Stewart Royalty at Dunnottar Castle, part 1

A medieval castle on the shore of eastern Scotland . . ancient allied clans . . a modern-day writer with Scottish ancestry and a love of tartans.

Thus was the chain of events which led me to this post.

A couple years ago, while envisioning the setting of part of a novel, an iconic image materialized- an imposing castle on the edge of a rocky cliff. This vision was so spectacular I wondered, “Is this castle real?” I immediately went searching online for images of cliff-side castles, and I found it . .

I was so enamored with Dunnottar Castle, I researched its history and layout and wrote a detailed scene incorporating my findings . .  but soon realized that scene didn’t flow with the rest of the novel, so I set the scene aside, until a couple years later I found this flash fiction challenge . .

Darkness Surrounding, by Dieki Noorhoek

. . which is, I’m sure, the opposite side of Dunnottar Castle many years ago. So I revised my scene for the challenge.

In the meantime, thanks in part to the kilt-wearing juggling writer Christopher Gronlund, and his wife, future kilt-sewer Cynthia Griffith, I was inspired to rekindle my interest in tartans, kilts, and sewing. I researched Scottish clan tartans and picked out my 2 favorite by appearance- “Royal Stewart” (co-incidentally, “Stewart” is my married name) and “Keith and Austin,” which, to my pleasant surprise, is the tartan associated with Dunnottar Castle!

Dunnottar Castle became the seat of the chief of Clan Keith in 1639 . . ” -wiki


Before I continue this winding tale, a few points of clarification:

1. This 2-part post is NOT meant to be a guide to sewing anything resembling an authentic, traditional kilt.

2. Back in the day, the “Keith” clan and the “Austin” clan merged and are now collectively know as the Borg “Keith and Austin” clan.

3. Within a single or collective clan, there are many variations of that clan’s tartan. This is especially true of the “Keith and Austin” tartan.


My goal: sew a couple of kiltish jumpers using my Simplicity Trumps Everything* method. Here’s something like what I want to do:

For kilt-making instructions, Gronlund recommended Barb Tewksbury. While I did check out her kilt-making methods and found them inspirational, I ultimately decided to stick with my original Simplicity Trumps Everything method.


(For ideas and inspiration on how to make an authentic, traditional kilt, checkout Barbara Tewksbury’s and Elsie Stuehmeyer’s book, or visit Griffith’s blog about her experiences sewing traditional historical costumes.)


I searched and scoured the internet and finally found both my tartans in one place in 100% cotton (I find wool scratchy).

I preferred the darker version of the Keith and Austin tartan, so after checking several stores and finding no fabric dye, I searched online for a “home brew” fabric-dyeing method. It seemed simple enough- make a HUGE pot of extremely strong hot tea and / or coffee, salt it, and submerge the fabric in the brew, making sure there are NO air bubbles. While I did this, I don’t recommend it, unless you enjoy spending hours dunking, soaking, and wringing a heavy tartan.

Then I cut, folded, pinned, and ironed my tartans, pretty much free-style.

Next month, my mother-in-law will assist me with machine-sewing my jumpers! (She has hand-sewn kilts before, but that wasn’t fitting with my STE method.)

Check back after Christmas to see my finished jumpers!

Update: Stewart Royalty at Dunnottar Castle, part 2


*Simplicity Trumps Everything:

1. Is there an even easier way to do it without it falling apart / exploding / crash-n-burning?

2. If “NO,” then go ahead and proceed with the plans you have.

3. If “YES,” with the new, even “easier way” in mind, go back to step 1.

Leave a comment


  1. Hi there! Imagine my surprise when I saw your blog in my referring stats this morning! 😉

    What a fun project, I’m looking forward to your next entry about this and how it went. I haven’t been able to make a kilt yet (the kilt Christopher currently has is from Stillwater Kilts), but I’m so looking forward to making him a nice, hand-sewn kilt in the (hopefully) near future. I even want to make him an older version for his 18th century costuming, but the time schedule and budget of this year made it difficult to get the wool tartan I needed. Ah well… I might make his first kilt from tweed as a test run.

    We’re not even sure yet what tartan/s we’ll be interested in. We’ve been trying to do genealogy on his side, but the one person we really need to focus on is almost impossible to figure out. We only have the stories and information she claimed a long time ago. For myself, my last name is Welsh, but I’m not too fond of the tartan that’s associated with it (I’ll have to see how it looks in person). I also have two Scottish names (Grant and MacNeill) I can pick from. Sometimes we both think we should just design our own tartan!

    Okay, I’m babbling now. I’ll have to add your blog to my reader. I’m honestly not sure why I haven’t done that yet — I’ve always enjoyed reading your great replies to Christopher’s blog.

