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Talented local jewellery designer Helen Robertson takes us through some of the inspirations behind her different collections. Helen creates jewellery inspired by Shetland's cultural and textile heritage.

Her work can be seen in ShetlandMade at Bonhoga Gallery until Sunday 9 September.

Tree of Life rings and earrings and necklaces

The Tree of Life symbol appears across the world in various forms in textiles. The shape using parallel diagonal lines is common across the northern hemisphere. It is used to symbolise the eternal cycle of life, growth and death that all mankind has in common. More practically in Shetland it was used in knitted yoke jumpers and cardigans as it fits in perfectly with the decreases needed to shape the yoke. It appears in Shetland Lace knitting as a series of vertically diagonal holes.

This collection of jewellery was inspired by this design.

Each piece is hand stamped using a custom made stamp. The stud earrings and necklaces make great gifts.

The 5 individual stacking rings that make up the Tree of Life Ring include 2 blackened rings to symbolise beginnings and endings, a plain silver ring to symbolise everyday life and a bobbled ring to symbolise fun. The ring can be made in any size.

The Tree of Life necklace shown is an enlarged symbol hand pierced from sterling silver. It has been embossed with pieces from the hand knitted lace silver wire shawl that I inserted into a crofthouse window as part of my Hentilagets Installation. This installation included wire lace knitted inserts set into the fence surrounding the crofthouse. This was done to honour the knitters of the past who simultaneously ran the crofts while knitting. Many of the lace knit patterns have names associated with crofting and I chose those for my lace fence parts. The Lace shawl featured patterns associated with the domestic environment so I chose the Braand Iron edge (a brand iron was used for cooking on), a Tree ofLlife border and a Candlelight middle. The installation was completed in November. There followed a very stormy few weeks and by the time the storm passed enough to enable me to retrieve the shawl, I found it blown to pieces and thrown down the field by the wind. I’ve found a way to preserve it is to emboss it into sheet silver and use that to create jewellery. The endless (re)cycle of life!

The photos on sale in the exhibition are of this installation and were taken by Mark Sinclair of Phatsheep Photography.

60 N Rings

The 60 North Ring was created to celebrate our northern location.

Shetland lies 60North of the equator, as far north as parts of Iceland, Greenland and even Alaska.

This gives us the glow of the fabulous northern blue light that you can experience here and also, of course, the Mirrie Dancers (or Northern Lights) which if you’re lucky enough you might see here too.

The ring is made up of 3 separate rings. The first, wider ring was inspired by a stack of bird rings seen in Fair Isle. There are used to track the movement of birds, north and south, east and west.

The blackened ring symbolizes the dark days and nights of our winters, while the sparkly ring symbolizes the endless light in the summer. I find you need each to cope with the other.

This ring is an ideal way of celebrating how far (north) you have come.

The ring can be made in any size and it suitable for women, men and children alike.

Aerial Archaeology

The aerial views of archaeological sites have only become available to us in recent times. The abstract shapes they produce are both ancient and modern. They imbue a sense of place both this place and it’s people here and now but also this place and it’s people in the past.

Mousa has always been one of my favourite places in Shetland. To experience a trip to Mousa is to experience the whole of Shetland in microcosm. The trip on the boat is exciting and gives that wind in your hair feeling. The island itself is easy to walk around. It has an abundance of birds and a beach full of selkies (seals). Then there’s the broch. Wow! For me being at the broch is equivalent to looking up at the stars. It gives me the same sense of connection and vastness. I am always rejuvenated after a trip to Mousa. I was delighted therefore to find that Mousa Broch also looks fabulous from the air!

The Staneydale Temple in Walls can transport you back in time in the same way. The unanswered questions of why was it built and by whom could keep you up at night but it also has a glorious shape from the air.

Both necklaces are hand pierced in sterling silver and hand textured to give the sense of stone.

The development of these pieces was supported by a Ding Fellowship from Glasgow School of Art.

Classic Lace Collection

Shetland Lace is known the world over for its beauty, intricacy and fineness. My Classic Shetland Lace Collection uses patterns form Shetland lace knitted, handed down through the generations. It was originally inspired by the story and photo of Alice from Unst who spun and knitted her own wedding shawl in the 1920’s which she wore as a veil. The peaks of a traditional Shetland shawl inspired me to create a tiara so the tradition of wearing Shetland Lace on your wedding day would be carried on but in a more modern way.

The cuff bracelets are designed to be worn on special occasions and my aim for them was to recreate the Shetland Lace patterns in precious metal so that the patterns could really be treasured as I believe they should. The cuffs are great for brides and can be made to match bridal parties. Each cuff is made using fine silver wire, colored enamel wire and has a sterling silver fastening.

Beachcombers Collection

Shown here as part of my Beachcombers Collection is Crang and Bird Skull.

“The artist has tunneled your head to a circlet of bone

For the beach to wear, a beaked ring for Death to rattle

On his scythe. You look to be still in flight

But land is your sky now, a shore like graded sandpaper

On which you feathers wave smokily, as though

You had passed through aerial fire.”

These words were the inspiration behind ‘Crang’ (a Shetland dialect word meaning skeleton). They are part of a poem written by Paula Jennings and published in 2008 by Happenstance, Fife. The poem, entitled, “Seabird, What has Death Left in Your Belly?” was in turn inspired by a painting by Salvador Dali entitled L’Oisseau.

I was paired with Paula as part of a project run by Shetland Arts and Fife Arts and Crafts which paired up makers and poets from both regions with the aim of inspiring new work.

Crang is made by knitting a combination of enameled copper wire and silver wire. The dog in its belly is a Monopoly dog as greed can often be at the root of the causes of dead seabirds.

The skull is a development from Crang and develops the theme of mortality and immortality. It is knitted in fine silver wire and can be displayed as a beach find or worn as a brooch.

Colours and Textures of Shetland

There are so many fabulous textures and colours in the landscape and seascape of Shetland. The rocks near Sumburgh Lighthouse and rocks at the Norwick Beach in Unst inspired these earrings.

The purple in the collection is from road side scabious and heather covered hills shown by amethysts. The sparkly sea is reflected in the opals. Each pair of earrings is sterling silver and uses genuine fair trade gemstones.


I put in quite a lot of miles on the roads in Shetland every year and so I was amused that those journeys inspired a new collection. The Caution! Collection shows signs I see on the road every day and that make me smile. See if you can spot them as you go around Shetland.

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