Caring For Kilts
A good quality hand-sewn heavyweight wool kilt is designed to last for years and with proper care can easily be passed down from generation to generation.
Spun wool that has been weaved creates a very robust fabric that is very durable and can easily stand up to the abuse seen in combat. Military units have been wearing kilts as part of their uniforms in Scotland since 1624. The Scottish kilt saw combat in the Boar War as well as both the First and Second World War.
Your kilt can last almost indefinitely as long as the tartan cloth itself is not harmed. A kilt will take an incredible amount of abuse. We participate in Highland Games and fight wars in them, remember?
The kilts’ enemies are; insects, tears and burns, chemical damage, and rot. Let’s take a look at each of these threats individually:
Your kilt is made from all natural fabrics. Mildew will occur if you don’t allow it to thoroughly dry out before putting it away.
After having worn your kilt for however long, lay it out overnight with the lining facing up. This will allow the sweat and whatever else to evaporate from the lining. I suggest laying the kilt with the lining facing up across the outstretched top of the drying rack shown in the Cleaning a Kilt video.
Perspiration should be allowed to dry, and the kilt aired out before storing. Don’t EVER put it away until it is thoroughly dry. Wool is naturally antimicrobial, so constant cleaning is not required to keep perspiration odors out of your kilt. Simply air it out and allow it to completely dry before hanging it up for storage.
TEARS & BURNS
Be very careful with your kilt to make sure that you do not accidentally cut the fibers of the kilt material. This damage is not repairable.
If you smoke, be extremely careful of smoking in your kilt. A very small ember blown in the wind can cause tremendous damage to your kilt in a matter of seconds. Remember wool, like any hair, is very flammable.
As noted in my discussion on kilt pins, use of a kilt pin will cause unrepairable damage to the kilt. My advice is to never use a kilt pin.
Only dry-clean your kilt as an absolute last resort! Each time a kilt is immersed in the volatile dry-cleaning solvents, a little bit more of the wool’s natural oils are lost. These natural oils are what protect the wool fibers and make the kilt so durable.
If you MUST take your kilt to a dry-cleaner, find a shop that does the work on the premises and then ask to speak to the person who will be working on your kilt. You want them to clean it but NOT PRESS IT. There isn’t a cleaner in North America whom I would trust to correctly press a kilt. If you can not speak to the person who will actually be doing the work on your kilt, leave and find somewhere else.
Kilts do not require dry cleaning. It is a waste of money and causes undue harm to the fabric. It is much cheaper and safer for your kilt to clean your kilt at home. Cleaning a kilt properly is a very easy process, but it is time-consuming. Take your time with it, and your kilt will long outlast your lifetime. In many cases, cleaning the entire kilt is not necessary and you can get by with only a spot cleaning to get a small stain out.
One of the worst feelings in the world that you could ever experience is when you take your kilt out of the closet and as you start to put it on you see holes all over it where moths have eaten the fabric away.
The wool-moth has the usual 4-stage life cycle: Egg, larvae, pupa and adult. The larvae is what does all the damage.
Make a habit of periodically examining your kilt for eggs, larvae and pupa. The adult female can only lay her eggs where she can crawl to and the other three stages don’t move much more than an inch from where the egg was laid.
They are averse to light and so seek the dark spaces in your kilt. Go through each pleat and brush out ANY lint that you find. The egg will be hard to see, but the larvae and pupa will look like small elongated lint-balls, and will ‘squish’ when you squeeze them.
You can kill them by steam-pressing your kilt (more on that later) and I’m told that sunlight can mess them up as well – leaving your kilt out in the summer sun MIGHT do the trick. Mothballs and cedar shavings repel them. Newspaper worked in the old days, but the printers don’t use the same aromatic solvents today.
I advise against using mothballs as I have found them not to be as effective as cedar in protecting against moths, also mothballs are carcinogenic and are known to cause cancer, so just stay away from using them. Your kilt, as well as your families health will thank you.
HANGING YOUR KILT
Take care when hanging your kilt so that you do not accidentally cause the fabric to become damaged from the weight of the kilt pulling down on the fabric threads.
Remember a kilt is much heavier than a ladies skirt, so do not try to use a skit hanger for a kilt. Don't get cheap here, remember, your kilt is an expensive investment. Use a kilt hanger that is specifically designed to support the weight of the kilt evenly by distributing the weight of the kilt across four clamps that hold the folded kilt by the waistband. Simply fold the kilt in thirds overlapping the aprons as if you were wearing the kilt and use the four clamps to hold it evenly from the waistband.
There are two loops of cotton fabric or ribbon at the sides of the kilt, these are NOT designed to hang your kilt from and will not support the weight of the kilt for very long. These loops are a convenience for when you are using a public restroom so that you can hang the kilt on the stall door temporarily until you finish your business.
When storing your kilt, use a garment bag to protect the kilt from insects and dust. DO NOT USE PLASTIC BAGS for long-term storage. Garment bags will allow the kilt to breathe and keep moisture from becoming trapped in the fabric and leading to rot in high humidity areas like Hawaii.
Another trick that I found was creating individual cloth garment bags out of large white cotton pillowcases that I installed a grommet in the bottom of. It can then slide over the extra wide kilt hanger and completely cover the kilt while hanging. The hook of the hanger passes easily through the grommet at the top of the pillowcase just like a garment bag and it is just the right width for my kilts on their hangers.
KILT STRAP CARE
Over time the leather straps on your kilt will start to dry out, this makes them weaker and could allow them to become damaged. Kilt straps can be replaced for new ones, but this is an unnecessary step in most situations if we simply take care of them along the way to prevent them from becoming dried out.
If your leather straps start to feel dry, try using a rag to apply a little bit of mink oil on them to make them supple again.
This will add years to the life of the straps and save you from having to replace them for a long time.