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.
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.
Hello everyone! So this past Saturday we hosted something a bit different at J&S, a Wool Awareness event. This was for our crofters and wool producers and focused on the ways to present the wool so as to get the best price. Jan, Oliver and Derek were all on hand to advise and talk through with the visitors about what was on show.
The woolstore was laid out brilliantly with examples of all the different grades we take in as well as what we don’t want and how it can lower the price the crofter receives, this was great I thought (as a non-crofter!) because it was well described as to why this lowers the value and I could see what was wrong with it compared to the other examples.
We also had fancys!
And fleece-rolling demonstrations!
We had as well a display of all the yarns and products we make so you could also see the finished product – a number of the visitors came into the shop afterwards and all the feedback I had was really good, so I hope those that came enjoyed it.
Its extremely important to us to support the crofters as much as we can, after all we wouldn’t get very far without them! I made a quick video on Saturday too which you can see below, Happy Knitting!
Second post in a series about the people behind Jamieson & Smith.
Jan works in the wool store all year round. Between July to October she grades wool which comes in from over 600 local crofters and farmers. It’s a busy time and there’s never a dull moment! Over the winter Jan continues to sort fleeces as well as carry out any maintenance that needs to be done around the buildings.
It’s great to have Jan as such an integral part of the J&S team as she’s also a crofter and a beautiful knitter! When Ella and Sandra aren’t around in the shop for colour advice for a customer I have often asked for Jan’s help.
What’s the best thing about working at J&S?
“Meeting all the people who come through the big green doors who have as great a passion as I do for the Shetland breed and about what we are doing here at Jamieson & Smith. I also love telling the J&S story.”
Do you have a favourite place in Shetland?
“Shetland as a whole, all of Shetland! I am so lucky to live in such a beautiful place. It never ceases to amaze me, even through the wind and the rain. In the summer it’s mesmerising.”
How do you like to spend your time when you’re not working at J&S?
“At home with the animals in Walls – ‘Waas’ in dialect; knitting (there are always at least two things on the wires at any one time!) whether it’s lace or colourwork. I also like to be out and about when I can find the time away from croft work but I do love lambing time (March to May) and clipping (July to August).”
At this time of year we are beginning to gear up to the busy wool season – all throughout the year we are continually hand sorting and grading the wool but it’s also the perfect time for us to do a bit of maintenance to our buildings!
We are based in Lerwick, Shetlands Capital so this means we are tight for space, wool takes up a lot of room and we are always looking for ways to streamline our operations. During the Wool Season the Wool store is absolutely jam packed with lovely wool, see this picture from the last year….
Anyone who has visited J&S will know we had two Wool Stores, well this off season we have combined the two to make one big wool store! This was quite a task and the floors were not at the same level as they were build at different times. Luckily Oliver, Derek, Scott and Jan are all handy with a hammer so once got the wall knocked down (by professionals!) they were able to do all the work in raising the floor. We also blocked up the two middle doors so there is more room for the bales we know are coming!
The main reasons for this alteration are not just to improve the work flow and thus cut costs it is also to accommodate a more modern, larger baler replacing our current wool press, we received it second hand in 1970 so we are due an upgrade! This new press will cut costs and speed up wool handling meaning we can process crofters wool and payment’s faster.
There used to be one small door linking the two stores, now the forklift can easily go between them and stacking bales is a bit easier
We also took the chance while we were working with concrete to install a better ramp and rail outside the shop, which makes outside the shop a lot safer and tidier.
In a small place like J&S it’s important that we can all turn our hand to different things, and we are very lucky we have members of staff able to do this work in house when things are a bit quieter on the Wool Side, it’s a lot of hard work now but in the long term it will benefit how we are able to process the Wool we receive annually from over 600 of Shetlands Crofters and Farmers. I think head Wool man Oliver is pleased with the progress!
At long last we have had some fine weather in Shetland which has spurred on the shearing and we now are well and truly into our wool season. All manner of vehicles roll up to our large green doors and unload their wool clip, so far we have shipped 2 loads, over 40,000 kilos, and are well through grading and packing load 3.
We would encourage our crofters and farmers to take great care of their wool clip, especially avoiding shearing damp wool, as this can affect the financial returns to the producer. Our prices remain very high and this season we are pleased to say we are increasing the price of our Super Fine white grade by thirty pence per kilo.
We are able to maintain and in the case of our Super Fine grade increase it due to our various products using all the grades of wool. As the main buyer of the Shetland wool clip handling approximately 80% of Shetland’s Wool from between 600 /700 crofters and farmers, it is our responsibility to seek out new products and marketing opportunities to ensure a secure and fast payment to all our customers. Our registered brand the three sheep logo guarantees the user of our products of the authenticity and traceability of our Real Shetland wool.
In the Woolstore Derek, Jan and Scott are working at baling up the clips coming in everyday in the large baler, we also have a smaller baler in the middle store which Oliver is currently using, in the middle store we also have some of the oldest pieces of equipment at Jamieson & Smith, our wicker wool baskets.
These baskets are now nearly 100 years old, we took ownership of them from another Shetland Textile company, Pole & Hoseason of Mossbank in 1960 and their sturdy construction, flexibility and durability make them ideal for grading and sorting wool. Prior to the mid 1960’s there were many rural and island shops in Shetland that would also trade in Wool, now there are only 3 other handlers of the local clip who deal with the remaining 20%. This photo from the Shetland Museum and archives shows one of the same baskets in use in 1958.
As technology improves in the industry its interesting to see how although many things move forward because we still hand grade and hand sort all the wool that comes in we still have a need for these timeless items. I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the Woolstore in the wool season, til next time..