(Orkney and Shetland in Blaeu’s 1654 Atlas.)

I am not a Shetlander. I love Shetland, and I feel a connection to those islands and their culture that is (for me) profound and meaningful, but I am not a Shetlander. I think it is important for me to remember that, particularly as I am currently working on a collection of designs that use Shetland wool, and are all inspired by different aspects of Shetland and its landscape. In my previous job as an historian, I found it very useful to remind myself of the distance between myself and the eighteenth-century subjects I was working on. If you read a lot of eighteenth-century diaries and letters, you start to get to feel like you ‘know’ the people who wrote them. But you don’t know them, and it is really important to remember the distance that separates you from those folk, because that distance stops you from making foolish assumptions, and helps you to maintain respect.

I am not a Shetlander. But I feel a profound sense of irritation — that occasionally approaches outrage — when I happen across certain kinds of misrepresentation of Shetlanders and Shetland. Knitting books and magazines are particularly bad in this regard. There are many things that irk me in these knitterly accounts (don’t even get me started on the romanticisation of the truck system) but one of the things that irritates me most is the assumption that the islands are “remote” and difficult to access. Really? What does “remote” even mean? Shetland was not remote for the Vikings, and nor was it remote for the merchants of the 17th- and 18th-century Baltic. By the early 19th Century, commercial shipping meant that Shetland was actually much better connected than many English provincial towns — the sea meant that these islands were not remote at all. And what, really, is ‘remote’ about Shetland today? We are a nation of islands, and like many other parts of the British Isles, you can access Shetland easily by flight or ferry. No one ever describes the Isle of Man or Guernsey as ‘remote’ — but what’s the difference? It is, in fact, much more difficult for me to get to the Channel Islands than it is to hop on a plane to Shetland.

The assumption that Shetland, its people, and its culture, are terribly ‘remote’ feeds into a discourse of exoticism within which the islands are marked by a sense of arcane difference. And this is not only completely misleading, but, in making Shetland seem like some sort of antediluvian curiosity, is also profoundly damaging (and disrespectful) to its culture: a culture within which which wool and knitting play an important role. As I said, mainstream knitting books and magazines have a disappointing tendency to reinforce these ‘exoticising’ assumptions, and this is perhaps because (with a handful of notable exceptions: Miller, Starmore, Amedro, Johnston), they have been produced by people who know an awful lot about knitting but not very much about Shetland. Examples abound, but here is a recent one that I found all the more galling for being produced by someone whose work I otherwise like and admire.

(extract from Franklin Habit’s article in Interweave’s new e-mag, LaceKnits (2012). On the map, at least, the Shetland islands are correctly located)

In an article published recently in Interweave’s new e-mag Lace Knits (2012), Franklin Habit describes Shetland as “a windswept, sheep-infested archipelago off the northwest coast of Scotland,” a statement which not only feeds into the discourse of the exotic, but is also geographically incorrect (Shetland is located to Scotland’s northeast). The article purports to unlock the mysteries of the origins of Shetland lace — but there’s no mystery about it: basic geography might also have enabled Habit to understand the connection between the first ‘Shetland’ knitting patterns produced by Jane Gaugain and the remote ‘sheep-infested archipelago’. (Gaugain traded on the North side of Edinburgh, whose ships, warehouses, and shops were, by the 1840s, stuffed full of finished Shetland goods, including fine openwork shawls produced by the knitters of Unst and Dunrossness) Describing Shetland lace, as Habit does, as “set-dressing for a high budget fairytale”, simply compounds the misleading idea of the islands as unreal, remote fantasy-places, detaching lace from its real (and important) role in Shetland as a constituent of the skills and materials of everyday life. Habit’s piece has the unfortunate effect of reinforcing what he acknowledges are ‘myths’ about Shetland lace simply by repeating them in lieu of historical fact. I found the lack of basic, accurate information in his article all the more odd, because it really is not difficult, even when one is located on another continent, to research Shetland knitting history and culture. In fact, unlike other parts of Britain, Shetland is unusually well-resourced in this regard. There is a wonderful archive, with a great online catalogue and other accessible material. This archive is staffed by an equally wonderful team of people who are more than happy to help anyone with an interest in any aspect of Shetland culture. Shetland also abounds with well-known, generous, and knowledgable knitters, who are more than happy to talk about their craft and its history. Why not just do some research?

