Yarn Series – 2ply Jumper Weight

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…

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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!

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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203,1284,366,fc9 and fc56

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2, fc39,fc34,141 and 29

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54, fc39,fc38,fc12 and fc11

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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wool week day 7

today we had our last class in the shop, and it was a weaving workshop with Emma Blain of Aamos Designs.

using an embroidery hoop Emma had the ladies weaving in no time! They were making a small coaster or a potstand. It just goes to show you dont need a big loom and lots of setting up to be weaving. Emma was saying the same principle can be used to make mats and rugs using a hula hoop.

a lace sample in the Bod of Gremista

So that marks the end of Shetland Wool Week 2012.

It has been a brilliant week!