterprise, and Anne Campbell, a master kilt-maker who has made more than 1,000 of the garments, including the one worn by actor Greg Wise at his celebrity wedding to Emma Thompson in 2003.

Their venture offers a guarantee that students will be able to complete a kilt in just eight weeks.

Rachel, who has given talks on the history of Scottish kilts in Italy, the US and the Czech Republic, explained: “We are attracting a wide range of students including a lady who wants to make baby kilts from tartan rather than washable material, and another who is to travel from Stonehaven – a distance of 160 miles – each week, which shows great dedication.

“Our courses cover the history of kilt making and textile production, preparation of workspace, stitching, assembly and fitting, and we welcome anyone who wants to learn – you don’t even need to know how to thread a needle. 

“We’re very pleased with the results of our first course. The combination of one day of intense tuition followed by homework to complete each stage is proving a successful package we can now confidently roll out.”

With help from Business Gateway Scottish Borders, Rachel is now looking to build on the initial success of Border Kilt Craft.

“Business Gateway has been very helpful, and its courses have given me lots of ideas on what I need to do next.

“Now that our courses have successfully started, I want to develop a one-day tourist offering in our workshop and a mobile workshop that will allow us to take our expertise directly to customers such as production companies or historic groups.” 

As a spinner and weaver, Rachel is also currently producing the first ‘Mount Pleasant Tweed’ on the 200-year-old Armstrong Loom that she moved from her former home on Loch Lomond to the Borders two years ago.

“It is great to see so much interest in what would be classed a ‘dying art form’,” said Rachel.

“Yes, there are factories producing cheaper machine-made kilts, and there is a place for those as you don’t want to wear your grandfather’s historic kilt to a football match, but what we teach is how to make a kilt that will last for generations and become a family heirloom.”

For more information on Border Kilt Craft visit www.borderkiltcraft.net