Shetland lace knitting

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Shetland lace knitting

 

The making of very fine hand-knitted lace. Shetland fine lace is an extremely delicate knitted fabric made with soft Shetland wool spun into very fine yarn and knitted into intricate patterns. It is traditionally knitted by hand on wires using a knitting belt.

 

Status Critically endangered
Historic area of significance Unst, Shetland
Area currently practised Shetland
Origin in the UK
Current no. of professionals (main income) 0
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Estimated at 5-10

There is 1 professional maker that we know of, Sheila Fowlie, and some others that may take occasional commissions.

Current no. of trainees
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Estimated at 11-20.

These are people who have the skills but, of these, it is unlikely that they would consider doing it for money.

Current total no. of leisure makers
Not known, see ‘other information’
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

Shetland lace was the mainstay of the Shetland knitwear industry during the nineteenth century. Arthur Anderson, one of the founders of P&O Shipping Company, introduced Shetland shawls to Queen Victoria and from there it became fashionable for ladies to wear Shetland shawls and stockings. The knitters of Unst were renowned for their fine spun yarn and intricate lace items, a number of which can be seen at Unst Heritage Centre.

Lace knitting was not a full time occupation for many people and would have mostly been a secondary income for crofters and fishing families.

 

Techniques

Traditionally the unwashed wool from Shetland sheep (the finest being around the neck) was carded or combed and worsted spun for strength on a Shetland spinnie (small upright spinning wheel) into an extremely fine thread, which even though twined into two ply could produce a shawl fine enough to be pulled through a wedding ring.  In the twenty-first century a one ply commercial equivalent is available.

The complex every row patterns such as fern, cockle shell, eyelid, Madeira diamond, basket o’ flowers, puzzle and many others including distinct lace edges, are more suited to garter stitch items such as fine lace scarves, stoles and shawls, however can also be knitted into delicate tops.  Small and repeating alternate row lace patterns such as razor shell, old shell, horseshoe and print o’ the wave can also be knitted in stocking stitch for garments such as jumpers and cardigans, and then it is called openwork.

True Shetland lace is traditionally knitted on fine double pointed needles (wires) using a leather knitting belt. This would have allowed the craftspeople to knit faster and when they were walking around.

 

Local forms

There are many people knitting lace using the more contemporary techniques of circular needles, and referencing Shetland lace in their work. There are also other lace traditions in countries such as Estonia where very fine knitted lace is still made commercially.

However, the tradition of knitting on wires as it would have been traditionally done in Shetland, is becoming increasingly rare.

 

Sub-crafts

  • Spinning lace yarn

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • It is very difficult to make a viable income from knitting Shetland lace due to the huge amount of time and labour that goes into knitting each piece.
  • Shetland lace has become less popular as a garment although the people who own them do often consider them to be highly prized possessions and the pinnacle of a knitter’s skill.
  • The traditional methods of knitting on wires has been largely replaced with modern techniques such as using circular needles
  • Shetland cobweb lace yarn is only available from a limited number of suppliers

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

Individual craftspeople:

 

Other information

There are a high number of amateur makers all over the world who are lace knitting enthusiasts and they are often working at a highly skilled level. One facebook group has over 6000 members. However, there are very few people who knit commercially or professionally.

There are some knitters in Shetland that may take commissions but most will knit shawls as family heirlooms and as gifts.

 

References

 

Wooden fishing net making

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Wooden fishing net making

 

The construction of bentwood steamed ash or oak fishing nets and poles. See also net making.

 

Status Critically endangered
Historic area of significance UK
Area currently practised UK
Origin in the UK 1600s
Current no. of professionals (main income) 1
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
0
Current no. of trainees 0
Current total no. serious amateur makers
1-5
Current total no. of leisure makers
1-5
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

Up until early 1900’s most nets were steamed ash. These were replaced by metalwork and, as modern materials came available, the wooden frames almost vanished entirely. Now landing nets are made from carbon fibre, alloy etc.

There are some in the traditional angling community who try to keep traditionally made wood or bamboo rods, nets and other fishing equipment from being lost. Steamed wooden frames are almost impossible to source without extensive research to find a craftsperson who knows how to make one.

