The kishie is a multipurpose basket traditionally made and used in Shetland to carry fuel, manure, crops and other goods. Shetland harvests were once measured in ‘kishie-fills’.
Shetland is a predominantly treeless environment, so kishie baskets are made with Shetland oat straw and soft rush, both of which are more readily available on the island than wood.
The kishie basket has a strap known as a ‘fettel’, which the carrier can sling over his or her back, leaving their hands free. Pairs of kishie baskets can be hung across the backs of Shetland pony with a ‘meshie’ or net.
Traditionally kishie baskets were made of black oat straw and soft rush or grass arranged in bundles called ‘hjogs’ and held in place by two-stranded strings or ‘simmins’.
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.
Nowadays, kishies are not commonly used for farm work, 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.
You can see images of crofter and kishie-maker, Ewan Balfour, at work on the website of photographer, Tim Johnson (all images copyright Tim Johnson).
A DVD of the film Kishie Making with Lowrie Copland is available from the Scottish Basketmakers’ Circle library.
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