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 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…
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.
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!