Our Museum attracts a team of regular volunteers, without whom it would simply be an interesting, listed building full of glass-encased exhibits.
The majority of our volunteers are craftspeople, often prizewinners. However, other volunteers also maintain a beautiful garden – challenging in the Shetland climate- supply a gift shop full of unique, high-quality items, provide home-bakes to share, help our Seasonal Custodian with housekeeping, set up new exhibitions, organise the Archive and library, help with IT, or take photographs for the website and advertising. Once the doors have closed for the winter, they help take down exhibitions, pack away precious Collection items, mend spinning wheels, or catalogue new acquisitions.
Aged between 19 – 90, our volunteer demonstrators share with visitors their knowledge and expertise of yarn and patterns, as well as their knowledge of Shetland history, environment and culture. Many of them naturally use the Shetland dialect, but can slip easily into “proper” English for the visitors’ benefit, often finding similar knitting terms in another’s language.
Visitors can admire the delicacy of knitted lace or the intricacy of Fair Isle patterns displayed behind glass, then turn to see exactly the same standard produced by a volunteer knitting beside them. Most Shetland knitters still use the traditional knitting belt, which always delights the visitors. Many hesitantly try one, then often proceed to buy one in the shop. One ecstatic woman who had ceased knitting due to painful hands discovered that, by using a belt, she could knit again !
Our annual exhibitions are wonderful, but the demonstrators help bring the Museum to life. Whether an addicted knitter, or simply coming in out of the rain, visitors experience their warmth and hospitality. Even reluctant husbands have been known to sit fascinated by the workings of a spinning wheel, or in awe of the mathematical skills needed to produce a Fair Isle allover from first principles. Volunteers usually wear examples of their craft, often hand-made, or even handspun, which leads to many an interesting conversation.
The value of our volunteers was recognised nationwide when, in 2019, they won the Scottish Final of the British Museum’s Marsh Trust Award for Volunteers. They are tremendous ambassadors for Shetland, and are the life-blood of our Museum.