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By Adam CivicoMay 11th 2022

Fair Isle knitwear designer Mati Ventrillon celebrates the luxurious quality of Shetland wool, craftwork, and produce at a high end hotel for London Craft Week …

The sights, sounds and smells of Shetland took centre stage in a five-star London hotel as part of an exhibition celebrating the islands’ community and skilled artisans.

Fair Isle designer Mati Ventrillon is behind the “Artisans” exhibition which is part of London Craft Week. As suggested by the name, the project seeks to demonstrate and celebrate the excellence of Shetland craftspeople and products.

Mati moved to Fair Isle in 2007 where, alongside running a croft, she has developed her own successful business designing and knitting bespoke garments from her studio in the isle. She says she has been massively supported by the Shetland community, something she is seeking to celebrate at the London Craft Week exhibition.

She took over a reception room at The Great Scotland Yard Hotel where invited guests have been treated to lamb from Mati’s own croft, expertly smoked by Shetland Food and Drink chairwoman Marian Armitage. Visitors also sampled Shetland Reel gin and witnessed some of the incredible craft skills of Shetlanders.

Other culinary delights included Uradale beef, named after the croft where the native breed cattle are farmed by Ronnie Eunson. Ronnie also sent sassermaet – a spiced beef mince much loved by many Shetlanders – to London for the event, along with yarn from his Shetland sheep.

Mati’s event also profiles several skilled craftspeople, including Eve Eunson who makes traditional Fair Isle chairs, Cecil Tait of Paparwark Furniture and Oliver Henry from Jamieson & Smith Wool Brokers.

Films produced by Promote Shetland were screened at the event, along with other films and photography, along with information about Shetland Wool Adventures.

One of Mati’s main hopes is that the ingenuity and creativity of Shetlanders will come to the fore. She said those chosen for the exhibition were expert craftspeople who had studied and been inspired by the islands’ heritage but had also innovated and developed their own techniques.

That ethos drives Mati’s work and she is developing a programme to work with trainee artisans helping them become skilled in traditional textiles and knitting.

It is hoped that UHI Shetland, which is now part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, will support two internships each year. That would see students develop creative ideas and designs, guided by Mati, and knit and finish garments to be packaged and delivered to future London Craft Week events – all inspired by the unique Fair Isle landscapes and community.

Mati’s ambition is to make the London showcase an annual event, that demonstrates the enduring quality of Shetland wool, craftwork and produce, and why it is ideal for the luxury market.

By involving interns, the designer hopes to pass on her knowledge and give the students the opportunity to learn more about the industry and make connections, seek inspiration from other craft week events, and understand how to market Shetland-produced goods to the high-end marketplace.

She described the Artisans project as “an internship programme and collaboration focusing on the dissemination of Shetland’s heritage and promotion of emerging talents in the pursuit of excellence”.

Originally from Venezuela, born to French parents, Mati had travelled widely but, she says nowhere made her feel as “at home” as Fair Isle.

She originally missed out on moving to the National Trust-owned island in the early 2000s (she and her partner were shortlisted for a property which went to someone else). But Mati stayed in touch with the trust and eventually a property at Fair Isle’s South Lighthouse became available, which she was delighted to accept.

There is something special about the nature in Shetland. It’s a place that is within me now.

Mati Ventrillon

“I just love the place,” she said. “Strangely, being such a foreigner and never having lived in a small community like that, I just felt at home.

“I think because of the nature – a thing that is close to my heart – I couldn’t live anywhere else. There is something special about the nature in Shetland. It’s a place that is within me now.”

She also feels incredibly well accepted by the community both in Fair Isle and across Shetland, from other makers, Shetland Arts and Crafts Association and Shetland Islands Council which has supported Mati’s enterprise.

“It has been really non-stop so why wouldn’t I love Shetland so much?”

Discover more about Shetland's many expert makers and craftspeople.