In all the world of knitting, this c.350 km. sq. just has to be the cradle. Civilized and agrarian for about 5,000 years, this little spot on the globe has produced the most lovely and sophisticated knitting in the whole wide world as far as I can tell. Shawls so fine that they can be drawn through a wedding ring, sweaters so thick that they repel water, and mittens and hats warm enough to hold back the very breath of the North Sea: now, that’s some knitting!
I’ve been up to my snoot in stranded knitting lately and just the other day, out of the blue, became drawn to some traditional Shetland lace stitches. What’s the connection? And why do I continually confuse traditional Fair Isle stranded knitting with its Scandinavian counterpart? Woefully ill-equipped when it comes to geography, I took a look at a map. It’s all right there in that little square.
I was a little shocked to find that there actually is a “Fair Isle” which had heretofore existed in my mind as some sort of fantasy realm like “Atlantis” or “The Shire”. In real life, it is part of the Shetland Islands, north of Scotland, way out in the North Sea. Though part of the United Kingdom, the Shetlanders have more in common culturally with their Norwegian neighbours, who are actually closer as the crow flies. HUZZAH! The Nordic/Fair Isle connection de-mystified.
Having sailed tall ships and lived over ten years in Denmark, Carl has a theory. The Norwegians, Danes and Swedes were (and still are) seafaring cultures, as are the North Sea islanders. He figures that the sailors, back and forth regularly across the North Sea, traded, as gestures of goodwill, the knitted goods crafted for them by mothers, wives and sisters. Probably, the women took a look at the new yarn-works, copying, adapting and trading techniques. Interesting to speculate, isn’t it?
So naturally, I started to follow some of the highways and byways of the internet regarding this region. I found the utterly divine designs of Kate Davies, so unique, so whimsical and so evocative of the Shetland world that had only existed in my imagination. I read the captivating writings of Paul Kelly, “Living in the Shetland Islands”, and then went promptly to Travelocity. I wish I could afford a pilgrimage.