Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Shetland Wool Week: Day 18: Fine Lace and other precious Shetland Textiles

Day 18 Wednesday 25 Sept 
Fine Lace and other precious Shetland Textiles.

This was going to be a great day, I was going to the Bod in the morning and the afternoon was the rescheduled visit to the Ollaberry Happening so a whole day of seeing the results of real expertise in knitting. 
This was the first time that Shetland Textile Museum had put on a ‘behind the scenes’ tour and handling of their exhibits. I was very excited to look more closely at the exhibits on show and to be able to see those not normally available.But, even before you enter the Bod now there is a knitters treat, the wonderful lace knitted ‘fencing’ by Anne Eunson. This was completed using ‘curtain pole’ knitting needles in twine. 


This session at the Bod did not disappoint at all, it was a wonderful experience with a very interested and appreciative audience. The staff had arranged for each of the exhibits to have their acquisition paper. 


A small section of one of the forms. 
Knowing the story made it all even more interesting. We were supplied with white cotton gloves and after a short introductory talk were able to explore the items that particularly appealed to us. I initially concentrated on the  lace and then moved onto the fair isle and then weaving. I was pleased that I had judged things well and we were given a time to return to an upstairs room where we had coffee and scones. It was a session that suited my interests well and I would do it again given a chance as there is always more to see the more you look.

There was an added bonus for me. I asked about ends for double pointed needles and was shown this: 



This was  beautiful and made from light maple wood  by Britta’s husband. 
They were just what I was looking for, so a swift purchase was made and this added some funds to the Textile Museum too.  I understand they have been a popular item during the summer. When I examined them they were similar to some vintage ones I had inherited from Michael’s mother but hers were made from metal. 

We had booked lunch at Hay’s Dock so M met me and we got there without delay  so that we could drive up to Ollaberry as soon as possible.
The journey to Ollaberry goes through some lovely scenery. Even though this is my third trip there and always different items to see, wool related items to buy and of course the ‘tea’ to enjoy as well as catch up with local ladies that I chat to each wool week. This year there was a stunning knitted dress by Betsy Williamson. Betsy played down the obvious high skill level involved in making this, when I chatted to her. The attention to detail was superb  and it is a marvellous example of truly understanding knit, fabric and drape. It was great to chat to her (and I believe it was her sister) at some length and even more special to be given a section of the fine yarn she was spinning. I thought I could spin fine yarn but this looked beyond the thinness of my yarn. (1) It feels very special to have this piece of yarn. 



Mine is on the left and Betsy’s on the right. But Betsy produced this yarn whilst talking to onlookers, very different from being on one’s own and concentrating fully. 

A photo of Betsy spinning her fine yarn ....this was not taken by me but placed on the Shetland Wool Week fb page. 


Lovely to see this from an eleven year old.... I see the surname is ‘Williamson’! (2) 


The day was not over yet, it was back to Lerwick and time for a quick snack. Tonight I was going to the Anderson High School to join their knitting group. We sat in the library  which was a lovely space. Some brave youngsters turned up and it transpired were in Anne Eunson’s Peerie Knitting group. They were virtually all using a knitting belt and very determined with their knitting. Some have their work on display in a cabinet in the Museum Foyer  at Hay’s Dock. Just seeing the Peerie Knitters was worth turning out for on a chilly night, besides the other chat and knitting. 


Another textile filled day today, tomorrow would be more leisurely - I hoped. 


1. The finest yarn I have achieved and measured gives 29.57 m to the g and I have measured the diameter of this as well as I can with a micrometer scale on a microscope, it is 0.05mm. I have yet to measure Betsy’s with the same slide. Jamieson and Smith Supreme 1 ply is 16 metres per g. The winning yarn for the Longest Thread competition in Tasmania in 2017  for plyed  yarn was 96.67 m per g and the UK entry  was 74.40 m per g. For this competition there are lots of categories. The nearest is 2 ply yarn made on a spinning wheel. The finished thread must weigh at least 10 g. 
I clearly have some way to go with my fine spinning! 

2. I am very sensitive about the work a knitter/ weaver etc puts into their made item. Often these are on show but not for sale. I would not like anyone to be taken advantage of. You may wonder why I have not included photos of everything I saw. I hope this explains it. 

Friday, 16 November 2018

Shetland Wool Week: Day 17: Weaving and Spinning

Day 17 Tuesday 24 Sept 

I was very keen to get going this morning as I had spotted a slot when I could add to my warp weighted loom weaving. But first of all we were off to Mackenzie’s for a second breakfast. We instantly recognised the lady from Iowa who came in. We sat next to her at the lecture the previous night. She keeps Shetland sheep and does some natural dyeing.  It is great to chat to so many lovely people from around the world who are so interested in wool. Then It was on to Hoswick. Hadewych was running a class in the room but fortunately was happy for Susan and I to weave. It was sheer chance that Susan and I turned up at the same time, but we soon got into the rhythm of moving the heddle bar that we established yesterday. We made progress and I set up a simple ‘temple substitute’ to help keep the cloth of a consistent width.  



