Micro-manufacturing and place-based maker cultures: textile production and skill transmission in Shetland and the west of Ireland

The twenty-first century surge of interest in textile-making as leisure and heritage has included growth in craft tourism and brought a new kind of attention to places associated with particular types of textile, including for example Shetland and the Aran islands. Textile making as a contemporary industry, however, faces ongoing challenges in the UK and Ireland.

Mechanisation is sometimes assumed to represent a loss of ‘skill’, especially in contexts where hand skills have recently become less widespread. Yet, machine textile producers in Shetland report long term difficulties attracting and retaining appropriately ‘skilled’ staff for their industry. This project will investigate how ‘skill’ is conceptualised and transmitted by those who work with or design for machines within wider textile ‘maker cultures’ that celebrate the handcrafted, and how this shapes contemporary textile production in rural places. Shetland’s rich textile history and present make it an ideal primary field site, while several locations in the west of Ireland offer a chance to illuminate research questions through comparison and to develop future collaborative links.

This project is funded by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland through their Research Incentive Grants scheme.