Fair Isle Knitting


I have just been listening to a very interesting programme on BBC Radio 4 about the craft of knitting on Fair Isle. Many of you will know of my passion for Harris Tweed, which I have extolled in a previous post. Fair Isle knitwear is a similar craft which deserves to be recognised as a national treasure. On what is considered to be one of the most remote of Britain’s isles, crofters try to eak out a living from what is an incredibly labour intensive craft. The story of each jumper or cardigan can be followed from sheep to spinning to dying to knitting in what has always been a symbiotic relationship with the land. In the programme, Open Country, which was first broadcast on Saturday 31st July 2010 and repeated on August 5th 2010, I discovered that knitting is being dropped from the National Curriculum on the Island in a move that will save £130,000. I believe passionately that this kind of saving is a false economy. This is part of our unique cutural identity. The jumpers are recognised internationally as coming from Fair Isle, with their distinctive colour and pattern. If knitting is dropped from the school curriculum it sends out a message that it is not important, however in this island community it is an essential part of the economic and historical landscape, as bound up in the island as the Welsh Language is in Wales. An Islander is able to charge up to £900 for a jumper which would take over 150 hours to complete from rearing to shearing to spinning to dying to knitting to finishing. This works out at just £6 per hour which is why many of the knitters rely on other income streams to survive.

You can read the story here in the Shetland News. I believe that cutting craft from the curriculum in this way has the potential to destroy the heritage of the islanders and homogenise the culture of the island community. The short term impact is far outweighed by the long term loss of skills that will not be picked up by future generations. It is similar to the situation in the arts across the UK at this present time. We risk losing some of our greatest cultural centres in a bid to save money. These skills have taken years to build up, and survive because of the passion of individuals. Even one year’s savings could be enough to destroy them completely.



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