Accepted Paper:

The future of Shetland knitting: from 'maternal osmosis' to 'the responsibility of the community'  
Siún Carden (University of the Highlands and Islands)

Paper short abstract:

Knitting was a major industry in Shetland until the late 20th century and has been subject to heritagisation since. New modes of transmission prize skill over production, but 'skill' still includes the 'social knowledge, worldviews and moral principles' (Marchand 2008) inherent to apprenticeship.

Paper long abstract:

At its mid-20th century peak, the Shetland knitwear sector was sustained by a 'maker culture' (Carr and Gibson 2016) that did not reflect binaries like amateur/professional, hand/machine-based, or artisanal/large scale manufacturing. Skills were transmitted through 'maternal osmosis' (Arnold 2010:87) and honed through economic necessity.

The discovery of North Sea oil in the 1970s transformed the Shetland economy. In recognition that domestic apprenticeship in commercial knitting would decline, knitwear was targeted for support as a 'traditional industry' (Nicolson 1976) and reframed as heritage: an interviewee reports that 'heritage came up with oil and the museum'. Support from oil-related funds included knitting tuition in Shetland schools.

In 2010 this tuition ended, sparking debate about the future of Shetland knitting. Meanwhile, the 'hedonization' (Maines 2009) of knitting and an online 'making and doing' (Gauntlett 2011) culture had made Shetland an increasingly popular destination for craft tourists, keen not just to learn about Shetland knitting but to participate in it. A voluntary organization, ShetlandPeerieMakkers, was established to find new ways to transmit hand knitting skills to Shetland children, mobilizing support by framing knitting as 'the responsibility of the community' (interviewee).

Shetland knitting is now valued less as a commodity and more as expertise. Drawing on interviews and ethnographic research, this paper shows how the framing of Scottish craft skills as heritage (McCleery et al 2008) shapes communities of practice (Lave and Wenger 1991) around Shetland knitting by popularising a conception of skill that is more than 'technical know-how' (Marchand 2008).

Panel P068
The Future of Craft: Apprenticeship, Transmission and Heritage