If you have any interest at all in Shetland knitting, then there is no better place to start than with Real Shetland Yarns, a book supported by the Shetland Museum and which, in so many respects, is the complete opposite of Habit’s article. During Shetland Wool Week last year, you might remember that I mentioned the Shetland Stories competition — a project highlighting the importance of wool and knitted textiles to Shetland culture. Forty of these stories have now been gathered together in this wonderful collection, which is seriously the best book about textiles that I’ve come across since Vladimir Arkhipov’s Home Made (2006). Here, told in Shetlanders’ own words, is the story of Shetland wool. Each ‘story’ is short (just 300 words) and reading each piece in isolation gives you a snapshot of the role of “oo” in an individual life: an incident, a garment, an animal, a memory. The stories are brief, then, but their cumulative effect is profound. Taken as a whole, the book effectively unlocks the division of labour, and lays it out before you, introducing Shetland wool at every stage from husbandry through to retail. We learn of the care of sheep, of common grazing, of rooing and gathering hentilags, of carding and spinning, of knitting by hand or by machine, of weaving cloth, of finishing garments, of dressing shawls, of brokering, buying and selling, of designing and exporting. We see a boy’s perspective on the work that is going on around him; we see a girl being taught to knit by her father; we see men and women supporting their families through their craft; we read of knitted garments loved and hated; knitted garments that won prizes; knitted garments inspired by archeological finds; knitted garments that were worn by several generations of the same family, and are still being worn today. We meet Jacko the extraordinary caddy lamb, and equally extraordinary knitting heroines like Ena Leslie; we see vet, Debbie Main taking an impromptu ride on the back of a too-lively tup; we are privileged to peer into the pages of Hazel Tindall’s mother’s diary and to read Norma Anderson’s thoughts about her grandmother’s beautiful lace garments; we see young Eva Irvine, selling her family’s hand-knit hosiery in Lerwick, and catch a glimpse of of Andy Holt, working away on his pasap machine during the long winter nights on Papa Stour. Some of these stories are funny, some are deeply moving, but this is in no way a sentimental book. It is a real book. It is a book that shows just how important wool, and the creative skills associated with it are to the everyday lives of people in a community which is emphatically not exotic, not ‘remote’, but rather an ordinary — though distinctive — part of the contemporary British Isles. It is a book that instills respect for that community and the crafts and culture that are so important to it. It is a book that all knitters should read.

Jacko in his later years. Image ©Hazel Mackenzie, reproduced in Real Shetland Yarns, p.62.

76 thoughts on “respect

  1. Your love of the Shetlands and its people, heritage and traditions shines through in posts like these. It is refreshingly unromantic, grounded and indeed respectful.
    Thank you Kate.

  2. Wonderful Kate! Just heard yesterday someone praising this book. Will have to order it. Love to research and learn about Shetland, the Islanders, and especially the sheep and their wool.

  3. The book sounds excellent – I have ordered a copy from the Shetland Museum. I am making my first visit to Shetland for Wool Week this October.

  4. Thanks for this refreshing article about Shetland, The more like this the better and the more clear cut and awake our lives will be. Romanticising and sentimentality have no place in factual articles.

  5. Well said Kate.

    That article looks as though it came straight out of a Nineteenth Century periodical.

    Love from…

    a small, dark Shetland woman with seal skin shoes carrying a basket with a small pony on her back and a sheep under her arm over a heather hill in the middle of a gale, with lashing winds full of the salt from the sea.

    S x

    PS. I think you’re pretty much an adopted Shetlander, wouldn’t you say?

