books, designer, knitting, Knitting Pattern, love, shetland
comments 11

family treasure

Recently I was talking with my Mam about a knitted cardigan that her mam – my Nannie – had knitted for her, when she was little. It had a hand knitted yoke which was attached to a machine-knit body.   I wish the original existed, but when Mam was a lass and knit clothes got too small they were handed down or unravelled and made into something else.

I have written before about my family’s history with the knitting industry; during the course of the conversation I began to realise that, while I knew both my grandparents machine knit garments to supplement the family income, I didn’t really appreciate that standard of hand-knitting Nannie did. When Mam asked if I wanted Nannie’s note books, it was only then that I realised she must have been a very talented Fair Isle knitter.


A ‘Lifestyle’ carrier bag came out of the loft crammed full of note books of handwritten charts, clipped out patterns and scraps and fragments of her knitting past. What a shame for them to be in a bag for so long and not looked at or enjoyed. Some of the papers are in real need of saving.

The collection had been in the bag and in the loft for some time so it did smell *quite* musty and smoky smelling; not so appealing to initially leaf through. After a little research I placed them in old pillowcases in boxes filled with cat litter to absorb some of the mustiness. I wasn’t sure of the efficacy of this method, but unbelievably it did really lessen the smell (downgraded to old library book smell).


Much of the written patterns are machine knitting instructions, which I never learned to use, but if I get better at Fair Isle, I will have no end of inspiration. There are lots of recognisable patterns, but I really love the pages where she has played with designs and motif. There are charts which I am sure were not typical designs for Shetland knitting at that time – such as a coat of arms. I love seeing her notes written next to the designs – it is a like a little treasure map and all the X’s and dots mark the spot of something special to me.

Also included in the bounty are clippings from magazines from the 1950s, such as My Weekly,  and measurement guides from the different Shetland knitwear brokers and shops that Nannie sold to.



I will be going through the collection in more detail and making an appropriate display book for them (rather than a plastic bag) so I will share some of these treasures again.

I can’t really put into words how it makes me feel leafing through her handwritten notes and charts – it was quite emotional, really. My Nannie was my favourite person in the worlds – still is –  to see her handwriting and see her notes for garments for members of the family, now also gone…it’s moving. I can imagine her drawing out her charts, sitting in her chair by the fire.

I guess there is some small part of me that was looking for some little note from her to me, across the years – that is totally sentimental and, well… unlikely, however, in a way there is a big message – I need to get better at Fair Isle knitting and I have no excuse now, not with Nannie’s treasure maps.



  1. Kirsten says

    My grandmother was my favourite in the world too, and I understand how moving it must be for you to see her scriblings and patterns.

  2. Amelia says

    Wow, what an amazing archive – and a wonderful legacy for you. If saving the paper is too hard/stinky, maybe you could take photographs and make a book from those. Anyway, that is a fantastic piece of heritage.

  3. What a treasure! the photos remind me of my copy of Mary McGregor’s spiral bound Fair Isle Knitting Patterns that I finally treated myself to in Lerwick last year.

    You should practice making something simple first, with one of your Nannie’s charts. Maybe Kate Davies wwwww #1, with a chart substitution, for the love of your life, that would be a great place to start!

    I still have precious memories of certain childhood clothes, but yes, they were passed on, or hand-me-downs already, or reworked into something else once you were grown out of them.

    • louise says

      I can’t wait to get going with them, but also really looking forward to putting them in a beautiful book displaying them as they deserve. If I’ve done it by wool week I’ll let you see!

  4. Monty Mouse says

    What a gorgeous find and absolutely priceless in so many different ways, to you for the memories it brings but also as a little pearl of knitting history. Can’t wait to see what you knit.

  5. Linda says

    Know exactly what you mean about that smoky kinda smell. I was looking at some old photos of my Mum’s the other day and was immediately transported back to those days (when EVERYBODY smoked!). Better ways to be transported though – must try the cat litter trick!

  6. Wow, that is an amazing resource! It’s always wonderful to find documentation of previous generations of any kind, so to have a record of knitting patterns and note books, that is an incredible treasure to a knitter. I wish I had something that my Granny, or her sisters in law had made or wrote about making. I didn’t get to know any of them well, as my Granny was 37 when she married and she married a man 10 years her senior and my mother was born 5 years after that, so whilst they were all serious crafters, in fact my two great aunts had their own shop selling hand crafted goods, I never actually got any of their hand made items. I never got to talk craft to any of them and that makes me so sad. They would all be so pleased to see craft becoming a central part of my life. I’m so very happy that you have got this treasure and can help preserve it for future generations of crafters.

  7. What an amazing treasure trove of family history! Look forward to seeing your updates once you have been able to sort though them.

  8. I love the rabbit! It’s wonderful to have these handwritten bits from our ancestors – even if they were ancestors we might not have been wild about. (I say that because I have an original of the letter that my father wrote to my mother’s parents, asking them for permission to marry my mother. Both my grandparents wrote back, and I have those letters too. I found both of my grandparents to be rather frightening, stern people, but I do treasure the letters.)

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