Shetland’s knitting legacy push gets widespread support

A campaign to safeguard the future of hand-knitting in the Shetlands has gained widespread support via a crowdfunding initiative. Picture: YouTube
A campaign to safeguard the future of hand-knitting in the Shetlands has gained widespread support via a crowdfunding initiative. Picture: YouTube
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A campaign set up to secure the future of hand-knitting in Shetland - a world-famous home of traditional knitwear, including the iconic Fair Isle patterns – has won worldwide support and raised thousands of pounds within a fortnight.

The Shetland Peerie Makkers project launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £4,500 to support five pilot projects to provide free knitting lessons for youngsters.

The initiative launched earlier this month has attracted a global response, and has already reached the original target.

Set up by the Fetlar-based Brough Lodge Trust, the project has now set its sights higher and aims to raise £9,000.

The money raised so far means funding is guaranteed for a one-year pilot project that will see volunteer tutors provide tuition in five parts of the islands through to June next year

Those involved in the project share a concern that, since knitting is no longer part of the school curriculum, the islands’ hand-knitting culture will be diluted or even lost.

Chairman, Pierre Cambillard, said: “We are really thrilled by the response and the impact we have had world wide.

“A host of people have backed the idea. As well as contributions from Shetland, we’ve had huge support from Scotland, England, the United States and Canada and there have also been donations from Wales, Northern Ireland, Japan, France, Norway and elsewhere.

“The interest has seen over 50,000 hits online and we want to build on that momentum.

“The support has been about more than money, too. We’ve had dozens of messages from folk who obviously care very deeply about Shetland’s knitting culture and want to see it thrive. I want to thank every one of them for their generosity.”

The appeal is due to run until 11 December and if £9,000 can be secured then it will fund a second session of lessons, from October 2016 to June 2017.

Mr Cambillard added: “Shetland has a wonderful heritage of hand-knitting. The islands are known around the world for the distinctive techniques, superb quality and the exceptional skills of their hand knitters.

“However, those skills need nurturing if Shetland’s knitting culture is to remain vibrant for future generations.

“For many years, hand knitting was taught in Shetland’s primary schools, but that ended in 2010, because the local council needed to save money.

“Since then, some parents and grandparents have been able to pass on the skills; but there is a real risk that insufficient numbers of young people will learn to knit and that the knowledge and techniques of Shetland knitting will be diluted or even lost.

“That, then, is the challenge. Shetland Peerie Makkers has been established to help secure the future of Shetland knitting.”

The trust hopes to launch a new Shetland Knitting Tuition Blueprint, which will be developed by applying what they learn from the 2015/16 pilot year.

The trust’s hopes to develop a programme of free hand knitting classes to youngsters all over Shetland, with the help of a number of volunteer knitting tutors.

The project will initially involve skilled volunteers in providing free hand-knitting tuition to children in five local communities in Shetland.

The programme has been developed by a working group, which will review the lessons learned from the pilots and apply them to developing a sustainable model for the future.

One of those involved in the working group has been Hazel Tindall, who currently holds the title of ‘World’s Fastest Knitter’.

She said: “Although the volunteers’ time will be given freely, and yarns are sponsored, we’ll need to find some money to meet basic costs.

“While we hope to receive some donations of materials and equipment, and of spaces to hold knitting groups, we’ll need to buy some things, for example, knitting belts and needles.

“If a tutor has to travel to give tuition, or take a ferry crossing between islands, there will be travelling expenses. We don’t want our volunteers to be out of pocket.”

The Brough Lodge Trust was originally established to restore the historic Brough Lodge on the island of Fetlar.

The Trust’s intention is to offer courses in various aspects of Shetland’s heritage, including textiles, to paying guests in very comfortable surroundings, the profits from which will be devoted to supporting Shetland’s heritage, including textiles and music.

Pierre Cambillard said: “Restoration of the house has begun but it will take time. We came to the view that, if we didn’t support hand-knitting now, there was a real risk that it would become steadily weaker.

“In August 2014, we invited interested folk to meet in Fetlar and the project grew out of that. Everyone recognised that there was some urgency to this.”

After discussion, it was agreed that the money needed to make the pilot projects a reality could be raised through crowd-funding, which would engage not only people in Shetland but also knitters - and lovers of knitting – world-wide.

The appeal is on the website and there’s also a Facebook page:

Mr Cambillard added: “In the long term, we hope that money to support hand-knitting, music and other aspects of Shetland’s heritage will come from the income raised by Brough Lodge once the building has been restored. But, right now, hand-knitting needs support, and I hope people will back the pilot projects.”

Comments made on the Crowd Funder website include:

“A vital part of our heritage - and one of the things that makes Shetland unique! Good luck!”

“I wish you the very best for this project. Traditional crafts are very precious; they remind us who we are and ground us in our culture.”

“Shetland has a rich and inspiring knitting tradition - hurrah for this project and for all ventures which seek to keep it alive for future generations!”

“Wishing you all the best with the project. I loved learning to knit at Bells Brae primary when I was a peerie lass”

“Fantastic project. The volunteers are so dedicated and the enthusiasm of the children is amazing. Here’s to the future of Shetland’s heritage! Well done!”

“This project is brilliant!!! I’m 100% sure this will go from strength to strength with the sheer amount of support you will receive, our children and grandchildren will thank you all for this in the future.”

“I am honored to contribute to this worthwhile project! I have been twice to Shetland in the past two years, this year coming to Shetland Wool Week 2015! Very magical place - it has a part of my heart. I wish all the success to this endeavor and happy knitting to these peeriemakkers of the future!”