  6. Very interesting! Made all the more interesting because my mother-in-law just gave me some North Ronaldsay dyed roving. I find your comments about the sea, and the shipping links with Edinburgh, particularly interesting, as I am (in addition to being a reference librarian, and therefore a research-fan), a historian of the book, especially in the 18th century British and French Atlantic. As you well know, you can find out a lot about what people read by looking at shipping routes, geography and timing! I always find it fun to think “If this newspaper article were published in London in April, when would they have read it and reprinted it in Boston . . . ” Of course, sometimes in Quebec the ocean=remoteness equation held true – there were several years when the official orders and news from France just didn’t arrive, or there was too much ice in the St. Lawrence for the communication system to work. But on the whole I am always struck by how people just got on with writing letters, sending books, etc. and knew that they would eventually get there.

  7. I can sympathize with your feelings. I come from Prince Edward Island and have found throughout my life here there is a lot of romanticism about the region owing to the popularity of Lucy Maude Montgomery’s books (which I do enjoy). People have a tendency to forget that we have moved ahead with the times.

    Thank you for sharing this post. As someone who has never visited the Shetland, but one day hopes to, I really appreciate the clarity you have given.

  8. Thank you for such a well written article. There are strong links between Shetland and Norway. My penfriend used to live on the island of Fitjar on the west coast of norway and the main town of Leirvik has a connection with Lerwick in Shetland.

  9. I have ordered the book- I am fascinated and have deep respect for the hard work the Shetlanders (Islanders) did in order to make a meager living- as well as crofting. I am not a Shetlander- but do hope to visit someday.

  10. To many of us outside the U.K., Shetland and Orkney do seem quite remote! We certainly can’t catch direct transatlantic flight to either location. This may be something to keep in mind when critiquing an North American author (such as Franklin Habit). The northwest/east issue, however, truly should have been caught. Thank you, though, for pointing us to other resources on Shetland!

  11. Thank you for this post! What funny timing – I’m in the middle of writing a paper on discourses of exoticism and the (mis)uses of “the archive.” Kate, you’re wonderful, keep doing such excellent work, please!

  12. From this shetlander…. Thank you Kate! I too despise the Shetland myths! Can you do anything to stop people saying ‘shetlands’ when not referring to sheep or ponies! *cringes* It makes my toes curl. We don’t say the Westerns, the New Zealands, or the britishs… So no shetlands please!

    And yes, I agree with Sarah, we’ll take you as one of our own!

  13. Thank you for this – since I returned from Shetland last year, I’ve been dealing with stupid assumptions… I can’t imagine how anyone could romanticise truck (fancy romanticising the Clearances, too?) and yet it happens… And lazy stereotyping really gets me going. Personally, of course, I’m sitting here in Wales in my stovepipe hat and shawl, and I’m just about to go to chapel, look you, now I’ve finished my shift down the mine.

    On remoteness, I remember a trick one of my archaeology profs would pull when trying to challenge silly but persistent assumptions. He would turn the map upside down and shift it, so that it centred over Orkney, say, or Colonsay rather than the Home Counties. The alteration in perspective was very – um, correcting. Especially for the people from the Home Counties. It also, incidentally, really brought home the point about the importance of the sea as a route and a means of transmitting ideas/culture.

    Carry on!

  14. Very well said indeed, i am struggling since finishing college (studying textiles, in Shetland..) about how to market myself without giving in to the stereotypes. Some of the things i don’t even think about, they are just a fact – i am inspired by Shetland. Of course i am, i live here! I knit with a knitting belt – i didn’t know other people didn’t because that’s all i’ve ever seen.. haha. Unfortunately some people can be very patronizing towards Shetlanders, that upsets me the most. We are not backwards..!

    ella xxx

  15. The tendency to put a romantic twist on things is often just people’s misguided way of trying to sound profound. I remember when Joplin, Missouri was flattened by a tornado last year the news media described it as a “Gritty little town” as if it were Tombstone or Deadwood or something. They have a population of over 50,000 with a hospital and a University. A smaller city maybe if compared to a Boston or Chicago, but Gritty? I found that infuriating. It is that sort of poetic license that gives people the wrong impression. You’d have thought Dorothy just got taken up to Oz or something. I can definitely feel your righteous indignation when people portray a place like Shetland as some romantic relic from the past. Very well stated! Bravo!!

