The in­spi­ra­tional fam­ily of de­sign­ers from Shet­land

The Knitter - - Contents -

AF­TER TALK­ING with three in­spir­ing Shet­land de­sign­ers - Wilma, Terri Laura, and Alyssa Mal­colm­son - I dis­cov­ered that the threads link­ing their in­di­vid­ual sto­ries were fam­ily, eco­nomic ne­ces­sity, and chang­ing tech­nolo­gies, bound by a love of knit­ting and colour. Wilma runs the knitwear com­pany Shet­land De­signer; her grand­daugh­ter Terri Laura and great-niece Alyssa have em­barked on their own jour­neys us­ing 21st cen­tury tech­nol­ogy to share their love of Shet­land’s tra­di­tions.

Once upon a time, knit­ting pro­vided an eco­nomic life­line to fam­i­lies on Shet­land. Knit­ting was done in the evenings by women want­ing to earn money. Watch­ing and copy­ing the adults in their lives, Wilma, Terri Laura and Alyssa be­gan learn­ing the craft from an early age.

“I can­not re­ally re­mem­ber be­ing taught to knit; my first mem­ory is try­ing to knit clothes for my dolls,” re­calls Wilma. “My mother was al­ways knit­ting to sup­ple­ment the fam­ily’s in­come. Ev­ery­one was knit­ting by hand where I grew up - it was a very so­cial thing, as well as essen­tial work. I al­ways en­joyed it, and was very aware of the pat­terns and colours be­ing knit­ted.”

Wilma and her sis­ter-in-law Jean Hal­crow con­tin­ued to knit while rais­ing their fam­i­lies. In the 1980s, the punch-card knit­ting ma­chine trans­formed their knit­ting and soon their lives. Mas­ter­ing this new tech­nol­ogy en­abled Wilma and Jean to cre­ate orig­i­nal de­signs for fam­ily and friends. Their im­pres­sive ef­forts cre­ated de­mand for more de­signs: the punch-card ma­chine made it pos­si­ble to meet this de­mand. Wilma and Jean used their skills to de­sign a range of knitwear which be­came the busi­ness Shet­land De­signer. Its premises, near Cun­nings­burgh on Shet­land, is a com­bi­na­tion of shop and work­shop: lots of lovely knit­ted gar­ments, jumpers, hats, gloves, mit­tens, scarves; sam­ple packs of yarns; and the work­shop area with Wilma’s sam­ple boards, cones of wool, and knit­ting ma­chines.

“As I made knit­ting my work, I have de­signed and pro­duced what­ever the mar­ket de­manded,” Wilma says. “For many years I de­signed us­ing the colour pre­dic­tions for the cur­rent sea­son. Some­times this was chal­leng­ing, but led to many var­ied colours and de­signs. Now I use pic­tures of land­scapes and seashores to in­spire new Fair Isle pat­terns.”

Wilma ac­knowl­edges that so­cial me­dia has made Shet­land knitwear more ac­ces­si­ble, re­sult­ing in a greater in­ter­est world­wide. “We, on Shet­land, are aware of the ex­cel­lent work of knit­ters from around the world and many friend­ships have

formed thanks to con­nec­tions on Rav­elry and other so­cial me­dia. Now there is a greater in­ter­est in all as­pects of tex­tiles, and we are see­ing younger peo­ple get­ting in­volved. I have es­pe­cially en­joyed watch­ing Terri’s and Alyssa’s progress. Both are aware of Shet­land tra­di­tions and meth­ods, while de­vel­op­ing their own in­di­vid­ual styles. I also work with the Peerie Knit­ters in Cun­nings­burgh Pri­mary School, where vol­un­teers en­joy teach­ing chil­dren to knit.”

Wilma tends to knit in her stu­dio, sur­rounded with wool and swatches (hand or ma­chine knit­ted). She also en­joys knit­ting by the fire in the win­ter evenings.

