Monday, 4 September 2017

Shetland Part 2: Knitting Then. . .

A big part of our Shetland tour involved visiting museums and getting inspired by the islands'  rich history and heritage of both fair isle and lace knitting.

We were fortunate enough to have Ella Gordon, a talented Shetland designer, join us for dinner one night. She designed the Vatsland Jumper that I recently completed. She brought many pieces of her vintage knitwear collection to show us.  I really love the jumpers done in natural shades.

The Shetland Textile Museum in Lerwick is not to be missed. It's small, but packed to the rafters with lovely exhibits.  They opened the loft area for us and we were allowed to touch and look at all these swatches up close.

We even were allowed to handle these delicate lace samples.

This is my favourite all-over pattern - birdseye. I see a long stole in my future.

I definitely won't be knitting delicate lace socks though, much as I can admire them. I love the little hap on its mini-stretcher too.

Lace fingerless mitts?  Nope, won't be knitting these either.

We also took a ferry over to the island of Whalsay where their Heritage Centre was hosting a Fair Isle Through the Decades exhibit.

I love the fair isle scarves - they are knitted in the round and then tassels are used to close the edges.  Motifs are chosen that work in both directions so you don't have to graft in the middle.  I love the subtle shading of the triangles in the scarf from the 1920s on the left.  And these pops of fair isle from jumpers knitted in the 1970s, just on the hem and the collars, is very effective.

But THIS garment was the show stopper.  The skirt can also be worn as a cape!  We challenged one of our group who was just as fascinated by the skirt as I was, to recreate a pattern for it and knit one. 

The Shetland Museum in Lerwick covers a lot more than just textiles of course, but it does have a super display of historical knitting.  I wouldn't go to Lerwick without visiting this museum - it is so well done.  Lots of museums try to find a balance between different age groups who might be visiting, and while I understand the need to appeal to children and school groups, I get a bit tired of displays always needing to be "interactive".  I like rooms to have a theme, with some appropriate information and proper labeling of the artifacts, and I was very impressed with the clean lines and interesting groupings in this museum. (There is a computer where you can design your own fair isle jumper but it's unobtrusive).  Plus there's a lovely cafe and the gift shop is wonderful and well stocked, not only with books, but fabulous postcards and other souvenirs.  

Here is some of what is on display:

This lace is so tiny and delicate you had to look into the magnifying glass to appreciate the pattern.

Colourful fair isle and a gorgeous feather and fan top:

The museum was also very informative in describing the rise and fall of the industry that has evolved around knitwear in Shetland.  I loved seeing historical shade cards and weaving samples.

And I couldn't resist buying this in the gift shop:

We also visited the Heritage Center on the island of  Unst which has a wonderful display of lace knitting.  Photos aren't allowed as some of the shawls and garments are so delicate but you can see some photos on their website here.   I bought the accompanying book as there are several motifs I'd like to try.  As with all the museums, the staff and volunteers were just lovely - so friendly and open to questions, especially from knitters.  They also were happy to have us try our hand at spinning wheels and knitting belts.

Another great place to visit is the Croft House Museum where there are lots of historical knitting tools on display. The brown box hanging from the rafters is called a kist and was used to store clothing, both as a space saver and to keep it off potentially damp, dirt floors. I think there could be a modern use for these to store our stash!

Finally on our last day, we popped into the Scalloway Museum which featured this rather wonderful knitted dress from the 1920s.  The skirt is pleated with a triangular gansey pattern.

I never got tired of seeing examples of the many beautiful and complex knitwear preserved around the islands - it's such a rich and skilled heritage to admire and also inspire.  But we weren't just wallowing in the past; the knitting and textile industry is still alive and well in Shetland and we got to see that in action too.  More on that in the next post.

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