All too soon it was time to head North as I had a workshop with Elizabeth Johnston on Spinning for Lace- Carding vs Combing. Although Elizabeth initially taught  me to spin with a drop spindle nearly 20 years ago, this was the first wheel class  I had attended with her. It was an excellent class beginning with Elizabeth talking us through selecting and sorting a fleece, then us combing and carding the fleece and spinning to produce both woollen  and worsted yarn suitable for lace. There  was some history included too. I am quite an experienced spinner and mainly concentrate on fine lace spinning but I had lots of ‘ah ha’ moments as I realised how I could make further improvements and variations to my spinning. Another excellent class. (If you look at this short video from Promote Shetland on Wool Week 18 you will see me with Sarah during this class briefly towards the beginning,  I am wearing the meadowsweet jumper.) 

As often happens we called at the Museum, I love how the back of each loo door has a poem. This seemed apt for someone with increasingly elderly eyes: 



But the day was not over. I had plans to go to Isleburgh in the evening as it was the opportunity to knit and spin with the group that meets there regularly on a Tuesday.  In all my visits to wool week I had not managed to get to this. I had suggested that I take my Joy spinning wheel  so that  Averil would be able to try it out. 

I had carded some fleece to use with the wheel and had the rolags in a bag on top of my other stuff so they didn’t get squashed. It was a very windy evening and as we walked up the slope to enter the building, there was an almighty gust that got into the bag and 5 rolags took to the air and were then raining down on us. Fortunately Leslie and Janet from ‘across the pond’ who we meet and chat to each year were very quick thinking. They were walking towards us with friends and managed to catch 4 of them by hand and foot. It was just so funny, the 5th could not be located and I just wonder where it ended up. It was a lovely evening, very well organised and clearly the group were expecting lots of people. We sat in facing rows so we could all fit in and  went at different times for the super  ‘tea’ that was put on. Averil got on well with spinning and plying, Sarah (a friend from Staffordshire who runs ‘didyoumakeityourself.com’) and I chatted and I did more carding. I hope to be able to fit in this lovely social wool related event again. This  was my 4th evening event in a row and I was planning another on Wednesday. 

The wind was very strong all  evening and by the time we left it was a gale. It was another night where we adjusted the direction of the van (this only happens in severe wind). In weather terms this was turning out to be a wool week like no other. The wind was very noisy but not unsurprisingly I went to sleep without much trouble! 


Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Shetland Wool Week: Day 16: Glass and Knitting

Monday 23 Sept  Glass and Knitting 
Initially the plan for today was to have a restful day taking in looking round the Museum at the special exhibitions and then to attend Elizabeth’s evening talk in the Shetland Museum’s lecture theatre. 

However, travelling on the way up I noticed that Cheryl of Glansin Glass was going to do a couple of workshops in turning Fair Isle designs into glass coasters on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning in Lerwick. This was too good to miss and so I booked up for the Monday afternoon class and was really looking forward to it. 

We stopped off at the wonderful Mackenzie’s Farm shop for the first bacon bap of the stay. After that we drove to the museum and first of all I looked at the main exhibition space for the textile items. However many times I look at this there is still something that takes my eye. This time I was particularly taken by how the brims were executed on the the hats designed by Theodora Coutts. 



We enjoyed a coffee and scone in Hay’s  Dock Restaurant  and had hoped to eat dinner there in the evening. However we were told that unlike previous years the restaurant would only be open for dinner at the end of the week. This seemed rather odd as it was usually nicely full with Wool Week lectures on throughout the week. (1) 

I then looked at the Spinning a Yarn: Simone Landwehr-Traxler exhibits in the Museum Foyer Corridor  which were produced in response  to a visit to Shetland in 2016 to study Fair Isle patterns. It was very difficult to get any good photos, the one below shows the transparency of the piece but the circle is showing fair isle patterning. The pieces were very large and I would have liked to have found out more background to them. 



Unfortunately phase 2 of the Nottingham-Shetland  Knitted Lace Research Project was not yet available for exhibition. This was disappointing as we had seen Phase 1 during a previous wool week but hopefully it will be on show in 2019. 

It was time for lunch and then I needed to find the Lerwick Boat Club as this is where the glass workshop was taking place. After asking a couple of local people I spotted Cheryl’s face at the door to the venue. The workshop room was a great space with wonderful views over the sound to Bressay. 

Cheryl was well prepared and described our options. She had brought several Fair Isle patterns with her and also some blank squared paper for us to use in our designs. I had begun to map out some of the patterns of my ground elder cardigan as I was hoping to make a ‘blues’ based version for a small wall plaque.

Making my  Fair Isle glass panel 


 It was great fun and demanded one’s full attention. I had time to do a small square one too with a favourite Shetland tree design, I did this in greens, but with some red added for contrast. 
Cheryl was going to take these back to Unst to be placed in the kiln after we had chosen a white or clear backing and added the hanging wires if we wished. They would be brought back down to be picked up from a shop in Lerwick  later in the week. 
This was something completely different but very enjoyable and I would do the class again. 
Completed glass panels


There was now a swift turn round as we were booked into The String for dinner and would then return to the Museum so that both of us could attend Elizabeth’s talk ‘Shetland and Fair Isle Patterns, Differences and Connections’. 
Michael wore his new fair isle jumper for today. As previously he received compliments and has been photographed in it. I plan to do a post just about this later, it involved my first use of a jumper board. 



