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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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It slowly dawned upon me that I shall be knitting heaps of stranded colourwork this year.

DCFront

Sanquhar vs Fair Isle mash-up swatch in Foula wool

Let me start off by saying that I’m very excited that I have been invited by Shetland Wool Week this year to work on a project together with my friend and purveyor of finest quotidian sound artefacts, Dr Felicity Ford. We will be joined by talented knitwear designed Di Gilpin., who was awarded The Balvenie Master of Craft award for the Textiles Category for 2012. I, for one, cannot wait to go to the Isles that have such rich knitting traditions and see them firsthand.

Shetland Wool Week Image

Shetland Wool Week, image © Dave Wheeler and used with kind permission

Secondly, those of you who are familiar with Susan Crawford’s work probably know she is working on a Vintage Shetland book. I’m pleased to say she has asked me again to knit a sample garment for her. It will be a very special Fair Isle jumper, and that’s all I’m allowed to say for now.

Lastly, my obsession with Sanquhar gloves knows no bounds, and I will be doing some research on them over the summer. A good excuse to 1) knit some more Sanquhar gloves; and 2) plan a visit to the Knitting Reference Library.

In preparation for all these stranded colourwork projects, I thought I’d investigate something that’s intrigued me for a while now. It’s colour dominance in stranded colourwork.

DCcloseup

The top and bottom bands shows the Midge and Fly pattern from Sanquhar. The middle bands show typical Fair Isle patterns: a classic OXO border pattern and a peerie pattern to separate the two.

Although Sanquhar knitting typically only uses two colours, and Fair Isle usually a greater number of colours, for both you will only ever knit with two colours in one given row of knitting. This can be achieved in a number of ways. In all cases, you will strand the colour not in use along the back of the fabric, hence the name “stranded colourwork.”

DCBack

The back of my swatch, showing the strands of the yarn not in use

For a long time, I used to knit with one colour in each hand: the one in my left hand to be knitted continental style, and the one in my right hand to be knitted English style. But I was never quite happy with my tension as the stitches made continental style were much looser than the one made English style. This was exacerbated by the nature of stranded colourwork: one yarn will always appear more dominant than the other. If you peer over the needles whilst you’re doing stranded colourwork, you will see that one yarn will always come from underneath the other. Usually, this is the dominant yarn.

In order to even out my tension problems between left and right hand, I first tried holding both yarns in my right hand. That didn’t work for me at all and not soon after I started knitting with both yarns in my left hand. My tension between dominant and non-dominant yarn is much more even now. I was curious to find out how big the difference is, in order to make an informed decision for my next stranded colourwork project. I decided to use both Sanquhar and Fair Isle patterns, as the effect might be different. The bottom half was knitted such that for each row, the light colour was on the right of my index finger, and the dark colour on the left. The peerie pattern (the small band separating the two bands of OXO patterns,) is where I switched over and the top half was knitted with the light colour always on the left and the dark on the right.

DCLightRight

Bottom half: lighter yarn always on the right on my index finger, and darker yarn always on the left

Looking at the Sanquhar Midge and Fly pattern in the bottom half,the white stitches appear to be larger than the black ones, and the flies appear almost more like vertical stripes rather than small crosses, especially in close-up. As you can see from the picture of the back of the swatch, the floats of white yarn almost hide the black yarn floats.

DCLightLeft

Top half: lighter yarn always on the left of my index finger, darker yarn always on the right

Now for the top half: again, looking at the Midge and Fly pattern, I think that the black and white stitches are much more even in size, yet somehow the flies seem to be a bit less pronounced in the top half. In addition, I find the results of switching dominant yarns less obvious in the OXO border patterns.

Before knitting this swatch, I was convinced I would be able to clearly show which way looks better, and make up my mind about which side (left or right,) I ought to use as the dominant yarn. However, now I’m not so sure. For each of the Sanqhuhar and the Fair Isle, which one do you think looks better, top or bottom half of the swatch?

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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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The Sanquhar socks I knitted last year have seen a lot of wear this winter and even well into spring and when I washed them the other day suddenly loads of holes appeared. These socks are one of my favourites because they are so very comfortable and I managed to get the fit just right. The 2-ply yarn I used (a wool and mohair blend from Blacker Yarns, alas no longer available) is soft yet has a lot of spring and was quite hard-wearing, considering how much I wore them. I’m also still very pleased with how the Sanquhar-inspired design came out.

In other words, a good opportunity to reread those chapters on darning in one of my favourite mending books to ensure I’m going to do a really good job.

The darning tool I used for this job has a mushroom end for holes in the heel, and a toe-shaped end for holes in the, you guessed it, toes. I picked it up in a car-boot sale, and the toe-end is particularly well-designed.

A close-up of my darning tool reveals that somebody didn’t like it as much as I do! (click on the picture to see a larger version: GRRR!) I guess that in former times, when darning was seen as a necessity, and a skill every woman was supposed to possess, a little girl didn’t like it one bit. This is so different from my own views and feelings. In a society where it is easier to throw away and replace than repair (for whatever excuse), I often get the feeling that people think of darning as a hobby and a luxury. But I like my hand-knitted socks, if only because the fit is unsurpassed and it gives me pleasure to be able to make such an everyday item myself. As these socks took some time to knit (11 stitches to inch!) I want to be able to wear them for as long as I can possibly make them last.

Whilst I was examining the holes, I also noticed thin areas under the ball of the foot and on the side of the big toe. So not only did I need to fill in the holes with stocking darns, but I also wanted to reinforce the thin areas to prevent holes forming.

