I love traditional crafts and the Fair Isle knit has to be amongst the top 5! This week, I received a very special delivery ; a beautiful hand-knitted hat, all the way from Shetland. My dear friend Paula Moss, with whom I stay whenever I visit, commissioned one of her friends to knit one for me in the colours I love…. natural greens and browns. Julie Redpath is the talented knitter and, when I opened this parcel, I was almost in tears. It is the most beautiful work of art and will accompany me on many a chilly wildlife trip, including my upcoming guiding tour in Shetland in June (Yes! You do need a hat in June in Shetland!)
The art and tradition of this style of knitting originates on the remote island of Fair Isle, which lies between Orkney and Shetland. This intricate skilled knitting has been practised on this small isle for generations. A rare store of patterns has evolved and each knitter added their own, unique designs, creating recognisable styles.
Julie knitted my hat, by hand, using only Shetland wool, to a pattern by Fair Isle resident Anne Sinclair. Anne published the pattern to raise funds for the George Memorial Centre on Fair Isle and to celebrate the historical colours and patterns of Fair Isle knitting.
Fair Isle residents first used the pattern as a community project to sell to sailors when the 2011 Tall Ships visited the island on their way to mainland Shetland. This is exactly what Fair Isle knitters of old did when ships passed by.
My stunning hat features 2 special additions; little croft houses from a pattern by Ella Gordon and flying birds which were designed by Julie. She says, in her letter to me, ‘The flying birds were designed by myself and represent the fulmars flying alongside the cliffs on the updrafts created by the ever-present wind”
I feel very privileged to own a unique piece of traditional craft such as this beautiful hat. Long may the tradition continue. Mass production will never challenge the care, skill and dedication that goes into producing this beauty! I will wear it with pride!
Thank you Julie and Paula xx