Share this Post

In the third of a series of interviews for our new ShetlandMade exhibition our Creative Digital Apprentice Peter Tomlinson talked to local textile designer Joan Fraser about her work, her inspiration and the process of design to finished product.

Joan works mainly from her home in Muckle Roe, designing elegant and tactile knitted headbands, scarves, cowls and wraps. Her work can be seen in the ShetlandMade exhibition at Bonhoga Gallery from 31 March - 20 May.

1 – What is the name of your company and where do you do your work?

My business name is Fraser and I work mainly from home in Muckle Roe.

What interesting equipment do you use?

Softbyte Designaknit is a program which links my computer to my knitting machine. It allows me to easily adjust patterns and shapes while knitting, so that I can quickly try many alternatives for a new design.

One by-product of this process is an unruly nest of swatches in a box beneath the machine. Occasionally I tip out the box and see how the swatches land - suggesting combinations of colour and pattern I wouldn't otherwise have considered. Sometimes low-tech is just the best option!

Who or what do you draw inspiration from?

I'm interested in the wealth and variety of Fair Isle pattern, and the way it keeps changing and developing with the continuous movement of people due to industry, war and migration. You see this effect in the pattern developments here in the 1940s and the 1970s, for example. And then there are patterns that have been inspired by other media: some are said to have come from linoleum designs which were themselves inspired by Victorian floor tiles; these in their turn were inspired by the walls and floors of Moorish palaces.

All these influences mean that our patterns aren't just always changing, they are linked to the outside world by a whole web of connections.

Why do you choose to use the materials that you use?

This depends on the texture I want for the end product. For a tactile, soft and slightly fluffy finish I choose pure Shetland wool. I like the way the fine hairs on the surface help the colours to blend. This effect is enhanced after washing and dressing, and it is often surprising which colours end up going well together. When I want a smoother texture with very distinct patterning I use lambswool or cashmere. Cashmere has a silky, draping effect which works well for a man's scarf to go with a suit.

How do you work, what is your process?

I develop the designs, patterns and colour combinations on my hand frame knitting machine. I give the resulting computer files to the TFU (Textile Facilitation Unit) in Lerwick. There the designs are programmed for knitting on a Japanese Shima machine, which knits the double jersey used in my scarves and wraps. The initial process involves a few meetings, prototyping, further adjustments, testing and testing again. The TFU is a great asset to the Shetland knitwear industry, providing a valuable service for a number of local knitwear designers. My scarves are machine finished by the excellent Sandra Williamson Textiles in Yell. My working day might include design work, testing and prototyping, hand-finishing, hand-washing and dressing, visual marketing and general promotion or meeting with customers and stockists. There is never enough time, but a never-ending to-do list is a motivating thing.

Do you have a favourite piece?

At the moment I'm liking the Shetland wool wrap because of its scale and the texture of the Shetland wool.

Do you work in your business full time or do you have another job?

I work full time, about 9-6 for 5 days a week, but longer hours at busier times such as pre-Christmas.

Your knitwear aside, what do you like to do in your spare time?

I play about with writing fiction and poetry, so I write every morning from 7 til 9 when I start work. After work in the evening I usually drive off somewhere and roam the banks for an hour or so. Later evening I read - not anything that highbrow recently, just endless page-turners about people being murdered in their snowmobiles. At the weekends if the weather is fine I go for a full day's walk - Shetland has plenty of wilderness and you're always tripping over Neolithic houses and burial cairns. I'm collaborating with friends on an art project, and that sometimes takes up a full and really enjoyable weekend.

If you could own another artist’s work, who would you choose? Why?

Not owning as such, but I would love the chance to experience another work by Dinh Q. Lê. It was really something - breathtaking, dizzying - to stand between the three huge screens of his haunting installation in the Mareel auditorium. What a privilege, to have access to that amazing piece of work here in Shetland for a whole month.

As far as an object to take home goes, right now I'm fancying one of those punchy outsize lampshades by GillyB in the current Bonhoga showcase.

What motivates you to do what you do?

The creation of something new from an idea - working through the issues, getting it right. The autonomy - I'm in charge of me. The variety - every day is different (and sometimes I get to go on the Yell ferry). The troubleshooting - dealing with the challenges of running a small business. The focus - anyone who has their own business will know how obsessive you can get. The satisfaction when a look comes together, such as a great shot on a photoshoot. Getting to know my stockists and customers. The learning.

There is always something to learn, things I never would have dreamed I’d need to know! The buzz.

Related Posts

Donate

Help support our work by making a donation via The Big Give

Find Out More

Become a Member

Support our work by taking advantage of our great membership deals.

Find Out More

Apply for a job

Look here for our latest vacancies

Find Out More

Shetland Arts Venues