 

Techniques

  • Wood selection
  • Hand crafting the wood into suitable sizes and shapes for steaming
  • Fitting the steamed wood onto a former to retain its oval shape. Once dried and set to shape, sand and polish using oils or varnishes
  • Fitting said wooden frame to already handmade brass or alloy fittings
  • Fitting the net to the frame

 

Local forms

Several variations of these nets are made. The nets for coarse anglers are usually pear shaped, and quite large. Game anglers prefer smaller frames sometimes with a more pronounced flat end, and integral wooden handle. Coarse anglers have threaded metal fittings for attaching long pole and is made by the same craftsmen who make the nets.

 

Sub-crafts

  • Construction of knotless mesh nets (as is required today by U.K Environment Agency regulations) which is now usually done in the far-east and mass produced. Handmade knotless mesh netting is virtually unobtainable except from far eastern imports.

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Lack of training
  • Lack of demand
  • Niche market place
  • Lack of advertising
  • Lack of demand for craftsman made articles.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

Individual craftspeople:

 

Other information

 

 

References

Kilt making

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Kilt making

 

Tailoring yards of woollen cloth, by hand, into a perfectly fitting garment. Traditional kiltmaking is done entirely by hand.

 

Status Endangered
Historic area of significance Scotland
Area currently practised Scotland
Origin in the UK A long multi use version of the kilt has been worn by men in the Scottish Highlands for centuries but the knee length kilt we know today became popular in the early 18th Century.
Current no. of professionals (main income) 11-20
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
20-30
Current no. of trainees 15-25
Current total no. serious amateur makers
11-20
Current total no. of leisure makers
30-40
Minimum no. of craftspeople required 60+

 

History

The kilt started off as a blanket-like garment that was folded at the back, held at the waist with a belt with the remainder of the cloth falling back or wrapped around the shoulders/ over the head for protection. When cold it could be used as a blanket. Tartan was originally regional and recognisable by the colours derived from local plants that were used to dye it with.

The wearing of Highland dress was banned by the British Government (as well as the wearing of arms and the speaking of Gaelic) with the Dress act of 1746 in an attempt to bring the Scottish clans under control after the Jacobite Risings. However it was during this 37 years of forbidden kilt wearing that the military (who could still wear it) developed the garment into a more fitting and tailored garment. The Victorians continued to develop tartan and kilts to eventually becoming the eight yard hand tailored garment we know today.

Kilts are associated with Scottish Highland dancing, with Scottish pipe bands, with the military and is the traditional dress for weddings and other celebrations. The kilt is an icon of Scottish culture and heritage and it is still an important symbol of family and being a Scot.

In Scotland many men get a kilt for their 21st birthday, their graduation, their wedding, worn at Hogmanay, and at important occasions throughout their lives. They are made for life.

Many Americans and Europeans, Australians, New Zealanders, Scandinavians and sometimes Africans with Scottish ancestry will make a point of purchasing a kilt at some point in their lives. They are not associated with any particular social class or religion; it’s an inclusive garment with tartans to reflect a person’s family name, beliefs, hometown, etc.

 

Techniques

  • Measuring of the customer, calculating the bespoke pleat width, calculating the front and back apron size and shape
  • Pleating the cloth/tartan either to the stripe or sett
  • Creating a pleat design, either as knife, box, military roll or Kinguissie form
  • Transferring the measurements to the cloth
  • Hand sewing pleats using invisible stitching
  • Hand sewing a fringe on the front apron
  • Cutting the pleats to reduce bulk
  • Reinforcing the pleats with canvas
  • Calculating the placement of the buckles and straps
  • Sewing belt/sporran loops and making chapes (fabric pieces that hold the buckle onto the cloth)
  • Lining part of the inside with cotton.

A variety of hand sewing stitches are used for the different processes.

 

Local forms

Differences in kilts are mostly in the tartan which is clan related; each tartan differs and therefore needs to be pleated differently. There are ways that groups like their kilt to be set up, for example pipers/ military will have it pleated to the stripe.

All cloth is wool but comes in different weights, lightweight for women’s kilted skirts only, medium weight suitable for everyone and heavy weight mostly used by pipers and the military but not exclusively. Kilts from alternative materials have gained some popularity such as wool tweed or even alternative fibres such as cotton.

 

Sub-crafts

  • Sporran making
  • Knitting kilt hose (socks)
  • Highlandwear – e.g. kilt pins sighan dubhs, ghillie brogues, argyll and bonnie Prince Charlie jackets, the smock shirt etc
  • Tartan weaving

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Lack of recognition for makers – most kilts are bought from kilt retailers, not directly from kilt makers. The skilled craftspeople work behind the scenes, are paid on a piece rate, and are often underpaid for the work that they do. The kiltmaker as a craftsperson is largely invisible. It is, therefore, difficult for makers to make a sustainable income and the pool of ‘timeserved’ skilled kiltmakers is declining.

