Fair Isle invites the Tall Ships to barter!

Fair Isle knitters plan to re-enact their age-old tradition of bartering knitwear for goods onboard the visiting Tall Ships this summer. The event will take place during The Tall Ships Races 2011, presented by Szczecin, organised by Sail Training International.

Fair Isle KepFair Isle - Britain’s most remote inhabited island - is a guest harbour in the non-competitive Cruise in Company leg. This year the fleet will set sail from Greenock on 12 July en-route to Lerwick calling in at participating harbours along the way, the other ports of call include Campbeltown, Islay, Oban, Stornoway, Ullapool, Stromness, Kirkwall, Scalloway, Yell, Unst and Whalsay.

Cruise in Company event organiser, Jimmy Stout said: "The women of Fair Isle are ‘makkin’ [knitting] furiously in preparation for the event, hand-knitting traditional fishermen’s ‘keps’ [hats] to barter with the passing Tall Ships.  This is a great way for Fair Isle to celebrate and bring to life an important part of the island’s history, when yoals would intercept passing sailing ships and trade fresh and knitted goods for luxuries like new clothes, flour, tea, brandy and other essentials unavailable on the island.  As Fair Isle lies on some of the busiest shipping lanes in Europe, they have seen visits over the centuries from Viking longships and Hanseatic trading ships to the cargo and cruise ships of today; passing ships have always been a vital part of the island’s culture.

“We would like to extend our hospitality to the sailors and invite them to engage in this cultural exchange both afloat and ashore (weather dependant). We will barter our unique knitwear in exchange, we hope, for something symbolic from the ship’s home.

“A group of knitters, from experienced to novice, are turning trademark traditional colours into the long bright hats once worn by local fishermen. These hats were made from a kaleidoscope of Shetland yarns and were designed as a necessity for the cold Atlantic, but are now a rare and unique item - hand-knitted Fair Isle from Fair Isle! We are synonymous with the vivid-patterned knitting which has become famous the world over, and was traded for hundreds of years with passing ships.”

The Tall Ships visit has triggered a resurgence of interest in hand-knitting and experienced teacher Anne Sinclair is on hand for those wishing to learn these ancient skills. One Fair Isle resident Annie Thomson, who has been knitting for 85 years, is already on her fifth hat for the visiting ships!

Today, Fair Isle trades mainly with cruise ships and yachtsmen who visit the island.  To commemorate the island’s history and the special Tall Ships event the islanders will meet with the ships at sea with their small fleet of yoals and other vessels, and barter, by arrangement, similar to the traditions of days gone by.

Fair Isle would like to acknowledge the support of Jamieson’s Spinning who have sponsored their effort by donating their pure Shetland yarn.