Our Collection contains over 600 items and is over 30 years old. It was inspired by a private collection, which was purchased by the then Guild of Spinners Weavers and Dyers, who established the Shetland Textile Working Museum (now the Shetland Textile Museum)
We owe a great debt to the late Bess Jamieson of Pointataing, Walls, Shetland for her vision in collecting historic Shetland textiles and commissioning faithfully produced replicas of certain styles and garments. Her knowledge of the care of textiles was second to none and we have her to thank for the excellent way the Collection is stored and documented as it was handed over to the new Trustees in 2012.
Our Collection we believe has a significance far beyond the perimeter of the Shetland Islands. Shetland textiles are world renowned. The development of Fair Isle knitting and the production of fine lace holds a fascination worldwide and has been copied many times.
We will take in items which will add to the overall understanding of historic Shetland textiles and their place in the world, filling gaps already identified (such as traditional working garments like haps)
We want to enable local people to participate in our Collection’ s development. We draw on the expertise and enthusiasm of volunteers who help us care for and document the items and those whose stories illuminate and add significance to the objects we hold. We wish our Collection to reflect changing times such as emerging textile workers running small businesses and graduating college students.
Collections are the lifeblood of museums. We are privileged to have a remarkable Collection built up over 30 years. We benefit from the generous bequests and gifts of innumerable benefactors and from the wise, and sometimes daring, acquisitions of our predecessors. We hope to continue to enrich and invigorate the Collection and hope to pass on to future generations of visitors acquisitions which delight, inspire and inform.
We welcome enquiries about our Collection and Archives, and seek to encourage public interest and research. For further information on this, and our charges, please see here
Knitwear (called hosiery in earlier times) has been an important part of Shetland’s economy for centuries. It is even said that Lerwick became the new capital of the Shetland Islands because folk wished to trade stockings with the Dutch fishermen where their ships were berthed on the east side of Shetland.
Our Collection has a good representation of Fine Lace knitting (both 19th century and replicas) and Fair Isle and Shetland patterned knitting. However when we put together the 2013 exhibition “From the Croft to the Palace" we realised that "ordinary" or "working" garments were underepresented. We have several Shetland taatit rugs both old and replicas.
We hold several spinning wheels, some are artefacts and some are working ones for demonstration. We also have garment stretchers and tools for working wool.
The Shetland Textile Museum will acquire examples of Shetland textiles as identified, by donation, bequest or purchase. Where a gap exists within the Collection and original examples are unobtainable, the Shetland Textile Museum will commission replicas for the Collection. Our purpose in collecting contemporary examples of Shetland textiles is intended to show the development of the industry.
We have several very old rugs ( or piled bedcovers.) In 2014, we received a surprising gift of a rug in two halves from a builder who was restoring a crofthouse in Shetland. These rugs are uniquely Shetland in design and execution. Currently there is great interest from visitors as they have never seen such rugs. At present, two volunteers are “taatin” a “grund” (ie stitching woollen loops into a woven base) The base (or grund) was woven on our large loom during June 2014 .
Anything concerning taatit rugs is of great interest to us. Photos, information and stories. We are continuously on the look out for provenance and information.
We have some good underwear! Especially various items of "samples" of women’s underwear which were supplied by merchants to knitters to use as patterns. We are seeking to expand the everyday garments in our collection.
Our fine lace Collection contains some rare and early examples, and forms a unique archive of style, pattern and technique. Due to the individual nature of any piece knitted we will continue to actively collect in this area. This year we commissioned a pair of fine lace stockings in early Victorian patterns as would have been presented to Queen Victoria in 1837 by Arthur Anderson (in whose birthplace the Museum resides).
Shetland Sheep and Wool
The purebred Shetland sheep, known as the finest of all native breeds is a very ancient breed, thought to have been crossed with sheep brought here by Norwegian settlers who brought their own sheep to Shetland over a thousand years ago. Horns of ancient Soay sheep were found in archaeological excavations at Jarlshof.
Known for its amazing variety of colours an markings, the wool is exceptionally fine and strong, possibly because of the climate. The sheep did not have to be clipped as the wool can be pulled or plucked out of the skin ( this is called called rooing)
The finest wool comes from under the neck of the animal. Shetlanders always selected sheep for the softness of their wool. In Unst, from early times, it is said that certain animals were kept nearby the croft and not allowed out onto the scattald as their wool was the finest and most suitable tor spinning into the fine lace yarn for shawls which brought the highest income of any knitted garment.
The Shetland Flock Book detailing the classic aspects of the Shetland breed was established in 1927.
In 1790, Two Knights Discuss the Merits of Shetland Wool:
“Shetland Wool, taking all its properties together, is perhaps the completest article of its kind in the universe, possessing at the same time the gloss and softness of silk, the strength of cotton, the whiteness of linen and the warmth of wool”
Sir John Sinclair writing to Sir Joseph Banks on Sept. 22nd 1790, when they were debating the best animals to introduce to King George III’s (Farmer George) flock to improve the export and trade in British wool.
“The finest Shetland stockings I ever saw passed through my hands 2 years ago as a present to His Majesty, they were of ample size for a tall man and yet both together passed through Lady Banks’s wedding ring , in these no doubt the utmost care had been taken”
Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society and renowned world traveller on Sept. 17th 1790.
So hosiery made of Shetland wool became the favourite of King George III…