Gloves under construction at a Beth Brown-Reinsel retreat, 2014. (Photo: Beth Brown-Reinsel)

What Are Sanquhar Gloves?

Sanquhar gloves are a distinctive fashion accessory from the small Scottish town of the same name. Sanquhar, Scotland is located about 60 miles southwest of Edinburgh and 50 miles southeast of Glasgow. The gloves historically associated with this community are hand knitted in fine wool yarns in two colours that emphasize the delicacy and precision of the small all-over patterns preferred by the knitters of Sanquhar.


 Interactive map showing location of Sanquhar, Scotland, via Google Maps.

Three pairs of Sanquhar gloves in the ‘Duke’ pattern from the collection of the Knitting & Crochet Guild of the UK. Knitters unknown, circa 1960s-70s. Yarn: wool, 12 stitches and 14 rows/inch. (Photo: Angharad Thomas, courtesy Board of the KCG)

Characteristics of Sanquhar Gloves

These examples of Sanquhar gloves, knitted in Sanquhar, Scotland came into the collection of the Knitting & Crochet Guild (“KCG”) of the UK through individual donations in the 1990s. It was typical to personalise the gloves with the owner’s or purchaser’s initials.  All examples shown here feature the ‘Duke’ pattern and are finely and densely knitted in wool at a gauge of 48 stitches by 56 rows/4 inches/10 cms. The pair on the left are child’s size and the others fit adults. The colours, black and white or brown and yellow, are the ones most commonly used. Features of Sanquhar gloves include the cuff, knitted in two colours, the initials of the wearer above that, the sharply shaped thumb gusset and small geometric patterns in the knitted fabric.

Shetland glove with Sanquhar glove, backs. (Photo: Angharad Thomas)

Sanquhar Knitting in Regional Context

Two-colour knitting is found across Europe. The images show backs and palms of a glove knitted in Shetland and a glove knitted in Sanquhar. These are just two examples of knitted multicoloured gloves commonly found across Europe, from Estonia to Scandinavia to Britain. The exact features vary regionally, as can be seen by comparing the Shetland and Sanquhar examples. Such time-consuming and elegant articles of dress were, and still are today, made primarily for sale to visitors as souvenirs, and as a means of generating income, rather than for personal use. Both the Shetland and Sanquhar examples were knitted in the round using fine wool and double-pointed needles, but some of the differences between the two include the colours used, the rib and cuff construction, the knitting in of the owners’ initials and date above the cuff, and the thumb and finger construction.

These gloves were knitted by May McCormick of Sanquhar and are shown on display in the A’ the Airts Centre in Sanquhar at a study day in November 2014. (Photo: Angharad Thomas, with permission from May McCormick)

Sanquhar Glove Patterns

Although the ‘Duke’ is the pattern most commonly associated with Sanquhar, there are many different patterns and variations. The first group of these are variations on the ‘Duke’ pattern, and are also based on the grid or ‘dambrod.’ There is a story or theory that the grid or dambrod pattern originated as a result of the local landowner, the Duke of Buccleuch, enclosing or fencing his land.

These gloves were knitted by May McCormick of Sanquhar and are shown on display in the A’ the Airts Centre in Sanquhar at a study day in November 2014. (Photo: Angharad Thomas, with permission from May McCormick).

Other Pattern Variations

Other patterns are found in addition to the ones based on the grid or dambrod. Shown in this image are the ‘Prince of Wales’ pattern, ‘Shepherd’s Plaid’ and ‘Midge and Flea’, and there are others similar to these using small repeats to create patterns that are often reminiscent of those found in woven fabrics which were also produced in the area.

