Our Creative Community

Shetland’s many artists and craftspeople draw their inspiration partly from centuries of tradition and partly from the islands’ rich environment. However, their work is also constantly evolving as they share ideas and absorb new influences.

The landscape and the clear, northern light of Shetland have inspired hundreds of artists, from the 19th century illustrator John T Reid - whose 1869 volume, ‘Art Rambles in Shetland’ is still in print – to some of the Scottish Colourists in the early 20th century. Those working in the visual arts today embrace a wide range of styles and techniques, from remarkable seascapes by Ruth Brownlee to the abstracts of Paul Bloomer. There is sculpture and photography, too. For a much fuller impression of the variety and depth of talent in the islands, an excellent starting point is the website run by a group of artists known as Veer North.

Local art galleries:

  • Bonhoga Gallery at the converted Weisdale Mill
  • Burravoe Haa' and the Shetland Gallery in Yell
  • Lerwick's commercial gallery, Vaila Fine Art
  • Rotating exhibitions at Da Gadderie in the Shetland Museum, also in Lerwick.
Shetland appeals strongly to people working with paint, words, music or in any other medium. It’s an increasingly popular place for artists to live and many practise in the islands. For the visitor, it’s not hard to track down excellent work.

Writers and poets also find Shetland stimulating. Sir Walter Scott set ‘The Pirate’ in Shetland and Robert Louis Stevenson, after visiting Unst in 1869, is believed to have based his treasure island roughly on its outline. The noted Scottish poet, Hugh MacDiarmid, composed much of his best work when living on the island of Whalsay, in what is now known as The Grieve House, one of the Camping Böds. Much more recently, the noted crime author, Ann Cleeves, has set several novels featuring detective Jimmy Perez in Shetland. These have been adapted for BBC television, in series shot mostly on location in the islands. Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus has also passed through. Jen Hadfield, winner of the 2008 T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry, lives in Shetland.

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Music is a major feature of Shetland life. The fiddle tradition is strong and many young people learn the instrument. It’s naturally part of the line-up in many local bands and Aly Bain’s exquisite playing has become world-famous. However, Shetland has produced many other renowned musicians. ‘Peerie’ Willie Johnson (1920-2007: ‘peerie’ means small), who specialised in folk and jazz guitar accompaniment, was hugely influential; leading British guitarist, Martin Taylor said that ‘every atom in his body was music’ on a worldwide scale.

All kinds of music are played in the islands and feature in the festival calendar. Major events include the Shetland Folk Festival, Shetland JAWS (jazz and world sounds), the Blues Festival, Fiddle Frenzy, the Shetland Guitar Festival and the Accordion and Fiddle Festival. Musicians from farther afield visit the islands and Shetland musicians such as fiddler Aly Bain, Fiddler’s Bid and London-based classical pianist Neil Georgeson perform all over the world.

Creative Crafts

Most people associate Shetland with knitwear and the islands’ heritage is both unique and greatly valued. To find Shetland knitwear that was actually made in Shetland, or from wool grown in Shetland, you usually need to contact a supplier in Shetland, track down specialist shops or websites or, best of all, visit Shetland and see it for yourself.

Shetland Arts and Crafts Association can assist with supplier information and contact details. Their Craft Trail will lead you to producers throughout Shetland and it’s often possible to visit their studios. You can download the Craft Trail leaflet.

Stockists and factory shops can be found throughout the islands. In the capital, Lerwick, boutiques, gift shops and galleries offer hours of pleasant browsing through high quality, exclusive art and craft work, making for a very relaxing excursion. Most of these shops are conveniently clustered in the heart of the old town, along Commercial Street and the Esplanade, but there is also an outlet at the Shetland Museum and Archives and a wool shop on the Old North Road, a little farther from the centre.

There’s a huge range of other craft work to choose from.

  • Some Shetland knitwear goes to make delightfully huggable bears.
  • Not surprisingly, fiddles are made in Shetland, some of them examples of very advanced technology.
  • In Scalloway, a skilled craftsman produces beautiful bespoke furniture.
  • Several makers craft intricate jewellery.
  • Others work in ceramics, pottery, glass, basketwork, felt and leather.
  • Bookbinding is another skill on offer.
  • Shetland also has its own soap-makers offering very appealing ranges that have found buyers well beyond the islands.
  • Craft skills are apparent, too, in the production of many kinds of confectionery including chocolates, fudge and tablet, not to mention beer.