  • Market issues – the demand for kilts is high and there are still plenty of people around the world who are prepared to invest in a hand tailored kilt as a one-off ‘lifetime’ purchase. However, they are unlikely to buy directly from a maker.

  • Market issues – a move towards cheaper machine made kilts and imported kilts has led to a rapid decline in skilled kiltmakers.

  • Threat to skills – whilst there are still a number of traditional kiltmakers still practising in Scotland, the standard of skills in making a made to measure bespoke hand stitched kilt could be under threat.

  • Training issues – many traditional kiltmakers are self-employed and can’t afford to train apprentices. In addition to this, traditionally kiltmaking was a secretive craft with makers often unwilling to pass on or share skills. This attitude is changing but it has left a legacy in that young people are unaware of the craft or don’t know how to access training.

  • Training issues – there are few places to train and very few apprenticeships available. However, there are some initiatives that have been set up by makers to teach the hand skills such as the Kiltmakery, the Keith Kilt and Textile Centre, and the Edinburgh Kilt Academy. Most people who want to learn kiltmaking want to do it as a hobby or for friends and family, it can be a challenge to find people who want to make a career out of kiltmaking.

  • Ageing workforce – Many kiltmakers are close to retirement age, although there are some new young career kiltmakers coming through.

  • COVID-19 – this has had a detrimental effect on the kiltmaking industry. The number of kilts being sold has dropped dramatically as events like weddings and parties have been cancelled or postponed. The mills were also forced to stop weaving for months meaning there is some shortages of some tartans, as well as shortages of items from the wider highlandwear industry.

  • Ageing kiltmakers retiring due to COVID-19 – Some experienced makers have given up during the pandemic and will not return to kiltmaking, which has hastened the decline in numbers of craftspeople.

 

Support organisations

There are some organisations that are delivering training in kilt making:

 

Craftspeople currently known

Businesses employing two or more makers:

 

Other information

Kiltmaking is a craft that is uniquely linked to a nation’s identity and therefore evokes a lot of emotion. It produces a product that is meant to last a lifetime and is to be passed down generations and a lot of the work kiltmakers do are repairs and resizing of kilts. Repairing, observing and learning from the work of kiltmakers of the past is one of the most exciting parts of the work. Many leave marks, dates and names under the lining to be discovered.

 

References

 

Skeined willow working

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Skeined willow working

 

The making of fine, woven baskets, chair seats, tea pot handles etc. from skeined (split) willow.

 

Status Endangered
Historic area of significance One of our traditional crafts, going back here for several centuries but coming from Europe, probably Germany, originally.
Area currently practised UK
Origin in the UK 18th Century
Current no. of professionals (main income) 0. Those who use skeins do so only occasionally to customers demand.
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
11-20. See ‘Other information’.
Current no. of trainees 1
Current total no. serious amateur makers
3
Current total no. of leisure makers
5-6
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

Skeined willow baskets – Skeined work is an ancient technique started probably in Germany in the 15th century. It was highly sought after and very expensive. During the 18th and 19th centuries most of the larger workshops in the major cities, would have one basketmaker who was a specialist in making skeins and using them but it was probably not his full-time work. Many teapot and coffee handles for the London silversmiths were covered with skeins as protection against the heat, a practice likely in other major cities too, especially those with assay offices. Fine 19th century picnic baskets often have beautiful detail using skeins, either on handles or as decorative edgings. G. W Scott and sons, in London’s Charing Cross Road had such a specialist in the early 20th century.

Few skeined baskets are made here now except to very special commission as the techniques are exacting and very slow, with much time spent on preparing the material.

Skeined willow seating – Skeined seating is carried out by a few people when suitable chairs arrive in their workshops.

 

Techniques

Skeined baskets – Many of the techniques are the same as those for stake and strand: pairing, waling, randing, but the appearance alters because the material is flat. It has to be turned as it is woven so the ‘good’ aside always shows. Construction is different in that skein stitches are used to hold parts together, and attach stakes to the base. Borders often involve a round willow rim, cut to fit exactly and bound on with skeins. Decorative plaits and other details, binding with leaders and then listing, are often applied. On square work sheets of skeined weaving are formed and are cut to size if it is not exact, before stakes are bound on.

