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Shetland Wool Week 2014 / Wool Week: A trip down memory lane

Shetland knitwear during the oil boom era - Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

Anyone who despairs of the mass produced homogeneity of 21st century fashion is bound to appreciate the content of two of Wool Week’s fascinating and informative exhibitions, writes our wool week reporter Genevieve White.

The Shetland Textile Museum at the Böd of Gremista is currently inviting visitors to take a trip down memory lane and explore Shetland knitwear during the oil boom era of the 70s and 80s.

The exhibition, which is curated by Ella Gordon, aims to give visitors a feel of what Shetlanders were wearing at this time. In doing so, it captures a period of rapid social and economic change in the isles and contrasts the “plain home-knitted brown and green” clad Shetlanders with the sartorial flamboyance of the incomers.

It is hard not to feel a twinge of nostalgia when admiring a gorgeous brown knitted dress (with matching bonnet). Very few self-respecting tweenies would leave the house wearing such an ensemble nowadays.

Mind you, the exhibit label informs us that even in the 70s and 80s dresses of this sort were worn “under protest” by children who yearned for something shop bought and “modern.”

A travelling exhibition on the subject of ganseys is divided among three Shetland venues: the Textiles Museum in Gremista, the Museum and Archives at Hay’s Dock and Unst Heritage Centre in Haroldswick.

Ganseys were traditionally worn by fishermen around the UK from the 1800s onwards. For seafarers they provided much needed warmth, comfort and offered some protection against the elements.

Although they were not waterproof, their densely knitted fabric prevented body heat from escaping in wet conditions.

A selection of nine ganseys is displayed in Hay’s Dock foyer, while a wooden box containing pattern samples enables visitors to admire the range of patterns representing features of coastal and fishing life.

Ganseys have since, of course, been superseded by outdoor wear made out of manmade fibres. Such clothes are easy to wash and relatively cheap to buy, but exhibitions such as this one are a clear reminder of what price we have paid for this “progress”.

It is good to know that projects such as the Moray Firth Gansey tradition are working hard to keep cultural traditions alive.

Genevieve White