  16. well stated, beautifully stated. And lessons that all of us who use our hearts and hands to create not only our futures that will become the documents of our past should hold close to our hearts. Thank you.

  17. It’s interesting how humans like to make reality more interesting. My city in the US is known for its snow, and it drives me up the wall! We actually don’t get that much snow where I come from…yet, even people from my city want to believe we live in a terrible place. I don’t really get it, so I argue right back at them! Usually I lose :)

    Also, I wish I could adopt the Shetlands as my homeland too. But…I have only a tad bit of Scottish blood in me, just a love of Scottish literature, geography, and knitting!

  18. Thanks for bringing the book to my attention Kate. I’ve ordered a copy and am very much looking forward to its arrival.

  19. I, too, certainly wish they would have asked you to write the article. I am not a fan of the author, and unfortunately your spot-on critique does nothing to change my mind. While I expect the article was written in a certain breezy, ironic tone (as is the author’s MO), that does not excuse the inaccuracies; it also does no good thing to set the mythological record straight. Thanks for taking the time to do so.

  20. Another fascinating and thoughtful article! Thank you for supplying more fuel for my Shetland fascination. I am struck by the fact that whatever I read or hear about Shetland gives me the impression of a much LESS remote place than the part of the British Isles I grew up in – the south of England. I’ve never lived on (in?), or even visited Shetland, so I can’t really compare the two. But there is definitely more to remoteness and isolation than geography.

  21. Fascinating post and interesting responses. Thank you. I agree that Franklin Habit’s writing is doubtless influenced by his own literal place in the world, (Chicago, IL, USA), and I hope that he appreciates your perspective and citations. (I’ve already looked into obtaining Home-Made and Real Shetland Yarns for myself.) Also, do you have any perspective on the Ann Cleeves Shetland Quartet series? I found it fascinating.

  22. i love it when you nail the anti-feminist (to say the least) raconteurs of material culture, and i need to repeat that i own a copy of arkhipov, the subsersive stitch, AND SO MUCH MORE at your reccie.
    write on.

  23. Bravo! And as an librarian/archivist I am thrilled at the mention of the archives. Primary material, folks. Preserving history for your research – come visit us!

  24. Hats off to you yet again Kate, for giving people an education about other people, their lives, wool, the knitting world and all that, that implies. is also a grand place for people to learn exactly what the isles have to offer and learn how diverse the people of this region truly are!!! Folks can even get their newsletter and become completely exposed to life on these wonderful isles…

    Thank you for choosing to always educate…from one of your many, very appreciative students.

  25. Your work is an inspiration. What you discuss here is what irks me the most about most articles about knitting and history – the over simplification of material and the lack of sources. Thank you.

  26. Could not agree more. My ancestors came from Caithness and were backwards and forwards to Shetland all the time. It is definitely not “remote”. I get really irritated when people repeat myths and do not check their facts!

  27. Remoteness is subjective and as an Islander you got used very quickly to people’s constant misconceptions about what it’s like to live in a small, rural environment. My experiences of Shetland have been limited to passing through it’s airports when flying to offshore installations in the Northern sector and I have yet to enjoy a “proper” visit. It’s planned for when I move back home to Orkney. As an Orcadian I get frustrated when people lump Orkney and Shetland together (and especially when they call us the Orkneys or the Shetlands when the origin of the names of the island groups are already plural!) as while they have their similarities they also have their differences. Their knitting and textile history isn’t the exactly the same (as Liz Lovick will be able to tell you far better then me), their landscapes are different, how they inspire people is slightly different and how we speak is very different! Neolithic society has evidence of trading routes from as far afield as both Norway or Spain, and others inbetween, which have been uncovered by various archeologists. That doesn’t sound particularly remote and instead highlights that not only would creative and practical inspiration have been found from the land and surrounding materials but also from further afield. Descendants of Orcadians and Shetlanders are found all over the world so it doesn’t strike me as that remote if they can manage to get to the other side of the world then other individuals can make it all the way to us. It’s just not the cheapest to get home (even from just south of Aberdeen) and it is frustrating that I can fly more cheaply to London than I can to fly north. It’s definitely an awesome place to grow up and as an Islander you will always say that that is home even if you live elsewhere. There’s no place like it.

