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  1. #1
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    How are hair sporrans constructed?

    In my continuing education in kilting, I am trying to learn how the various types of sporrans are constructed. I understand about standard day sporrans (leather sewn into a flapped bag) and fur-mounted (fur sewn on top of the basic leather bag). For horsehair and goat hair I am unsure.
    I seem to have a hard time thinking they are made by scalping the horse and sewing it onto the leather bag like fur sporrans. And I think it would probably be impractical to be collecting cut hair into bundles which are then sewn down, a la American Indian roach headdresses.
    Would someone please explain how it should truly be done?

  2. #2
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    Actually you are quite right— at least in my case, my hair sporran is constructed exactly as you describe, the bundles of horsehair being sewn down onto the leather. Then the cantle is made of another leather piece which essentially sandwiches on top and is basically basted on along the edge using a black hemp thread. The metal part of cantle fits around the edge and holds the leather—hair—leather sandwich together, and is nailed on.

    On the back of it, my sporran is basically just a flat oval of leather. There is not actually a ‘purse’ part to it, it’s just a decorative sporran. (Which is very frustrating—the cell phone becomes a ‘phone dubh’ in the hosetop as my shell jacket doesn’t have pockets big enough 😤)

    The tassels are attached the same as any dress sporran, with chains threading through the leather to the back where they are anchored with key rings.
    PATRIAE INSERVIENDO CONSVMOR

  3. #3
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    As far as I know for the hair sporrans which do have an actual pocket, they’re basically constructed more or less the same but the parts which I have described are basically slapped onto the front of the pouch which is constructed the same as a leather dress sporran.
    PATRIAE INSERVIENDO CONSVMOR

  4. #4
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    You’ve got it. Mine has a decent pouch, and it’s constructed as a normal all-leather sporran with the horse hair glued to the front.
    Rev'd Father Bill White: Retired Parish Priest & Elementary Headmaster, lover of God, people (most of them!) dogs, joy, humour & clarity. Legion Padre, theologian, teacher, philosopher, linguist, dreamer, traditionalist, bon-vivant, encourager of hearts & souls & a firm believer in dignity, decency, & duty. A proud Sinclair.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by KnittedReenactor View Post
    I think it would probably be impractical to be collecting cut hair into bundles which are then sewn down, a la American Indian roach headdresses.
    Would someone please explain how it should truly be done?
    It's an interesting topic you bring up, and one that I've never seen fully explained.

    The horsehair sporran we have today is the end product of a long evolutionary process, which went more or less like this:

    1) the original sporran which was merely a deerskin poke-bag with drawstring top.

    2) the classic mid-18th century sporran with hinged brass top on a deerskin bag.

    3) by the late 18th century the bag was being made of sealskin, with fancier silver hinged top, and decorative tassels on the front.

    4) by the Napoleonic Wars the body was being made of (or covered with) goat-hair. The hinged top had given way to a fur flap with metal-trimmed leather piece on the flap.

    5) by the 1840s, due to wanting longer hair sporrans, horsehair was being layered over the goat-hair resulting in the modern horsehair sporran. Also, our modern all-metal cantles appeared. They were merely decorative. The leather bodies on these new horsehair sporrans weren't pouches, rather they had a leather pocket sewn on the back, closed with a button. These long hair sporrans were the standard sporran in all modes of Highland Dress (military dress, civilian Day Dress, civilian Evening Dress) throughout the Victorian period.

    6) around 1967 the MOD introduced a new style of horsehair sporran for the Other Ranks of the kilted Scottish regiments, having the whole body be an actual pouch, very roomy, with a snap closure. It was one generic model of sporran, with different badges, hair-colours, and tassel arrangements for the various regiments. It was shorter than traditional horsehair sporrans with an overall length of around 14 inches as opposed to the traditional overall length of horsehair sporrans of around 18 inches.

    If you look at older horsehair sporrans (1840s up through the 1950s) you'll see that under the horsehair the leather body itself has a hair front, either horse or goat.

    The long horsehair is sewn onto the sporran front in small bundles. I don't know what a Native American roach headdress is so I can't comment on the similarity of construction. Newer horsehair sporrans have gone a cheaper route and just have a plain leather front to the body.

    By the way there are sporrans which fall outside of the evolution of the sporran outlined above, such as the animal mask sporran which appeared AFAIK in the 18th century and has changed little since, and the new small pocket-shaped Day and Evening sporrans which appeared in the early 20th century.

    Time for pretty pictures!

    The sporran in 1700, a simple deerskin bag with small flap.



    In 1770, a hinged brass top and sealskin front



    The beginning of the hair sporran, around 1800, fur with fur flap and metal-rimmed leather top



    An elaborate Napoleonic-era officer's sporran, white fur layered over black, with a gilt metal and red leather cantle and gold bullion tassels



    By the 1840s they've got so long that horsehair must have been used to augment the front fur. Note that the cantle shape has got a bit more compact.



