Wool Season 2015

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At long last we have had some fine weather in Shetland which has spurred on the shearing and we now are well and truly into our wool season. All manner of vehicles roll up to our large green doors and unload their wool clip, so far we have shipped 2 loads, over 40,000 kilos, and are well through grading and packing load 3.

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We would encourage our crofters and farmers to take great care of their wool clip, especially avoiding shearing damp wool, as this can affect the financial returns to the producer. Our prices remain very high and this season we are pleased to say we are increasing the price of our Super Fine white grade by thirty pence per kilo.

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We are able to maintain and in the case of our Super Fine grade increase it due to our various products using all the grades of wool. As the main buyer of the Shetland wool clip handling approximately 80% of Shetland’s Wool from between 600 /700 crofters and farmers, it is our responsibility to seek out new products and marketing opportunities to ensure a secure and fast payment to all our customers. Our registered brand the three sheep logo guarantees the user of our products of the authenticity and traceability of our Real Shetland wool.

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In the Woolstore Derek, Jan and Scott are working at baling up the clips coming in everyday in the large baler, we also have a smaller baler in the middle store which Oliver is currently using, in the middle store we also have some of the oldest pieces of equipment at Jamieson & Smith, our wicker wool baskets.

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These baskets are now nearly 100 years old, we took ownership of them from another Shetland Textile company, Pole & Hoseason of Mossbank in 1960 and their sturdy construction, flexibility and durability make them ideal for grading and sorting wool. Prior to the mid 1960’s there were many rural and island shops in Shetland that would also trade in Wool, now there are only 3 other handlers of the local clip who deal with the remaining 20%. This photo from the Shetland Museum and archives shows one of the same baskets in use in 1958.

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photo courtesy of the Shetland Museum and Archives

As technology improves in the industry its interesting to see how although many things move forward because we still hand grade and hand sort all the wool that comes in we still have a need for these timeless items. I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the Woolstore in the wool season, til next time..

Happy Knitting! x

Yarn Series – Shetland Heritage

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Following on a few years after the successful launch of our Shetland Supreme Lace Yarns as featured in the last post, which was a joint collaboration between Jamieson & Smith, The Shetland Museum and Archives, The Shetland Amenity Trust and our parent company Curtis Wool Direct we developed the yarn we are talking about today, the Shetland Heritage Range. We were approached by Carol Christensen, Textile Curator of the Shetland Museum in 2010, to create a ‘wirsit’ worsted yarn reminiscent of some of the yarn used in their historic knitwear collection, of which some pieces date back to 1870. We were invited by Carol to view some of their collection held in the museum store at the North Staney Hill. On show was a mixture of distinct Fair Isle  ‘keps’ caps, scarves, all-overs and slipovers all laid out on tissue paper.

a piece from the museum collection.

a piece from the museum collection.

Our first impression was the distinct rich colours and how the Fair Isle patterns stood out and were crisp and well defined. Many of the articles were very old, Carol explained the yarn was hand-spun, the wool was combed and not carded, and the dyes were natural dyes. There was little or no wear visible in these garments, testifying that worsted yarn has different wearing properties than woollen spun yarns, a stronger smoother yarn, which retains its elasticity despite being washed and rewashed. We were allowed to handle these precious articles and were immediately impressed by the smooth soft handle.

a piece of Fair Isle knitting in our Heritage Yarn

a piece of Fair Isle knitting in our Heritage Yarn

Carol asked if it would be possible for us to produce a similar ‘wirsit’ worsted yarn as used in the construction of their garments. Carol said could we judge the thickness of the yarn by sight and handling the garments, a big ask to get the finished article correct. Having only worked with a woollen spun yarn and also in the days of the Gala cut, a woollen spun count system that was used by our old spinners Hunters of Brora. We settled on a 2/22.5 cut, which was a 2ply woollen spun yarn used by Hunters of Brora. This yarn would be slightly thinner than our present woollen spun yarn 2/8 nm. We passed on the images and information to Martin Curtis at Curtis Wool Direct, who put the process into action, firstly preparing the superfine Real Shetland wool, which they buy from us. Then combing and dyeing and finally having the yarns spun by one of the few remaining worsted spinners left in the U.K.