  28. Well said Kate. I’m a happy but not talented knitter who loves to read your blog. I recently met a lady whose family originally came from Shetland and she told us some fascinating stories about her grandparents. She also showed us some stitching work using gingham material which we are all looking forward to learning when she reurns from her sojourn in a Mediterranean island.

  29. It surprises many people to find out that the Shetland Islands and their people are in many ways much more forward thinking and ahead of their time than those who live on the mainland. Maybe I am slightly biased as my Mum is a Shetlander! As for remote, it takes two flights for us to travel there from Northern Ireland, I think remoteness is a perception of mind. It is more likely that we who are ‘outside’ are more likely to feel them remote than those who live, work and thrive there!

  30. Thank you for the refreshing article ! Not only refreshing when it comes to Shetland and its people and crafts, but also to verifying the facts in general.. Our history teacher in secondary school taught us the importance of checking ones resources ( and placing them in their right historic perspective ), but it is so easily to forget.. and/or to assume that authors have done their homework there..

  31. Another awesome post Kate!! Assumptions are made too about South Africa (where I live) – many people think we share our city streets with giraffes and elephants…!
    Like you say, DO SOME RESEARCH!!!!!!! lol x

  32. Thank you so much for clarifying, many of us are tired of armchair researchers who don’t get it right, hopefully this will be a wakeup call for Interweave Press.

  33. Thank you, Kate. Your extremely interesting post serves to remind us that information presented as factual must be fully researched. Unfortunately, many publishers have considerably reduced their numbers of copy editors and fact checkers with the result that errors are becoming more and more prevalent. It’s worth noting, for example, that on page 151 of Knitting on Top of the World by Nicky Epstein, the author states, in reference to Greece: “The costume is worn by the evezones,the ceremonial guards of the royal court.” Firstly, the guards are termed evzones or evzoni, but far more important than the spelling error is the fact that no royal court exists today in Greece. The monarchy was abolished by referendum in 1974; the evzones now guard the Presidential Palace and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Greece is a Presidential Republic and to state otherwise is a serious misrepresentation.

  34. The post inspired me to check in my atlas…most maps of the UK have a little box on the top left of the page with the Shetland Islands in it which I guess is how come the guy in the US thought they were in the NE,,,my friend said that at her school, the UK was stuck onto a big globe, with the Shetland Islands stuck on just off the coast of Newcastle. The Orkney Islands are missing from the UK page in most atlases, so people certainly won’t know where they are, and remember the Falklands in the 1980s? Hands up anyone not from the Falklands or S America who knew where they were until they were invaded?

    Our general ignorance was brought home to me a couple of years ago when the UK media got hold of the idea that young people had caught a suicide plague in Bridgend near where I live. Bridgend is a large, varied county, with seaside resorts, ex mining villages and a large market town. But according to the papers it was the size of St Mary Mead, and as depressed and ‘gritty’ as Deadwood (to quote an earlier post).

    And landlubbers don’t generally think of the sea as anything but a barrier to getting about.

    Thought-provoking stuff!

  35. In spite of the subjectivity of the perception of remoteness, I feel that it is not improper to criticize it. Remoteness is a very real thing which impacts the lives of countless people who are without direct access to any kind of infrastructure/support/services, and while Shetland may be very far from the United States it is certainly not without the aforementioned access. Our perceptions are not always valid, and though interesting they frequently have no place in academic discourse. As has been said, bravo to you Kate and I hope to read many more interesting posts on the variety of subjects you handle with such deftness.

