In the 1830s, Lady McKenzie of Gairloch – in an effort to help create income for local women on her estate – encouraged her tenants to improve their spinning and knitting. With her support, the distinctive diamond Gairloch pattern was developed. Local women, often the wives and daughters of crofters and farmers, spun, dyed and knitted stockings that were successfully sold to merchants in Scotland and London.
The distinctive pattern became associated with its place of production on the north- west coast of Scotland. In the mid-nineteenth century, the quality and patterning of the stockings also distinguished them from the plain knitted stockings produced by crofters on the east coast for Aberdeen hosiery merchants. The shaped and patterned stocking hand knitted in Gairloch could also not be replicated by the hand operated circular sock knitting machines that were developed in the nineteenth century.
Lady McKenzie’s support of craft production on her estate was also indicative of the greater interest that aristocratic landowners took in the welfare of their tenants during the nineteenth century. The support of these families resulted in the formation of the Highland Home Industries and the Scottish Home Industries. Estate owners organised large exhibitions of goods in major cities across the UK, which encouraged the public to buy goods directly from the producers.
Stockings and garments featuring the distinctive pattern are now promoted and displayed in the Gairloch Museum.