Monthly Archives: February 2012

Sanquhar Gloves

Socks in The Dukes pattern

Ok, I have been to Wales and have wandered through England and now I thought I had better go north of the border before I have to take my passport to get in.

On this bitterly cold day I am featuring the world famous Sanguhar gloves, and believe you me – the claim to world fame is justified.  Try googling Sanquhar Gloves;  you will be amazed how famous they are, particularly in Japan.  Sanquhar, pronounced “Sankhar” is in Dumfriesshire on the Scottish/English border and with its valleys and the river Nith nearby it has always been the perfect place for sheep and associated wool-based industries.

The craft of knitting came late to Scotland. The first knitters in Britain were highly paid craftsmen of the 16th and 17th centuries who tried to protect the secrets of their trade within corporations or guilds, but secrets will out and by the mid 1700s knitting had spread the length and breadth of England, Wales and Scotland  (better get my history correct – no Britain back then) and knitting had developed into an important industry.  Hotspots included the Yorkshire Dales, Dorset and Hampshire.

By 1778 when a Mr. David Loch visited Sanquhar, knitting was already well established and the majority of the town used knitting to supplement the family income alongside their main employment.  It was an ideal way to earn additional income as it required no expensive equipment and was eminently transportable.  For these reasons, it is difficult to trace in historical records and it’s easy to overlook the importance of hand knitting to localised economy’s.

By the late 1700′s hand knitting in Sanquhar and the surronding areas had begun to decline.  Demand had been severely interrupted by revolutions and wars in America and Europe combined with competition from the newly invented and cheaper machine made garments.

Sanquhar Gloves - Future Museum

It was probably about now that the familiar two colour Sanquhar patterns were developed. It was unlikely that the earlier stockings and gloves were intricately patterned but by 1807 the stockings that were being produced were patterned.

As the industry was not documented, the origins of the traditional patterns are obscure.  Luckily for us, the development of these intricate patterns helped the hand knitting industry to survive, albeit on a much smaller scale.  As people were still willing to pay for a beautifully made and distinctive item and so Sanquhar knitters rose to the challenge and       developed their distinctive regional style.

As I have said, how the individual patterns developed is unclear but Sanquhar patterns are very similar to knitting from the same period from the Yorkshire Dales, Westmoreland and Aberdeen and they share more than a passing similarity to knitting styles from Scandinavia and Afganistan.  But it is impossible to know for sure if the patterns migrated into the area from somewhere else.  It is not impossible that the patterns travelled from Scandinavia and geographically Yorkshire, Dumfriesshire and Westmoreland are all near enough to share a common thread.  But it is also conceivable that the patterns developed in each region independently from each other.  I think any links between the different areas could conceivably be more to do with the actual construction of the glove.   More research on this is due I think!!

Riding of the Marches. Image courtesy of Future Museum

By the 1830s hand knitting had ceased to exist as a business in Sanquhar but the regional traditions survived in the homes of the locals.  The patterns were not written down but passed from generation to generation of knitters, still going under the original traditional names – The Duke, Rose, Trellis, Drum, Coronet, Glendyne, Midge and Flea, Shepherd’s Plaid and Prince of Wales or Fleur de Lyse.

A sense of pride in the local knitting developed and resulted in the custom of a pair of Sanquhar gloves being presented to visiting dignitaries and also to the town’s Cornet, or leading horse rider, of the annual ceremony of the Riding of the Marches.  A custom when all the horse riders of Sanquhar ride around the boundaries of the burgh, led by the Cornet.

Mid 20 century commercial pattern

 

 

Finally in the 1950′s people outside of the area begun to take an interest in regional variations of knitting and some patterns were written down and published by the Dundee magazine, The People’s Friend. The Duke pattern also appears in commercial knitting leaflets of this period and in the mid 1960s the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute published a series of four knitting leaflets detailing the surviving traditional patterns (these are still available today, see below).

Nowadays, Sanquhar gloves are not made on any commercial basis but knitting as a leisure activity is huge, and the good old wide world web has meant people the world over have been able to come together to share their passion for traditional knitting.  Ravelry is a great place to start if you want to find out more.  I bet the inventor of the internet never envisaged it would enable traditional crafts to be shared, adapted and kept alive!


SWRI pattern booklet

More info 

www.swri.org.uk

The Scottish Womens Rural Institute has long been selling a pamphlet which has the basic glove in various traditional patterns.  

www.patternfish.com

This is a link to buy a downloadable pattern for a pair of Sanquhar gloves (this is not a beginners project!)

www.vanishingscotland.com

Here you can buy a kit with all you need to knit your own Sanquhar gloves.

www.ravelry.com

This one is for the dedicated knitters out there.  Ravelry is an online knitters community.  Sanquhar knitting has its very own group on theie forum where people discuss Sanquhar gloves and other traditional regional knitting, including Dales knitting!

www.dumfriesmuseum.co.uk

Detailed history of the Sanquhar knitting tradition

futuremuseum.co.uk

Detailed history and large source of images 

 

knitting in the round

 

 

 

Posted in Dumfries, Heritage Crafts, Textiles, Traditional Crafts | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

In The Loop 3 – Knitting Conference

In the Loop 3: the Voices of Knitting

Discovery Centre, University of Southampton, Winchester

Wednesday 5 – Friday 7 September 2012.