    – Rodger

  36. Unfortunately Interweave are not renowned for their accuracy. Reading Spin-Off today, Carol Rhoades describes Dorset as “Dorset County” which made my teeth itch. I’ve never heard Portland referred to as the Isle of Portland either, but what do I know?

    1. To be fair, Carol Rhoades is writing in an American magazine for mostly American readers. In the USA, where I currently reside, all counties include County in their name; for example, I live in Lake County, just north of Cook County. Note that County always follows the name, never precedes it (as it does in Eire). There are far more political entities – villages, cities, towns, counties (known as parishes in Louisiana), states – than names, so it reduces the confusion to be clear whether one is referring to a town or a county. An American thinking of visiting Dorset would look for a town of that name, unless it were specified as a county. Consider also that Americans know that Shires exist, but might be unclear on the concept (outside of Tolkein), and therefore could start scouring the map looking for Dorsetshire, so it is helpful to specifiy that it is, indeed, a county.
      I can’t speak to the Portland topic, as I thought it was Portland Bill and not an island anyway – maybe she was confusing it with the Isle of Wight?
      What I find teeth-itching is the North American habit of omitting “road”, street”, avenue” etc from street names. “I live on Pleasant”, or “at the corner of 1st and Main”. In the Chicago suburbs there is an intersection of Washington Street and Washington Road, follwed a hundred yards later by the intersection of Washington Street and Washington Avenue. Finding an address “on Washington” requires significant sleuthing!

  37. America spans the width of a continent. Alice Starmore herself said it is not a country of day-trippers. To most Americans the whole UK is remote.

  38. New Zealand – remote and full of sheep!!!! Yeah, right…. Its a bit like all those plastic dodads sold to tourists round here. A shadow of a shadow of what the place is really about. Mostly made in China to boot!

    I think the most annoying thing about this sort of stuff is that it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction when you have never been to the real place and talked with some of the actual people who live there.

    viv in nz

  39. I don’t know– while the northwest/northeast thing is a definite screw-up, I think it’s kind of difficult for anyone to write something and put it out there for all the world to see without irritating or offending someone. Here’s an example, because you use this term yourself– “the British Isles.” While I understand that the term is technically correct, since my native Northern Ireland is still part of the British Empire, it’s definitely a reminder to some that Ireland is still partly under British rule, something that many of us would like to see peacefully and amicably ended. Moving south to the Republic of Ireland, also included in “the British Isles,” the term is offensive in that it also refers to Eire, an isle which, let’s face it, has fought like hell NOT to be British. :) The term seems, fortunately, to be semi-officially on its way out, heading off the maps and atlases, out of the textbooks, etc., in favor of more awkward but less colonial terms like “the British Isles and Ireland.” And yet I would never, reading your blog and enjoying your patterns, think of you as someone reverting to some sort of colonial past in which Ireland was part of the British Empire– and so, while I find the phrase a bit jarring, I just read on and enjoy your writing and take it as part of a bigger picture, one in which you write patterns such as Tír Chonaill. I guess I’m trying to say that we all have blinders on about one thing or another (including, I’m sure, myself in this post.) On the one hand, I think it’s important to clarify inaccuracies and to provide education in the place of dated or romanticized falsehoods. On the other hand, I can’t help but think that it would be more effective to do so without the anger and obvious irritation– but perhaps I’ve had the rough edges worn off by episodes such as the one with my American friend’s very pleasant English mother-in-law finding out that I’m from Belfast and automatically asking whether I’m in the IRA (“Why of course, we all are– oh, and I wouldn’t stand too close to my car if I were you.”) Ach. :)

    1. Interesting…raises a lot of points about the interweaving of geography and politics!!! Geographically, the Islands of GB and Ireland are – apparently – known as ‘The British Isles’, – this is supposed to be neutral, but, as you have pointed out, it obviously isn’t! Great Britain is called that to distinguish it from Brittany- Bretagne, Grande Bretagne. This IS just a geographical description, not a political opinion!!!

