For many countries around the world, weapons (especially cold weapons) is a very important part of life. Historically it was a mean of surviving and a serious attribute of everyday life. That's why in a large number of countries, knives, daggers, and swords became a part of a traditional costume. The national attire of Scotland, England, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Lapland even today contains knives as a full-fledged part of the set. It is rather exciting to compare these knives and to find some peculiarities typical for the certain country.
Cold weapons in the national costumes of Great Britain
Scotland is one of the few British countries which managed to keep most of its own traditions, including clothing traditions. Scottish national attire is well-known all around the world and is used by many people, not necessarily Scots.
The knife is an obligatory part of the traditional costume of Scotland. There are 2 kinds of Scottish traditional knives: older and larger "dirk" and smaller "sgian-dubh". They are as important part of male Scottish Highland dress as the kilt itself.
Dirk is a long dagger. Its length is 20-40 cm (about 8-15 inch). Dirks were often made from the fragments of broken swords. In the past, dirks were mostly very simple and reliable, but later they became ornate and exquisite. Nowadays the hilts of Scottish dirks are carved from expensive wood (bog oak or ebony) and decorated with silver and gemstones. The sheaths are made from leather.
Vintage dirk, 17th – 18th century. Photo from the Museum Of Leathercraft
Dirk is worn with a kilt. It hangs by a leather strap from a wide dirk belt which is worn around the waist. This provides easy access to the knife.
Rather often the dirk carries a smaller knife and fork. They are placed on the front of the sheath in special pockets.
Dirk was widely used in Scotland 16th-17th centuries. In the end of 18th century, it was banned in Scotland by English authorities. Since then Scottish people began to use a sgian-dubh ubiquitously. But nowadays both knives are considered Scottish traditional weapon, so either of them can be used as a part of the national attire. Dirk also is a ceremonial weapon in Scotland since the 19th century.
Classic wooden hilt of a dirk with carving and metal plate. Photo from the Museum Of Leathercraft
Sgian-dubh is a small, single-edged knife. At first, it was a part of a dirk set (as we've written above). But it got its popularity after dirk was banned. Scottish people began to carry sgian-dubh as it was small and convenient but still could perform its functions. So, it became a full-fledged part of Scottish national costume.
It is carried by men in the stockings – tucked into the top of the kilt hose with only the upper portion of the hilt visible. It can be worn either in the right hose or in the left, depending on whether the wearer is right or left-handed.
Sgian-dubh worn with traditional Scottish costume
The length of sgian-dubh is 9-10 cm (3,5-4 inch). These knives often are richly ornate (Scottish people didn't actually believe in paper money, so they invested in personal wearing apparel, including knives). The hilts are often made from expensive wood or horn, with carving, silver elements, and inlaid with precious stones. The sheaths can be made of leather or today even plastic with metal fittings.
Sgian-dubh is legal in Scotland, England and Wales. But still at some events, nowadays knives are banned. In this case, men use dummy knives to complement the costume, because they consider their garment incomplete without the sgian-dubh.
The history of the cold weapon in England is long and rich. And that explains why weapon has become a great part of English national costume. For so long English people were being conquerors, warriors, so weapons became a part of them. Their traditional dress is rather simple and convenient, but it practically always includes a knife, dagger or sword.
Traditional English knife is called "seax". There are several variations of a seax: narrow long seax, short seax, narrow seax, light broad seax, heavy broad seax, atypical broad seax, and long seax. Often people – both men and women – wore more than one knife at a time. Usually, the seax has a rather long (at least for a daily carried knife) single-edged blade. Its blade is wider near the hilt, with a sharp narrowing at the tip. Usually, this knife has a rather simple design, with few or no embellishments (silver decorations, gems etc.). Though it looks elegant and noble. Often there is carving on the blade and on the sheaths. The holts are made from wood or horn.
Woman in English national clothing (based on the 6th century English dress) with two seax knives attached to her belt. Photo from Englandandenglishhistory.com
Seax is worn mostly horizontally, its sheaths attached to the belt with long leather straps. It complements the traditional English attire.
Man in modern English national outfit with a seax attached to the belt. Photo from Englandandenglishhistory.com
There is another traditional dress in England – the dress of the Palace Guards of the Tower of London. The costume of the Yeomen historically consists of a red wool tunic, a cotton or linen shirt (with a deep ruff at the neck and frilled cuffs), paned knee-breeches, red hose, a hat, white gloves, and some traditional weapons. They carry a lance with a very large gold tassel and a ceremonial sword.
Yeomen of the Palace Guards of the Tower of London worn in ceremonial dress with swords attached to their belts. Photo from Yeomenoftheguard.com
The Guards wear a red jacket, black trousers, a white belt, a high black hat, and, of course, some weapon as well. Traditionally they carry ceremonial sabers (though in modern times guns mostly replace sabers).
Cold weapons in the national costumes of Scandinavian countries
Scandinavian countries have been using knives throughout all their long and complicated history. A knife is the best friend and the most useful tool for every Scandi man. Besides, it was the Vikings who developed a method of forging that helped to produce high-quality cutting blades. Such affection of Scandinavian people to their knives caused the appearance of dress knives: the weapon that is a part of the national costume of Scandi countries.
Scandinavian knives can be various. Each country has its own peculiarities in weapon making. So, it is interesting to compare Scandi knives and highlight their special features. Still, they have a lot in common. For example, double sets of knife are typical for Scandinavian traditional knives. They usually consist of one larger and one smaller knives that are located in one sheath (the smaller one is in a special pocket).