As one would expect the lecture theatre was full and to me this was one of the best Patron’s lectures. We heard about Elizabeth’s Shetland knitting life but also about her spinning, dyeing and weaving. This included some of her past research, her analysis and about some of her current interests. To me it was a ‘full’ talk and was very thought provoking. 

Another brilliant day. 



(1) Hay’s Dock Restaurant ceased trading at the beginning of November 2018. This is a great pity as it it was a wonderful venue and we have enjoyed many meals there. A number of new restaurants have opened in the town and this is thought to have affected their trade. Sad News.  


Sunday, 11 November 2018

Shetland Wool Week 2018: Day 15: The warp weighted loom

Day 15 Sunday 22 Sept

I had been looking forward to this workshop for months. It was my first choice when I got the brochure in May and when I was booked on one of the 6 places I was over the moon. Now the day had finally arrived. The workshop was with Elizabeth Johnston and taking place at Hoswick. 3 of the participants were from abroad and 3 more local ....one from Shetland, one from Kent and myself. I had been to The Warp  Weighted Loom talk that Elizabeth gave last year with Hildur and Marta and read quite a bit of the book and so was keen to now have a go. (1) 
Michael was going on Chris Dyer’s Tour of his Croft on Bressay so he dropped me early and then drove up to ferry. 
We had a chat from Elizabeth to start and were able to examine her lovely fabrics woven on these looms...4 shaft equivalent is possible! 
There were 3 different looms to the same plan and we were to work two to a loom. 
After the chat we began making an individual warp to work on. This, of itself was interesting, as the Vikings as you might imagine used the loom itself as a warping frame. (I have a Kromski rigid Heddle and one of the things I really like about that is that the back flips over to provide a warping frame when needed). The other real plus for me was that a cross was essential.(2) We also learnt that a tablet woven band provided a good start. I couldn’t ‘see’ the advantage of this initially but the ‘cleverness’ of it became evident later. I have done one workshop on tablet weaving and decided it was not for me. Perhaps I needed to change my mind about this. 

Elizabeth had worked out a good ‘warps per inch’ for us, something realistic in width to allow some weaving on the day but wide enough to get a good sample. We used some of her hand spun yarn.  Calculating the length involved more maths and finally each of us used our loom in turn made a warp, secured the cross and hung the warp on the loom. It was all very exciting and ‘clever’ how it worked. Next we selected stones to tie onto the warp and chained the threads to keep them in place. It was all looking good. 

My stones



Making and attaching the heddles came next and despite one to one tuition, diagrams and  demonstration we all admitted later that this was ‘challenging’ but so important to the functioning of the loom. 

2 warps on the loom


Fortunately during all this we had tea and coffee and cakes whenever we ‘made time’ and a superb lunch which was included. 
Time was ticking on and I was wondering if I would weave anything by the end of the class. Next we were taught how to wind the weft for efficient and easy use and so weaving happened. It was a moment of great joy having spent a day of full concentration to get  this far.  The looms were being left set up and we could go in and weave in our  free time(?!) during the week. 
I chose to weave using my naturally dyed quince yarn which I had dyed to form an edging for the little shawl  that Elizabeth had designed for the Wool  Week annual 2017 and which I knitted and loved.  It seemed appropriate. 
Beginning weaving



As I wove during the week other challenges arose,  the edges started pulling in. However, we had been shown  how to solve this simply with three modern use of a temple. 
It was a wonderful workshop to start the week with and provided far more than I hoped for... and I had hoped for a lot. 

I am going to pursue Warp Weighted Loom Weaving. The first thing is to read the book again, now I have had this practical experience it means so much more. ‘Wow’ is the word to describe the day. 

I am aware that several friends want to know how to do this too. I am also aware of the words of a Professor of Education..... ‘ never try and teach anything until you know 10 times more than you will teach’. This is very wise advice which I aim to follow. (3) I have managed plain weave, the thoughts of 3 and 4 shaft are for the future. 

Another realisation came to all the workshop participants - the Viking women were very intelligent indeed. (4)  

Michael had had a great trip to Bressay too and got some stunning photos. (I kept forgetting to take photos). His report of his trip: 
We had first met Chris Dyer when we called in at Old Scatness to see the Broch and Iron Age Village on our first trip to Shetland this year in June and I was keen to see his croft. (One of his other jobs is to be an archeologist and look after the site there at times)  A party of about 12 of us picked up the minibus at the Bressay terminal for the ferry and drove down to the croft.    We arrived and after an introduction by Chris went to see his sheep, the stars of the show.  They came rushing over at the sight and sound of food being rattled in a bucket.  Feeding them was what they wanted though several were very interested in anything you might have in your pocket.  Chris and his wife breed Shetland sheep specifically for the colour of the fleece so he can sell many of them locally to spinners.  We also met his pigs, turkeys and had a tour of his polytunnel to warm us up and let us hear about the dry stone walls he is building to shelter some of his crops.  All in all it was a very interesting and informative trip and one can't but envy him for the wonderful place in which he lives with the view over to Lerwick.
Some of Chris’ sheep


