By Mike Merritt

A DESIGNER who is keeping the ancient Fair Isle knitting tradition alive on the UK’s remotest inhabited island has been awarded more than £40,000 to expand her business.

Marie Bruhat was inspired to move to Fair Isle from France four years ago following a previous internship with another island-based textile business.

During her internship she spent a lot of time devoted to discovering the history of the island and people while honing her skills in the traditional artistry of Fair Isle knitting.

After making Fair Isle her home, she set up a B&B in her two-bedroom croft house, so that she could share the island’s history and traditions with visitors to the island.

When the Covid-19 lockdown started last year, Ms Bruhat used the time to launch her online “Lea x Sea” knitwear collection. She is now one of only four Fair Isle makers based on the island.

Garments designed and produced by Ms Bruhat use the authentic style of Fair Isle but with a modern twist.

Up until now, each piece was made individually from her house. With support from Government agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), she will purchase and install a bothy to base her knitwear business in.

Now that the business space will be expanded into a permanent studio, Ms Bruhat will use her house to offer knitting holidays to Fair Isle enthusiasts once restrictions are lifted.

During their stay, guests can enjoy a tailor-made break on the island and get taught traditional Fair Isle knitting under her guidance at her Pund Bothy Knitting workshop.

Fair Isle forms part of the Shetland Islands and the knitting technique associated with it is widely recognised for its complex, repeating patterns and traditional craftsmanship.

All Ms Bruhat’s products are made to order, created from organic Shetland wool and support the historic trade of Fair Isle.

Ms Bruhat is conscious of the impact of fashion on climate change and this is why she is passionate about promoting “slow fashion” with a focus on sustainability.

She only uses 100 per cent wool spun in Shetland. The process doesn’t use carbon energy and the light in the workshop is provided by the island’s green off-grid system.

Her work is all about craftsmanship and showing people that it is more sustainable to buy more expensive, handmade items that will last for a lifetime.

With a population of 45, the three-mile-long island of Fair Isle lies between Shetland and Orkney. The bothy will be located on Ms Bruhat and her partner’s newly-assigned croft. They hope to bring derelict buildings located on the croft back to life soon.

She said: “If you keep the craftmanship alive then it provides a wonderful opportunity to have folk join in. During my workshops, people will get the chance to knit a jumper, hat, set of accessories and will be able to meet other people on the island.

“I’ll now have the workspace I need for my creations.

“I can produce and design in the bothy but I also have long-term plans to expand in the future. The funding has been so helpful and I would never have been able to have done it without assistance from HIE.”

Fiona Stirling, development manager with HIE – which has given £40,842 to the project – said: “I am delighted that we are supporting this new enterprise on Fair Isle.

“The Pund Bothy Knitting workshop will enhance Fair Isle’s tourism offering and be an important part of rebuilding the island’s visitor economy. Online sales of Marie’s stunning knitwear will support the business outwith the visitor season, creating employment and ultimately helping sustain the island. It’s a very welcome development.”