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Mary Williamson – Championing Scottish tradition

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Mary Williamson has continued the great tradition of Shetland knitting, including recreating the famous 1920s pattern which popularised the Fair Isle style.

That jumper, famously worn by the Princes of Wales while golfing and in an iconic painting, was knitted by Mary’s aunt Maggie Simpson (née Bruce). The pattern became hugely popular, giving a huge boost to the traditional Shetland and Fair Isle knitters.


Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor (King Edward VIII), © National Portrait Gallery, London. Licensed under Creative Commons

Mary was born in 1926 around the time of this first boom, and was a capable knitter by the age of five, creating clothes for her dolls and soon selling knits locally.

Working with Thistle & Broom, a company based in Edinburgh committed to a positive social impact by supporting local designers, Mary has recreated the original design – working without the original jumper or designs.

Images of the original jumper were enlarged and two Shetland wool dyers worked to match authentic dyes to the colours, slowly bringing together an authentic interpretation which Thistle & Broom believes is as close to the original as is possible.

Mary now hand knits these individually, working on circular needles and taking over 100 hours to complete each Prince of Wales jumper.

Other designs include Mary’s Sea Pinks knits, inspired by the bright seashore flowers which thrive despite Shetland’s often ferocious weather, as well as incorporating a moss-like green and a purple that matches the islands’ heathers. Her Shetland Sky, Skaw Taing and Peat Stack designs are also based on the different seasons on the islands.

Mary’s knitwear has been bought by customers from all over the world, including an order from Chile at 90-years-old and a previous order for three jumpers from the then Spanish Ambassador to Afghanistan.

Her passion and skill has been passed to her daughter, Angela Irvine, who creates intricate hats using metallic wool and undyed lace wool.

We are delighted to welcome Mary as a V&A Dundee Design Champion, recognising a lifetime’s commitment to a hugely important local design industry – and her integral role in recreating her aunt’s original 1920s design which first sparked global interest in the Fair Isle style.

For more information, please visit Mary’s page on the Thistle & Broom website

The V&A Dundee Design Champions are inspirational designers creating high-quality work and helping to enhance people’s lives, or champions of the power of design to improve the world.

We will announce one Design Champion a week until the museum opens in 2018.

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V&A Dundee's Design Champions project is working with Dezeen its media partner.

Dezeen is the world’s most popular and influential architecture and design magazine, with an audience of 2.5 million unique visitors each month.