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Shetland and Shetland Type

Hello everyone, today we are going to touch on something which comes up every now and again – the issue and differences between Shetland and Shetland Type wool. Sometimes it can be quite confusing but this post is just to alert you to the fact some yarns you see called ‘Shetland’ may be that in name only.

According to the British Trading Standards, the current usage of the word Shetland in Wool is: ‘A yarn spun on the Woollen system of 100% Virgin Wool.. such yarn being capable of imparting to a fabric the qualities of crispness and/or smoothness and soft handling attributed to the products formerly made exclusively from the Shetland breed of Sheep’  This is interesting as it shows you that a yarn could be named ‘Shetland’ but not include much or any Shetland Wool, but by imitating the spinning style or feel of whats attributed to Shetland Wool you can give it that name regardless of where the wool comes from or the breed used. Another point in the trading standards information is this: ‘where the term is qualified by the adjectives ‘genuine’, ‘real’ or any similar description, or quantified by the terms ‘100%’ or ‘all’, this implies the wool actually originated in Shetland.’ You will see we always talk about our wool as Real Shetland Wool, or 100% Shetland Wool etc – this is us working on this basis – to show you the wool originated here in the Shetland Islands from Shetland Sheep!

We know for a fact that there are many more products out there called Shetland than there is wool available. We annually take in over 260,000 kilos of local wool from the Shetland Islands (which equals well over 80% of the Wool clip) and what doesn’t come back to us in yarn and finished product is sold on through our parent company Curtis Wool Direct for many other wool products. There are of course other Shetland Wool producers and ones on the mainland but you will find in their description of the yarns they will explain this – the ones which should ring alarms bells are those who have ‘Shetland’ in the name of the yarn range but no other mention of Shetland or Shetland Sheep in the description.

We have a very interesting piece of text in our archives which comes from Alistair MacDonald who was a long-term staff member at Hunters of Brora, where we used to have our yarns spun before they went out of business in the early 2000’s. The folder contains Alistair’s findings and remarks on lots of different aspects of the yarn and knitwear industry and he has some interesting comments on the Shetland/Shetland Type argument, some of which we noted in our book: ‘When I think of the Shetland yarn on offer I am reminded of the bizarre situation with Cheddar Cheese.. the name Cheddar now describes a type of cheese not a cheese from the Cheddar Valley. Just as cheddar is now ubiquitous to the super market so now Shetland is ubiquitous in the textile market place.’

Our aim with this post is to highlight that ‘Shetland Type’ yarns are appropriating the reputation that Shetland Wool has earned over hundreds of years through our climate, culture, history and sheep. We are rightly extremely proud of our wool and if this is something which is important to you also, we urge you to ask questions about the origins of the Shetland Wool you are buying.

Happy knitting!

All photos on this post have been taken by us either in the Woolstore at J&S or at local Agricultural Shows and the top image was taken at one of our crofters farms in Bressay.

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Susan #

    Shetland and Cheddar. Good information!

    April 27, 2018
  2. Meriel Crawford #

    I have now started buying my shetland fibre from J & S as I find their tops is the best for spinning my own yarn.

    April 28, 2018
  3. Thank you so much for explaining the difference, I’m learning to ask much more questions when I buy my yarn and had the best time visiting the shop in September, Sandra answered so many of my questions and definitely deserves biscuits with her tea break…
    Using the connection of Shetland wool and Cheddar Cheese has left me feeling a lot less puzzled with how and why people use “Shetland” as a term rather than as an ingredient…. And you have every right to be proud of your wool, it’s wonderful.

    April 28, 2018
  4. Such a shame that the Protected Designation of Origin “Native Shetland Wool” applies only to organic Shetland sheep on Shetland. It would have been so much better to make the PDO apply to all wool from sheep of the Shetland breed on Shetland, and call it “Organic Native Shetland Wool” if the farm of origin and the sheep are certified organic.

    April 28, 2018
  5. thank you!

    April 30, 2018
  6. Thank you, so glad you like it 🙂

    April 30, 2018
  7. Thank you! 🙂

    April 30, 2018
  8. Thank you Sally!

    April 30, 2018
  9. Kata #

    What about the breed of the sheep? Does all of your clip come from the Shetland breed or is there wool from other breeds of sheep mixed in?

    December 25, 2018
  10. elizabeth craigie #

    I was born, and grew up in Shetland during the 50’s and 60’s. We always did a lot of knitting, and the wool my mother used was jumper weight. There was only one other weight available at that time, and it was lace yarn which my aunt used to make beautiful cockle shell scarves. I am confused by the modern terms used for your knitting wool. Is any one of them equivalent to the old jumper weight?

    March 13, 2019
  11. Hello, yes 2ply Jumper Weight is the only one we’ve ever had. Thanks!

    March 21, 2019
  12. Jay #

    I almost purchased an “100% Shetland wool” jacket today and on the label under that it had in smaller print “type” so it was not true Shetland wool. I stopped myself after reading this. I will not settle for a “type” that only discredits the original and true Shetland wool.

    February 25, 2020
  13. Lorna Watson #

    I saw a shop on Etsy, based in America , selling very expensive knitted items which were made from Highlands wool. When I asked for more information on the sheep breed she said Highlands wool came from sheep who lived in the Highlands but it was not merino wool. At £200 for a scarf I felt her answer showed she knew nothing at all about the wool she was using and was charging a premium for a low quality item.

    April 23, 2020

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