Knitted hose for Highlander

A while back at Steve and Mary’s Culloden commemoration weekend fundraising event, this landed on my lap…

It had holes, despite my having already repaired them once before, and they reeked to high heaven!

This is what they looked like only about 18 months before, when I had made them for him. The first time around, I used Shetland jumperweight wool in natural moorit (from Jamieson and Smith).


In order to do everyone on his tours a favour (Andy has his own tour company, Highlander Tours), let alone his poor wife, Ana, I decided to knit him some new hose!

As he’s a busy chap and I’m also pretty busy as well, I had to resort to Facebook messenger to get his leg length (I knew roughly what it is as I know how tall he is, but I wanted to check). This is a screenshot of the conversation…

andy can leg

A can is not the most helpful measuring tool I have ever used!

me knitting andy hose

Did seem to work OK though 😉

While I was working on the new pair, the old pair had one last outing – on to a film set in Turkey. They will be appearing in a film later in the year, I believe, so that will be the second time my knitting will be appearing on screen (I also knit for the American TV show, Sleepy Hollow, last season)

andy in istanbul

Andy Outside Fraser Place hotel in Istanbul (could have stayed in a more appropriately named hotel?!).  Photo credit: Andrew McAlindon

By the way, the historically-accurate shoes he is wearing here were a 40th birthday present from me and some of our friends (they’re very comfy and I can personally vouch for Tod’s women’s shoes as well). They are available to purchase from Tod Booth.

When Andy got home from filming, these were waiting for him…

andy socks

As you can see, they have been reinforced at the toe and heel with linen thread (I’m not sure it will help that much, but it was worth an attempt) and also knit in modern, machine washable wool this time (Regia 4 ply) so there’s no excuse not to wash them at the end of a long day showing guests around our beautiful country 😉

Here’s the hose in action last night at our friend Lilly’s (Scottish Wanderlust and Find Her in the Highlands) event at the Govan Stones Project

andy govan stonesAndy at the Govan Stones project. Photo credit: Nicola Boyle

I love making things for friends and family which they will find useful –  there’s nothing like taking the time to make someone something with your own hands- although I do hope it will be some time before Andy asks me for his next pair 😉

What would Murtagh wear? A look at male dress in the British American colonies, 1760s-1770s

This is a post especially for Outlander fans who may be interested in the costumes worn on the show. It is not intended to be negative but educational.

The inspiration for this post comes from a comment I made on Twitter a while back in response to a fellow fan gushing about the former main costume designer’s costumes. As I stated on Twitter, the 20th century costumes for main cast and extras have been outstanding. I imagine my granny and grandad would have worn Frank and Claire’s 1940s and 1960s clothes (all of them). In fact, my grandparents’ wedding photo from 1940 is not too dissimilar to what Claire and Frank wore at their wedding in the show (they also got married quickly at a registry office).

However, there has not been as much attention to historical fact for the eighteenth century costumes, with more artistic license involved. That is all fine, unless folks take the costumes (& some storylines) to be accurate representations of historical dress and events (which some aren’t).

This is one of the costumes I have particular concerns about, simply because of the false narrative it perpetuates about tartan and the Act of Proscription (I’ve already written a blog post about the Act of Proscription, which you can see here).

Figure 1: Murtagh, season 4 of Outlander (image accessed from on 24th April 2019)

The bonnet (or should I say beret?) is certainly a lot better than the one he wore in the first series, and the colour is certainly acceptable, and the belt and sporran are also fine. However, other items are, in my humble opinion, inaccurate. I’ll discuss each item separately and offer evidence to back up my comments.

1. The neck handkerchief / neck cloth (or neckcloath*)

There seems to have been some confusion during the first four series of Outlander about the colour of cloth worn around the men’s necks in the 18th century and the amount of washing it received. It could be argued that pretty much all of the ones worn by main cast portraying Highlanders were given a dirty appearance, to look like they were hardly ever washed. Same goes for the shirts. In contrast, Claire’s shifts – which were worn next to the body every day to soak up sweat etc. and also used as nightgowns- were always perfectly white.

As godfather to a land-owning laird (i.e.Jamie), Murtagh would not be at the bottom of the social ran but would have been of the ‘middling’ sort (I know he’s a fictional character but hopefully you get my point!). This means he would have owned a number of neck cloths and that these would have been laundered on a regular basis. In her unpublished PhD, Dr Sally Tuckett discusses linen and perceptions of cleanliness and politeness in the eighteenth century Scotland: “the display of clean linen through shirts and other undergarments was vital to the maintenance of a respectable image” (Tuckett 2011: 61). So how were these shirts and other undergarments kept clean enough to portray a good impression?

Laundering in the eighteenth century

Figures 2 & 3: Laundresses at work in Burt, E. (1998) Burt’s letters from the North of Scotland (loc 1207 of 5551, Birlinn: Kindle edition)


Edmund Burt described the washing of linen by women in the Highlands in the mid 1720s:

“Before I leave the bridge, I shall take notice of one thing more, which is commonly to be seen by the sides of the river (and not only here, but in all the parts of Scotland where I have been), that is, women with their coats tucked up, stamping, in tubs, upon linen by this way of washing; and not only in summer, but in the hardest frosty weather, when their legs and feet are almost literally as red as blood with the cold; and often two of these wenches stamp in one tub, supporting themselves by their arms thrown over each other’s shoulders.”

Burt E. (1998: loc 1207 of 5551, Kindle edition).

Although Burt doesn’t mention it, what the laundresses were doing on the banks of the River Ness was but one stage of the laundering process. He also doesn’t mention the process of bleaching in the sun which was done in nearby fields.

Here’s a link to an excellent presentation detailing how clothes were washed in the 18th century. “Bucking”, which is referred to in the presentation, was in use from the middle ages to bleach fabric until the discovery of chlorine in the late eighteenth century. Aged urine produces ammonia – none in fresh urine- which was essential to clean cloth (it was also used to set dyes into wool before weaving and there is some anecdotal evidence that aged (not fresh) urine was used to waulk woollen fabric before the widespread introduction of soap; Claire peeing in a tub for imminent use in episode 105 is incorrect).

The fourth series of Outlander, Drums of Autumn, is set in pre-revolution North Carolina (I can understand why Diana Gabaldon chose to move the story there after reading about the history of North Carolina, again another wise choice by Herself).

I was delighted to find a travel journal from an eighteenth century Scotswoman, Janet Schaw, who visited Wilmington in the mid 1770s and therefore gives us a contemporary description of the town and activities which happened there. You can read her Journal of a Lady of Quality; Being the Narrative of a Journey from Scotland to the West Indies, North Carolina, and Portugal, in the years 1774 – 1776 with excellent notes here. This is what she had to say about the washing of laundry in North Carolina in 1775:

As soap and candle are commonly a joint manufacture, I will now mention that article, which they have here very good, as they have the finest ashes in the world. But when you have occasionally to buy it, however, you meet only with Irish soap, and tho’ some house-wives are so notable as to make it for themselves, which they do at no expence, yet most of them buy it at the store at a monstrous price. They are the worst washers of linen I ever saw, and tho’ it be the country of indigo they never use blue, nor allow the sun to look at them. All the [cloaths] coarse and fine, bed and table linen, lawns, cambricks and muslins, chints, checks, all are promiscuously thrown into a copper with a quantity of water and a large piece of soap. This is set a boiling, while a N**** wench turns them over with a stick. This operation over, they are taken out, squeezed and thrown on the Pales to dry. They use no calender; they are however much better smoothed than washed. Mrs Miller offered to teach them the British method of treating linens, which she understands extremely well, as, to do her justice, she does every thing that belongs to her station, and might be of great use to them. But Mrs Schaw was affronted at the offer. She showed them however by bleaching those of Miss Rutherfurd, my brothers and mine, how different a little labour made them appear, and indeed the power of the sun was extremely apparent in the immediate recovery of some bed and table-linen, that had been so ruined by sea water, that I thought them irrecoverably lost. Poor Bob, who has not seen a bleaching-washing since a boy, was charmed with it, and Mrs Miller was not a little pleased with the compliments he made her on it. Indeed this and a dish of hodge podge she made for him have made her a vast favourite, and she has promised him a sheeps’ head. But as she rises in the Master’s esteem, she falls in that of the Mistress, who by no means approves Scotch or indeed British innovations.

How frequently was the laundry done in the 18th century? Woodville Plantation, a late 18th century in Pennsylvania which is now a working museum, has published an excellent article about the wash day, which was always a Monday. Laundry was done weekly, just as it was by my grannies (I don’t know about you, but I do laundry every day thanks to my wonderful washing machine). Here is a link to their informative essay on the matter.

And here is a great wee blog post from the lovely Two Nerdy History Girls about personal hygiene and cleanliness of linen in the 18th century (personally I think we could describe both Murtagh and Jamie as middle class).

Here is another excellent link if you’re interested in learning more about laundering in the 18th century; the fantastic 18th century notebook   and an interesting article from Colonial Williamsburg. There was a laundry at Williamsburg and presumably there could have been one at Wilmington as well (unfortunately a bit far to travel for research).

How many neckcloths?

It won’t surprise the reader that a number of garments someone owned depended on how much money the person had, pretty much as it is today.

