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Helen Robertson - Jewellery and Textiles Designer

Growing up in Shetland I was surrounded by Shetland knitting. Most of my memories are seen through a textile vortex.  I learned to knit in my Granny and Grandad’s croft house in Unst in the early 70’s. There is an audio tape recording of it and I am, rather ambitiously, “makkin a cardeen (cardigan) fur Mam”! As I grew up I was in awe of the beautiful lace that was produced in the isle and of the knowledge and skill of the adult knitters around me. Struggling myself to follow patterns, my love of knitting only truly emerged when I laid by the patterns and simply cast on and let my own designs emerge from the needles.  My passion has led me to incorporate Shetland knitting techniques into my work.

 I am acutely aware of the struggle and hardships faced by my ancestors and I try to pay tribute to them through my work. Shetland has a very harsh environment; there is only one growing season per year. Although the sun is endless in the summer months it almost disappears during winter.  In the not too distant past families struggled to feed themselves and many men were lost at sea. The fishermen were vulnerable from the weather and they and their families were vulnerable from the whims of the landowners (lairds) who might at any time throw them off their land and replace them with sheep.  This led to emigration, with members of my own family leaving for Canada and New Zealand, this theme can be traced through my work. 

In 2001, following a bridal commission, I started using wire knitting in my work. This led to a new way of creating and wearing Shetland Lace. I decided early on that I would only use precious, silver wire in honour of my heritage and my foremothers who in difficult circumstances created the original Shetland Lace patterns. I love creating jewellery as it renders something fragile into an everlasting item and has the potential to introduce Shetland knitting to a whole new audience. I now enjoy teaching others to knit with wire through online and face to face classes. 

I have never lived far from the sea and only feel truly home when I can taste the salt on my lips and feel the wind through my hair. The shore around Shetland is rich in beach treasure and I enjoy recreating found objects in silver and gold leaf. I love to recreate the feeling of wonder that beachcombing can often bring and especially love when some pieces of my jewellery are mistaken for actual driftwood or bird skulls!

But creating jewellery is a solitary affair and while I love meeting and corresponding with customers and I feel very privileged when  someone buys a piece for themselves or to give as a gift I do miss the buzz of being in a room full of folk. I also have a head so full of ideas and designs that my hands can’t keep up. To solve these two problems I designed Speedcrafting Days. Based on the idea of Speed dating I run it as an event so folk get to meet one another and spend time working with different folk during each hour. Each day is themed and by the end of the day everyone has tried out 5 different techniques and worked alongside at least 15 folk. It’s great fun.  In my 20’s I trained as a Community Worker and have been running workshops for 25 years and still love it. As well as the Speedcrafting Days I run workshops in knitting with wire, felting, knitting, jewellery and enamelling techniques.  Details of upcoming workshops are on this site but I also organise private Crafty Parties and Speedcrafting Days for children and adults, henny parties, birthdays, retirements dos, team building, Christmas do's etc so please get in touch if you would like me to arrange something for you.

I hope you find something of interest on my page. Please feel free to get in touch if you do!

Photo Credits: Portrait of me by Tom Barr

Hentilagets Photos by Mark Sinclair of Phatsheep Photography

Model Shots and styling by Joy Allan

Model and stylist: Ria Moncrieff