Tag Archives: Shetland

vintage shetland blog tour



If you are a knitter (or are in any way interested in the history of fashion and knitwear), you really need to know about the Vintage Shetland Project, the culmination of several years of research by knitting anthropologist Susan Crawford, who, with the help and support of Carol Christiansen, textile curator at the Shetland Museum, has been researching hand-knitted garments and accessories made in Shetland in the 20th century.

For the past four years, Susan has made the trip to Shetland twice a year to take a selection of knits from the museum’s archives through a rigorous process of analysis, with the goal of writing up and publishing them as a beautiful hardcover book on vintage Shetland knitting- what a labour of love!

Susan Crawford in the Shetland Museum archives

Susan Crawford in the Shetland Museum archives

Susan has worked to create garments as close as possible to the shapes, textures and colours of the originals; every stitch was transcribed, each garment carefully measured and Fenella, a 2ply that knits to a vintage 3ply weight and comes in 25 shades matched to the museum garments, was developed specifically for the project. The result is a collection that feels just like what I think of as Shetland knitting but that encompasses a huge variety of different styles, time periods and construction methods, including lace, menswear, accessories and, of course, Fair Isle techniques. Susan says that she struggled to narrow down the vast number of designs on offer to twenty-five as there were so many beauties in the archives and we agreed that one look at the museum’s collection blows out of the water the idea that Shetland knitters were traditional- there is just so much variety in their output!

All of the items in the archives have been donated to the museum and are largely the products of creative knitting minds, rather than from commercial patterns.  To me, this beautiful piece from Susan’s collection demonstrates that…

My favourite piece from the collection

A favourite piece from the collection

While the motifs and shades used in this pullover from the late 1920’s or early 1930’s are traditional, the way they are used is anything but! The way the allover checkerboard pattern is broken up and inserted into geometric panels reminds me very much of the pieced satin evening dresses of the time. And yet the way the designer (who was most probably also the knitter) has continued the background colours under the lice or birds eye stitch in traditional style and used corrugated ribbing and modified drop shoulders shows that the piece is still very much of Shetland. This illustrates beautifully the innovative nature of Shetland’s knitters and their desire to move with and respond to ever-changing trends in fashion.

My favourite piece from the collection

A favourite piece from the collection

My favourite piece from the collection

A favourite piece from the collection

With the research completed, patterns in the process of being written and final photography shoots happening in Shetland in July, the project is nearing completion and Susan has launched a Pubslush crowdfunder campaign to create the Vintage Shetland Project book. Needless to say, there has been overwhelming support for the project and she reached her goal in just over 24 hours, but you can still support the project, with additional funds going to support a wide range of extras- and you get the added bonus of getting your hands on a copy of The Vintage Shetland Project before Christmas and general release in 2016 (or a series of other enticing rewards)…

Congratulations on a wonderful project and a hugely successful community undertaking, Susan!

This post is part of The Vintage Shetland Project blog tour and Helene Magnusson is hosting the next instalment tomorrow. You can find out more about Susan’s journey at susancrawfordvintage.

gloves and mitts

I recently went through my box of woollens in search of a particular hat but instead rediscovered quite a few pairs of gloves and mittens hailing from distant places, all beautiful in their own way. Given the chilly winter weather in this part of the world, I thought you might be interested in seeing them…

This pair of mittens was left in my care by my sister, who, living in Darwin, has no need for any kind of glove or woolly garments! They are very precious to her, as she bought them many years ago while living and working in remote Siberia. They were made by an elderly woman living in the nearby village who knitted to supplement whatever income she received from state or family. No doubt, they helped my sister get through the winter with hands frostbite-free, so I have only gratitude for the knitter! They are large, which makes me think that they are designed to be worn over a smaller pair (to have to wear two pairs of mittens is so foreign to me!), and are made of six shades of commercially-spun yarn.

I really love the simple flower motif, as well as the use of single rows of garter stitch to divide the sections of colour and texture and the cuff that expands to cover the sleeves of a coat or jumper.

These are the smaller mittens that my sister wore underneath. Knitted by the same villager, these are made of her handspun yarn- which, according to my sis, was sheepy, rather than the goaty mohair that it looks like. Look at that halo!

Although knitted in a relatively hard, smooth, worsted-style yarn, the mittens feel surprisingly soft (and warm) when I put them on. The beauty of these is definitely in their plainness and creamy lustrousness.

Just for the knitting geeks, it looks like she used a longtail cast-on ; ) I’ve also been wondering what breed of sheep she may have got her fibre from… despite the plethora of info in the fleece and fibre sourcebook, it doesn’t mention any breeds from this part of the world that fit the fibres we see here. Anyone have any idea what it might have come from?

These fingerless gloves I bought in Shetland two years ago. There was simply no way I was going to get out of Shetland without taking  some of their beautiful colourwork with me… and I just fell in love with the vintage colours in these.

Interestingly, the ribbed bands (cast on with a tubular cast-on ) were knitted flat- can you see the seam in the above photo? Initially, I thought they might have been done that way to save time… but, given the Shetland knitters renowned skills in working in the round, that doesn’t make sense to me. I’m wondering if perhaps the bands were knitted on a hand-operated knitting machine and then put on double-pointed needles for the colourwork? Anyone know? When visiting the textile collection at the Bod of Gremista, I heard a bit of tut-tutting from other tourists when the curator began to speak about the use of hand-worked machines by local knitters but I can certainly understand why production knitters all over the world use whatever tools they have, allowing them to spend the bulk of their energy and time on the more intricate parts of a piece. It would be lovely to have everything done in the old way but it is not always possible- and certainly not always viable for the maker. Anyway, as I said, I’m not sure if that is what’s been done here but it is an interesting thought!

And some gloves also made in Shetland but bought in Stromness, Orkney. I bought them for a friend but… in the end, I couldn’t give them away, despite the fact they are a bit big for me. They are surely knit for the tourist market (as I guess most things are) but those colours are insanely rich and beautiful. More than the individual shades, what really gets me with these is the combination of colours; I would never have thought of pairing the hot orange and red with this rich but muted palette but that is what makes them come alive! Fabulous!

And here is a peek of the fingerless mitts that I designed for a class introducing participants to Shetland lace construction methods.

I wanted to show them the amazing ways Shetland knitters started and finished their work to minimize casting on and off and to lend elasticity and stretch to the piece. I’ve written up the pattern to put on Ravelry so won’t go into much detail here but they are knitted in one piece in three distinct sections using Shetland methods. Made using quite a few new techniques if you are new to this tradition (as I am!), these are also very comfortable to wear as there are no tight edges at the wrist or around the fingers.

And, lastly, in my projects-soon-to-be-started knitting basket is a kit for my first pair of traditional colourwork mittens; both pattern and plant-dyed yarn are from a craftswoman whose work I’ve loved pretty much since I started knitting and joined Rav. This ended up in my hands accidentally but I was super happy to hang onto it when it did! I can’t wait to start them…