Do you remember who taught you to knit? Many of us remember an older relative constantly knitting in our youth and at some point, we must have shown an interest and been taught how to form knits and purls. Shetland has a long tradition of knitting, mostly for trade as the warm Shetland wool knit in Fair Isle pattern makes an excellent insulating layer for men working at sea or on the land. Although knitting for trade has mostly been replaced by knitting for pleasure, Shetland retains its passion and pride for Fair Isle ganseys, Yoke cardigans, lace shawls, hats, scarves and gloves. Shetlanders wear Fair Isle on a regular basis and take pride in wearing it away from home.
Many Shetlanders learned to knit at school with weekly lessons – boys and all. This ceased in 2010 and concerns were raised amongst the knitting community that skills could be lost as sharing knitting skills is an oral tradition. This coincided with the beginning of Shetland Wool Week which drew more attention to Shetland wool and knitting. A working group was convened and ShetlandPeerieMakkers was born in 2014 with a pilot project in five schools with the aim to preserve the knowledge and skills of hand knitting. The project quickly expanded and before the 2020-22 hiatus was present in over twenty schools.
The ShetlandPeerieMakkers project aims to enable primary school children (aged 8 – 11) in Shetland to learn the skills needed to produce and design hand knitted garments. The project aims to encourage knitting for pleasure but also to encourage future creative textile designers. The children learn basic knitting in the round, Fair Isle basics, colour theory and Shetland lace knitting through guided practise in small groups. Expert volunteer tutors give their time freely to these small groups to re-enact the time-honoured way in which knitting was taught, by an expert to a small gathering of tutees. The children are encouraged to try their own colour combinations, motifs and textures to create simple garments (mittens, hats and headbands) which they knit at their own pace over the winter terms with a weekly meeting for an hour after school. The groups are limited to 12 children to allow one-to-one time with tutors and to help the children feel comfortable.
The tutors are provided with a box of resources and a complete tutorial to help them deliver the tuition; we call this the Sockbox (based on the Shetland dialect word for knitting: ‘sock’ or ‘sokk’). The box includes small knitting belts, 16 inch (40cm) double pointed needles, tape measure, scissors, blunt point needles, a yarn shade card and yarn donated from Jamieson’s of Shetland. We have also provided reference books and poems in dialect to encourage the children to appreciate the historical context of knitting in Shetland and to allow discussion about how they can contribute to this important part of Shetland’s historical and cultural heritage.
Now in November 2022 the tutors are restarting their groups. It’s sad to see the project bags with abandoned early knitting practise in the sockboxes, and we hope that many of the pre-Covid peerie makkers learned from family during lockdown and continue to knit for pleasure. The future of ShetlandPeerieMakkers is bright with many schools, pupils and parents keen to see it re-established this academic year.
Donations great and small are greatly appreciated help support tutors to provide tuition across the isles. You can find out more about our donors, sponsors and supporters and learn how to donate at our JustGiving site.