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By Deborah LeggateNovember 2nd 2010

Shetland Amenity Trust and Jamieson & Smith are proud to launch the Shetland Fine Lace Project. The project is a culmination of nearly four years research, development and dedication from those involved to reaffirm and celebrate Shetland Fine Lace as a world class product.

Inspiration for the project came from India, when Jimmy Moncrieff, General Manager of The Trust was in Tamil Nadu in the aftermath of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. As a volunteer under the Shetland/Tamil Nadu exchange project, Mr Moncrieff met Uma Prajapati of the Upasana Design Studio. Uma had been engaged by a Danish charity to assist with the revival of hand woven silk in Varanasi in the North of India. The weaving skills of the Varanasi had become undervalued and overlooked under the pressure of changing fashion and mass produced silk from China. The plight of these weavers was comparable to the dwindling art of Fine Lace knitting in Shetland where numbers of knitters are reducing and those who continue the craft are rarely paid a living wage for their goods.

Varanasi hand woven silk was once favoured by royalty and the very rich, similar to Shetland Fine Lace which was a favourite of royalty in the 19th century.

On returning to Shetland Mr Moncrieff met with Oliver Henry of Jamieson & Smith (Shetland Wool Brokers) Ltd who, by coincidence, had been developing 100% pure Shetland worsted yarn in natural, un-dyed colours. The new yarn was being carded and machine spun in a "worsted" rather than a "woollen" process. In the "worsted" process, the fleece is combed so that individual fibres run parallel with each other, rather than criss-crossed as with the "woollen" process. This results in a much softer, stronger and finer end product. Jimmy Moncrieff asked Oliver to produce a one-ply version of this yarn akin to the tradition hand spun yarn used for Fine Lace knitting. After experimenting with various weights of yarn, Jamieson & Smith and their parent company, Curtis Wools Direct, managed to produce a one-ply worsted 100% Shetland yarn.

Shetland Amenity Trust then embarked on a pilot project to test this new yarn with Shetland Fine Lace knitters. The Project involved members of the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers and other local lace knitters producing sample Fine Lace scarves with the new Shetland Supreme one-ply lace weight yarn. The feedback was very positive, with knitters declaring their delight at how close the yarn resembled the fine texture and quality of traditional hand spun yarn.

The scarves produced as part of this pilot project have been included in the Shetland Museum and Archives textile collection as a record of the project and a testament to the skill and tradition that is Fine Lace knitting.

Shetland Fine Lace Project knitters receive a respectable wage for the number of hours put into creating each individual piece. A significant length of time is spent on each scarf and until now, knitters received a very low return on their time. The Project aims to ensure that the quality and authenticity of these scarves is recognised around the world. Hopefully there will be a renewed interest in learning Fine Lace knitting and the heritage will live and thrive into the future.
The Shetland Fine Lace Project is officially launched today with hand knitted Fine Lace scarves available for sale. These heirloom items are presented in bespoke designed boxes with a DVD telling the story of Shetland Fine Lace to the buyer. Every hand knitted unique scarf comes with a certificate signed by the knitter and explaining the patterns and motifs included in the item.

In addition to the Fine Lace scarves, a range of quality products has been launched to promote Fine Lace. Book marks, gift tags and wrap, notebooks and cards have been produced with laser cut lace designs and images from Shetland Archives. These are now on sale on the Shetland Museum and Archives gift shop.

Read more about Shetland Lace.