Sheila McGregor Collection

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

The establishment of the oil industry concerned McGregor and others about its impact on the traditional way of life. In her publication, The Complete Book of Traditional Fair Isle Knitting (1981), McGregor recorded techniques, motifs and patterns used by knitters in Shetland. She visited knitters in their homes and at community events and recorded patterns from knitwear held in private and museum collections in Shetland, Edinburgh, Glasgow and London.

The importance of her research lies in its comprehensive coverage of different garment types and their pattern motifs. She analysed specific garments and explained their design. Her focus was on recording information from real garments and their knitters, rather than relying on the many romantic and mythical stories which has beset the history of Shetland knitting. Her book remained a top five best-seller in Shetland from August 1982 to October 1983.

McGregor went on to publish two more books, ‘Traditional Knitting’ (1983) and ‘The Complete Book of Traditional Scandinavian Knitting’ (1984). Both books make many references to Shetland knitting, linking its tradition and methods with those of its cultural neighbours.

In 2014 McGregor donated a large part of her research archive to Shetland Museum’s Textile Collection. It consists of historical notes, photographs, pattern graphs, published works and knitwear compiled during research of all three books. A hand list of the Sheila McGregor Collection is available for download here.

Researchers are welcome to access the collection by appointment. Get in touch.