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The resulting yarn has a beautiful soft handle, much softer than traditional Shetland or Shetland type woolly yarns. It is perfect for traditional Fair Isle but becuase the yarn is slightly lighter than Jumper Weight this also means it works well for lace. Initially we launched 6 traditionally inspired shades: Indigo, Madder, Fluggy White, Peat, Auld Gold and Berry Wine. We then added Coll Black, Snaa White, Mussel Blue, Moss Green and Silver Grey to round out the palette in 2013, the non marled and matte colours give the yarn a lovely sheen when knitted which looks very traditional.

detail from the Fair Isle V-Necked Jumper kit, available here

detail from the Fair Isle V-Necked Jumper kit, available here

The yarn was described by Carol as perfect, yet again we proved that partnering with local bodys like the Shetland Museum and Archives and the Amenity Trust helps us in recreating our living past in Shetland. The finish of the yarn makes it a diverse fibre and the Coll Black colour way was used by the 2014 Jarl Squad of which Oliver our manager was a member. we have the suit on permanent display in the shop so you can see the heritage yarn used in the Kirtle, the tunic worn underneath the breastplate. You can see from our post about that day here it was a horrible rainy day but according to Oliver they didn’t feel cold!

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There is no doubting the luxury of our Heritage yarn, however most people encountering it today as well as being impressed they have not seen this type of yarn made from Real Shetland Wool, this in itself makes our job of marketing the yarn all the more difficult as it was lost in the age of time and only now has been resurrected, you can buy the Heritage yarn here.

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Yarn Series – Shetland Supreme Lace Weight

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Of all the Shetland wool products produced over our long history, this yarn marks the beginning of a new era of yarn development in which we aim to recreate a very important part of our Islands culture and heritage. True yarn for knitting Shetland lace which has played such an important part in Shetland’s knitwear and textile industry.

women carding and spinning, Shetland. Photo courtesy Shetland Museum and Archives

women carding and spinning, Shetland. Photo courtesy Shetland Museum and Archives

In 2007 we were approached by the General Manager of the Shetland Amenity Trust, a public body and amongst their responsibilities is to preserve our heritage, culture, and environment. Jimmy Moncrieff, the general manager of the Trust wanted to try and further and develop the one of Shetland most well known crafts – Shetland Lace Knitting. He approached us to see if we could help in developing the main ingredient – the lace ‘wirsit’ (yarn) used by our predecessors. This product aims to replicate the traditional worsted effect of hand spun Shetland Yarn on a more commercial scale.

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In order to replicate this intricate yarn, we started by grading and sorting the finest fleece as we have always done – by hand, making sure there was no guard hair in the blend. We has to ensure the fleece had all the characteristics required: a superb handle (softness), strength, fibre fineness and uniformity of quality. The next task was to source a worsted spinner, who were very scarce in present times. When we settled on a spinner in West Yorkshire the next task was to produce a similar yarn to the original hand spun. With the help of local experienced knitters Mary Kay and Mary Eunson of Lerwick alongside one of Myrna Stahmanns groups at a knitting retreat in the USA settled at 16s worsted count for the single 1ply and 2/16s for the 2 ply.

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Worsted spun yarns differ from Woollen spun (1ply Cobweb and 2ply Lace are Woollen spun) in that the fibres are combed rather than carded. This process aligns the fibres but also removes short and coarse hairs as well as any vegetable matter left in the fibres. This process creates a yarn which is extremely strong but also soft as the fibres are quite aligned and not sticking out (these tiny fibres are what makes wool ‘itch’) What makes this yarn so perfect for lace is that the worsted spinning process makes a yarn which has very good drape.

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The 1ply Shetland Supreme is available in 6 shades, Optic White, Natural White, Fawn, Moorit, Grey and Black. The Optic White is a lovely bright white which makes it perfect for traditional lace items like veils, shawls and scaves.

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The 2ply Supreme is currently only available in the 5 natural Shades, as we explained in our last post this helps strengthen and further the Coloured Shetland clip, by offering the natural colours in more than one weight of yarn this means it can be used in lots of different ways and the strength of the yarn means it can be knitted on a knitting machine at different gauges and be used in weaving.

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You might wonder why we keep the 1ply Cobweb as well as the Shetland Supreme but we feel they both have something to offer depending on what you are looking for from your 1ply lace yarn. For more information about the cobweb see here. The Woollen Spun nature of the Cobweb makes for a crisper, more cotton like feel whereas the Supreme has more of a halo and drape. It is confusing we know, but we are always able to help you make a decision.

We are very proud of the Shetland Supreme Lace Yarns and we hope you like them too, you can see them on our online shop here

Til next time, happy knitting!

Yarn Series – Shetland Supreme Jumper Weight

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Hello! we are back with another post in the yarn series, this time it is the turn of Shetland Supreme Jumper Weight – a totally undyed and natural 4ply Weight Yarn. This yarn is perhaps best known in recent years for its use in the designs by Kate Davies, however we have been singing the praises of this natural woollen spun yarn for many years.

