In the middle of last year I got an email from Kate Davies asking me if I would contribute a design to the idea she had for a new publication, The Book of Haps.  Being a huge fan of Kate’s work and knowing that she does a great job at whatever she does of course I had to say yes!

The brief was to design and knit something which was a modern take on a hap.  One of the main things I noted was that it had to be wearable.  I have a couple of large traditional square haps which I find are too big to be wearable everyday so I wanted to design something that was inspired by the traditional hap but was easier to throw on with a dress or coat and be comfortable in.


My thoughts went straight to my Great Aunty Emma, she is an amazing lady, who is almost 95 and is still knitting.  She has always knitted lace and has designed and made countless haps over the years for personal customers, knitwear agents and family members.

She made this beautiful hap for my son when he was born almost 5 years ago.

DSC02531 (2)

Remarkably she writes very little down (like many other Shetland knitters) and just “makes it up as she goes along”.  Something I love about her style of knitting is the way she isn’t too precious about being exact “maybe a decrease here and maybe another one there” but it always turns out stunning.  A couple of years ago I became very interested in the construction of Shetland haps so I went to visit her for a lesson.

Here she is giving me a lesson – her hands were moving so much faster than I could write!

aunty emmas hands

For my design, I knew I wanted to use the edging Aunty Emma showed me (known as the Brand Iron edging) and trees.  The tree is a lace pattern that she uses a lot in her designs and it is one of my favourites due to its straight lines and pleasing symmetry. So I knew I wanted to use that pattern and also some element of traditional Shetland hap construction (you will find information about traditional hap construction in the new book).  Thinking about these things I then began to visualise a triangular shaped garment, which I then had to make!



Choosing the yarn was easy.  Aunty Emma almost always uses Shetland lace weight yarn for her haps, I chose Jamieson and Smith Shetland Supreme lace weight in an unyded shade of grey (its called “grey” but it has a brownish hue).  This yarn was developed in conjunction with the Shetland museum and this description is given by Jamieson and Smith:

“The yarn is worsted spun from the natural, undyed colours of pure bred Shetland Sheep to replicate the handspun yarns used in the finest Shetland lace items of the 1800s, such as Queen Victoria’s stockings and items displayed at world exhibitions.”

Its a lovely yarn to work with, soft but strong, it seems quite springy before it is blocked but it stretches a lot!


Houlland is the croft where Aunty Emma and her family (my Granny included) lived on the west side of Shetland in Sand.  She has many memories of knitting there, she knitted her first spencers (garter stitch long-sleeved vests for wearing as underwear) when she was 5 or 6 years old and sold them to the travelling grocery van.  They would then use that money to buy essentials like sugar, flour and tea.  She also remembers knitting haps; her mother would knit the elaborate, lacy, edging and borders and then she would pass it on to the children (including Emma) to complete the garter stich centre.

The croft house at Houlland when the family lived there.

Houlland house

These photos were taken at the Baptist Church in Sand which is across the road from Houlland and is where the family attended Church on Sundays.


The book has been edited by Kate Davies and Jen Arnoll-Culliford, I want to publicly thank them for asking me to be part of such an amazing project and also for being stars to work with!

I also really want to thank Aunty Emma for being such an inspiration!

Aunty Emma wearing the Houlland


The book can be pre-ordered at www.shopkdd.com and will be shipped in early June.

You can read an interview with me and more about Aunty Emma over on Kate’s blog.

Thanks also to Tom Barr for taking the photos on a bright but very blustery typical Shetland day!

And – several people have already been asking about the coat – its from Cabbages and Roses, it is mine but I unashamedly copied Kate when bought it, I mean, I was inspired by Kate!






19 thoughts on “Houlland

  1. Just amazing, and what a wonderful tribute to your Aunt, and the other wonderful Shetland knitters. Thank you for sharing the story.


  2. Beautiful, Shetland lace is wonderful and cannot get much better than this design.
    What an inspiration your Aunt Emma is and a very clever lady.


  3. Found your site via Kate’s. Your Houlland hap is gorgeous. I love how the pattern comes out in the natural colour. … and even the coat 🙂 …. the hap makes it perfect.


  4. Your tree Hap is my favorite so far in Kate’s book and I will have to knit it. Thank you for sharing your family history and Aunt Emma’s knitting – such a beautiful Hap she made for your son with the croft house. It is wonderful she is still around to share her upbringing of knitting – however difficult it may have been. You are both an inspiration to new and old knitters alike.


    1. Thanks so mush for your comment, I am very lucky to have people around me such as Emma who can share her knowledge. Sadly, so many of my family members have passed before I had the chance to ask them anything, but I am so glad I can get inspiration from her.


  5. Love it!! (In Scalloway in 2014 I bought a lace cardigan made by a Emma Isbister – would that be your great aunt, maybe?)


  6. What a beautiful hap!! Congratulations!! I have already pre-ordered the book but I do not know whether my knitting skills allow me to knit this beauty. Anyway I wanted to send you a warm congratulation on your Aunt Emma, her knitting, the beautiful photography of her hands and all of it!!! What a treasure !!!


  7. i’d been waiting for a quiet moment to read this post donna, i knew i’d want to savor every word and photo. i love so much your hap (kates and yours are my favorite), and the amazing family history knit in. i was so excited when kate first announced you would be one of the contributing designers, i knew i would love whatever you would offer. and as fate would have it, i have this exact yarn, same color even i believe (need to check to be sure)! that was brought home from my trip to shetland 2 years ago…just waiting for the perfect project. thank you for sharing all this, your aunty is a treasure as are you! xo


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