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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Gatlinburg Games & New Sgian Dubh

Last weekend I attended the Gatlinburg Scottish Festival and Highland Games. These are some of my favorite. A nice, mid-sized games with friendly people, and since I've been going there for about ten years staight, I know the layout and the area pretty well. Good to see familiar faces. Also good to see some of my kilts getting good use. I ran into two gentlemen sporting kilts I had made for them over this past year. The one pictured below is in the Moffat tartan. (That's Pat McCabe behind him, star of my "Sharp Dressed Man" blog post).

This next picture shows the Buchanan Old tartan, weathered colors. I really like this one. I think if I were a Buchanan this would be the tartan of choice for me! Both of these two kilts are box pleated, as you can see, and made from Lochcarron's 16 oz Strome cloth.
Also while there I ran into Donnie Shearer of Donnie does some excellent work with blades, including some restoration work on a couple of peices in the Scottish Tartans Museum. I was hoping to see him so that he could take a look at an old Victorian by-knife that I bought from an antiques dealer about a year ago. It was being sold as a sgian dubh, and apparantly someone had decided at some point to use it for that purpose. A by-knife is part of the knife and fork set that is part of the sheath on some dress dirks. This one was by itself, and was housed in a leather sheath that really seemed too large for it.
I bought it to use as an interesting sgian dubh, and have worn it for that purpose a few times over the past year. However, the sheath nearly swallows the knife whole, only showing the top part of the handle, and is very bulky in my sock. I thought I'd have Donnie craft a smaller, simple, black leather sheath that would encase just the blade and make the knife more comfortable to wear.

So I showed the by-knife to Donnie and asked him if he could make a sheath for it. "No," he said, "I'll make you a whole new sgian dubh!" As it turns out, Donnie has a nineteenth century dirk that is missing the by-knife and this is just the perfect thing to complete that set. So, in exchange for this by-knife, he's making me a new sgian dubh, a reproduction of one that he refurbished for the museum a while back (pictured below). This one has a bery generously sized handle (compared to modern sgians dubh), and is carved blackwood. It dates from the late 1800s or early 1900s (before WWI). (The gentleman in the photo, by the way, is the original owner of the sgian dubh, as far as we know).
So all in all a great weekend. The weather was perfect, lots of kilts, lots of tartans, good pipe bands, and I may be getting a nice new sgian dubh to boot!
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Groomporter said...

Speaking of sgian dubhs...
I have had historical reenactor friends claim that these small knives originated as "pit knives" that would be held in a sheath under the armpit and that the effects of perspiration was one of the reasons they were often "dubh" or black. I've never seen anything to confirm that. Have you heard this claim?

Brian Carpenter said...

Yes, the original "knife of last resort" was the armpit knife or "sgian achlais." And NO to the sweat theory! "Dubh" or black in this case means "secret", as in "blackmail"....