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In my last post I talked about my participation in the Sanquhar Workshop, organised by the Knitting in the Round initiative from the University of Glasgow. Today I’d like to tell you little bit more about the history of knitting in Sanquhar and how I got interested in this subject.

Sanquhar Handling Collection at Knitting Reference Library

The Knitting Reference Library holds a small handling collection of Sanquhar gloves – image taken courtesy of the Knitting Reference Library

About five years ago I learnt how to knit gloves, and like many knitters, I started browsing Ravelry for nice patterns. That’s where I first encountered the amazing Sanquhar gloves. Never having done any stranded colourwork, I’m not sure why I ordered all four available patterns from the Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes not soon after. It was a steep learning curve for me, but at the same time as I was struggling to knit my first pair, I researched the knitting tradition of the town of Sanquhar, which incidentally, can also claim to have the oldest post office in the world, dating back to 1712.

HISTORY AND TRADITION

The first knitters in Scotland were highly paid craftsmen of the 16th and 17th century, but by the mid 1700s knitting skills had spread throughout the country and created a thriving cottage industry, mainly producing knitted stockings. The entire Scottish hand-knitting industry declined dramatically in the late 1700s, due to a variety of reasons, amongst others the loss of trade to the American Colonies, and the increasing industrialisation of spinning and processing wool. It was most probably around the late 1700s that the distinctive two-colour patterns developed as an attempt to create a product that stood out and thus protect the livelihood of local knitters.
Thomas Brown, a Sanquhar printer,  noted in his Union Gazeteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1807), that the stockings were ‘almost peculiar to the place…parti-coloured and of great variety of patterns.’ Mittens, and rather later, gloves were made in the same manner.  One feature of good eighteenth-century stockings was that the customer’s name or initials could be worked into the tops. This may be the origin of the Sanquhar practice of working these into the wrists. Although Brown doesn’t mention it, this was a feature by the 1890s. The gloves were knitted from a yarn referred to as ‘drugget’ and this appears to be a wool/linen or a wool/cotton blend. The knitters sourced this yarn from the nearby John M’Queen’s Mill in Crawick, where it was used in the production of carpets.

Sanquhar Gloves with Initials

Sanquhar gloves usually have the initials of the wearer stitched into the wrist – these gloves are from the handling collection of the Tollbooth Museum in Sanquhar

Hand knitting as a cottage industry died out in Sanquhar during the 19th century, but the tradition has survived. The presentation of specially knitted gloves to the Cornet and other principals during the annual Sanquhar Riding of the Marches Festival is still an important part of these celebrations, when all the horse riders of Sanquhar ride around the boundaries of the burgh. Today Sanquhar knitting is rarely made for sale. Nonetheless the style remains a favourite with keen knitters, with pattern leaflets available from the Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes and other sources found on the internet.

SANQUHAR STITCH PATTERNS

Sanquhar knitting is worked in two shades throughout. Although black and white are most common, other colour combinations regularly found are yellow and brown, and red and green. The patterns show a resemblance to other erstwhile thriving cottage industries in Cumbria and the Dales; small and intricate, the two yarns are worked into a close fabric, with no long strands. One particular refinement of the gloves are the small finger and thumb gussets, which improve fit and relieve stress points in the fabric where the fingers join the hand.

Sanquhar Glove in Duke Pattern with finger gusset

The little finger gusset is shown here at the base of the ring finger – image taken courtesy of the Knitting Reference Library

The stitch patterns can be divided into two main types. Firstly the so-called dambrod patterns: a grid of black lines on a white ground, filled in with diamond or saltire variations. Secondly check and tweed patterns: all-over patterns in diagonal checks, and small motifs scattered on a spot pattern background. It’s likely some of the patterns were named in honour of local benefactors and visiting dignitaries, like the Dukes of Queensberry and of Buccleuch, who gave large orders for gloves, and the Prince of Wales, who was entertained by the Duke of Buccleuch in 1871. The Glendyne pattern was named after Robert Nivison when he took the title Lord Glendyne of Sanquhar. The cuffs are knitted in black and white ribbing or broken ribbing. It is customary to work the wearer’s initials in the wrist.
As the patterns fit around the gloves just so, the size of the gloves is altered by changing the tension: thicker needles for larger gloves, thinner needles for smaller gloves.

