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!

Shetland Haps

Hello! and sorry for the lack of blogs over the past wee while. Things have been very busy at J&S but today I am back with a blog about Haps!

baby wrapped in a hap, courtesy of the Shetland Museum and Archives.

baby wrapped in a hap, courtesy of the Shetland Museum and Archives.

I feel like lately Haps have been everywhere with Gudruns Hap Knit-a-Long on ravelry and Louise of KnitBritish’s Hap-A-Long which begins this week, so I thought I’d share some of the Hap patterns available from J&S and of course the modern counterparts as well as some ideas of the yarns that can be used to make one!

Haps drying in a field, courtesy of Hap Shawls: Then and Now by Sharon Miller

Haps drying in a field, courtesy of Hap Shawls: Then and Now by Sharon Miller

A Hap is essentially a wrap which is used to keep you warm, of course they come in many shapes and sizes but traditional Shetland Haps are square with a centre panel, a patterned surround (usually feather and fan lace) and an edging. There are many different ways to construct a Hap of which Louise goes into a good amount of detail on her blog post, there is also some good information here.

a hap drying outside in the 1970's. Courtesy of the Shetland Museum and Archives.

a hap drying outside in the 1960’s. Courtesy of the Shetland Museum and Archives.

We are very lucky that we have a lot of the samples created for patterns over the years for us, I’m going to start with the fancier Haps, traditionally used as Christening Shawls and knit using 1 or 2ply Lace weight.

These 1ply Shawls, all designed by Gladys Amedro follow the construction method of knitting the edging, picking up stitches then knitting into the centre which is one of the styles of Hap construction. They can all be made using 1ply Yarns, we have the 1ply Cobweb and also the 1ply Shetland Supreme. The original 1ply Cobweb will yield a crisper shawl due to its woollen spun make up but the Shetland Supreme will give you a softer shawl with more of a Halo, both beautiful of course!

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1ply Cobweb

1ply Shetland Supreme

1ply Shetland Supreme

The Pam Shawl, seen above is another Gladys Amedro pattern but this time it is knit using 2ply Lace, we also have the My Weekly Baby Knits Shawl which is another 2ply Shawl. These are a bit less delicate and more for everyday use, although they would still be perfect for a christening

Although typically knit in Original 2ply Lace you could also knit any of these shawls using 2ply Supreme Lace or Shetland Heritage, both which would give you a different feel. The Supreme 2ply is a bit lighter weight than the original whereas the heritage is slightly heavier, since they are both worsted spun compared the the 2ply lace you would again get a different feel using them.

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The Morag Shawl from Sharon Millers ‘Hap Shawls: Then and Now’ is a classic example of a traditional Hap which was worn by Shetland Women over the centuries. Large, warm and soft, this would keep everyone from a tiny baby to an old lady warm.

courtesy of the Shetland Museum and Archives.

courtesy of the Shetland Museum and Archives.

Typically knit in Jumper Weight, the shaded sections were used to add interest and use up all the scraps of Yarns.

A subtly shaded Natural Hap in Shetland Supreme Jumper Weight would be classic and timeless but it also offers the chance to use some nice colour palettes of Jumper Weight..

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In relation to finding patterns for these kinds of Haps, in the Traditional Shawls and Scarfs pattern booklet – all written out and not charted – there is a pattern for this kind of Shawl

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Also available in the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers book: A Legacy of Lace is the Traditional Shetland Hap by Zena Thomson

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But online you will find a wealth of patterns inspired by this style of Haps.

Hansel Hap (Full Version)

Hansel Hap (Full Version)

Hansel (Half Version)

Hansel (Half Version)

Gudrun Johnson’s lovely Hansel Pattern is available in a full and half hap version as well as in a Craftsy class! Knit using Jumper Weight the colour possibilities are endless.

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Another Modern Hap inspired pattern is the Northmavine Hap by Kate Davies from her Colours of Shetland book, again knit in Jumper weight, this shawl has aspects of a traditional shawl in a modern shape.

