The Cordova Gansey Project: The Long Story #8E  Fair Fiber Artist

The Cordova Gansey Project: The Long Story #8E Fair Fiber Artist

Dear Friends,

Today as I was writing, I was feeling bad for taking so long to tell this story. It is just that so much life goes on imbetween my telling of it, and each little part plays a part in it and hard to leave those things out.  Isn't that so true of life itself.

Each little part is part of our stories and each little part has value.  I think of The Net Loft and how for me, each and every person that walks through the door, or for those who find us from afar online, each of you is important and has value, and I thank you for finding us.  So onward with the story, which for The Net Loft, for now, is ongoing, and glad to have you listening and following along. We appreciate you.

And now....back to our story and my first afternoon on Fair Isle...and a special afternoon it was for me.

Tommy dropped me off at a home just around the bend from the Auld Haa Guest House, and I was greeted most pleasantly with the warmth and hospitality of Fiber Artist, Kathy Coull. Kathy is a spinner & knitter and instructor who has her own sheep and small yarn production. She recently had completed coursework for a BA in Contemporary Textiles with honours at the University in the Shetlands, but was now back on Fair Isle and her life here. In no time I found Kathy to be a kindred spirit with a sharing heart. On her wall was a large cross stitch bearing the words, "Laughter brings sunshine into the home" and that certainly was so, for in each moment her joy overflowed and filled the room.

There were so many jewels I wanted to hold on to and not forget. I had thought so much about everything while on this trip as I had spent so much of it alone driving or in the quiet of my down time as a solitary traveler. I wanted to take down so much of our conversation, as she had such a wisdom and appreciation for handcraft, and found myself taking notes and scrawling down bits and pieces of her sentences so as not to forget.

These conversations were timely and memorable. With all the taps on the shoulder, pats on the back and lumps in my throat up until now, I was prime for these days of mental sorting and one on one discussion versus my days in Shetland racing from one workshop to the next. Things were beginning to gel for me and this idea for the “Cordova Gansey Project” was taking a literal shape in my mind.   The idea was no longer just a slight tap or nudge, it felt tangible somehow by this point, be it small, more like the size of a very tiny seed that I could almost feel being carried in my pocket. Like any other seed I felt it had a true possibility for growing into something far bigger.   As I talked with Kathy, it was as if I brought the seed out of my pocket to show her, and watered by our shared conversation and discussion of thoughts and ideas, I could somehow feel it swell as our dialogue deepened and ventured from the practical to the philosophical aspects of handcraft, which I found we both shared a high regard for.  

In the midst of our discussion she brought out her current commissioned project, a  pullover of finely spun naturals knit in bands of traditional Fair Isle design. Beautiful inside and out, we analyzed the spinning, pattern, and structure of her work in progress. The practical interwove with the philosophical as we ventured into the topic of "tradition", and her perspective on the subject. I had this question, "What REALLY is Fair Isle knitting, and what features distinguish it from other stranded colorwork?" I was trying to understand the distinction and details that set it apart, which led us into a deeper discussion on tradition, and the conflict and controversy that sometimes comes at the juncture of tradition and the progression of pattern and design.

It seems like no matter where you are there exists an interesting relationship, and sometimes tension, between traditional and contemporary, and yet it seems they are interwoven and dependent on one another.  Contemporary builds on the past and tradition is dependent on the present here and now to carry it into the future.  Sometimes those who have a high regard for tradition desire to preserve it intact unchanged.

Kathy talked about how sometimes traditions may not necessarily be an institution from the faraway past or surrounded with pomp and circumstance.  A tradition may just be someone deciding to do something here and now. It could be started by any of us.  It is interesting to me having lived for a little while now, to see how traditions cycle and how they sometimes are made new possibly having been disregarded for some time or on the verge of being forgotten. 

We talked about this in light of the gansey project, and how I might show honour to the past while at the same time starting something new and relevant for our current generation of knitters and fisher folk.  Right now I see so much of the older styles of knitting being given a rebirth as they integrate and find new life superimposed on newer and updated styles as well as  how they were, being appreciated by a new generation, and this is what I see for our project as well.

As we looked through her notebooks we talked further on these topics of contemporary versus traditional concepts. Much food for thought. I felt as though she had helped me sort out some things, just being able to talk and discuss them, thanks to dear Kathy, with many smiles and much laughter. 

At one point, as we talked, I looked out the window and there was Kathy's "catty" wistfully looking in on us, as only cats can do,  and it dawned on me, that here I was sitting at a kitchen table peacefully having tea and a chat with a kitty peering in the window on the island of Fair Isle, and the thought of it just made me smile and laugh a little to myself. There is no place in the world I would have rather been than just right then and there.

After showing me her yarns that she has milled and produced from her sheep, and her wonderful upstairs loft filled with an array of spinning wheels, including one three hundred year old flax wheel named "Lady Haddington" that caught my eye, we agreed to meet again the next day for more time together which I really looked forward to.



Several hours had passed and I walked home in the quiet of the approaching twilight along the single lane path and eyed the glow in the window of my Fair Isle home that welcomed me in the distance. The gentle sound of the wind and lapping waves along the rocky coast was the only sound, and though far around the world from where I had come from, for tonight, this home was where I felt I belonged and felt grateful for where life had taken me this day.


onward...  to 8F



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I am so there with you… a dream of mine that you are expressing so beautifully :-)


Wow…Dotty…walking this path with you, I feel like I’ve been to church and back. Only better!!
The quality of light in your photos is only surpassed by the rich inner/outer descriptions of all you sense on this Magic Isle.
I am FULL of light, love, color, texture and philosophy…call me content :-)

Shoo Shoo

Thank you for the link to the original source Kathy B. Loved the drawings and an interesting article. I find there is an interesting discussion on the concept of culture in regard to tradition and the need to find cultural identity, especially when design and pattern are moving so quickly around the globe. We step in and out of cultural areas so quickly taking with us a piece of it wherever we are headed next. I think of the Dutch fishermen going home with their ganseys from Scotland and England and saying to their wives, “knit me one of these”, and then there were “Dutch ganseys”.
I believe however it is important to give credit where credit is due in regard to origins, and hope that through our project and our knitting to show honor to the original fisher knitters as well as give the opportunity for those in our region to share their collective stories as fishermen and current cultural identity that is authentic versus what is scripted on television.


Mason Dixon blog today linked to Illustrated with beautiful pages from an artist’s notebook. Wish they would have credited the source.

Kathy B

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