    Now that photography is around we can see things more clearly. Still, the exact construction isn't 100% clear, and some sporrans appear to be very long goat while others must be horsehair. In any case, horsehair sporrans haven't changed much since the mid-19th century.





    This photo clearly shows how horsehair was layered over a goathair body.

    Last edited by OC Richard; 5th July 19 at 06:26 AM.
    Proud Mountaineer from the Highlands of West Virginia; son of the Revolution and Civil War; first Europeans on the Guyandotte

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  7. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by OC Richard View Post

    5) by the 1840s, due to wanting longer hair sporrans, horsehair was being layered over the goat-hair resulting in the modern horsehair sporran. Also, our modern all-metal cantles appeared. They were merely decorative. The leather bodies on these new horsehair sporrans weren't pouches, rather they had a leather pocket sewn on the back, closed with a button. These long hair sporrans were the standard sporran in all modes of Highland Dress (military dress, civilian Day Dress, civilian Evening Dress) throughout the Victorian period.
    Indeed, that is an apt description of my Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders levee sporran from the late 1880s or early 1890s. Solid metal non-functioning cantle (gilt brass), with the simple pocket on the back and buttoning flap closure.

    What I'm unsure of is whether there's goat hair under all that horse hair. It's rather delicate and I haven't pulled the horse hair back enough to try to see what's below. But from what I see around the edges, I don't see any indication of goat hair beneath. Would you happen to know if these had goat hair, or if they were just horse hair over leather? As horse hair sporrans go, the hair is quite long. I wonder if it was all connected at the top under the cantle, or if there were multiple layers of hair bundle attachments further down.


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  9. #7
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    OCR-
    https://wanderingbull.com/porcupine-roach-how-to-make/

    As horse hair sporrans go, the hair is quite long. I wonder if it was all connected at the top under the cantle, or if there were multiple layers of hair bundle attachments further down.
    Tobus that is another point, are the layers of all-horse hair sporrans set up in layers as shingles are?

  10. #8
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    I pulled out three horsehair sporrans, two very old ones and a recent MOD one, and took some photos to try to show their method of construction.

    First, a very old sporran in bad shape. I took off the cantle so you can see the internal layers etc. From the cantle it's hard to know if this sporran was civilian or military: it has a Lion Rampant badge common with old civilian sporrans but might have been used by a Militia/Volunteer battalion.

    Here's the back. Note the bottom of the belt loops are sewn into the pocket flap, which has no button for closure.



    The front side, note that the front panel is a single layer of hair-bearing hide. They used offwhite hair hide for the front panel even though the added long hair is black. Most of the added long black hair is missing. There's a layer of canvas interfacing. The back panel is plain leather (no hair). When you open the pocket you see the canvas.



    A look down from above, showing the three layers plain leather back/canvas interfacing/hair-bearing front



    I should note that this sporran is extremely lightweight and comfortable to wear, even with the cantle and tassels installed. With the nearly flat back (no button) it would have been practical to wear on the march etc.

    Now to a sporran in better shape, a c1850-c1930 Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Other Ranks' sporran.

    It's missing its tassels, which would have been six short white tassels in brass cones.

    Here you can see the ranks of added horsehair, inserted into slots in the leather, then stitched. The front panel does have some hair on it, not much left as you can see. It's possible that this sporran had lost most of its hair, then had a re-hair job where new long hair was put into the slots. I assume that the regimental tailors would have regularly done such re-hair jobs. (Imagine a battalion of 700-odd soldiers on the march in India, and the wear-and-tear to their horsehair sporrans.)



    Now on to a recently made military sporran, the MOD design introduced c1967 with the whole body being a huge functional pouch. This is much more practical and useful IMHO than the nearly useless skimpy pockets on the old horsehair sporrans.

    I've also removed this sporran's cantle for a better look at the construction.

    The old-style hair-bearing front panel has been replaced by a plain leather front panel. There are three straight ranks of hair inserted into slots and sewn, and at the top there appear to be three curved rows sewn directly onto the face. I'm not quite sure what's on the leather near the top- it's slightly sticky to the touch. Is it adhesive tape?



    Here's the top when the hair is allowed to lay down normally, as it would when the sporran was being worn.



    And pulling up the hair to see how it's stitched onto the sporran front panel



    Here you can see how the top is made, how it opens, the snap closure, and the belt loops. The whole body has a flexible leather gusset between the front and rear panels and the sporran is quite roomy. (Note the five holes cut in the body which allow the various tassel arrangements of the BW, A&SH, Gordons, and QOH to be installed.)

    Last edited by OC Richard; 5th July 19 at 06:40 AM.
    Proud Mountaineer from the Highlands of West Virginia; son of the Revolution and Civil War; first Europeans on the Guyandotte

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  12. #9
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    Outstanding, Richard!

  13. #10
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    AAAAAHHHH! HAHA!
    Perfection my dear piper! A wonderful aid to understand. Thank you.

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