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Published: 15 August 2020

By Andy Ross

Shetland Tweed Research

Over the past year and a half I have been studying part-time at Glasgow School of Art, looking at the history and heritage of Shetland's Tweed industry for a Masters Degree. The research has been fascinating and, at times, hard work. 

In March this year I came down to London when the pandemic forced lockdown. At the time I had been going into the Shetland Museum Archives each week to go through documentary evidence and luckily, was re-reading and checking on referencing rather than starting to research. I had more than a hundred references to Shetland Tweed to check on though, and that work was abruptly curtailed. The fieldwork had been completed with interviews done, research, including photographs of pieces like the one of this page, also completed in two textiles collections in the islands, and samples made of contemporary tweeds based on the research. 

Leaving home is a strange feeling, no matter, it seems, how old one gets. Later on, in next week's blog, I will write about a new project which I created to help with that transition, but for the research project, leaving Shetland was a real blow. All the work I had planned to do for the Masters Degree from March until the Autumn of this year, work which would consolidate the research, was out of the question now, and the mere fact I no longer had access to my equipment, space, art materials and libraries meant that there was now a separation between me and the subject which had been part of my life for fifteen years. It is a matter of pride that we were able to sort out a couple of spaces in our London home for an office, and finding a very good filing cabinet on the pavement with a big sign saying "Please take" meant that all my research materials could be stored in one place under the desk. My friends up in Shetland very kindly sent me parcels of books and samples from the studio and gradfually we have managed to rebuild the project. 

Now each week, I sit down to work and now the analysis part of the research is underway. In a few weeks there is a mock viva exam, and throughout this whole period I have had incredible support from my two supervisors, the team at Glasgow School of Art and my fellow students who meet each week for a catch-up and reading group. 

It does not look like I will be heading North before the end of the year at the earliest. I am missing that wonderful Shetland light and the long summer walks across the hills, but calls to friends and social media posts show the heather is startling bright this year and Promote Shetland's blog is helping with virtual walks and lovely photographs. My own photos, as shown on this blog post, also help when I am feeling a little homesick. 

I am very lucky to have had such support from everyone to get this research project completed, including those of you who write from the blog to have a chat. That contact has kept the blog alive for me and with it that sense that we are all connected, no matter how far away we are. I owe it now to you all to do the best job of writing up and getting my Masters Degree. Then who knows? Maybe a book about the tweeds of Shetland will follow...