I hope this has inspired you to get involved with Louise’s Hap-A-Long which begins on the 10th of April. Of course there are many more patterns which fit into this style so have a look and get involved! I thought I’d leave you with this great photo from a carnival in Lerwick with a Shetland themed float, that’s a big hap on the back!

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Up Helly Aa 2015

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My yarn ‘torches’

One day to go til Lerwick Up Helly Aa! I cant believe it was one year ago when head wool man at J&S, also known as Oliver was in the 2014 Jarl Squad (see here and here for more details)

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some details of Olivers 2014 suit from my Up Helly Aa window

some details of Olivers 2014 suit from my Up Helly Aa window

But now its another squads turn to be the Jarl Squad! For those who dont know, Up Helly Aa is a fire festival held all over Shetland, tomorrows Up Helly Aa, the biggest of the lot, is in Lerwick and the whole day is given over to Vikings.. the night-time torchlight procession (live feed can be watched here!) contains over 800 men and results in the burning of a Viking Galley.

a photo from last years procession

a photo from last years procession

After the procession, local halls are open and there is a big night of dancing! Each of the squads involved (usually about 40-50!) are dressed up and come up with an ‘act’ for the people in the halls. understandably Wednesday is a public holiday in Shetland so we wont be open, but we’ll be back at work on Thursday.

Til then, happy knitting and Happy Up Helly Aa!!

Happy Christmas

a snowy Shetland scene. Photo courtesy of the Shetland Museum and Archives.

a snowy Shetland scene. Photo courtesy of the Shetland Museum and Archives.

We are now closed for Christmas and New Year, we will open again on the 5th of January 2015, No more orders or emails will be dealt with until this time.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all our customers and friends, and thank you for supporting Shetland Wool and all that it stands for.

xx

some knitting books at christmas time..

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Im so sorry for the bit gaps in posting but I thought I’d begin with our lovely Christmas tree! We have recovered from the brilliant Shetland Wool Week and since then things have been very busy at Jamieson & Smith, of course our usual day to day is busy as we have lots of customers coming into the shop.. Wool is readily bought all year round in Shetland but in the Autumn and Winter even more so! Of course things are busy on the online shop as we gear up to Christmas time! Knitters can be quite tricky to buy for (speaking from experience) but one thing that cant be beat is a good book. Tying in nicely to this is the fact that over the past couple of months some great knitting books have come out written by some of our lovely knitterly friends, all using J&S yarns !

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YOKES by Kate Davies

I thought I’d begin with the most recent, so recent in fact we haven’t got our copies in stock yet but soon we will and until then you can buy the book from Kate’s online shop here. This book follows the story and cultural variations in the classic Yoke patterning in knitwear and is followed by 11 beautiful patterns, a number of which are made from J&S – including the yoke on the cover!

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This book is a MUST for anyone interested in stranded knitting, although Yokes also includes patterns using beading and cabling. Kate’s knowledge on knitting shines through and makes this the perfect gift.

IMG_4146The Shetland Trader: Book Two by Gudrun Johnston

Next up is the newest publication from American based, Shetland born designer Gudrun Johnston. This book was launched in Shetland at Shetland Wool Week, and we sold out in one night! So luckily we have the books back in stock again.

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I (Ella) may be biased as I am one of the models in the book but the landscape and imagery is all very inspiring, and there are 9 patterns to choose from. From hats,scarves to sweaters and cardigans, there is something for everyone. Available from us here 

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Unst Heritage Lace by the Unst Heritage Centre

This is a smaller book, but would make a great stocking filler for the Lace knitter! Unst is famous for its fine lace knitting techniques and this year the Unst Heritage Centre have launched this book with some patterns and history about its strong heritage.

