‘I make a kilt a day’
KAREN MANGER, 51 K I LT M A K ER , IPSWICH
Male customers, who might be getting a kilt made for a wedding, often ask what they should wear under it. I say: “A pair of underwear. It’s wool – it’s itchy.” But a lot of the guys will go au naturel and when they’re at the reception they lift the kilt up. You’ll be shown photographs and everyone is looking away horrified.
My husband, Doug, 52, and I have been working side-by-side in our shop for 14 years. He does the admin and helps customers research their Scottish heritage and which tartan they should be wearing. My job is making the kilts. Our youngest child, Geoffrey, 20, works in the business now too; he helps Doug and represents the shop at Celtic festivals and pipe band competitions around the country.
Kilts in Scotland are all done by machine unless you specifically ask for a handmade kilt. My kilts are all handmade and I’ll never convert to a machine even though it’d probably take a quarter of the time. It’s how I was taught, and they hang nicer if done by hand.
My family emigrated to Australia when I was four because my grandfather had emphysema and needed to move to a warmer climate. Mum was a tailoress and kilt maker and had her own shop in Scotland. When we came to Brisbane, she worked for menswear stores and made kilts at night, so I grew up absorbing the craft.
I’m dyslexic, so I really struggled at school. I left after grade ten and got a job as a junior at a couple of companies, then after I had my first child [Zoe, 26] I worked as a receptionist. After I had Geoffrey no-one would employ me, so Mum asked if I’d work for her making kilts. I eventually started my own business [All Things Tartan]. We supply kilts and accessories to school pipe bands and police pipe bands throughout Australia and New Zealand, and run a hire business.
I make a kilt a day and work away at them at night and on weekends because I like to keep busy. Doug surprised me with a five-day holiday to Cairns last year, our first in 26 years.