For her PhD, Sally Tuckett undertook an in-depth analysis of eighteenth century (Scottish) death inventories, which listed absolutely everything a person owned;

“As men of varying social status wore similar basic garments – breeches, waistcoat, and coat or jacket – social status was indicated through the quality and quantity of the garments owned. With the increased emphasis on linen as a sign of respectability and status, the more shirts a person owned the greater chance they had of maintaining that respectable image. Of those men who had shirts listed in their inventories, most had at least two. The moveable goods of William Borthwick, a weaver from Newington near Edinburgh, were valued at just £4 10s 7d Sterling when he died in 1742. Included among his possessions, however, were three shirts. At the other extreme, George Preston, surgeon-major to his Majesty’s forces in Scotland, owned fifty-seven linen shirts when he died in 1749. […]

Accessories could alter a wardrobe without the need of a large financial commitment – it was cheaper to acquire ribbons, ruffles, and buckles to update a garment and ensure a fashionable appearance, than it was to purchase a whole new outfit. Detachable shirt ruffles, stocks, and cravats were a means by which personal wealth, cleanliness, and respectability could be displayed. These items were common in the inventories and appeared among the possessions of men from a variety of social backgrounds.

James Braidwood, a candlemaker burgess of Edinburgh, owned a significant number of such items. Along with various suits, coats, wigs, and hats, Braidwood owned twenty-three “Linnen Necks”, twenty pairs of linen sleeves, twenty-seven muslin stocks, and three cambric cravats when he died in 1742. William Borthwick, noted above, had owned five cravats to go with his three shirts, demonstrating the ability of even “the working man to acquire petty clothing luxuries”

Tuckett (2011: 61-62)

Here’s a link to another excellent blog post from the Two Nerdy History Girls and here’s an excellent presentation from Ruth Hodges about what was worn around the neck by both men and women in British America during the revolutionary era.

2. The plaid, scrap of tartan & the luckenbooth

Since I first saw Murtagh back in Drums, I have been wondering why he wore an olive green plaid when (brightly coloured) tartan was available to him in the Colonies. Even more puzzling was the scrap of tartan pinned to his chest with a cast luckenbooth brooch.

Before discussing the wearing of tartan in the latter part of the eighteenth century in British America, I thought it would first be useful to mention references to tartan in the book Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon. As fans of the show will know, Murtagh does not make it to the Colonies in the books (I am so glad that this has changed in the TV series, as Duncan Lacroix has done an excellent job with this character), so I will refer to what Jamie wears… The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 12 of the book and is set at River Run, Jamie’s Aunt Jocasta’s plantation:

A Highlander in full regalia is an impressive sight–any Highlander, no matter how old, ill-favored, or crabbed in appearance. A tall, straight-bodied, and by no means ill-favored Highlander in the prime of his life is breath taking. He hadn’t worn the kilt since Culloden, but his body had not forgotten the way of it. ‘Oh!’ I said. He saw me then, and white teeth flashed as he made me a leg, silver shoe-buckles gleaming. He straightened and turned on his heel to set his plaid swinging, then came down slowly, eyes fixed on my face. For a moment, I saw him as he had looked the morning I married him. The sett of his tartan was nearly the same now as then; black check on a crimson ground, plaid caught at his shoulder with a silver brooch, dipping to the calf of a neat, stockinged leg. His linen was finer now, as was his coat; the dirk he wore at his waist had bands of gold across the haft. Duine uasal was what he looked, a man of worth. But the bold face above the lace was the same, older now, but wiser with it–yet the tilt of his shining head and the set of the wide, firm mouth, the slanted clear cat-eyes that looked into my own, were just the same. Here was a man who had always known his worth. ‘Your servant, ma’am,’ he said. And then burst into a face-splitting smile as he descended the last few stairs.You look wonderful,’ I said, hardly able to swallow the lump in my throat. ‘It’s none so bad,’ he agreed, with no trace of false modesty. He arranged a fold over his shoulder with care. ‘Of course, that’s the advantage of a plaid–there’s no trouble about the fit of it.’

Gabaldon, Diana (1996: 180-181)

The word ‘plaid’ appears in Drums over sixty times, usually in reference to Jamie (seemingly he has at least three plaids – a red and black one given to him by his aunt Jocasta which had belonged to her deceased husband, a crimson one and (at least) one made from a dark tartan. Other men also wear plaids in the book. None are described as being a plain, drab colour.

In my research for this blog post, I came across an incredibly interesting article discussing a law passed in South Carolina in 1735 about how Scottish tartan was used to dress slaves and those who worked on the ships. Sumptuary laws had been used by the British kings and queens for hundreds of years, basically to make sure that folks knew their place (or, as in Elizabeth I’s case, to protect English workers’ jobs by making it illegal to wear imported items).  I’m not going to write out the name of the 1735 South Carolina Act as it’s rather disgusting, but to summarise the law was all about slaves knowing their place by only being allowed to wear the poorest of fabrics.

Throughout the 18th century, tartans and other fabrics produced in Scotland were an important part of the trade between Britain and her colonies.  Loranger and Sanders explain the trade thus:

“Textiles were one of the pillars of England and colonial America’s slave trading economy. In fact, the American Colonies had become one of England’s greatest customers, as they represented a distinct piece of what has been termed the “Triangular Trade.” Gold bullion and manufactured goods left England bound for India’s textile manufacturing centers and also to Western Africa’s slave trading centers. These economic inputs provided the fuel necessary to procure goods, such as, inexpensive Indian Madras textiles and humans/slaves, which would then leave India and Africa bound for the plantations of the United States and Caribbean islands. Ships returning from the Americas to England would then supply raw materials, such as sugar and cotton, to fuel English industries, thus completing the cycle. By 1773, America would consume approximately one quarter of products that were made in England.”

Loranger and Sanders (2016: 684)

In an article published in the William and Mary Quarterly in 1945, Calvin B Coulter Jr discussed the trade from Glasgow with British colonies during the 18th century:

“Glasgow’s incoming commerce was based on sugar and rum from the West Indies and tobacco from the American plantations, with English capital providing much of the wherewithal to trade. In return, Glasgow shipped the native products of Scotland to the new world. Many of these did not differ substantially from those of England, but some were special to the country. Chief among the latter were many plaids or tartans which the Scots made in the Lowlands from Edinburgh and Stirling to Glasgow. Scottish osnaburgs, which were cheaper than the German ones and provided much of the summer clothing of the slaves, were manufactured around Glasgow. Plaid hose were made throughout the country from the Orkneys to the English border.”

Coulter, C (1945: 298)

Even though the Act of Proscription was enforced in Scotland on working class folk, it was never enforced on the upper classes during the entire time it was law.  The whole thing about Murtagh keep a scrap of his original plaid secretly hidden I am afraid is a reworking of what would have happened and certainly does not warrant the importance it has in this costume.  Murtagh, quite frankly, would have done what the 50,000 or so Highlanders who left for the Colonies did after Culloden, even if they were indentured for the first five to seven years of their time in America; purchased new ones in the New World as soon as circumstances allowed. I highly doubt that by 1768-1770 he would have been without a brightly coloured plaid – which was probably only worn for special occasions by then as men in the Colonies tended to wear breeches, even the men from the Highlands, for everyday wear-  and walking around with a scrap of a pre-Culloden tartan pinned to his chest.

I have been lucky enough to see and hold a number of luckenbooth brooches, including Isabella MacTavish Fraser’s luckenbooth from the late 1770s/early 1780s as well as a number of luckenbooths (and penannular brooches) in the collection of the West Highland Museum in Fort William.  I can therefore tell the difference between a luckenbooth which was made in the 18th century and one made later (they look rather different).  Here’s a nice article on luckenbooths from the New York Times, by the way.  One of the main differences which is easily noticed is the fineness of the pin; earlier brooches have larger pins (which only became more refined in the Victorian era).  Another difference is the engraving.  Finally, the type of casting is important as well; the more finely cast a brooch is, the newer it is.

This image from the Wiki page on luckenbooths should explain my point here quite nicely.  Brooch A is typical of a luckenbooth from the 1760s-1790s ( B and E are 19th century, C and D 20th century)


Figure 4: Scottish Luckenbooth brooches, 18th – 20th century (accessed from here on 26th April 2019)


Figure 5: close up of Murtagh’s chest. See what I mean about the Luckenbooth? (close up of Figure 1, accessed from (image accessed from on 24th April 2019)

I’m going to finish this section of this blog post with the original design for this costume, which was shared on an ‘official’ Outlander website for fans.  Costume designer Nina Ayers said the following about this costume:

“On designing Murtagh’s costume, Co-Costume Designer Nina Ayers said, “Murtagh epitomises the blend of European settler and Native American dress. As a Scot, he has retained the kilt in a lot of scenes but he also wears the local leggings.  He also wears the swatch of his own tartan on a pin over his heart.  This, he has had since his days imprisoned at Ardsmuir, a piece of home and Scotland he carries with him at all times.”

Accessed from here on 26th April 2019. 

Here is Nina’s portfolio on here own website and  an article from Glamour magazine.


Figure 6: Nina Ayer’s original design for Murtagh’s costume in Drums of Autumn (accessed from here on 26th April 2019). 


So what was actually worn in Colonial America in the late 1760s/early 1700s?

We know what was worn by runaway slaves during the period due to the announcements in  newspapers (for more on the runanway slaves adverts in North Carolina see here Be warned; it does not make comfortable reading.) Colonial Williamsburg has done a great deal of work into clothing of the period, so let’s have a look at what they say.  First, here is a useful glossary of different items of men’s clothing of the period. Here’s a link to one of the characters, a silversmith called James Geddy Jr. from Williamsburg (remember that beautiful ring which Murtagh made for Jamie to give to Claire?) which describes the clothes he wore between 1769 and 1774 and here is a very informative article by Linda Baumgarten about colonial dress codes and here is a link to a great online exhibition from Colonial Williamsburg.

