One thing they don’t tell you when you are learning to play the bagpipes is that there is a lot of non-bagpipe related skills you need to develop. Outside of instrument maintenance you have to be able to care for all the accessories that come along with it.
One of the biggest accessories is your uniform and all its parts. It may be a band issued uniform. It might be a personal Highland dress. Either way, it represents a large investment outside of the instrument itself. You will find that there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars invested in accessories. You need to take care of and maintain this in the same way you do your instrument. These tips may help.
• Set up a schedule. It does not matter if you perform every week or four times a year. A set schedule will make sure you stay on top of the maintenance so you don’t run into any problems before a performance. It can be something as simple as getting your kilt cleaned the month before competition season starts or as complex as a weekly regime. It will mostly depend on how often you use everything.
• Follow the care instructions. Taking proper care of your uniform will ensure it lasts forever. Most clothing comes with a care label on the inside. Follow it to the letter. If the shirt says wash in cold water and you wash it in hot you may end up with a shirt that’s much to small. Improperly washing quality Highland dress will ruin your investment. Highland jackets and kilts are made of wool and are specialized wear for the most part. They should should be (sparingly) dry clean only. Kilt hose tend to be hand wash.
• Not everything needs to go through the dryer. While the dryer is great at what it does there are some unintended consequences of using it. Dark colored clothing will fade over time with normal washing. The dryer can speed up this process. Hanging these items to air dry can greatly extend their life. Spats can have their closures damaged in the dryer. The velcro that most spats use can shrink or loose it’s hold. Hose will almost always shrink in the dryer.
• Dish soap can be your friend. Belts, crosspieces, and sporrans, along with most leather products can leave marks on light colored clothing if it gets damp. Dirt can get ground into your shirt cuffs and sweat can discolor your collar. A small drop of liquid dish soap, a toothbrush, and some elbow grease can usually lift out these stains. Small stains on your kilt or jacket can also be taken out this way rather than sending the whole package to the dry cleaners. A light pressing afterward is all that is needed.
• Invest in garment bags. Keeping your kilts, shirts, and jackets in garment bags keeps them clean as they hang in your closet (especially if you have pets), as well as when you take long drives to events. It also gives you a handy place to stick a label to keep organized.
• Find a good dry cleaner. There is a saying that your kilt should only be cleaned when you’re married and when you’re buried. Modern life though will require you do it a little more often. Finding a dry cleaner that knows how to clean and correctly press a kilt is a lot harder than you would think, and the disaster waiting for you if they do not is not something anyone wishes to experience. A good dry cleaner will follow your instructions and once you find one that can be "trained" or knows how to do it right, stick with them.
• Learn how to properly iron and sew. Kilts, jackets, and shirts can develop wrinkles and creases from packing and travel. Items left to air dry will need to be ironed. Knowing how to use an iron to properly press wool and cotton means you can fix these problems in the hotel the night before a competition. Being able to sew on a button or stitch a pleat back in is a skill that will come in handy more often than you think.
• Don’t neglect your leather. Belts, sporrans, crosspieces, and shoes need care too! Find a good leather cleaner and moisturizer. High end purse stores, like Coach, usually sell these and some shoe stores have them as well. Moisturizing the leather a few times a year can make these items last a lot longer. Learn proper shoe shining skills. Keeping your shoes clean and polished keeps your overall appearance professional.
• Ask around. There are sure to be a few people in your band or local piping community who have been doing this for a while. If you are unsure about how to take care of something, ask them. Everyone in the band wants to make sure that the band is looking great.