Shetland Tweed : identification of its design aesthetic through the characteristics of traditional knowledge
Dearlove, Sarah Grace
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Shetland tweed played a significant part in the Shetland Woollen Industry, competing successfully on a global stage, selling to the luxury tailoring market through the mid 20th century. However, its impact and influence was insufficiently documented to appreciate its key characteristics and design appeal, its tacit knowledge intuitive to traditional craft, and crofting cultures. This practice-based research, therefore, is a form of meta-design setting out to grasp the aesthetic qualities of Shetland tweed. It has mapped and made more explicit the tweed’s particular characteristics as a set of principles for a contemporary cultural design context. The author’s practice, developed from a phenomenological position, related only to what was assimilated from Shetland: its environment, textile archives, museum collections and the nature of the indigenous raw material, Shetland wool. A constructivist grounded theory approach to data generation was adopted to inform a constructivist art methodology to the practical experimentation of knitting and weaving, demonstrating through this research process an experiential understanding of the subject and context. In essence an aesthetic calculus was developed. It is effective in describing how a natural wool palette, particular to Shetland, has been used to produce tweeds that are traditionally Scottish but with aesthetic characteristics that are true to Shetland. This calculus has the potential to benefit manufacturers and designers who want to re-engage with Shetland tweed as a product grounded in the Shetland tradition of making textiles. The research methodology used also opens up the possibility to consider the aesthetic nature of a wider scope of similar textile scenarios where the natural wool palette has traditionally been a dominant factor. New light was shone on the way one particular Shetland tweed manufacturer, T.M. Adie & Sons Ltd, repurposed local textile knowledge to interpret tweed designs. This interpretation represents a form of cultural design activity and is an exemplification of an evolutionary process of safeguarding intangible knowledge rather than being an example of traditional craftsmanship as perceived by Intangible Cultural heritage.