The lost art of Hebridean knitting patterns is now kept alive by the group

Marriage Lines Shawl.
Marriage Lines Shawl.

Herring Girl Knitwear based on the Isle of Barra – which marks one year since its launch – uses the unique designs and styles first developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by the formidable group of women known as the name of “Herring Girls”, which followed the schools of herring around the British coast.

Women were employed in the grueling work of gutting and drying fish for the merchants. They came from all over the country and often spent months away from home.

Despite the hard work and poor living conditions, these women were the standard bearers of the culture and traditions of their communities. Their free time would be spent talking, singing and knitting.

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Cardigan with veil pattern

Their knitting would use skills and patterns passed down from generation to generation and learned as they grow older. Very often their finished clothes were sent home for family members to wear.

Motifs often included motifs such as anchors, ship wheels, hearts or wedding lines, each with a distinct connection to its own home islands and the fishing industry.

The unique fishermen’s guernsey barra design (sweater) is the True Lovers knot.

The Herring Girl line of knitwear is inspired by these hardworking women and uses official fishing port records to indicate which community the designs relate to.

Anchor beanie with mesh scarf

The first Herring Girl range used the ‘CY’ brand, which represents the fishing port of Castlebay on Barra.

They also currently manufacture clothing under the ‘SY’ records for Stornoway and ‘BRD’ for Broadford on the Isle of Skye. All of their products are available for purchase from the website or through their resellers and can be made to order.

Another unique quirk of the Herring Girl brand is that knitters are not known to the buyer by name – instead, each knitter chooses the name and registration number of a fishing vessel that is historically linked. to this community.

Herring Girl Founder and Designer Margaret Anne Elder – known as ‘CY Grian nan Oir’ to her clients – said: “I watched my grandmother knit every moment of the day. Often, when she walked from her hometown to the store or post office, she could knit a sock there and one on the way home. Anyone who remembers her will always talk about her knitting.

Barra fishermans Guernsey with True Lovers bow motif

“For many years I have been determined to bring the history of the Herring Girls to life in one way or another, to honor these brave girls and women who have had such a difficult life and spent their time. free to create such beautiful gifts for their families. And what better way to do it than to recreate the magnificent designs that have such a strong cultural connection to Hebridean communities past and present.

“Each design has a story that relates to our island heritage and I am proud to ensure that these designs and styles endure and can be passed on to future generations.

“The history of the patterns is fascinating, with each island having its own unique identifiers. If you come across a fisherman wearing a hand-knitted Guernsey, you may know their home port just by looking at the pattern. In addition to staying true to the unique designs, our hand knitters stay true to the colors used by our ancestors with the traditional, greens, blues and browns forming the basis of the range.

Margaret Anne added: “At the moment I have five experienced knitters who provide quality clothing for Herring Girl. However, I am very keen to make sure that these skills and models are passed on, just as they have been to me. I will be looking to recruit younger knitters who are ready to learn the craft and history so that it can be passed on to the next generation of knitters.

Margaret Ann Elder

“And in these times, knitting is a therapeutic hobby that can provide a calming distraction to whatever is going on around us.

“In island culture, the herring girl is considered a strong and hard-working woman who was not afraid of hard transplants.

“I hope that through the Herring Girl collection, we can pay tribute to their resilience and thank them for keeping these unique traditions alive so that we can live up to them.”

One of the Herring Girl Collection knitters known as “CY42 Venus” added, “My grandmother taught us to knit when we were young, she always knitted. It was a skill she was determined to grow with as she had done and those before her, and

“I am incredibly proud to be able to carry on the tradition. She is my inspiration every time I pick up my knitting needles.

About Tracy G. Larimore

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