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This book makes a great edition to the shelves of anyone interested in Shetland Lace knitting. The fact its written and put together by the Unst Heritage Centre makes it all the more interesting. Available from us here

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The Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook by Felicity Ford

You will have seen some of our posts following the progress and completion of Felicity’s brilliant book on designing your own colourwork on the blog (see here and here) but this book makes a brilliant gift for someone who is experienced in stranded knitting but ready to take it to the next level!

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Felicity guides you through all the stages of designing your own colour work motifs,charts and projects. We have copies for sale in the shop but if your not in Shetland you can buy the book from Felicity here

I thought i’d finish this post with a couple of lovely Japanese books we have received recently. We send a huge amount of yarn to Japan and their books are truly some of the most beautiful around.

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Shetland Lace by Toshiyuki Shimada

Toshi is an amazing Japanese knitwear designer, we have worked with him for years and this new book on Shetland Lace is absolutely beautiful. The patterns, photography and layout is so inspiring

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the sense of style and remaking of traditional motifs in a contemporary way (like the cockleshell seen above in a hooded wrap) makes this a great gift for anyone interested in Shetland lace. The book is in Japanese and all the patterns are charted but I have found this great helpful sheet for knitting Japanese patterns. You can buy this book here

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Mariko’s Knitting Tour by Mariko Mikuni

We met Mariko early this year when she visited us for this book, we recently received it and it is a lovely little book, full of pictures from Mariko’s tour of the UK.

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Again this book is all in Japanese but the layout and pictures makes it an inspiring read. She visited Shetland, Fair Isle, Edinburgh and Mainland Scotland (She included a visit to Kate Davies too) and many more

IMG_4142The book contains a number of patterns also, and it can be purchased here

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Wouldn’t it be lovely to find all these books under your tree this Christmas?

Happy Knitting!

KNITSONIK – BLOG TOUR PART 2!

As you may know, Felicity Ford has recently published a book ‘The Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook‘ We took part in the original blog tour which was part of the kickstarter campaign to raise the funds for the book. The full amount for the project had already been raised by the time we did our original post so we knew this book was going to be a roaring success!! We were lucky that the first copies of the book arrived in Shetland when Felicity was here for Shetland Wool Week so we got one of the first peeks.  I sent Felicity a few more questions to see how she was feeling now the book has come out!

the_cover-950x4251: How did you find the process of writing the book and are you pleased with how it has come out? I think it is beautiful!

I really enjoyed writing the book; I was lucky to have a talented team who shared my vision and gave tons of love to its production. Additionally, I was able to share milestones with the project backers through the Kickstarter site. Working on the book felt like going an adventure with loads of friends and I think it is richer for having had encouragement, input, energy and skills from many KNITSONIK comrades.
The little sections describing each inspiration source were the parts I most enjoyed writing because I discovered so much about my local area while researching them. The Berkshire Records Office and the Local Studies section of the central library in Reading were really helpful, providing me with access to building plans and street directories. Seeing and touching these old documents from Reading’s past made me feel more connected to the history here.

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As you will have seen, one section in the book celebrates my iconic Huntley & Palmers biscuit tin. I discovered through old census data that a William Chas Wellstead once lived at our address and that this individual had formerly worked as a tin-factory labourer. This information made my treasured little tin feel even more significant and personal. At the Berkshire Records Office I was enchanted to see the old building plans for the now demolished Huntley, Boorne & Stevens biscuit tin factory: this was where William once worked and where my tin was made.

Huntley_Boorne_Stevens-1-3Art_Deco-1Another snippet of local history celebrated in the book is an old pink Art Deco building on the Basingstoke Road. I was unable to discover when it was decorated in its distinctive shades. However in the Kelly’s Street Directory of 1949 the building was registered to Tokalon Ltd. (a cosmetics company) and when I found old Tokalon face powders on eBay the shades of pink were uncannily similar to the stucco facade.

