Sporran is the Gaelic word for purse, and it is a traditional part of Highland dress. The sporran is a bag worn on the front of a kilt to provide a pocket for carrying any number of objects, and it is revered in Scotland as much as the kilt itself. The design is meant for utility or decoration, depending on the occasion. The traditional sporran is made of leather and includes a cantel, gussetts, tassels, ball bells, a targe, and leather straps or chains.
The pouch is usually made from leather or fur, although more exotic substances like goat and seal skin are sometimes used. Early Highlanders occasionally wore cloth sporrans known as trews. The material is cut into circular shapes and sewn together with gussetts -- inserts in a seam -- to provide strength and flexibility. Sporrans can also be made of stainless steel or plastic, and they may be used to carry money, keys and even cell phones. The amount of embellishment added to the pouch is a reflection of the owner or the particular occasion for which it is worn.
The cantel is a hinged metal clasp fastened to the top to allow the pouch to be opened and closed. The cantel may sport jewels, stones, etchings, Celtic knots or clan emblems. Originally, the cantel was a leather flap that simply folded over to close the pouch. Eventually, it became more elaborate, as silver, bronze and pewter were incorporated into the design.
Straps and Chains
Early sporrans had holes around the perimeter through which a leather strip was looped and pulled tight to close the pouch. For easy access, the sporran is worn on the front of the kilt suspended by straps of leather or lightweight chains that are threaded through loops in the kilt and fastened to a tab in the back.
The more flamboyant the sporran, the fancier the tassels. They are created using leather, fur or animal hair. Leather tassels are tied with Celtic knots and sewn to the front of the pouch. Hair is gathered and either left straight or braided. It is then trimmed to the desired length and squared across or rounded. The military sporran featured very large tassels made from horse or goat hair that almost covered the kilt and often featured the head of a badger to demonstrate ferocity.
Targe and Ball Bells
A targe is a lightweight Scottish shield representing a clan emblem or totem. It is often added to display a family crest or coat of arms. The targe may be etched into leather or forged from precious metals and glued to the front of the pouch. Ball bells are attached to the front of the sporran and are sometimes used as anchoring points for the tassels. The only other purpose is decorative.