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Supreme Jumper Weight comes in a range of 9 completely undyed shades, ranging from Natural White (Shade 2001) to Yuglet (Shade 2009) The other shades are either as they are on the sheep or carefully blended from the natural wool to create a well-rounded palette.

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Historically Coloured Shetland Wool was used by knitters in Fair Isle patterning and Lace knitting like Haps before the dyed wool was available. As time went on however the Coloured wool lost its value and it became almost worthless because white fleece was easy to dye and much more uniform in texture. Up until around 1997 almost all Shetland Yarns in ‘natural’ shades were dyed to create these tones, the reason being the dye house could make it a set shade each time. This differs from our supreme range in that each batch, for example Shetland Black (shade 2005) will not be the same each time as all sheep are not the same shade. So if you plan to use this yarn its best to get all the yarn at one time, it may be quite different in the next lot!

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Another reason most of the mills have to dye or ‘add a touch of dye’ is that we at Jamieson & Smith buy roughly 80% of the entire Shetland wool clip , the majority of which is white with only a limited amount of natural coloured which we use for these our 9 shades. We need a substantial amount of natural coloured fleece in order to produce all the shades in the palette. This means we have to do a lot of hand sorting to separate the various fibre qualities and of course shades which can be found in one fleece. For more information about the Natural Wool and the Sorting process see our earlier posts here and here.

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In 1997 we began a journey to further and strengthen the value of the coloured fleece. This came about as a joint venture between Jamieson & Smith and Yarns International, a now sadly closed down business in Maryland in the USA. Betty Lindsay, a partner in the company visited J&S and was saddened when we told her that the coloured wool had little to no value. Betty vowed to do something and true to her word we set up the totally dye free range which was named Shetland 2000. She employed Ron Schweitzer to design a range of patterns using the yarns, you can see some of his designs on his Ravelry designer page here. Since then lots of desingers have found how well all the natural colours blend together, you can subtely blend them or do some quite striking patterns.

Peat Hill Waistcoat, Adult Lynsey and Karelides Cardigan, some of our current kits made using Shetland Supreme Jumper Weight

Peat Hill Waistcoat, Adult Lynsey and Karelides Cardigan, some of our current kits made using Shetland Supreme Jumper Weight

At the beginning of the post I mentioned Kate’s Sheep designs, the Sheepheid and Rams and Yowes blanket. Both these patterns are extremely popular and use all 9 shades to maximum effect, they both feature motifs of Sheep and Rams which is obviously reflected in the yarns.

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PicMonkey Collage IMG_5726Hopefully this post has helped you understand the work that goes into the Shetland Supreme Jumper Weight range. There a a number of crofters and farmers in Shetland who are very comitted to the coloured Shetland Sheep and we couldnt do this range without them! The coloured Shetland Wool would have been at a time one of the only ways to get different shades into your knitting, now we are extremly lucky to have so much different colours that we can use. Sometimes you cant go wrong using what nature provides us.

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til next time, Happy Knitting!

PS. we are now on instagram! search thewoolbrokers to follow us.

 

 

Shetland College Project 2015

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As you know we have for the past few years done a few projects with the students at the Shetland College, (see here and here) We recently set the Second Year students on the Contemporary Textiles course a brief to create a contemporary piece of knitwear using our worsted spun range of Yarns – The 1 and 2ply Shetland Supreme, Shetland Heritage, Shetland Aran and Shetland Chunky. A few weeks ago me (Ella) and Oliver headed out to the college to see the final pieces.

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Megan Smith drew inspiration from Fair Isle and Nordic knitwear to inform her lace and striped cardigan. She incorporated pointed lace making techniques and we thought her use and combination of different weights and styles of yarns together was very successful and we loved her inspiration from blue china and combining all the things connected with Shetland in blue and white.

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Sophie Manson started out by looking at traditional cables on both V-bed and domestic knitting machines; which led to her knitting a contemporary boxy jumper. Inspired by chunky, modern fashion, she started to look at ways to create 3-D textures using partial knitting.

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Her finished garment combined techniques used by both types of flat bed hand machines and we felt Sophie’s grey jumper was a brilliant use of three dimensional techniques combined with a finer yarn. The way she combined the yarns (Shetland Heritage and Supreme Lace) and her professional finish on her garment meant she created a very successful wearable jumper.

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Rebecca Scanlon used the brand new Aran weight yarn together with the Shetland Chunky to create a retro inspired round skirt. Her piece incorporated layering and ruffles, and utilised chunky domestic knitting machines.

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we were impressed by Rebecca’s bravery to use the chunkier yarns in a skirt and we thought her use of colour and problem solving with the fit made a very successful garment, as you can see from her samples she did a lot of work on making the fit and shape how she wanted.