Tolbooth Museum Sanquhar Gloves 1Tolbooth Museum Sanquhar Gloves 2

The Sanquhar gloves come in a wide range of patterns as this display at the Tollbooth Museum shows – dambrod patterns at the top; tweed patterns at the bottom, with the exception of the Duke glove fifth from the left

SOME HINTS AND TIPS ON KNITTING SANQUHAR GLOVES

First and foremost it’s important to knit a decent sized tension swatch in the round. Read through your pattern and work out how many stitches go round the hand, as sometimes this is more than the number of stitches you cast on. Measure around your hand and work out what your tension should be for a good fit.
The most common alteration to the traditional patterns is probably the cast-on: one way to avoid the cast-on edge curling over,  is to use a variation of the long-tail cast-on sometimes called twisted German cast-on, followed by two rows of purl, before starting the ribbing.

An other alteration often seen on the Ravelry Sanquhar group is to stagger the finger gussets at the correct height according to the wearer’s hand, rather than all on the same round. A personal alteration is to decrease 5% in the black round after the cuff to narrow the wrist. Then, after knitting the wrist, I increase back to the original number of stitches. This makes for a more comfortable fit, especially as ribbing in stranded colourwork doesn’t pull in.

Prince of Wales Sanquhar Gloves

My gloves in the Prince of Wales pattern – the fingers each start at the right height

You can read more about the Sanquhar knitting tradition on the FutureMuseum website, the Dumfries Museum website, and about Riding of the Marches on the committee’s website.

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Last weekend two long longed-for visits happened all at once. Some of you may know that I have a bit of a “thing” for the gloves knitted in the Scottish Royal Borough of Sanquhar, and I had always wanted to visit the local Tolbooth Museum where there’s a lovely display of these gloves, with a wealth of information. So you can imagine I didn’t hesitate when Professor Lynn Abrams asked me to give a presentation at a Knitting in the Round event set in Sanquhar itself.

Sanquhar circa 1860

Sanquhar High Street circa 1860 – the building with the clocktower now houses the Tollbooth Museum

The event was very informal and convivial. Lynn Abrams presented on knitting in the Scottish landscape – wool has always been very important in Scotland in many different ways. I did a presentation on the history of Sanquhar knitting, and how the old patterns and gloves to this day have inspired knitters the world over. A very tasty lunch was available in the café of the A’ the Airts Centre, where the event was hosted.

Tolbooth Museum Sanquhar Gloves 1

Tolbooth Museum Sanquhar Gloves 2

A gallery of Sanquhar Gloves

The Tolbooth museum had a small but perfectly formed permanent exhibition on the gloves. They also had a handling collection, which contained, amongst others, a number of gloves belonging to one lady cyclist. Most of these were darned on the palm side; you can imagine I was elated to see these!

SanquharVisit02

Cycling gloves with darning

Also on display were some carpets made in nearby Crawick. Originally the gloves were knitted with left over warp threads of the carpet manufacture, which explains the hardwearing qualities these gloves were famed for (within limits, as evidenced by the above gloves…)

Sanquhar carpet

A carpet made in John McQueen’s Mill, Crawick

However, the absolute highlight of the day for me was meeting May McCormick. Mary still knits Sanquhar gloves to a very high standard, and indeed, she is the very person who knits the gloves for the Coronet who leads the riding of the marches, an annual event taking place in August, going back about 400 years, when Sanquhar became a Scottish Royal Borough. I was too excited to talk to her and get some hints and tips from a master knitter to get a picture with her. However, to make up for it I can share with you the beautiful display she made:

Mary McCormick's Sanquhar Knitting Display

Mary McCormick’s Sanquhar Knitting Display, showing all the different patterns, including samplers, scarves and stockings

So, what about that other visit, I hear you ask? Well, I also got to meet a good friend whom I had not met before. How? In the age of email and internet, this is possible. Through our mutual friend Dr Felicity Ford, better known perhaps as KNITSONIK, I have known Kate Davies for a few years now, and we’ve worked on Wovember together. We have been scheming to meet up in real life for such a long time, and my visit to Sanquhar finally made this possible.

We spent many happy hours together, talking about small things and large, eating food and drinking tea, and going for a long drive.

West Highlands

My first time in the West Highlands and I could tick off all typical attractions in one go: castle ruin, tick; loch, tick; glenn, tick; mountain, tick!

The George Hotel at Loch Fyne

The George Hotel at Loch Fyne

We had a gorgeous lunch at the George Hotel at Loch Fyne – the only place that Samuel Johnson managed to enjoy when he visited Scotland.

If this has made you curious about the knitting in Sanquhar, then keep an eye out for my next blog post, where I will go into a bit more detail of the history of Sanquhar knitting.

