Al Saguto, April 1984
Revised: February 1995
PAMPOOTIE, CUARAN, AND GILLIE ... HIGHLAND MOCCASINS
The following is a brief outline of regional Scottish footwear forms in
the first half of the 18th century. The terms "pampootie" (Hebridean and
Outer Isles), "cuaran" (Highland Gaelic or Erse), and "ghillie"
(or "gillie," a misnomer derived from the Gaelic for servant or
attendant) all denote one specific form of footwear the primitive bag-shoe or
European moccasin fashioned from hairy rawhide generally known as "rivelin."
Examples of this form of footwear go back to the early Bronze Age in Northern Europe,
however, much more sophisticated footwear existed side by side with these rather simple
Neither poverty or lack of ingenuity are behind the survival of
this simple form, but rather purest practicality. The footwear of the Highlander at this
period was divided only along economic lines.
The fashionable "welted" shoe, with heels, etc., worn by the
Chiefs was basically the exact shoe worn south of the Firth or in the Court of France.
A secondary form, noted as peculiarly Scottish, or "Highland"
by visiting Englishmen, was the "single soled shoe." This form was a
"turn-shoe," usually without any heel, and with uppers conforming to period
fashion. This type of shoe is shown on the feet of numerous Highland notables in period
art work, yet it is outside of the bag-shoe family, being a highly constructed product of
a tradesman, like the "welted" shoe with its heel and buckle on the instep.
The "pampootie" or "cuaran," (the term "ghillie"
should be left to those who refer to modern Scottish dancing slippers!) was the common
footwear of the Clansman, Tenant, and "Humblie," or as they are affectionately
known "Heather Hoppers." Just like the Native American, the Highlander
lived in a society where hunting and limited migration formed a large part of daily life.
The practicality of the bag-shoe, like the Native American moccasin, was hard to improve
upon. "Pampooties" or "cuarans" were made from the raw
skin of a freshly killed deer or stag, whilst the skin was still soft. The hair was
retained on the outer side, perhaps to aid in traction, as it is usually found laying
towards the rear or heel-end of the shoe. Once flayed, the wearer-to-be placed his feet
upon the skin, on the flesh side, traced round with a knife, cut a series of slits around
the edges, and laced the whole affair, draw-string like, up around the foot. Both wear and
ever-present sodden state of the walking surfaces maintained the "pampootie"
in a semi-flexible condition. Lasting hardly longer than a moccasin, durability was a not
factor, seeing that a new pair was only as hard to make as it was to hunt the next animal.
Two basic forms of bag-shoe can be noted I say two, because for
our purposes to chase after more would be hardly necessary: Type-A with a seamed toe, and
Type-B with a gathered toe. Type-A (the "pampootie" on page 5 is of this
type and dates from the 19th century; it was collected from the Isle of Aran Mor and
resides in the Northampton Central Museum, Northants) might prove the easiest to make, as
well as the more comfortable, because of the lack of pleats across the toes. Type-B, with
a pleated front, is perhaps easier to fit, since it's entirely on a draw-string and can be
lengthened or shortened accordingly.
In choosing the portion of the skin from which to cut out your "pampooties,"
the butt section would be recommended one foot over each buttock. This is the
heaviest portion of the skin, as well as the section with the tightest fibre structure,
and will provide as much longevity as possible from the material. In cutting, the lay of
the hair should be pointing backwards towards your heel for traction, perhaps, but
at least to conform to archaeological remains that are hoary with age.
For the lacing, tanned leather thongs would be recommended (not latigo boot laces!) or
even cotton cording (as shown in the Aran Mor example on page 5). Sinew, and such, could
be used by the stalwart with much admiration. The following pages give some cutting
diagrams and thumb-nail sketches that should be sufficient you find the deer!
Best of Luck!