See Bonnie Prince Charlie's jacket in Highland Threads exhibition

02 April 2021
Conservator Rachael Thomas working on the Glencoe dress preparing it for mounting ©Jim Dunn
A jacket that belonged to Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart), a dress embellished with the elytra of the jewel beetle and a fisherman's Gansey are just a few of the items in an innovative online exhibition.

Fourteen museums from across the Highlands are taking part in Highland Threads. The virtual exhibition, which launched on 1 April, showcases a costume from each museum's collection alongside stories of the people who made the cloth, who wore the clothes and where they were produced.

A 360° video presentation of each costume, alongside close up shots of stitching, pattern and texture, aims to provide an experience close to viewing the item in real life. 

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A programme of online events gives an opportunity to delve deeper into Highland clothing stories, including a partnership with XpoNorth and their series ‘Heritage As a Creative Future’ which looks at the role the heritage of our textiles can play in design, creation and storytelling in the future.  Some of the costumes will also be on display at their museum and, when Covid-19 restitutions allow, can be seen in real life. An online map shows where the museums are located.

Exploring Highland heritage

Speaking about the exhibition Helen Avenell, Partnerships and Projects Manager at Museums and Heritage Highlands said: "The diversity of museums across the Highlands is reflected in the varied selection of items in this exhibition. Each costume tells a fascinating story and is a conduit to exploring our Highland heritage. 

Charles Edward Stuart jacket from Inverness Museum & Art Gallery (copyright Jim Dunn)

"Some garments have a strong military connection, some like the Gairloch hose and fisherman's Gansey are steeped in a rich history of the place they were made. Like the child’s knitted swimsuit, some provide a glimpse into a past that will resonate with many. 

"We even have a 1740s silk dress used as a dressing up costume for a family's children. Before being donated to the museum, it was put through a washing machine - luckily it survived!"

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"The exhibition really is a visual treat. I'd encourage anyone interested in the history of the Scottish Highlands to visit the website. Highland Threads can be enjoyed from anywhere in the world. It is a new way for people to explore our collections, whether museums are open or closed."

The project is produced by Museums and Heritage Highland, a charity formed in 2019 to promote collaborative working and provide a supportive voice for the Highlands' heritage sector. A successful bid to the National Lottery Heritage Fund allowed the charity to develop the project.

Nicola Henderson, Museums and Heritage Highlands Digital Innovation and Network Manager said: "The idea for Highland Threads was conceived at a Highland Heritage Cafe, a regular online meet-up for people working in heritage. We saw an opportunity to support each other while our museums struggle through temporary closure due to Covid-19 restrictions. 

1740s dress from Glencoe Folk Museum, copyright Jim Dunn

"With funding from NLHF, Museums and Heritage Highlands offered each participating museum conservation expertise, professional photography and promotion. Many of our smaller museums struggle to access these services. By working together, we can find ways to bring sustainability and resilience to the sector which, like many others, has been hit hard by the economic effects of the pandemic.

"Visitors to the online exhibition are also encouraged to support museums by donating. We hope that, when restrictions ease, the online exhibition will entice people to visit the museums and experience these wonderful objects in real life.”

Highland Threads exhibits

Objects in the exhibition are: a 1740s dress from Glencoe Folk Museum; a waistcoat and jacket said to have belonged to Charles Edward Stuart from Inverness Museum & Art Gallery; kilt hose and waistcoats knitted in the Gairloch pattern from Gairloch Museum; Ullapool Museum's Roska Yacht Jersey; a Victorian bustle wedding dress from Grantown Museum; a beetle wing dress from West Highland Museum; a child's knitted swimming costume from Highland Museum of Childhood; a late-Victorian outfit from Castlehill Heritage Centre; Major Ian Forsyth's Military Uniform from Tain Through Time; a Fisherman's Gansey from Wick Heritage Museum; Highland Folk Museum's Drummond tartan silk satin dress; a jumper designed by George Bain from Groam House Museum; Balmoral cap from Strathnaver Museum and an 18th-century Spitalfields dress from Dornoch Historylinks.

Explore Highland Threads from 1 April 2021 and across social media using #HighlandThreads