For a small town, the community of Sanquhar has seen its share of history. Political leaders William Wallace (whom we know from the movie Braveheat) and Mary, Queen of Scots came here after battles; the poet Robert Burns often visited as well. The Sanquhar Declarations of 1685 were the basis for the idea of religious freedom in Scotland, and the town’s post office, built in 1712, is the oldest extant mailing base in the entire world. Oh, and did I mention the cottage industry of knitting that produced stockings and gloves knit in a variety of patterns unique to the area?
Knitting researcher Tom of Holland estimates that, by the middle of the 18th century, the Sanquhar industry was established. Economic ups and downs have affected the knitters of Sanquhar over the years, with the industry largely defunct by 1900. Two decades later, the Scottish Women’s Institute was formed with the mission of promoting the life skills, arts, and communities of women throughout the country. The “Save Scottish Crafts” initiative targets cooking, dressmaking, crochet, and of course knitting as integral to Scottish culture; promoting and preserving patterns from areas such as Fair Isle and Sanquhar are part of this drive.
Today, the Sanquhar Pattern Designs has taken on the challenge of reviving this cottage knitting industry. Five designers are committed to creating products to be sold through the arts center in Sanquhar; the project is also looking for knitwear designers to help modernize the patterns for use in the twenty-first century and beyond. Baby blankets, home décor items, and wearables are offered for sale on the organization's website; the site also offers classes for locals interested in learning how to knit traditional Sanquhar gloves.
Unlike their Fair Isle cousins, Sanquhar patterns are usually knit in two colors only, but both Fair Isle and Sanquhar patterns are generally knit using stranded techniques. The patterns themselves exhibit recognizable Scottish flair, usually riffing in some way on plaid; designs such as the Duke, Glendyne, Prince of Wales, and Fleur de Lys are strongly geometric, many using a background of squares filled in with different forms.
Vogue Knitting’s Spring/Summer 2017 offers a few patterns based on Sanquhar styles, and a search on Ravelry produced nearly one hundred choices. Wendy D. Johnson showcases Sanquhar Socks in her Toe-Up Socks for Every Body Those interested in using completely traditional instructions can order one of four choices from the Scottish Women’s Institute at https://shop.theswi.org.uk/products/swi-sanquhar-gloves-pattern. While this won’t be easy knitting, the end result will be warm and stylish, perfect for winter holiday gifts or a special project just for oneself. Wear the finished product with pride – it is part of a long history of knitting creativity.
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of the people, organizations, or publications named in this article. I purchased my copy of Vogue Knitting with my own funds.