Dawn's Costume Guide

Making A Celtic Style Drape

Plaids can be fun to costume with, whether or not it's Highland Fling weekend at the Ren Fair. A popular sort of costume is the "celtic peasant" look, which appropriates the kilt, mantle, and cap of the 19th century and romanticizes it for modern day descendants of Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

You can add a little Irish Magic to your costume with a simple plaid drape and cap. This is something you can do in a few hours or less.

By the way, if you're looking for instructions for making a kilt, go to the Links page...

What you need:

  • 3 to 4 yards of woven plaid -- not the kind that is printed on only one side of the material. Wool or cotton flannel will both work fine.
  • celtic style brooches, or large metallic buttons and some safety pins.

    A note on "tartans": I'm American and damn proud of it. I like dressing up but I have no intention of going to the library and trying to figure out what kind of tartan the Clan MacDuperault might have worn. Instead I went to the fabric store and found a neat looking wool blend of no particular heritage. Now, if you really are Scottish and you really do have a family plaid you can trace back farther than that plaque in the cart at the mall, GO FOR IT! Otherwise you're likely to spend more time obsessing over it than sewing.

    What you do:

    The fabric I picked out is dark: blue, black, and green with a pale yellow stripe and sort of white flecks in it. It's a wool blend, part acrylic, part "other". It was on the clearance table and I bought 4 yards of it. The white fleckly stuff is the "other" part. At least it didn't melt under the iron. What it did do was loose a lot of dye in the wash. I ran it through six changes of water in the tub before it stopped turning the bath icky brown.

    You want to pre-wash this mantle for a couple of reasons. You want the extra dye out before it ruins your white shirt. The fabric has probably collected a lot of dirt and dust in the mill and in the store. (Take a peek into the back room next time you're there.) It's not so important that it gets pre-shrunk, since you aren't cutting it to fit, but washed wool has a thicker fluffier feel to it. You may notice a lot of lint going down the drain. It's okay.

    Now it's washed, dried, and ironed. You can see in this image that the one end of the fabric was not cut straight. With plaid it's really easy to get the end grain straight because there is a line woven in it. Just find the line nearest the cut end of the fabric that goes straight across, and follow it carefully with scissors.

    After you cut the end of the fabric so it is straight, take it to the sewing machine and run a line of "stay stitching" about 1/4" from the edge. You can do this in a thread color that matches the plaid, or a contrast. With my plaid any kind of dark blue or green will blend in and not be seen, where a white or yellow will show up really well. Since I don't think I want it to show, I'll use the dark green already in my machine. Sew the line of stitching through a single layer of the wool. You do not need to fold it over in a hem, though you can if you want to.

    That's pretty much all the sewing you have to do. Not much too it. The fun part comes in wearing it. The easiest thing to do is just wrap it around you like a big cloak or shawl. Play with it a bit and you'll get a feel for how you can drape it over one shoulder and tuck it into your belt so you aren't tripping over it. If you have some of those fancy cloak pins use them to hold the fabric in place. If you don't, use a big safety pin with a fancy button on it so it looks like a jewelled pin. This works best if you make it up at home in a mirror and don't plan on taking it off during the day.

    One cool way to wear this is to belt it into the back of your costume, like it's half a skirt. First, take each of the two end corners (on the ends you sewed over) and pin them at the shoulders of your costume. It'll be kind of like a really long cape. With all the fabric hanging down your back put your belt on, but don't tighten it all the way. Now gather up the yardage in back so it hangs down to about your knees or the back of your calves. Get a friend to help you arrange the fabric so it's in nice pleats across your backside and not all a big lump.

    Now, you've got this nice warm piece of wool that you can pull around you from the sides to keep yourself warm, or that you can push back out of your way if it does get too warm. You can even pull it from right behind your head like a hood. You've probably got a lot of fabric hanging off your back that's caught in your belt. You can use this like a giant pocket.

  • All text and artwork copyright 1990 - 2000 D. Duperault. NOTHING on this site may be reproduced or distributed by any means without my written permission. This information offered in good faith, and worth only what you paid for it.
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    Last modified on July 15, 2002

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