Sunday, 8 December 2013

Cataloguing memories

A few weeks back I blogged about my wool-heavy wardrobe as I dug out some old favourites for the winter. While I was photographing and writing about my jumpers I started to realise that every one has a little story, and there were some lovely thoughts on special pieces of knitwear in the comments thread. This morning I decided to start cataloguing some of my scarves (and a couple of hats) and the memories I associate with them. Here goes:

A greyscale cockleshell scarf gifted to me by my oldest friend, Leah, for my birthday earlier this year. She chose the colours and her Granny Whalsay knitted it up. 

Black and white 1 ply cockleshell scarves. Jordan (my husband-to-be) picked up the white one recently during a week in Shetland. The black one was knitted for me by my friend Kelly to say thank you for making her wedding dress. I love the idea that as I sat at a sewing machine making tiny pleats in silk chiffon, she was creating delicate stitches in black yarn.

Blues and beiges and cockleshells. This is without doubt my most treasured possession. It was one of the last things my Great Granny knitted. She was born in 1900 and knitted this scarf in 2000, or maybe 2001. It reminds me of listening to her stories. I made her tell me over and over again about the time she had to jump ship between Shetland and Aberdeen after the boat she was on was hit by a torpedo during World War I, and about the big houses she worked in on the Scottish mainland when she was a teenager.

This tiny short scarf (it's meant to just tuck in to your coat collar) is embedded not just with my own memories of Granny Moar, but with stories about the daily lives of folk in Shetland over the past hundred-or-so years. For example, her never-idle fingers as a centenarian were the product of a lifetime spent knitting to supplement the family's crofting income. The second photograph is of the family croft, where my great aunt and uncle still live and work, from the top of the hill (you can just about see the house and building in the bottom left of the picture, at the end of the loch). There are a couple of chapters in my book, Shetland Textiles: 800 BC to the Present, on this aspect of daily life in Shetland: one by Lynn Abrams on gender and the household, and another by Brian Smith on the truck system used to barter knitwear for food and clothing.

Jamieson & Smith scarves. Both were knitted on super high-tech Shima machines at Shetland's Textile Facilitation Unit. I especially love the thicker, fawn coloured one because: a. it was a prototype for a range of scarves that I helped design with Eric who runs the unit and b. because it didn't leave my neck during a very cold week I spent in Paris last January with three friends I hadn't seen in ages - we met in the middle from Copenhagen, Clermont-Ferrand, Dublin and Lerwick. The scarf was new at that point and had a strong smell of wool and soap. Now and again I catch the faintest hint of that smell and I'm instantly reminded of the four of us giggling our way through the Latin Quarter with bellies full of hot chocolate and red wine. 

Auntie Deborah is probably the most creative person in my family. She's always working away on something lovely, usually to give to someone else. She knitted the strawberry scarf herself and gave it to me just because I liked the colour, and bought the other one from colour genius/knitwear designer Wilma Malcolmson of Shetland Designer for my Christmas a couple of years back. They're both knitted in the same 'new shell' design but changing the colours brings out the zig-zagging rows.

Bits and pieces from mum. She picked up the beret in the Yell shop last summer, knitted me the chunky number when I was at uni in Glasgow with yarn from a lovely shop in Lerwick called Fibres which has since closed down, and commissioned the cockleshell in jumperweight from Julie Irvine of Hentilagets so that I would stop wearing more delicate lace scarves on a day-to-day basis. 

Finally, I never leave the house (not even on a sunny day) without my hat. If it's not on my head it's in my hand or my bag. I lost the original, which was knitted for me by Outi Kater when we worked together at the Shetland Library, so this is the second generation. The original hat kicked off a knitting sensation after appearing on Kate's blog, and Outi had to swiftly provide a pattern for it online. I found the gloves in my parents' box of random hats and scarves and stole them because it's rare that there's a matching pair in there. They quickly became my old faithfuls. One of the thumbs urgently needs some darning attention, which is the perfect opportunity to spend some time with Tom of Holland's Visible Mending Programme.

All my favourites together along with a 'new shell' scarf I started knitting a couple of winters ago. It was swiftly abandoned because I fell out with my colour choice but I found it in a box of ends of yarn while I was looking for the right colour to mend my gloves. I think it must have been hiding in there since we left Shetland, which means it's moved homes with me three times so already has a story of its own. I'm thinking it might just be time to pick it up again. 

Time to share stories again. Let's hear all about your knitwear and memories...

S x


  1. This is a lovely post. The scarf that rarely leaves my neck every winter is a feather and fan one knitted from a pattern that was in a small photocopied leaflet of patterns for scarves and shawls I got from Jamieson and Smith. I knitted it with left over wool from my sons' christening shawl.The eldest is now 23 and the scarf is not in good condition anymore but I don't want to part with it.
    There are so many memories woven into knitting, the fair isle gloves that I bought in Shetland which I was told were made in Whalsay, the socks, scarves, gloves knitted on train journeys, on the beach when the children were small, knitting while waiting outside schools and train stations, the list could go on and on.
    Thanks for this post,it is lovely to see some of your knitted things, the cockle shell scarves are beautiful, and I've enjoyed thinking about my own knitted memories.