Rugs and Placenames

We recently received a new batch of Rugs developed by the Real Shetland Company made from our lovely Shetland Heritage Yarns, we at Jamieson & Smith were tasked with naming the beautiful range of blankets and we decided to go with placenames in Shetland ending in Wick – this can be translated from Old Norse as Vik which means Bay.

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The varying place names we have here in Shetland are what they are because of our Norse heritage. Norwegian settlers arrived here around 800 AD and brought with them many words to describe the landscape, the language spoken by them was Old Norse, from which Norwegian, Faroese and Icelandic languages are all derived. Of course, Scottish and English speaking settlers who came after them meant place names changed and developed but anything ending in Wick means a bay is sure to be nearby.

1654 Map of Orkney and Shetland

1654 Map of Orkney and Shetland

Shetland is surrounded by Coastline, some of it high and rocky but a lot of it low and easily accessible to boats, hence why we became such an important part of the Northern Sea. Unpredictable weather and rough seas teamed with our unique location of 60 degrees north means we are a common stop off point.

A while ago me (Ella) and Derek had to go out on a little excursion and decided to take some of the blankets with us to photograph alongside the signs for their namesakes.

One of the Blankets – Westerwick is the birthplace of one of Shetland’s most well known poets – T. A Robertson. I thought I’d share this poem, its called Voar Wadder and is about Springtime in Shetland, although we are coming into Summer now I thought it was still appropriate! – If you would like to hear the poem being read you can listen to it here

Da ask is tick at da back o Vaila,
   As da cowld, sweet braeth o da Sooth wind blaas,
Whaar da rigs is lyin, gold an shaila,
   An da paet-reek driftin by ower Waas;
Whin da green paeck comes, an you hear da kilya
   Among da fleein cloods o maas.

As up an doon da gaet A’m gyaain,
   Wi da owld byre-borrow back an fore,
I feel da Sooth wind saftly blaain,
   An da cock craas lood at da barn door.
Nae time laek da time wi da green paeck shaain
   An da smell o da eart ida first o da Voar!

The rugs can be purchased on our website here.  They are sized approximately 188cm (74 inches) long and 131cm (51.5 inches) wide which makes them perfect for a summer picnic. Of course while we were taking our pictures we had an interested audience..

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Happy Knitting!

lambing time

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One of the nicest things about this time of year in Shetland (apart from lighter nights!) is the sight of Lambs. Lambing starts end of April and goes on throughout May, and all the photos in this post have been taken in the last few weeks.

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The Shetland is the smallest of the British breeds and is believed to be of Scandinavian origin. It retains many of the characteristics of wild sheep such as natural hardiness, longevity and an ability to thrive on a low level of food intake from our heather clad hills and peat moors.

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Shetland Sheep are naturally good mothers, they require little assistance when giving birth and easily lamb by themselves. You can see from the photos that the mothers fairly keep an eye on you when your near their babies! Hill sheep in Shetland average 25 kilos and the new born lambs birth weight can is ususally 1 to 2 kilos and sizewise not much larger as a cat.

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Ewes that lamb on the hill usually give birth at dusk or dawn,  this is natural instinct to lamb in semi-darkness to avoid predators such as the Bonxie and Ravens. By lambing at night this timing gives the lambs a chance to get to their feet. Lambs become quite independent after a week or two and start to graze and chew the cud.

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At this time of year Shetland hills echo with the loud bleating of straying lambs followed by the answering call of its mother.

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If you would like to make your own Peerie Shetland Lamb you might like our newest kit! The Peerie Sheep, this was designed by Sandra Manson who works at J&S and was inspired by all the lambs in Shetland at spring time.

til next time, happy knitting!

Photos by Jan Robertson and Ella Gordon

berry farm visit

Oliver and Ella recently paid a visit to the original home of Jamieson & Smith, Berry Farm which is located in Scalloway. We are working on an exciting project at the moment (more of that later!) so we are doing a bit of looking back and it was a fine day so we took a quick trip out.

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In writing this post I was trying to think of how to adequately explain the importance of Berry farm to J&S, and I think it’s best explained by Kate Davies from the introduction of our book Knit Real Shetland:

One fine summer morning in 1946, a truck set off from Berry Farm, Scalloway, with its driver, Magnie Halcrow, and a passenger, 15-year-old Eva Smith. It was Eva’s school holidays, but she wasn’t on a jaunt: her hands held a chequebook full of blank, signed cheques, and her head was full of pricing information.Eva had a job to do. Her father, John, had sent her to the village of Walls on Shetland’s West Mainland with instructions to buy wool. John was a livestock trader, an expert on his native Shetland Sheep and a skilled grader of fleeces; his nickname—Auld Sheepie—suggests the estimation in which his expertise was held. John had built up a reputation for sorting and grading during the 1930s and, by 1946, found himself in unprecedented demand. These were the years of the post-war knitwear boom and the industry placed high demands for uniformity on the producers of increasingly popular Shetland wool. From Berry Farm, John successfully graded fleeces for the consistency and quality the market required, then brokered the wool for processing and sale. By the late afternoon of that fine summer’s day in 1946, Eva had finished her work, and, with the truck laden with fleeces, set off back to Scalloway. She didn’t know it then but these were the beginnings of Jamieson & Smith Shetland Wool Brokers, which she would later run with her brother, Jim Smith

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This was a nostalgic trip for Oliver who first started working at Berry Farm in the summer of 1967 after spending 2 years at Agricultural College at Craibstone in Aberdeen. The founder of J&S, the late John Smith  was a farmer but also a dealer trading in all kind of livestock and agricultural produce including wool.

