Sunday, March 18, 2018

Fair Isle Designs from Shetland Knitters volume 1

I don't normally much mind cold weather, but even I'm getting fed up of this winter's reluctance to call it a day. We've had yet more snow, which is one thing, the biting east wind that bought it is another. I can't get warm today at all.

At least this being a bumper week for books about Shetland knitwear is cheering me up. Susan Crawford's 'The Vintage Shetland Project' arrived on Monday, and this latest book from the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers came on Friday. Apparently work has already begun on volume two (I hope work on a volume two of the lace book is underway as well, coincidentally I wrote about Volume 1 a year ago yesterday).

The books the Guild are publishing are growing into a really valuable resource, and not just for the patterns. What really sets these books apart is the way they celebrate the knitters as well as the knitting. Each pattern comes with a little explanation about its name and inspiration, and a little bit about the knitters - when and how they learnt, what they first remember knitting, whose work they admire, what they particularly enjoy about fair isle - it's not exhaustive, but it's enough.

The dedication says "This book is for the next generation - the young people learning to knit, spin, etc, maintaining and developing traditional skills through knitting at home and/or after school clubs." By taking care to record something of the knitters themselves it passes on a much richer legacy than just patterns alone could do. 

The patterns themselves have something for everyone from the complete Fair Isle beginner, through to the expert, including things like Janette Budge's little Bonhouse gift bags that offer the perfect small scale way to practice how to knit a jumper yoke.

Carol Christiansen's foreword is also excellent. She asks some big questions about the nature of tradition and authenticity, and doesn't shy away from the burdensome nature of knitting to previous generations of Shetland women. One of the things that so fascinates me about Shetland's textile history is the often troubling social history it's linked too. That generations of women and children were forced to knit to make ends meet under a desperately exploitative truck system is possibly one reason that the artistry involved hasn't always been appreciated as it should. 

A wonderful celebration of creativity and creators that truly will do its bit to maintain and develop those traditional skills by sharing them in a particularly generous way. 

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