Scottish Fisheries Museum brings home prestigious national award for knitting the herring – Scotland's National Gansey Project

5th November

The Scottish Fisheries Museum, on Anstruther Harbour, Fife, has won a prestigious Engaging People Award from the Association for Heritage Interpretation (AHI) for engaging communities during Lockdown through Knitting the Herring - Scotland's National Gansey Project.

Knitting the Herring - Scotland's National Gansey Project took the top prize in the Lockdown Response category of the Awards which celebrate the best heritage, cultural, natural and science experiences across Britain and Ireland.

As a Category Winner, the Scottish Fisheries Museum now goes forward to the overall AHI Award for Excellence which will be announced on 18 November.

The Scottish Fisheries Museum developed Knitting the Herring - Scotland's National Gansey Project to raise awareness of the textile heritage of Scotland’s fishing communities specifically the Museum’s Recognised Collection of fishermen’s knitwear – or ‘ganseys’ – which reflect the often-unsung creativity of female, domestic, craft and design.

When Knitting the Herring launched in July 2020, Lockdown was in place. Undaunted, the Museum quickly recognised opportunities to use the project to reach out and support people of all ages who began looking for new ways to connect and adapted the planned activities.

The resulting project, which was funded by Fife LEADER, Outer Hebrides LEADER, NLHF and Fife Council Settlement Fund, had three core strands – the Knitting the Herring website, a wide range of outreach activities promoting gansey heritage and knitting for wellbeing and inclusion and a community exhibition, ‘SHOAL’.

Linda Fitzpatrick, Curator at the Scottish Fisheries Museum, explains:

“We are absolutely thrilled to have been recognised with this coveted Engaging People Award for our work during Lockdown. It is a tremendous acknowledgement of the Museum’s work delivering Knitting the Herring during such difficult times. It is also hugely rewarding because these awards celebrate projects from across Britain and Ireland that tell great stories and inspire visitors and local communities to explore and discover.

“With Knitting the Herring we wanted to share our wonderful collection and bring people together in the present, inspired by the heritage of the past. We wanted to raise awareness of gansey heritage and inspire everyone with the broader story of Scottish fishing.

“By responding to people’s needs during Lockdown and working with individuals, charities, community groups, schools and craft businesses on innovative solutions, Knitting the Herring grew beyond our expectations. It’s amazing to see how far-reaching the interest in gansey history has become.

“Importantly, the Knitting the Herring website will be a lasting legacy and continue to evolve as a source of inspiration and a learning hub for all who wish to understand more about the craft heritage, culture and traditions of our Scottish fishing communities.”

Bill Bevan from the AHI, commented:

“Congratulations to the Scottish Fisheries Museum for a very well-deserved recognition for Knitting the Herring. The award was given because Knitting the Herring was a well-planned project in response to an area of the Scotland Fisheries Museum’s collection, the need to record local craft and associated stories, and a general love of craft in the public.”

To tell the story and engage people of all levels of crafting ability through Knitting the Herring, the Scottish Fisheries Museum collaborated with leading designers, contemporary artists and knitters across the world to create new gansey-inspired contemporary patterns, from a simple square to a gansey-patterned fish. The patterns were shared online through the new Knitting the Herring website - www.scottishgansey.org.uk.

The website also includes a new database of 3D photographs showing the Museum’s collection of over 70 traditional working ganseys, their history and the regional pattern variations across the fishing villages of the East Neuk of Fife, the Moray Firth and the Isle of Eriskay.

Recognising not everyone could access Knitting the Herring online, the Museum partnered with community organisations to send out knitting kits to socially isolated, and economically or culturally disadvantaged individuals who would benefit the well-being which comes with learning or re-learning a skill.

The Museum also used knitting kits and supporting comics to engage a younger audience living in the fishing villages of the East Neuk of Fife, the Black Isle and the Outer Hebrides. These communities share a heritage of fishing, fisher lasses in the herring industry and gansey knitting.

Through Knitting the Herring, everyone was encouraged to contribute to a community exhibition of ‘knitted herring’, ‘SHOAL’. Although Lockdown meant rescheduling the physical exhibition, SHOAL launched online with contributors describing a sense of community and companionship enjoyed through the project.

Other Knitting the Herring highlights included commissioning a series of heritage and folklore stories for families and a new traditional 5 ply gansey yarn created for the project and spun from Fife fleeces at a sustainable traditional mill in Uist.

Although the funded Knitting the Herring - Scotland's National Gansey Project ended in February 2021, its legacy continues through the Knitting the Herring website - www.scottishgansey.org.uk, international online Knit and Natter sessions, a network of over 100 enthusiasts promoting gansey-related activity, a new schools learning resource and the SHOAL exhibition.

SHOAL will open on-site at the Scottish Fisheries Museum, in December, and, it is hoped, tour to South Uist in 2022. The exhibition will, at last, enable the Museum to fulfil one of the main original aims of enabling people to see these beautiful and intricate garments first-hand.

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