Brough Lodge: a remarkable site on the Shetland island of Fetlar Brough Lodge

Hand Knitting

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Helping to sustain Shetland’s knitting culture

Brough Lodge Trust (BLT) believes that hand knitting is one of the most important components of Shetland’s socio-cultural and artistic heritage.  However, BLT regards that heritage as being at risk.  A steady decline in the number of commercial hand knitters has raised concerns about the possibility that Shetland is in danger of losing its living heritage of highly skilled knitters.  BLT understands that knitting skills are not being passed on within families as was once common, due, in part, to decreased economic need.  In addition, since 2010, knitting is no longer taught in schools via the local Education Authority.

In contrast, Shetland’s profile as a place with a hand-knit heritage continues to grow nationally and internationally.  A clear example of this is the growth of Shetland Wool Week over the past seven years.  However, immensely valuable though Shetland Wool Week is, it ‘s main purpose is not to provide practical support for the growth of Shetland knitting skills and knowledge among young people in Shetland.  BLT, following consultation with a group of experienced Shetland knitters and textile enthusiasts, feels that the loss of these skills could be reversed if the right strategy and support mechanisms are put in place. 

That, then, is the challenge. ShetlandPeerieMakkers has been established to help secure the future of Shetland knitting.

The story so far ...

ShetlandPeerieMakkers was set up under the auspices of the Brough Lodge Trust, which 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) in very comfortable surroundings. Trustees realised, though, that the restoration was still some years away and that, in the meantime, the need to support the knitting culture should become a priority.

In August 2014, the Trust held a public consultation to discuss how support for hand-knitting might be most effective. It took the form of a "world café" meeting, held in Fetlar, which involved a number of people involved in knitting and textiles. Everyone agreed that the need to support Shetland’s hand-knitting is urgent.

ShetlandPeerieMakkers: objectives…

The Trust aims to achieve the following outcomes for Shetland’s young people and the Shetland community through the deployment of the ShetlandPeerieMakkers Programme.

  • To revive Shetland hand knitting skills and knowledge amongst young Shetlanders through free knitting tuition with expert tutors.
  • To explain and interpret Shetland’s knitting and cultural heritage to a new generation of Shetlanders through new models of tuition.and practice
  • To make young people aware of the cultural value of textiles and the potential economic value of textile education, textile tourism and textile design, for future and current development.
  • To enhance young people’s understanding of the intrinsic qualities of Shetland wool and the link between our economic and crofting heritage and textile production.
  • To support young people to share and cascade their skills to others in their peer groups and to use digital technology to demonstrate Shetland hand knitting techniques.

A way forward ...

A group of local textile experts was  formed in September 2014 to steer the project and ShetlandPeerieMakkers was the result of more than a year’s discussion.  It was decided that ShetlandPeerieMakkers would offer free tuition in hand-knitting in Shetland techniques to Shetland youngsters. ‘PeerieMakkers’ simply means ‘small knitters’ in Shetland dialect.

We conceived ShetlandPeerieMakkers, in the first instance, as a pilot project. It would involve skilled, volunteer tutors in providing lessons to youngsters in five communities within Shetland, using local schools as safe places to meet .That, in itself, reflects another Shetland tradition: the islands’ communities have always supported skills exchange, socially and within families, whether in inshore fishing, spinning or peat cutting. These voluntarily shared skills are evident in the many community marinas, rowing and sailing competitions, agricultural shows and at sociable activity in local halls.

It was agreed that the five pilots would run for a year and that we’d apply the lessons learnt to building a sustainable model for tuition in the longer term.

Although the volunteers would give the tuition without payment, various expenses would be incurred, for example for knitting belts, notebooks and pencils and car mileage. We didn’t want anyone to be out of pocket, so we needed to raise some money. We costed a one-year pilot programme and we were fortunate in being offered Shetland yarns for use in the project by the local yarn spinners, Jamiesons of Shetland, who are based in Sandness, Shetland.

We decided to see if we could raise funds through crowd-funding and chose a platform called Crowdfunder. We were amazed by the results. In little more than a week, we had reached the target of £4,500, with donations coming from many parts of the world. There was support from Shetland, Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, the USA and Canada, Norway, France and other countries.

Buoyed by that success, we decided that we should raise the target, so that we could pay for a second year of Primary School tuition, outwith the education service but in schools, as lunchtime or afterschool groups, providing more research into the best tuition method . It would inform a  blueprint or toolkit , which we’ve called the  ‘Sockbox’ which we would document  after two  pilot years.

Donations continued to flow in and on December 11, 2015, at the end of the crowd funding, a total amount of £7,194 had been pledged.

Funding proved to be finally just sufficient to carry on with a 2nd year of pilot starting September 2016, in 3 new primary schools: Ollaberry in the north Mainland, Dunrossness in the south, and in Unst, as a specialist ShetlandPeerieMakkers group in Baltasound School

Groups continue in Burra and Skeld in the west., with Cunningsburgh and Whalsay groups working outwith the 2016/17 sponsored pilot.

The Anderson High School secondary drop-in knitting group now meets as a senior group independently after ShetlandPeerieMakkers pilot support.

A phased Shetland wide gradual roll out to 28 schools, starting in September 2017 is intended, depending on financial capability.

How you can help ...

It’s very easy to join all those who’ve already supported ShetlandPeerieMakkers.

If you’d like to support ShetlandPeerieMakkers, just follow the link at the top of this page to our secured Just Giving donation account and give whatever you can afford. We’ll be really grateful for any contribution you can make.

UK tax payers will be eligible to a tax receipt, and your donation may also be subject to Gift Aid.

If you just wish to contact us, please drop us an email - the address is: info@ShetlandPeerieMakkers.com. Please be sure to give your contact details so that we know who you are.

Shetland knitting means so much to people in Shetland and around the world. It’s very much part of our islands’ culture. In the long term, we hope that money to support hand-knitting - and other aspects of Shetland’s heritage, such as music - will come from the income raised by Brough Lodge once the building has been restored; and there’s much more about our plans elsewhere on this website.

But we feel that the risk of losing the hand-knitting culture is too great for us to delay the pilot projects. That’s why we’re pursuing them quite separately from the restoration and we guarantee that all the money you donate will go directly into securing Shetland’s hand-knitting future.

You can also follow the Peerie Makkers project on both Facebook and Twitter.

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