There are some contemporary prints of the Regulators from the time (Murtagh is a leader of the Regulators in the fourth series of the programme):


Figure 7: Tryon confronting the Regulators, 1771 (accessed from here on 26th April 2019)


Figure 8: Another image of the Regulators (accessed from here on 26th April 2019)

So, to conclude this blog post I will answer my question by referring to these last two images and this final image.  This is what Murtagh should have worn, or something very similar.

Outlander Season 3 2017

Figure 9: Fergus, Outlander series 4 (accessed from here on 26th April 2019)



Coulter, Calvin B. “The Import Trade of Colonial Virginia.” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 2, no. 3, 1945, pp. 296–314

Gabaldon, Diana (2011) Drums of Autumn (Kindle edition)

Loranger, David & Sanders, Eulanda (2016) Sumptuary Synergy: British Imperialism Through the Tartan and Slave Trades Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America’s 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah, GA, October 19-23, 2016.

Tuckett, Sally (2011) Weaving the Nation: Scottish clothing and textile cultures in the long eighteenth century (unpublished PhD, University of Edinburgh)



18th century Highland male headwear

I have recently started making historically-accurate Jacobite bonnets (, or rather ‘as near as possible’ historically accurate Jacobite bonnets, given that the Dunface sheep is extinct and the yarn hasn’t been handspun nor hand-dyed with indigo. I have had several folks getting in touch about the bonnets hence a blog post today on the history of the (blue) bonnet, associated with Jacobitism. Female Highland headwear deserves its own separate post so I’ll write that next.

Let’s start with a few freely-available contemporary images of Highlanders in blue bonnets.

Depictions of bonnets in contemporary art

Here’s David Morier’s famous painting, An Incident in the Rebellion of 1745, which was commissioned by Cumberland after Culloden. The models Morier used for the painting were apparently serving Hanoverian soldiers and imprisoned Jacobite soldiers.


figure 1: detail from Morier (1746) An Incident in the Rebellion of 1745 (accessed from on 22nd March 2019)


As you can clearly see, all the Jacobite soldiers are depicted as wearing blue bonnets with white cockades along with a variety of tartan jackets, waistcoats and plaids (all the jackets and waistcoats depicted were cut on the bias, which makes perfect sense as it allows more ease of movement, in contrast to surviving garments which have been linked to the battle of Culloden).

I would like to highlight that all bonnets are the same size (you’ll see why later on in the post).

Figure 2: Artist unknown (date unknown) Lord George Murray, accessed on 22nd March 2019. The painting is on display at Blair Castle

Lord George Murray was Prince Charles Edward’s main commander. In this painting he, and three others, are all depicted wearing blue bonnets with cockades. They appear to be a similar size, colour and shape to those worn by the Jacobite prisoners in Morier’s painting (figure 1).

The ninth chapter of John Telfer Dunbar’s The Costume of Scotland (1981) is on the subject of the Scottish bonnet.  Dunbar starts the chapter by tracing the history of the bonnet and states that the distinction between the smaller Highlander bonnet and the larger and flatter Lowlander bonnet came about in late 16th/early 17th century (Dunbar 1981:155).  For a quick visualisation of the difference, here are two contrasting images.


Figure 3: Detail from Ramsay, Allan (1786) The Gentle Shepherd (accessed from on 22nd March 2019 with detail of Lord George Murray’s portrait, details above

Here’s another collage showing the difference…

Figure 4: Captain Malcolm McPherson from 1743 (accessed from here on 22nd March 2019 and David Allan’s The Gentle Shepherd from the latter half of the 18th century (accessed from here on 22nd March 2019).


You may well notice that Malcolm McPherson was sporting a black cockade; this was a symbol of being a Hanoverian supporter (he was a captain of the Black Watch who was executed at the Tower of London for desertion in 1743).

Extant examples

Figure 5: the Arnish Moor Man (accessed from here on 22nd March 2019)

Figure 6: Arnish Moor Man’s bonnet (accessed from here on 22nd March 2019)

In the 1975 edition of the Proceedings of the Society of the Antiquaries of Scotland, Helen Bennett gave a report on the clothing worn by a murder victim from Lewis, which is available to read here. Her description of all the clothing is very detailed; so much so that it would be possible to recreate all items of clothing. This bonnet was knitted in the round on double pointed needles from the headband to the top of the bonnet, which is evidenced by decreases in bonnet made by knitting two stitches together. It was originally blue; scientific analysis confirming that it had been dyed with indigo. The headband was decorated with knots of red wool every two inches; Dunbar argues that bonnets decorated with knots of red wool were the precursors of the diced pattern of the later (Balmoral) bonnets (Dunbar 1981: 136).


All bonnets mentioned above were blue in colour, but there are other colours which were worn. Martin Martin recorded that: “on their Heads wear Bonnets made of thick Cloth, some blew, some black, and some gray”. Martin was writing at the turn of the 18th century from the Western Isles of Scotland.

The bonnet in the collection of Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, which is similar in size to the Arnish Moor bonnet, was originally dark green.


All surviving examples of Scottish bonnets were knitted & then felted with one notable exception; the blue bonnet worn by Prince Charles Edward Stuart which is in the collection of the West Highland Museum which was made from woven wool fabric which was then felted. Prince Charles Edward was only depicted wearing velvet blue bonnets, so it is not surprising that this bonnet was made from fabric & not knitted; this arguably was a symbol of status, something which set him apart from his men. The darkness of the blue is also a symbol of status; dark blue required more dips of the yarn in an indigo dye vat, making the finished product more expensive as it requires more dye.

Structure & technique

In his discussion on Scottish bonnets in The History of Handknitting, Bishop Richard Rutt states that bonnets were both made from the top down and from the headband up. As mentioned above, the Arnish Moor man’s bonnet was knitted from the headband up. The one in the collection of the Inverness Gallery and Museum appears to have been knitted from the top down.

All have similar knitting tensions (equivalent to modern thicker 4 ply/lightweight DK knit at a tighter tension on smaller needles) which were then heavily felted on the inside to help make the fabric more water resistant, but not entirely waterproof (and thus leaving outer stitches visible). All yarns appear to have been combed rather than carded.

Historical accuracy?

I’m going to end this blog post with something which will be controversial for a few folks reading this, but I want to answer a question on bonnets portrayed in the TV series Outlander.

First of all, I should say that I love Outlander. In a world where lots of things aren’t that great, it is lovely to escape off to the 18th century (even if some of the story lines are inaccurate; no one ever peed in a bucket and used fresh urine to waulk wool and rent was not collected in the manner portrayed in the book and TV programme). I love the love story between Jamie and Claire, and I generally think the actors are good and some are excellent (Tobias Menzies and Simon Callow were both perfect in their roles).

I do have a problem with some of the costuming of the show (it will be interesting to see if this is corrected with a new lead costume designer in the upcoming series). My biggest irk was entirely inaccurate costuming of the Jacobites at Culloden – especially as we have contemporary depictions of what was worn. I know I am not alone in this.

None of the bonnets, absolutely none of them, are historically accurate. In my humble opinion, the costume designers (plural) of the show did an excellent job with the 20th century costumes (including all the extras as well as main cast), but not all of their 18th century costumes do not live up to the same high standard.

Here are a few images to help illustrate:

Figure 7: Dougal MacKenzie (accessed from here on 22nd March 2019)

Figure 8: Jamie in an oversized mushroom coloured velvet bonnet (accessed from here on 22nd March 2019). As seen above, the only Jacobite known to have worn a velvet bonnet before and during the ’45 was Prince Charles Edward. Even Lord Murray wore woollen bonnets.

Figure 9: Murtagh Fitzgibbons in series 1, in an under-felted, Lowlander-sized grey bonnet which is worn inside out in this image (accessed from here on 22nd March 2019). Best I don’t write anything about everything else he’s wearing here.

Figure 10: Murtagh Fitzgibbons in series 4. Although the bonnet size is right, everything else about this outfit is historically incorrect (accessed from here on 22nd March 2019).

Another major peeve is that you would think from watching the show that no one ever washed or bleached their shirts & stocks (Claire’s shifts always manage to be incredibly clean and white though). Linen was washed frequently and bleaching fields have existed since medieval times.

I hope that answers the question about knitting larger bonnets (to clarify; I won’t) and knitting bonnets for different sized heads. Original bonnets fit a range of sized heads, as can be demonstrated from this collage I made of a hat I made last weekend while the hat was drying over a plate ; the headband is adjustable and fits all sized heads.

On asking for freebies

I am afraid I am ending this post with a rant, and it is a rant on behalf of artisans everywhere.

I am not going to make anyone something for free, so please do not ask nor send me Facebook messages strongly hinting at such a proposition.

I am not going to spend over £20 plus p&p on wool plus a day and a half of my time for ‘free’ advertising. After Etsy seller fees (they take just over £10 per bonnet), I make just under £30 for a day and a half of work. I do not earn anywhere near minimum wage making these researched, historically-accurate bonnets.

A plea; do not ask me, or anyone else who makes things by hand for pleasure, to ‘whip something up on their needles’ because they are ‘handy with wool and needles / thread and needle’. Please give us some respect for our skills, which we have honed over many hours, days, weeks, months and years.

Thank you 🙂

Dressing up, 18th century style

It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone reading this blog that I quite enjoy making replica 18th century clothes. Last year I started reenacting and attending events across Scotland, dressed as a Jacobite camp follower. I ended up having my photo taken for the local newspaper in Killiecrankie and appeared briefly in the background on a TV programme filmed by the fantastic Prof Mary Beard at Prestonpans. I got to speak to members of the public about the role of women in camps and specifically about spinning and knitting (it can get very cold in camp and I needed something to keep me busy!). Now my health is starting to improve, I’m really looking forward to attending more events this year.

