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Arts / Twelve hour knitting broadcast a big success – despite the last minute ‘scramble’

With the finished product. From left to right: Angela Fraser, who came and played the fiddle, Joan Robertson (Helen's mother), Minnie Mouat, Cheryl Jamieson, Helen Robertson, Melanie Mouat.

KNITTING for 12 hours straight is a feat in itself – but what about doing it in front of the world on a live broadcast?

That is what Shetland textile designer Helen Robertson undertook on Tuesday – and she said the project went better than expected.

Ignore the odd mistake – “I was trying to speak and listen, and then I would lose concentration!” – and the event, called Slew, was a big success.

She said being joined by others – including her mum – during the marathon event “made it so much more interesting”.

People from around the world tuned into the live broadcast on the Shetland Webcams website as Robertson and her companions knitted in a self-catering property in the northern reaches of Unst.

Perhaps an example of relaxing ‘slow TV’, they knitted and yarned, with plenty cups of tea.

One aim of the event, which was financially supported by Shetland Arts and ran from midday to midnight, was to celebrate traditional lace knitting.

Robertson’s personal goal was to knit a lace deckchair seat in 12 hours.

Among those commenting on the webcams page were viewers in the US and New Zealand.

Photo: Shetland Webcams

Speaking to Shetland News the day after, Robertson said it was “great to have a relaxed filming set, rather than feeling that I was on show”.

She also praised the technical team – JJ Jamieson and Liz Musser on the cameras, and Shetland Webcams’ Andy Steven – for putting on the broadcast from the north of Unst.

“Andy came the day before to set up, and the internet connection just dropped out at 6pm because everybody was downloading Netflix or whatever and there was too much load on the signal,” Robertson said.

“He was up all night trying to figure it out, and by morning he’d switched it to a different set up.

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“It never dropped out once – and that’s from the most northerly place in the UK, so it was a kind of feat of engineering as well as a feat of knitting.”

Helen Robertson.

Robertson said her hands are fine, but from the shoulders and down is quite tired – “I’ll no be doing any knitting today” – after the lengthy session.

“It wasn’t just old folk that was watching it, it was young folk too, and men and women, which was just fabulous,” she added.

The knitter admitted the day was pretty full on, and she only really had Brazil nuts – and tea – to keep her going.

With the clock ticking Robertson, however, managed to complete the piece in the nick of time.

“We did get it finished, and we did get it all sewn together – but it was midnight, it was so close,” she said.

“I didn’t expect it to be quite so close to the wire. I had expected to finish the knitting by eleven and have a leisurely hour to sew it on, but it ended being a scramble in the end.”

The recording can be watched back online, although Robertson is not intending to tune in.

Would she do it again? If she had the same people around her, or if it was done in conjunction with something, then she might be up for it.

“I love spikkin to folk, and I love spikkin about Shetland and makkin, so I’m happy to do that anytime,” Robertson said.

For the first part of the broadcast the footage included views out over Burrafirth, although the mist was not quite the optimum weather for broadcasting.

Unst is Roberston’s ancestral home, and she said she was overcome with emotion when reading out a poem.

She said the project was partly inspired by her great grandad, a skipper in the haaf fishing who survived the 1881 Gloup disaster.

“He wrote a piece for the Shetland Times in 1932 when he was an older man, and that’s the piece I read out,” Robertson said.

The item she knitted included a reflective thread, “and the idea was this reflection on the life that they had, and the live we have”.

JJ Jamieson said: “Helen’s project mixed art, craft, culture and slow TV to excellent effect.

“We really couldn’t be happier with the result. The Unst folk helped raise the whole thing to another level, and I think together we made something really special.”

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