Some Hose History
by Colin Hutcheson
Hose knitting had been done by hand for centuries before an out
of work clergyman from Nottinghamshire - the Reverend William Lee -
having watched his wife's expertise with the needles, invented the
first knitting machine in1589. The Industry became established in
Scotland in the 17th Century and was strong in Haddington where the
New Mills Company was established in 1681. Stocking making also
took place in many other parts of Scotland in the mid 1700's
including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dumfries, Aberdeen and even in
Stonehaven from where, as history relates, two stockingmakers
participated in the 1745 Jacobite uprising. 1771 saw it well
established in the Scottish Borders.
It is hard for us today to imagine how important stockings were
all those years ago but, because of the nature of dress in those
days - breeches were worn widely by men - and the far greater use
of them after the Battle of Culloden and the subsequent "de-kilting
Act," the demand for stockings was huge. Before knitting was
invented, hose was made from the tartan cloth that was woven for
trews - the sett being smaller than that used in weaving for kilts.
The cloth would be cut on the bias so that it had some elasticity
and with being rotated through 90 degrees, the hose would display
the telltale diamond pattern that we now call Argyle.
There is an interesting tale concerning tartan hose and the
MacRaes of Conchra, who on their way to the Battle of Sheriffmuir
from Kintail in 1715 stopped at a shieling (a simple hut used by a
cowherd) for the night and, finding a web of tartan fabric,
fashioned stockings for themselves prior to the battle. The tartan
may be described as consisting of squares of sapphire blue and
white, a line of yellow passing through the former and one of red
through the latter. Throughout most of the 18th Century hose was
made to measure from woven material and in 1773 the Black Watch
acquired 720 yards of plaiding which, woven on a 27inch width, was
apparently sufficient for 960 pairs.
Hose has been worn down through the years and indeed up to the
present day by all the Regiments. Invariably "Diced Hose" was worn
in Red/Black or Red/White dicing, usually as "hose tops" where the
heel and foot were missing and ordinary socks could be worn
underneath with "gaiters" covering the join. This provided a much
needed economy measure. In Ministry of Defence terminology these
are called "Diced Hose, Footless". Incidentally those knitted
"mittens" without fingers worn by the Band members and greatly
important in cold weather are called "mittens, musicians ......."
and full length diced stockings (that is - complete with feet!)
were worn usually by officers and sergeants at Mess nights and for
Regimental Balls. Tartan hose tops (not diced hose tops) in designs
matching their own tartan would often be worn by Regimental Pipers.
Tartan hose was of course widely worn by civilians to match their
kilts and this extended more recently to Argyle Sweaters - often
produced for golfers such as the Pringle sweaters made famous by
golf champion Nick Faldo. For boys, stockings were often made with
only the turned over top rendered in tartan.
Argyle hose are a simplified version of tartan hose where the
pattern is too intricate to replicate exactly. It became more usual
(and sometimes more pleasing to the eye) if the tartan design was
imitated but not copied exactly.
Hose - full length stockings
Hose tops - footless, from turnover to ankle only
Diced Hose - normally two colours only but with
Argyle - pattern designed to imitate a tartan
Raker - technical term for criss-crossing line on tartan
Split diamonds - where the large diamond is split into
two colours to add more variety to the design
Diamond within a diamond - small diamond superimposed in
the centre on the large diamond.
Marl - two threads of the basic colours twisted together,
can be single marl or double.
The 18th Century Highlanders by Stuart Reid and Mike
Old & Rare Scottish Tartans by D.W.Stewart
The Scottish Hosiery and Knitwear Industry 1680-1980 Clifford