I have been doing some research about various knitterly connections between Shetland and Edinburgh, and came across this amazing photograph which I just had to show you. This float was the prize winning “trade tableau” contribution of the Edinburgh and District Shetland Association to the the Royal Infirmary and Leith Hospital annual pageant in 1931. The range of sweaters worn by these women is just amazing, and indeed their whole early ’30s get-up is a style I really love (and aspire to emulate). The float must have been a truly spectacular sight as these twelve women carded, spun and knitted their way through the streets of Leith and Edinburgh. If you look carefully at the photograph, you’ll see that some lace shawls are hanging behind the knitters / spinners on the float as well, though lace was certainly a less popular “Shetland Industry” by 1931, when Fair Isle was all the rage. But fine lace knitting must have featured on earlier Shetland floats, as in 1927 a contribution to the pageant was celebrated by Leith historian, John Russell in these terms:
“From utmost Shetland’s flow and voe,
When angry north wind raves,
There comes fair maidens’ skilful work,
Like tribute from the waves. . .”
“Tribute from the waves” suggests fine lace rather than Fair Isle knitting to me, though I could be wrong. . .
If any Shetland, or Shetland association readers can tell me any more about the ways that knitting featured in these pageants I’d be really grateful! And if you’d like to read more about the Edinburgh & District Shetland Association, pick up a copy of Vaila J Irvine’s book, Old Rock to Castle Rock (2002), which is where I found this photograph.