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!

Yarn Series – Shetland Chunky

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Todays post is about one of our smaller (but no less important!) ranges, the Shetland Chunky! In the past Jamieson & Smith mainly concentrated on the more traditional yarns such as Jumper Weight and Lace Weight which were most commonly used by Shetland’s hand knitter’s. However we did have a heavier chunkier woollen yarn which was a 3/11 cut Gala count, this yarn was called ‘Embo’ named after a village in Sutherland in the north of Scotland. This was a woollen spun yarn made from the lower grades of Shetland wool with a very robust handle and was made for coarser out door wear garments, Sadly this yarn died out with the closure of Hunters Mill in 2004. We were often asked by customers to provide a heavier weight yarn and in 2010 we developed this worsted Real Shetland Chunky Yarn. The yarn is similar in thickness to the Embo, however being worsted spun it is much kinder to the wearer in handle and has a beautiful softness.

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The worsted process means the fibres are combed and by doing this it acheives two things, the short fibres are removed and the remaining fibres are then left in a straight order for spinning. This increases the strength and also the softness of the yarns. In relation to the colours, we have a small but specialised range inspired by a selection of Shetland colours. We added the Charcoal shade a few years ago and it has been a good addition to the range. The colours available lend themselves well to Icelandic style garments, but Kate Davies also designed the lovely Port ‘O’ Leith Jumper and Cowl in this yarn.

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Although we call it a Chunky yarn, and compared to Jumper Weight it definitely is, you can achieve a wide range of effects using this yarn and different needle sizes: a 4mm needle will give you a dense fabric and the higher needle size you go the more loose and drapey the fabric will become. Although it is becoming a bit warmer in Shetland, some days you could definitly still wear something knit in this lovely yarn! Available in 100g balls (120m/131yards) one ball will give you a hat and a few balls will do for a cushy scarf.

We’ll be back next week with another range so until then have a good weekend and happy knitting!

Yarn Series – 1ply Cobweb and 2ply Lace

Hello everyone and happy Friday to you all, in this post I’m going to share some information on our 1ply Cobweb and 2ply lace woollen spun yarns. As well as Fair Isle knitting Shetland is also famed for its Lace knitting. This is often attributed to Unst, one of the many islands in Shetland but it was popular all over Shetland and there are still many talented lace knitters.

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Our 1ply Cobweb yarn remains one of our best sellers as it is the main yarn bought for knitting 1ply Heriloom and Christening Shawls. As thin as thread this yarn is blended with some lambswool to enable it to be spun so fine, and this results in very fine crisp stitches in lace knitting. We have it in the 4 shades seen above, white is the biggest seller as it creates timeless traditional items like this shawl designed by Gladys Amedro:

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It was in 1977 Jamieson & Smith first asked Gladys Amedro to help provide them with fine lace patterns. Gladys had moved to Yell and in Burravoe she became close friends with with the late Nellie Tulloch, a native Shetlander whose knowledge of Shetland knitting was bred in her bones and she taught the skills to Gladys. Her first design using 1ply Cobweb was published in the Women’s Realm in 1978, many other designs followed including a Christening Robe and Shawl commissioned by Womens Own in 1988 to celebrate the birth of Princess Beatrice, the designs (still available from us as kits here and here) incorporated the Rose of York and an Anchor, to represent the babys Mother and Father. The result of this design led to Jamieson & Smith placiong such a large yarn order for Cobweb that it was queried in case an extra digit had been added..

the next stage thicker is the 2ply Lace Yarn:

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Currently available in over 20 shades our 2ply Lace yarn can also be used in any pattern calling for 3ply Yarn, making it a perfect yarn for Vintage patterns. Like the cobweb it is also blended with Lambswool to give it some added strength. Having the yarn slightly thicker than the 1ply means it gives a bit of substance to lace patterns but also means it will keep you warm in a scarf or stole.

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Perfect for making a lighter weight hap, or a heavier weight shawl 2ply Lace is the medium ground between 1ply and our 2ply Jumper Weight. The different shades we offer and carefully shaded meaning they are just right for blending in Cockleshell or New Shell lace scarves or even this: The Circular Shaded Shawl

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We’ll be back next week with another look at one of our ranges, until then have a good weekend!

