What's in a Name? December 02 2015

Every Shetlandeli product has a Shetland name.  Our new relish, Kishie, is named after the baskets traditionally used in Shetland for carrying everything from peat to fish and even, on occasion, small children! 

Katie Deyell (pictured) used the kishie as part of her everyday life. Born Catherine Leask in 1864, Katie married Duncan Deyell in 1884 and lived at Staneydale, Westerskeld and Semblester throughout her life. She worked hard, running the family croft and looking after her family of four daughters and two sons. Those who know her said she was a very wise person with a great knowledge of Shetland customs and folklore. She was also a competent knitter and spinner. She lived to the grand old age of 90 years and passed away at the family home at Semblester in 1954.

There's no doubt that the kishie was a great asset to Katie, working on the croft. This multipurpose basket has a strap known as a ‘fettel’, which the carrier can sling over his or her back, leaving their hands free. Many crofting women, like Katie, could walk with a kishie on their back, with their hands free to do other things.... in this case knitting as she walked.

Kishies were traditionally made with Shetland oat straw and soft rush. A ‘riva kishie’ is made of rope and is quicker and easier to make than the traditional kishie. These were largely used in the north of Shetland, exclusively for transporting peat on horseback. ‘Riva’ comes from the Old Norse word ‘rifa’ which means to sew loosely. Pairs of kishie baskets were hung across the backs of Shetland pony with a ‘meshie’ or net.

The Kishie was used in all areas of Shetland life both ashore and afloat. As a new kishie was made for a member of the family the 'new' kishie would be used for cleaner and more precious items, such as carrying finished items to the merchant or groceries home from the shop. The other kishies would have been relegated further for gathering vegetables, fishing bait or catches, and then finally carrying manure out of the byre or from the midden onto the fields.

Nowadays, kishies are not commonly used, but a renewed interest in basket making and Shetland culture has inspired many people to collect them. The art of kishie making is still practiced and taught by a few islanders including Ewan Balfour who writes about 'the kishie maker's year' and 'how to make kishies' on the Woven Communities website. You can see photos of him in action here.

We'd like to say thanks to the Deyell family for Katie's photo and story and to the following organisations for information for this piece: Shetland ForWirds, Craft Scotland and Woven Communities.