Knitted herring at the Scottish Fisheries Museum

A brightly coloured shoal of herring created by knitters from across the UK is now on display at the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther Harbour, Fife.

It’s on show alongside a new exhibition featuring the Museum’s nationally recognised collection of beautiful and intricate fishermen’s sweaters or ‘ganseys’.

SHOAL and the Knitting the Herring exhibition are part of the Scottish Fisheries Museum’s award-winning Knitting the Herring – Scotland’s National Gansey Project.

The project celebrates the textile heritage of Scotland’s fishing communities and these tightly knitted, seamless and water-resistant sweaters which became the distinctive workwear of fishermen between the early 19th and mid 20th century.

As the project began during lockdown, in July 2020, the museum reshaped planned public events to create SHOAL to help support and connect individuals, charities, community groups, schools and craft businesses. Knitters of all ages, from ‘gansey’ enthusiasts to the wider public, were invited to ‘pick up sticks’ and collaborate on the creation of a knitted SHOAL of herring.

To engage people of all levels of crafting ability, the Scottish Fisheries Museum collaborated with leading designers, contemporary artists and knitters across the world to create new gansey-inspired contemporary patterns, from a simple square to a gansey-patterned fish.

Some of the knitted herring, created by Maggie Mockeridge

Jen Gordon, assistant curator at the Scottish Fisheries Museum, explained: ‘With Knitting the Herring we wanted to share our wonderful collection of ‘ganseys’ and raise awareness of the craft heritage, culture and traditions of our Scottish fishing communities. We’re thrilled that SHOAL, which we added in response to the growing isolation felt by so many during Lockdown, has been a terrific success.

‘As the country entered the dark and cold months of winter with weeks of uncertainty ahead of us, we too were buoyed up to receive little parcels of woolly goodness from Scotland, the UK and Europe as everyone embraced the challenge of designing and knitting their herring.

‘Our contributors were modest and sometimes shy about their work but we hope they have now seen how all these small and seemingly isolated crafty endeavours have come together to create something beautiful which represents unity and symbolises the joy and comfort we take in being together.

‘At last, our SHOAL can expand into the physical space of our exhibition gallery, to swim alongside the ganseys that inspired it.’

Another knitted exhibit in Knitting the Herring

Knitting the Herring – Scotland’s National Gansey Project, which won a prestigious Engaging People Award from the Association for Heritage Interpretation for engaging communities during Lockdown, was funded by Fife LEADER, Outer Hebrides LEADER, NLHF and Fife Council Settlement Fund.

As well as the Knitting the Herring exhibition and SHOAL collection, the Project has included a wide range of outreach activities promoting gansey heritage and knitting for wellbeing and inclusion and the creation of the Knitting the Herring website www.scottishgansey.org.uk.

The Knitting the Herring website features the new patterns created for the Project as well as a new database of 3D photographs showing the Museum’s collection of over 70 traditional working ganseys, their history and the regional pattern variations across the fishing villages of the East Neuk of Fife, the Moray Firth and the Isle of Eriskay.

SHOAL and Knitting the Herring run until 27 February. It is hoped that SHOAL will tour to South Uist later this year. Admission is included in Museum entry.

For more information, visit www.scotfishmuseum.org and www.scottishgansey.org.uk