I graduated from the University of the Highlands and Islands with distinction BA in Contemporary Textiles in 2010. I was UHI and Shetland student of the year in 2009. My work combines complex hand knit technical lace structures with hand drawn digital engineered prints creating cutting edge unique art-pieces.
I was sent by the Shetland College to be photographed for the cover of II Shetland for winning UHI student of the year. I wore one of my St Ninian's Isle contemporary Shetland lace beaded hats for this special occasion!
I work from my home studio on the island of Whalsay off the east side of the Shetland mainland. I'm a born and bred Whalsay lass and am inspired by my family history here. I learned to knit as a peerie lass (little girl) by my mum and knitted Fair Isle yokes, hats and mittens for the local knitwear company in Whalsay.
The skills were there to progress to Shetland Fine Lace as a mature student in my degree where I was inspired to learn this skill as it was practically extinct other than a few older knitters at that time. The lace I saw in the Shetland Museum archives just blew me away and I wanted to use fine lace in my work somehow.
In the 1800s the lace knitters from the island of Unst were known for the finest lace knitting creating the famous “Ring Shawl”. A finely spun, elaborately patterned lace shawl up to 72 inches square but only weighing 2 -3 ounces. It was so fine it could be pulled easily through a wedding ring! A shawl like that now valued at around three thousand pounds.
I was asked to feature in the ‘Shetland fine Lace film’ made by the Shetland Museum and Archives as a modern designer using traditional skills in my work in an individual way. This DVD was sent out with every fine lace scarf that was sold from the exhibition. I was very proud and honoured to have been asked to be part of this project with so many amazing professional lace knitters. Mary Kay, Ina Irvine, Zena Thomson and Kathleen Anderson.
I was also involved in the Mirrie Lace project where one of my knitted pieces is projected in Mareel on the floor next to the bar. This piece was knitted with bright pink monofilament and woven ribbon, it’s the only piece you can see colour in. an exhibition of our knitted lace pieces was on display at Bonhoga art Gallery Shetland also. I really enjoyed being part of that exhibition with my Sculpture and Thematic Studies lecturer Roxane Permar.
Below my work at Mareel café's floor. Below that, my work at Bonhoga Art Gallery.
Our Shetland BA contemporary Textiles year went to New Designers in London. I was asked to join Arts Thread; they promote graduates work to a global audience online with your portfolio and their magazine.
I was also asked to join The Society of designer Craftsmen - still a member.
My work was in Textile View! A global fashion journal, which predicts next seasons fashion trends. This was the only entry from New Designers!! Amazing.
Below from left my mum Mary Williamson (Bruce) with the herring gutters at Symbister. Mum 18 years old. Mum knitting.
Mum in her 90th year with all her beautiful colour blending Fair isle designs from top left – Shetland Spring, Skaw Taing, Sea Pinks and Thaw.
My mother came from Skaw at the north of our island and her family the Bruces were very creative folk, could turn their hands to anything. My mother learned to knit Fair Isle at 5 years old and from then on she never stopped. Her knitting has always been a source of income for her all her life. She knitted to Shetland Specialists in Edinburgh for many years, Brough Knitwear, Work shop Gallery, Spiders Web and finally Thistle and Broom (in her 90th year her last order set to Chile) where her knitwear has gone to every continent. She has made three slipovers to the Spanish Ambassador for Afghanistan! She was a ‘Gutter’ as a young woman and a ‘Packer’ at the Whalsay Fish Processors when we went to school until she retired when she knitted full time!
Below Thomas Bruce at helm of Sailing Ship and in his navy uniforms and in the ‘End Hoos’ at Skaw.
My grandfather (Thomas Bruce) and uncle (Johnnie Bruce) were merchant seamen and traveled the world bringing home ‘unken’ unfamiliar treasures. When home they spent their time in the ‘end hoos’ (shed) building furniture, model yacht’s box frames, lobster creels and lobster boats. They were all keen bird watchers and at that time my uncle Johnnie shot the rare birds found and his uncle Tammie a Wasthoos stuffed them a skilled taxidermist and painter, many of his birds in the Shetland Museum.
Below my uncle Johnnie Bruce skinning an otter at the Noust at Skaw, Johnnie curing the skins at the back of the Skaw house, and a pic of him as a young man.
As a bairn I spent many summer holidays at Skaw with my uncle Johnnie then left in the house himself. I would pack up my dolls, crayons, pencils and watercolours and bike along with mum and my sisters stuff and pile it into the local taxi (the boot could never shut!). Skaw was only four miles away but felt like a great adventure then! What a magical time combing the ‘east banks’ (east cliffs) for wood, buoys, rope anything of use with my uncle. He at that time hunted seals and otters as a livelihood along with creel fishing and went off in his boat coming home and ‘flinching’ (skinning) them, curing in the salt then stretching and drying on racks in the kitchen. I loved to stroke the skins, so soft and shiny transforming into beautiful textiles. They were then packed up and sent to London to be made into fashionable items like purses and handbags. He was a bird watcher as well so I spent the rainy days sketching the colourful birds from his bird guides like Bee Eaters, Kingfishers and Rollers my favorites, he loved my drawings and would show everyone who visited my latest masterpiece!
Gracie Bruce sitting knitting outside the Skaw house, inside me, Midder and Johnnie and Lassie and a wonderful photo of ‘Muckle Beanie’ and Gracie Bruce at Skaw with their ‘Kishies’ full of peats knitting at the same time coming back from the ‘Stack’!!!!!!
My grandmother Gracie Bruce lived a wee while with us before she passed at home. She was a lovely granny we called ‘Midder’ and I shared a bedroom with her. Not in the best health then with a wooden leg and a zimmer. I was told she was a beautiful fair Isle knitter in her younger days but knitted fine lace scarves and haps to sell as they were much lighter to hold when she stayed with us.
I left school at 16 and needed a trade, so I worked 4 years as a “filleter’ in the local fish Factory to save enough money to put myself through Hairdressing College in Edinburgh which took 2 years.
I worked in Lynettes Hairdressers then Hair Affaire for 10 years commuting by ferry to work which was tough in winter. I left to bring up my two children.
When they went to school I went back into study. I did a couple of courses at Whalsay Learning Centre then joined the NC Art & Design course at Shetland College as a mature student in my early forties and found myself a commuter once more! I was at home and had found my passion in art. I continued onto the UHI BA Contemporary Textiles course at Shetland College. Very tough going don’t know how we managed but we did, thanks to the support of my husband and mam.
To produce my engineered textile prints I work in mixed media, watercolour, soft pastel, pencil, pen and ink and sometimes acrylic. I first draw/paint then manipulate images using computer aided design software.
Its pretty cool to be able to put your designs exactly where you want them on the garment pattern pieces – no more simplifying for screen print.
In my knitted work I use a range of materials from Shetland Supreme un-dyed lace wool to metallic yarns and beads.
I combine hand knit Shetland Lace and print in my garments - I like the juxtaposition of old and new so unique because of my heritage and culture. In a way, my pieces reflect the massive changes that have taken place in Whalsay, even in my lifetime.
I would like to thank Mary Grace Anderson seamstress of stitches Whalsay for sewing my garments together beautifully. All sewing requests are "no problem" don't know what I will do when she retires!