Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Party! Fair Isle Style! & Knitwear! Tall Ships Race 2011 Shetland

Sorlandet - from Norway

I have just posted some photos from the Fair Isle event. I have not gone through all my photos yet and should be updating this post when I get time as I am rushing to post before the power goes off.
Lowri watches the tall ship crew come ashore in his Fair Isle Kep
hand knit by his great grand mother Annie Thomson.

Family Tradition

"History in the Making"
Hand Knit Fair Isle Fisherman's Keps

Just some of the Keps on display at Fair Isle's George Waterson's Museum for viewing party before the big trade with the crew of the Sorlandet tall ship. The making of Fair Isle Knitwear and trading with passing ships has a long history on Fair Isle. The Fair Isle name is today world famous as a result of this type of commerce done in the past. The tradition is kept alive by the Islanders and their strong sense of place. The project was over seen by Anne Sinclair the Islands historian who runs Fair Isle's museum. Anne's knowledge of Fair Isle and it's Knitwear is unsurpassed as it runs deep in her veins and family traditions. 

Where did the patterns and skills come from? Some say it was the Spanish Armada ship wreck of 1588 or maybe Norse, Celtic or Scandinavian influences. There is even a true story of a man gifting kaleidoscopes to the islanders in hope of giving further design inspirations to the already popular knitwear. Some or all of these inspirations may have had some influence on the designs but most of the credit should be found in the entrepreneurial creative spirit of the ingenious make do islanders that developed an unique talent for a niche market that seamen couldn't pass up when sailing by. I can imagine if someone did try and teach a Fair Islander how to knit 400 years ago, the islander would soon figure out their own way and for sure it would be better and much harder to do, nothing has changed. The two colors of yarn at any one time and the symmetrical patterns set in rows that never repeated just some of well known characteristics of Fair Isle.  The fine yarn knit in 2 patterned layers made it light to wear but warm... and fun to look at. 

Fair Isle became popular and a classic style, worn by explorers up Everest and to the South Pole. The British Royalty even took an interest and started to wear it while golfing. Leading to demands far beyond the Fair Isles production levels. Soon Fair Isle was being made in the Shetland & Orkney, over the pass 100 years they have made their own variations & history while still using the already popular name Fair Isle. Scotland and the rest of the world started producing knock offs and it was faster and cheaper. The name Fair Isle is used casually by fashion designers world wide for ANYTHING with patterns or stripes. Yikes! and don't get started with the colours and pink hearts... Else where in the world it has lost it’s individuality and history and what most people see today and call "Fair Isle" is what some people like me call “Faux Isle” and is likely not to look like anything you see here. This is the really thing! it's not for sale... it's priceless!

The stuff of legend!

Make me an offer I can't refuse...

Fair Isle Knitter Margo Saying good by to all her hard Work before the bartering starts.

You chose wisely.
Without knowing he chose a Fair Isle Fisherman's Kep hand knit by Lise Sinclair herself. Legend!

I heard him say... "It's a Fair Trade on Fair Isle"

Cameras everywhere!
BBC Coast was there and everyone has a camera or phone clicking away!  including me!

I choose this one! very beautiful!
Hand spun Fair Isle wool  undyed natural colours hand knit Fisherman's Fair Isle Kep by Kathy Coull

Does this girl know how lucky she is? If I asked Kathy to knit me a hat like this she would laugh! Then tell me I would have to wait 4 years because of her other orders and laugh again. The Price! Well let's just say it's alot more than she bargained for. (pun intended) But money isn't what this is about, this is a heritage activity. Knitting in the legendary footsteps, the women of Fair Isle came together every Wednesday night since January (with the occasional visitor/knitter) and have produced something more than just hats and they should be commended as their knitwear again sails the world on the heads of a crew of a tall ship!
Some of the Lucky Crew in their new Fair Isle Keps.

View From My House!
Auld Haa, Fair Isle, South Harbour & Sorlandet Norwegian Tall Ship

The much needed Party Tent at the Haven
The weather was rubbish for July! but it could of been Worse... this is Fair Isle after all.

4 Flags
Small Ships & Yachts from all over Europe in the North Haven.

The Sheltering Sea Shanty Singers!

Arctic Skua

Norwegian Ship - Framstig

Turn about is "Fair" play.
Ian Best in the Dingy

Everyone takes a look at passing Tall Ships even the curious Puffins

Rockin' Party!
Band was Rockin' - People Jumpin' - Tent Swayin' - Wind Howlin' - Ships Bobbin' - Plenty of Drinkin'
& the Sea was just Swell!

Rock God... Neil Thomson Tips his Hat.
Good Night! and it was.

Cheers! Bon Voyage!
in those rough seas... Rock On!

Sheep Rock in Shadow - Fair Isle

Two new paintings I've made during the event.
The colour in the photos are a bit yellow or warm as compared to the originals 
14 by 10 inches Acrylic on canvas board 

Sorlandet passing the South Harbour - Fair Isle
If you are interested in this hat and helping the museum follow the link below...


  1. Way to go Tommy!
    I love Tall Ships!
    Just wish the hats had been on sale when I have been on FI!
    Brilliant those sailors will remember FI for ever!
    Looking forward to more.......

  2. Hi Tommy,
    I love these photos, looks like you all had a great time,
    Gina Scanlan.

  3. Great post, Tommy - I was on the Soerlandet that day, but was too nervous of the swell & the small boats to come ashore. When they returned to the ship, the crew were delighted with their keps, and wore them all the way to Lerwick! The whole sailing experience was new to me, and the crew of the Soerlandet (the half dozen you picture, and all the others) were very fine people - I am glad they got the chance to meet you all in Fair Isle.

    I'm very much hoping to visit for the first time soon - but I think I may fly!!

  4. What a marvellous post Tommy. Every pic a winner. Margo