A last­ing legacy

Terri Laura and Alyssa are the next gen­er­a­tion of Shet­land de­sign­ers. Terri Laura be­gan her knit­ting jour­ney aged six, play­ing with her brother in her granny’s work­shop. This in­volved or­gan­is­ing cones of yarn, pin­ning colour­ful Fair Isle swatches to cork­boards, and play­ing ‘shop’.

It all felt very real to Terri Laura, as she re­calls: “I re­mem­ber com­ing up with ideas for knitwear and plan­ning out how they could be made,” she says. “I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in ar­rang­ing the colours in ways that would knit well to­gether.”

At the age of eight, Terri be­gan knit­ting in pri­mary school, work­ing through a range of projects; more ad­vanced tech­niques were learned from Granny Wilma. Colour is a re­cur­ring theme in Terri’s work, so does she have a favourite? “Ask­ing me to choose a favourite colour is like ask­ing me to pick a favourite sib­ling! Never!” she laughs. “Now that I’ve had more ex­pe­ri­ence of colour­work, I’ve found my­self look­ing at colours as if they all have a use and a place, in­stead of ei­ther lik­ing or dis­lik­ing them. How­ever, I do find my­self go­ing for in­ter­est­ing blues, greens and pinks, whereas my grand­mother grav­i­tates more to­wards earthy tones.”

The 21st cen­tury has brought changes to this gen­er­a­tion of knit­ters: the in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia have been game-chang­ers, and Terri Laura cites this as the main fac­tor that makes the dif­fer­ence be­tween her brand and Shet­land De­signer. “I use the in­ter­net every day to com­mu­ni­cate with my fol­low­ers. My web­site hosts my blog posts, port­fo­lio, com­pe­ti­tions and on­line events, although my favourite way to use the in­ter­net for my busi­ness is through In­sta­gram. I have taught classes on­line and held live in­for­ma­tive chats with my Face­book group, and I also worked with Jamieson’s of Shet­land to host a live event on their Face­book page. I find so­cial me­dia a great way to reach peo­ple who are in­ter­ested in Shet­land knitwear and de­sign dur­ing the off-sea­son, when fewer peo­ple are vis­it­ing us here in Shet­land.”

So­cial me­dia, cou­pled with yarn fes­ti­vals and knit­ting events, made Terri Laura look at her busi­ness plans in a dif­fer­ent way: “Thought and plan­ning went into the op­tions I have when it comes to of­fer­ing prod­ucts and ser­vices around knit­ting and Fair Isle”. Knit­ting is never very far from Terri Laura. “If I am go­ing to be any­where for any length of time, I gen­er­ally take my knit­ting with me,” she says. “The Shet­land De­signer work­shop would be the main place where most of my pro­duc­tiv­ity takes place; how­ever, you will find me work­ing from Granny Wilma’s house, my par­ents’ house, and my part­ner’s par­ents’ house dur­ing any given week.”

An­other legacy from Granny Wilma - Terri Laura knits by hand as well as us­ing a knit­ting ma­chine or us­ing both. “I love how quickly ideas turn into a re­al­ity when us­ing the ma­chine, but there is def­i­nitely some­thing com­fort­ing about hand knit­ting with my knit­ting belt,” Terri says.

Terri Laura gets her in­spi­ra­tion from peo­ple: “Tak­ing per­son­al­ity and per­sonal style into con­sid­er­a­tion when de­sign­ing is so much fun. Look­ing at what peo­ple wear, what they like and what suits them gives me the best idea of where to start and how I want my end re­sult to turn out. I have

used this method to make clas­si­cally styled gar­ments as well as dec­o­ra­tive pieces for homes, while still keep­ing the fin­ished prod­uct tra­di­tional and dis­tinc­tively my own. I am in­ter­ested in see­ing what real peo­ple are wear­ing day to day. I’ve never re­ally been into the high-end fash­ion mag­a­zines or shows, but notic­ing what peo­ple are wear­ing or buy­ing for their homes re­ally in­ter­ests me.”

