This knitted bathing suit belonged to Mabel Macaulay who grew up with her brother on Kirkibost Island ‘Eilean Chircebost‘, located off the south west coast of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. Their childhood echoes the lives of many children from coastal Highland communities in the 1950s, enjoying long summer days playing on the beach.
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Kirkibost Island is part of the Western Isles, a straggling archipelago of islands thirty miles west of the Scottish mainland. The island is low lying and covered by ‘machair’, coastal plains covered with shell sand, dunes and grass. Mabel and Norman played amongst the beautiful, fine sand and crystal-clear waters of these Hebridean beaches. They also fished along the shores but not with rods or nets, instead they caught fish by spearing them. The children would gather things from the shoreline with homemade pots made by their parents and grandparents made by fastening wire across a tin can. When interviewed in her later years, Mabel remembered loving these little tins much more than many of their toys. She loved the sea, paddling, splashing about and fishing when the weather was good, and watching the sea during stormy weather.
Much of Mabel and Norman’s clothing was knitted and Mabel recalled both her mother and aunts making many of their outfits. Mabel’s bathing suit is machine-knitted and was possibly bought from a catalogue or by mail order. Although slightly lighter than homemade woollen garments there was little stretch and nothing like the thin fabric of today’s swimwear. Mabel and Norman’s mother made repairs to the bathing suit by hand. She covered up holes on the green bathing suit by embroidering small flowers which you can see across the bodice. However, a few holes can still be seen in Norman’s bathing shorts as these could not be as easily covered by flowers!
MUSEUM OF CHILDHOOD
The Highland Museum of Childhood is located in the old railway station in the spa village of Strathpeffer.
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