From the humble to the haughty - a history of the Highlands in clothes

It features handwoven socks sold to stave off famine to a silk ballgown decorated with beetle wings and a thick waistcoat said to have been worn by Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Gairloch kilt socks were made by tenants after their lairds set up work schemes in the face of the 1840s potato famine. PIC: Jim Dunn/Gairloch Museum.

Garments held by 14 museums across the North have been brought together in a new virtual exhibition - Highland Threads - which weaves together elements of Highland history, from poverty, endurance and emigration to aspiration and the Empire.

The virtual exhibition showcases a treasured costume from each museum's collection alongside stories of the people who made the cloth, who wore the clothes and where they were produced.

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Launching on April 1, the exhibition - which has been devised as the pandemic keeps small museums without vital income - can be found at

This tartan silk and satin dress was made in the 1840s to mark the visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to Drummond Castle, Perthshire. It was worn to a lavish celebratory ball by Lady Willoughby d'Eresby alongwith a Highland bonnet of blue velvet trimmed with eagle feathers.


This warm and largely waterproof style of jumper was popular among fishermen. Created with extraordinary skill, families and communities developed their own patterns and it is said that if a fisherman was washed overboard, he could be identified by the pattern of his gansey.
Worn by William MacDonald of Gruids, a piper with the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards, during World War One. Severely wounded on the Western Front, he was discharged in April 1917 as '100% disabled' but fought back to health and joined the Lovat Scouts as a highly regarded Pipe Sergeant.
Artist and educator George Bain inspired countless artists and craftspeople with his manuals on Celtic art . He was captivated by intricate Pictish stones, early medieval illuminated manuscripts and ornate metalwork from Britain and Ireland.
Once belonging to Katherine Gray of Overskibo, Dornoch, this dress has been donated by her descendants in Australia. It is said to have been worn to a ball attended by Bonnie Prince Charlie as well as to official events in Jamaica by the wife of local minister, Reverend Murray, who was posted to the island in the late 18th Century.
This swimsuit belonged to Mabel Macaulay who grew up on Kirkibost Island off the south west coast of North Uist. It was made by her mother or aunt on a machine, like many of her clothes, and repaired by hand with holes stitched together with little embroidered flowers.
This wedding dress would have been the talk of the town when worn by Agnes Helen Gordon for her marriage to Donald MacDougall in June 1882. The couple ran a shop and following the death of her husband, Mrs MacDougall continued in business and became a prominent figure in Grantown life.
This outfit represents death as well as the diaspora. The original owner was sent the costume by her son in the United States, who had emigrated in the late 1800s but who regularly sent parcels of clothes home to his mother.
This fine dress speak of emigration, aspiration and Highland links to the Empire. It was made in Madras in 1868 for Inverness-born Barbara Morrison, the wife of a British Army officer stationed in India. The dress is embellised with silk embroidery and the wings of the jewel beetle.
This mid-19th Century pattern was developed by a work scheme which supported Gairloch tenants during the 1840s potato famine. Knitting was encouraged by Lady Mackenzie of Gairloch to provide an income for women, using wool from local fleece which was then home spun and dyed with local plants.
This matching waistcoat and jacket is said to have belonged to Charles Edward Stuart. They date from around 1770 to 1790 and were recovered from a house in Newcastle.
Men from Loch Broom found work in the wealthy world of big yacht racing from the late 19th Century as some of Britain's richest families headed to the west coast waters. Employed due to their excellent seamanship, each man was issued with a jumper printed with the yacht name, which became a symbol of status and credentials.