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.

IMG_5938You can order kits for these patterns here on our online shop

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!

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!

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

Shetland Sheep – the beginning of a blog series

Recently I had the idea to begin a series of blog posts going more into detail about all the ranges of yarns we carry here at J&S.. from Cobweb up to Chunky!

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Oliver pointed out, correctly, that we should begin the series with some posts about where it all comes from! So this first post is about the Shetland Breed of Sheep, written by Oliver Henry, manager and top wool man here at J&S.. take it away Oliver..

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The Native Shetland sheep are part of the North European short tailed breeds and have been linked to breeds such as Icelandic, Finn, Romanov, and Scandinavian breeds’ such as the Spaelsau. It is the smallest of the British sheep breeds and it maintains many of the characteristics of the wild sheep.

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One of the first surveys carried out on Shetland sheep in 1790 published 1814, for the Board of Agriculture, reporter John Shirreff states there are two distinct types of sheep in Shetland, one breed producing a ‘kindly’ meaning fine wool fleece and the other a much coarser fleece. It was natural that these two distinct types would cross breed and produce wool of which could be of mixed quality, and the same applies to this day, hence the need for careful breed selection of fine woolled stock and later on the hand sorting of fleece. These two types would roam the native heather hills and peat moors at will as there were no geographical boundaries such as today with fencing. The common grazing or ‘scattald’ as it is known locally could carry sheep from up to twenty or thirty crofters in an area, all could have different types of rams they would introduce to the flocks, all with different characteristics especially wool.

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My own experience of crofting, Shetland sheep and its unique traits began at an early age on my native home of Burra Isle, which was mainly a crofting, fishing community. The village I was brought up in was Hamnavoe and it was a common grazing area, sheep could roam freely around the houses and supplement their diet from gardens and vegetable plots, always a source of fierce debate between house holders and crofters!  My grandfather had such a croft with a small park which was fenced in where he kept perhaps a dozen ewes, the remainder roamed the village. I fondly remember hand feeding his sheep especially in the winter when grazing was scarce. One particular Shetland ewe named Blackie would come into our house and I would brush the snow of her fleece while hand feeding her.

Hamnavoe, Burra circa 1950's.

Hamnavoe, Burra circa 1950’s.

The Island life was predominately fishing, the crofts and sheep numbers were relatively small, the returns from crofting was sparse, the livestock was mainly used to supplement the needs of the family which included their fine wool, which I will deal with later. It wasn’t till I was 10 years old and had the good fortune to meet up with my Uncle Willie Robertson’s family, who lived in the North East of Shetland, in the village of Vidlin, that I came to understand the importance of traditional crofting life and its impact on a rural community and the comradeship of crofters. My summer months were spent on the Robertson croft at Kirkabister in Vidlin, it was here my education of Shetland agriculture and in particular Shetland sheep and wool began.

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A highlight of my summer was the gathering  ‘caaing’ the hill sheep, as many as a dozen crofters would set off with their dogs from differen’t parts of the area, which was very hilly and full of gullies and burns. I marvelled at how they all seemed to meet up at a certain location, most often next a loch, and drive the mass of sheep into the ‘croo’ pen. Here each crofter would select out their own sheep and start hand shearing or in some cases ‘rooing’ their animals. I began to learn how each crofter could distinguish who owned the sheep. This was done by ‘lug’ ear marks, where each crofter had their own “ brand “. If I remember correctly the Robertson family mark was a hole in the right with the tip of the ear shortened and two cuts in the left. A favourite memory of mine was at one of the larger gatherings, I spotted one of the Robertson families black ewes being accidently shorn by a distant neighbour on telling the Johnson brothers, who were representing the lady of what was about to happen and they should point out the mistake. They said no just wait and when the crofter had finished, they went and said thanks for shearing one of the Robertson sheep and took the fleece and handed it to me to pack.

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These early years being a part of such a rural crofting community combined with the crofter fisherman lifestyle of my own Island gave me a very clear picture and education in to what makes our Island’s culture and heritage so vibrant. On attending the North of Scotland college of Agriculture some years later, I was made aware of how little was known about our crofting way of life and Shetland Sheep in particular. A visiting lecturer an expert on sheep, answered my question on Shetland sheep and its importance to our community,  saying it ‘was a bag of bones and of little significant value’ how wrong was he!

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We can only hope that this important infrastructure can survive the E.U paper trail, passports and electronic ear tags, for when the oil has gone and we once again turn to the land and the sounds of Shetland sheep being gathered in our native hills.

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Shetland sheep breed characteristics:

Small fined boned animals with erect ears and bright eyes. Very good mothers, and have the ability to live on sparse hill conditions. In some areas can be seen on the sea – shore eating seaweed, to supplement their diet. Very fine wool, fleece weight 1 – 1.5 kilos. The rams are horned, generally rounded in section, though some are angular, the ewes are hornless.

We will be back soon with a post on the wool itself before we kick off looking at all the different weights of yarns we make!