Fair Isle is renowned for its knitted textiles and for being a place of astonishing natural beauty. Mati Ventrillon is different from what you might imagine as a maker of Fair Isle knitwear; her life story has been one of change and adjustment to widely different circumstances. Born in Venezuela, into a mixed Venezuelan, French, and German family, she is something of an outsider in the place she has chosen to call home. ‘I learnt to see through my mother, who was blind,’ she says. ‘It made me see the world in detail. I had to see for her and be able to observe closely so that I could explain things to her.’ Ventrillon’s father also had a disability and once her grandfather a well-known artist and professor at the Central School of Architecture in Caracas died, her family found themselves in straightened circumstances. ‘I didn’t really fit, as my colleagues at University assumed I had a level of financial stability that I didn’t have.’ She studied sociology and then architecture, qualifying in 2001. She met her husband through Zen Buddhism and when he was offered a position at the Architectural Association, the pair decamped to London. After their son was born, Ventrillon found a job as an architect. ‘It was interesting as the practice was very classical and far removed from my kind of architecture. I learnt so much.’ When her husband saw a colleague’s application for a project in Fair Isle, the couple decided they wanted a new life and without having visited, applied to move there. Their application was initially rejected so instead they embarked on a six month cycling tour.
In 2006 the National Trust offered them a second chance, partly based on Ventrillon’s business plan to start a café in the Trust’s lighthouse. ‘We hadn’t realised that there was no winter trade and that in summer all the accommodation was full board, so it never materialised.’ Instead the couple took over a croft. Ventrillon became a part-time school secretary, as well as learning to look after sheep. Intrigued by the Fair Isle knitting tradition of knitting, Ventrillon applied to the 27 year old knitting Cooperative. To the locals and her own surprise, she turned out to be rather good. By the time the Cooperative folded in 2011, Ventrillon was hooked, ‘Knitting here was always on the verge of disappearing, yet women kept the Island going with it.
Mati has created a special DIY project for a knitted ski hat. This design is based on the hats produced for après-skiing, with a folded rib to add extra warmth around the ears and a pompom in a contrasting colour. The motif arrangement is one of the most traditional ones, with the Fivey Flooers and the Muckle Flooers creating ‘bands’ within the design in addition to the background bands of colour.
This project was featured in Issue 98 Together.