Shetland Wool

Shetland wool is a world-class natural fibre. Its reputation relies on the islands' native expertise, from the crofters who grow it to the talented Shetland women who design and create with it. The legacy of the isles’ early wool industry has gifted contemporary Shetland with an international reputation for excellence in knitting and textiles.

Wool played a pivotal role in Shetland’s modern history. There are few places in the world where wool has been continuously grown, processed, knitted and sold, for centuries. There are few locations where every stage of production - from sheep right to through to finished sweater - is still locally evident. And certainly, there is nowhere to beat Shetland in terms of its sheer wealth of expertise, from internationally-renowned wool experts like Oliver Henry to Hazel Tindall, the world's fastest knitter. Shetland Wool Week highlights the fibre's bright future alongside its unique heritage and it’s truly a time for celebration.

What next?

Shetland Wool Week

Wool Week features an extensive range of exhibitions, classes and events. They cover many different aspects of wool craft, including weaving, spinning, dyeing, Fair Isle and lace knitting, plus traditional gansey styles.

Exciting venues are a feature of Wool Week. Classes have been held on a traditional restored Tall Ship and in the learning room at the restored Sumburgh Head lighthouse. Such environments stimulate textile composition through an appreciation of maritime or natural heritage, or simply exposure to the stunning views that the Sumburgh site provides.

Events take place from the southernmost tip of Shetland at Sumburgh right up to the northernmost island of Unst, famous for its beautiful lacework, with many locations in between.

Have a look at the festival’s dedicated website.

Shetland Wool Week is a world-renowned celebration of Britain’s most northerly native sheep, the Shetland textile industry and the rural farming community on these islands. It takes place annually.

Visit or buy

Visit or buy knitwear, yarns, books or other locally-made textiles:

CompanyAddressContact
Aa' FiredupCommercial Street, Lerwick+44 (0)1595 695355
Anderson & Company60-62 Commercial Street, Lerwick+44 (0)1595 693714
Bayanne HouseSellafirth, Yell+44 (0)1957 744219
Bonhoga Gallery, Weisdale Mill+44 (0)1595 745750
Fair Isle CooperativeFair Isle
George Waterston Memorial CentreFair Isle+44 (0)1595 760244
George Waterston Memorial Centre & MuseumAuld Skoll, Utra, Fair Isle ZE2 9JU+44 (0)1595 760244
GlobalYell TextilesSellafirth Business Park, Yell ZE2 9DG+44 (0)1957 744355
Hoswick Visitor CentreHoswick Visitor Centre, Hoswick, Sandwick+44 (0)1950 431406
Jamieson and Smith Shetland Woolbrokers90 North Road, Lerwick+44 (0)1595 693579
Jamieson's of Shetland93-95 Commercial Street, Lerwick+44 (0)1595 693114
Ninian80 Commercial Street, Lerwick+44 (0)1595 696655
Shetland CollectionOrcadia, Virkie, Shetland ZE3 9JS+44 (0)1950 460340
Shetland DesignerSwarthoull, Cunningsburgh ZE2 9HB+44 (0)1950 477257
Shetland JewellerySoundside, Weisdale ZE2 9LQ+44 (0)1595 830275
Shetland Museum and ArchivesHay's Dock, Lerwick+44 (0)1595 695057
Shetland Textile MuseumBöd of Gremista, Lerwick+44 (0)1595 694386
Shetland Times Bookshop71-79 Commercial Street, Lerwick+44 (0)1595 695531
The Shetland Art Company135-137 Commercial Street, Lerwick+44 (0)1595 694324
The Shetland GallerySellafirth, Yell+44 (0)1957 744259
Unst Heritage CentreHaroldswick, Unst+44 (0)1957 711528
Victoria Gibson KnitwearPeerie Shop, Esplanade, Lerwick+44 (0)1595 692816
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