The Sgain Dhub, Hidden Knive, Black Knive, Traditional Scottish Knife worn with the Kilt.
The spelling can be Sgian Dubh, skein dubh, sgian dhub, skene du, skean dhu, skean dubh and skhian dubh however it is pronounced skein or skeen doo. The meaning, however, is clear: sgian means knife and dubh means black. Some feel that black comes from the colour of the handle others suggest that it means secret, or hidden.
The sgian dubh may have evolved from the sgian achlais (ochles), the armpit dagger. This was a knife slightly larger than today’s sgian dubh that was carried in the upper sleeve of the jacket and drawn from the inside through the armhole.
A second theory holds that the sgian dubh evolved from the small skinning knife that was part of the typical set of hunting or gralloch knives. Some of these do exist. There is usually a butchering knife with a blade of 9-10 inches and a skinner with a blade of only 3 1/2-4 inches. These gralloch knives usually had antler handles, and so do not fit the term black in colour, however this theory does have two points in its favour. Firstly, many early sgian dubhs were fitted with antler or horn handles. Secondly, the skinning and butchering of wild game after the successful hunt was usually undertaken by the upper-class hunter’s ghillie, literally "boy" in Gaelic, as in serving boy.
When the sgian dubh first began to be worn full-time in the stocking top is best revealed in portraits of men in kilts painted in the early to mid 1800’s.
When Victoria became Queen of England in 1837, the Scottish romantic period began in earnest. For example, Balmoral Castle in the highlands, complete with tartan carpets, was her favorite summer residence. Lavish dirks and sgian dubhs reached their peak around the end of her reign in 1901 and continued until WWI ended such impractical romances. Sgian dubhs found themselves buried in the mud of the Somme and many other WW1 battle sites.
The Sgian dubh is presently a very popular item when wearing highland dress and many fine Scottish Sgian dubhs are still made here in Scotland. Our Sgian dubhs are made in the Scottish Highlands from various hard woods and Red Deer Antler, some of the pieces are set with Sterling Silver Saltire Jewellery designs.