Rambling around Shetland, 2

When I was in Shetland last October for Shetland Wool Week, there was so much going on that I didn't have much opportunity at the Shetland Museum and Archives to do more than notice where the textile collection was and wave "see you later" at it. This time I followed up on that promise.

Then and now, I did take a close look at the reproductions of the Gunnister Man's clothing. On this trip I was also able to get some of the back story on the recreation of the textiles from curator Carol Christiansen (here's a PDF about the project).


The only items in that case that have not yet been fully re-interpreted are the gloves on the figure's knee. Those are placeholders.

We talked about the detailed work and testing involved in finding fleeces that would behave in the ways necessary to replicate the effects of the original clothing, which took a lot of trial-and-error. The clothing in its finished form has even been "worn" appropriately.

After renewing and deepening my acquaintance with the Gunnister Man figure, I briefly reviewed all the exhibit cases, looking for textiles. I found quite a few incorporated into the stories about numerous non-textile topics told within the delightful museum—and look forward to another visit in which I'll be able to see even more of what it has to offer.

One thing I enjoy discovering is the tools that people in the past have used for wool preparation and spinning—for example, these combs (kems) from about 1750 to 1800.


I love spotting niddy-noddies as well, like this one from Lerwick, 1880 to 1920 (called a hesp tree).


And carders, these from Unst (the northernmost island in the Shetlands), from about 1900 to 1940.


Breathtaking laces and Fair Isle garments nestle in the cases and more can be discovered in the drawers and pull-out vertical displays. It's like exploring a treasure-trove.

Among the unusual pieces was this veil (1851):


One example (with incorporated magnifying glass) represents what may be the finest lace-knitting ever.

And while I was examining a particularly intricate and beautiful Fair Isle vest, a member of the museum staff came by and said, "My aunt made that." This sort of happening is part of what makes a visit to Shetland intriguing and multifaceted.

In addition to the textile collection at the Shetland Museum and archives, there is the Shetland Textile Museum, located in a structure called the Böd of Gremista.


This museum also packs a lot into a small space. It's different from the Shetland Museum in both its narrower focus and in placing a strong emphasis on the links between historic and contemporary textiles and workers.

One of the current displays involves mittens and gloves from a variety of northern European textile traditions. Perhaps most curious for me are the plain brown gloves in the center, which were made from horsehair. This led to a discussion of the feasibility of spinning the winter undercoats of Shetland ponies.


My interest in the origins of domesticated sheep, and of the history of the human/animal bond and interdependence, leads me to visit places like Jarlshof, a complex site with layered evidence of more than four thousand years of human habitation. Even the oldest archaeological remains indicate that sheep were present. But what kind they were is still, and may forever be, unknown.


The weather continued to vary. The day I spent exploring Jarlshof and nearby Sumburgh Head was the only really clear and bright day of the trip—and came at a fortunate time, because by then I needed to be outdoors, having spent a lot of time in the museum, archives, and library.

But there were special pleasures as well in the rainier days.



3 thoughts on “Rambling around Shetland, 2”

  1. What is the feasibility of spinning/knitting equine undercoat? To think all those years of brushing shedding horses and ponies and not even once considering spinning their short fur!

    I still have mane and tail hair in stash but it’s too harsh for gloves tho definitely spinnable. And I do love the dual-coated Shetland fleeces…

  2. Brill stuff, Deb! I look at your posts and see so many possibilities to spin, knit, and do “other stuff” as a fibre artist!

    I may be headed to Denver in the spring — we must get together if that opportunity happens!

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