However the day was not over. It was Sunday and the evening of the opening ceremony. We drove to the new High School car park where we made a light supper and then into the school. As retired teachers we were impressed by the design, a feeling of openness and space  but would have loved to have seen in the labs! 
We were a little concerned that there would not be much seating for the ceremony but there seemed ample and the speeches were reduced in length. Elizabeth (as the Patron) had a short and very memorable speech about the way  the weather inspires Shetland Textile Folk....and all who experience it I think!(5) Afterwards there was a drink and mingle session, where we met past wool week friends and then there was the group photo of the Mirrie Dancers hats done in hundreds of variations...quite a sight.  
This photo was taken by the Shetland  Wool Week team 
If you go just to the front of centre and then look right you can probably find me in a pink and black jacket and M in a red fair isle jumper.



1. See blog post of 16Jan 18 for a description of this. The book is: The Warp Weighted Loom by Hildur Hákonardóttir, Elizabeth Johnston and Mart Kløve Juuhl 

2. I am not a believer in any warping method that involves a single peg, as my scientific background tells me that is not going to help the tension of the warp. The warp threads made this way are not going to be all the same length and you have given yourself a disadvantage before you start. 

3. It always brings a smile to my face when I occasionally notice, for example, a non dyer  who from attending a single natural dyeing workshop is suddenly a natural dyer teaching workshops and selling dyed yarn. To me there is no surprise that in the past the apprenticeship for any of these disciplines was many years. (I could substitute other textile disciplines here eg spinning, weaving, sewing, etc. ) 

4. Making and using the heddles was just one such example. The knowledge and skill would have been passed on down the generations. To me there are parallels with attending classes on knitting with Shetland knitters, one is so fortunate to be able to benefit from the knitting expertise passed on through their families. 

5. If you would like to hear this then go to Fruity Knitting Podcast number 63 where you can hear (and see) this and much more about Wool Week. 

Monday, 5 November 2018

Shetland Wool Week 2018: Day 14: The start of wool week

Sat 21 Sept 

The severe wind had died down in the night and we had slept well.
The plan had been to get the 9.45 Ferry from Unst, go to Frankie's Fish and Chip shop in Brae for lunch, then on to Ollaberry for the opening day of their ‘
happening’. We would then have a light supper and on to Terri Laura’s Creative Crew fb Group who were going to meet up in Teamore. Finally we would go down to Cunningsburgh where we would spend the rest of the time in Shetland. 



However, we realised that this seemed a bit like a recipe for disaster as I had a full day workshop booked for the next day. So we rescheduled Ollaberry for later in the week and this would allow me to stop at the Hub and pick up this year’s annual.

It was still quite breezy but a lovely  bright day.


A view from the ferry from Unst to Yell, just after the first ‘sea wash’ of the van on the crossing

I was glad we had gone for a less eventful journey as I was feeling like I might get a bad migraine, so I tried my first line of defence which is eating more and have found that if that ‘more’ is cake it helps a lot so we made coffee at Gutcher. 

After arriving at Toft we took the west road with the good views of Sullum  Voe to Brae where the famous Frankie’s is.(1) As always the fish and chips did not disappoint and we wondered if we could fit in another visit later in the week when we were going on to Ollaberry. This journey takes me back to my science text book writing days in the early 1990’s. I always tried to site the science in context and decided the part of GCSE concerned with oil had to be linked to Shetland. I must have had Shetland knitting  ‘in my blood’ even then as I included  a full page about life in Shetland including an image of a spinner! 
Part of the page! 


The next stop was Hay’s Dock and the Hub. The Hub  was very busy and I wondered just how many people might be coming to Wool Week. It was  great to catch up with Avril,  who we had met on the ferry up from Aberdeen. She told me, with some excitement, she was now officially a ‘spinner’ having had classes during the proceeding  week. I collected the annual and it looks another superb publication. It is great to see the work of a young designer Alyssa Malcolmson on the cover.


Then down to the  campsite where we would be based for 11 nights and a quick snack before going to find a parking spot near Teamore and to meet up with Terri Laura who I chatted to at her Gran’s in the summer. Also it would be good to meet others whom I only recognised names of and possibly their knitting! It was a lovely evening, a great start to Wool Week and a lovely idea of Terri’s. Also why can’t all bus station cafes be like this one, Teamore would certainly win on ambience and friendly staff if there was a competition. No other cafe at a bus station I know comes anywhere near this one. 



Thanks to Terri for taking this image, which gives you the idea of what it was like, I am in pink on the right.


Notes: 
1. Frankie’s win National awards for their fish and chips. There is a small sit in restaurant but they do a well insulated take away version too. Lots of choice. Deserves the praise.
You can phone up and order a time when you will collect your meal. 
2. Alyssa is one of the young talented designers in Shetland. She is now 17 and started going to the ‘Makkin’ an’ Yaakin’ group at the school in Lerwick. She is now studying mechanical engineering at college in Shetland. She has a Ravelry and Instagram presence if you wish to look up more of her designs. she is Wilma Malcolmson’s niece. 