Image 1. Small geometric patterns. (Photo: Angharad Thomas)

Features of Sanquhar Gloves

There are several features that distinguish Sanquhar gloves:

  • Small geometric patterns in two colours only: Image 1.
  • Two colour rib, can vary in detail: Image 2.
  • Initials and date on cuff, also found on other gloves knitted in Yorkshire, for example. The gloves pictured do not have the initials or date as they were not knitted for a particular person. (Click Here for an example with initials.)
  • Construction: thumb shaping, finger gussets and top of finger shaping: Images 3 and 4.
  • The yarn specified on old patterns is “drugget,” thought to have been a wool yarn locally produced for a carpet factory in the area. Today wool is still used, although contemporary knitters also use wool blends, including “sock yarn” which contains a percentage of nylon. All four patterns published by the Scottish Women’s (Rural) Institute still specify “drugget” as the wool used.” Projects made from these patterns can be viewed on Ravelry.
Sanquhar gloves in ‘Duke’ pattern dating before 1889 in Dumfries Museum. (Photo: Angharad Thomas, used by permission of Dumfries Museum.)

The Origins of Sanquhar Gloves

As with many textiles, the exact history of these gloves and their patterns is difficult, if not impossible, to trace with certainty. The same few sources are quoted by most contemporary writers whose works appear in the bibliography at the end of this exhibit. 1

By way of introduction or brief explanatory note based on these commonly-referenced resources, from its height of activity in the eighteenth century, the hand knitting industry continued in the more remote areas of the British Isles as a means of generating income domestically, and this included the making of patterned gloves in two colours, of which very few original examples remain. Further complicating the issue, many of these early gloves are closer in type to Yorkshire rather than Sanquhar gloves.2 The two-colour patterns may have been used for knitting stockings in the Sanquhar area before the gloves developed. Perhaps because of its remote location, coupled with well-off visitors, glove knitting in the Sanquhar area continued through the nineteenth century, supported by orders from the local landowner, the Duke of Buccleuch. 3 In the twentieth century, Mary Forsyth, a teacher at the local high school, and a native of Sanquhar who returned to the town, reportedly ensured that all girls in the school knit a pair at the age of about fourteen, thus encouraging the continuation of glove knitting. This practice, combined with the wearing of the distinctive patterned gloves at the annual Riding of the Marches ceremony in Sanquhar, perhaps helped to ensure the continuation of the tradition.4  The complexity of the gloves, and the fact that almost every pair was personalized with the purchaser’s or recipient’s initials, also may have given the gloves status and cachet that contributed to their continued production.

Several authors have written about the history of glove knitting in Sanquhar, both in print and online. Please see the selection of references provided at the end of the exhibit.

1 Thomas Brown, The Union Gazetteer for Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 2. (Trengate, Glasgow: Niven, Napier & Khull, Printers, 1807), 900. Website.

 2 These early gloves date from 1783 in the Fries Museum, Leeuwarden, Netherlands (item NO 06345), Website, from 1818, auctioned in January 2014 by Bonhams, Website; and the and the 1846 “George Walton” gloves in the Wordsworth Trust’s Museum in Grasmere, Cumbria, which are documented with pattern in Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby. The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales: With an Introduction to the Early History of Knitting, (1951; repr., Cleveland, OH: Cooperative Press, 2013), 140-181. Reproductions of that glove can be viewed on Ravelry. The gloves can also be found by going to the online collection of Ottema-Kingma Foundation in the Netherlands, Website. They are object NO 06345

 3 Dumfries and Galloway Museums and Galleries On-line, “A History of the Sanquhar Knitting Pattern,” Website.

 4 Ibid.

Hand-knitted gloves offered for sale in Sanquhar, October 2013. (Photo: Angharad Thomas)

Contemporary Sanquhar Knitwear

Sanquhar gloves are still produced in the town of Sanquhar, and these pairs were offered for sale in the local arts centre in October of 2013.
(Note: The brown and yellow pair appears earlier in images HERE.)

In 2015, two online vendors extend into the 21st century the tradition of selling these distinctive hand-knitted goods. Both of these merchants offer items in the distinctive Sanquhar patterns beyond the traditional glove form.

  • Sanquhar Pattern Designs is a community project run by A’ the Airts in the town. They make a range of Sanquhar patterned items, mainly on domestic machines, but also traditional hand-knitted gloves. Their web site has information about the patterns HERE.
  • The Sanquhar Knitwear Company makes Sanquhar pattern knitwear – primarily flip-top mitts — and has information about the patterns on its web site HERE.