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New book of Shetland Fine Lace Knitting launched

Published: 13 March 2024

A new publication, ‘Shetland Fine Lace Knitting – Recreating patterns from the past’ by Shetland Museum’s textiles curator, Carol Christiansen, has launched this week.

The book is the result of a three-year project undertaken by Shetland Museum to assess its knitted lace collection and record traditional designs and historical research to expand upon descriptions held by the Museum.

The craft of Shetland knitted lace-making involves fine openwork knitting, used to make shawls, stoles and scarves, among other garments. These were considered luxury items because of their fineness, complexity of design, and the length of time required to make them. The book reveals historical knitted lace pieces held in the Shetland Museum collection. It details individual lace motifs, together with instructions and charts for how to recreate them.

Each lace pattern includes written knitting instructions, a photograph of the original sample, together with a photograph of a modern knitted swatch, together with the knitting chart. The book is a must for anyone with an interest in lace knitting, historical knitting, knitwear design and Shetland’s culture.

Author, Carol Christiansen, who manages the knitted collections at the Shetland Museum and led the Lace Assessment Project team explains: “Shetland Museum has over 400 pieces of knitted lace made in the Shetland tradition, the largest collection of this knitting tradition in the world. The majority of pieces were made on the islands, almost exclusively by women, from the 1830s to the present day. The aim of the lace research project was to understand the complex development of the craft, share this knowledge with contemporary makers, and address the renewed interest in Shetland knitted lace.  The number of expert lace spinners, designers, knitters and finishers in Shetland has dwindled in the last fifty years and there was an urgency to meet with local lace makers to record information for future generations.”

Thanks goes to the small team of people who reviewed, recorded, and photographed the Museum’s lace collection. Craft specialists Anne Eunson examined the patterns and recorded them as knitting charts and Kathleen Anderson knitted samples in Jamieson and Smith 2-ply lace supreme wool. Tracey Hawkins, Project Assistant, worked with Carol to photograph the collection. A number of local knitters tested individual patterns. Members of the local lace-knitting community gathered in Voe and in Unst to record surviving pattern names. And two external editors reviewed the volume text. This work greatly contributed to the 80-odd patterns and historical essays in the book.

In 2013 the Shetland Museum’s Textiles Collection was awarded Recognised status and now ranks as a collection of national significance. This has allowed the museum to access Museums Galleries Scotland’s Recognition Fund, which has generously supported this important project.

Shetland Fine Lace Knitting (£25) is available from the museum shop and online, as well as from all good book shops.