Published: 01 January 1970
Fair Isle jumper on a board Shetlanders 'dress' or 'board' knitting once it's finished but outside of Shetland the word 'block' is more commonly used. To dress jumpers (sweaters), jumper boards have been used in Shetland for many years. My mother, who was a child in the 1920s, said there always seemed to be a jumper on a board as she drifted off to sleep in her box bed.
A board is a wooden frame over which the knitted jumper (or cardigan) is stretched. It is the quickest way to block a jumper. Cardigans are temporarily sewn together with strong cotton in a contrasting colour which is easily removed when it is dry. Most jumper boards have 'feet', either fixed or swivelling, which allow the board to be free standing, either outside or indoors. In the past it was common for the board to be hung up indoors to dry - traditional croft houses were not big and usually were home to a number of people, often three or four generations, so there was little floor space. In the past wool was everyday wear so there were always jumpers to be washed and 'boarded' for the family as well as those made for sale - they couldn't always wait for a fine day to wash jumpers.
Boards are made from wood (a scarce commodity in Shetland) and were generally home made. Designs differ slightly but the common feature is a long narrow piece for the shoulders and tops of sleeves, from cuff to cuff. This can either be one long piece or two pieces which are joined when needed, which makes it easier to store. Sometimes this long piece is shaped so that it slopes down from the centre back neck to the wrists.
When preparing to write this blog I found that I have 8 jumper boards. All are slightly different and all made by different people. Only one of them is a fixed size; the others are adjustable in width, length and sleeve width. I have one made by my father for me in the 1970s when I lived in England. He made the piece for the shoulders and sleeve tops in two bits to make it easy to carry, then it was glued when I got it home. Another old one was made by an uncle, and I have ones which belonged to my mother and one of my aunts. The others are ones I have bought at auction.
I have one unusal board - I have never seen another one like it. It is clearly home made from hardboard and string is laced up the centre so that it folds easily. The jumper is pulled over the folded board then straightened out to dry. The disadvantage with this one is that it is for one size only but it takes little skill, and easily acquired materials, to make. It is advisable to cover the hardboard with food wrap and parcel tape in case any colour from the hardboard spoils the knitting. Photos are below.
I have chosen to look in more detail at one of my jumper boards. Unusually the maker's name is on the board and he (I am assuming it was made by a man) has named all the pieces as if making for someone who was unfamiliar with putting a board together. Perhaps he made boards for sale. Two short pieces are attached to the base; these swivel through 90 degrees to allow the board to stand up. There is one piece for shoulders and sleeve tops, two pieces for the sides of the jumper and two pieces for the underarms. The board is adjustable and the pieces are held together with wooden pins which are pushed into holes. The under arm piece, where it joins the upright is the trickiest piece to get right. Either the holes or the pins have to be at angles to ensure the underarm pieces slope upwards to narrow the sleeve, and the undearm piece has to be shaped where it abuts the upright. I think the angles in this board are not quite right. A piece of dowel is used at the bottom of the board and clothes pegs pull the hem of the jumper to the correct/appropriate length. Cotton is threaded through the neck and pulled tight. All these actions ensure the jumper is stretched in every direction to smooth out the knitting.
Before washing, pass a strong cotton thread through the neck of the jumper. This is the sequence for putting a jumper on a board, once it has been washed and squeezed to remove as much water as possible.
- Push the uprights (the side pieces) into the base; use a tape measure to ensure they are at the size you need. I usually make this slightly wider than the required size.
- Slide the long top piece through one cuff opening to the far cuff.
- slip the jumper down over the two uprights then push the top piece on to the uprights, making sure the pins go into the correct holes.
- Push the underam pieces into the holes in the sides of the uprights, making sure they are level. Straighten and pull the sleeves to the length needed.
- Push the dowel through the appropriate holes in the uprights. Pull down the jumper hem and secure with clothes pegs.
- Pull the cotton thread in the neck to tighten it and tie in a bow.
- When the jumper is dry, remove cotton from neck. Put a damp cotton cloth on top of the hem and cuffs and press with a hot iron, gently pulling the rib to remove all signs of clothes pegs and to narrow the cuff. Leave to dry completely.
Chapters 22 to 25 of my DVD/download show in detail how to prepare a garment before it is washed, how it's put on the board, and what to do after it's taken off the board.
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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.