Sunday, 4 November 2018

Shetland Wool Week 2018: Day 13: Unst Heritage Centre


Fri 21 Sept 
It  was a beautiful morning and so nice as it was out last full day in Unst, until we return! The heron was standing serenely on the point, it was cloud free and the sea was completely calm.... but I didn’t take a photo! 
We just had the morning because Friday afternoon’s are special when you are in Unst ‘in the season’ . The knitting and spinning ladies have a rota and there is always at least one person who will be knitting or spinning or  both and will let visitors try a knitting help or have a go at spinning, with brilliant guidance. I, unusually, would have my wheel with me so would go and sit and spin too.  Also there is an additional display of knitted items and some useful books on display 
So in the morning, i began by writing more notes to answer questions from last night’s dyeing and would leave these at the Heritage Centre to be copied. 
 Once out, we called at the post office to get a wide tube as I decided this would be a good thing to keep my lace knitting in where everything will be in one place. (1) I was keeping it in a pillowcase. So after Baltasound we moved up to Victoria’s and a group of ladies came in wearing their Mirrie Dancers Shetland Wool Week hats, so we had a chat about the coming week. 

Another view of Norwich beach, M with binoculars in hand

We went onto Norwick beach to have a great view for lunch and drove back so I could be at the Heritage Centre for 14.00 It was good to see Meryl  ‘on duty’ as she had been at the dyeing session the evening before and during the afternoon Minnie popped in which was nice as we didn’t have time for a chat last night. 
As I was in Unst I had had a number of questions from the ‘Fine Shetland Lace’ fb group and in discussion managed to get them answered by the people who would know about the history of lace knitting in Unst. 
Another lady, Dot, who I also met last night popped in too. So even more chatting about the natural dyeing. (2) I fixed up to pop and have a cup of tea with her on the way back as she lives along the bay where we stay. 
Early on in the session it was great to hear a familiar voice from home! This belonged  an excited lady as she had planned to trace  some of her ancestors whilst here and this included a special knitted item. She was so pleased to have arrived for her first Wool Week. She had driven straight up from mainland, having arrived on the ferry that morning. We expected to be seeing more of each other during the following week. 

It was lovely that it was such a busy afternoon, and I found myself demonstrating, including spinning fine  on a Joy fold up wheel which is rather different from the ones used in Unst. I found myself saying that I was not a resident, whilst secretly wishing I was! 

Some of my local Norfolk Horn fine spun lace, I need to take it off the card and measure the length so I can see how many metres there are per g. 

So after the session finished we called round to see Dot and her husband only to find they had built the zero carbon house that I had read about, so it was a rather special cup of tea and a chat. (3)
I gathered some Dock from behind the shore. I was interested to see how differently the madder was dyeing with Unst water and thought I would do another comparison dyeing  dock from Unst and dock from home and seeing what difference if any that will give me. (4) 
By early evening the beautiful morning looked like it was the lull before the storm, the wind changed direction and seemed to be opposite to what we had been having, so tonight we would sleep towards the sea, a first! 
What another great week in Unst this had been. 

Notes:
1 This does work but is not really  wide enough to remove the folded pillowcase from easily. I have since designed and made a project bag which I will describe later. 
2 Some years ago Dot had been involved in an interesting natural dyeing project based at Bristol University with David Hill, where very many metal compounds were investigated as mordants. 
3 The  website for the house is: www.zerocarbonhouseshetland.com 
4 This is still a project ‘in waiting’ 


Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Shetland Wool Week 2018: Day 12 : Natural Dyeing


Thurs 20 Sept
It was quite stormy first thing, but we had had a quiet night. There had been quite a bit of damage in mainland Scotland and other parts of the country as a result of the storm, or rather end of the hurricane that had affected the USA badly.  We knew some ‘wool weekers’ who were planning on coming up on the ferry last night  but couldn’t get from Edinburgh to Aberdeen. At first is was obstacles on the line, not leaves as often affects trains in Norfolk, but bigger items such as a shed! I felt that not being on the ferry last night was a blessing in disguise. 

We were planning to have a quiet day as I was going to the Heritage Centre in the evening to show the ladies how I dye with madder. This will be interesting as the water will be very different from Norfolk. I believe our Norfolk water is the hardest, or some of the hardest in the country and partially the reason Norwich became famous for dyeing Norwich Red for the wonderful woven shawls in the 1700 - 1800 period.  Also I would frequently  use madder to modify a colour already obtained from a plant. However, the demonstration/ workshop will show my general method for using a powdered dye and also for modifying the colours after dyeing. I only had modifiers that I could get on the journey up too as we didn’t finalise the details until I was on the travelling north.  The weather for the evening was not looking promising so I wondered whether anyone would turn out. 
We had a morning doing housekeeping including the laundry. We would be travelling down to Mainland first thing Saturday morning and once Wool Week had started we wouldn’t want to be bothered with any more domestic chores than necessary. 
However, the thoughts of coffee at Victoria’s managed to prevent the housekeeping taking too long and once there we decided that lunch there too would be a great idea. 
I was well prepared for the evening and had  handouts so we were keen to go back to Norwick, although it seemed a little too rough to drive further up to Skaw today. 

