Spinning a Yarn from Sanquhar

When people from Sanquhar in Upper Nithsdale (Dumfries and Galloway) say that a 400-year-old knitting tradition is helping revitalise their town, they’re not just spinning a yarn.

Because the Sanquhar Pattern Designs project which opened in November 2014 in empty shop premises on the High Street, has already created jobs and increased tourism to the area.

Knitting designsThe distinctive two-colour knitting (mainly black and white) produced in Sanquhar since the 1600s, has been in increasing demand worldwide but local knitters were, literally, dying out and their skills were not being passed on.

Then “A’ The Airts”, the community arts centre set up by local people in a former draper’s shop on the High Street almost five years ago, came up with a scheme which would teach Sanquhar techniques to younger knitters and create a range of quality controlled Sanquhar knitwear to be sold through the arts centre shop.

A’ The Airts bought their premises, and premises next door for the knitting project, through the Scottish Land Fund. State-of-the-art knitting machines were bought with a £10,000 (ten thousand) Social Enterprise Development Award from Santander Bank.

Through the project, the Sanquhar brand is now being promoted locally and world wide, with a black and white Sanquhar pattern even appearing on a range of souvenirs including pens and key rings. And, continuing a tradition that goes back centuries, visiting royals Prince Charles and Camilla were presented with a Sanquhar scarf and gloves – produced by project knitters – when they were in the area recently.

Said A’ The Airts assistant manager, Sara Bain: “The biggest employer in this area is our local authority, Dumfries and Galloway Council, and they’ve been very supportive of both A’ The Airts and the knitting project. We also work very closely with our community council which has recently restarted the local newspaper.”

Although news about Sanquhar knitting always attracts media attention in the local area, the town went global earlier this month when a retired doctor and stamp collector from Birmingham, Dr. Manzoor Alam, bought the town’s post office – the oldest in the world – when it was threatened with closure.

Further information visit: www.all-the-airts.com