  40. Great post! You ask “Why not just do some research?” which I’m sure is a rhetorical question. It’s so much easier to just sit down and write what you think you know rather than do research! I am not a writer or a historian, but just from my random reading about knitting I have read enough about Shetland that I could probably write the Interweave article by myself (with all its myths and inaccuracies, of course).

  41. I come across this “remoteness” nonsense a lot in regard to the Hebrides – which have in fact been a kind of “hub” in North Atlantic communication and transport networks for thousands of years. And even if a place is considered peripheral by today’s urban standards, romanticising it rarely does any good.
    But I have to admit that I don’t expect much from knitting magazines in general – I have rarely come across any piece of writing in them that was worth the paper it was written on.

  42. I think we would all benefit from a good map of the north sea which shows Scotland, Scandinavia and the Baltic. From this viewpoint, Shetland does appear to be off in the middle of the sea. It lies about 200 miles off the coast of Norway, and about 80 miles north east of Orkney. But heavens, take a look at the location of The Faeroe Islands – yet they are only about 100 miles from Shetland. Like you say, in days gone by, a great deal of travel was done by sea, we forget about the meaning of “trade routes” and “fishing grounds” which placed the islands smack in the middle of things. Even so, Lerwick is still a 12-13 hour ferry ride from Aberdeen.

    Like other readers mention, “remote” can also be a state of mind. It is an idea perpetuated by the travel media and regarded as a good thing, a reason to visit. The Promote Shetland website uses this to their advantage. When referring to the annual Shetland Folk Festival they say ” Visiting artistes are regularly dumbfounded by the quantity and quality of local musicians that these remote isles have to offer”. But they make clear “You may think that Shetland looks remote on the map – we’re 600 miles north of London, as far away as Milan or Berlin – but the islands are surprisingly accessible”. Remoteness is not to be confused with inaccessibility!

    Ah, but then there is Fair Isle, one of the islands in the group which is almost always referred to as “the most remote inhabited island in the United Kingdom”. But the Fair Islanders qualify that statement on their website, “Welcome to Britain’s most remote – though far from isolated – inhabited island!” And indeed the sheepiness of the islands is also used as a travel destination lure…many sources like to mention that “sheep out-number people by a ratio of almost 10-1”.

    I am so happy that some of the Shetland Stories have been published in book form! What a treat for us all. Now I just wish that we could also get an audio-book, so we could listen to them spoken in Shetland dialect…perhaps you could have some influence on that account my dear! oxo

  43. heh…and I wrote North Sea above, when I should have said “a map of Northern Europe including Iceland” …I know the Baltic is a region and a sea and isn’t on the North Sea…And you are not really debating the term “remote” but how it is used when describing the history and work of a community.

  44. Well said, Kate. This sort of thing really stirs me up too. I live in Australia and the number of people who ‘invent’ romantic trash about our indigenous people is probably akin to the number of people who do the same to the Shetlanders and lots of other places and peoples too.

    The book sounds delightful, I shall investigate further. I need a dictionary so I know what all those foreign – to me – words mean, eg rooing (I assume nothing to do with kangaroos) and hentilags.

  45. I have been to Great Britain twice, and both times, as we traveled around the islands, I was shocked by how little the women working in knitting shops knew about traditional British yarns and knitting. In every town or village we stopped in, if there was a knitting shop, I asked for Shetland wool, Gansey wool, etc., and almost every time, I was directed to a shelf of acrylic yarns that were made in Asia. (I finally resorted to just asking for anything that was made of wool and in GB, but had no luck. I didn’t know that “wool” is used interchangably for “yarn” by allot of people, regardless of the fiber content.) Outside of London, I couldn’t even find any Rowan yarns. I have knit for 40 years, and as an American, I had allot of romantic ideas and thought I would see knitting everywhere in Great Britain.

    1. I think things are improving….admittedly I buy most of my yalrn online, since I use Shetland lace, |Manos del Uruguay, and various other ‘unusual’ yarns, but these are more readily available than they used to be.