There are quite a few businesses both in the UK and North America who cater really well to the re-enactment community, and there are also bi-annual markets which folks attend to purchase historically-accurate items of clothing and the such like. Part of the enjoyment of reenacting, at least for me, comes from going through the process of making your own clothes (which you try to make as accurately as possible). Making those clothes, for me, gives you more insight into the living conditions of the past much better than reading it in any book.

As I learn more about making clothes for myself, I am also acquiring the skills to make replica men’s clothing. One thing that strikes me is how much more time consuming it is to make men’s jackets. Here’s one I made for a friend last year, which we finally got around to photographing properly yesterday.

I love how John, an Army veteran of over 20 years’ service, has teamed his (military) MacKenzie tartan replica jacket with the black Stewart plaid. I think they both complement and clash perfectly.

My favourite pattern maker for 18th century clothing is J P Ryan. Her patterns, which all seem to have been drafted in the early 1990s, are not cheap but are excellently drafted and have very useful instructions. I get them from Vena Cava Design online

I also made a waistcoat for Grant, a member of Paca, Highlander Tours & Outlander extra last year as well. The waistcoat was also entirely made by hand.

Here’s another photo of Grant with Andy and my friend Vicki just down the road at Doune Castle. Vicki is wearing my outfit from last year in this photo, and Andy is wearing hose which I knitted for him

I’m about to start another jacket for another friend, and a waistcoat for another friend to wear, and a dress for me to Culloden in April for the commemorations and will be sharing photos of the process (& recording the amount of time it takes!)

The Frasers of Balloan

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I have been wondering for the best part of a year where John and Anne MacTavish, and then Isabella and her sisters, employers came from. I knew from various papers in the Forfeited Estates that they were William Fraser of Balloan and his mother Anne, but not much more than that. I also knew that the ‘of’ signified someone who owned titled land.

I am using subheadings for today’s somewhat long post:

1. William Fraser of Balloan and his immediate family;

2. Balloan, the place;

3. Ruthven; and

4. Servants, masters and clothing.


I found the answer last week at the National Library of Scotland in a footnote in a book called Some Fraser Pedigrees (written by Duncan Warrand and published in 1934). The footnote (the 35th) was an explanation in a chapter entitled Culduthel (starts on page 102). Culduthel was a name I recognised immediately as I know it is an area of modern day Inverness.

The chapter starts by discussing James Fraser of Ruthven in the parish of Dores who died before 1606. That’s the Ruthven where Isabella was born. I was delighted. At the bottom of page 104, William Fraser of Belloan is mentioned for the first time. He was the fifth child of Malcolm Fraser of Culduthel and the younger brother of this chap …

Figure 1: Unknown (1720) Major James Fraser of Castle Leathers, Accessed from here on 10 February 2019

Note Fraser of Castle Leathers (or Heathers) was a Hanoverian, not a Jacobite. A topic for another post, I think.

Here’s the text of the 35th footnote:

Major Fraser’s Manuscript” II., 129.  William Fraser of Balloan acquired the wester part of Balloan in 1721 (PRS, Inv., 29 May 1721).  In 1731 he obtained a decreet of adjudication against Simon, Lord Lovat, with reference to a large sum of money (R. of D., Durie, CCCLXXIV, 16 June 1731). He and his wife, Anne Fraser, were living in 1755, but he was dead before 24 May 1756 (PRS Inv, X, 284). They had issue two sons and two daughters. Of the daughters, Christian was living in 1725 (B.P.); and Mary appears in 1769 as wife of John Fraser, younger of Garthmore, and executor dative to her brother, William (Com. Inv. Test. Vol VI).  Of the sons, the elder, said William, was served heir to his father in 1758, and he and his mother, Anne Fraser, gave a discharge in 1763, relative to a wadset over Ruthven, Dunchea etc (PRS Inv XI 207).  He died 4 June 1769,in the parish of Dores without issue (Com Inv Test, vol VI). ** His wife was Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander Fraser of Fairfield (idem), who was living in 1801 (PRS Inv, 24 Nov 1801). His brother, Donald Fraser, succeeded to Balloan, and was served heir, 30 August 1769.  As brother-german to the late William Fraser of Balloan, he had precept of clare constat from William Fraser of Balnain for the lands of Dunchea and others (PRS Inv XII, 402).  He died in or before 1801, when his son Simon Fraser of Demerara was his heir (Idem, 3 Nov 1801).  

( **: not true, Fraser of Balloan junior had an illegitimate daughter called Isobel, who was ‘begotten in fornication’ according to the record of her birth )

This explains an awful lot about the Frasers of Balloan, their wealth and their connection with the Old Fox. In the introduction to James Fraser of Castle Leather’s Major Fraser’s Manuscript (the same James Fraser in the portrait above), he and his brothers (including Fraser of Balloan) are discussed thus; “there is no question as to these gentlemen being ‘well connected’ and holding a good position in the North country” (Fergusson, A. eds 1889: 24).

This book states that the Frasers of Culduthel were directly descended from the first Lord Lovat, and therefore that means Fraser of Balloan was directly descended from the Lovats and belonged to one of the Fraser cadet branches.

William Fraser of Balloan (senior) – who was John MacTavish and Anne MacKenzie’s employer at Ruthven (as evidenced on the record of their wedding)- was the first person called to testify on behalf of Simon Lord Lovat at his trial in London in 1747, but he refused to attend (MacKay, D. eds 1911:77) . I don’t know if I’m jumping to conclusions, but I do wonder whether this was due to Balloan not wanting to be seen supporting a major Jacobite or for other reasons.

Balloan junior seems to have been quite an interesting character. He got a girl from Achnabat pregnant while still a teenager and didn’t make an honest woman of her, married the daughter of another wealthy Fraser (Fairfield), fought with other influential Frasers – including his nephew, Erchite- over money and then published the legal proceedings as books (which can still be consulted today), didn’t have any children with his wife and died of a fever at the age of 30 in 1769. And when he died, he left over £1000 (which is the equivalent of about £2 million today).

I found out quite a while ago that Balloan senior has got a special type of wadset on Ruthven from Simon Lord Lovat in 1735 (which meant that it was the only estate not forfeited to the Crown after the 45 due to the type of document) for £500 (about £1 million today) but am still curious to find out what Ruthven was like in 1735. Today Ruthven is a sheep farm, but once it was a much larger estate with a much larger house than the current six bedroom Victorian farmhouse.

BALLOAN (the place)

Now on to Balloan the place. Thanks to Pastmaps, I have discovered that it was very close to Culduthel and Castle Heathers…

Figure 2: Screenshot of the First OS map

Figure 3: 1950s

Figure 4: Current map

The Canmore page for Balloan reveals a very large estate house which it states was built in the 1780s – 1790s (and therefore I presume was built by Duncan Fraser).

Figure 5: Front of the extensive estate house

Figure 6: Balloan was still a working estate in the 1970s

Figure 7: Side view of the main house reveals it was large

These black and white photos were all taken in the 1975. Balloan was clearly once a very impressive estate house.

This photo of a sundial with some kind of additional sculpture on top in the garden was taken in 1975-6. It must have been absolutely beautiful there…

Figure 8: an old sundial with an interesting piece sat on top

Figure 9: Modern map showing current buildings and locations of Canmore historical records

Final map from Pastmaps which shows the one (and a few two bed) houses which are there today and the street view from Google which shows that the original Balloan house and farm buildings have been split into several houses and renamed Culduthel Court or have been entirely rebuilt on the foundations (I get the impression it might be a complex for older residents).

Figure 11: Internal courtyard of Culduthel Court


I have already written a blog post about Ruthven and the township (which contained about twenty buildings), but didn’t really go into much detail about what the main house would have been like. From aerial photography, it is possible to see that what was probably the foundations of the original house was significantly larger, and more akin to a manor house. Unfortunately there is no evidence of what the original house looked like, but given the fact there had been notable Frasers living there since the fifteenth century, there must have been an impressive house.

In this aerial photo you can see the current six bedroom farmhouse. You can also see the foundations of a much larger building behind it.

(I will be adding to this part of the post at a later date after I’ve spent more time in archives).


I have stated elsewhere on the blog that Isabella’s parents were both servants of Balloan at the time of their marriage and that Isabella also probably became one of his servants as soon as she was old enough.

What I haven’t really emphasised before is just how wealthy and well connected the Balloans were, and then by implication how Isabella would not have grown up in the poverty seen elsewhere in Inverness-shire during the latter half of the eighteenth century.

It has been written before by someone else that the dress could have been made from an old plaid (I have already proved that the fabric was made some time after 1775) and that the asymmetric pattern was not common for dress fabrics. The same author hypothesised that this was due to poverty.

I hope I have shown in this post today that the Frasers of Belloan weren’t just any employer and that they clearly looked after their staff (Isabella’s parents spent their entire working lives working for Balloan, and Malcolm & Isabella brought their children up on estates belonging to Balloan and their family).

John Ramsay of Ochertyre wrote extensively about every aspect of life in Scotland in the eighteenth century, with his work being published under the title Scotland and Scotsmen in the Eighteenth Century. The first and second volumes are available to read on the fantastic

The second volume, which was published in 1888 and edited by Alexander Allardyce, contains a wealth of information about the textile production and clothing of Highlanders during the eighteenth century. In the book, we learn that:

the clothes of the family, and even the servants, male and female, were for the most part spun and dyed at home […] Among no set of people was female vanity ever confined within narrower limits; even marriage apparel being mostly manufactured within the family, and their ordinary wear only being a few degrees coarser and plainer. The dresses of the women, young and old, were made by country tailors, who never thought of changing or inflaming the fashions” (Ramsay 1888: 201-2).

