Share this story Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Shetland Textiles 800BC To The Present - book review

A new book explores more than 2,500 years of Shetland’s textile history, from primitive weaving through to the vibrant textile scene in the Shetland Isles today, with Fair Isle knitting and delicate lace produced for communities around the world.

‘Shetland Textiles 800BC To The Present’, from Shetland Heritage Publications, is a lively and colourful book which allows the reader to explore how textile production has developed from the earliest days of settlement and trading on the Shetland Isles.

Given the fame and appeal of Shetland’s lace and wool, it is surprising that this is the first single volume devoted to the history and development of Shetland textiles. The wait has been worth it, however, as we are taken on a journey from the Late Bronze Age (around 800BC), when simple looms which made ingenious use of weights to produce woven goods, through to the modern day, when initiatives such as Shetland Wool Week are testament to the thriving textile trade on the islands.

Of course, the quality of Shetland’s wool is down to the islands’ sheep and their environment, and we are given an insight into what makes these animals special, what life’s like for those who care for the sheep, and how the different breeds have adapted to what can be a changeable and challenging climate.


Anyone interested in the history of the Shetland Isles has plenty to enjoy here, with sections on early trade, spinning and dyeing, seventeenth and eighteenth-century textiles, and the truck system – a form of bartering which was particular to Shetland.

The textile trade on the islands is notable for the contribution from women, something which is explored in the ‘gender, work and textiles in the Shetland household’ section which explores how the different tasks were divided between household members, and explains the reasons behind the predominance of women knitters.

The home-based trade had both advantages and disadvantages; for some it was a useful means of supplementing an unreliable farming income, for others it was a painstaking and sometimes painful necessity.

Memories of those involved in the home knitting trade bring this subject to life, showing the ups and downs of this way of life.

Finally, we explore the present day textile scene on the islands, and meet some of those who produce the knitted goods and delicate lace for which Shetland is famed. It’s fascinating to discover how many of these craftspeople are inspired both by the landscapes which surround them, and their fellow workers.

The book is lavishly illustrated with colour photographs, drawings and archives images, many of which are presented to stunning effect on full or double page spreads. It is impossible to understand Shetland’s textiles without understanding the islands and their people – and this is a book which will leave the reader with a real understanding and enjoyment of the subject, as well as an appreciation of the pleasure which Shetland textiles continue to bring to so many.

Shetland Textiles 800BC to the Present, edited by Sarah Laurenson is published by Shetland Heritage Publications at £25 paperback/ £35 hardback. To find out more, or to buy the book, visit the Shetland Heritage Publications website or tel: 01595 741562.

Back to "Book Reviews" Category

19/03/2015 Share this story   Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Recent Updates

James Bruce claimed to have discovered the source of the Nile - On this day in history

On 14 November 1770, Scottish explorer James Bruce claimed to have discovered the source of the Nile in ...

On this day in history - Author Robert Louis Stevenson was born

Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was born on ...

Edinburgh University admitted female medical students - On this day in

Edinburgh University admitted female medical students for the first time on 12 November 1869.

Ten quirky facts you (probably) didn't know about The Royal Yacht Britannia

Why are all the clocks on The Royal Yacht Britannia stopped at 3.01pm? And why did the Royal Yacht have a ...

Other Articles

On this day in history - The Armistice was signed, marking the end of World War I

On 11 November 1918, representatives of the Allied forces and Germany signed the Armistice, marking the end ...

Journalist Henry Morton Stanley found David Livingstone - On this day in Scottish history

Journalist Sir Henry Morton Stanley found the missing Scottish missionary David Livingstone on 10 November ...

The Royal Yacht Britannia left John Brown's Shipyard in Clydebank

The Royal Yacht Britannia left John Brown's shipyard on Clydebank to begin her speed trials on 9 November ...

Five Scottish Covenanter prisons you can visit

Explore the history of the Covenanters with these five sites that acted as prisons during the ‘killing times’. ...