Emerg­ing tal­ent

Seven­teen-year-old Alyssa Mal­colm­son is also a pas­sion­ate knit­ter and emerg­ing de­signer in her own right. The great-niece of Wilma (Alyssa’s granny mar­ried Wilma’s brother), Alyssa taught a sock knit­ting class with Emma Eun­son at this year’s Shet­land Wool Week, and is set to be­gin an ap­pren­tice­ship as a me­chanic tech­ni­cian on the main­land of Scot­land; her knit­ting will go with her.

Alyssa’s ear­li­est knit­ting mem­ory was of sit­ting with her granny watch­ing her knit, and des­per­ately want­ing to be taught. “I must have been about four, but I was re­ally de­ter­mined: I was go­ing to do it; Granny wasn’t go­ing to do it for me. My first project was a sim­ple scarf.” It was the ‘Maakin and Yakkin’ knit­ting group Alyssa joined while at­tend­ing An­der­son High School in Ler­wick that rekin­dled her in­ter­est in the craft, thanks to the en­thu­si­asm and en­cour­age­ment of the teach­ers and friends who were in­volved.

Alyssa par­tic­u­larly en­joys mak­ing the ‘allover’ style of Fair Isle sweater - one of which won a prize at the Cun­nings­burgh Show in 2017. She likes to have sev­eral projects on the go at any one time - jumper, socks, gloves, tam - so that what­ever her mood, she will have knit­ting to suit.

Fair Isle gives plenty of scope for play­ing with colour; Alyssa en­joys see­ing all the choices on of­fer in the shops, and of­ten finds she comes away with com­pletely dif­fer­ent shades to those she’d orig­i­nally in­tended to buy! Like Terri Laura, Alyssa uses In­sta­gram to show­case her work and start con­ver­sa­tions about knit­ting.

In­spir­ing oth­ers

Fans of the crime drama Shet­land may re­mem­ber the quote from De­tec­tive Jimmy Perez: “They think all we do is knit jumpers up here…” Wilma, Terri Laura and Alyssa have taken knit­ting be­yond jumpers and pro­moted a craft that de­lights and en­cour­ages knit­ters world­wide. All three de­sign­ers are show­cased in the most re­cent Shet­land Wool Week an­nual, with Alyssa’s del­i­cately beau­ti­ful ‘Tree Yoke’ sweater star­ring on the front cover. Wilma and Terri Laura, mean­while, demon­strate their skills with colour blend­ing in their ‘At­lantic Lace Hat and Mitts’ (Wilma), and ‘Banks­flooer Mitts’ (Terri Laura).

Wilma’s cre­ations can be found all over Shet­land - the staff in Shet­land Mu­seum wear her waist­coats as a uni­form - and also around the world, with Japan be­ing just one des­ti­na­tion for her ex­ports. Terri Laura’s on­line tu­to­ri­als and fes­ti­val ap­pear­ances reach and en­cour­age knit­ters in many lo­ca­tions, while Alyssa’s In­sta­gram posts show her range of colour­work in a va­ri­ety of projects.

– More from Clan Mal­colm­son knit­ters: www.shet­land­de­ www.ter­ri­ – Find them on In­sta­gram: Alyssa.mar­garet, ter­ri­laura, wilmade­signer

Terri Laura (right) learnt her knit­ting skills from her grand­mother Wilma, and to­day brings her own unique style to tra­di­tional Fair Isle de­signs. She sells fin­ished pieces, knit­ting kits and pat­terns through her on­line shop

Wilma founded her com­pany Shet­land De­signer in 1982, and sells her exquisitely beau­ti­ful knits to cus­tomers all around the world

Alyssa’s ‘Lichen Leg­warm­ers’ pat­tern is avail­able on Rav­elry

Alyssa show­cases her work on In­sta­gram; she has won prizes for her Fair Isle colour­work

The 2018 Shet­land Wool Week an­nual fea­tures Alyssa’s jumper de­sign (left), mitts by Terri, and Wilma’s ‘At­lantic Lace’ set; the book costs £19 from www.shet­land­wool­

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