  46. As someone who values substance and accuracy, you cannot imagine how overjoyed I am to see so many commenters on this topic. When I worked for a craft publisher years ago, I was horrified to hear the marketing department request 95% sizzle, 5% steak, and to hear the new publisher insist that books could be copyedited, photographed, and fact checked in less than 100 hours. If publishers realized there really were readers like your commenters, Kate, things might change.

  47. I completely enjoyed reading this post. I DO live in a remote place with a very unique culture. Proper education, research and respect goes along way!

  48. Very good article. One correction, though: coming from Franklin Habit, I have a good idea that ‘sheep infested’ was a great compliment to the islands.

      1. I second SuzieL on this. In America it’s not uncommon to use “(fill in the blank) infested” as a tongue-in-cheek term, usually with good will. So I read “sheep infested” as a wry compliment.

  49. Oh I agree. I am constantly hearing the same about NorthRon I had a couple here who came in, looked around, and said – ‘ they have books here! ‘ also had ‘ what good writing you have’and ‘ isn’t she good at ironing! ‘ truly! Grrrrrr! Not only remote, but in the distant past. Sheep infested too, of the seaweed eating variety. Three planes a day, weekly ferry, wifi, remote in some respects but nothing like it once was.

  50. I will never forget my immense irritation when, picking up a new book on Scandinavian knitting, I found entire sentences and paragraphs PLAGIARISED from one of my favorite Scandinavian knitting books, which was originally published in Norway. YES, thank you, Kate, research and attribution PLEASE. So much in knitting is hashed and rehashed…how many articles do you suppose that VK has done on Fair Isle knitting over the years?

    Having visited Shetland myself, I only wish for accurate information on this amazing place.

    Franklin does love his adjectives and drama…

  51. Thank you for a very interesting and informative post., Will order the book ASAP. I have not been to Shetland yet…was hoping to go to Shetland Wool Week, but couldn’t afford it this year….saving up for next year! I knit Shetland Lace scarves and shawls.

  52. Thanks for writing this. I often find myself drawn in by a certain amount of my own romanticism with regard to places (including Shetland, despite/because of having visited it!) or ideas — and in and of itself, this simply means that I’m interested in them and want to know more. But to take romanticised ideas further and assume them to be factual suggests, in turn, that my own “othering” of places is reasonable and accurate — and that my own understanding of places is somehow more appropriate than the ways that people who live there have experienced them. Obviously none of that can be the case, and yet it’s so easy to fall into that trap. I often have to check myself to make sure that I’m not essentializing others’ experiences or assuming a deeper connection than I really have with a place.

    Ideas about romanticism, histories, and perceptions have been discussed in various fields of Canadian history as well, and you might be interested in Ian McKay’s book *The Quest of the Folk*, which discusses the urban middle class creation of the idea of “folk culture” in Nova Scotia out of antimodernist sentiments. While I have some nitpicks about aspects of his argument, I think it has some parallels with the ideas you’ve mentioned here. Thanks for provoking some interesting thoughts for me!

  53. I started writing this awhile ago, but had trouble posting. I’m sitting on the hallway steps of my B&B in Lerwick and typing this. I still think Shetlands are remote. And as beautiful as I imagined.

    Hi there. I still think of Shetland as remote, because it’s difficult for me to get to. I also think of small towns in the US as remote when they are off the beaten path. That isn’t a romanticizing, but rather a way of qualifying the experience (in this case, transport). I actually think it’s more offensive to call the islands “infested” as I’ve never heard of an area said to be infested with something positive. I’m heading to the Shetlands, and I still consider them remote. I also consider it exciting because it’s a unique experience in my milieu. That doesn’t mean I think that the people aren’t just as real or normal as me.

  54. Well put, Kate.

    Surely any good copy editor would have looked at the map they positioned beside the article and picked up that Franklin’s geography was wildly off?

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About Kate Davies

writer, designer and creator of Buachaille (100% Scottish wool)