 Norwick  beach was a real delight again.  The storm had brought in more seaweed and turning this over were groups of birds along the shore. It was great to be in the van, it was rather breezy outside and watch them being quite systematic. We had great views of Turnstones, Sanderling and Ringed Plover with what appeared to be a Rock Pipit.  In the background were Fulmars finding their spot on the cliffs with ease and gulls accompanied by the wonderful precision fishing show the gannets provide. On top of this the colours in the seaweed were spectacular and would provide inspiration for fair isle designs throughout the year. 

Seaweed full of rich pickings for the birds 

 After an early dinner we packed the car and set off for the Heritage Centre fully expecting, from the weather, it to be a small select group. As we got close we could see lots of lights and the car park was getting parked up. I didn’t get a chance to count the ladies during the evening but I know it was more than 12. We had a good evening as I demonstrated the best method I have got so far to get a good red  when dyeing with madder. Once we had the base colour the ladies were able to  take a more active part as we used the additives and by the end of the evening we had 4 tones from the original dye bath which in itself gave a good red. 

Our madder dyeing, the front yarn is with added iron which gave the most difference as expected. 

As always, refreshments followed and from people’s faces, the questions and conversations a good time was had by all. It was good to talk to others who had also done some natural dyeing previously, by comparing experiences more is learnt.
Thoughts also turned to ‘if we can do this next year’ and what we might do.  

As we got back to base the reflections in the Sound from the moon were stunning. It was not really dark. 


Across  the bay at 21.30 

Another great day in this beautiful place. 

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Shetland Wool Week 2018: Day 11: The storm


Stormy : Wed 19 Sept
This was the day THE storm was forecast. We decided we would not go too far from base. As we were having breakfast we had the most wonderfully short thunderstorm and this left us with a glorious rainbow. 





I had brought 8 mordanted skeins with me to use for a natural dyeing demonstration/ workshop at the Heritage Centre with the Knitting and Spinning ladies. I split each of these into 4 mini skeins so that we could get more colours from the one dye bath after breakfast. 

Late morning we had a tip off about a bird that was in the area. It was in a roundabout way. Stefan, the cyclist  from the Netherlands had got a lift up to Hermaness. This was not a day I would choose to go there but it would certainly be atmospheric. He set about walking back south down the island and got a lift with a group of birdwatchers. During the journey he heard the group discuss A bird they were going to look for   in a corner of a field not far from us! He thought M would be interested, but wasn’t exactly  sure where or what it was. 
We decided we would drive out following Stefan’s encouraging but vague  description of just where this bird was we would take a look. 
He was spot on, in a field of many birds we saw a Buff Breasted Sandpiper! These breed in Arctic North America but migrate to South America in the winter. This one must have been brought over with the westerly winds we had been having. This happens quite often so the bird is uncommon rather than a real rarity. 

The weather was decidedly turning for the worse so we parked the van in more shelter and I took my knitting in to the hostel conservatory for the rest of the afternoon. 
It was quite a storm, one camper was aiming to leave his tent outside but Stefan had moved inside as he was not fancying a night out tonight. We had very heavy rain alternating with very high winds. We were relieved we were not on the ferry between Shetland and Aberdeen tonight. We had a very social afternoon and early evening. 


During the storm: Notice the gannet, the gannets seem to have loved the storm

At 21.00 we decided the worst of the storm was over and moved back by the shore. It was actually more sheltered and we both had a good night’s sleep. The storm did not seem as bad as it was forecast, perhaps we were on the edge and the worst was further south. 




Saturday, 27 October 2018

Shetland Wool Week 2018: Day 10: More about Knitting


More about knitting: Tues Sept 18

Tuesday, so Victoria’s Tea Room would be open, so we would visit. We drove round to some different birdwatching places, where hopefully I would be able
to have some more lace knitting time and make real progress with the shawl.
We fitted one in before the coffee and delicious cake break at Victoria’s. I sat by Balatasound post office and spent time taking in the view, it was misty and quite atmospheric and for the record took another photo, to me the view is just as beautiful if it is misty or even wet. 


The mist  mist rose and fell and it was all wonderfully atmospheric with some lovely reflections.




The first bird report of the day: 
"Having got Janet settled with her knitting in the van at Baltasound shop/PO I walked up to Halligarth Woodland.  It is the most Northerly wood in Britain and was planted in the 1840s by Dr Laurence Edmondson, a keen naturalist who wanted to study the birds that he knew would come as the wood grew.  It was very quiet on this particular morning but finally a warbler did appear in the canopy.  It seemed determined to keep out if view but I eventually decided it was a Wood Warbler."


I called at the Heritage Centre again and noticed a shawl, quite a large one for sale. It had been placed second in the Highland Show, so a very nice one. It was priced at £600. This made me think about pricing such exquisite pieces, to me it seemed not enough. How did I come to that decision- the Dunella shawl I am knitting, is not my design. I will not sell it but if I wanted to sell a shawl it would be my design, so add in the time of designing it and knitting a trial run. But let us do a calculation for the shawl I am doing. I complete 10 rows an hour, and that is without any time allowed for ‘taking out’ mistakes....so the shawl is 652 rows in total. If I divide that by  I0 get 65. Now even at £10 an hour and I would say this is not beginner knitting, more like advanced but this makes £650. The shawl I saw is as an estimate at least double that size. So to say these fine lace shawls are priceless is to me nearer the mark.. Would it ‘make more’ presented as a fine art piece of textile art, probably but the challenge is to tap into the right market. But us ‘lace addicts’ do it mainly because fine lace knitting is what we do.