(just a note Monday is a bank Holiday in the UK so any orders posted wont be sent til Tuesday)

Ella x

baa-ble hat

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The 2015 Shetland Wool Week pattern is now available! The Baa-ble Hat designed by this years patron Donna Smith features a wide brim, lovely sheep motifs and a snowy sky, very appropriate to Shetland and most of the UK this week, I thought it was spring?? This hat is a great introduction to Fair Isle knitting and as its worked in Aran weight yarn it makes for a quick knit, great for keeping you warm in this chilly springtime!

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The Jamieson & Smith colourway uses our Shetland Worsted Aran in the shades Peat, Coll Black, Silver Grey and Snaa White, and you can now buy a kit via our online shop here. If you would like different shades for your baa-ble hat just order two of your main shade and one each of your contrast shades. You also use our now discontinued Shetland Aran which we still have a number of shades available. For that yarn you will only need one ball of the 4 shades.

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To get the pattern you will need to apply for it here on the Shetland Wool Week website and then you will be emailed a copy of the pattern.

Ill be back later this week to carry on out yarn series, til then Happy Knitting!

Yarn Series – 2ply Jumper Weight

As mentioned in our last post we are starting this part of this series with our most famous yarn – 2ply Jumper Weight! This yarn is a Shetland classic and this weight of yarn is what almost all knitwear in Shetland is made from. From hats,gloves,scarfs,mittens and up to classic allovers and yokes this weight of yarn is perfect for colourwork and lace alike. Lightweight, warm but strong 2ply Jumper weight is a Woollen Spun yarn made from 100% Shetland Wool from sheep in Shetland. We currently sell this yarn in over 90 colours, spanning all colours of the rainbow and a few in between…

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It was 1968 when Jamieson & Smith began to introduce knitting yarns into our business in order to sustain the employment and increase returns. It was decided to enlist T.M Hunters of Brora as the spinner, this was an obvious step as Hunters had been the main spinner of Shetland Wool since 1901. J&S had been hand sorting Shetland Wool for many years and they then created a ‘Wool Bank’ at Hunters and it was kept there in storage and the wool was drawn from the stock as and when it was needed. At first we started with the five natural shades: fawn, moorit, black, silver grey and dark grey. These shades were dyed to give a constant shade which you can’t do with undyed yarns as they tend to change due to the coloured wool stock available. These shades are still available and are numbered 202,4,5,203 and 54 respectively.

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The yarns were spun to a Gala count, a woollen spun count system used in the Wool trade in Scotland and Ireland, the count is the number of hanks of 200 yards in one pound weight of yarn. Gala is short for Galashiels, an area in the borders of Scotland famed for its once buoyant textile industry, the 2ply Jumper Weight is a 2/21 Gala count and the New Metric count is 2/8.4nm. In handknitting terms 2ply Jumper Weight is equivalent to a 4ply weight yarn also known as fingering weight. We call it 2ply as it is made from 2plys of yarn but this doesn’t refer to the thickness of the yarn. The yarn used to be supplied in hanks or skeins but we have balled it in 25g balls since 2002 which is a good size for Fair Isle knitting. You can see the hanks in this old picture of the shop

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Knitting comes in and out of fashion in Shetland as it does everywhere, although we have always and will always have knitters in Shetland various things over the years has meant the popularity peaks and dips. Unfortunately it has always been that Shetland knitters skills are highly undervalued and therefore underpriced, see Rosalyn Chapmans article in 60 North Magazine (page 11) Sadly this was the fact of life over the centuries where the merchant dictated the terms to the hard pressed knitter. Things like the Oil Boom era in the 1970’s and its subsequent higher wages meant Shetland knitting began a steep decline and the 1980’s were particularily tough for us and other textile businesses in Shetland. The reason I talk about the decline is to highlight than in order for us to keep making Shetland wool we have to make some tricky decisions and that did mean that over the years we had to cut colours of the Jumper Weight but we are refining it as we go, adding and removing colours as the trends change. Luckily at the moment we are currently experiencing a huge popularity in Shetland Wool and the Shetland style of knitting and rightly so thanks to things like Shetland Wool Week, the work of designers such as Kate Davies,Gudrun Johnston (and many,many more) and tied to that the strength of social media and how the internet open us up to a huge audience.

