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Sporrans

Sporran is the Gaelic for purse and has become a traditional part of Highland dress that is functional as well as being decorative. The functionality has survived from the European medieval pouch that was worn on a belt and period illustrations of individuals in trews (tight trousers) demonstrate admirably that it was in place of pockets.

The original sporrans were just circles of leather with holes around the circumference through which was threaded a leather thong which was tightened to draw the neck of the pouch together.

An old sporran

Just like today's pockets, its contents would be many and varied but contemporary - coins, musket balls, fire-making paraphernalia and even, amongst cattle drovers, oats and onions for whistling up a black pudding on the trail (they bled the cattle and used the blood).

Deerskin would be the obvious material for the early sporrans and as they became less functional, they became more elaborate - in Victorian times, the fashion was for goat-hair sporrans that all but obliterated the front of the kilt.

The sporran is conventionally worn on the front of the kilt, suspended by light chains or narrow leather belts that fasten in the pit of the back - usually fed through the two belt loops of the kilt. It's important to get its position right - it should hang two or three inches below the belt buckle, too low - below the pubic bone as one sometimes sees it, looks comical and too close to the belt buckle is also to be avoided. Another method of hanging the sporran is a leather strip called a 'wang' introduced many years ago by veteran sporran maker Jim Kirkwood which has no metal parts and an ingenious fastening system.

Day Sporran  Semi-dress sporran  Dress sporran   Hair sporran         

Conventionally, sporrans are made of leather or fur and are of three types - simple workaday sporrans often of the pouch type with no ornamentation apart from a little leather tooling perhaps; then there are semidress sporrans usually with a metal cantle of pewter, chrome or silver the old ones often have brass) and then there are the more elaborate versions for evening functions. Hair sporrans are most often seen in pipe bands but there's no reason why they can't be worn at a 'dressy' evening function.

There are no hard and fast rules on what type of sporran you should wear - let common-sense prevail. Wearing a Victorian goat or horsehair creation to your kid's graduation or the church bazaar is going to make you look a little eccentric and have your family disown you, so it's best avoided. Equally, if you're invited to a Royal Garden party at Holyrood Palace you wouldn't wear your tacky workaday sporran but would (hopefully) sport a semidress version. Now and again you may see a sporran that precedes its owner by about 12 inches - usually an animal head or a grotesque furry object . . . . try and avoid anything like that if you wish to be taken seriously as a 'Scot'! . . .  besides . . .  it makes it impossible to dance with the lady of your choice unless you hold her at arms-length, which is rarely the purpose of the exercise.

Cantle 1Cantle 2Cantle 3Cantle 4

 

 

The cantle is the hinged metal jaw at the top of the sporran that acts as a purse clasp and a wide range of cantles will usually be available.

Being told what we can and can't use to make our sporrans tends to raise the national hackles and broadswords: whilst it's only right and proper to safeguard endangered species, modern political correctness sometimes shrouds the situation and the latest victim appears to be the traditional seal skin used for generations by sporran makers. The industry waits whilst Europe dithers over the small print as to whether the official annual Inuit (Eskimo) cull of seals can be legally used for sporrans and what happens to those thousands of sealskin sporrans already in circulation and in the storerooms of kilt hire companies.

A 2007 BBC report on legislation introduced by the Scottish Executive stated that sporran owners may need licences to prove that the animals used in construction of their pouch conformed to these regulations. "Having a licence... will ensure they will not be prosecuted or have it taken from them under the new regulations." Scottish Executive spokeswoman.

We can hear those swishing broadswords!  In the meantime however there are many other legitimate - and sometimesexotic - furs and skins that are used - mink, muskrat, badger, coyote,skunk, arctic fox, deerskin, cowhide etc.

Musquash Semi-dress sporran  Mink sporran  Fox sporran  Custom made sporran

Sporran-making is a time-honoured craft and added to the large selection of different manufacturers, is an exciting number of lone sporran-makers - within and outwith Scotland - whose artistic and artisan skills produce a wonderful selection of unique products for all occasions.

All images courtesy of Morrison Sporrans of Perth, Scotland.

Sporran banner courtesy Broadsword (Scotland) Sporrans

 

Are you a Sporran Maker?

At last there is a prestigious ticketing system which allows you to clearly identify that your product is Made in Scotland or if you are a bona fide sporran maker outwith Scotland, that your products have  been inspected and approved by the Scottish Tartans Authority. 

Cheap and inferior imports from countries outwith the conventional 'Celtic circle' will not be considered.

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Ticketing details

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© Scottish Tartans Authority
Scottish Tartans Authority (Scottish limited company no. 162386), c/o J & H Mitchell, 51 Atholl Road, Pitlochry, PH16 5BU
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