Ive never organised an exhibition before so the past couple of months have been a crash course in how to do so.. Obviously I love textiles in many shapes and forms so when I was given the opportunity to curate the 2014 exhibition at the Shetland Textile Museum (of which I am a trustee) I had to do it. I showed a few weeks ago some of the items I looked at at the ‘big’ museums archives which really helped to confirm the things I’d been looking at were on the right track…

a jumper from the Shetland Museum and Archives collection

I also mentioned before that the main inspiration was the Oil Boom in Shetland in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It has been something that has benefited and impacted on life in Shetland. We benefited from the huge amount of money secured from the creation and development of Sullom Voe but it also changed the way of life here. As my Dad told me tonight he went from having £2 a week pocket money to £190 every week when he worked at the Toft camp. It really changed everything. Knitting in Shetland has a worldwide notoriety which is amazing if you think about the size and location of these Islands. The Oil changed the need for knitting but also opened up Shetland and its wares to the world.

photo credit: Douglas Young
photo credit: Douglas Young

I am very aware that I wasn’t alive when it was all going on but I have the experience of someone who was born and grew up in post-oil discovered Shetland and it all seemed very appropriate as we are currently going through another mini Oil Boom. I spent my childhood seeing Sullom Voe from the car on our way to Ollaberry where my Mam grew up. All the lights looked at night like a city and couldnt understand what it was and how it looked so busy? I had the luxury’s of fancy Leisure Centres (not that I frequent them often) and good roads. A local council that at some points threw money at problems. That time is over and the majority of the Oil money has run out, our newspaper is filled with reports of money saving cuts which although necessary all seem to feel that life in Shetland is going backwards rather than forwards. Although this all sounds rather doomy and gloomy.. it is how it is and it all helped me to think through how we (me and Cushla) wanted to exhibition to look.


One of the things that I think is the best thing about Shetland knitwear is how innocently amazing it is. I wanted to focus on everyday things that people wore. Now these are not boring or plain things because everyday knitwear in Shetland is not boring. But some of these things have probably not been in an exhibition before because they are everyday. I was not strict about the things being made in the Oil Boom but the items had to encircle the idea and theme of the time and have been worn in that era.




Of course yokes feature predominantly. What can I say? I have a problem. The Fair Isle yoke has huge variations, look in any Fair Isle pattern book and there will be pages of Norwegian stars to choose from. It enabled knitters to make a Fair Isle item without hand knitting the whole thing. As a general rule the bodies and sleeves are machine knitted using a v-bed or double bed machine and then the yoke is picked up and hand knitted. Of course that is all a lot easier said than done (I’m currently knitting one and I can confirm this) but it made a quicker and effective yet traditional Shetland item to sell.


I spent two hours tonight sewing those yokes onto that backdrop. That’s dedication!!



Of course Colour played a huge part in my choices, colours of the ground, and nature combined with more industrial and bright colours. I sourced vintage fabrics and wallpaper from the 1970s and 80s which we used as a backdrop in the cabinets.


I wouldn’t have been able to even know where to start without Cushlas’ help. She has no social media that I can link to to show you her, but just take my word for it. She’s amazing. I would wonder about seeing something.. up the stairs she would run and within 5 minutes we’d have another thing to add to the exhibition. The space available isn’t the largest so you have to be very clever with what you put in and how you lay it out. Im really pleased with how we came to the final layout. If you are able to visit it I would love to hear what you think.


The Textile Museum has a great shop filled with textiles made by Shetlanders and the other exhibition opening tomorrow is by 5 Contemporary Textiles students from the Shetland College (where I studied) which makes it one of the places you must visit.. if you are a visitor or a Shetlander.

Its been a busy few weeks but I’m so pleased and proud of my first curated exhibition (harhar)


24 thoughts on “oil/knitting

  1. Congratulations on the opening of your exhibit at the Shetland Textile Museum. The pictures on your blog are wonderful, and I hope I will have the chance to see the exhibit in person.

  2. Well done Ella. I look forward to seeing your exhibition in July when I will be on a tour in Shetland.

  3. Enjoyed the photographs very much – wish I could see the exhibition! Congratulations to you and Cushla :)

  4. You have done a great job of putting this show together, Ella! I only wish I was able to visit Shetland again this year so I could see it. Hopefully there will be some sort of pamphlet or brochure made up about it so those of us who won’t be there in person can experience it. Well done!

  5. Super. Like the above…WISH I could be there to see it! What really caught my eye was the sample of the greens and the brown on cream with
    a touch pale yellow going through! Good job for the exhibition.

  6. I wish I could see it. I love the photo were the jumper colours stand out against the black and white.

  7. Your exhibition looks so wonderful! And I know all too well how much work is involved, as I’m a exhibition content developer for the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa Canada. I’m trilled that I will get a chance to see your work this summer when I tour Shetland with Gudrun. Can’t wait!

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