knitting shetland

inspirations

I am so lucky (and I know it) that since Shetland is a pretty small place.. everyone knows how much I love knitting. For example while I was walking to work the other day someone asked me if I wanted a Jumper Board. Thats just how it goes..

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My Mam’s friend Kay is one of those people who know about my interest (cough..obsession) Last year when they were downsizing her Mams house she offered me a huge amount of her Mothers knitting books. I love the books and things I got and appreciate them so much. Kays Mam has since sadly passed away and earlier this week Kay invited me and Mam to hers to look at some of the other textile things her Mam had. Again I came away with some amazing things and I thought I would share them.

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Now these things are special because Kays family ran what we call a Hosiery Business (a knitwear business), it was run by Kays grandparents Bobby and Jeannie Anderson from there home in Brugarth, Whiteness. It is thought it traded under the name ‘Charleston Brothers’ and was linked to a hosiery business in Hawick, it operated purely as a Mail Order company, and the firm in Hawick would place the orders with the Andersons: sizes and colours required for all over jumpers as well as the main colours of the body’s for the yokes.

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To begin with it was a small family business with the Andersons paying outworkers to knit jumpers and the bodies of the yokes on knitting machines, then they were taken to the hand knitters who would add in the hand knit yoke and then they would dress the finished jumper. Once they came back they Anderson’s would do a quality check before the item was shipped out. After the death of Bobby Anderson in 1962 Hilda Hunter (Kays Mam) joined her mother in the business.

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At this time, Fair Isle knitwear was a big thing, and the business continued to be run from Brugarth with more and more outworkers being employed, this allowed people to make an extra income, much needed in the unstable time when fishing and crofting were the mainstays of a family’s income in Shetland. The samples shown here are examples of things they would send these out workers to give them the patterns for yokes.

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These samples are not colour samples, you can see they have been made in whatever wool was lying around purely to show the patterns, as long as the tone of the yarn was the same the colours didn’t matter.

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The reason only half the pattern is shown in that in a Star pattern in a yoke the other half is purely a reflection on the bottom half so to save time only half has been knitted.

I love that these are working samples, they have been sent out who knows how many times to give guidance to knitters on which patterns to use for a specific order.

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Some have been knit as a tube, others sewed and cut open and one has been backed expertly with a silk ribbon, just as you would do in a cardigan

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My favourite are the sample of yokes backed on paper which include the tree pattern that goes alongside the Norwegian star and in which the clever yoke decreases are placed

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I am going to keep the samples for a while to use as inspiration but I will then give them to the Shetland Textile Museum for their collection, until then I know I will look at them often. Kay’s family business ran until the Oil Boom which is very interesting to me. I’ve mentioned before how Oliver (my boss at Jamieson & Smith) told me it was amazing to him that my degree show work was inspired by that era when to people in the textile industry in Shetland at that time were seriously worried about people deserting the industry for the big bucks at Sullom Voe. As you know, (i swear ill stop talking about it eventually) I curated an exhibition at the textile museum about knitwear from that time and its interesting and important to note that as well as being a boost for some textile workers, that time also marked the end of some businesses.

Thank you to Kay and to her Mam who has given me some of my most treasured books about Shetland Knitting as well as these amazing samples.

Speak soon xx

23 comments on “inspirations

  1. What an amazing collection! Like being given treasure.

  2. Hi! I find your blog pretty inspirational. I find the history and tradition of knitting really interesting. Thanks for sharing all of this!

  3. Oh how I love the colours!!! Esp the yellows and the greens with browns. What a treasure trove……..document the colours before you donate them…which of course is what you must do! Thanks for letting us see these.

  4. Totally wonderful and absolutely fascinating. I am so glad that you preserved these precious fragile things, and I am so pleased their final home will be the Museum. I know it is not about the colours, but aren’t they interesting! The pieces seem to capture how people lived and thought at a certain point in time. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Joyce (now back home) in Melbourne

    What a treasure trove Ella. I’m sure you will use some of the patterns in future design work. BTW the exhibition at the textile museum was fascinating. Well done for setting it up.

  6. Good Gracious!! What a treasure for you to browse. The Museum will be so excited to add these beauties to their collection and also let you write up the history. So wonderful of Kay’s Mam to save these all these years. Enjoy!!

  7. Thanks for sharing these Ella, a fascinating glimpse. Another great blog entry. Always great to get fresh books too, especially when they are a surprise. Wonderful that the samples will then go to the Museum to add to the rich collection there. Wool Week is getting closer and I will be visiting again, did some dyeing for my hat yesterday so feeling more part of it all.

  8. galloj1904

    How wonderful to be the recipient of all that history. Your blog is so interesting and inspirational. I find the history of kntting, in all it’s forms, so fascinating and collect old books on the subject, myself.

  9. Wow, how amazing are those samples!

    I love real living history (having studied archaeology I love finding what are for some everyday items) and my love of textiles combined with the history that you talk about here on your blog is just facinating. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Super fascinating. These samples are beautiful.

  11. What an incredible treasure, these samples are absolutely stunning. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Oh wow, Ella, thank you so much for sharing this! You’re a deserving recipient of all these wonderful knitting treasures—your passion and insight into knitting shines here and in the wonderful exhibition you curated. I so enjoyed visiting it, and you. People like you will ensure that the rich knitting tradition in Shetland will continue to thrive and evolve.

  13. slippedstitches

    Wow! Completely amazing. I loved reading and looking at all the samples.

  14. Wonderful story, and wonderful treasures!!!

  15. This was a fascinating post, Ella. What a treasure trove those samples are!

  16. Chris Harcus

    I’m really pleased that they were given to some one who will look after them and not just discarded. They are amazingly wonderful, real heritage treasure. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  17. oh ella, you are like the little shetland knitting fairy to whom all manner of wonderful knitting things are entrusted. love this so much!

  18. Thank you for sharing Ella. Enjoyed reading your blog. Very interesting and a fascinating incite to Shetland knitting.

  19. stashdragon

    How wonderful that you were able to see and handle these. Very good of you to give them to the Museum . . . but spend some time with them first!

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