Sunday 6 March 2016

Paint and Lace

I planned to paint a wall of the bathroom yesterday.  But then on my way home from buying a new paint brush and a paint kettle, I remembered that I was missing a live broadcast of a workshop taking place at the Shetland Museum.   It was part of the Knitting in the Round project at the University of Glasgow - I went to a Study Day on Knitting in Wartime in Glasgow last year that was part of the same project.   Yesterday's was on Authenticity in Culturally Based Knitting - specifically, Shetland lace knitting.  

So instead of starting painting when I got home, I started to watch the broadcast of the workshop instead.  I had missed the introductory talk by Lynn Abrams, and part of Carol Christiansen's talk that followed it.  She was reporting on a project just finished; volunteer knitters were asked to knit samples from lace patterns in 19th century publications which the writer had identified at 'Shetland'.  Some of the samples are on display at the museum, in an exhibition Authenticity in 'Shetland' Lace Knitting, and the accompanying information gives details of the books that were the pattern sources - and where to find them online, really useful.  Carol's talk was fascinating, tracing the history of Shetland lace patterns -  she said that a version of print o' the wave, for instance, which is one of my favourite patterns, appeared in a book by Frances Lambert in 1845.  

From The Knitter's Casket, Mrs Hope

She made a lot of interesting points, for instance that the 'Shetland shawl' patterns given in 19th century books were generally much simpler than the shawls made by Shetland knitters. This is borne out by Mrs Hope's The Knitter's Casket, published in the 1840s.  She gives instructions for making 'Shetland shawls and handkerchiefs' and gives receipts for patterns like the one illustrated, to be knitted in white Shetland wool for the centre of the shawl, and 'a shaded border knit in feather pattern' - a very basic design.    

Another highlight of the day for me was Roslyn Chapman's talk 'Shetland or Real Shetland', on the production of 'Shetland lace' in England.   The popularity of Shetland lace shawls on the 1840s led to a new 'Shetland lace' industry in Nottinghamshire - machine-knitted.  I had no idea there was such a thing.  She said that there is much use in ads of terms like 'real' and 'original' as opposed to 'imitation' - though often it's hard to know whether articles are 'real' because they are Shetland-made or hand-knitted, or both. Roslyn finished with an example which offered 'real imitation'  and asked what we thought it might mean. (No idea!)

I did a bit of hunting around and found 'real imitation Shetland shawls' myself  - I'm not sure if this is the ad that Roslyn presented or another example. It's from the Glasgow Herald in 1847:    
THE very extensive alterations and improvements on ANDERSON'S WAREHOUSES being now completed, the Public are respectfully informed that they are to be re-opened on Monday, on a scale of magnificence hitherto unequalled.  An immense quantity of Goods, slightly damaged, have been secured at Prices so Low as to enable the Proprietor to offer Bargains that must astonish every Purchaser.  Arrangements are now so complete that an immense number of Customers can be accommodated without the slightest annoyance. The following will give some faint idea of the Bargains to be offered:- 

A pair of Gentlemen's Lisle Gloves for 1d. 

Ladies' fine Thread Netted Caps for 1½d.
Boy's fine Linnen Collars at 2½d.
Real French Cap Ribbons at ½d. and 1d. a yard.
Broad French Satin Ribbon. at 1¾d. a yard, worth 4d.
Real Imitation Shetland Shawls at 1s. 2½d., regular price, 3s. 6d.
(Good use of superlatives there, though I think the writer should be marked down for over-use of 'immense')   'Real French Cap Ribbons' suggests that they were genuinely French.  So what were 'real imitation Shetland shawls'?  It could be that they were 'real' because the patterns were those used by Shetland knitters, but imitation because they weren't Shetland-made.  Or it could mean something else...

There were four more talks in the afternoon, followed by a discussion.  I did get my painting done in between listening, when there was a lunch break and then a coffee/cake break, and after the workshop had finished, though the light wasn't very good by the time I'd done.

It was such a wonderfully generous idea to open the workshop to anyone, via the live broadcast - remote listeners could contribute to the discussion, too, by Twitter or email.  I could have listened to it all on YouTube in a few days' time - it will be available via the Shetland Museum website later in the week.  But listening to a live broadcast feels different, I think - I might catch up with the beginning, that I missed, and I might listen to some of the talks again, but I'm glad I was part of yesterday's event as it happened.


  1. What strange wording! It's a shame the adverts didn't have pictures, which might give more of a clue.

    1. Presumably, readers at the time knew what it meant, so they didn't need a picture. But the advertisers might have had a little more concern for posterity....


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