If it wasn’t for knitting, it’s likely Shetland would still be on my list of places to visit one day . . .

Instead with my rekindled love of knitting, in 2012 I flew to Shetland for a 4 day visit for Shetland Wool Week.  Little did I know quite what an impression Shetland – the place, the people and the knitting heritage and culture would have on me and my business.  So much so that I returned for Shetland Wool Week in 2013, 2016 as well as 2018 and 2019 when I got to teach Dorset Buttons and exhibit at the Makers Market.

My knitting skills and knowledge have improved immensely from my visits to Shetland and this is one of the reasons I wanted to support the project of the Shetland Peerie Makkers.

Many of the talented tutors who teach at Shetland Wool Week learnt knitting skills at school as well as from parents, grandparents and other relatives, who at the time had to knit to generate an income to provide for their families.  And while I’ve never ventured into long double pointed needles and a “makkin belt” as it is known in Shetland dialect, I’m fascinated by this method of knitting and I know many knitters who have been converted to knitting in this way.

A workshop with Hazel Tindall on my first visit left me in awe of what could be achieved with Fair Isle and colour work knitting in this way and this short blog post by Hazel Tindall on Knitting Belts is very informative.

Sample by Hazel Tindall

Sample by Hazel Tindall

Scarf by Hazel Tindall – our workshop project!

I learnt about Shetland lace from Gudrun Johnston the designer of the Loren Shawl which I have to admit posed quite a challenge to me, not being use to working with such fine yarn.  I did eventually complete my version but I don’t think I’m destined to be a Shetland lace knitter!

Elizabeth Johnston taught me how to “dress” finished knitting or what I would know as “blocking.”

Pinning out those lace points!

Making good use of a cereal box!

Dressing a lace cardigan on a jumper board

I am incredibly fortunate to have learnt from these talented tutors, all whom have been Shetland Wool Week patrons and continue to share their knowledge of Shetland knitting and practices passed down through many generations.

The range and quality of work that is produced in Shetland never ceases to amaze, often with patterns that are never written down, only verbally handed down or recreated by “reading knitwear” made by previous generations.  In fact it was the talented Shetland jewellery and textile designer Helen Robertson who taught me to “read my knitting” something I’d never considered before.

Catching up with Elizabeth Johnston & Hazel Tindall at Loch Ness Knit Fest 2019

I have an amazing collection of photographs of knitwear taken at various exhibitions & museums during Shetland Wool Week, far too many to show.

Lace shawls at Ollaberry

Fair Isle display at Whalsay

What of the future Shetland knitters?

Many children still receive skills from family members although in 2010 funding to teach knitting in Shetland primary schools was withdrawn.  To ensure all children had the opportunity to learn the Shetland culture of hand knitting and to develop and grow todays’ generation, an appeal was made in 2015 to raise funds for a pilot scheme in which volunteer tutors would provide children with free knitting lessons.

Photograph by JJ Jamieson & reproduced by kind permission of the Shetland Peerie Makkers

Starting with five communities this scheme has now expanded and many children learn basic skills of knitting with a knitting belt progressing to colourwork, how to read and write patterns as well as learning lace and being encouraged to design their own patterns with Jamieson’s of Shetland  providing all the wool for the project.

Photographs by JJ Jamieson & reproduced by kind permission of the Shetland Peerie Makkers

Current funding ceases in mid 2020 and they need to raise further funds to continue with providing resources such as knitting belts, needles and graph paper.

I saw some of the Shetland Peerie Makkers work during Shetland Wool Week 2018 and was astounded at what they achieve at such a young age.

Shetland Wool Week 2018 – work on display by the Shetland Peerie Makkers at the Shetland Museum & Archives

For many people in Shetland, knitwear has played an important role in their family history.   Janette Budge is one of them and as well as teaching at Shetland Wool Week alongside her Mam Jeannie, Janette is a Shetland knitwear designer and tutor who volunteers with the Shetland Peerie Makkers.  I was fortunate enough to listen to a fascinating talk by Janette earlier this year at Dornoch Yarn Festival where she spoke about knitting through the ages in Shetland with a focus on yokes and how her own family history forms part of the story.

On working as a volunteer with the Shetland Peerie Makkers, Janette says:

“Our group meets every Monday through the winter months and on into May.  We have between 12 and 14 bairns that come to the lunchtime class.  I enjoy seeing how they persevere with the knitting stitches and how even if they find it difficult at first they always see an improvement from week to week.  it always motives me and inspire me to knit more.”

Photograph by JJ Jamieson & reproduced by kind permission of the Shetland Peerie Makkers

And while all the photos only show girls, Janette informs me that boys are in the knitting classes too!  At present roughly a ratio of 1/4.

As part of the current crowdfunding Janette has designed one of the rewards.  For a donation of £20 or more, you receive the patterns to make the two fair isle hat patterns shown below in the Peerie Makkers colours.  The brim and crown are the same in both hats with a different design in the middle part.

Photos reproduced with kind permission of Janette Budge.

With 3 days left and at the time of writing the Shetland Peerie Makkers are 92% towards their target.  Their crowdfunding ends on Mon 11 Nov 2019 at 2313 (GMT) and all pledges made will go towards the continued costs of running the project.  As well as the reward highlighted here there are other rewards including a mitten pattern by Hazel Tindall and a hand knitting project bag.

I’ve benefited enormously from the skills and generosity of talented Shetland knitters and I think my future holds more visits to Shetland.  I know I will be following the story of the Shetland Peerie Makkers very closely to see how they develop and continue the Shetland heritage of hand knitting.

Photograph by JJ Jamieson & reproduced by kind permission of the Shetland Peerie Makkers

2 Responses

  1. HI Tania , hoping all is well and safe with you on Skye … all well here too, some days more focussed than others ! I am finally getting around to working on my website ,engaging with process and trying to be better connected ! Love your piece on Shetland wool week and the passing on of skills to the next gen . . Hope you are finding time for knitting and your dorset button work though the garden call at this time of year too . I am seeing all this fresh green leaf – bracken fronds , birch leaves and thinking dye pot – in with a chance next week maybe ! Take care Sheila

    1. Hi Sheila, lovely to hear from you. We’re good thanks although like you focus and productivity does vary from day to day! Good to hear you enjoyed the piece on Shetland Peerie Makkers. We’re very grateful for the outdoor space we have and have been doing some gardening. I expect you have lots growing especially as the weather has been improving. I am still knitting and doing Dorset Button work. Hope you are keeping well, take care, Tania x

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