Coursework Part One: Project 1: Selecting and Identifying

Exercise 1.2 Substance and Story

Item Three: Pullover


1 What is the textile made from?

The pullover is made from machine knitted merino sheep’s wool in two colours: creamy white and grey-blue. It measures 423mm in length, measuring the centre back.

The manufacturer’s label is marked “Sanquhar Knitwear Company” and states that the garment is 100% merino wool.

There is an archival label which describes the pullover as: “Blue and white Duke design child’s jumper machine knitted by the Sanquhar Knitwear Company”.  An old exhibition label shows that the piece was removed from the ‘Local Textiles’ case in March 2014.

The textile should be hand washed in soap suitable for wool, gently squeezed to remove water (rather than wrung out) and dried flat.

 2 Production Methods

This pullover has been machine knitted, although the Sanquhar knitting (for socks and gloves) was traditionally carried out on 4 – 6 double-pointed needles working ‘in the round’. Two colours of wool are used simultaneously, one colour being held in each hand. The rows are knitted in plain stitches in the dominant colour, while the other colour of yarn is left as a strand on the inside. This creates a warm, insulated, stretchy, double thickness fabric. The yarn used was finer in diameter than is commonly used today, which allowed for great intricacy in the patterns. The size of the gloves is changed by varying the gauge of the knitting needles used.

The hand knitting industry in Sanquhar managed to continue for some time after machine knitting became widespread, simply because it was hard to copy the designs by machine, and there was still a market for these high quality, decorative goods. However, by the 1830s the knitting industry in Sanquhar had disappeared from business records, but was handed down through generations of home knitters.

I have been unable to trace any history of this company, other than the details held by the Museum, which say that the company was formed in 1987, but is no longer trading. This pullover is thought to date to 1989 or 1990. The company, depending on the size of the business, may have used a home knitting machine such as the one shown in this You Tube video, or a larger, industrial machine, such as those shown in this video from Hawick Knitwear. The latter video shows the process of making a jumper from yarn preparation, knitting the ribbing, knitting the body of the garment, joining the pieces, adding a collar, cleaning, pressing, checking the quality of the garment, adding labels and logos, before packaging for distribution.

3 Where is the textile from?

This particular pullover was found in an Oxfam shop, and was purchased for the textiles collection at Dumfries Museum.

The garment originates in Sanquhar, a town in Dumfries & Galloway, with a tradition of making decorative knitwear featuring traditional patterns, some of which can be seen on the Future Museum’s website.

4 Problems Encountered

This was the easiest of the items I chose, to find information about, due to a recent resurgence in interest in the patterns, although the actual company that made it is no longer trading.

As with the other archive objects, knowing where this piece came from and which fibres it is made from may be important for care, repair and conservation for the Museum. Knowing about the origin adds to the value of the piece, as it enables the story of the garment, the community it came from, and the history of the technique to be included when it is displayed.


1 Visual Examination

The Museum describes the pullover’s condition as “Good”.

The garment has been worn and some pilling is visible, along with a few stray ?pet hairs and small pills of other fabrics, seen as little coloured dots on the surface of the piece. The garment looks thick, warm and durable and could still be worn. It is about 26 or 27 years old. I can see no repairs or alterations to the pullover.

The story behind the piece is unknown, but I can imagine that it might have been a birthday or Christmas gift to a grandson from his grandmother, perhaps herself an inhabitant of Sanquhar.

2 Design elements, details, decoration and construction story

The striking pattern on the pullover is one of approximately seventeen recorded patterns and variations that were produced in traditional Sanquhar knitwear. (A’ the Airts – a shop in Sanquhar – have a useful reference page about the patterns and their history, itself sourced from the Mennock Women’s Rural Institute’s pamphlet Traditional Sanquhar Designs). The pattern on this pullover is called the Duke pattern (named in deference, it is thought, to the Duke of Queensberry and the Duke of Buccleuch – both of whom supported the knitting industry in Sanquhar, either through direct finance or by placing orders for goods). Other examples of pattern names are: ‘pheasant’s eye’ (derived from a weaving pattern, also known as ‘Bird’s eye’ and found in Cumbrian knitting), ‘midge and flea’ or fly (thought to be one of the oldest patterns), and ‘Fleur de Lys’ (said to date to the Napoleonic War era when French prisoners were in the area).

