Fearn Balintore and Hilton Community Collage

Chapter 12 - Clothing

In the old days clothes were made from homespun materials produced by the country folk round about, providing a lot of work for weavers and tailors as these figures for the end of the 18th century show.  [6a,b,c]
Nigg - 12 weavers, 9 tailors
Tarbat - 12 weavers, 11 tailors
Kilmuir Easter - 15 weavers, 10 tailors

Nor did material cost much in those days - twenty yards of plaids were valued at 10d. in 1765!  But this was too good to last and the rise in the price of clothing was particularly mentioned in the Statistical Account for Tarbat where people 'to appear decent and comply with the fashion of the times must have recourse to the shop."  for fineries in dress not known to their fathers.
Thus by 1840 or so there were not many weavers left and shops had begun to make their appearance supplying materials for making up at home or by local tailors and dressmakers. These shops stocked red flannel for petticoats, white flannel for vests, white serge for drawers, as well as suit materials and prints. Coloured prints became very popular and could be bought ninety years ago for 6d. per yard while shirting and flannel were 1/-.  [25]
In 1883 there was a tailor called Mackintosh in Balintore.  [5]   There would certainly have been others as well. Some of the later tailors who are still remembered were David Vass in Shandwick; in Hilton there was Andrew Vass who made up flannels, suits and trousers;  while Tom Vass in Balintore combined tailoring with the job of postman.

Cromarty couple in typical dress of the turn of the century (1900s)

The fishwife's outfit has already been described, and the photograph of the Cromarty fisherman and his wife show what working clothes were like here about eighty years ago, apart from the pom-pom on the man's cap. This was never worn in the villages.
People remember when a man's workaday head-gear was a soft, round, peakless cap superseded eighty or ninety years ago by the 'cheese-cutter' which was like a peaked merchant-navy cap; and they have heard that the men used to wear fur caps, probably the sealskin ones worn many years ago all round the coast by Scottish fishermen.  It was common for caps and bonnets to stay on all the time, whether in the house or not.

The men wore mufflers to keep their necks warm, either with red and white spots or grey and white checks. They wore 'Moray Firth blue' ginseys (guernseys) knitted by their wives or other female relations. These jerseys always fastened on the shoulder. The working ginseys were not usually patterned but those kept for best were very elaborate. The girls who went every year to the herring fishing learned from their associates there to knit such patterns as Links of Love, Cat's teeth, Waves of the Sea and cable stitch, and could therefore turn out very fine work. There was, however, no particular pattern associated with the villages here as there is in some other parts of the country. In addition to men's black or grey socks and stockings, the women knitted their own stockings, always black, 4-ply for everyday and a finer pair for Sunday.

The men had strong, dark, woollen, fall-front trousers and heavy working boots. Those who worked on the farms sometimes put straw inside their boots to give protection from the cold. There is no record of the names of early shoemakers though there must have been several, but people remember Finlay Vass in Shandwick who died in the early 1900's. He made boots and shoes and the long leather thigh boots worn at sea by the fishermen. In Balintore there was Sandy Mackay, and also Alex. Morrison who made ladies' shoes as well. In Hilton Sandy Skinner, better known as the 'Graiseach,' was a
kenspeckle figure with his white head and beard. He repaired for all and sundry and made fishermen's long boots at 30/- a pair. These boots needed to be skilfully made if they were to be supple, and it is said that the shoemakers could make them 'as soft as a calfs ear.'  Even so, they needed regular oiling to keep them this way, and getting them off needed a boot-jack or upturned stood or else great heaving and pulling by the children.

Eighty years ago ordinary boots cost from 3/- to 7/9, and shoes from 2/4 to 6/6 25 so it is not surprising tht most of the children ran around barefoot even in winter as the school log shows. An entry for 17th March, 1976, says, '. . . the little barefoot children did not attend so regular owing to the heavy snow and storm.'  Nowadays people only remember going barefoot from May to September and then the strong tackety boots for boys were bought (indispensable when sledging and sliding days came round) and finer button boots for girls. These boots, which lasted throughout the winter and spring,
thanks to home-cobbling, were bought at the end of the herring fishing when the father returned with the season's drawings. He and his wife usually went to the Big Shop in Balintore and there bought the winter clothes for the entire family. There was great excitement and anticipation among the children waiting at home to see what they would get - somewhat dampened when their mother set them to work sewing underclothes as a result.

The fisherman's wife was usually a practical and thrifty person and whenever possible made clothes herself for the family, particularly underclothes such as semmits, drawers, knickers and skirts. She sometimes converted old coats into trousers for the boys. Some
people got flour bags from the shops, boiled them and bleached off the writing with soda, and turned them into dresses and pinafores.  Girls usually wore a flannel petticoat, then a cotton one, a dress and the white frilly pinafore which was popular among them and looked very becoming. Their Sunday wear might include a shop dress for 10/- or so seventy years ago, and perhaps a beret, but hats were not generally worn till girls were sixteen or seventeen years old: Instead a hair ribbon was worn to tie the plaits.

There were a number of dress-makers in the village who helped greatly with sewing, some by hand but one at any rate, Julia Morrison in New Street, Shandwick, had a sewing machine before the turn of the century. Mrs. Mackenzie, Port Street, Balintore, sewed red flannel petticoats for women, and for the men she made flannel semmits and
wide, warm white serge drawers for men; while Phemie Ross in Hilton is said to have made up long flannel shirts.

Boys wore short dark woollen trousers with or without a jacket, a woollen jersey and, especially for Sundays, a white celluloid Peter Pan collar to finish.  For Sundays a man wore his black or navy cloth suit which, usually worn for the first time on his wedding day, lasted for the rest of his life. A pair of black elastic-sided boots and later a lacing pair saw the light of day once a week when he went to church. A bowler hat and a starched dickey (shirt front attached with a collar) completed the ensemble. Later on he had a dark shirt with a little check in the pattern. The suit often had a double-breasted waistcoat with revers, and if at all possible the men liked to have a watch with its chain across the waistcoat front.

Group of local girls from the herring fishing.

The girls at the herring fishing brought home not only knitting patterns but haute couture as well, and no doubt thought themselves very grand with their long trailing skirts and elaborate hair-styles.  The photograph of a group of them taken about 1900 shows the
elegance and fine workmanship of their dresses. People remember seeing their mothers and grandmothers in long skirts, toques, cloaks, tippets with beading and embroidery and lovely 'best' aprons of black velvet trimmed with lace and jet. There were button boots for the feet and elegant bonnets for the head, usually black and trimmed with flowers and tied below the chin with wide watered-silk ribbons.

A strange form of attire was worn by a man who returned to the villages after being press-ganged during the Napoleonic Wars. He went fishing barefoot and wearing a kilt, which may very possibly have been the maritime kilt, like petticoat-breeches, which was worn in some fishing villages till the 1820's as a relic of service in the merchant or Royal Navy.  [26]

Continue in Chapter 13

Terms & Conditions     © Ross and Cromarty Heritage