Great Kilt History & Info
The Great Kilt is also known as the "breacan an fheilidh" or "feile mor". The first known reference to this mode of dress was made in 1594 in The Life of Red Hugh O’Donnell in a description of a corps of Hebrideans who had come to The O’Donnell’s assistance: “They were recognised among the Irish soldiers by the distinction of their arms and clothing, their habits and language, for their exterior dress was mottled cloaks of many colours with a fringe to their shins and calves, their belts were over their loins outside their cloaks."
The Great Kilt was made from wool, often grown on one's own sheep. It could take a year for someone to shear and spin enough wool to make one kilt. The yarn would then be taken to the local weaver to weave into cloth. Looms of the time wove a piece of cloth 27" wide and up to 30" wide. And, like today, cloth is easiest to handle if it doesn't get to be too much of it. Today when you by cloth it comes on a bolt. The thinner the cloth, the more that is on the bolt; the thicker the cloth, the less is on the bolt. A finely made silk may have 30 yards on the bolt, but once folded and wrapped, it would constitute about 8" thick by 21"-30" long.
Wool, then and now, is no different. To be able to carry and work with the cloth you wouldn't want much more than the same dimensions (8" x 30") once the cloth has been bundled. The actual amount of the cloth needed to meet these dimensions varied a bit depending on the fineness of the thread used, the tightness of the weave, and the purse-strings of the buyer. However, most lengths of wool ended up being about 9 ells long (just over 9 yards) and sometimes as much as 12. Any more would be too much to work with, not to mention extremely cumbersome to wear.
So a man wanting a Great Kilt would ask for "The Whole 9 Yards", or 9 ells as the case may be, introducing the concept that a man must have 9 yards of cloth to make a Great Kilt. However, remember one thing: the tartan of ancient times was 27"-30" wide. To make a Great Kilt, the 9 ells would be cut in half to create 2 pieces of tartan, single width (27"-30") wide and 4.5 ells long. These two pieces would then be stitched together to make 1 Kilt, 54"-60" wide and 4.5 ells long.
Today's looms can and do weave cloth double width, 54"-61" wide, eliminating the extra step of buying 9 ells, cutting it in half and stitching the two pieces together again the long way. You would just obtain 4.5 yards/ells and not need to do any cutting and stitching except to finish off the edges.
The Great Kilt enjoyed popularity until the Act of 1746 banned all forms of Highland Dress.
For some wonderful instructions on how to wear your Great Kilt see the Historic Highlander's page.