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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.