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Joint venture to save Fair Isle knitting

A SHETLAND wool broker and an Edinburgh-based luxury e-commerce business are joining forces to offset the impact of the council’s decision to end knitting lessons in local schools.

Thistle & Broom managing director Teresa Fritschi said she was dismayed by Shetland Islands Council’s decision last week to discontinue knitting classes to save £130,000.

In collaboration with island wool brokers Jamieson & Smith, Thistle & Broom are now offering financial incentives to encourage kids to learn Fair Isle knitting in the hope that the skill will help them earn a living.

Thistle & Broom pays 66 per cent of their retail price to its hand knitters, with authentic Fair Isle sweaters retailing for up to £525 on the Thistle & Broom website at www.thistleandbroom.com

Ms Fritschi said the finer details of her efforts had still to be worked out, but she compared the situation to the “battle” to preserve Harris Tweed.

“It would be an understatement to say how dismayed we are at the council’s decision to save £130,000.00 annually in cutting this vital programme from the curriculum of Shetland’s schools.

“The potential long term economic impact of this decision makes it seem very short-sighted.

“In cooperation with Jamieson & Smith we have a tremendous opportunity to mitigate the impact of this decision or perhaps reverse it,” she said.

Jamieson & Smith purchases 80 per cent of the fleece available from Shetland’s flocks.

The company believes their 80 year old business, their Shetland staff and the local crofters who provide the fleeces would all suffer without new generations of knitters.

Marketing executive Connie Smith said the domino effect of the school budget cuts would be broad and long term.

“Both of our businesses are focussed upon positively impacting local economies and growing organically within Scotland’s borders,” she said.

Ms Fritschi added that knitwear connoisseurs from around the world often queue for months for the privilege of owning an authentic, hand-knit Fair Isle jumpers offered through Thistle & Broom.

“In the absence of council funding hopefully we’re able to fill the void by providing the financial incentive for kids to learn the skills from their grandmothers and thus allow for the perpetual continuation of this amazing craft,” she said.

The collaboration will likely include streamlined ordering of the yarns for the knitters with the benefit of a trade discount available.

In addition, the Jamieson & Smith three sheep logo will now adorn every T&B garment made with their yarns as documentation of authenticity and the source of yarn.