What Neenie Kept in Her Pinnie

Today we are going to discuss an item of clothing which is often associated with Gypsy/Traveller women - the Gypsy pinnie, sometimes known as a peenie or pocket.  
Before handbags were common, and even later, women from Gypsy/Traveller families wore pinnies around their waist. Much like the building of bow tents and crafts, the style of these pinnies varied between families and geographical areas. Within Argyll, our Farm Supervisor Kathy Townsley McGuigan remembers that her mother favoured pinnies with large, horseshoe shaped pockets, and which tied around the waist. This was in turn the style favoured by Kathy’s sister, Neenie, who was never seen without a pinnie. The style she wore depended on the outfit it was going with, with longer pinnies more suitable for longer skirts.  
After her death, Kathy donated one of Neenie’s pinnies to Auchindrain’s Gypsy/Traveller collection, which she had bought at Appleby Horse Fair. For the Gypsy/Traveller community it is rare to find an article of clothing made specifically for their culture and traditions, and more often the community have to choose items that reflect their style and culture from clothes made for “settled” people. It was thus usually the case that women would sew their own pinnies. Kathy’s family, as well as many other Gypsy/Traveller families, would collect old clothing and rags from towns and villages and, after washing, sell them on for money – they thus had a lot of material to choose from. 


Neenie’s pinnie

These pinnies aren’t just interesting artefacts themselves, as they also tell the story of women’s lives through what was kept within them. Duncan Williamson, several generations of whose family camped down by the shore and within the woods at Furnace, a couple of miles from Auchindrain, said that his Granny, Bella MacDonald, kept ‘all her worldly possessions” in her “pocket”. Within several of his memoirs he tells a story which emphasises the importance of these items to women, and confirms how personal the contents would be.  
Granny was a great story-teller, and when she was going to tell us a story she’d look into her pocket to find the one she chose… If we ran down to the shop for her baccy – when we got back she’d say “Now I’ll tell you a story – from granny’s pocket,” and she’d open it up and peep inside and pick out a story, never letting us see where they came from or what else was in the bag… One day my little sister Jeannie and I came back from school and we went into granny’s tent and she was sleeping and the pocket was folded up and lying by her side. That was the first time in my life that I saw granny with her pocket off… very, very carefully we lifted the pocket… There were things of all descriptions in that pocket – bangles, thimbles, needles, pins, big buttons of pearl, shirt-buttons, brooches, earrings, threepenny pieces with the acorns, a pipe-cleaner, tobacco, pieces of pipe – but we couldn’t find one single story! [The next evening, when the children asked for a story she] sat down as she bent down to peek in her pocket. “Well weans – let me see what I can find in here the day,” and then she stopped, and she looked at me and said, “Well weans – I'm nae gain’ tae tell ye a story the nicht.” “Why Granny, why no a story the nicht?” we asked. And she looket straight at me and she said, “Duncan, somebody’s been in my pocket! Whilst I was asleep somebody’s come in and my stories have gone – every one.” And though my Granny lived till I was seventeen year old she never told another story. 
At Auchindrain we’re privileged that Neenie Townsley Reid’s family have talked to us about what she would have kept in her pinnie: memories which are documented alongside the object itself. As well as a packet of Woodbine cigarettes and a box of matches (never Swan, which are apparently seen as unlucky), she might also have had some hair grips and bobbles, coins in a wee purse, and safety pins and bits of elastic. If she had been putting out the washing then there might have been some clothes pegs in there too, or a duster if she had been doing the chores. As Kathy says, ‘basically anything and everything’ that would help throughout the day. There are even rumours that some women kept a wee dram in there - but not Neenie, who liked nothing more than a strong cup of tea made on the outside fire.