- Cassie Walker
Scotland's History and Love of Wool
Updated: Jul 29, 2021
I come from a long line of Scottish ancestors on my father and mother’s side of the family. Crafting was a necessity back in the day to feed the family, clothe the family, and so much more. In order to buy the more luxurious things as far back as 600 years ago, the Scots were avid traders and wool was their larges staple. Burges, Scotland was the epicenter of trade in medieval times. People from all over Europe bought wool from the Scots and turned it into tapestries that were donned in Castles and Manors around Europe. The Lairds depended on the trade to keep the lands going. If you are familiar with the show Outlander the episode (Season 1) The Rents depicts the collection of rents which came in many forms such as money, sheep, goods and so on. So in this time wool was a necessity not a luxury (1).
Another necessity was clothing and one thing that we all recognize as traditional Scottish clothing is the kilt. A beautiful woven tartan that represents the clan and the family that you belong to. It wasn’t always as easy as a woolen mill and textile mill production. The women would make the wool and hand dye it from heather, beets, and other items from nature. As I referenced Outlander above, in that same episode we see the women of the town gathered around a huge table waulking the wool singing beautiful traditional Gaelic work songs. The rhythm of the songs moves the wool from hand to hand setting the dye and softening the wool as they continue waulking (2).
Moving into the Industrial Age we see woolen textiles as the prime industry. Again necessity comes into play. Scotland, as warm as the people are and the Highland hospitality is, the weather is often cool. The need for wool products such as socks, hats, gloves, sweaters, wraps, and so on is as common as the kilt. The handmade wool products move from a cottage industry to an industrial revolution and our amazing woolen mills are born. Just a fun fact our wool that we offer in the shop from Knit Rennie is special. The J C Rennie Co has been around since 1798 and has never left the family. They have been spinning and creating beautiful textiles for 222 years. Knit Rennie still uses the traditional skills which makes the yarn unique (3).
Moving into the modern age tweeds and tartans become a staple in fashion and here we see wool move from necessity to luxury. Harris Tweed is the most famous tweed. But little know that tweed is an expression of nature. Much like many handcrafted goods in Scotland, nature plays an important part in the creation. Tween mimics the colors of the moors and peat bogs, it follows the colors of the firths and the rivers, the bens and the glens, and all the critters that love the land. Tweeds are enjoyed from the farmers tending the sheep to the Royals. Dyed by lichen and wildflowers of long ago this too began as a necessity in the 18th century and has now become a mark of haute couture. Tweed got its name from the Gaelic word for twill which is tweel. They say a receiver in London misread the word and was confused with the near by River Tweed and from there tweed textile was born. Now we see it every where, suits, pants, purses, even nails! It’s a must have.
Wool still is used for necessities but we also have wool for luxury and by luxury I mean crafting.There are so many things we can do with wool.Knitting is a popular form of crafting with wool.Needles working to make beautiful pieces like hats, gloves, and sweaters sooths the soul.Crocheting is fun and you can create anything.Towels, afghans, shrugs, shawls, stuffed animals and dolls and so much more.The primitive practice of making penny rugs and rug hooking is a beautiful form of creating with wool.I love to stitch, so penny rugs and wool applique are great uses of wool for crafting and bringing back old practices.There is so much to do with wool and when you come visit the shop you will see all the different textiles and tartans, tweeds, and twills.There is so much to choose from and we are happy to help you on your creative journey into your love of wool.
3. W. H. K. Turner (1964) Wool textile manufacture in Scotland, Scottish Geographical Magazine, 80:2, 81-89, DOI: 10.1080/00369226408735928