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As well as the yarn being availlable on ball we also sell 2ply Jumper Weight on 500g cones, on cone the yarn is oiled for machine knitting as it helps it go through the machine better but we are often asked if you can use it for Hand knitting and you can. The oil is synthetic and will easily wash out, we would always encourage you to wash your finished items anyway but if you have used oiled yarn it is a must. The yarn will feel a bit thinner and might stain your fingers while you knit with it (especially darker shades with stronger pigments) but once it is washed the yarn will bloom and relax into its normal thickness. You might also wonder why we dont have all the shades available on cone at all times, the reason is we order balls and then get some on cone so we dont reorder until the ball stock goes down and as a result the cones will usually run out before we reorder.

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If you have every visited our shop in the North Road in Lerwick you will know almost half the shop is taken up with the 2ply Jumper Weight, It runs in numerical order up the right hand side of the shop from shade 1A up to FC64 (If you every wondered FC stands for Fashion Colour!) As you can believe Sandra spends a lot of time filling up those shelves to keep the shop looking lovely and tidy. This is also where we gather up all the orders so we are forever running up and down this side of the shop!

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If you are interested in seeing the colours available in Jumper Weight you can order a Shade Card here

We’ll be back next week with a look at one of our other yarn ranges, Happy weekend and happy knitting!

Real Shetland Wool – part 3

Thank you all for the great feedback from the past few posts. Before we get into the actual yarns we produce I have one more post about the wool that goes into our yarns, back to Oliver..

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Shetland Wool Processing.

To understand the first part of processing the fleece, we have to look to the wool quality and go back to the first report on Shetland sheep and its wool. As we talked about in another post the report by John Shirieff compiled in the 1790s, states there are two distinct breeds in the Islands. The ‘Kindly’ wool sheep with a very fine fleece and a the coarser wool sheep ‘although some of its fleece be fine , it is of a quality unfit for any general purpose of manufacture, some of it is as shaggy as a Welsh goat’ The kindly wool was much sought after in order to hand spin and knit into fine lace shawls, stoles etc. The coarser wool was of little use, some of it was used for the ‘grund’ the base of a ‘Tattit’ rug, which was constructed by the crofter and used as a bed covering, later on it was used on the floor as a mat. It is interesting to note that the  ‘Tattit’ rug collection some over 100 years shows little or no wear, meaning it was ideal for a floor covering, Shetland’s Tattit Rug collection will be the focus of a major exhibition at the Shetland Museum from the 23rd of May – 19th July.

Shetland sheep genetics ensure that these two distinct breeds survive to this day, through the centuries they cross bred between the two, so you can have both wool types in one fleece.  Superfine wool at the neck and shoulder through to the much coarser guard hairs toward the hips, which forms the britch. Some of the older crofters maintained that even the finest wool sheep should have a heavy britch in order to protect it when it was lying down amongst the coarse springy heather.

Shetland Fleeces waiting to be sorted in our Woolstore

Shetland Fleeces waiting to be sorted in our Woolstore

After we have graded the wool into five grades selecting the fleece by style ‘crimp’ uniformity of quality, strength, springiness and handle – softness and of course fibre fineness. Next step is hand sorting of the fleece  which means the coarser guard hairs are separated from the finer fibre. If  the guard hair is not separated at this stage you will end up with a coarser itchy yarn.

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Definitions of terms used are as follows:

Degree of Fineness.

The diameter of the wool fibre influences to a large extent the use to which the wool can be put and also the length of yarn that can be spun from a given weight of wool. Users and manufacturers normally use a series of quality numbers to indicate fibre fineness.

These numbers in ascending order of fineness, are 28s ( the thickest, coarser fibres)32s,36s,49s,44s,46s,48s,50s,56s,58s60s,64s,70s,90s,100s ( the  very thinnest, finest fibres.) Most British wools are within the range 28s to 58s. An average Shetland fleece is around 56s/ 58s . Quality numbers are not based on any particular unit of measurement, they are standards handed down from generation to generation of woolmen and can be learned only by practical experience and handling of wools.

Length of Staple.

This is the measurement of the unstretched staple from tip to base. The figures quoted are the standards for each grade.

Handle of Wool.

The softness or harshness of the wool when handled.

Degree of Lustre

This refers to the amount of gloss or sheen visible on the fibres. Degree of lustre varies greatly between different types. A bright lustre is an asset for certain manufacturing processes.

Colour

The nearness of the wool to white (or black in the case of black fleeces.).

Strength

The ability of the staple to resist breaking during manufacture. The word ‘sound’ is used to describe wool of satisfactory strength rather than ‘strong’ which, in wool terminology, refers to thick or coarse fibres. The opposite to a sound wool is a ‘tender’ wool. Tender wools may have a break in all the fibres at one point in the staple as a result of illness or drought.

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Other Terms used include the following:

Grey Fibres

The presence of grey or black fibres in a fleece restricts its dyeing range to the darker shades. This fault occurs in many of the white- woolled breeds.

Kemp.

A brittle white fibre, shed during the growth of the fleece, which is extremely difficult to dye. In Welsh wool red kemp is often found.

Light Arable

A term applied to wool which contains up to 6% soil, peat moor, or sand due to the sheep having been run on arable crops or peat moors.

Arable.

A term applied to wool which contains over 6 % of soil or sand.

Hog (yearald ).

This refers to wool from a sheep that is first shorn as a yearling.

Ewe & Wether

Refers to wool from the second and subsequent shearing’s.

Yield

The amount of clean, dry wool remaining after the dirt and grease in the fleece has been scoured away commercially.

raw wool bales being shipped away, a common sight at J&S during the Summer months.

raw wool bales being shipped away for processing, a common sight at J&S during the Summer months.

Various Stages in wool processing.

The wool process begins with shearing which takes place once a year usually during the early summer. Once the sheep has been shorn the wool is taken to us at Jamieson & Smith, then graded and sorted as described earlier. The wool is then shipped away to be processed and dyed on the mainland, something we have always done. Originally at Hunters of Brora and now via our parent company, Curtis Wool Direct.

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After grading and sorting the wool is then passed through the scouring and washing plant, where five different washes remove the natural grease and other foreign matter. A by- product of scoured wool is Lanolin which is extracted from the grease and is used in the manufacture of fine soaps and cosmetics.

Carding is the next stage. The object of carding is to separate and straighten the long fibres whilst eliminating vegetable matters such as heather, peat lumps etc. The carding machine produces a continuous ribbon of loose fibres approximately the thickness of one’s wrist, known as carded silver.

At this stage you can choose two different avenues of spinning, they are the worsted and the woollen process. To deal with the former first the wool goes through a stage called combing. The worsted process uses only the long fibres, the carded silver is combed to separate the long fibres from the short (noil ). After combing the fibres run parallel with each other to form a combed top in preparation for spinning. Dyeing is often done at this stage.

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Spinning  – Worsted process. Prior to spinning, the carded ‘top’ is drawn into a finer ribbon and a slight twist added which is then called a ‘roving’. The ‘roving’ is then placed on to the spinning frame, drawn out and twisted into a fine single ply yarn. Depending on the end use of the yarn can be twisted into a fine single ply yarn but also to form two, three or multiple ply yarn.

Moorit 2ply Supreme Lace Weight, one of our Worsted spun ranges.

Moorit 2ply Supreme Lace Weight, one of our Worsted spun ranges.

Spinning – Woollen process. Spinning for the woollen process produces a softer bulkier handle to the yarn as opposed to worsted spinning which produces a stronger finer quality yarn.  A considerable quantity of yarn produced by the the woollen process goes into knitting wools and knitted products.

Shetland Supreme 2ply Jumper Weight, one of our Woollen Spun yarn Ranges

Shetland Supreme 2ply Jumper Weight, one of our Woollen Spun yarn Ranges

In the next post I will start with our most famous yarn, 2ply Jumper Weight! so look out for that next week,

happy knitting and have a good weekend! x

Real Shetland Wool – Part 2

In this part of our blog series which will cover all the yarns we produce at J&S we are going back again to Oliver’s childhood and his first experiences with Shetland Wool. In the next part we will cover some of the things we look for and the processing of the raw wool before it comes back to us as finished yarns.. but for now its back to Oliver:

