Sanquhar is a town in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland with a population today or around 2,100 inhabitants. It is famous for its 15th Century castle and old post office. As the nearby coastal towns developed it allowed Sanquhar to have access to trading markets and by the 18th century a wool market had been established there. The Sanquhar wool Fair held each July set the price of wool for south west Scotland.
But Sanquhar was not just a trading centre for the raw wool, it was home to a cottage knitting industry with over 100 looms producing wool for the local knitters. This cottage knitting industry produced stockings and gloves, which were regarded as being superior to those found south of the border in England. With abundant supplies of wool, knitting was a method of supporting the income from farms and with little outlay, except wire for needles, so the knitting practice soon grew. The knitting fell to women and children, the sick and the aged, as the men folk carried on their own work in the fields and the town.
The two-coloured patterns are similar to those found in Scandinavia, but it more likely that the material available dictated the Sanquhar style rather than importing them from abroad. Traditional colour choices were white and black or dark blue and gloves were often personalised with initials on the wristband.
By the end of the 18th century the cottage knitting industry was in decline as competition came from abroad and mechanisation was beginning to produce cheaper garments in volume and by 1840 had succumbed completely. In an attempt to protect their dying industry the knitters of Sanquhar focused on their traditional distinctive patterns and these are still known today. Each style was given a name such as Duke, rose or drum.
The distinctive patterns have made Sanquhar knitting world famous and the style has since been extended to other garments and household items. Today there is a revival of the old craft in Sanquhar with many local people once again knitting up these lovely old designs.