Knitting and walking Shetland

A Taste of my Fair Isle Knitting Talk

Katie Deyell in her 80’s walking on the west side of Shetland, photo taken in 1950’s. Many thanks to the Deyell family for the use of the photo. Deyell family copyright

First of all Dornoch Fibre Festival

You may have seen I did a talk last month.  This was the power point I wrote for the Dornoch Fibre Festival back in March of this year.  A great little 2 day festival in the centre of Dornoch.  Such a variety of classes from felting, quilting, fair isle, crochet and Dorset buttons to name but a few. 

Double Pointed Needles

The vendors were very varied but I was most delighted to see they had a bring and buy stall where I found some used 3mm steel long DPNs plus some 30cm 3mm aluminium DPNs which are hard to come by.  I felt like I’d found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!  Why would I want these particular needles?  Well I knit with long DPNs and a knitting belt 90% of the time the most common length of long DPN is 40cm which can be a bit long if you are knitting a hat or gloves or sitting close to someone while you are knitting.  You are apt to stab them!  The steel needles are very smooth and the stitches just glide along them.  I think I’ll need to knit little and often with them though as they are much heavier and I feel it in my wrists sometimes. 

Back to my Fair Isle Knitting Talk

Anyway back to my talk …. Since it was all ready hidden away on my hard drive I thought there might be a few Shetlanders interested to hear it or visitors to Shetland who might want to hear a bit about Shetland’s fair isle knitting history.  So where did I start?  I thought the late 1800’s was a good place as I have ancestor information from around that time onwards, plus several major changes for knitters in Shetland come about in the early 1900s. 

People were generally poor in Shetland in the late 1800s and were very much living a hand to mouth existence.  Knitting was necessary to barter with at the local shop for household goods such as tea, flour, fabric or soap. Older children were sent, to walk with the goods several miles to the local shop, either because the adults had children to look after or other chores to do but it was also harder for a shopkeeper to turn away knitwear if they already had plenty when it was being brought by a child.  Rarely did money ever change hands so knitters never knew what they were being “paid”  This was known as the truck system. 

At this time Shetland knitters were knitting plain garments like socks, stockings, spencers, vests and some were also knitting fine lace shawls, scarves and christening gowns which were made popular by Queen Victoria.  They had to knit what was in demand and knit as quickly and as finely as they could as finished pieces were inspected before they were accepted for barter.

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7 thoughts on “A Taste of my Fair Isle Knitting Talk”

  • Mags Williamson says:

    Hi, I find bamboo knitting needles are easier on the wrists as they take the strain though I don”t know if they do bamboo DPNs! Love the blog!
    Mags 😊

  • Janette Budge says:

    Hi Mags, I have some single pointed bamboo needles they are certainly very light. I think I’ve only seen short bamboo DPN’s. If I had long DPN’s I’d probably snap them sticking them in my knitting belt!
    Thanks glad you enjoyed reading,

  • Hi Janette, Love the blog. Great to read some fascinating history. Such an amazing culture of fine craft. Thank you.
    On the double pointed needles, I inherited my Nans needle bag when she died. It was full of lovely nostalgic treasures like long metal DPN 😍

    • Janette Budge says:

      Hi Rachael, Thank you and glad you’re enjoying the blog.
      Wow that’s so lovely you have all your Nans DPNs do you knit with them? Did she use a knitting belt?

  • Rachael Woolnough says:

    No knitting belt. Dare I say knitting belts aren’t a common sight in Tasmania (I know there will be a random Tasmanian reading this arguing they are πŸ˜‰πŸ˜‚). I knit in a round on circular needles but would love to try long DPN. My nans are all shortish, mainly for socks 🧦
    Keep up the good work with the Blog and your Instagram Posts. Love them, very inspiring πŸ‘πŸ»πŸ€©

    • Janette Budge says:

      Yes short needles will be good for socks, mittens, gloves or hats. No I wouldn’t think many would have a knitting belt in Tasmania but there were a lot of Shetlanders who emigrated to Australia over the years. My Uncle emigrated to Melbourne with his family just over 50 years ago. Thank you for the encouragement, most appreciated and glad you are enjoying them x

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