I tried out a couple of new things. First up is the biased stocking darn:

As you can see, these threads cross each other at the diagonal, and not in the more usual perpendicular fashion. This is supposed to give the darn more stretch. I shall report back in due time, although so far, I haven’t noticed any difference.

Secondly, as I like a Visible Mend, I decided to mix up the colours.

Solid patches in Swiss darning, and the stocking darn is speckled due to different colours for “warp” and “weft”. But as you can see in the following picture, it didn’t stop there. My cuff design was calling out to be re-used!

And so, esteemed Ladies & Gentlemen, the meta-darn was born. This self-referential pattern took me a quite a bit longer than a plain darn, but I had so much fun doing it. Suddenly the slightest shadow of a hint of an inkling of a possibility of a thinning area required to be reinforced. I’m very interested in adding something, which is related to thing added to. Another good example of “meta-interventions” is Amy Twigger Holroyd’s stitch-hacking work. As she says about stitch-hacking: “The [technique is] used to adapt existing garments and patterns to include personalised content. On a conceptual level, these pieces explore authorship and ownership; on a personal level, they allow me to put something of myself into my wardrobe.” *) Although Amy is talking about shop-bought clothes, which sometimes lack a certain individuality, this principle can also apply to hand-made things (although admittedly, the authorship and ownership does not get questioned as much here). In these socks, the cuff pattern gets referenced, and so the darn not only reinforces the fabric, it also reinforces the design.

I limited myself to the areas that needed reinforcing, so the pattern isn’t complete. It looks like an ancient Roman mosaic, or half-stripped wall paper. I’m not sure how this mending yarn will wear, as some of the mending threads I’ve used tend to get fuzzy. However, to me that is going to be an exciting development to follow. Will this design still be legible after having worn these socks for another winter? And once this has worn out, will I be able to perform another Swiss darn, will I need to do a stocking darn, or will I eventually have to resort to refooting the sock? Perhaps for some, these socks are just temporarily stopped on their way out, but for me, the journey with these socks has only just begun.

*) http://keepandshare.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/stitch-hacking-and-pattern-blagging-at-prick-your-finger/

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The competition for the Sanquhar Pencil Case Pattern and wool Giveaway is now closed. Which means I have selected a winner!

As my own pencil case has been lined with fabric left over from making a pair of boxer shorts, and thus my pencil case match my pants, I asked you to think about what you would like your pencil case to match with. There were a few practical answers, like iPad and notebook covers, or a messenger bag, some of which really were cheekily disguised requests for other Sanquhar inspired patterns. Some were variations on the underwear theme – tasselled pasties anyone? There were anti-theft devices, knitted shoes and egg-cosies, but the answer that amused me most, was sent in by Samatha:

A pencil case pattern, style Sanquhar,
Is something for which I do hanker!
This lim’rick I’ll name
to go with the same
this season, or lose with no rancour!

Not only because my limerick skills are well below par: I would struggle to find just one word to rhyme with ‘Sanquhar’, let alone two! But on a different level I really like the whimsical idea of matching a physical object with something cerebral.

Congratulations to Samantha, I have contacted you for your details, so I can send you your wool. For everybody else, the pattern is for sale at Prick Your Finger, who also stock a range of Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift, to make a pencil case in whichever colour combination you fancy.

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Dear readers, it is with great pleasure I can present to you tomofholland’s very first pattern. The Sanquhar Pencil Case Pattern is now available for download in the Prick Your Finger webshop.

The original pencil case, shown in the background, was a graduation present for my partner. I wanted to give him a small knitted item, which he could use every day, without having to worry about spilling food down the front… And as he was forever digging in his bag for pens, this seemed just the thing. The pattern is inspired by the traditional Sanquhar gloves, in the cornet & drum pattern. I have knitted Sanquhar gloves in the fleur-de-lys pattern:

The Sanquhar patterns can be broken down in four parts, which all come back in pencil case:

1) the cuff is knitted in a rib stitch, with the knit stitches in the light colour and the purl stitches in the dark colour. Usually there are accents of the dark colour in the knit columns. I have used one such cuff pattern for the top of the pencil case:

2) the wrist in a Sanquhar glove is always knitted in a salt-and-pepper spot pattern. I used this element at the underside of the pencil case:

3) the other distinctive feature in Sanquhar gloves, is that the wearer’s initials are worked in the cuff too. This can be found on one side of the pencil case:

The pattern comes with an alphabet and blank name plate chart, so you make your own initials!

4) the last element is the patterning of the hand and fingers. Sanquhar gloves can be divided into two distinct styles. Tweed patterns, like my fleur-de-lys gloves, and so-called ‘dambrod’ patterns, which has repeating designs in a strong grid. The cornet & drum version of this, is what I used for the other sides of the pencil case:

The original pencil case was knitted on double-pointed needles and required grafting the bottom closed. I was very lucky that Dr Felicity Ford offered to test-knit my pattern, as apart from invaluable feedback on pattern lay-out, she also brought to my attention Judy’s Magic Cast-On. This means that this pencil case is completely SEAMLESS. You cast on. You knit. You cast off. You’re done.

For the pencil case I used some left over fabric from a pair of boxershorts to line them. Who else can boast a matching pencil case and pants?

Releasing my very first pattern is a cause for celebration in my book, so one lucky winner will be given a free copy of the pattern, and two balls of Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift, in burnt umber and surf, to knit your very own Sanquhar Pencil Case. To enter, leave a comment below and tell me what you think is just the thing to co-ordinate the pencil case with this season. After two weeks, I will select the most amusing answer and post the pattern and wool to the lucky winner.

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