Dr Siun Carden

Project Title: Micro-manufacturing and place-based maker cultures: textile production and skill transmission in Shetland and the west of Ireland

Think of knitting – especially local varieties, like Fair Isle or Aran knitting – and you probably think of a person working with their hands, a pair of needles and some wool. However places like Shetland and the west of Ireland, which are associated with these styles of knitwear, are home to businesses using a wide variety of manufacturing processes. The twenty-first century surge of interest in textile-making as leisure and heritage has included growth in craft tourism and brought a new kind of attention to these areas, but textile making as a contemporary industry in the UK and Ireland faces ongoing challenges.

Mechanisation is sometimes considered a loss of ‘skill’, especially in contexts where hand skills have become less widespread. At the same time, machine textile producers in Shetland report difficulties attracting and retaining suitably ‘skilled’ staff. This project will investigate how ‘skill’ is conceptualised and transmitted by those who work with or design for machines within wider textile ‘maker cultures’ that celebrate the handcrafted, and how this shapes contemporary textile production in rural places. Shetland’s rich textile history and present make it an ideal primary field site, while the west of Ireland has parallels and differences, offering a chance to illuminate research questions through comparison and to develop future collaborative links.

Awarded: Research Incentive Grant

Field: Area Studies

University: University of the Highlands and Islands

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