Tuesday 12 December 2017

Shetland Knitting Patterns

A recent donation of knitting patterns to the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection included a pattern for an "All-over Fair Isle Jumper and Beret", which looks to me like a 1930s pattern.

It was by a company called T.P.G. who produced "Pure Shetland Wool" for knitting.  Presumably, the company was based on Shetland, but there is no address on the leaflet.  And I can't guess what "T.P.G." stands for.   

It's good to see an authentic Fair Isle pattern from the 1930s (if that is what it is).  Here's what the design looks like, very approximately - I've chosen the colours based only on their names in the pattern, so they may be a long way from accurate.

I read the instructions to see if the jumper is to be knitted in the round.  It is - but only up to the armholes.  Then the back and front are knitted flat.  The stitches for the sleeves are picked up around the armholes (after the shoulders have been grafted), and the sleeves are knitted in the round. So - no steeks.

I knew that I had seen other T.P.G.patterns in the collection, and today I found them.  The girl's cardigan below is knitted in fawn and dark blue, with peach, white, pale blue, moorit and yellow.

The materials required include a set of four long needles (15 inch), but I'm not sure how they are to be used.  The instructions imply that the back and front are knitted flat in one piece up to the armholes, and you begin by casting on 235 stitches onto two size 10 (3.25 mm.) needles.  But probably four long needles are needed to knit such a wide piece flat - the instructions don't say.  (Now we would use a circular needle.)  Again, the back and fronts are knitted separately from the armholes upwards, and the sleeves are knitted in the round, working downwards from the armholes. 

Another T.P.G. leaflet is in a different Shetland knitting tradition - it has panels of a pretty lace stitch on a cardigan and jumper. (Click on the image below to enlarge it.)

I found these T.P.G. patterns alongside some other knitting patterns from Shetland.  I think these are later - maybe late 1940s?

1940s vintage knitting pattern

The leaflets leave no doubt that these are Shetland patterns "Designed in Shetland by Shetland Knitters" -  the company is called "Shetland Wools", with an address in Lerwick.  Both the lady's jumper and the gent's slipover are knitted flat - back and front separately.  Even the sleeves of the jumper are knitted flat, from the cuff upwards - the only knitting in the round is for the yoke.   And the ribs around the neck and armholes of the slipover are knitted flat, too, with seams in the rib, under the arms and on the shoulders.  (I find that rather shocking).  The company must have decided that knitters outside Shetland just couldn't cope with knitting in the round.

It would be nice to know more about these two companies, and in particular what T.P.G. stands for.  So if you have any information. please let me know. 

P.S. In January, someone emailed me to say that she thought the T.P.G. was the firm of T.P. Gordon (Perth) Ltd.,  who were listed in the Edinburgh Gazette as 'Shetland Goods Specialists' in the 1930s.  They were also, she said, mentioned as the publishers of TPG leaflets in a Broraspun leaflet in the 1970s. I was able to add a bit more information - T.P. Gordon was Thomas Patrick Gordon, who died in 1942 aged 88.  The notice of his death named the business as the Shetland Warehouse in Perth.  So, Perth rather than Shetland, though I suppose the patterns might have been designed there.  


  1. Are these patterns available for knitters in the US? I’d love to make that first pullover, but don’t have the skills to reproduce it from a photo.

    1. They are available to members of the Knitting & Crochet Guild, on request - along with many other publications in the Guild's
      collection. Although it is a U.K. organisation, membership is open to anyone.

  2. Dear Barbara, I stumbled upon your blog while trying to do some research (out of curiosity) of what kind of cast-on methods where commonly used for fair isle knits in the very early 20th C. If there traditionally was a predominately used method, or if cast-on methods was as varied as it is today. It crossed my mind while reading some of your blog posts that you might be a person that might have some insight in this matter? I would be very happy to hear your thoughts on this. Thank you for sharing your knitting works on your blog! Kindly, Maria

    1. Hi Maria - sorry it's taken a while to reply. I'm afraid I don't know anything about traditional cast-on methods for Fair Isles. Someone like Susan Crawford, who has examined a lot of Shetland knits for her Vintage Shetland Project book, would have a better idea. You might try contacting her e.g. through her blog.


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