Skeined seating – There are two main types of skeined seating; close skeining and open skein. Some craftspeople use a professional electric skeining machine from former East Germany. Two professional skeined seaters have machines from Hungary.

 

Local forms

There is not sufficient skeined work basketry left in this country to establish the presence of local forms. One maker is using skeins in basket siding, having been taught a Spanish regional basket, two others have used German and French traditional designs, seating is mostly on chairs from High Wycombe.

 

Sub-crafts

  • Decorative finishes on some very fine baskets, such as silver handles
  • Basket siding weaves – used occasionally on side weaving of particular baskets

Chair seats on specially designed delicate chairs, mostly from the 1860s to 80s, are the main use in the UK today.

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • It takes a long time to make a finished piece with skeins thus making it all very expensive. Skeining a small bedroom chair seat would need about 200 skeins, which took about five or six hours to make using the three specialist hand tools. These are the cleave, the shave and the upright and no one is now making good shaves and uprights that are good enough and easily available. They can be obtained from Europe with the right contacts but are expensive. Old tools can be found occasionally and can be a delight to use once cleaned and reset.
  • Skeining for both basketry and seating has probably always been quite a niche occupation and only used for high-end products.

 

Support organisations

  • Basketmakers’ Association
  • Museum of English Rural Life

 

Craftspeople currently known

Individual craftspeople:

  • Mary Butcher – seating and baskets but more or less retired
  • Bunty Ball – seating and panels
  • Sally Goymer – French basketry
  • Rachel South – professional seating
  • Anita Vocik – professional seating
  • Katharine Woodward – a professional basketmaker using skeins for occasional seating and basket siding
  • Monica Cass – professional seating
  • Melissa Shinnie – chair seating trainee

 

Other information

Status: The Basketmakers’ Association list around 30 members who offer willow seating but there is no differentiation between those working in skein or whole willow seating. It is likely that many of these only work very occasionally in willow skein as the chairs are rare and only occasionally come in for restoration.

Skeined willow basketry is critically endangered with very few skilled makers. There are more people offering seating but this is still a niche craft skill.

Examples of skein work: Many fine examples can be seen in the Museum in Michelau, Bavaria, Germany. This is near the German School of Basketmaking where they have taught a full year of skeined work, a quarter of the course, to full-time basketry students for many years but no longer. The finest skeined work professionals in Europe have completed this course. Esmé Hofman, of the Netherlands and a former student of Herr Pop at the German school, is one of the finest designers and makers in the world using skeins. Her work can be seen in high-end designer fashion houses, art galleries and exhibitions across Europe.

In France, Musée de La Thiérache, Vervins, may have a collection of skeined work baskets. From the 1880s until well into the 20th century, large factories employed many making skeined baskets in variety, for sale all over Europe. They were available in the UK through the large catalogues of The Army and Navy Stores, Harrods and elsewhere. This was large-scale production, much of it very fine work but some designed to be cheaper, with wider skeins and less fine weaving. This was probably supplanted by exports from China, often work at the less skilled end of production, pieces for a mass market. They may have had a specialist fine market in China but that is not confirmed.

There is a fine tradition of skeined work in Latvia now, created in the 1970s by groups of basketmakers working together and teaching very high levels of skill to produce fine baskets with lids and intricate patterns and decoration, the highest quality work and commanding high prices. These groups also make small, fine frame baskets woven with skeins. All these are baskets of the highest quality.

 

References

  • Dushesne, R, Ferrand, H, and Thomas, J, (1982 and other editions) La Vannerie l’Osier
  • Wright, Dorothy, (1959 and subsequent editions) The Complete Book of Baskets and Basketry (David & Charles)
  • Michelau Museum catalogue, available from the Museum
  • Goymer, Sally, and Gabriel, Sue, The Complete Book of Basketry Techniques (David & Charles)
  • Johnson, Kay, Elton Barratt, Olivia, and Butcher, Mary, Chairseating Book. Techniques in Cane, Rush, Willow and Cords

 

Silver spinning

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Silver spinning

 

The process of shaping flat silver into a hollow item using a lathe to spin the sheet whilst shaping it over a wooden or nylon former. See also metal spinning and silversmithing.

