Janine Whale’s collection of works in Curiosities of Lace celebrate the remarkable legacy of Shetland Lace Knitting. Paying homage to the traditional lace patterns of the Shetland Islands, Whale has created her very own ‘windows of delicate lace’. Each piece has been hand made using copper wire, brass, stainless steel and Australian Lacewood (red silky oak). It is her intention and hope that the viewer experiences these wearable objects as a modern curiosity, whilst acknowledging the adaptation of a community of women.
In 1841 Shetland Lace Knitting was described as a curiosity, a term which at that time was defined as “a. Made with care or art; skilfully, elaborately or beautifully wrought” and b. (of clothing) exquisitely prepared, dainty, delicate, recherché”. Yet despite its fine and delicate appearance, the Shetland Lace narrative is wholeheartedly one of survival, tenacity and dedication.
The Shetland Islands are notoriously cold, windswept and virtually treeless. For many centuries Shetland Sheep, exposed to these harsh conditions and surviving on a restricted diet of heather and seaweed, produced the very finest of fleeces. Shetland women supplemented meagre household incomes by trading knitted hosiery with passing fishing fleets. It is in this context of a harsh physical environment and economic decline that Shetland lace knitting emerged in the mid 1800s, becoming a female dominated textile industry that reached global recognition. To this day, the hand spun yarn shawls of intricate lace designs remain unmatched by commercial production.