The above quote certainly ties in with what the family has been told by their ancestors about the fabric used in Isabella’s dress; that it was made from yarn spun by her at Ruthven.

It could also explain the reason behind the mixture of styles seen in the dress; it has elements common in the 1740s & 1750s along with elements common in the 1770s & 1780s, and there is absolutely no evidence of any alteration ever having taken place.

The book also contains a wealth of information on how homespun fabric was made locally, with the yarn being spun and sometimes dyed before it reached the weaver.

The Act of Proscription, tartan and Gaelic culture

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The Dress Act, part of the Act of Proscription (19 Geo. 2, c.39), came into force in Scotland on 1st August 1746. Section 16 of the Act made the wearing of “Highland clothes (that is to say) the Plaid, Philabeg, or little Kilt, Trowse, Shoulder-belts, or any part whatever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland Garb; and that no tartan or party-coloured plaid of stuff shall be used for Great Coats or upper coats” illegal with the penalty of the first offence six months’ imprisonment, or a second offence transportation to the colonies for seven years i. Previously, sumptuary laws had been enforced to reinforce social hierarchies, but the Act of Proscription had much different goal; to enable the destruction of the clan system and to bring the Highlands under full control of the British. Unlike the disarming elements of the Act of Proscription which only applied to the Highlands of Scotland, the Dress Act applied to the whole of Scotland. However, as we will see later the law was unfairly applied and did indeed end up only being enforced on the lower classes of society. It was also only applied in some areas, with others being more lenient than others as we shall see later on. The Act was eventually repealed on 1st July 1782 with a proclamation issued in English and Gaelic.

Since the 1715 Jacobite uprising, tartan had become firmly associated with the Jacobite army despite the fact that a great number of Jacobite soldiers were not from the Highlands and the wearing of mixed tartans were very common, as can be seen in figure 1. (Scott 2018: 18 & 23)


Figure 1: detail from Morier, David (1745) An Incident in the Rebellion of 1745 (accessed from on 2 December 2018

David Morier’s An Incident in the Rebellion of 1745 (figure 1) was commissioned by the Duke of Cumberland a few months after the Hanoverian victory at Culloden, clearly as a celebration of his victory. The painting depicts the battle at Culloden and Morier used imprisoned Jacobite soldiers for his models (as well as British soldiers). The painting was given as a gift to Cumberland’s father, George II, and remains in the Royal collection. Along with the blue bonnet and the white cockade, tartan clothing was seen as a part of the Jacobite ‘uniform’ and this was certainly the perception in England where caricatures portrayed Jacobites as thieving, lice-ridden savages who ate children (Craig, 2017) and ransacked villages, murdered men and dogs, and raped women (figure 2).


Figure 2: detail from Van Duivel, Kind (1745) The Highland Visitors (accessed from on 4th December 2018)

Hugh Cheape argues that “tartan and Highland dress, bracketed with weapons, had come to be regarded as an outward and visible manifestation of Jacobitism and continuing loyalty to the Stuart dynasty in exile and, so, political treachery and lawlessness” (Cheape 2010: loc 449/6575). Pittock confirms that tartan was seen as a uniform rather than an ethnic identifier following the ’45, and that tartan was chosen as the uniform of the Jacobites between the uprisings of 1689-1746 (Pittock, 2010: loc 920-970/6575).
Tartan was frequently parodied in both English satirical portraits of Highlanders and Prince Charles Edward, as well as used in plays on the London stage mocking Highlanders. A contemporary satirical engraving of the Prince was clearly designed to mock Highland dress (figure 3). Scott supports this by arguing that visitors to the Highlands, whom she refers to as contemporary observers, were made to feel uncomfortable by Highland dress as it subverted 18th century norms of the Western European male’s attire of an early form of the three-piece suit (Scott, 2018: 27).

3Figure 3: G Will (c.1750) Prince Charles Edward Stuart, 1720 – 1788. Eldest son of Prince James Francis Edward Stuart, after a painting by British artist Wassdail (1745) (accessed from here and Description here on 2 December 2018)

Although tartan was included in the Act of Proscription because it was seen as the uniform of militarised minor cultural group by the dominant culture, it was also a form of dress which was at odds with the rest of the country/Western Europe. However, the reason behind the ban on the ‘Highland garb’ only applying to males and not females is clearly down to its identification as a military uniform.

Bishop Robert Forbes compiled Lyon In Mourning between 1747 and 1775, which was eventually published in 1895 by the Scottish History Society. His aim was to record the 1745 Jacobite uprising from first-hand accounts and also to document what happened afterwards. The second volume of Lyon in Mourning contains an astonishing story from Edinburgh, 20th December 1746, about a raid on tartan dresses ordered by the Justice Clerk and Lord Albemarle, who was an aide to the Duke of Cumberland and appointed as the general in charge of restoring order in Scotland (Forbes, 1895, ii: 111). Lord Albemarle was angered that the ladies of Edinburgh had gathered to have a ball in Prince Charles Edward’s honour on his birthday and perhaps the ‘raid on the tartan dresses’ was more about suppressing celebration of the Prince rather than tartan per se. The rumours of a ball were an elaborate joke designed to mock the British government. However, an unfortunate Mrs Jean Rollo was arrested for wearing a tartan dress but was later dismissed. She is the only woman known to have been arrested for wearing tartan during the period, however, there are cases of men being imprisoned. There is no reference to anyone ever being transported.

There are quite a few songs written about the Act (which can all reasonably be assumed to have been written in the latter part of 1746/in 1747). Perhaps the most cherished Gaelic song from this period was written by Alasdair MacMhaighstir Alasdair (Alexander MacDonald); Am Breacan Uallach (The Proud Plaid). MacDonald was the Gaelic tutor of Prince Charles Edward during the ’45 and was also an officer in the Jacobite army. It is therefore unsurprising that he would be a very vocal critic of the Dress Act. His twenty-six-verse song Am Brecan Uallach, (full lyrics and translation in Appendix 1) starts with a romantic, nostalgic description of Highland dress. He talks in the first three verses about how much he enjoyed wearing Highland dress before turning to how practical the clothing was for a soldier in verses 4 and 5. Verse nine talks about how admired Highland dress was by ladies, particularly at weddings and MacDonald continues with discussing the practicalities and the beauty of Highland dress before, at line 60, expressing his anger: “Cha Rìgh am fear a chuir as duit” (No King was he who thee forbade). The next two verses deal with how the Gaels have only been made stronger and refer to the Prince before the incredibly beautiful 19th verse which likens the Gaels’ relationship with the Prince to that of a firmly waulked cloth. Verse 22 directly discusses the Act of Proscription, stating that the Act hasn’t changed anything, and the Gaels are still loyal to their Prince, a quality that they got from their fathers (verse 23). Verse 25 directly addresses the Prince, wishing him well, before the final verse 26 addresses the Duke of Cumberland and states that he will end up in hell. It is clear that in this song MacDonald has drawn together the full range of emotions that were felt by the Gaels at that period in time; nostalgia for a past that clearly was not going to return, pride in the Gaelic way of life, anger at the British (and particularly the Duke of Cumberland) and a longing for the Prince to return.

Although Gaels understood the requirement to give up their arms, they did not accept the requirement to give up a costume in which they had considerable pride (Dunbar, 1981: 51). He further states that: “This was an imposition of personal shame and they reacted with indignation – particularly the clans which had been loyal to the Government.” (Dunbar, 1981: 51). This indignation is evident in Rob Don MacKay’s Oran nan Casagan Dubha (Song of the Black Coats). Rob Donn, who was uneducated and illiterate, was a great storyteller and songwriter from Sutherland who did not fight in the ’45 although he was a supporter of the British government. In his song, he issues a strong critique of the Act of Proscription and also of the British government/King George II. He was summoned to appear before the authorities for sedition after the publication of the song (Campbell 1933:234). In the second verse of the song, MacKay directly addresses King George II by asking if he wanted to mock his supporters in Scotland to ‘double their bondage’ (by introducing the Dress Act). Verses 11 and 12 are particularly striking; Rob Donn is appealing directly to the Prince to return and in verse 13 he says that he is ready to fight for the Prince. In the final few lines, MacKay appeals directly to God to make a judgment.

Although marginalised, Gaelic women did have an opinion on the Dress Act which is reflected in Margaret Campbell’s poem An t-Éideadh Gaidhealach  (The Highland Dress). Campbell’s poem, which must have been written sometime between April and August 1746 (line 10), shares the same indignation as the male poets and songwriters, but she discusses the Dress Act from a female perspective. The Dress Act did not apply to women, so the poet is writing on behalf of her community. The seventh verse talks about how men will no longer be able to show off their fine legs as they will be required to wear woollen stockings. She refers to how men will no longer be attractive to women and that it will be the King who loses out in the end as he will not be able to tax dyestuffs (as opposed to discussing loyalty).

