Published: 21 January 2021
Jumper back from USA
Happy to wear this jumper again This photo pretty much sums up the joy I felt to be reunited with a jumper I knitted in the mid/late 1980s. It was knitted for myself but before I started wearing it I entered it at the annual show in Walls. In those days so many people were regularly knitting that the schedule sought entries by chest/bust size to ensure there weren’t too many entries in each class. The show is a one-day event, with judging starting in the morning, before being opened for visitors to view. If judging takes too long the visitors get impatient.
My jumper was knitted with undyed yarn in natural Shetland colours so is very cosy and I wore it for a few years. The neck was so tight it was a struggle to get it on and off but I didn’t alter it. Eventually the jumper was added to a bag of donations to one of the charity shops in Lerwick. Possibly I’d got too big for the jumper but it was too good for the dog’s bed, where other jumpers sometimes languished before finishing up in the compost heap. Ann Feitelson happened to be in Shetland, in 1994, researching for her forthcoming book, when she saw the jumper for sale and bought it.
Sometime after the book was published I was visiting my friend Elizabeth Johnston, and noticed this book on her table. I flicked through it for a few minutes, then was slightly taken aback to see “my” patterns in one of the jumpers, but I understood as soon as I saw she had included a photo of my jumper. The jumper uses some of the 25 row patterns I’d created when knitting Fair Isle yokes in the 1960s – I’d got bored with the traditional patterns and needed something new. At that time, I usually knitted at least one Fair Isle yoke a week, and most were knitted with a 25 row pattern and a tree. Ann Feitelson's book
Ann’s notes about the patterns say she “had never seen them in any other sweater, nor in any Shetland or Scandinavian pattern book”. My jumper was the inspiration for her Whalsay jumper pattern, which has different colours, a bigger underarm diamond filler pattern and wider shoulders. Ann assumed it was a child’s jumper so I wrote, via the publishers, to give her the true story. I was delighted to be sent a copy of the book but we had no direct contact at that time.
Years passed by and I often wondered if she still had the jumper. One day in November I happened to be on Facebook, in the “Fair Isle knitting and other Color work Knitting” group when I noticed Ann had posted a comment. It’s a really busy group and I don’t see every comment made there – serendipity! I sent Ann a message to ask if she still had the jumper and if she would be willing to sell it back to me. I really don’t know why I’d never thought to search for her before. I was delighted Ann still had the jumper, and a few days later she had found it and was happy to send me the jumper, without any reimbursement.
We had a little online discussion about the jumper and concluded that the charity shop had maybe washed, and slightly shrunk the jumper which is why Ann was sure it was a child’s jumper. The jumper arrived in mid-December and yes, it was a bit shrunk - waakit in Shetland dialect. I tried to get it on but there was no way I would get it over my head – whatever else has grown I don’t think it’s my head, and my hair hasn’t got any thicker! The bust measurement was 34 inches, and 21 inches long. I notice it’s been darned in a couple of places – I’m not sure who did that but I'm sure it wasn't me as I would usually mend by following the original stitches. Whoever did the mending did a good job as it isn’t immediately obvious. Perhaps it had been bought from, then returned to, a charity shop before Ann got it.
I was given a bottle of “unshrinkit, the emergency sweater saver” on a trip to Vogue Knitting Live in New York. Five years later the unused bottle was still in a cupboard so this was a good time to use it. I followed the instructions, gave it a spin in the washing machine, then put it on a jumperboard where it happily measured 37 inches wide and 22 inches long. I can’t say for certain that it was the bottle of unshrinkit or the jumperboard which made the difference, or perhaps it was a combination. Now it’s had time to relax after being on the board it’s 36 wide and 21 long.
Wearing the jumper in winter sunshine The neck was still too tight so I had to make it wider. Putting together the film of this being done has been a steep learning curve - it's not perfect but you can see what I did. I knitted a new neck and was able to wear the jumper again. It’s a bit tight across the bust so I am going to donate it to Shetland Textile Museum.
I do appreciate that my jumper was safely kept for about 26 years. To see, wear and feel its cosiness is wonderful!
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Shetland is the most northerly group of Scottish islands. Apart from mainland Scotland, the other near neighbours are Norway to the east and the Faroe Islands to the north west.