The themes of this third international, interdisciplinary conference focusing broadly on knitting will include adornment, discovery and exploration, representation in all types of media, and sport and well-being from voices across the world.

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‘Working Woodlands’ The Story of Coppice

The Coppice Association NW – ‘Working Woodlands’  - The Story of Coppice

Sat 31 March – Sun 29 April

Head over to Farfield Mill to experience the natural wonders of green wood craftsmanship, learn about its place in social history and its relevance in our modern world.

Farfield Mill – Which is in lovely Cumbria

 

Posted in Courses, Cumbria, Events, Exhibitions, Heritage Crafts, Traditional Crafts, Wood | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Welsh Cyntell

Large cyntell - Les Llewellyn

I am going over the border today, to a country where traditional culture and language has been fiercely defended for years.  I am slightly wary as to where to start on this as I could easily emigrate and spend all my time just writing about Welsh stuff;  blankets, baskets, love spoons, clogs etc.  But as I have to start somewhere I shall start with the cyntell basket (I believe ‘ll‘ in Welsh is pronouned ‘th‘ so it would be ‘cynteth‘ – but please correct me if I am wrong).

The cyntell is a multi functional basket used around the farm to ‘carry stuff’;  animal feed, potatoes and fruit and they can also be utilised around the home, for laundry and sleeping babies amongst other things.  I also wonder if they were ever used, way back when, as a unit of measure like the trug in Sussex.

Cyntells - Out to Learn Willow

In fact, like the Sussex trug and the Cumbrian swill, the traditional frame basket was not confined to county or country borders.  Known as a cyntell in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, identical baskets were found across other regions and over in Ireland, where they were known as skibs, scuttles and Sally Saucers.

Cyntell Basket - Ruth Pybus

 

 

 

The cyntell is formed around a thick, dried willow or hazel hoop, with split and shaped wooden ribs, which together form the frame which is interwoven with willow.  The original farm baskets would have been rustic affairs but a tradition developed to weave more elaborate competition baskets and these are what are more common now.

 

 

The survival of the cyntell is said to be down to three men, D.J Davies, Marvin Morgan and Les Llewelyn.  In the late 1990′s they were all working at St Fagans National History Museum in Cardiff.  Mr Davis was the basket maker, Mr Morgan the miller and Mr Llewelyn whittled love spoons and walking sticks.

D J Davies - The Master (image - Les Llewellyn)

Mr Davies had been the resident basket maker at St Fagans since it opened in 1948, demonstrating the weaving of cyntell basket as taught to him by his farmer grandfather (who had been taught by his father, no doubt).  Aware that Mr Davies was one of the only craftspeople still making the traditional basket, Mr Llewelyn and Mr Mogan decided to ask Mr Davies to pass on his basketry skills.   As Mr Davies had begun to think he would be the last basketmaker in Wales to make the cyntell basket, he was delighted to pass on the skills which had been passed through the generations, via his grandfather.

Having gained the necessary skills to call themselves basket makers, the two younger men set about keeping the traditional Welsh basket making skills alive and kicking.  Mr Davies and Mr Llewelyn became founder members of The South Wales Basketmakers and Mr Davies also became President of the South Wales Stickmakers group.  I believe Mr Morgan became the resident basket maker at St Fagan’s after Mr Davies retired, but unfortunately, when I searched St Fagan’s website I could find no reference to either cyntells or Mr Morgan.

Learn to weave a Cyntell

Luckily for us, many people now seem to appreciate the relevance of craft items associated with particular regions.  The South Wales Basket Makers Group holds regular courses to teach others the essential cyntell skills, with Les Llewellyn running many of these.  It seems the knowledge passed on from Mr Davies is now safe in the hands of  keen basket makers in Wales and beyond.  Indeed, it could be said (at a stretch) that cyntell basket making is a growth industry and let’s be honest –  there is not many of those about these days!!

Courses and Sales

Links through to makers who produce cyntells and also to cyntell making basket courses for interested people.

www.traditionalwelshbaskets.co.uk - Les Llewellyn

www.welshbasketmakers.co.uk

www.framebaskets.co.uk - Ruth Pybus

www.outtolearnwillow.co.uk

www.bobjohnstonbaskets.co.uk

Ray Lister – Ray supplies a video of D J Davies weaving a cyntell, plus he runs frame basket weaving courses at various locations

Owen Jones – Owen also learnt to weave cyntells from DJ Davies and runs the occasional course to.

 

Posted in Basketry, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Traditional Crafts, Wales, Wood, Yorkshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments