Kishie and Its Uses in Shetland

As you will no doubt appreciate the kishie was still in widespread use as a method of transporting various items until it was made redundant by more readily available containers, bags and methods of transportation. Before this stage the kishie had enjoyed usage in all areas of Shetland life both ashore and afloat. The purpose for which a kishie was to be used could have influenced the maker in both shape, size, and possibly materials.

For any work involved with the gathering of bait, to be used for fishing, kishies were smaller in size for example limpets are not large and a smaller kishie for a young boy to use round the rocks would have been sufficient. A smaller kishie more usually of docken stalks rather than oat straw was also used for carrying “silleks”, small fish caught from the rocks back home for cooking.

Larger kishies were made every winter for members of the family or ponies to use, these would generally be of oat straw and bound with simmens of rush, oat, or marram. The manufacture of these would have been carried out during the winter evenings by the men and would initially involve the winding of all the simmens (more than 20 fathoms being required for every large kishie) and the making of the actual basket would have followed. It was not unusual for evenings to be spent together with neighbours, friends and relations “windin simmens” , telling yarns and having a supper during the evening. The womenfolk would have had their “sock” (knitting and cairding wool) to occupy themselves when they were meeting for similar evenings.


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 and finally carrying manure out of the byre or from the midden onto the fields.


There is a story passed down through my wife’s family of a small child being carried in a kishie to their new home after being evicted from their land by the laird. The child could apparently recall looking back to the valley where they had lived and seeing the home alight. The tenants were being “cleared” for the introduction of large scale sheep farming.

On the water the larger kishie or bodi (the term used for the same basket but in a fishing context) was made in the same way sometimes of straw or also of docken stalks. The bodi doubled up as a mat to sit on when rowing off to the fishing grounds hopefully being filled for taking fish ashore when they returned. There are examples of these baskets that are much less open in the mouth both making better seat mats and also giving the fish less opportunity to spill out.

It should be noted that the kishie/bodi described above are only a small sample of the uses to which they would have been put.

by Ewen Balfour






Basket Types: