The Vintage Shetland Project

The Vintage Shetland Project by Susan Crawford
The Vintage Shetland Project by Susan Crawford

I am sure that by now you have all heard of Susan Crawford‘s fantastic Vintage Shetland Project. Several years of research have gone into the project already and Susan is now summarising her work into a majestic book that I am sure you will want to own.

Get your mitts on Susan's book in time for Christmas by donating to the Pubslush campaign
Get your mitts on Susan’s book in time for Christmas by donating to the Pubslush campaign! (TEX 2004-416 1950s ladies mittens)

Susan’s Work

I first learnt of Susan’s work through our mutual friends and comrades Rachael Matthews and Louise Harries. Earlier books produced by Susan are sold at Prick Your Finger – the haberdashery and gallery owned by Rachael – and I have a vague memory of sitting in the shop one day with Louise and Rachael and hearing all about Susan’s wonderful way of working… her attention to detail… her fabulous sense of dress… her wondrous husband and graphic designer, Gavin… and how thorough she is in her work. I got the impression from my friends that all Susan’s books are a true labour of love, crafted to the highest possible standard, thoroughly researched, and made with epic respect for VINTAGE. This impression was confirmed when I met Susan for myself at a lovely afternoon tea held here in Reading in 2010 by Jelly. Susan brought along sample garments from Vintage Gifts to Knit and gave a talk. I took a fan-girly photo of her surrounded by her knitting and radiant in a vintage dress to which my dodgy photos really don’t do justice!

Susan Crawford in Reading!
Susan Crawford in Reading!

In this photo Susan was holding up a vintage knitting pattern and explaining how the design and style of this pattern had informed decisions about the layout and fonts for Vintage Gifts to Knit.

Susan explains about typefaces
Susan explaining about typefaces

This typifies Susan’s approach to celebrating the whole premise of Vintage knitwear – everything about it from the contexts in which knitters of the past knitted to the typefaces and styling on vintage knitwear patterns. Susan’s books are not simply about how to recreate vintage garments; they are immersive tomes in which time, knitting and history are intertwined. One of the things I am especially excited about with The Vintage Shetland Project is how Susan will apply her unique vision to the amazing context of Shetland with its long and rich history of knitwear production.

What’s in The Book?

The Vintage Shetland Project has been supported by Carol Christiansen, textile curator at the Shetland Museum, and Susan has researched hand-knitted garments and accessories held in the museum’s archives from the 20th Century. She has studied 25 pieces, recorded their construction stitch for stitch, and recreated them for the Vintage Shetland Project. The pieces have been developed into comprehensive multi-sized knitting patterns, complete with instructions and technical advice, and illustrated with colour photography shot in a special location in Shetland. As well as all this, each garment featured in the book will be presented with its back story and context, enabling contemporary knitters to understand the particular history of each one.

I am excited to see how Susan will recreate the garments, such as with this contemporary version of a 1950s beaded yoke sweater…

TEX 203-179 Beaded yoke jumper - 1950s
TEX 203-179 Beaded yoke jumper – 1950s
TEX203-179 contemporary sample in Fenella blocking out
TEX 203-179 contemporary sample in Fenella blocking out

…and thrilled by her emphasis on exploring the original story of each piece of knitwear featured in her book.

This sweater was knitted for Ralph Paterson by his fiancé, Doris Hunter, and described by Sarah Laurenson in Shetland Textiles: 800 BC to the Present as “a site of personal and political meanings containing traces of world events and the lives of individuals.” This is an especially self-evident example, but I think that all clothes are in one way or another a site of meaning, and I’m thrilled that this aspect of the textiles in the Shetland Museum will be a focus in Susan’s book.

A much darned and very poignant sweater from the Shetland Museum archives which will feature in Susan's forthcoming book
A much darned and very poignant sweater from the Shetland Museum archives which will feature in Susan’s forthcoming book


My own visits to Shetland have been life-changing. The people and the landscape and the sheep and the knitwear occupy a very big place in my heart and the wealth of knitting knowledge held in the islands is astounding. Susan clearly feels the same! I have loved following the whole blog tour associated with Susan’s Pubslush campaign, but it has been particularly exciting to read about it on the blogs of some of my Shetland comrades – Louise Scollay, Ella Gordon, Jamieson & Smith, Hazel Tindall – and to get extra insights from them about some of the pieces Susan plans to feature in her collection.

