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Martin Martin's Description of Women's Clothing on St. Kilda

by Sharon L. Krossa

©1997-2000 by Sharon L. Krossa. All rights reserved

Last updated 1 Jan 2000

This description of the clothing worn by the women on St. Kilda, the outermost of the the Western Isles of Scotland, is part of an account of a trip Martin Martin made to St. Kilda in 1697, which was first published in 1698.

Martin, Martin, "A Late Voyage to St. Kilda," in A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland Circa 1695, ed. Donald J. Macleod (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 1994), pp. 393-476. (1 Jan 2000 )

"The women wear upon their heads a linnen dress, strait before, and drawing to a small point behind below the shoulders, a foot and an half in length, and a lock of about sixty hairs hanging down each cheek, reaching to their breasts, the lower end tied with a knot; their plad, which is the upper garment, is fastened upon their breasts with a large round buckle of brass in form of a circle; the buckle anciently worn by the steward's wives were of silver, but the present steward's wife makes no use of either this dress or buckle. The women inhabiting this isle wear no shoes nor stockins in the summer-time; the only and ordinary shoes they wear, are made of the necks of solan geese, which they cut above the eyes, the crown of the head serves for the heel, the whole skin being cut close at the breast, which end being sowed, the foot enter into it, as into a piece of narrow stockin; this shoe doth not wear above five days, and if the down side be next the ground, then not above three or four days; but, however, there is plenty of them; some thousands being catch'd, or, as they term it, stolen every March.

"Both sexes wear course flannel shirts, which they put off when they go to bed; they thicken their cloaths upon flakes, or mats of hay twisted and woven together in small ropes; they work hard at this employment, first making use of their hands, and at last of their feet; and when they are at this work, they commonly sing all the time, one of their number acting the part of a prime chantress, whom all the rest follow and obey." (pp. 445-456)

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