Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tuesday Tales: The Sprightly Tailor

     I thought I'd begin this series with a Scottish tale, from a collection of Celtic stories published by Joseph Jacobs in 1892.
     The story concerns a tailor who is commissioned by the Chief of the MacDonald Clan to make a pair of trews, whilst spending the night in a haunted church.   Trews ("Triubhas" in Scottish Gaelic) are tartan trousers trimmed with buckskin, traditionally worn as part of Highland Dress during the winter months or for horseback riding, for which a kilt would be...em...impractical.  Often, trews consisted of trousers and a vest, sewn into one piece.

  Portrait of Sir John Sinclair (sporting a pair of trews) by Henry Raeburn.
Note the buckskin cuffs and inseam.

Saddell Castle was built between 1508 and 1512 from the ruins of Saddell Abbey.  It was the seat of the Clan MacDonald for a hundred years, and still stands near the shore of Kilbrannan Sound, near Saddell, Kyntire, in Argyle and Bute.
Saddell Castle 2012 by Hchc2009, Courtesey Wikimedia Commons

I'm not certain about the hand print that appears at the end of the tale, but perhaps Debi and I will visit the Castle and see for ourselves.    For now, without further ado, I give you Tuesday Tales:

The Sprightly Tailor Illustration by John D. Batten

     Once, long ago, The Great Macdonald sat in the wintry hall of Saddell Castle, keenly aware of the draught that blew along the stone floors and up under his Great Kilt.  Being a great and proud Chieftain, he bore his discomfort silently until it became unbearable and he had to admit that a change of costume was in order.  He called for a local tailor, and the Laird commissioned him to make a pair of trews.  Now, many men and women in power tend to be a bit whimsical, especially when dealing with their lesser subjects, and so it was with The Great Macdonald:  To make the commission more interesting, he offered the tailor a large reward if the trews were to be successfully hand sewn overnight in the haunted church nearby.   The tailor, being of stout heart, agreed, and after taking the Chieftan's measurements, set off away up the glen at dusk to spend the night sewing in the old church.  He lit his candle and chose a nice gravestone to sit on and work until the wee hours.  He set to his work, thinking of the great reward the Laird had offered him.

     He worked nimbly well past nightfall, when at the stroke of midnight, the air around him grew exceedingly chill, and the candle flickered wildly.   The ground began to tremble beneath him and he looked up in fright to see a great spectral head rising up from the stone floor of the church.   The eyes of the spirit bore through the tailor and his blood ran cold with fright.   A great, booming voice addressed him: "Do you see this great head of mine?"    The tailor was frightened but the promise of the reward stilled his nerves and he returned to his stitches.   "I see that," he replied "but I'll sew this!"

     The spectre continued to rise from the floor and soon the head and neck were visible.   The voice erupted once again "do you see this great neck of mine?"   And again the sprightly tailor answered, "I see that, but I'll sew this!"  His fingers were shaking but he deftly stitched the seam of the trews, working as quickly as he could.  The head and shoulders were now looming above him.  The giant apparition spoke again: "do you see my great shoulders?"   The sprightly tailor continued stitching at a faster clip and again answered, "yes, I see them but I'll sew this!"

     In little time the spectre's chest, then waist, and thigh emerged, and each time the ghost questioned the tailor and each time he answered.   He was nearly petrified with fright but continued to sew faster and faster, thinking only of the reward that awaited him.   The giant began to raise a leg from beneath the stone floor just as the tailor finished the final stitches.  The sprightly tailor lept up, blew out his candle and fled from the haunted church as fast as his long legs would carry him.

     The giant ghost emerged from the floor and with a blood-curdling howl, pursued the tailor, who clutched his finished tartan trews for dear life as he fled down the glen to the castle, thinking only of the great reward that awaited him if he lived to present the finished trews to the Chieftain.   Soon he saw the gate of the castle and doubled his speed.   The monster roared for him to stop but the sprightly tailor fled fast as a jack rabbit into the safety of the gate, which was hastily lowered before the ghoul could gain passage.   The monster roared with rage at the escape of its quarry and slammed its mighty fist into the castle wall just above the gate.   You may still see the giant's hand print, if you'll only look hard enough.

     The sprightly tailor presented the trews to the Laird and gained his well-earned reward, for The Great Macdonald paid the tailor well, never noticing that many of the stitches were exceptionally long.



  1. YAY! I love this tale so much!!! Thanks David!!

  2. Maybe the monster wanted the trews?! It's not easy being the bad guy with nothing to wear ;-)

  3. Great story & I love the illustration. I'm really excited about this series:)

  4. There is nothing like a good tale, specially when it has to do with sewing ;)

  5. Wait . . . that tailor sewed an entire pair of trousers by hand in one night?!?! Wow! Even without a monster, that's quite a feat!

  6. This is so fun! Thanks for doing this series, David!

  7. Also, the tale clearly states that the church was exceedingly chill. A nice pair of woolen smalls would have been welcome, I'm thinking.

  8. Wonderful beginning!! Thanks so much for doing this series!!! I love it!

  9. Ah, thank you! I'm enjoying it, and am very glad to be able to help Debi during a busy time.

  10. Thanks, Evie. I'm enjoying it.

  11. Ha ha ha. Yes.
    But like many sewists, Debi rises to the occasion when the heat is on. I remember several long nights but here's one post in particular, where we stayed up all night sewing an outfit together:

  12. Aw, thank you.
    I'm enjoying putting these posts together.

  13. Aye. It's cold in the afterlife.

  14. You're not mistaken. I'm sure a warm pair o'trews would do a spectre some good.

  15. That last line made me laugh out loud! Too funny :) I do hope you can visit, it sounds like it would be an interesting place! You make me want to read some mythology and folktales now!

  16. Thanks, Rachel. Glad it brought a smile, and happy to inspire you to dig deeper.

    My three favourite sources are:

    Celtic Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs, illustrated by John D. Batten.

    The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries: The classic study of Leprechauns, Pixies and other Fairy Spirits by W.Y. Evans Wentz.

    The Fairy Ring by Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora A. Smith, illustrated by Elizabeth MacKinstry

    Jacobs' book is fairly easy to come by, and Batten's illustrations are amazing. There's a text-only version available here: http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/7885/pg7885.html

  17. Let the wind blow high

    Let the wind blow low

    Through the streets

    In my kilt, I'll go

    All the lassies say hello

    David, where's your troosers! Teehee!! (I know it's not yours but couldn't resist!)

  18. Ha! Love it!

    Thanks, Maryanne!

  19. Sir John Sinclair could have been a relation of mine!


I read each and every comment--thank you so much!

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