As you probably know if you follow my Instagram feed or Facebook page, last autumn I spent almost 2 weeks in Shetland: I was lucky to have been invited to teach at Shetland Wool Week. I then stayed a few more days to see the islands better together with my middle daughter Theodóra, who joined me the last week – this trip, alone with her mum, was a treat for her 13th birthday! I wrote a long blog post about my wonderful stay there but for some reason never posted it, then time passed… But now than Shetland Wool Week 2016 has been announced, I thought it was the perfect occasion to finally post it (I did shorten it a bit so you don’t get bored!).
To summarize, I loved everything about Shetland. I didn’t just love the landscapes, which remind me of a strange mix of Iceland, the isles of Bretagne and my native Normandy, the inhabitants so generous of their time and so easy to talk to, all the cute animals (those ponies!!), not to mention of course all the fabulous people, designers, teachers, students, friends, spinners, dyers, wool producers, farmers that I met during the Wool Week. I was completely amazed by the facilities available on such a small island and the diversity that is found in the wool industry and it made me to reflect on this other and bigger island that Iceland is and on the Icelandic wool industry as a whole and see my own work and yarns with different eyes. The whole experience was fabulous and quite nourishing and I’m not sure how to tell about this trip and make a choice between the hundreds of pictures I took. So I thought I’d simply show you what I came back with in my luggage. Miraculously, it all fit into the Shetland Wool Week bag beautifully illustrated by the fabulous Felix aka Felicity Ford aka Knitsonik.
So… what fit into the bag?
First of all I brought back yarn! I chose mostly Jumper weight yarns which is a weight I feel is missing in Iceland and that I don’t have the occasion to use that often.
1. Shetland Yarn from Jamieson & Smith:
Jamieson & Smith has the greatest choice of handknitting yarns, from very fine cob web to chunky ones. The wool is carefully sorted by hand and used in different types of products. It is sorted locally in Shetland then send to the mainland to be spun into yarns. It was absolutely fascinating listening to Oliver at Jamieson & Smith about the process of sorting the wool and grading it, from the roughest to the finest. The roughest are marketed for carpeting, the medium quality goes into blankets whereas the fine wool is used for handknitting yarns. Then the finest wool led to the development of delightful luxury yarns such as the very soft Shetland heritage, a reproduction of the yarn used in old Fair Isle knitting (handspun worsted), dyed into delightful vintage colors. The Shetland Supreme Lace 2 ply and Supreme Lace 1 ply (cob weight) are absolutely amazing, they were developed with the Shetland Museum and Archives as part of the Shetland Fine Lace Project- I didn’t bring back any since I have already plenty at home (I’m using them in my upcoming Icelandic lace dresses book) but I was happy to see their birth place. I was also really impressed by the number of natural colors (undyed) that are offered in the Shetland Supreme Jumper weight. I wish we had that choice in Iceland!
I chose mostly Jumper weigh 2 ply and Shetland Heritage but also a skein of 2 ply Lace to mend a sleeve of my Flag cardigan which I have destroyed in a door some years ago… EDIT 2016: still not mended…
Posing in front of the yarn wall with Ella.
2. Shetland Yarn from Jamieson of Shetland
Jamieson of Shetland is the only spinning mill in Shetland (just like Istex in Iceland) and is located in Sandness. They make beautiful yarns in an amazing range of colors but also produce machine knitted items like sweaters and weave beautiful tweeds (see 19 and 26). I brought back some Spindrift And Double Knitting (jumper weight again).
3. Fair isle Home grown Wirsit from Kathy Coull
This is a small production yarn using exclusively the wool from the sheep that are raised on the island of Fair Isle, the one famous for its colorful stranded knitting and that give the name to Fair Isle knitting. The wool is sent to the mainland in a mill that take small quantities at the time – the minimun is only 20 kg. It comes into natural sheep colors, undyed and 2 weights, Aran and Jumper weight. I brought back the Wirsit (jumper weight), in all but one of the natural colors, other than the white.
4. Foula wool
This is another example of a small production yarn using the wool from the island of Foula. The island is quite isolated so sheep there are probably the closest to the native Shetland sheep. Making yarn from their wool is not just about making a rare product, it’s also about preserving the sheep by developing a sustainable business. I must say I completely fell in love with the sheep that remind me of the Icelandic ones. Again the wool is sent to a mill on the mainland that take only small quantities at the time. I got one big ball of what was left -an aran weight.
Shetland Organics is a Community interest company for collaborating farmers that make certified organic wool from Native Shetland sheep, born and bred in Shetland. Currently, organic sheep flocks in Shetland are few in number, so only a small quantity of wool from these animals is available each year. This organic wool is an exceptional product that comes in the range of natural colors from the native Shetland hill sheep.
6. Buachaille from Kate Davies: Kate and Ella made a presentation of their respective collection of vintage sweaters that was fascinating. I was so lucky that Kate gave me a skein of her new yarn Buachaille in a lovely “Between weathers” shade of blue.
7. Knitting belt: made of leather and stuffed with horse hair.
Thea and I went to a Maakin and Yaakin informal knitting session at the Scalloway Museum and learned to knit with a belt in the traditional Shetland way. It’s a very clever way to knit in the round (half of the stitches at a time), while being able to easily free your hands if you need to attempt other duties (like preparing the meal). Basically, you knit with three needles: one needle, hold in the belt, works as sort of an arm and the stitches on it are knitted with the other two needles. We exchanged our books with our lovely teacher and I taught her Magic loop on a circular needle!
BOOKS & MAGAZINES
8. Uradale yarns:
Uradale farm is where I stayed during my journey, in the millogordo cottage with a grass roof and surrounded by sheep: it felt just like home! It is one of the members of Shetland Organics collaborative (see 5).
