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Published: 24 April 2021

By Andy Ross

Discovering Textiles - the Skeklers of Shetland

The "skekling" tradition of Shetland involved the creation of costumes made out of woven oat straw. 

Traditionally, the material used in these costumes was used in all sorts of ways, from weaving the backs of chairs to cattle feed for the winter months. It was also used to make baskets; "kishies" in the dialect, useful for carrying peat back from the stacks to the croft. 

The costume of a skekler was woven from this material too. Consisting of a tall conical hat and some sort of face covering, a cape and a skirt, the costume covered the complete body and disguised the identity of the wearer. Groups of skeklers would go from door to door, collecting donations of food or money, and would have presented a very strange sight and sound, particularly as the voices of participants would be disguised, or completely silenced. 

Skekling may have come from a Nordic tradition to ensure that the sun would return and, with it, good crops. It is no longer practiced in Shetland but interest in skekling has periodically returned. Here is a recent article about the tradition and this link takes you to the Shetland Museum and Archives photo archive where you can see some examples. There is also some information, which you can scroll down to, on this page.