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As you all know, I’m currently having a lot of fun over at WOVEMBER2012, celebrating wool for what it is. I’m curating the Wovember Words posts – woollen elevenses, if you like. Although WOVEMBER takes up a lot of time, I have found some time to make things with wool. I’m very pleased with all of them, and they will each get a separate in-depth post once WOVEMBER has finished. But as I’m too excited about each of them, I want to share some pictures with you:

First up, I made some Sanquhar gloves in the Prince of Wales pattern:

 

Of course, my name is knitted in the cuff:

Secondly, I finally managed to sew a pair of trousers! I bought the fabric two winters ago, made two (yes, TWO) toiles, and then wasn’t happy with the fit and didn’t know how to change it. But with a new pattern, and some encouragement from Zoe, I made this pair of trousers, which are perhaps more classic than fashionable in shape. Here some close-ups, as I will reveal the whole pair over at WOVEMBER later. A hand-picked fly with vintage button:

 

Welted back-pockets:

 

 

Last, but not least I’m finishing of this self-lined beany in the most amazing Wensleydale Longwool yarn:

 

The patterns are typically more often used on ganseys:

 

 

Come on over at WOVEMBER, there’s even a competition going on where you can win all sorts of prizes by sending in a woolly picture!

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In preparation for my Hand in Glove Workshop at Prick Your Finger, I have knitted a pair of gloves for my friend Howard. He liked my Sanquhar Gloves and houndstooth patterns, so I decided to throw them together. Although we will be knitting a plain stocking stitch glove for the Hand in glove Workshop, you still need to make the same measurements and calculations, so I tried out a few things for the workshop with my very patient friend.

Apart from trying on whilst knitting and using some stitch markers, there are various methods of trying to calculate the number of stitches needed to construct the fingers and I have tried out a few:

If you can’t try out whilst knitting, which was the very reason I wanted to make some gloves for somebody else I couldn’t readily meet up with, then I think that the maths provided in Hand-Knitting Techniques from Threads Magazine (although long out of print, try to get your hands on a copy, it has so many good articles in it) is your best bet.

After a reknitting the fingers three times (don’t ask), I finally produced some gloves I was happy with:

The back-of-hand shows a simple houndstooth pattern:

I say simple, but I did have difficulty getting the tension right for the row that makes the top of the brown check. Whatever I tried, the grey stitch immediately left to the brown stitch just disappears. However much I love my Shetland Spindrift, the sholmit (that’s the Shetland name for this particular colour of natural grey) was a bit thicker than the brown, which made even tensioning that little bit harder still. Luckily blocking has sorted most of it out.

The palm of the hand shows a check pattern I designed myself:

However, the thing I most pleased about is the cuff:

We have the wearer’s initials! We have a small split! We have i-cord edging! But best of all: we have cashmere lining! Even if Shetland wool softens considerably after washing and blocking, the cashmere is so much softer still, it gives a very luxurious feeling when you slip these on. I’m pleased to report that Howard loves his gloves. As the weather is turning cold again, I have no doubt he will be sporting them every day. As for me, I want to line the cuffs of all my gloves with cashmere now…

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If the prospect of knitting a pair of gloves makes your head spin, then fear no longer: I will be running a glove knitting workshop at Prick Your Finger over three consecutive Saturdays, starting on 28 January, 2012.

By guiding you through knitting a pair of gloves in stocking stitch in 4ply yarn, we will go through all the stages of constructing a pair of well-fitting gloves. I will cover the following areas with you: glove construction, hand measurements, provisional cast-on, increasing and decreasing, finishing techniques. The workshop handouts will enable you to repeat the process and knit gloves to fit any hand.

Dates:
Part 1 on Saturday, 28 January, 13:00-15:00h
Part 2 on Saturday, 4 February, 13:00-15:00h
Part 3 on Saturday, 11 February, 13:00-15:00h

As it is not possible to knit a pair of gloves in 3 x 2 hours, you will need to do some homework during the week. But then, who in their right mind would count knitting as homework? Besides, it will give you the opportunity to try some things out for yourself.

Total cost: £100. Pay £50 deposit when booking, the remaining £50 after the last class. The price includes 4ply yarn, a handy sheet to record essential measurements, workshop handouts with glove-knitting hints and tips, and all the cups of tea you might require to see you through any difficulties. Please book online HERE*, or ring Prick Your Finger: 020 8981 2560.

 
Skill level: you need to be able to knit in-the-round, either using double-pointed needles or Magic Loop with circulars, and have an understanding of increasing and decreasing. If you can knit a basic sock pattern, you will have no problem with this course.

IMPORTANT: bring your own needles, size 3-3.25mm.

There are only a few places left, so don’t wait too long with booking to make sure you can tackle your next pair of gloves with a steady hand!

*) please note there is an unfortunate error on the workshop booking page: the total cost of the workshop is £100, not £50.