TEX 1995-103 'prisoner of war' jumper
TEX 1995-103 ‘prisoner of war’ jumper

Many of the items in the textile collection are not in pristine conditon. Some have needed heavy repair or modification and others have had holes darned with different coloured threads. Even kept in archive conditions the garments will deteriorate. Susan explains how recreating these items helps to keep the items alive for future generations.

“I hope to extend their life in another way, recording their image, their patterns, their stitches, and their past and enabling knitters to read these histories and to be able to recreate these perfectly flawed knits too.”

The ethnologist in me is cock-a-hoop – design, social history and true narratives are all knit in each stitch and it is fantastic that these garments can now be knit and loved by so many others, rather than safe in an archive.”

Louise Scollay

Susan studying knitwear in the Shetland Museum
Susan studying knitwear in the Shetland Museum

We, as Shetlanders, have to appreciate the people who have an interest in Shetland and Shetland Knitting and that are willing to publish things like this, I know from my work at J&S that people are constantly looking for books about Shetland knitting and Fair Isle.

– Ella Gordon

TEX 1996-22 Sleeve join details and evidence of wear and tear
TEX 1996-22 Sleeve join details and evidence of wear and tear

This book will be a welcome addition to anyone interested in Shetlands textile heritage, here at J&S we work very hard to keep this strong heritage alive and well so we are really excited to see the book when it comes out!

Jamieson & Smith

TEX 852 Beautiful shoulder detail
TEX 852 Beautiful shoulder detail

I don’t knit a lot of lace but the “Aald Shell” pattern is one of my favourites, most commonly seen in “da bord” of a hap. It’s a favourite as I can keep it in my head as it’s so easy. It’s versatile and effective when worked in two or more colours, and can be varied by having different numbers of stitches between the grouped decreases. I have used it a few times in garments, for example Jolbeth. It is fascinating to see one of the short sleeved tops Susan has chosen to recreate. It is from the 1960s and is knitted in what I call “Aald Shell” but others may call “Feather and Fan” or “Fan and Feather”. This beautiful top has an attractive button fastening – and beautiful buttons too – at the neck, and shaped sleeve tops. I can see this being very popular with knitters.

Hazel Tindall

I have seen some of the garments that will feature in Susan’s book for myself in the archives of the Shetland Museum and the thought of being able to understand them more completely through Susan’s texts and patterns is a fine prospect indeed…

TEX 8946 1920s cross over front tunic with matching tam
TEX 8946 1920s cross over front tunic with matching tam
TEX 8945 full detail
TEX8945 full detail
 TEX 0229 beret
TEX0229 beret

…what is brilliant about Susan’s book is that it will allow contemporary knitters to connect with historic textiles personally, through the actual practice of knitting. It is this physical connection with the past – and with the knitters of the past – that makes The Vintage Shetland Project so exciting.

Support the project!

As with my own book and Kickstarter campaign, Susan needs to raise money for the actual printing and shipping of the book. Many knitters are obviously really excited about the project as the initial funding target was smashed just a few days after the campaign went live! However extra pledges made at this stage will go towards the enhancement of the final object, and pledging towards the campaign is now the only way to ensure that you receive a copy of this wondrous tome in time for Christmas.

Thank you for reading and do remember to visit Susan’s campaign page for more information here; it’s been a pleasure having The Vintage Shetland Project on the KNITSONIK blog!


Photos used with kind permission of Susan Crawford

1 thought on “The Vintage Shetland Project

  1. Hi – my name is Sue and I live in Ireland. I have visited Shetland many times as my sister lives there and I wondered if the lines of motifs on the more dense fair-isle patterns have particular names to identify the shapes and designs that are selected. I have bought many intricately knitted jumpers/shawls over the years and have always wondered how to identify the different patterns. would appreciate your help or advice as where to investigate further. Thanks in advance.
    Rgds – Sue

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