With a brand-new Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery just out, and Hallowe’en right around the corner, what better time to share the Big Costume I’ve been working on this fall? Straight off the cover of Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity, I bring you Myrtle’s Scottish Highland Dress ensemble!
I’ve been gearing up for this post for a few weeks now, with our features All About Tartan and Young Lads and Lasses sporting their finest Scottish attire. It’s finally time to share the one I’ve made for Myrtle!
Like Everything Myrtle, this project began with Research! Cover artist Brett Helquist once again requested inspiration and reference imagery, and I sent some wonderful period portraits of young Scots, noting the elements that (*coughIwantedtosewcough*) I’d really love to see featured: the MacEwen tartan, the Argyll jacket, the fly plaid, and the Glengarry cap. Brett came through with even more amazing detail—selecting a specific type of fly plaid, choosing brilliant colors, and including those splendid badges on her hat and plaid. Let’s take a look at each fantastic component in turn!
The first, of course, is The Kilt. We’ve talked about tartans and we’ve talked about plaids (the all-purpose garment-stroke-blanket historically worn by Scottish men, women, and bairns that evolved into the kilt), but we haven’t specifically addressed that Most Quintessential of Scottish Garments! There are, as you can imagine, many types of kilts, many components of kilt outfits, and many ways to wear it all. Myrtle’s ensemble comprises a feilidh-beag, Gaelic for “little wrap” and Anglicized as phillabeg. Also known as the “little kilt” (and actually the oldest of kilts proper), the feilidh-beag is simply a length of tartan pleated about the waist. (See here for other varieties of kilts through the ages.)
By the 19th century, the pleats were sewn permanently in place, for simplified dressing (possibly the only Victorian innovation in easy dressing!). There are two ways to pleat your tartan: to sett or to stripe. Pleating to sett (a weaving term describing the spacing of threads) uses box pleats to preserve the plaid appearance of the tartan, and pleating to stripe uses knife pleats to emphasize a horizontal stripe. Myrtle’s kilt is pleated to sett; this young ghillie from 1865 wears his to stripe:
(Pleating to sett is easier—knife pleats are confusing!—but uses more fabric; if you’re buying a kilt today it will cost extra.)
Depending on the occasion, you can top your kilt with a plain shirt, a jumper/sweater, a waistcoat/vest, a jacket… I scoured period imagery of Highland dress before selecting a style for Myrtle. Knowing I would be fitting a fairly elaborate jacket over it, I went with a simpler fitted shirt of white cotton with some subtle ruffle trim.
There’s an almost endless variety of kilt jacket styles. Myrtle’s is based in part on some exquisite examples from 19th century dolls in their own finest Highland attire. Inspired by the setting of Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity, I took some details from the classic Argyll jacket (above, right), including the diamond-shaped buttons, peplum, and fancy cuffs.
A sharply-angled collar echoes Brett’s artwork and reveals her blouse collar, brightening things up around her face.
Over the kilt and jacket is worn the plaid—a bit of extra tartan jauntily flung across the shoulder. Again, you have many plaid options! Today’s conventions often dictate particular manners of pleating and wrapping your plaid, but throughout history, it seemed almost anything went.
For Myrtle’s plaid, I (or should I say Brett?) went with the under-the-arm, across-the-chest, back over-the-shoulder version known as the piper’s plaid. The plaid is pleated for about 2/3 its length, wrapped under her right arm and pinned at the left shoulder. I had such fun tracking down the distinctive badges Brett painted. I found these wonderful antique silverplate thistle buttons, originally worn on a kilt jacket!
Topping off the ensemble is Myrtle’s Glengarry cap. One of several traditional Scottish hats, the Glengarry is typically made of wool, with the distinct feature that it can be folded flat—making it a practical country hat, not unlike the deerstalker. The hat takes its name from a region of Scotland, and a military regiment from the area that included such caps in their uniforms.
Myrtle’s Glengarry cap is made of felt, with the distinctive peaked-and-dipped shape (clearly the progenitor of the soda jerk’s hat), and sports another of Brett’s badges/antique thistle buttons. This was an element of the ensemble that I drafted from scratch, as there are no true Glengarry cap patterns in doll size! Although the construction was easy, the design is deceptively simple and required some clever engineering to get those jaunty peaks!
Now. True Highland Dress Afficionados will be wondering about the sporran—the leather-and-sometimes-fur belt pouch that is a traditional accessory for the pocketless kilt. Of course I couldn’t leave you hanging!
There is one final-final addition to a full Highland Dress ensemble, and that is the sgian dubh (Gaelic for “black knife), a short dagger worn in the stocking. A sgian dubh plays a key role in Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity, so, naturally, Myrtle needed one, too!
I had such fun creating this most epic of Scottish ensembles for Myrtle! From finding the perfectly perfect miniature MacEwen tartan to the pattern drafting to the final photoshoots, this has truly been one of my favorite doll costuming projects to date!
Myrtle and Minna had some fun with the photoshoot, too.
Myrtle has finally embarked on her grand Scottish adventure, and we can’t wait for you to get to know the new Scottish friends, frenemies, villains, and various co-conspirators in the Myrtleverse! If you’re in the Kansas City metro, you can see Myrtle and Minna in person at the big launch event next week at the Raven in Lawrence!