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Dr. Barbara Jarvis Tewksbury has an unlikely background for an author and illustrator of a book on kiltmaking. She has a PhD in Geology and has been professor of geology at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York for close to 25 years. She has received national recognition for teaching and curriculum development, having served as President of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers and having been named 1997 Professor of the Year in New York State by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Geology is not her whole life, however. Barb has a lifetime of interest in hand crafts and construction projects of all kinds. She is a skilled seamstress whose projects have won many awards, including numerous blue ribbons and a Best in Show prize at the New York State Fair. When her daughter, Carolyn, attended her first Scottish Highland dance camp in 1996, Barb went along to learn kiltmaking from Elsie Stuehmeyer. In five short days, Barb was hooked. The precision and complexity of the process appealed to her more than any other hand craft ever had. As a result, she has been making kilts ever since, squeezing time for making custom-made kilts into the spaces of a life already crammed with a family and a full-time professorship. Elsie was impressed by Barb’s commitment to traditional kiltmaking, her meticulous work, and her rather excessive note-taking during the kiltmaking course. She asked Barb if she would be willing to help her write a book on kiltmaking, with Barb translating Elsie’s expertise into instructions for a neophyte. The rest is history. Elsie Scott Stuehmeyer is without doubt the pre-eminent kiltmaker in North America, and her experience in making and fitting kilts is truly staggering. She has quite literally made thousands and thousands of kilts over the past 50 years in every imaginable tartan for people of all shapes and sizes. She is so well-known as a kiltmaker that people book her a year in advance when they know that they will need new kilts. Her kilts have been worn by beginning dancers and by champions, by commoners and royalty. She made a kilt for Prince William of Britain, and she has a picture from Everest base camp of a Sherpa, who had summitted Everest, wearing the kilt she had made for him. She learned the art of kiltmaking at age 15 as an apprentice at Thomas Gordon’s in Glasgow in 1949. She remembers quite clearly that she would have much preferred being a telephone operator but that her parents insisted that she apprentice in a trade. She spent five long years as an apprentice kiltmaker, where she learned the traditional art of kiltmaking at the very best company in Scotland. Since leaving Scotland in 1973, she has made a career of kiltmaking in the United States. In addition, she has patiently taught kiltmaking to scores of students over many years, and she tempers her insistence on correct methods and meticulous sewing with a lively personality and a vast collection of hysterically funny stories told with a delightful accent. If you should pass through Petaluma, California, keep your eye out for Elsie’s unmistakable license plate – KILTMKR.
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