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Fair Isle knitting designer expands offering

Published: 18/03/2021

A designer who is keeping the Fair Isle knitting tradition alive on the island has been awarded £40,842 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to expand her business.

Marie sitting on rock knitting
Marie ( pic by Maëlys Gauthier)

A designer who is keeping the Fair Isle knitting tradition alive on the island has been awarded £40,842 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to expand her business.

Marie Bruhat was inspired to move to Fair Isle from France four years ago following a previous internship with another island-based textile business.

During her internship, she spent much time devoted to discovering the history of the island and people and honing her skills in the traditional artistry of Fair isle knitting.

After making Fair Isle her home, she set up a B&B in her two-bedroom croft house, so that she could share the island’s history and traditions with visitors to the island.

When the COVID-19 lockdown started last year, Marie used the time to launch her online ‘Lea x Sea’ knitwear collection. She is now one of only four Fair Isle makers based on the island.

Garments designed and produced by Marie use the authentic style of Fair Isle but with a modern twist. Up until now, each piece was made individually from her house. With HIE’s support, she will purchase and install a bothy to base her knitwear business in.

Now that the business space will be expanded into a permanent studio, Marie will use her house to offer knitting holidays to Fair Isle enthusiasts once restrictions are lifted. During their stay, guests can enjoy a tailor-made break on the UK’s most sparsely inhabited island and be taught traditional Fair Isle knitting under her guidance at the ‘Pund Bothy Knitting workshop’.

The island of Fair Isle forms part of the Shetland Islands and the knitting technique associated with it is widely recognised for its complex, repeating patterns and traditional craftsmanship. All Marie’s products are made-to-order, created from organic Shetland wool and supports the historic trade of Fair Isle.

Marie is conscious of the impact of fashion on climate change and this is why she is passionate about promoting ‘slow fashion’ with a focus on sustainability. She only uses 100% wool spun in Shetland. The process doesn’t use carbon energy and the light in the workshop is provided by the island’s green off-grid system. Her work is all about craftsmanship and showing people that it is more sustainable to buy more expensive, hand-made items that will last for a life-time.

With a population of 45, the three-mile long island of Fair Isle lies between Shetland and Orkney. The bothy will be located on Marie and her partner’s newly assigned croft. They hope to bring derelict buildings located on the croft, back to life soon.  

Marie said: “If you keep the craftmanship alive then it provides a wonderful opportunity to to have folk join in. During my workshops, people will get the chance to knit a jumper, hat, set of accessories and will be able to meet other people on the island. I’ll now have the workspace I need for my creations. I can produce and design in the bothy but I also have long term plans to expand in the future. The funding has been so helpful and I would never have been able to have done it without the assistance from HIE.”

Fiona Stirling, development manager with HIE said: “I am delighted that we are supporting this new enterprise on Fair Isle. The Pund Bothy Knitting workshop will enhance Fair Isle’s tourism offering and be an important part of re-building the island’s visitor economy. Online sales of Marie’s stunning knitwear will support the business outwith the visitor season, creating employment and ultimately helping sustain the island. It’s a very welcome development.” 

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