It is probable that a large number of men were arrested for wearing tartan in the few years following the enforcement of the Act of Proscription, but only a few are recorded in the literature on Highland dress, most comprehensively by Dunbar (1962 and 1981). Dunbar states that he could not find any evidence of the Act being enforced before 1748, but an Army order of December 1748 changed the situation. Highlanders who were under suspicion of being rebels were made to swear an oath and anyone caught wearing tartan should be taken to the nearest magistrate, in the tartan clothing, for trial. In his History of Highland Dress, Dunbar discusses four different trials where men were arrested and imprisoned for wearing tartan; two Highlanders were arrested and imprisoned in Edinburgh in August and September 1749 for wearing philabegs, Oronoce – a black servant (slave?) of the Laird of Appin- was arrested and imprisoned for wearing tartan livery, and a farmer named John MacKay from Strathnaver in Sutherland was arrested for wearing a plaid and tartan coat, and in front of a magistrate within two hours of arriving in Inverness in October 1751 (Dunbar: 1962: 6-7). In his defence MacKay stated that he had never heard of the Act of Proscription, as he lived in a remote part of the country and was only in Inverness to attend a market. Hugh Cheape quotes a report from a Captain Hughes of General Pulteney’s Regiment dated 15th October 1749: “Duncan Campbell and his son, inhabitants of Glen Falloch, were apprehended in Highland Cloaths by the moving Parole and are confined in the Tollbooth of Killin” (Cheape 1995: 32). Cheape adds that there were many similar arrests but that soldiers enforcing the Act sometimes struggled to know whether the law was being broken (Cheape 1995: 33).
The policing of the Act was not equally enforced across the whole of Scotland. Grant and Cheape discuss how the districts of Rannoch, Glencoe, Lochaber, Glengarry, Knoydart, Glenmoriston and Laggan in Badenoch had been chosen by the British in 1747 for ‘thorough supervision and disarmament’, but that local magistrates and justices of the peace were as lenient as possible and accepted excuses for why the men had been found in Highland dress such as they were wearing women’s plaids, a plaid had been overdyed or a kilt sewn up the centre was actually a pair of trews (Grant and Cheape 1997:206)

In 1755, the Forfeited Estates Commission ordered a census to be taken on the estates it managed on behalf of the king. Factors of the estates were asked a large number of questions to report upon, including ‘Whether the laws prohibiting the Highland dress have taken full effect in that Estate’. The reports back to the Commissioners of the Annexed Estates on the whole stated that the ‘laws prohibiting the Highland dress’ had taken full effect with the exception of the barony of Colgach in the parish of Lochbroom. The Government seems to have been reassured by the responses of their factors as by 1760 there were no longer any prosecutions for wearing Highland dress due to patrols being stopped and the proscription being relaxed (Dunbar 1962: 8).

The Dress Act never applied to two groups of men: the military and the gentry. The use of tartan by the British military is a fascinating subject which is too broad a subject to discuss here, except to mention that it was rather ingenious to allow Highland regiments that fought in the Seven Years War in North America to wear a tartan uniform when it was still banned in the Highlands. For example, the Fraser’s Highlanders regiment was formed in 1757 to fight in North America and their uniform included diced tartan hose, a traditional plaid and blue woollen bonnet (which all could arguably be described as ‘traditional’ Highland dress) along with a short redcoat (see figure 4 below).

4Figure 4: Contemporary sketch of the Fraser Highlanders’ uniform during the Seven Years’ War (accessed from here on 8 December 2018)

During the period of proscription, a large number of the gentry had portraits of themselves painted wearing tartan. John Campbell, who was the main cashier at the Royal Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh, curiously had a portrait of himself painted by William Mossman in 1749 (figure 5). Although Campbell’s political affiliation is not known, it seems likely to assume that he may have been a supporter of the Jacobites due his aiding them to trade RBS bank notes for gold during the Jacobite occupation of Edinburgh in 1745. In the portrait, not only is Campbell wearing Highland dress but he is also fully armed. This therefore begs the question as to whether this portrait was intended to challenge the authority of the British government, perhaps particularly in relation to fiscal policy (the RBS bank note being very visible).

5Figure 5: Mossman, William (1749) John Campbell of the Bank (accessed from here on 8 December 2018)

With the exception of Flora MacDonald, most people painted wearing tartan during the period of proscription were wealthy men such as John Campbell. A beautiful portrait of a young Helen Murray of Ochetyre exists, which was painted about 1750 and is the only known painting of a girl wearing tartan clothing during the period (MacDonald, 2014). One more portrait of children wearing tartan exists. In her book Damn Rebel Bitches, Maggie Craig discusses Lady MacDonald of Sleat, who had her sons, Sir James (hand on rifle) and Sir Alexander (holding golf club), painted wearing Highland dress in 1750 (figure 6). Craig states that: “the painting is unsigned because the artist was committing a criminal offence, as were the boys for wearing tartan and their mother for choosing to dress them in the Highland style.” (Craig, 1997: 3266/3416). This is not entirely accurate; there was no law against painting a portrait of someone wearing tartan, nor was there a law against a mother dressing her children in tartan. In fact, the only people officially in defiance of the Act were the boys themselves. The boys’ father, Macdonald of Macdonald, did not fight in the ’45 although it was known that their mother was from a Jacobite-supporting family. The notes on the painting on the National Galleries of Scotland website states that: “The Government was apparently keen to shield the Macdonald boys from disruptive Highland influence and both were sent to be schooled in England”; could the ‘disruptive Highland influence’ be their mother?


Figure 6: Unknown (abt. 1749) Sir James MacDonald and Sir Alexander MacDonald (accessed from here on 8 December 2018)

From the beginning of the 1760s there clearly was a shift in thinking about whether the Highlands still represented a threat to status quo. As mentioned above, regular military patrols were no longer active after 1760. Tartan was clearly being marketed and sold again; advertisements from the newspapers at the time in Edinburgh providing proof such as the following from the Caledonian Mercury in 1761 (the first advertisement to be found for plaids or tartans anywhere else in Scotland is Aberdeen on 15th July 1782, two weeks before the repeal of the Act). The Highlanders who once fought against the British government were now successfully fighting for the British in North America and they were no longer seen as a threat.

7Figure 7: Advertisement by James Bailie, Merchant in Edinburgh, in the Caledonian Mercury (Saturday 13th June 1761). Accessed from on 9th December 2018)

The Act of Proscription was eventually repealed on 1st August 1782, thanks to the efforts of the Highland Society of London, (given royal assent by George III on 1st July 1782) with a printed declaration issued in both Gaelic and English afterwards.

In summary, the ten years following the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden were incredibly difficult times for the Gaels. Their traditional way of life was almost systematically eradicated thanks to the heavy-handed efforts of the Duke of Cumberland and the British state. Highland society was turned upside down by the removal of clan chiefs – who had traditionally been able to call men on their estates to fight- as hereditary proprietors of estates and turned them into British landlords concerned primarily with making money. The speaking of Gaelic – frequently referred to as Erse or the Irish language- was discouraged in favour of English and it is fair to claim that the dominant British culture aimed to reduce at best, or eradicate at worst, Gaelic culture. Although the Dress Act sought a removal of tartan as a signifier of a separate Gaelic identity, it was only temporary in its nature.



i The full text of the Act as well as the repeal proclamation can be accessed here 
ii These original reports are archived in the National Archives of Scotland, but some of the details were reproduced in SRO (1973) Reports on the annexed estates, 1755-1769 : from the records of forfeited estates preserved in the Scottish Record Office HMSO
iii “the Highland Dress and Disarming Acts have taken effect here, tho’ perhaps not so fully as on the other parts of this estate, for many corners of this barony lye so remote & divided from each other that very probably some fellows may presume to transgress where they can do it with impunity as there is no troops quartered among them, but the factor is hopefull that they are now more upon their guard as he has published repeated advertisements of their danger” (SRO 1973: 40)
iv There are further details of John Campbell’s life and career on the RBS website:


Black, Ronald eds. (2001) An Lasair: Anthology of 18th century Scottish Gaelic verse. Edinburgh: Birlinn

Cheape, Hugh (1995) Tartan. Edinburgh: NMS
Cheape, Hugh (2010) Gheibhte Breacain charnaid (‘Scarlet tartans would be got’): the re-invention of tradition in Brown, Ian eds. (2010) From Tartan to Tartanry. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press
Craig, Maggie (1997) Damn Rebel Bitches Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing
Craig, Maggie (2017) Fake News 18th century style available from (accessed on 4th December 2018)
Dunbar, John Telfer (1962) History of Highland Dress. London: Oliver & Boyd
Dunbar, John Telfer (1981) The Costume of Scotland. London: Batsford
Forbes, Robert (1895) Lyon in Mourning volume II. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press
Grant, Isabel F.and Cheape, Hugh (1997) Periods in Highland History. London: Shephard-Walwyn
Lorne Campbell, John (1984) Highland songs of the Forty-five. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press
MacDonald, Peter (2014) Murray of Ochtertyre available from (accessed on 9th December 2018)
Pittock, Murray (2010) Plaiding the Invention of Scotland in Brown, Ian eds.(2010) From Tartan to Tartanry. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press
Scott, Jenn (2018) Better is the Proud Plaid. Warwick: Helion & Company
Scottish Record Office (1973) Reports on the Annexed Estates Edinburgh: HMSO


The song lyrics here as a PDF



The Fort Augustus replica dress

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Isabella’s dress has captivated dressmakers over time who have all wanted to make their own replicas of her dress. One such replica is on display at the West Highland Museum in Fort William.

The dress in September. It had been display with the back showing

I first saw the dress in September which is also when I met the curator of the museum for the first time. I think it’s fair to say that the dress was on a rather anorexic mannequin (which I have since discovered is a museum piece worthy of display in its own right) in a corner of a room and was not displayed as well as it could be. We had a chat, which resulted in me going to up Fort William for a few days this week to do some voluntary work at the museum.

I decided the first thing that I could do to help from home would be to make a historically-accurate bum roll and petticoat. I hadn’t made a bum roll before, but a quick Pinterest search soon threw up some images which made sense. The bum roll was drafted by me on the (linen) fabric, hand sewn with linen thread, cotton tape was used for the ties and was stuffed with some fleece I had washed but not carded.