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Nicole Taylor created a cape using float jacquard techniques. Using a combination of jumper and lace weight yarns knitted together, using contemporary colours and textures, she was able to produce a very modern piece.

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We thought Nicole’s poncho was a very well designed and extremely well made garment. We loved how she also combined yarns together and thought through her design at every level which resulted in us picking her garment as the best use of Jamieson & Smith yarns.

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We love visiting the college and seeing what the students have made with our yarns, we think this project was very successful and we felt all the finished items were extremely wearable. We often get asked if the students would make patterns from the projects with us but that’s not really how we organise the projects with them,One day one of the students may publish their patterns themselves! I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at a different way of working with Jamieson & Smith yarns.

Happy Knitting!

British Knitting Awards 2015!

Happy Friday! We have some exciting news today, we have again been nominated for Best British Brand in the British Knitting Awards! You might remember last year we were nominated and we came third so we are very happy to have been nominated again.

last years award sits proudly on our counter!

last years award sits proudly on our counter!

If you would like to vote for us, please click here or the vote for us button below. Everything we do here at Jamieson & Smith is to further and strengthen the Shetland Wool Clip meaning we have the lovely Shetland Wool for generations to come. Hopefully this comes across in some of the recent blogs (see here here here), and also the yarn series we are currently doing going through all our yarn weights.(see here here here) speaking of which we will get back too in the next couple of weeks. Summer is quite busy in the shop which is a good thing! but it means less time for blogging.

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So please give us a vote if you appreciate what we do here, and til next time Happy Knitting!

Knitted Wedding Dress

I’m taking a break from the Yarn series today to show you something very special which was made using one of our yarns: the 2ply Lace mentioned in a previous post in the Yarn Series. Shetland designer Sheila Fowlie is an extremely talented knitter who is well-known in Shetland for her bespoke hand knitted Shawls and Scarfs, she often gets commissions for projects and recently she was asked to knit a wedding dress for the wedding of a local couple Rebecca and John!

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photo courtesy of Sheila Fowlie.

Of course we were very excited when Sheila told us about the project, and now the happy day has been we are pleased to share some photos from which Sheila has sent us. I asked Sheila some questions about knitting the dress:

  •  Were you surprised to be asked to make a knitted wedding dress?

I was, very surprised, wasn’t even sure if I could do it, but couldn’t find anybody else willing to take it on so decided to give it a go myself!

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photo courtesy of Sheila Fowlie.

  •  How many hours do you think it took you from start to finish?

No idea, I gave up after 100 hours and I hadn’t even finished the bottom frill!

  •  Was it important to you to use Shetland Wool in the design?

It was very important to use Shetland Wool, as I believe it’s a superior product and is what I use in all my knitwear, unless specifically asked for something else.

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photo courtesy of Sheila Fowlie.

  •  How did you go about putting together the design and was it quite complicated to do?

All I had at the start was a picture of the sort of dress the bride would like, so we began by taking some measurements and I started with the frill at the bottom after experimenting with different sized needles to get the correct tension. We had decided on three different lace patterns for the dress, one for the bottom frill – ‘willow leaf’ pattern; one for the middle bit – ‘print o’ the wave’; one for the body – ‘bird’s eye’ pattern.

I made the bottom in five panels, then sewed them together. The next bit was more complicated as I had to split the back, so that buttons could be added and therefore had to transpose the ‘print o’ the wave’ pattern to make it match on both sides of the opening. That took a few false starts and many, many swearwords before I got it right! I then grafted the middle bit to the bottom frill. From the middle and up was also quite complicated, as I had to insert darts below the bust into the ‘bird’s eye’ pattern in the front. The back had to be split to incorporate the opening and then made in two bits to join at the shoulders. I then had to attach a matching lace edge to each side from the shoulder to the waist. By the time I started the top bit I had the ‘underdress’ to copy for size, so that made it a bit easier!
(Washing the finished dress was a bit of a challenge, but that’s another story!)

I also made a 1-ply shawl to match the dress, which the bride used as her veil and a pair of matching lace ‘dags’.

Sheila the designer and Rebecca the bride.

Sheila the designer and Rebecca the bride. photo courtesy of Sheila Fowlie.

  •  Were you pleased with the finished dress and did you enjoy the wedding?!

I was really pleased with the finished result and thought the bride looked stunning. I really enjoyed seeing her wearing it at the wedding and received lots of compliments, which was nice!

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photo courtesy of Sheila Fowlie.

Rebecca and John actually live next door to us here at J&S so we were lucky enough to see Rebecca as she left on the wedding day. We are very proud to have played a tiny part in such a special garment and well done to Sheila, and of course congratulations to the happy couple!

til next time, happy knitting!