TOKALON-1I don’t know if that was when it was painted but it’s a lovely coincidence!
These discoveries added extra context to my knitting and made me feel more connected to my town through stitches and patterns. Everyone who was involved in the project shared my joy in the lovely links between my knitting and my town and I feel that you can really see that in the final product.
I’m thrilled you think the book is beautiful. I am incredibly pleased with how it looks and want to credit the super talents of Fergus and Nic here because their photos and design are what really make the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook. Going on photo-shoots with Fergus was super fun as he really got the essence of the book and wanted to use the photos to show connections between my town and my knitting. The day when we went out together to photograph my bricks-inspired-swatch against the Reading brickwork was an especially happy one; I actually cried for joy when I saw his photos!

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It was also thrilling to pass Ferg’s wonderful photos over to Nic and see what she would do with them. I especially like the spread for the page opening the chapter about knitting places because the way Nic arranged Ferg’s photos is superb. She said “I wanted to put you in the middle, in your car, with all your favourite places around you” which is such a nice way to think about that chapter and something I could never have come up with by myself.
These are just two examples of how my amazing comrades have enriched this book with their talents and undoubtedly the best thing about writing the book was working with wonderful people.

2: What are your dreams for people who are using the book? We have had lots of Shetlanders asking about it!
My dreams are that people using the book will feel empowered to design stranded colourwork from things they love! I want to show that creativity is not mysterious, and that it involves practical steps which can be practised by anyone who wants to play.

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I hope the book will inspire knitters to start on hugely personal projects that feel rich and personal and significant… one of the reasons for spending all that time researching the history of old biscuit tins and factories is to show that these little things we notice each day really matter and are worthy of knitterly celebration.
I hope that reading the book will also inject a bit of fun and mischief into everyday life. The other day I saw a lovely message from Sarah who used to work for your company. She remarked on how the book had made her see some chimney pots in J&S yarn shades. That’s what it’s all about; finding inspiration and magic everywhere and cultivating creativity in unlikely places.

3: What are your best tips for people interested in colourwork but a bit scared to take the first step (apart from purchasing your book of course!) do you have any fail safe things to get colour and motifs inspirations from?

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My top tip is to edit your inspiration source down to a manageable size. If you start with the idea “I want to knit a swatch based on my favourite beach” then you may be overwhelmed! But if you can make this idea a bit smaller – “I want to knit a swatch based on this bit of sand, maybe using this individual shell and these pebbles for pattern ideas” then it has already become more manageable. Creativity is really just about solving problems – the first problem to solve is usually that the initial idea is vague, so defining the brief more clearly is the first step. I think a lot of people are tempted to start with nature subjects – a tree or a landscape for instance – and though these are beautiful and picturesque subjects they can also be quite complex. A single tree contains so many different shades and lines and colours that it can be hard to know where to begin. I address this in the book in my chapter on plants, and there are definitely ways to make it easier to knit from the natural world but if this seems complicated then you can’t go wrong with pleasing food packaging! A tin, a cereal box, even the washing up liquid bottle can all be superb starting points for stranded colourwork. These generally contain just a handful of colours which are easy to identify and it can be fun to hunt about in an initially simple-looking object for hidden patterns and shapes. I was delighted that in Shetland during Wool Week several comrades brought Tunnocks chocolate wrappers to my workshops as their inspiration source – these are ideal as they have really strong graphic lines and superb, bold colours.

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My favourite swatch in the book is the one based on my little handheld recorder. The object is so simple – just a little black plastic device with a digital screen and some buttons – that I really had to look hard to find details. Once I started, I had millions of ideas and it was a fun project.

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So my best tips are to start with a small idea or to start with a big idea and then make it smaller!

4: How do you think writing this book has changed how you will approach colourwork in the future?

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The main changes are that I have fallen in love with swatching (which I used to really dislike) and I feel more confident that you really can use anything as a starting point for designing stranded colourwork. When I started trying to design my own colourwork projects I didn’t know what I was doing; there were so many variables and I kept making ugly things or getting confused about the numbers or messing up the colours. As I solved each problem I got a bit more secure in my own creative process and my swatches got longer and longer as the ideas started really flowing.

