Kilt wars break out as makers bring in strict new pleat regulations lay down the law on pleats awset up the

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SKIRMISHES HAVE broken out among Highland kilt makers over what constitutes a "proper" kilt. Issues such as which tartans should be used and how many pleats should cover the nation's assets have become topics of hot debate as one group of kilt makers has set up its own standards agency which is opposed by others.

The new Scottish Kilt Makers' Association is planning to issue a set of rules establishing the standard kilt as having 29 pleats. The standards' policeman will be William Law, a former Inspector of Kilts at the Ministry of Defence, which for a century has been the only regulatory body for Scotland's traditional dress.

A founding member of the new association, Ian Chisholm from the Inverness- based Chisholms' Highland Dress, said: "We feel that, over the years, some customers have been disappointed to find their kilts have been made shoddily from poor material. The balances are sometimes wrong in the settings and the size of the pleats, so you don't get a perfect line."

However, down the road at Hector Russell Kilt Makers, one of the largest firms in the country, they think the association is getting its knickers in a twist over nothing.

"We don't think we need this association," said David Sutherland, the company's operations' manager. "We already have in-house, trained assessors, who hold the professional development award in handicraft kilt manufacture. We don't believe we could achieve anything by joining. Perhaps these other companies think they need this because they do not have the resources to reach the national standard we have here."

Underlying the battle of the kilt makers is the huge increase in demand for kilts since the release of the movie Braveheart in 1995.

None of the kilt makers wants the industry to get a reputation for poor quality. Good kilts, made from tartan worsted material, now cost from pounds 300. Whereas a generation ago, a kilt would typically be bought by a middle-aged man, today it is more often a gift for an 18th or a 21st birthday and a sartorial necessity at football matches.

There are more than 1,000 types of tartan, with big companies such as American Express and Spar patenting their own variety. "We recently received a big order from a hotel chain down in England run by an Indian family," said Mr Chisholm. "So we designed a special tartan called MacKhan."

Traditional manufacturers such as Hector Russell remain firm. "We've been supplying the Highland regiments of the British Army for generations," said Mr Sutherland. "We don't need any lessons."