Children’s Knitting Project Appoints Co-ordinator
ShetlandPeerieMakkers, the project that enables children to learn Shetland handknitting techniques and how to use these skills as individual, has just appointed a part-time Consultant Co-ordinator.
Tracey Hawkins, who is married with two young daughters (Sunniva and Brigitte), was born and brought up in Sandness and spent ten years studying and working in Glasgow. She has lived in Lerwick since returning to Shetland in 2014. Tracey has managed and worked in community-related projects both in and outwith Shetland. She views the ShetlandPeerieMakkers project as being "incredibly worthwhile" because of the way it supports and maintains Shetland’s heritage and culture, in which she herself has a strong personal interest.
Some of the funding for the consultant has come from the LEADER programme, an EU initiative which supports development projects aimed at revitalising rural areas. The balance has been provided by a major private sponsor. Earlier, pilot phases of the project relied largely on crowd-funding and other private donations, support being received from many parts of the world.
The project, established by Pierre Cambillard of the Brough Lodge Trust, has been running since June 2014. It aims to teach, and hand down to younger generations, the special skills and knowledge associated with authentic Shetland hand-knitting. To achieve this, ShetlandPeerieMakkers engage a number of suitably skilled volunteers within the local community. Employing traditional methods of teaching, they lead, enable and encourage small groups of young knitting enthusiasts - both boys and girls - to become individually creative knitters. The wider aim is to maintain a "living, future culture of Shetland knitting."
The volunteers, who are selected for their teaching and communication abilities as well as their traditional knitting skills, lead small groups of up to twelve children, all of whom are of primary school age. A lead tutor is appointed for each group and selects their own assistant tutors.
Although the children are taught in small groups, individual creativity is also taken into account, with a tutor to pupil ration of no more than 1:4. The volunteer tutors instruct their young students in the use of traditional knitting implements such as knitting needles and knitting belts.
To ensure that each group has everything it needs to get started, a toolkit is provided, appropriately called the ‘"Sock Box", "sock" being an endearing local name for someone’s item of knitting. In the box, volunteer tutors and students will find yarn (wool), essential equipment and a copy of the project guidance document, which sets out the teaching methods.
The design of the programme emerged from the pilot projects run in a small number of communities over the past two years. These were overseen by a steering group, made up of knowledgeable people and led by local craftswoman Hazel Hughson. Tracey says that the instruction methods employed by ShetlandPeerieMakkers largely adopt principles applied in the past, when such skills were handed down from generation to generation, largely on a direct, oral basis within a supportive environment.
"Although, initially at least, we work to a single method of teaching the basics, we nevertheless encourage individuality too," she says, "so the process is also tailored to meet the desires and imagination of the various young individuals. We feel we can comfortably achieve this, given the low instructor to pupil ratio we adopt for this project.
The initial consultation period confirmed that these classes were best held within local communities, via local tutors selected from each area. Each group met around ten times a year. Although the project is not linked to the school curriculum, local schools were considered the most appropriate places to house the project’s classes, being "safe, warm environments". Some sessions were held at lunch times and others after school. All of this was achieved with the assistance, support and co- ordination (in kind) of the SIC’s Creative Links Officer, Noelle Henderson. Eight young knitting groups have now been set up in Whalsay, Burra, Cunningsburgh, Skeld, Unst, Ollaberry, Dunrossness and Sandness. It is hoped that more areas will become involved in the months to come.
Those involved in the project are at pains to point out that the approach they take is only one way of teaching Shetland knitting, but it’s one they feel suits the needs of those involved.
Tracey says the project is an "ambitious task", but that she’s "amazed" to see the impact it’s already having on participants and communities. "It’s a very social thing too," she says "and is mutually beneficial to both the children and tutors alike. It’s not just about knitting and developing our heritage. These are skills they can use throughout their lives, plus it’s fun, friendly and social too."
Using a phrase coined by previous members of the project team, Tracey points out that "this is not about Shetland’s past, it’s about its future."
Anyone who wishes to help financially support the ShetlandPeerieMakkers initiative - which still has some way to go to meet it financial targets - can do so online at www.broughlodge.org/hand-knitting
Further information: Tracey Hawkins, Consultant Co-ordinator:
Telephone: 01595 690378