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Local designer Elaine Nicholson developed her collection of beautiful cowls and blankets while studying Contemporary Textiles at Shetland College. Taking inspiration from her heritage, she taught herself to knit openwork and traditional Shetland lace, and using computer assisted design programs developed patterns for knitting on an industrial knitting machine. These pieces are especially tactile, as Elaine experiments with different yarn mixtures resulting in beautifully soft contemporary textures.

Her mother’s skill in lace knitting has been a major source of inspiration to Elaine, and her collection innovatively combines traditional lace knitting skills with new technology. She writes this about her Hap Blanket:

"Inspiration for this design came from a hap (shawl) hand knitted in 1987 by my mother, Minnie Hughson, for the birth of her grand-nephew. Janet Williamson (the baby’s mother) was keen for the hap to be made from Shetland wool for warmth. It featured tree patterns with a leaf pattern in the centre, and was the largest hap she knitted, almost too large for the hap stretchers when it was complete. By 2013 my mother, now suffering from dementia, was residing in the Fernlea Wishart Anderson Care Centre. I was delighted when Janet gifted the hap back to me for a keepsake, it was in very good condition as it had been kept for special occasions. I was excited taking the hap to Fernlea, looking forward to discussing the detail in the knitting with my mother. She looked at the hap and agreed it was beautiful knitting, but did not recognise the hap, and refused to believe that it was her own makkin (knitting); dementia had taken charge.

In my own textile work last year, at the Shetland College, UHI, I researched Shetland lace knitting with a focus on my heritage. I was eager to use the lace patterning of a hap, but knitting lace by hand is time consuming and demands perfection, in addition to needing focus and concentration. I was looking for some way to catch the essence of a traditional hap by using machine knitting, wanting to connect my work with my mother’s work. In the design, parts of the pattern are erased and chaotic leaving untidy empty spaces, trying to reflect how dementia takes over, disorders and vacates. The blanket pattern fades away as it moves towards the top edge, suggesting the passing of time. Essential criteria for me was that the blanket was soft, the tactile element was just as important as the pattern design – 'hap' is a Shetland word for shawl, from the word haptic, “to wrap, also relating to the sense of touch”. I experimented with different fibres and washed the blankets until I achieved a suitably soft tactile feel."

Elaine Ann's work is currently available to buy from the Bonhoga Gallery shop and craft cabinet.


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