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Tartan Ferret

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 marl
Argyle - pattern designed to imitate a tartan
Raker - technical term for criss-crossing line on tartan design
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 Chappell.
Old & Rare Scottish Tartans by D.W.Stewart
The Scottish Hosiery and Knitwear Industry 1680-1980 Clifford Gulvin

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Scottish Tartans Authority (Scottish limited company no. 162386), c/o J & H Mitchell, 51 Atholl Road, Pitlochry, PH16 5BU
Scottish Charity Number SCO24310

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