As mentioned in our last post we are starting this part of this series with our most famous yarn – 2ply Jumper Weight! This yarn is a Shetland classic and this weight of yarn is what almost all knitwear in Shetland is made from. From hats,gloves,scarfs,mittens and up to classic allovers and yokes this weight of yarn is perfect for colourwork and lace alike. Lightweight, warm but strong 2ply Jumper weight is a Woollen Spun yarn made from 100% Shetland Wool from sheep in Shetland. We currently sell this yarn in over 90 colours, spanning all colours of the rainbow and a few in between…
It was 1968 when Jamieson & Smith began to introduce knitting yarns into our business in order to sustain the employment and increase returns. It was decided to enlist T.M Hunters of Brora as the spinner, this was an obvious step as Hunters had been the main spinner of Shetland Wool since 1901. J&S had been hand sorting Shetland Wool for many years and they then created a ‘Wool Bank’ at Hunters and it was kept there in storage and the wool was drawn from the stock as and when it was needed. At first we started with the five natural shades: fawn, moorit, black, silver grey and dark grey. These shades were dyed to give a constant shade which you can’t do with undyed yarns as they tend to change due to the coloured wool stock available. These shades are still available and are numbered 202,4,5,203 and 54 respectively.
The yarns were spun to a Gala count, a woollen spun count system used in the Wool trade in Scotland and Ireland, the count is the number of hanks of 200 yards in one pound weight of yarn. Gala is short for Galashiels, an area in the borders of Scotland famed for its once buoyant textile industry, the 2ply Jumper Weight is a 2/21 Gala count and the New Metric count is 2/8.4nm. In handknitting terms 2ply Jumper Weight is equivalent to a 4ply weight yarn also known as fingering weight. We call it 2ply as it is made from 2plys of yarn but this doesn’t refer to the thickness of the yarn. The yarn used to be supplied in hanks or skeins but we have balled it in 25g balls since 2002 which is a good size for Fair Isle knitting. You can see the hanks in this old picture of the shop
Knitting comes in and out of fashion in Shetland as it does everywhere, although we have always and will always have knitters in Shetland various things over the years has meant the popularity peaks and dips. Unfortunately it has always been that Shetland knitters skills are highly undervalued and therefore underpriced, see Rosalyn Chapmans article in 60 North Magazine (page 11) Sadly this was the fact of life over the centuries where the merchant dictated the terms to the hard pressed knitter. Things like the Oil Boom era in the 1970’s and its subsequent higher wages meant Shetland knitting began a steep decline and the 1980’s were particularily tough for us and other textile businesses in Shetland. The reason I talk about the decline is to highlight than in order for us to keep making Shetland wool we have to make some tricky decisions and that did mean that over the years we had to cut colours of the Jumper Weight but we are refining it as we go, adding and removing colours as the trends change. Luckily at the moment we are currently experiencing a huge popularity in Shetland Wool and the Shetland style of knitting and rightly so thanks to things like Shetland Wool Week, the work of designers such as Kate Davies,Gudrun Johnston (and many,many more) and tied to that the strength of social media and how the internet open us up to a huge audience.
As well as the yarn being availlable on ball we also sell 2ply Jumper Weight on 500g cones, on cone the yarn is oiled for machine knitting as it helps it go through the machine better but we are often asked if you can use it for Hand knitting and you can. The oil is synthetic and will easily wash out, we would always encourage you to wash your finished items anyway but if you have used oiled yarn it is a must. The yarn will feel a bit thinner and might stain your fingers while you knit with it (especially darker shades with stronger pigments) but once it is washed the yarn will bloom and relax into its normal thickness. You might also wonder why we dont have all the shades available on cone at all times, the reason is we order balls and then get some on cone so we dont reorder until the ball stock goes down and as a result the cones will usually run out before we reorder.
If you have every visited our shop in the North Road in Lerwick you will know almost half the shop is taken up with the 2ply Jumper Weight, It runs in numerical order up the right hand side of the shop from shade 1A up to FC64 (If you every wondered FC stands for Fashion Colour!) As you can believe Sandra spends a lot of time filling up those shelves to keep the shop looking lovely and tidy. This is also where we gather up all the orders so we are forever running up and down this side of the shop!
If you are interested in seeing the colours available in Jumper Weight you can order a Shade Card here
We’ll be back next week with a look at one of our other yarn ranges, Happy weekend and happy knitting!