    Best wishes!

    • Hi Cynthia! Thank you for your lovely comments. Thanks also for pointing out the origins of your husband’s kilt, I amended the link to “future kilt-sewer.” 🙂

      I too had originally planned to chose tartans according to my genealogy- “Craig” and “Campbell”- but ultimately decided to chose based on patterns and colors. My surname now is “Stewart,” and it was serendipitous I was drawn to the Royal Stewart tartan. (My very Scottish father-in-law is also pleased with my choice.) Another name coincidence is that “Keith” (in the Austin and Keith clan) is also a family name in my genealogy. So I guess my tartan choices were meant to be.

      I look forward to seeing your future kilt on your blog, your costumes are beautiful and amazing. When I look at all the nips, tucks, crimps, bustles, flounces, and intricate stitching on a lot of the traditional historical clothing, I can’t easily imagine myself wearing an outfit like that on a daily basis, let alone sewing one! But they are so beautiful. The video of you in your elaborate dress strolling through a courtyard is one of my favorites.

      It will be interesting to compare a traditionally sewn kilt to a freestyle kiltish jumper. 🙂

      I’m glad you enjoyed my post, best wishes on your future sewing projects!

      • Thank you! 🙂

        Oh, I almost forgot! I haven’t done any research to see where she came from (I’ve been taking a very long break from genealogy), but I also have Austin in the family!

        I must admit, while I enjoy occasionally wearing all these fancy outfits and layers, I am definitely glad we don’t have to wear this sort of clothing on a regular basis!

  2. My grandmother was a Graham, and the tartan is quite similar to the Keith and Austin. There’s also a Henderson tartan, coincidentally similar in colour… but the “Henders” genealogy actually traces back to Ireland in the 1700s, not Scotland.

    Maybe we’re a branch that split off somewhere earlier in history, or maybe we’re something completely different. The trail seems to end there, so my personal theory is that one of my ancestors got into trouble and had to change his name. 🙂

    Looking forward to seeing the completion of your project!

    • I’d always assumed that a lot of names like “Henders” started out with an “on” trailer. But it could be a stand-alone. And I like your theory that your great . . great grandcestor got into a bit of trouble. I’d go with that one. 😉

      Now the pressure is on to make wearable jumpers. lol

      Thank you for your comments! 🙂

  3. @Cynthia You have Austin and I have Keith. And the circle is complete! lol

  4. We had a kilt-making friend stay with us last year, and it was cool seeing some of the things he made in person. To me, anybody who can sew is a wizard; despite seeing how sewing machines work in person and watching animated gifs of the workings of sewing machines, it’s still all magic to me. Even hand sewing–it’s all so impressive.

    I’ve thumbed through Tewksbury’s book and it made a little more sense (even though it’s very detailed and time consuming). So you get all my respect just looking at it and going with your “Simplicity Trumps Everything” method, which is still mighty impressive!

    Good luck–can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

    • Thank you, and you’re the one who got me thinking I should finally just dive into my years-in-the-making “do something kiltish” idea.

      Yep, sewing machines are magic. I’ve confirmed this by looking at sewing machine operation diagrams and moving illustrations. Magic, by definition, beautifully fits into my STE method. 🙂

      Thanks for your comments!

  5. Ooh, I was hoping to hear more of this project! 🙂 It sounds great.
    I have a thing for all things Scottish (I blame it on my muse), kilts and tartan included. Good luck, and I’m looking forward to seeing more.

    • After I mentioned my kiltish plan over at your blog a few months ago, I knew I had to get cracking on this project. I love pouring over tartan patterns too. I marvel at how the ancient Scots made such intricately-patterned tartans with such simple tools.

      Thanks for your comments! 🙂

  6. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

    • That’s a good one. Then again, they’re all good . . did you see the panic room?

      BTW I visited you (on your blog) again, but my comment turned into spam, again. 🙂

      • Hey CM – thanks for stopping by the blog. I am going to investigate why your comments get shunted into the spam folder. I subscribed to your blog so go put some great posts up 🙂

      • Yes, my spammy comments are an ongoing mystery . .

        And I’ll see what I can do about your “great posts” request. 🙂

  7. Susan Ferman-Austin

     /  June 29, 2012

    I have been looking for Austin and Keith in cotton, with no luck. Where did you find it?

  8. You’re welcome and good luck!

  9. Hi,
    I used one of your pics in my last blog post. I put a link to the source. Hope you dont mind. Let me know and I will replace it 🙂

  1. Three Methods Used to Pleat Fabric - International Pleating | International Pleating

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: