Approximately 21 years ago, Upson Chair of Public Discourse and Professor of Geosciences Barbara Tewksbury attended a Highland dance workshop with her daughter, who began studying the competitive Scottish dance at age 10. As a part of the dance workshop was a companion kiltmaking seminar held by Elsie Stuehmeyer, one of the best known individual kiltmakers in the world.
Since learning the principles of kilt craft from Stuehmeyer, Tewksbury has been hand-stitching her own tartan pieces, producing anywhere from 25 to 30 kilts per year. Though Tewksbury does not advertise at all, word of her work has spread by word-of-mouth worldwide. She has received orders from places as far reaching Malaysia, Australia and Baghdad. In 2001, Tewksbury co-authored the first do-it-yourself book on kiltmaking with Stuehmeyer, Art of Kiltmaking, which has gone on to sell over 8,000 copies worldwide.
Ten years ago, Tewksbury began to spread her extensive knowledge of kiltmaking from the printed page and into a different, though familiar, setting: a classroom. Each summer since the program’s commencement, Tewksbury and her friend and co-teacher Steven Ashton have hosted anywhere from 12 to 18 students for a six-day immersive kiltmaking seminar.
Tewksbury specializes in traditional Scottish kilts, while Ashton focuses on contemporary versions. The duo alternate locations between Hamilton College and Ashton’s workshop in Victoria, British Columbia.
Participants of the workshop come for a variety of reasons. Many are either bagpipers or know bagpipers. The mothers of Highland dancers comprise another dependable demographic. “Mostly, my students are just folks who really like kilts, and are interested in learning how to make them,” said Tewksbury.
During the workshop, which will run from Sunday, July 23, to Friday, July 28, each student will complete his or her own entirely hand-stitched kilt, a process that takes beginners approximately 40 hours. More seasoned kiltmakers require close to 20 hours to complete a garment.
For Tewksbury, her aim in teaching any student, whether in geosciences or in kiltmaking, is the same: to provide them with the information and skills necessary so they may independently and successfully perform the task at hand.