We drove up to Norwick beach and Michael walked to Valyie, this is what he noted in the second bird report of the day: 

“Norwick beach and surroundings are wonderful places to be at almost any time of year.  The beach had Ringed Plover, Sanderling and Redshank on this morning.  A walk along to Valiye produced a Shetland Wren which was keen to make itself known and in the garden I spotted, Willow Warbler, Blackcap and possibly, a Spotted Flycatcher.  How wonderful was that!” 

I continued to knit and have managed 22 rows. I need to keep up this rate, or preferably increase it as I am beginning to visualise myself wearing the scarf! 

Friday, 19 October 2018

Shetland Wool Week 2018 : Day 9

Norwick Beach 

We love this beach and always try and go as soon as we can (and as often) when we are in Unst. Unfortunately we were not able to stop for coffee at Victoria’s Tea Rooms as it was Monday and they are quite correctly having a well deserved day off. So off to the beach it was, M went to look for birds and I pottered on the beach with my camera. Today I was intrigued by rock formations on the beach and the photos will inspired  some textile pieces in time. 




We met up and had lunch in the van, then M went back to checking for birds and I decided to focus on my lace knitting. Bliss to do this in such  a special place. This lace knitting is the beautiful Dunella Shawl, by Kathleen Anderson. It is worked in Jamieson and Smith’s Supreme yarn. 




I am taking a long time knitting it, it is the first serious  piece that I have attempted after undergoing eye procedures on each eye. I wondered if I could knit such fine lace again, but fortunately I can if I have good light and ‘know when to stop’. 




The light at Norwick could not have been better and I pondered on whether another  of the reasons that  lace was knit in Unst, some of it is SO fine, is that the light is so wonderful. (The first reason being the fineness of the local fibre.) I continued to ponder as I knitted. Knitting was also a large part of the Norfolk economy in the past (mentioned by Celia Fiennes in 1698), and we also have good light, in fact Norfolk is  referred to as ‘Big Sky country’. The knitting was not fine by Unst terms but was mainly of socks for export and probably fine by local standards. 


Once back at base, another textile treat was in store. A  cyclist who knew I was ‘into’ knitting told me that there was a group of ladies chatting and knitting in the lounge. I remembered that the warden of the hostel had said a group met there on Monday evenings during the winter. Sure enough it was the group and some of them had only been knitting for a short time, but one would not have known. It was great to chat with them and share some knitting stories. As a bonus Cheryl from Glansin Glass (1) was there. She had used the group as guinea pigs for her Fair Isle Glass workshop and had brought their ‘makes’ to the group and these were really great. I was booked onto this workshop for the Monday afternoon of Wool Week and I was looking forward to it even more now. How great to have some of one of my Fair Isle Designs preserved in a glass wall 

hanging. 


(1) Glansin Glass can be seen here’s: http://www.glansinglass.co.uk/

It is even better if you see it for real! 



Monday, 15 October 2018

Shetland Wool Week Day 2018: Day 8 Unst


Our first day in Unst: Sun 15 Sept 

We had designated this as a rest day after the week of travel, but we hadn’t reckoned with it being one of the real windy days that you get here. By a ‘real windy day’ I mean that when you are in motorhome you are aware of the wind before all else and it dominates the day. It seems to be too much for  some people who arrive from the ferry, take a look at it and then head south again. This was the day the news was full of hurricanes in America and serious weather damage in the Philippines. 
We were nicely distracted over breakfast by some little birds hopping about that turned out to be a rock pipit, which is not common in Norfolk and a beautifully coloured young pied wagtail which had a distinct yellow face. Other birds arrived including a sanderling and dunlin.  
The morning was taken up by carding some (local to me in Norfolk) fleece I had brought with me. I am knitting a hat, which will be referred to as the ‘secret hat project’ which is using a set of my naturally dyed yarns.  I now needed some white/natural of the same diameter yarn.... approximately J and S jumper weight yarn. By this time it was now a wet, and quite stormy morning so it seemed a good time to progress  that. This year I had my Joy spinning wheel with me as I needed it for a class. I couldn’t think of a better place to prepare wool. 


However, for some reason the yarn was trying to over twist before it went on the bobbin. I checked everything I could think of and was left with looking at the groove on the bobbin. The groove appeared to be very shiny and my hunch was that there was insufficient friction with the nylon thread. What did I have with me that would roughen this? I tired a fingernail sandpaper board which helped and some Cif which helped a bit more but what I really needed was fine sandpaper. After writing a note to add this to my emergency kit it was added to the shopping list, but to be honest I had little expectation of getting any until we were back on mainland. The temporary fix proved ‘sort of’ good enough. I managed to spin two 10g skeins. 