Most of the little yarn productions are in the natural sheep colors and I was happy to see Uradale beautiful organic yarn in all sorts of colors!
Of course, I had to purchase this little pattern book, the result of a collaboration between Uradale yarns and Dutch designers Anne de Haam, Marja de Haam and Hilly van der Sluis. The patterns are all based on 6 motifs representative of Shetland – such as a ram, Yellow Flag, Crofthouse, Curlew, etc… - I like that the Yellow Flags were indeed one of the first thing that caught my attention me when driving to Lerwick the first evening!
Uradale farm in the background
The view through the window from my bed!
9. 60 North magazine is a quarterly publication about life in Shetland. I purchased Issue 12, which contains stories about knitting in Shetland!
10. Certified organics: this leaflet explains what organic wool is and means: see also 5 and 8. From the long conversation I had with Ron, from Uradale farm where I was staying, I understand that organic is more about the don’t-s than the do-s: from what the sheep eat, to where it roams, to the entire process of working the fleece.
11. Shetland Textiles 800 BC to present: I already own quite a lot of books about Shetland knitting but this one was missing to my library. It’s fabulous, very informative and has beautiful photography along side the interesting texts.
12. Guide to Shetland Museum Textile Collection : an informative leaflet retracing the history of textiles and knitting in Shetland with beautiful pictures of old artifacts in the Museum. I was also lucky to be able to visit the Archives and saw some marvelous pieces of knitting.
13. Shetland Fine Lace DVD: since I was not able to intend any of the classes taught during Wool week (both for lack of time and also because they booked so quickly!), I bought myself this wonderful DVD that tells the story of lace knitting in Shetland. I saw extracts at the Textile Museum along with some absolutely stunning lace samples from the Museum collection and it sounds quite fascinating. The DVD is quite educational and really interesting now that I have started to work again on my book about the Icelandic lace dresses, but more about that later.
14. Vintage Shetland project: Susan Crawford has been working on the Vintage Shetland Project (the book is available for pre-order here) in a three-year collaboration with the Shetland Museum. She showed a selection of the incredible finished items that she recreated from the Shetland Museum textile archives. She distributed this little preview brochure for us to take home as well as shade cards of her lovely Fenella, a vintage yarn she developed especially to reproduce the items.
15. The Fine Art of Fair isle knitting: a native Shetland knitter coming from a family of knitters, Hazel Tindall is not just the world’s fastest knitter, she always has a smile on her face and although we met almost everyday during Wool week, I didn’t get a chance to take a class with her. But I’ll do it from my home and so can you! Her great class can be purchased as a DVD or download and is packed full of very useful tricks.
16. Terror in the Arctic: a true story from occupied Norway in World War II. The author Bjarnhild Tulloch has been living in Shetland since 1966.
17. Wool week: this pattern book published for the Wool Week contains many lovely Shetland designs by local designers. Thea started to knit the Thrift hat by Outi Kater hat using, the yarn from, well, every single yarn producer I bought Jumper weight yarn from (1, 2, 3 and 5)! A true Shetland mix!
EDIT 2016: and here is the hat, knitted by the both of us. We played a bit with the colors and mixed them differently through out the motifs.
18. Shetland Craft trail and makers: a very useful guide when visiting Shetland on your own.
19. A beautiful machine knitted sweater from Jamieson of Shetland. My intention is to steek it to make a cardigan and also shorten it as I think it fits me better. Which is why I bought some matching yarn to knit the button bands. (see 2)
EDIT 2016: this has not yet happened
20. Burra bear: those cute bears were originally all made from old sweaters but today also from leftovers/mistakes in machine-knitted sweaters from the Jamieson of Shetland factory and unused samples from the Shetland College. Sometimes, when no leftovers are available or for special projects, Wendy has some fabric knitted for her by the Shetland College. By the way, the textile facilities at the Shetland College are absolutely amazing and I was completely astonished by what can be done on a knitting machine, from extra fine lace (and we’re in Shetland so fine really means fine) to intricate intarsia projects. I wish we had something similar at the Icelandic Academy of the Arts.
21. and 22. At the Spiders web in Lerwick is a great choice of handknitted goods by local knitters: I love the gloves with a different color in each finger and chose the smallest hat of all for my father in law’s birthday (he likes to wear his hats over the ears).
23. Local Shetland bookbinder Mary Fraser makes lovely hand bound books covered in traditional Shetland Fair Isle, thus combining the traditional skills of bookbinding and Fair Isle knitting.
25. Handmade soap: there was one at the Millogordi cottage where I was staying and I liked the smell of it, plus the name of the scent, Crofters, seemed quite appropriate.
26. Beautiful tweed fat quarters woven at Jamieson of Shetland mill in Sandness. Cushion covers and purses-to-be. Below is a picture of the well known hounds-tooth pattern in the making.
27. This wonderful Crofthoose cushion I didn’t bring back but lovely Ella Gordon sent it to me. She’s been making those one-of-a kind cushions on her knitting machine since 2012. Ella is this year Shetland Wool week’s patron and designed the 2016 Shetland Wool Week hat! It is wonderful to see how she uses the crofthooses as an inspiration for her hat, named for the occasion Crofthoose hat and that you can download for free here. I’m sure it will become as popular as Donna Smith’s Baa-ble hat last year.
28. In Iceland, we have Rotten shark and Pickled ram testicules but in Shetland they have Puffin poo and Sheep’s pirls!
Well, I hope this post has inspired you to go to Shetland Wool Week in late September, beginning of October this year! If you can’t make it, there are also fabulous Textile tours of Shetland all year round as well as a few tours by Gudrun and MaryJane!