Bought on eBay for £7.39, Fair Isle cap now has pride of place in museum

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A traditional Fair Isle cap bought on eBay for £7.39 now has pride of place as possibly one of the earliest pieces of Fair Isle knitting in Shetland Museum and Archives’ collection.

The cap was discovered in a house move and was nearly thrown out, but was fortunately placed on the internet auction site instead. It was bought by knitting enthusiast Masami Yokoyama, originally from Japan but now living in London, from a seller in Kent.

Ms Yokoyama was in Shetland recently on a wool holiday, organised by Jamieson and Smith (Shetland Wool Brokers) Ltd as part of the Wool Week celebrations, and decided that she would donate the cap to Shetland Museum and Archives textile collection.

The donation has delighted museum staff, who are now pondering the cap’s origins.

Textile curator Carol Christiansen confirmed that the colourful cap is definitely a 19th century example of Fair Isle knitting and could possibly come from Fair Isle itself.

Dr Christiansen said: “The dark red colour indicates it is more than likely from Fair Isle as they had this deep red. I would say that this piece is now the oldest item in our knitting collection, although it’s impossible to put an exact date on it. It’s really in super condition and just fantastic that Ms Yokoyama found this on eBay and generously donated it to us.”

The cap has the classic Fair Isle OXO pattern with still vibrant colours in the natural dyes that would have been used in Fair Isle in the 19th century. The dark red, indigo, moorit and black colours have faded very little while the white areas give the only clue as to the age of the piece.

This kind of cap would have been the type of item that 19th century Fair islanders would have knitted to sell to tourists and passing traders either for money or goods. The madder dye (for red) and the indigo (for blue) would have had to be imported, and the colourful nature of the knitting would have made it more valuable.

Dr Christiansen said the cap, which has a long conical shape designed to flop over in the Norwegian and Faroese manner, rather than the modern close-fitting style, has caused some excitement in the museum. It is unusual in that it has a seam in the top part indicating it may not have been knitted in the round as would have been expected. However the lower part of the cap has been knitted in the round and is very similar in pattern to another piece of knitting in the textile collection. The cap is quite small and Dr Christiansen believes it may have been altered to fit a smaller head, with the seam being added in later if a section was removed.

The cap was recently discovered during a house move in Palmers Green in London. The seller is pleased that it has made its way back to Shetland and has been presented to Shetland Museum and Archives. She said: “I’m thrilled that it has been added to your collection. If I had any idea that it was special I would have submitted it myself!”


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