 

Status Critically endangered
Historic area of significance Sheffield, Birmingham
Area currently practised Sheffield, Surrey, Kent, Birmingham
Origin in the UK
Current no. of professionals (main income) 5
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
6
Current no. of trainees 1
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

Spinning produces three-dimensional hollow-ware items such as trophies, vessels and cups. Items can be made to varying scales, in quantity, in a uniform and quick way. Spinners also produce and maintain the associated tools, machinery, formers and chucks used to produce spun vessels.

In the 1950s there were hundreds of spinners, but the trade side of the industry has contracted significantly. Now very few large companies are left; most are ‘self-employed men in sheds’.

 

Techniques

It takes practice and years of experience to learn to spin metal. Spinners understand how different metals behave and become skilled at looking at designs and understanding how best to achieve the required form.

  • Turning
  • Drafting

 

Local forms

 

 

Sub-crafts

  • Silver plating – over recent years many platers have closed and in Sheffield and there is only one known silver plater left.

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Skills issues: There is a lack of training. There is also an expense of raw materials in training and lack of large orders to create repetition for trainees.
  • Market issues: The loss of large trade companies in centres such as Sheffield / Birmingham, combined with cheap imports from Far East are perceived as the biggest issues facing the craft.

 

Support organisations

Craftspeople currently known

Individual craftspeople:

  • Stefan Coe – Surrey
  • David Allison – Sheffield
  • Warren Martin – Sheffield (made redundant during lockdown) now self-employed part time.
  • Stuart Ray – Kent
  • Carl Longshaw – Birmingham
  • Paul Tolland, LJ Millington – Birmingham

Part-time craftspeople:

  • Steve Millington – Birmingham, LJ Millington
  • Graham Oldfield
  • Steve Gifford – Sheffield, Camelot
  • Sam Rutherford – Sheffield, Perry & Glossop
  • Ian Nevin – Sheffield, British Silverware
  • Graham Nye & Son – Walsall, Swatkins
  • Peter Lunn

 

Other information

 

 

References

 

Sporran making

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Sporran making

 

The making of sporrans from a range of materials including leather, fur, metal and horsehair.

This craft uses products derived from animals – please read our ethical sourcing statement.

 

Status Critically endangered
Historic area of significance Scotland
Area currently practised Scotland
Origin in the UK 12th Century
Current no. of professionals (main income) 6-10
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
unknown
Current no. of trainees 0
Current total no. serious amateur makers
11-20
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

The sporran (gaelic for purse) originated as a leather bag worn around the waist which served as a bag/pocket to carry oats. These days it is used for cash/keys/card and anything else you’d usually keep in your pocket.

Sporrans are worn at weddings and significant celebrations, St Andrews Day and Hogmanay. They are closely associated with Highland culture and Gaelic culture.

Military sporrans are traditionally made from goat hair and horse hair. They are still widely used in pipe bands and for ceremonial purposes in the UK and Canadian military.

 

Techniques

Sporran making shares a number of skills with other crafts disciplines such as leather working. However, the combination of skills and the use of materials such as horsehair make sporran making a highly skilled craft.

 

Local forms

There are three main types of sporran, although they now come in a wide variety of designs:

  • Day sporrans – leather pouches with simple adornments, they often have three or more tassels and tooled designs.
  • Dress sporrans – larger than day sporrans and often highly ornate with silver, pewter or chrome cantles and fur or hair tassels.
  • Horsehair sporrans – worn as part of regimental attire for the pipers or the drummers. A traditional horsehair pouch extends just below the belt to just below the hem of the kilt.

 

Sub-crafts

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Training issues: Lack of training opportunities
  • Raw materials: Difficulty accessing materials on a small scale in Scotland
  • Skills issues: The basic skills of sporran making, such as leather working, are easily accessible but the higher level skills of working with horsehair, skins and mixed materials are specialist and can only be learnt on the job with a skilled sporran maker.
  • Competition from overseas markets: Many sporrans are now made more cheaply overseas for the home and tourist markets leading to a decline in the market for Scottish made sporrans. In 2021 the Government contract for making sporrans for the Scottish Regiments was awarded to a company who will source sporrans made overseas.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

Individual craftspeople:

  • Jennifer Cantwell
  • Kate McPherson
  • Margaret Morrison Ltd
  • Janet Eagleton
  • Herd of Sporrans
  • William Scott
  • McRostie
  • Mackenzie Leather
  • Ross Ormerod
  • Lamont Sporrans

 

Other information

 

 

References

Sporran maker given marching orders, Mike Wade, The Times, June 05 2021