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Today I made a field trip to the Knitting Reference Library at the Winchester School of Arts. I packed my lunch consisting of a pear and that stalwart of Dutch sandwiches: peanut butter on brown bread. After a two-hour train journey I arrived at Winchester and found my way to the Winchester School of Arts. While I was waiting in one of the main libraries to meet the very knowledgeable Linda Newington, I thumbed through a Complete Book of Needlecraft, where I found the following instructions for the rather obscure Christie cast-on method:

This was a promising start, seeing I wasn’t at the actual KRL yet! Soon after Linda turned up and she took me to the Sanctum Sanctorum of Knitting. The KRL comprises the collections of Montse Stanley, Richard Rutt and Jane Waller. All three have built up extensive libraries of reference books, patterns, leaflets, objects and ephemera related to knitting; and they all come together at the KRL. After Linda made me feel at home, I soon settled in and got down to the purpose of my visit: researching glove construction. Although the knitted objects collected by Stanley and Rutt are housed in a different building altogether, there was one box of gloves available to rifle through…

I got very excited indeed when I saw not one, not two, but THREE pairs of Sanquhar gloves! With kind permission of the Knitting Library at the Winchester School of Arts, I can present you the following photographs I took of a 1846 Sanquhar glove replica, knitted by Rutt himself:

It’s a design I have not seen before.

Starting at the bottom, there is a fringed cuff to be found, and not a single corrugated rib in sight. The customary wrist inscription goes all the way around and reads “G. Walton  1846″. The bands separating the inscription from the other parts of the glove are made of small peaks.

The back of the hand shows three prominent zigzag bands with small diamonds. The main pattern looks like a variation on the midge and fly, and it’s very handsome too.

As you can see, the thumb gore is outlined in both a white and a black stitch. The increases are made inside these two stitches and they are evenly spaced up to the base of the thumb. It is knitted in wool in natural white and (dyed?) black, and the tension comes in at 12 stitches per inch. I didn’t take pictures of the other Sanquhar gloves, as they were in the, dare I say, ubiquitous Duke pattern, although they were also incredible feats of knitting, with a guestimated tension of appr. 20 spi!

 

ERRATUM, added 24 July 2011: after sharing this blog post with the Sanquhar Knitting Group on Ravelry, it soon transpired that this glove is not a replica of a Sanquhar glove, but of a Yorkshire Dale glove, which explains all the differences I noted. Rutt found the original in the Wordsworth Museum in Grasmere, but I don’t know if they are still there. And in fact, there is a photograph and a pattern graph in Rutt’s A History of Hand Knitting (pages 123 and 124 in my edition of the book, which is an Interweave reprint).

 

After dissecting this glove it was time for a tea break and Linda and I had a nice chat about the next In The Loop conference, which will take place in September 2012. After the break, I trawled through loads of knitting books, made lots of photocopies, secretly wanting to take the whole library home, but instead making lots of notes:

Postscript:

On the way home I got chatting to a lovely lady, who was an avid knitter herself, and perhaps even more exciting: an expert cake baker! She carried a cake she made for one of her grandsons, and it was in the shape of a treasure island, complete with palm trees made from Flakes, a Lego rowing boat and a here-is-the-treasure-hidden cross made from chocolate. She told me a bit about her travels when she was younger. She taught English in Nepal, Hong Kong and other places when she was, erm, somewhat younger. And then we talked about that amazing cake again and it’s a tradition now that she makes a cake for each of her seven grandchildrens’ birthdays. They love their gran’s special birthday cake so much they give her designs nine months in advance!

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Almost two years ago I found out about the knitting tradition in a town in Scotland called Sanquhar. Having been developed in the 16th and 17th century, their style is very distinctive: two-colour stranded patterns, mainly for socks and gloves. You can find more information about them on the Future Museum website. I’m somewhat smitten by the gloves and I ordered all four available patterns from the SWRI (Scottish Women Rural Institutes). My first endeavour was going to be the midge-and-fly glove, but when I saw the fleur-de-lys on the aforementioned website, I couldn’t resist and I adapted the pattern thusly:

As you can see, I knitted in my initials, which is part of the traditional pattern. The next gloves I would like to make have a very different style. The fleur-de-lys is a tweed pattern, but the Duke pattern gloves is a so-called dambrod pattern and the squares fit in just so. Achieving stitch gauge isn’t that difficult, but achieving row gauge – crucial to get the right fit AND keeping the squares – requires finding the right yarn. So here’s a test knit, using Blacker Yarns 50/50 British Wool with Mohair 2-ply Sock Yarn. I used all different dambrod designs I could find:

Yes, the feet look ridiculously baggy, but these socks fit like, erm, a glove!

And I think I have found a suitable yarn to boot.

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