The Shetland Isles are a cold and remote location in Scotland. Crofting, fishing and knitting are ways in which the inhabitants make money. Many also use one or more of these as a way to be self sufficient.
Sheep were brought to Shetland by the Norse settlers. The sheep were used for wool which would be woven into cloth which is often referred to as Wadmal. The sheep survived on limited vegetation and also seaweed. The wool taken from these sheep was easier to knit than weave due to it being soft in texture, warm and light. This lead to knitting being the a strong economic influence and craft of the Shetland isles.
Common practice in Shetland was for women to run their household and also knit in their spare time. In the 17th and 18th century the creation of stockings became a wealthy trade and was established with the Dutch fisherman and also the Hanseatic merchants. Hosiery became a highly recognised and appreciated trade, the Bishop Holar of Iceland even accept stockings as a part payment for his rents.
Fair Isle knitting was traditionally natural coloured knitting, however, Spaniard shipwrecked on the Isle in 1588 opened the inhabitants to brightly coloured and patterned influences. Natural resources could be used to great such bright colours, local plants, lichens and Indigo dye gave the knitwear a bright coloured boost. OXO patterns (octagons and crosses), a pattern containing colours in only two rows, provide warmth.
Modern Shetland Knitwear
The knitting trade is still rife in the Shetland Isles and the real ‘Shetland Lady’ logo and trademark ensures quality that you will find from knitwear created there. The Shetland Knitwear Trades Association was founded in 1982 in order to protect Fair Isle products and also try to limit products which are not genuine from capitalising the market.
Nowadays however the knitwear that was traditionally made by hand is now done on machines as it can take around one hundred hours for one sweater to be produced. In previous years women would knit while they carried peat in their basket, which is often referred to as a “kishy” to their croft house.
The cold, harsh climate in the Shetlands has meant that over the years knitwear has been a great resource for keeping many people warm. Over the years the technique has developed and modernised into different colours including yellow, orange, red and green. Knitwear has proven both adaptable and modern, taking it from a traditional necessity to fashionable. The extreme weather helps create wool which is lighter and extremely soft; ensuring great quality and warmth.
There are many variations of knitwear, including lace knitwear, cobweb lace and the more traditional fair isle knitwear therefore there is a style for everyone as it is forever evolving. Queen Victoria was known for wearing knitwear, inspiring many to do thesame. It is not just simply sweaters that are created; scarves, shawls and hats are also a great way to wear the knitwear trend.