Mary Williamson was a born on the 31st of October 1926 at Skaw on the Isle of Whalsay in the Shetland Island chain. Like so many girls born in Shetland at this time Mary learned to knit by the time she was five. Her new skills were honed in creating a wardrobe for her dolls but it wasn’t long before she sold her first hand knit jumper to a local merchant. Her sweater featured Fair Isle accents at the hem, cuff and around the neck and she was paid a grand total of 3 shillings for her efforts (this also ‘covered’ the cost of the yarn). Before 1971 one GBP equalled 20 shillings so Mary was paid 36 pence or a mere 15 pence! in today's money – is it any wonder so few Shetlanders bothered carrying on hand knitting authentic Fair Isle!?
For many years Mary’s work could be purchased in a shop in Lerwick as well as at the now defunct ‘Shetland Specialists’ on Hanover Street in Edinburgh. For those amongst you who enjoy a bit of trivia, Michael Aspel, host of the BBC’s Antiques Road Show purchased one of Mary’s hand knit Fair Isle jumpers to wear as he presented the show whilst on location in Shetland. Like Helen Jamieson, Rosabell Halcrow, Agnes Bowie and Jackie Irvine, Mary has never personally used a computer – her daughter Angela is who answers all my emails – but as evidenced here her skills are best otherwise put to use.
Mary’s incredibly beautiful Sea Pinks hand knit Fair Isle sweaters capture all the perfect pink beauty of the maritima variety of the genus Armenia. Sea Pinks are a low growing (4-12” in height) tufted evergreen plants with a domed shaped flower head which grow in unbridled abundance across the Shetland Islands. It’s a plant that (fortunately) thrives in nominal soil conditions, it’s not ill affected by sea spray forced upon the land by winds (often more at more than Force 7 in the Shetlands) and can often be seen springing out of a crack in the local glacially scarred rock. Medicinally, this genus has been used as a sedative, to assist in weight reduction and to treat epilepsy. Maritima contains a variety of minerals and an antibiotic substance plumbagin. This is a nice segue to one of the more extraordinary discoveries of Scotland, and more specifically Shetland, Blackwood’s Vintage Dry Gin. Blackwood’s, the world’s only hand picked gin, uses this charming pink flower in the creation of their, many times over, award winning libation. Mary has artfully integrated the scope of the colours of this wonderful botanical and interpreted the environment in which it grows to create a masterpiece of authentic hand knit Fair Isle. Her palette includes white, a bright moss-y green, deep plum, heathery purple, two shades of red, three shades of pink oh, yes, and that deep ocean blue that exists no where so brilliantly as the extreme North Atlantic. Mary made the original cardigan for her granddaughter Chloe (modeling here) for Christmas with red buttons but yours, for men or women or as a waistcoat, will feature horn buttons made by hand from a gentleman who lives up Tayside. We absolutely guarantee that you cannot be in a bad mood around this sweater! Children’s pullover and cardigan sizes are also available – drop us a note to order.
Taking over 110 hours to complete a full size sweater and 12 hours for a single pair of gloves, and rather than being paid 15 pence for her first hand knit jumper, Mary now realises 66% of the retail price (plus all shipping and insurance costs) through Thistle & Broom’s Fair Isle Knitting Project. Your purchase allows us to ensure the continuity of this unique Scottish icon through our Fair Isle Knitting Project by creating a financial incentive for young people to actually learn from these incredible women before it’s too late. Please understand that each jumper is made to order, 4 to 6 weeks is an absolute necessity for completion, so plan accordingly if you want it for a special occasion (if you are 'running late' we’ll provide a gift card with photo of the original for presentation purposes).
8% of the net profit of your purchase serves to benefit Thistle & Broom Scholarship.