Next on to a petticoat. I decided to go with an apron petticoat simply because I have made a fair few before and they are historically accurate. They are basically what they sound;two aprons which are sewn together, with a hem circumference of 100-120″. I chose to use Irish linen for the petticoat (Maggie Stewart on eBay, most beautiful and affordable linen available in the UK) which was 54″ wide. Sewing all those hens with little stitches (I used a small rolled hem for the bottom hem, the mantua makers seam for the sides, gathered whip stitch for the gathering of the top and a simple whip stitch to attach the ties).

A ‘work in progress’ photo; as you can probably see I hadn’t tackled the 108″ of hem yet

When I arrived at the museum on Thursday, this is how the Fort Augustus lady looked

I had taken a couple of pins out which had closed up the bodice, bit annoyed with myself that I didn’t think about taking a photo before.

We set up a work table for me in room 5 (which has been closed for a few days) and did a detailed examination of the dress together. I then carried out repairs.

The first repair was to the left front. Here’s a before and after

Here’s where I repaired loose stitching under the left sleeve

Unsurprisingly the skirt is very heavy and the stitching along the seam between the bodice and skirt has come loose over its 100 years, so I also reinforced the entire waistline with lots of tiny stitches. Another ‘work in progress’ photo


It was then time to dress the mannequin …

Doesn’t she look lovely?


The dress was made by two ladies about the time of the World War 1. Isabella’s dress has been on display at the museum at Fort Augustus Abbey and the monks had hoped to buy the dress off the family. I am told they offered the huge sum of £500, which thankfully was rejected. So the ladies made a replica.

It is obvious they had access to Isabella’s dress. Here’s a side by side photo of the tartan in both dresses

As you can see, the Fort Augustus dress has suffered from some light damage and is not as vibrant as it once was

What is now a greyish green was once a vibrant fir green. I have no idea which dyes the ladies used to dye their hand spun yarn, but suspect they might have used chemical dyes (which are not as light fast as chemical dyes of today or natural dyes such as indigo and old fustic).


To complete the outfit, we decided to bring an amazing arisaid out of storage.

An arisaid was basically the female version of a plaid and was typically two widths wide and about 4-5 yards long.

Here is an etching from Edmund Burt’s Letters with an image of a lady wearing an arisaid (perhaps over emphasised a bit?) at a market in the 1720s

We looked to the Alexander Carmichael collection for a suitable item and not, did we find one!

As amazing as Carmichael was, unfortunately we don’t have very much information on the plaid except that it was from Uist

(I plan to go to his archive at Edinburgh University to see if I can find more information on this plaid and a few other amazing items I saw yesterday)

We may not have the provenance of the arisaid, but we do know it belonged to an I.C. of Uist in 1796.

It is in amazing condition for its age with hardly any damage to it. It is made of two lengths of single width hard tartan which I strongly suspect was woven from a few combed Dunface fleeces and dyed with cochineal, indigo and an unknown yellow. It feels a lot like the hard tartan used in Isabella’s dress and plaid.


The dress and plaid going into their new case in Room 5

The museum has got some beautiful lucky booth brooches and plaid brooches which we were hoping to attach to the dress and plaid to finish off the display. However, we had no way of attaching them today without significantly damaging the dress or plaid, so this will be sewn to within the next few weeks.

I feel a real sense of pride in what Vanessa and I have done at the museum over the past few days. I hope future visitors will enjoy the new display.

The results are in!

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The results are in and I’m afraid I’m going to be rambling on a bit in this post 🙂

I am delighted to let you know the results of the dye analysis, which has helped confirm the age of the fabric due to the use of dyes.

For those of us who don’t really get what the above means:

The red is cochineal;

The blue is either indigo or woad;

and the green is a combination of three dyes; indigo or woad and (this is the surprising bit) fustic and black oak (aka quericitron).

Due to the use of quericitron, we can accurately date the fabric to after October 1775, which is when it was first imported into Britain by the incredibly interesting and entrepreneurial Edward Bancroft, who was originally a chemist in Massachusetts, a friend of Benjamin Franklin and ultimately revealed to be a double agent during the American war of Independence.

Image of Bancroft, accessed from his Wiki page on 9th October 2018.

It was Bancroft who named the dye querci (oak) + citron (lemon), although it was – and still is- referred to as black oak.

Here’s a link to his biography, which you can most read free of charge on Google Books.

Bancroft wrote and published a book on natural dyes in 1814, which you can read for free on the wonderful in two volumes:

Volume 1

Volume 2

It might be a bit surprising to hear that a relatively new dye had found its way into Isabella’s wedding dress, so I decided to do a bit of reading into what things were like in Inverness-shire in the 1780s. A common perception is that the land had been devastated following Culloden and the harsh treatment by the British and that this pretty much carried on into the Clearances. I have also seen it claimed that the skills of weaving – especially of tartan- and the spinning and dyeing of wools had been forgotten or lost.

In his report to the Scottish Parliament in 2008, Professor Hugh Cheape stated that: “Colour and quality were evidently important for eighteenth and early-nineteenth tartans and research showed that red and yellows, for example, which appeared to have been popular in early tartans and supplied the bulk of surviving evidence derived from imported rather than ‘native’ dyestuffs.  Trading connections were vigorous and enabled dyestuffs to be imported into Scotland from an early date.  They are evident in the earliest surviving sources,  for example, madder and woad in the late fifteenth-century and indigo in the seventeenth century, and insect reds being used rather than madder when they became available.  These materials became widely available through travelling traders and a dynamic network of fairs and markets.  Demand and expectation were high in areas now perhaps perceived as remote from the larger market centres and evidence showed that there was regular and frequent communication between the Hebrides and the Clyde.” (the unpublished report was kindly supplied to me by Hugh in an e-mail).

It is true that for the few years following Culloden, life was incredibly difficult for Highlanders. This has been written about a lot and I highly suggest delving into the work of Professor Murray Pittock on this.

However, by the mid 1750s, the Forfeited Estates Commission decided that the best way to deal with the ‘lazy’ Highland women was to set up spinning schools and teach them all to spin (I won’t write any more about what the delightful General Forbes because it makes my blood boil).

And spin they did.

David Loch, a shipbuilder and merchant from Leith, became the Scottish chief inspector of woollen manufactures (appointed to the position in the early 1770s by the Honourable Board of Fisheries, Manufactures & Improvements). He toured a good part of Scotland (the borders, lowlands and eastern coast up to Cromarty and across to Inverness, but left out the northern isles, the Hebrides and the majority of the Highlands) in 1776 and then published a very interesting book, which is free to read online here, which gives us a very interesting snapshot of how important both the linen and wooden trades were to Scotland by that time.

It is not surprising, for example, to find out that Aberdeenshire was heavily involved in knitting both woollen and worsted stockings. Nor is it surprising to read that spinning machines and fulling mills were starting to make their way into the larger industrial cities.

However there are some things which do jump out. I have seen it claimed that by the late 18th century dyeing with indigo had overtaken dyeing with woad to produce blue dye in Scotland. However, Loch specifically mentions woad dyeing and tells us that two gentlemen in Haddington, East Lothian, prepared a huge four tonnes of woad annually (plus he further mentions several dyers with busy woad vats).

Interestingly, the only specific and direct reference Loch makes to ‘Highland plaids’ is Stirling (this was before the repeal of the Act of Proscription):

Screenshot of page 16 of Loch, David (1778) A Tour Through Most of the Trading Towns & Villages of Scotland

Here is Loch’s description of Inverness in 1776:

Screenshot of page 56 of Loch, David (1778) A Tour Through Most of the Trading Towns & Villages of Scotland

By the time of the Old Statistical Account in 1791, Inverness was a thriving market town with 57 weavers – the weavers becoming one of the town’s six incorporated trade guilds- and 12 dyers. (I’ll be writing more about the weavers and dyers of Inverness at a future date).

There was also a thriving production of natural and dyed linen thread (which started in the early 1780s and employed over 10,000 in Inverness and the neighbouring counties).  Over 1000 men, women and children worked in the hemp business (which started in the late 1750s/early 1760s). The flax, by the way, was not produced locally but was imported from the Baltic states . Inverness-shire textiles were sold all over the world, through London. It was noted in the OSA that the increase in trade with the East and West Indies, since the late 1750s, had significantly improved life in Inverness and was one of the main reasons for the improvements in the town and area.

In summary, lots of fabric was being made in Inverness-shire in the 1780s and it wasn’t a poor town. And it was only sixteen miles down General Wade’s road – the one linking Inverness with Fort William – from Ruthven the farm & township where Isabella was born, grew up, got married and gave birth to her first three children. Not a daily journey back then, but certainly possible on a horse.

However, we still have the question of where did Isabella’s dress fabric come from. While we will never know for sure where exactly it came from, nor who made it, here are a few clues.

The width of the fabric is not standard (someone might prefer the word ‘uniform’ here). It measures between 64.05cm and 65.5cm, and therefore could be described as being woven by an inexperienced weaver. It seems unlikely that there would be that much variation in width due to waulking, and there also are not any visible differences in tension or changes in quality at the edges of the fabric.

Loch (1778) makes reference to cloth being taken off the loom and not being finished as being substandard and something that hadn’t been done for fifty years, which would seem to suggest that by the time he was Chief Inspector of Woollen Manufactures the practice of using fabric directly from the loom had been phased out in Scotland.

There are no finished (start or ending) edges in the hems of Isabella’s dress which would indicate that the nine metres used in the dress were cut from a longer piece of cloth.

