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.