Dumfries Museum staff believe that the patterns emerged around the beginning of the 19th century, although the hand knitting industry dates back to the mid 18th century in Scotland. In Sanquhar, knitters initially focused on making plain stockings. Similar patterns to the Sanquhar ones have been found in knitted work from Aberdeen and North Yorkshire, and in Scandinavia to Afghanistan. It is not known whether techniques were passed on through individuals travelling between places, or whether the patterns arose spontaneously in these countries. The town of Sanquhar was a well established centre of weaving, with 120-150 hand-looms at its height in the 18th century, as described by James Brown in his 1891 book, The History of Sanquhar. The two colour changes of the Sanquhar knitting patterns may have evolved from the knowledge and experience of weaving checked fabrics.

Brown describes the knitwear trade of the early 1800s in this way “…a considerable trade was done in the weaving, by hand, of stockings and mittens, which were sold in many quarters, and bore the distinctive name of Sanquhar gloves and Sanquhar stockings, earning a deservedly high character for comfort and durability. Both were woven on wires in a peculiar manner and were parti-coloured, and of various patterns. If desired, the customer could have his name worked round the wrist of the gloves or the top of the stocking. The colours were, for the most part, simply black and white, the yarn used being very fine. As woven, the web was of double thickness, and very soft and “feel”.”

The pullover I studied is well-constructed and was, no doubt, meant to be worn and passed down through the children of the family, or in this case, donated to charity. The colour of this piece may be a customisation, as more usual colours in the past were black and white, or navy and cream (yellow and brown; and red and green being less common colour combinations). Although, I have now seen examples of all sorts of items for sale in customisable colours at the A’ the Airts shop; and high fashion tank tops in pink and black, so the knitwear continues to evolve and transform in the hands of new designers.

In the 50s, The People’s Friend magazine published knitting patterns which included Sanquhar pattern motifs. These were followed by Scottish Women’s Rural Institute patterns in the 60s and inclusion in various knitting books.

During this year’s London Fashion Week, Scottish fashion designer, Samantha McCoach launched a range of modern variations of the Sanquhar pattern as part of her Autumn/Winter 2016 range. The pieces were produced using knitting software and machine knitting in Sanquhar.

Edited 24/7/16: My friend, Margaret, knitted these wonderfully detailed Sanquhar knit gloves in two ply wool in cream and green in the Duke pattern. They feature her initials at the wrist, as is traditional. (The damage was caused by a friend’s dog.)

3 Nostalgia

One example of a story relating to the knitwear is told on the BBC’s series “A History of The World in 100 Objects”.  A pair of gloves with the Duke pattern and initials worked into the wrist area were donated c.1939 to John Swan Waugh, who was the first volunteer from Sanquhar to take part in the Boer War.

The Sanquhar pattern gloves are presented, by tradition, to the Cornet in the annual Sanquhar Riding of The Marches Ceremony. The Cornet is the principal male horse rider who leads the procession around the boundaries of the town, and performs other duties throughout the year. Visiting celebrities/dignitaries to Sanquhar may also be presented with a pair of the gloves.

Although my Mother knitted many of my childhood jumpers and tops, they were not of this pattern, so I did not feel a particular connection with this piece. I chose this item because it represented a traditional craft local to Dumfries and Galloway, and I thought it was handmade when viewing it online (it turned out to be machine knitted). It made a contrast in pattern and texture to the other two objects I looked at (the rag rug and the quilt).


Written Notes:-

Cant, L. Rag Rug – DUMFM: 1990.16  handwritten notes taken from Dumfries Museum’s database 1/7/16.


Textiles: Sanquhar Knitting Dumfries Museum

A Short History of Knitting in Sanquhar (2014) Tomofholland consulted 30/06/16


Brown, J The History of Sanquhar (Second Edition) (1891) J Anderson & Son, Dumfries

Websites:- consulted 10/07/16 consulted 10/07/16 consulted 10/07/16 consulted 10/07/16 consulted 10/07/16


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