Monday, July 22, 2013


It was somewhat cooler in Shetland than in Leicestershire (a balmy 12 degrees or so which is very much as I like it) so knitwear was quite appropriate especially when out in boats. Back at work today and it's fair to say I'm a shade less enthusiastic about all the woollens - just taking pictures of them made me feel hot and bothered (thunder is a vague threat in the background but even if we do get a storm it seems unlikely to clear the air - my poor laptop is to old to handle this kind of heat and is fanning itself in a manner appropriate for an over excited Victorian lady). Even so I'm still really excited about all the knitted stuff (if I thought I had the patience I would try and remember how to knit, sadly ambition would outstrip ability quite quickly - I do better to buy it ready made) and want to share even despite the heat.

Shetland is justly famous for it's knitwear, specifically lace and what I'll loosely term 'Fair Isle' patterned stuff. I love it primarily because it's beautiful, but also because it's played an important role on the economics of the islands over the years, especially for women. It's also been a political issue with more than a hint of sweated labour in the past. When I was at school girls were taught to knit which was great - we had a brilliant teacher and the classes were fun, 16 years or so down the line both my brother and sister were taught (my brother made an excellent tea cosy which I rather covet) but sadly cutbacks have meant that knitting is no longer on the curriculum which I consider a real shame. 

just look at it!
Looking back at old school photographs almost all the children are wearing traditional jumpers, looking about on the streets of Lerwick there are still a lot of them around (you can even buy woolly Fair Isle hoodies - if hoods didn't make me look like a hunchback I'd be really tempted) so I hope it's a skill that continues to be passed on, and this is why: I was visiting a  friend now almost 80 who has a lot of family photographs on the wall including a rather magnificent one of her father. It's brown with age but shows a very smart young man in a suit, shirt with a stand up collar, and a very natty looking pullover, I would judge it to have been taken in the 1920's from the general style of the thing and was commenting on it when my friend (Laura) told us that her mother had knitted the jumper for her father before they were married, she also quite casually mentioned she still had it then disappeared for a moment coming back with the actual jumper. It was a bit frayed round the elbows but otherwise perfect. Exquisite even. And it made the picture come to life. 

Meanwhile Shetland is getting better at displaying some of it's knitted treasures; the museum has some very nice things on display and so does the Bod of Gremista both have shops but the Bod of Gremista is by far the best of the two. I'm also inclined to spend a small fortune in The Spider's Web which is a cooperative venture with a brilliant cross section of knitted and felted stuff to fall in love with. Buy from either and they can tell you who knitted your item, they also make it abundantly clear what a living, vibrant art form this is. Colours change and new things to decorate with a bit of Fair Isle pattern are found (coffee pot warmers, oven gloves, bow ties,  notebooks, bunting, decorations...) but the tradition remains much the same. I'm not sure I have the necessary panache to wear the beret I bought but it's so lovely I had to have it; if I don't wear it I'll frame it - it's the choice of colour that made it so desirable and crosses the boundaries between craft and art. 


  1. They are gorgeous - so intricate and the colours are so beautiful. *Envious*!

  2. Absolutely beautiful - and the colours in the jumper are still so strong. Pleased to hear that the craft is sill alive.

  3. Gave you a hat tip for your article on Shetland wools. I was there two weeks ago and learned how to accomplish simple Fair Isle knitting.

    Enjoyed your post.

  4. I love, love, love everything you bought, Hayley. Gorgeous colours and patterns.