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Shetland Sheep are renowned for their exceptionally fine wool, and over the centuries played a huge part in Shetland’s rich culture and heritage. They also provided a much needed source of income for the native crofter / fishermen who lived on the small sparse crofts, in Shetland most crofting areas are hilly with poor grazing. Most of the fishermen / crofters, worked for the local laird, in most cases manning the fishing  ‘sixareens’ –  open boats, that fished the unpredictable Northern waters. The laird made sure he kept control over his employees and working conditions were harsh to say the least and financial reward from their master was meagre. The income from the croft was minimal, most of the sheep providing much needed sustenance in providing mutton for the table. Often due to the inclement weather that Shetland experiences, sometimes the open boats would be unable to go to see to fish the far ‘haff’ – fishing grounds. It was the income from the knitter that kept the family from starvation during these tough times.

Fethaland Haaf Station, sixareen and foureen boats. Photo courtesy of the Shetland Museum and Archives

Fethaland Haaf Station, sixareen and foureen boats. Photo courtesy of the Shetland Museum and Archives

The extra income necessary to supplement the family’s existence came from the hard work and skill of the lady of the croft, and of course their hardy sheep. The wool from their sheep especially the neck and shoulders was exceptionally fine, and when hand spun into a fine yarn, it was the perfect fibre and coupled with the skill of the knitter to produce high class fine lace garments. Each crofting district would have at least one local shop, and it was here that the knitter would sell or exchange her knitting for every day goods to be used in providing for their family.

Teenie Gear, Jeemie Umphray (Ristie), Nurse Margaret Davidson. Teenie is knitting the border for a Shetland knitted lace shawl and using a knitting belt. Photo courtesy of the Shetland Museum and Archives

Teenie Gear, Jeemie Umphray (Ristie), Nurse Margaret Davidson. Teenie is knitting the border for a Shetland knitted lace shawl and using a knitting belt. Photo courtesy of the Shetland Museum and Archives

When I look back at my childhood I am only now aware how this was the way of life for my family and most of the other families on my native home Burra Isle. My first memories of visiting Lerwick was travelling with our mother by the ferry ‘Tirrik’ and then by bus to visit the capital of our Islands. The main reason for this journey was to sell her hosiery (knitted goods) little did I know then the importance of that brown parcel she carried. I remember visiting this shop Adams on the street where the transaction was done. After tasting my very first ice cream at Sollottis on Commercial Street, we then travelled out the North Road to Irvine’s Wool shop (near to where Jamieson & Smith stands now). It was here that I first set eyes on a large quantity of Shetland wool, lying in colourful piles on the floor of the back shop. In the front of the store were shelves of vibrant colours of ‘wirsit’ – knitting yarn, some of it was purchased and we began our journey back home. Irvine’s was one of many such businesses in the 1950s; raw wool was bought from the crofters or exchanged for yarn. The greasy wool was shipped out to Hunters of Brora in the Highlands where it was spun into all types of knitting yarns. Individual crofters would also send their own wool to Hunters, and receive back their own yarns, this practise only died out in the mid-1980s.

The Burra ferry, the Tirrick. Photo courtesy the Shetland Museum and Archives.

The Burra ferry, the Tirrick. Photo courtesy the Shetland Museum and Archives.

As in days gone by these knitting yarns were knitted into all garments, but now it was mainly on the knitting machine, there was hardly a fishing cottage that did not echo to the sounds of the machine. The only difference in the life of the fisherman from days gone by was the boats were no longer open but decked in larger boats. The weather in the long winter months was often stormy and could keep the boats tied up for long spells; again it was the female of the house that provided the income to keep the family in provisions.

My next experience of Shetland wool was after coming home in 1967 from Agricultural College and taking a summer job at J & S to pack wool, you could say it has been a long summer.

Oliver in the middle store

Oliver in the middle store

We are the main buyer of the Island’s wool clip purchasing around 80% from between 600 and 700 crofters and farmers. There only another 3 companies who handle the rest of the wool, changed days from the 1950s and beyond. Our wool is marketed with our 3 Rams logo registered mark which guarantees the user of our wool is the genuine article and not imitation ‘Shetland’ wool that the textile world is unfortunately awash with at present.

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we will be back on Thursday for the next part in the series. til then, happy knitting! x