In the 19th century textiles became a commercial force in Shetland, enabling women to support family incomes. Islanders developed new products and adopted imported tools, while maintaining a focus on traditional hand production and finishing.

Our collection encompasses changes in style from the early 19th century through the 20th century, with a focus on the cottage industry of hand-making fabrics and garments. In 2013, the Textile collection cared for by Shetland Museum and Archives was deemed a Recognised Collection of National Significance in Scotland.

Knitwear was the most common product made of wool in Shetland. Plain knitting used to make stockings, caps, underwear, haps (thick shawls), gloves and scarves was the mainstay of the industry. Fair Isle knitwear is the most famous product of these islands. It was worn by fishermen and sold to tourists. Our collection has examples from pre-commercial garments circa 1850 to high fashion items of the 20th century.

Fine lace was a prestigious product that made Shetland’s handspinners and knitters renowned. The Museum’s shawls and stoles are perhaps the most intricate garments you will ever see. Wealthy buyers, including the aristocracy and royalty, valued these in the 19th century.

Commercial weaving developed in Shetland by 1900. Shetland tweed was exported world-wide. The collection holds important sample books spanning a century of tweed manufacture.

Besides clothing, we hold traditional textile tools, many of which were hand-made in the islands. The collection contains spinning wheels, hand-cards and woolcombs, knitting sheaths and belts, garments boards for finishing, and looms.

Study Day Broadcast – Authenticity in Culturally-based Knitting

Download Programme

On Saturday 5th March 2016, Shetland Museum and Archives hosted a study day on the topic of Authenticity in Culturally-based Knitting. Research and exhibition materials related to the Study Day can be viewed here.

The event explored definitions of ‘traditional’ in Shetland knitwear design, the promotion, branding and marketing of ‘authentic’ Shetland knitwear, and how designers and industry are helped or hindered by a strong basis in heritage. These issues have implications for other types of craft, beyond textiles.

The event was broadcast live online, and can be viewed from the window above. Refer to the programme for the contents of the separate broadcast parts.

Inside Textiles

Sheila McGregor Collection

In the mid-1970s, Edinburgh-based Sheila McGregor visited Shetland with an aim to research its knitting heritage.

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Textiles Blog Posts

Shining a light on Ann Harriet Pottinger this International Women's Day

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2024 we shine a light on Ann Harriet Pottinger, née Hunter, one of many unsung, hard-working ...

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New book of Shetland Fine Lace Knitting launched

A new publication, ‘Shetland Fine Lace Knitting – Recreating patterns from the past’ by Shetland Museum’s textiles curator, ...

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A Fragment of Viking-Norse Life

One of the results of years of peat-cutting in Shetland is that occasionally interesting objects are revealed. So it was the case in ...

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Gunnister Man Coins

Over 70 years after his discovery in a Northmavine peat bog, Gunnister Man continues to intrigue. Last week Shetland Museum curator, ...

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Highlights from two centuries of Shetland fine knitted lace on display

A new awe-inspiring display of Shetland fine knitted lace spanning two centuries is now available to view at the Shetland Museum and ...

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Tears of joy and appreciation for peerie hansels

Shetland students on the mainland will be receiving a ‘Peerie Hansel fae Hame’ this week as part of the Shetland Amenity Trust’s ...

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Inspired by Shetland's Historical Textiles

We are delighted to see the launch of this beautiful Fair Isle Shetland jumper as part of clothing company TOAST new autumn ...

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Face Veils: a Victorian Fashion Accessory for the New Norm?

Women, and sometimes children and men, have been covering their heads and faces in public since ancient times. Not so very long ago ...

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The Seductiveness of Fine Knitted Lace Blouses

It’s a sad fact that after working with hundreds of examples of Shetland fine knitted lace over the years, it takes something very ...

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A Rose by Any Other Name

According to Shakespeare “that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet” but can the same be said for knitted ...

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Oh So Fine and Simple : the Crepe Shawls

Lace shawls with the largest number of complex designs get the most admiration, but there is another class of Shetland lace that is ...

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The Burnous

One of the most dramatic pieces of lace knitting in our collection is an oddly-shaped red and white striped flat textile (TEX 7780). ...

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From this Day Forward – Wedding Exhibition

Shetland Museum and Archives is proud to present our latest exhibition, ‘From This Day Forward’ a celebration of Shetland Weddings ...

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What's in a name?

An important part of the Lace Assessment Project is to catalogue each object to a level where its description will distinguish it from ...

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