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In the winter months the farm labourers would work at sorting and packing the wool purchased by the Smith family, this helped with their employment as the winter was much quieter on the farm. As the company grew it moved into Lerwick where it started retailing knitting yarns spun from local Real Shetland wool. In 1967/68 Oliver spent half the working year on the farm and half in the wool store at Lerwick. Berry Farm was a very busy place in the 1960s/70s, with quite a large herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle as well as up to 1,000 sheep. We were lucky to see a new baby calf when we visited, Ella’s uncle James works at Berry so he took us around all the various sheds and byres.

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The green fields at the East side of Scalloway was where the arable crops were produced to feed the livestock. Hay, Corn and Turnips were the main crops produced and they were very labour intensive; there was also the battle to have the harvest in due to the short growing season and the very unpredictable Shetland weather. The Corn crop was harvested and brought into the farm where it was milled through a threshing machine then the oats were bruised ready to feed the livestock.

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Our history is extremely important to us at J&S and it’s always nice to go back and see where it all began. Jim, Eva and their family were a crucial part of how we came to be today and we like to think we still treat our crofters and customers with the same respect that we always have done since the 1930’s.

As we go into the lambing before our most important time – the Wool Season! we will be back with more photos from this busy time of  year in Shetland.

Happy Knitting x

The First Minister of Scotland and the First Minister of Shetland Wool

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We are proud to represent one of Shetlands traditional industries, this means occasionally we get some unusual visitors to our shop, yesterday this was the case when we got a visit from the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon!

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For our international readers the First Minister is Scotland’s head of government, Nicola Sturgeon is also the leader of the SNP party so she was in Shetland on the Campaign trail for the upcoming election. Its always important to show these kinds of visitors what we do here at J&S and the effort we make to sustain the Shetland Wool Clip, we can feel a bit isolated sometimes from the effects of Mainland Politics but Nicola was very interested to see the kinds of things we make up here.

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Of course Oliver gave her a tour of the Woolstore and Showroom as well as the Shop, we forget as we are here everyday but the first time you come in the shop and see the walls full of Shetland wool it really is like a sweetie shop! As always we felt proud of what we do here at J&S and no matter your political views it was exciting to have a visit from our First Minister.

All photos here by Scott Goudie, our resident photographer (oh and he works in the wool store)

winter jobs

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During the winter (and its feeling wintery today in Shetland!) of course things slow down a bit on the Wool side of J&S but we carry on with the job of sorting the graded fleeces, white and coloured. Shetland Wool is known for having different grades in one fleece and it is this time of year we can take the time to separate out the best of them.

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Oliver is taking each fleece and looking for certain things within them – the handle, the character and fibre fineness to name a few. You often find spinners looking for the crimp of a Shetland fleece and this is one of the things we are looking for.  The best of all these things together make for the finest results in Spinning.

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The finest fleeces have a lack of Guard Hair, the courser fibres which bring down the grade. By hand sorting you can remove and ensure the overall fineness of the fleeces. This exquisite Shawl of Sandra’s shows an example of how fine Shetland Yarn can be hand spun.

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As well as the white fleeces, which is obviously the most common in Shetland, we are also lucky to have many of Shetland’s crofters come to us with their coloured fleeces. (I did a post a while ago about the Natural Colours which you can see here) These are crucial because they allow us to have a number of ranges using only the Natural Shades. 1 and 2ply Supreme Lace and Shetland Supreme Jumper Weight. We also have something new coming soon using the Undyed colours so keep an eye out for that..

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So although the green doors are shut there are plenty of things going on behind them! And if your interested in Olivers hat there will be a pattern coming soon..

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Happy Knitting!

Up Helly Aa 2016

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We will be closed this Wednesday 27/1 as its a public holiday the day after Lerwick Up Helly Aa, no orders or emails will be dealt with but we’ll be open again on Thursday as normal.

For more information about Up Helly Aa see here, and if your interested in seeing more there is a live broadcast which can be veiwed here

Three Cheers for Up Helly Aa!

Winter Woollies KAL – so far…

We are now less than a month away from the end of the Winter Woollies KAL, and we have been so pleased with the amount of orders going out all over the world!! I thought I’d share some of the finished projects so far..

To see some of the pieces people have already finished have a look at the finished objects thread in our Ravelry group here. Theres also lots of chat and discussion in the general Winter Woollies KAL thread and people are sharing some of their progress shots, you can see that here

Photos taken from the Winter Woollies KAL thread

Photos taken from the Winter Woollies KAL thread

The KAL runs until the 15th December, we are loving seeing all the things people are coming up with so keep it up! The weather has turned in Shetland and on Saturday we had our first bit of Snow, in true Shetland form it is windy and rainy today but it was nice while it lasted and we are beginning to get very thankful for our woollens at Jamieson & Smith, til next time,

Happy Knitting!