Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Shetland: how will the skills be passed on?

Fair Isle Gloves by Susan Crawford: Copyright Susan Crawford

Shetland's fourteen school knitting teachers are having their funding cut and are being offered redundency, according to a recent Times newspaper article. There has been a great programme of teaching traditional knitting skills in primary schools on the Islands for the past 60 years and those in the craft community have warned that a decision by the council to save £130,000 would be a disaster for Shetland's culture and economy. There is a great worry about the passing on of these traditional skills of Shetland lace knitting and Fair Isle: that an entire generation of knitters will be lost.

The art of Shetland knitting is a very particular skill and the teaching, learning and passing on of these skills can be thought of as a form of intangible cultural heritage. I wonder if, in light of this that UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) may see fit to step in and safeguard Shetland knitting.

In 2006, they created something called the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. This was recognition that intangible heritage (traditional songs, stories and the passing on of skills etc) is of an equal level of importance to the World Heritage Sites (such as Stonehenge). The living heritage of knitting skills, which fall in their category of ‘traditional craftsmanship’, has been addressed by UNESCO in relation to the loom knitting traditions of Taquile in Peru and plans put in place for its safeguarding, but nothing of this kind has yet been nominated in Britain.

You might be thinking '...well we all knit don't we? We didn't need to be taught it at school.' But once this latest boom in knitting has passed, what if the techniques die out with those who knit traditional Shetland lace and Fair Isle? If those particular skills are lost, they will be difficult to recover. It is never the same to learn from a book when you could be taught from a real life person. The physical nuances and knowhow just are not the same.

What do you think?
Should knitting be saved in Shetlands schools?
Important stuff, this.


PS You can buy the pattern for Susan's Fair Isle Gloves, pictured above in the knitonthenet shop



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