Shetland at V&A Dundee

14th September 2018

Picking up the baton: Shetland’s young designers at V&A Dundee


In 2017, Shetland knit designer Niela Kalra of Nielanell was selected to take part in the delivery of an exciting project for young people. The Scottish Design Relay was a new initiative, devised by V&A Dundee to encourage young people aged 16-26 to engage with their local design heritage—and to encourage and nurture this next generation of designers.


Six locations across Scotland were chosen: Dundee, Orkney, Caithness, Shetland, Govan and Aberdeen. Established designers would relay their skills and knowledge to the young people taking part. The outcome could be anything: a product, a service or an artwork.


This Scottish Design Relay is part of the wider programme at V&A Dundee, which has learning at its core. Part of this is a dedicated programme for young people, this year coinciding with the Scottish Government’s Year of Young People 2018.


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Work by young Shetland designers on display in the Scottish Design Relay exhibition at V&A Dundee, on show until Sunday 10th February 2019.


Photographs by Leanne Fischler

The Shetland team

In Shetland, Scottish Design Relay workshops were planned by co-leaders Niela Kalra and Shetland artist Amy Gear. The Relay was managed and facilitated by Shetland Arts and independent designer Leanne Fischler, on behalf of V&A Dundee.


Nine young Shetlanders were accepted to the programme: Shannon Barclay, Nicole Coutts, Hannah Cutt, Emma Eunson, Alison Hayward, Chloe Keppie, Alyssa Malcolmson, Ella Maxwell and Bryan Mouat. Over a series of weekends during the winter of 2017/18, the group explored local traditions, and the problem-solving potential of design.

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This Shetland jumper, knitted in the 1920s is now on display in the Scottish Design Galleries at V&A Dundee.

photograph: Victoria & Albert Museum, London

The Shetland workshops


As a starting point for the Shetland workshops, and to illustrate the Shetland Islands’ distinctive design heritage, V&A Dundee selected an iconic piece of Shetland design from the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London: a Fair Isle jumper knitted in the 1920s for General Sir Walter Kirke, a Commander-in-Chief of the British Home Forces.


Having thought deeply about their own community, and also about the importance of design and making in Shetland, the group began to formulate ideas. Other routes were considered, but the young people settled on expressing their thoughts about community via knitwear, which is itself vital to Shetland’s culture, commerce and viability as an island community.


production of a collection

Under the supervision of the Relay participants, a prototype collection of knitted accessories was made at Shetland College UHI’s state-of-the-art Textile Facilitation Unit. And, as a result of the project, the group has founded a design collective—NOAK (Nine Of A Kind), to design and develop their own products.

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On show at V&A Dundee - Scotland's new design museum


The knits, and information on the design process, are now on show in the Scottish Design Relay display in V&A Dundee’s Michelin Gallery. V&A Dundee opens to the public on Saturday 15th September, 2018. In the days leading up to the opening, participants (workshop leaders, facilitators and young people) have been introduced to museum, as guests at preview days and events.


Niela Kalra said:

“It is difficult to express what an incredible, and humbling, experience the Scottish Design Relay has been. I am passionate about Shetland’s culture of making, and about the benefits of creative and design thinking in education and in real, commercial situations. It has been so exciting for the whole Shetland SDR team to be involved with such a high-profile, interesting project—and to work with V&A Dundee.


Our young designers have been marvellous teammates, and so inspiring: Shetland design is in good hands; I am delighted to pass on the baton!”


The exhibition is on show until Sunday 10th February 2019.

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The Scottish Design Relay is being supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery and the Mathew Trust. V&A Dundee is being developed with support from the Scottish Government, Heritage Lottery Fund, Dundee City Council, the UK Government, Creative Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, University of Dundee, Abertay University and many trusts and private donors.

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