Knitting and old pots

…Certain styles of pottery decoration and dress ornaments were subject to the whims of fashion, or had short-term or family significance. An example of such ephemeral decoration is the patterns still knitted into traditional fishermen’s sweaters. I have long been struck by the similarity between patterns on nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century fisherman’s sweaters, particularly from the Shetland Islands and the decoration on early Bronze Age Beaker pottery. The fisherman’s sweater is unique to the individual, and can be ‘read’ by those familiar with the patterning. Maybe the same applied to the pots, which were often buried with the individuals…. Francis Pryor: Britain AD: A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons (Harper Perennial, London 2005) p. 148 [see sidebar]. He cites Rae Compton ; The Complete Book of Traditional Knitting (Batsford Books, London,1983) for the knitting patterns.

There is some argument as to whether the patterns on fishermen’s sweaters are so unique to the  individual and family:

The history of some hand knitting techniques of England, Scotland, and Ireland: An annotated bibliography

Fisher Ganseys .…The regional differences in the application of this technique are interesting to note: In England, each knitter usually produced garments using only one pattern that they had learned from previous generations of their family. In Scotland, however, this exclusivity is not as common. Multiple patterns were used within a family, and women from different families often copied patterns from one another….

Alice Starmore Aran Knitting….She also addresses the myth (not created by Kiewe, but perpetuated nonetheless) that the patters in the jumpers were unique to specific families, and were used to identify the bodies of drowned fishermen. The accounts of Pearson and Rutt are among those discussed as well….

Nevertheless,  it does not preclude the suggestion that the pots may have been symbolically and uniquely marked for individual family members.

Shetland Museum

Aran Knitwear

Regional Knitting in the British Isles & Ireland: V&A:


Yesterday evening, I watched the television programme Coast : Galway to Baltimore, Ireland. Alice visited Skellig Michael and the sixth-century monastery there.

Skellig Islands
Monks built a monastery on Skellig Michael, the larger of the two Skellig Islands, as long as 1500 years ago.
Since then, pilgrims have seen the island as a bridge between this world and the next. Alice follows in the pilgrim’s footsteps in search of the extraordinary monastery that was once one of the last footholds of Christian learning in Europe.Neil Oliver met and spoke to Tim Severin , a man who sailed a leather currach from Ireland to Newfoundland, to demonstrate that it was possible for the 6th-century monk, brendan, to have sailed the Atlantic. I remember reading his book The Brendan Voyage whilst sat by the shore, in a quiet bay of Bardsey Island, with the seals basking around me. Severin’s boat is now exhibited at Craggaunowen, near Quin, Co. Clare, Ireland. 

The voyage of St Brendan courtesy of Dr Jonathan Wooding

St Brendan



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