In the Kickstarter video I said “I want to make this book for us” and in finding ways to clarify my process for other knitters, it inevitably became clearer to me. I had to put structure and language around what I do when I am designing stranded colourwork and that helped me to organise my thoughts. The result is that now I feel quite at home in the KNITSONIK system and know exactly where to start if I have an inspiration for stranded colourwork. I really hope the book makes others feel the same.

5: I really hope you liked working with our 2-ply Jumper Weight, I’m going to be horrible and make you choose your absolute favourite shade! If you can’t choose one, I at least want your top five!

Your 2-ply Jumper Weight is amazing and it was a pure delight to work with it for many reasons. Its provenance can be traced back to crofts on Shetland; its hand is soft and bloomy; and the range of shades is magnificent. After working on this book I almost know the shade card numbers by heart… there is no way I can choose one all time favourite shade, but my top five would be 9097, FC11, 202,1208 and 125.

90979097 is a calm red; it is the exact colour of the distant poppies that bloom on the horizon when driving my favourite road and it has a magical relationship with FC12 if you want to transition between red and green.

FC11FC11 is the most beautiful verdant green. It energises all plant-based design themes with its vivid hues; it is the colour of fresh leaves that have the sunlight passing through them.

202I think I used 202 more than any other shade in the book; it is an incredibly useful neutral shade and appears in many palettes with its translucent cool creaminess. It tempers brightness in surrounding shades and is really useful for describing such textures as faded pages or old paint; spots on a beach where the sunlight is hitting the sand; faded road markings and clouds. It is versatile and understated and I feel a must-have shade for every knitter trying to turn everyday inspirations into stranded colourwork!

12801280 is perfect for transitioning magically between purple and green shades as I discovered while I was knitting sloes. The bloom on a sloe is a beauteous and elusive thing but this shade I think goes some way towards capturing it.

125Finally I love 125 because it is almost the exact same colour as Reading Red. That is the colour that Reading clay fired to in the Victorian brickworks once plentiful in this town and there is nothing like it. You can see that the later bricks were not made of Reading clay because they are not the same vivid shade as your wonderful 125.

Thanks Felicity and Congratulations!

Wool Week Saturday and Sunday

Our last class yesterday was with the brilliant Felicity Ford, who’s new book arrived on Friday, nearly ready to post to all the people who backed the campaign to publish it!

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Felicitys friendly teaching style meant for a great class on being inspired by pictures and your life in your Fair Isle Knitting

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The shop was open til dinnertime then I headed to the Wool Week hub at the Shetland Museum, it looked really great!

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This map was full of pins showing where all the visitors have come from!

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big3 big2As well as the hub being open the Town Hall was filled with producers at the Makers Market, from Foula Wool to Shetland Handspun.

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There was also some historical things there, one of the makers, a knitter also had on her table some Wool related memories, including these vintage slips from Jamieson & Smith in the 1970s!

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Today marked the end of Shetland Wool Week and I went out to Whiteness for the annual Sunday Teas held by the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers

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As well as the great teas and fancies the Guild also has a presentation of their work, and there were some fantastic things to be seen from some well known Shetland Knitters: Ina Irvine, Hazel Tindall, Linda Shearer and Kathleen Anderson to name a few!

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I also spied a number of things which were entries to the Colourbox Competition we hold at the Voe and Cunningsburgh shows like Lindas jumper seen above.

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Members of the Guild were also demonstrating which was great to see!

big4Sue, Loretta, Outi and Eve spinning and knitting away.

This marks the end of my posts about Shetland Wool Week, its been a fantastic week and I hope you have enjoyed seeing what was happening in Shetland. I have so many pictures I didnt get to use that you may be seeing some more! For now though its time to tidy up the shop and get things back to normal,

Happy Knitting! xx