Given that there were twelve dyers in Inverness and the port frequently hosted ships from London, the Baltic, and the East and West Indies (and quite possibly from America as well), it seems sensible to expect that is where the dyes were purchased to dye the wool in Isabella’s tartan, or perhaps from one of the travelling traders mentioned by Professor Cheape in the above quote. It is quite possible that the wool was dyed in Inverness – there is a uniform depth of colour to all the wool which indicates it was dyed by an experienced dyer, which I would argue is strengthened by the use of new(ish) yellow dyes- but again there is no way of knowing for sure. It is interesting to note that Wilson’s of Bannockburn (as recorded in the archives held at the National Library of Scotland) recorded their dye recipes in 1783 and they included the use of Jusstick (fustic) and Yellow Wood (which could be black oak), so it would make sense that the dyers of Inverness also used similar recipes.

As for the spinning of the wool, the 1755 census of the forfeited estates indicates that Isabella’s mum, Anne MacKenzie, was probably a spinner which means she no doubt would have taught her three girls how to spin. It was quite common practice for wool to be spun at home then taken to be dyed and spun by professional craftsmen. We know that there were plenty of sheep at Ruthven, and that the sheep had not been ‘improved’ before 1785 (that would come a few decades later) so the ‘old Highland breed’ of the Scottish Dunface.  The Dunface is unfortunately extinct but is similar in textile properties to Shetland wool.  It is quite possible that the wool was spun at home by Isabella and her female relatives – but again there is no way of knowing for sure. The hard tartan fabric  was made from combed, not carded, singles Z-spun wool and does have very similar qualities to other pieces of tartan known to be spun from the Dunface. The wool was spun by experienced spinners to a uniform fine width of approximately 32-36 wraps per inch.



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I have become a little bit obsessed with trying to learn more about what Isabella’s life was like. For me, the dress is a physical reminder not only of the history of textile making in the 18th century, but – perhaps more importantly- the life a lady once lived. The remarkable story of the dress being worn by her descendants adds even more to this.

Whilst we will never know for sure where the fabric came from, who spun the yarn (although we know the flax cane from Ruthven), who dyed the yarn, who wove the yarn into fabric and, finally, who made the dress, we can make assumptions based on research done by scholars and accounts recorded at the time by travel writers (like Johnson and Boswell and their very interest accounts of a visit to the Highlands and Islands in 1773).

We can also access documents in archives which tell us a lot more about what went on at the time. For example, it has been stated elsewhere that during the Act of Proscription (1746-1782) the skills of spinning, dyeing and weaving were lost. Records in the NAS show this is not really true. For example, schools were set up in the 1750s across the Highlands as a way to provide work for women and the spinning of both linen and wool as a way to provide extra income was frequently mentioned in reports to the Forfeited Estates Commission.

– – – – –

Isabella was born, baptised (OPR Births 096/A 10 21 Dores) and married (OPR marriages 096/A 20 112 Dores) at Ruthven which at the time was a small township.

It also seems likely that Isabella and Malcolm lived there for a few years as their first three children were born there.

Loch Ruthven, with Ruthven in the distance

Ruthven is situated on the banks of the beautiful Loch Ruthven, only a few miles away from the much larger Loch Ness. The loch is a nature reserve today, being home to many different species of birds as well as full of brown trout.

As I have mentioned previously, I am rather fond of maps and also making use of technology. There are quite a few historical maps available to look at on the Internet. One of the first known maps to include Ruthven dates from just after Culloden: General Roy’s map. This can be searched very easily online here. Here’s a screenshot of what Ruthven looked like on his map.

Screenshot accessed from here on 28/8/18

A later map, the first edition of the 6″ Ordnance Survey map, shows Ruthven as the main part of the township as well as Easter Ruthven nearer to the loch. It was apparently quite common for townships to be divided into two areas (this can still be seen today at the only surviving township in Scotland, Auchindrain in Argyll).

The current OS map shows the remains of four distinct areas:

Current OS map accessed from Past Map, 28/8/18, showing locations of archaeological reports. Blue dots also point out the much, much older crannog settlement & Tom buidhe

Canmore contains archaeological reports on the four areas:

1. Near the ‘224’ (Wester Ruthven perhaps?)

2. Ruthven

3. North of Ruthven

4. Easter Ruthven

Ruthven was owned by the Frasers of Lovat until the ‘Old Fox’ Simon Fraser wadset (mortgaged) the farm in 1736 for the very large sum 5000 Scottish merks (about £30,000 today). The money was provided by William Fraser of Belloan. In 1743, it seems the Old Fox was unable to pay his bills and the property was transferred to William Fraser. After the ’45, Fraser of Lovat was beheaded and his lands were seized by the Crown. Although no longer officially owned by Lovat, Ruthven was finally seized by the Crown in 1763 (with permission of William Fraser Jnr. And his mother, Ann). All of this, by the way, is documented in papers relating to forfeited estates which is held at the National Records of Scotland.

There are many documents at the NRS which detail how the forfeited estates were managed. In 1755/6, a census was taken on the forfeited estates and *some* surveyors were quite detailed in their recording. For example, names and professions were recorded for everyone living in the town of Callander. Not so on the estates in Inverness; they just took a headcount and the name of the main tenants. Here is the information on Ruthven in 1755/6 (which would have certainly included Isabella’s parents, John and Anne):

Name of farm: Ruthven

Possessor: William Fraser

Number of families: 6


Under 10

Male. 9

Female 11

Betwixt 10 and 17

Male 1

Female 1

Above 17

Male. 15

Female 15

Number of those who speak the English language: 4


Horses 20

Black cattle 60

Sheep 120

6 pecks of potatoes sewn

Annual rent: £17 5 2

Another later example: document surveying the farms in the area (which had belonged to Lovat), we get the following information about the farm and value in October 1770:

Ruthven at 5/6 soum

– 26 milk cows;

– 13 three year olds;

– 13 two year olds;

– 13 one to two year olds;

– 12 horses;

– 20 sheep of 10 to each soum;

– 30 goats of 10 to each soum;

Rent confirms to the soums of £20 11 6.

The rent was set at £17 5 2, with an additional £3 19 10 being levied, making an annual rent of £21 5 to the main tenant, Daniel Fraser of Belloan. (NRS E769/72)

It is interesting to note that the rent to the Fraser of Belloan hadn’t changed in 15 years, something which no doubt helped contribute to the growth in their livestock.

Ownership of Ruthven was returned to the Fraser of Lovat in 1774, along with the rest of his ancestral lands, by an Act of Parliament.

This brings me on to the next part of Ruthven’s story, the Clearances. Ruthven became a single farm of about 1000 acres, supporting 500 sheep and 20 Highland cows, in the 1860s. The township buildings were knocked down, and a new seven-bedroom farmhouse and large barn were built.

According to valuation rolls, the farm was sold by the Fraser of Lovat some time between 1905 and 1915.

In 1912, the Matheson family from nearby Gorthleck moved in and rented the farm until fairly recently. The last farmer’s son, who grew up on the farm, sent me these photos of his ancestors farming at Ruthven in 1934 (shared with his permission)

And an aerial photo, which has been passed down through the family

And finally, one with his dad on a frozen Loch Ruthven

The history of this farm is (at least to this city girl), quite frankly amazing. It is an excellent example of what happened across the Highlands over a long period of time; once the land of crannogs (remains of three have been found at the loch edge), a Middle Ages settlement (Tom buidhe), early modern townships and finally a rather grand Victorian farm, which became a 21st century sheep farm.

My fascination with Ruthven started with wanting to know more about where the linen from the lining of Isabella’s dress came from but I have learned so much more 🙂

Old stories

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Old stories are quite wonderful things; sometimes they are rooted in fact and other times are just fanciful creations of an imaginative mind that get passed on somehow.

Families sometimes have stories about their ancestors. For example, there’s a story in my husband’s family that one of his ancestors was involved in captaining a ship involved in the slave trade. In my fifteen or so years of researching our family trees, I have found no evidence of this at all – although one of them was born on Montserrat in the 17th century (which makes me wonder if that’s where the myth came from). Another from my own family; my nan firmly believed that her great, great grandfather was the head coachman at Blenheim Palace. He wasn’t; he was a groom. Interestingly though, his son became a head gardener.

Screenshot captured yesterday which has prompted this post

A story which I have seen on numerous times on Pinterest is that the dress has been continually worn by the family for their weddings since Isabella wore it in 1785 (I should like to add that this did not originate with the family, but seems to have come from elsewhere).

The dress has been worn by four generations only:

– Isabella on 12/1/1785,

– Her daughter in law, Jane, on 3/12/1826. who married Isabella’s 6th (out of 11!), Tavish). It is not known if any of Isabella’s daughters wore the dress for their weddings or not (the romantic in me certainly hopes they did);

– The current custodian in 1978;

– The current custodian’s daughter in 2005;

– and the plaid was worn by the current owner’s new daughter-in-law last month (July 2018).

So, it has indeed been worn by one branch of Isabella’s ancestors (unsurprisingly no longer Frasers or MacTavishes) and will continue to be worn and treasured by them, as well as enjoyed by the rest of the world thanks to the display at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery.

Although the current custodian’s mother and granny chose not to wear it for their weddings, they both graciously made sure it was exhibited from 1900 onwards. It is thanks to them that the great textile historian, John Telfer Dunbar, saw it exhibited in London in 1939 at the Scottish Art Exhibtion and wrote about it in both The Costume of Scotland (1981) and History of Highland Dress (1962). Telfer Dunbar’s archive is at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, so I hope to see his notes soon on the dress 🙂