In Norway, there is a special dress knife called "bunadskniv" which is a part of Norwegian traditional clothing "bunad". Actually "dress knife" is a direct translation of "bunadskniv". It is a small knife, very handy; its design is mostly rather similar to one of Vikings. In most cases Norwegian dress knife is handmade, and it is forged by the blacksmiths in the traditional way. The typical bunadskniv has a short blade (4-11 cm or 1-4 inch), a very smooth round hilt and very little or no finger protection.
Norwegian bunadskniv as a part of male traditional costume
Its blade is made from hard carbon steel inside of soft iron. If to talk about the hilt, in the past it was made of different materials, and craftsmen paid little attention to it. The hilt should have been convenient and simple, that was all. But today the material for the hilt is carefully chosen to make a knife the work of art. Mostly wood and metal elements are used. But, nevertheless, real Norwegian traditional knife should be handmade, simple and fit the hand of the owner. The sheath of a bunadskniv is made from leather and often is decorated with carving or patterns pressed into the leather. Sheaths also should be simple and handy.
Finnish knife that is worn as a part of the national costume of Finland is called "puukko". It is a small belt knife with a single curving cutting edge and a flat back. The length of the blade is less than 10 cm (about 4 inches). There are many slight different designs of a puukko according to its purpose (hunting, fishing, carving etc.). As men, women, and children carry and use puukko, there are various sizes and designs of this knife.
Finnish puukko double set as a part of the national costume of Finland. Photo from Pinterest.com
The blade of this kind of knives is made of a layer of very hard steel between two layers of softer iron. In Finland there are great stocks of limonite (iron ore), so blacksmiths were able to use a very high-quality iron for their knives. The tilt of puukko is made from different materials: wood (birch, oak, ash or pine bark), horn, bone, scrimshaw, plastic (the latter is used for modern knives). The sheaths are usually made of leather.
Puukko is a traditional Finnish knife. During centuries, Finnish men put a great proud in their knives, especially those made by their own hands. It is an ancient tradition to make a puukko yourself, including designing, forging, carving, decorating and sharpening. To make a perfect sheath is also a hard work. Finnish men prefer their knives to be the work of art and at the same time a handy and easy to use the thing. Puukko has even become an important accessory of national attire in Finland.
Swedish cold weapon tradition is less strong than in other Scandinavian countries. But still, there is a certain design of a knife typical for Sweden. That's why Scandi knives usually don't have a finger protection. Some craftsmen consider Swedish traditional knives to be developed from other Scandinavian knives, to be more modern and the like.
Traditional Swedish knife is short and has a single beveled edge. As most of Scandi knives, it is handy, simple and made of natural materials. The blade is less than 10 cm (about 4 inches) long. The hilt is very smooth, without any finger grooves and finger protection. Scandinavian knives are cutting knives, not stabbing, so finger protection is not needed (Swedish people, just as any Scandi people, prefer their knives to be tools rather than weapons). The sheath is usually made from leather, often decorated with wooden and metal elements.
Swedish woman's sewing set which consists of a small knife, a thimble, and a needlecase. The practical decoration of female national costume of Sweden. Photo from Pinterest.com
A knife often becomes an accessory for Swedish national costume. It often is a part of woman's sewing set which consists of a small knife, a thimble, and a needlecase. This sewing set is usually attached to the belt and hangs on a long strap, band or chain. Such sets can be seen attached to traditional costumes of Scandi women, including Swedish and Lappish women.
Lapland. Sami/Lappish knives
There is a region in Scandinavia which has its own weapon traditions (among other traditions as well). It is Lapland. Its territory covers a part of Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Russia – the far north of the peninsula. Sami people have their own national costume and traditional crafts. One of those crafts is making Sami/Lappish knives. There are two kinds of knives typical for Sami people: a small knife called "buiku" or "puukko" and a larger knife called "stuorra niibi" or "Sami knife". There is even larger knife called "väkipuukko" that is similar to an English seax.
Several Sami knives attached to the belt of Lappish folk dress: a longer Sami knife and a double set of smaller knives. Photo from Pinterest.com
Buiku or puukko is very often used as a part of Lappish traditional attire. It is worn both by men and women. Women's buiku often is a part of woman's sewing set which consists of a small knife, a thimble, and a needlecase. We've already written about such sewing sets above.
Sami knife is much longer (20-45 cm or 8-17 inch) and more solid than a puukko. It is used as a part of the national clothing of Sami people mostly by men. This knife used to cut branches and even small trees to make a shelter, to cut firewood, to butcher animal carcasses and similar hard tasks. The blade is made from high-quality steel. The tilt is usually made from wood (birch) with no crossguard; it is very convenient even for a gloved hand. The sheath is mostly made from reindeer leather.
Vintage Sami woman's sewing set which consists of a small knife and an antler needlecase, attached to the belt. Photo from Wikipedia
Scandinavian countries have a common tradition of producing knives, using them, and making them a part of the national costume. Despite the fact that Norway, Finland, Sweden and Lapland have their own distinctive design of a traditional knife, they often mix designs and use knives typical for neighboring countries. So, it is a usual thing to find a puukko in Sweden or a Sami knife in Norway. The cultures and histories of these countries/territories are so intertwined that sometimes it can be hard to separate their traditions.