By this time the weather was improving and we decided to go to Victoria’s Tea Rooms and the Heritage Centre. I treated myself to a season ticket for this latter when we were up in the summer. We sat at a prized  window table at the tea rooms and watched gannets diving into the sea. This sight never fails to amaze me, the force with which they enter the water must be tremendous.
Sorry no image of this, they are thought to hit the water at up to 60mph… so you can see why I do not have a picture of that. 
But an image of these beautiful birds taken by M 




On to the Heritage Centre and a chat  with Frances ( who was today’s volunteer) I decided to go into the permanent  lace display room and concentrated on admiring the shawl by Anderina Thomson (1812-1863); it was the size, the complexity and arrangement of the lace motifs and the sheer fineness of the yarn that made it such a stunning piece to me. I have to sit in front  of a large picture window when at home to knit fine lace (fine by my standards) and have no interruptions and then only do an hour or so at a time….none of which I guess applied to Anderina. Coupled with this was the fact that her lace was finer than my hand spun lace too. (I will write more  about the finess of my  lace spinning on a later post)
Before closing time at the Heritage centre I had time to go into the ‘Knitters and Spinners’ room and had another look at this year’s display. On the right was a rectangular shoulder shawl that I imagine has been designed/charted by Hazel Laurenson called the Hinnywaar Pattern AND it was possible to buy this pattern in the shop. I would go home with a treat as I was pretty sure I did not already have this pattern.
This is one of a series of patterns for sale at the Heritage Centre.(I do not wish to infringe copyright by printing anymore of the pattern.) 




Driving back was challenging, the wind had got up and it was blowing a gale, which was accompanied by heavy rain. But it had been good to get to some favourite haunts. 

The wind dropped considerably by 21.00 although it was forecast to be windy again on Wednesday.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Shetland Wool Week 2018: Day 7


Arriving in Shetland Sat 15 Sept


The boat journey went well, although there was some swell during the latter part of the journey and for the first time ever the shower water  completely flooded the  whole shower room in the cabin. We had a nice breakfast and then collected the van and made for Tesco to fill up on provisions for the week ahead. 

This is made easier by having ‘the list’ which is little modified from visit to visit. Next we parked on the quay and after visiting Tourist Information - just because we always do - and the Shetland Times bookshop just because there is always a Christmas Present to buy and give to DH to give back to me at Christmas. (This works  well as I usually forget which books I am going to receive by then, as long as he remembers where he puts them!)

We were introduced to the Dowry when we were up in the summer and loved it and it was a real treat to get one of the prize seats at the window. We knew this was unlikely when wool Week was in full flow. 

From a window seat in the Dowry




Normally at this point we would be ready to drive up to Unst, however we had some rather unusual things on our shopping list today. During the journey up I had arranged with one of the ladies from the Heritage Centre  in Unst that I would do an interactive demonstration of madder dyeing as I do it, whilst we were staying. I had brought the madder with me, a thermometer and some mordanted wool just in case it might go ahead. I realised that I did not have my ‘dyeing clothes’ with me and so after visiting a couple of ‘charity shops’ I had a rather tasteful shirt that only needed the buttons moved to tighten up the cuffs. I had managed to buy soda and white vinegar in Tesco. I was now searching for copper sulphate... as I had failed to get this at a garden centre on the journey. They would normally have had some but the Christmas Decorations were destined for that space..... Well I failed to get the copper sulphate but I did manage iron sulphate from the pharmacist.  The only uncertainty was the lactose coating and the still to be mastered method of crushing them. Fortunately I always carry a small balance accurate to 2 decimal places, useful for weighting rice but actually brought to measure the weight of my fine spun yarn. 


We drove up to Toft and made lunch while waiting for the ferry. It was a glorious day and just two short journeys away from our favourite island, Unst. It felt as if we had not been home as it was only two and a bit months since we last waited so impatiently.  


I had set myself a challenge, today was National  Spin in Public Day and I decided I would try and spin on the three ferries I would be on. I spun early on the North  Link Ferry, this is in the cabin before 5.45. I intended spinning in the lounge  having breakfast but that didn’t happen.... too much eating to do. 

spinning on the ferry to Shetland  





We had an uneventful crossing to Yell, enjoyed the scenery on the drive through and then there was the short hop and we would be in Unst again. We were here for a full week in which we hoped to relax, walk, look for birds, take photos, knit a bit, eat a bit, enjoy the Heritage Centre lace again and meet with the lovely knitting and spinning ladies there. 


I did manage to spin on all three ferries but did not leave the comfort of the Van on the two inter island ones so it is debatable as to whether this was in public but the thought was there. If you look very carefully you can see a slightly different background on each ferry. I am spinning Norfolk Horn very fine, I worked out that it is at least 19m per g, J and S Supreme is 15m per g. 

 spinning on Toft to Unst ferry





and Gutcher to Belmont 


I fell into conversation with a couple of American ladies on the beach when we drinking tea, they were not going to be able to stay for Wool Week as they were off to the Hebrides. However, they had hand knitted their Mirrie Dancer hats and had naturally dyed the colours, so it was great to talk to them about natural dyeing. 

We also had a redshank and heron on the beach which was going to be our view for the week. 

So it felt we had finally arrived at the place we love. 


Tomorrow was going to be a rest, admire the view and knit lace day.