Sanquhar Knitting

I was passing some time reading Kate Davies great blog one Friday, and she mentioned a Sanquhar Knitting workshop taking place the next day in Sanquhar. I knew of Sanquhar Knitting, as we have a pair of Sanquhar gloves knitted in the inimitable black and white tiled Sanquhar style on display at the National Museum of Scotland (Level 3, Scottish Galleries). I had no idea where Sanquhar was, so looked up a map and found it was on the West side of the Scottish Borders, near Moffat. So not so far from me as the crow flies, but still a couple of hours journey. I hadn’t anything planned the next day, so I decided to go along, keen to discover more about Sanquhar Knitting and its history.

The workshop took place in a lovely Arts Centre with a very good cafe and shop – A’ the Airts. Their shop window was full of Sanquhar knitting themed goodies:

A' the Airts window
Resident Sanquhar knitter, May MacCormick had put on a comprehensive display of Sanquhar knitted items, all knitted by her, in the theatre area where the workshop/lectures took place:

Sanquhar pattern sampler

Sanquhar pattern and cuff sampler

 

Plaid style with double cuff

Plaid pattern with double cuff

Although predominantly known for gloves, the Sanquhar patterns are also used for scarves, mittens etc, and are not just knitted in black and white.

Other Sanquhar items

I can see a nice bag or purse working well in these patterns too…

May was knitting gloves while we were there:

May MacCormick knitting

I was pleased to find an Edinburgh knitting friend, Catriona; it was nice to see a familiar face and have someone to chat to. It was also good to see Kate Davies and Mel there.

The workshop was part of a bigger project, Knitting in the Round, run by the University of Glasgow. Lecturer, Lynn Abrams told us more about the project, and their conference next year, In the Loop 4: Knitting – from Craft to Couture. Have a look at their previous events on their blog. Lynn moved on to explore the idea of knitting in the landscape – how people were more visibly knitting in the past, as knitting was a way of earning a living, and providing the family with garments. Knitting was portable (especially glove and sock knitting) and would have been taken everywhere and many people knitted as they were walking, and were therefore part of the landscape.

Tom van Deijnen, known online as Tom of Holland, has a particular liking for Sanquhar knitting, and talked about the history of Sanquhar knitting. In the 18th Century hand knitting was a thriving industry in Sanquhar. They sought to make unique items and developed a distinctive style, which was further personalised by adding the knitted initials of their customers on the glove cuff bands: this added value to the items. Each of the tiled square patterns has a name – e.g. Duke, Rose, Pheasant’s eye. The cuffs also had distinctive patterns, sometimes in all stocking stitch, sometimes in 2 colour corrugated rib. Here is a part knitted Sanquhar glove:

Sanquhar Glove part-knitted

Many of the Scottish Border borders towns have a Riding the Marches or Common Riding ceremony event every year, including Lauder, where I live, and Sanquhar. Each year a young man of the community is voted to be the Cornet, or Braw Lad (the names vary from town to town), a lass is chosen too. He then leads the ride around the boundaries of the town. In Sanquhar the Cornet is knitted a pair of Sanquhar gloves each year, which he wears for the ceremony. There are special designs for the Cornet’s gloves:

Cornet gloves

Another distinguishing feature of the gloves is a finger gusset or fourchette between the fingers:

Finger gusset

Apparently this prolongs the wear of the glove.

Tom brought along his Sanquhar knits:

Tom's gloves

This included a sock he had mended using Sanquhar motifs to patch the holes – he’s very into mending – see his Visible Mending Programme. (We had a nice little chat about mending handknits.)

By the 19th Century the hand knitted industry in Sanquhar had declined, due to the competition of cheaper machine knitted garments, and other types of work available in the area – a local carpet factory.

Some people in Sanquhar are still knitting Sanquhar style items, but the skills need to be passed on to local younger people, or it will disappear from the town. They have started a Sanquhar Knitting Project, based at A’ the Airts to try and address the issue.

In the afternoon I went on a tour of the Sanquhar Tollbooth Museum to see the material on display there, which included some Sanquhar gloves from a local lady cyclist, with extensive mending on the palms:

Cycling gloves

I bought a nice little book about Sanquhar knitting which includes a gloves pattern using the Duke motif by Alynne Jones, which is available on her Vanishing Scotland website.

There are also Sanquhar glove patterns available from the Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes.

I had a lovely day out, and out would recommend a trip to the Royal Burgh of Sanquhar to visit the Museum and Arts Centre, and to enjoy the glorious countryside on the journey.

Happily, the interest in Sanquhar Knitting is spreading around the world, there is Ravelry group and discussion forum where you can see all the different Sanquhar projects knitted and people’s adaptations of the designs: Sanquhar Knitting Group (Ravelry login required)

Tom of Holland has designed a Sanquhar Style pencil case, and has written two blog posts about our visit to Sanquhar: A Visit to Sanquhar, A Short History of Sanquhar Knitting

Kate Davies has recorded her version of the day: A Day at Sanquhar

And the Knitting in the Round project also has a blog post about it. Our Day Out in Sanquhar

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2 comments

  1. I had planned to attend this workshop but was unfortunately unable to go along at the last minute. Your post has captured the day brilliantly.
    Thank you.

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