Shetland is known for its knitting traditions of fair isle and lace. This tiny island has developed some of today's most popular knitting styles and techniques. The best places to find examples of the history of these knitting traditions are at two of Lerwick's great museums - the Shetland Museum and the Textile Museum. Of course we went to both!
|Gunnister Man from the Peat Bogs of Shetland|
The Shetland Museum details the history of the island since its formation which is fascinating. For textile lovers, there is a lot to take in. We loved this replica of the Gunnister man. He was a shepherd found in a peat bog in Shetland in the 1950's and was wonderfully preserved. He died in the late 1600s or early 1700s and was found wearing a woollen shirt, a suit of long coat and short wide breeches, and an outer jacket. He had two caps, a pair of gloves and knitted stockings as well as a purse knitted with two colors--the earliest found example of stranded or fair isle knitting, dating this technique to the early 18th century.
|A prize-winning example of fair isle knitting!|
This example of a fair isle vest was a prize winner at a local competition in the 1930's. We love the bright anchors and designs - it is so modern and would be so perfect to wear today!
|Left - colorwork charts, right - 1930's yarn color card|
Examples of 1930's Shetland wool yarn color cards show the importance of color selection and a wide palette for a long time on Shetland!
|A knitting belt on left and whale bone double point needles on right|
We love seeing examples of turn-of-the-century knitting tools! Above is a leather knitting belt and double pointed needles made from whale bone. These needles would be used two or three at a time, fitting one end of a needle into the holes on the knitting belt for stability and speedy knitting.
|Textile Museum in Lerwick|
The Textile Museum in Lerwick had on display even more fine examples of stranded and lace knitting. Shetland lace knitting required more concentration than colorwork and would have been an activity for winter months when women were not working outside so much. This plaque details the amazing feat of women's work on the croft: the most talented Shetland spinners could spin 9,000 yards of lace per 1 oz?! Knitting fair isle on your knitting belt while walking with a kishie of peat back to your croft house?! Unbelievable!
|The finest Shetland wool gossamer lace yarn|
|A fine example of Shetland lace knitting|
Shetland lace knitting was often a way for farming women to make money as the fine lace work would be sold directly to merchants who came to the island. Queen Victoria popularized Shetland lace knitting in the 1800's and it became a high-fashion item. Shetlander's developed the "wedding ring lace shawl" - a lace shawl, knit so fine that the entire shawl could be passed through a wedding ring. These shawls were usually 6' square and would be sold for £100 - £2,000.
|Blocking boards for mittens|
|Examples of fair isle knitting in the Textile Museum|
|A color wheel of natural colors of Shetland wool - in rolag form!|
|A loom for making woolen fabrics|
Ysolda picked up a modern new pink knitting belt and some long double point needles. Lunch at the museum was the perfect chance to try it out...
|Ysolda practices knitting on a new Knitting Belt|
Next up: We travel West for more woolly treasures on the Isle of Skye!
Shetland is known for its knitting traditions of fair isle and lace...
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