Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Shetland Wool Week 19: 9, The Heritage Centre

Fri Sept  27 Day 12 

This day is always a bittersweet day for me. The ‘bitter’  bit being that this is our last full day in Unst for the year and the ‘sweet’ bit being it is the ‘Have a go day’ at the Heritage Centre. This is when at least one of the knitting and spinning group will be there with an additional display of items and encouraging visitors to have a go with a spinning wheel and with a knitting belt. 

We were up early, it was unnervingly calm and still, so unlike yesterday. We were at the Health Centre for 9.00 for the latest INR test for M. I opted to not go into the Health Centre. It was what I would call and an atmospheric day and I wanted to explore a bit with the camera. 

M was back quickly, the news being he needed to phone our home surgery to have his medication confirmed and to book another test when we were back on Shetland mainland next week! He got through to the surgery and we now need to phone later to get the dosage! He decided he would take the binoculars into the garden at the back of the Health  Centre and was delighted to see a Red-breasted Flycatcher. We drove to Baltasound and I decided to have a wool session whilst he walked to Haligarth Wood from there. We were booked into a window seat for 12.00 at Victoria’s Tea Room and were back there in good time. Although the table was reserved,with a big sign on it, it took some negotiating from the staff for the couple to move! 

Wool week attendees were obviously arriving on mainland and the adventurous had travelled up to Unst - the wool week hat is a wonderful introduction to a conversation. There was a group over from America and they were planning to go to the Heritage  Centre to take in the ‘Have a go session’ too. 

Once I got there, it was great to see a Hazel  Laurenson (1) was going to organise the session for the afternoon. She was happy that I had my wheel with me to spin as well and it was great to see Kate, from East Anglia, who was back with her wheel too. 

Hazel produced books, her file of recent lace knitting samples and other examples of what she (and possibly others) had been knitting recently. 

Before we started I took the opportunity to go into the room where the majority of the historical lace knitting is on display. I was particularly interested in the mitre of any shawls on display. It was the mitres that I was homing in on this year.(2) I showed my embarrassing little sample to Hazel and was keen to get her expertise on ‘mitres’, having tried different versions of the ‘knitting on’ type in my sample. It was a useful discussion, although in Unst the traditional shawls  they knitted avoided a mitre completely. I had avoided the mitre in my cobweb shawl mentioned in the previous post. 

It was a great afternoon, spinning and chatting. One of the American ladies, Inga, who actually lives in London, had a tiny nano wheel (3)  in her bag and it was great to see this in operation. What was even more surprising was that she had got some extra bits and refinements for the wheel from a spinning friend from back home  in Norfolk. Wool, spinning and knitting are international and it is joyous to have such friendships. 

A general view of the room where we did the dyeing a couple of days ago

The afternoon ended all too soon and 16.00 saw M there ready to pick me up and for us to return to base for our last night. 

We had treated ourselves to a Lasagne meal from the Final Checkout, made in Scalloway. It was excellent, full of meat and much better than ‘bought’ meals back home. 

There was good news to end the week, the Youth Hostel had won one of the Community Grants for £500 so could have new flooring in the conservatory and I hoped I played some small part in this happening.  New people had arrived at the Hostel for bird watching and it seems that the following week there were to be to even more arriving which is all good for keeping the hostel going. 

Fortunately there would be very little packing up, one of the big advantages of the camper van. We were booked on the 9.45 ferry in the morning. Kate, the friend from back home, was going via Ollaberry so we would catch up on things once we both arrived at the campsite (for the next week plus) on Saturday evening. I had plans for shopping in Lerwick on the way through. 

  1. Hazel Laurenson is, IMO, a real expert in Unst Lace. I was very fortunate to have an all day class with 3 others, with her in my first Shetland Wool Week in 2014. She has the ability, that I have yet to gain, of being able to look at a lace motif and translate it into knitting and to design an overall item with a very balanced set of motifs. She has translated patterns from the collection found in a case, in Unst, some years ago. Some of these are in the booklet ‘Recreating Vintage Shetland Lace’ and others are in separate patterns. These are available to buy from the Heritage Centre and contribute to funds to keep it going. 
  2. Previous posts in this Shetland Wool Week 19 series have included my attempts at getting a knit on mitre that I am happy with in a small sample hap. 
  3. This nano electric wheel is called ‘the electric wheel nano’ and is by Maurice Ribble. It was initially funded by a Kickstarter campaign and as I write this is between $80-$110. Postage and customs duty to the UK needs adding. There is a FB page devoted to this with over 4,000 members. 

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Shetland Wool Week 19: 8, wind, lace knitting and birds

Thurs Sept 26 Day 11

A windy day had been forecast and it was windy in the night but we had experienced much worse during earlier stays. The good news was that high tide was at 9.00 this morning and not during the night. We do worry about a High Tide when there are high winds as we are very close to the beach. I did give a thought to those on the ferry last night, as I know several ‘wool weekers’ do come over a few days early. We know there had been lots of rain in Scotland and further south and thought we were on the edge of the bad storm that was the heavy and persistent rain on the mainland. It was very mild for the time of year and we thought we would probably rest here and in the hostel for much of  today. I had spinning and many photos that were still in the camera. I like to have them in at least two places as an insurance. When it was light M drove the van up behind the hostel, the rain started and it was likely the wind would get up to 54 mph during the day (1) 

However, we did need to get out as M had to make another appointment for an INR test at the Health Centre, this was made for tomorrow at 9.30. We decided it was definitely a day for a bacon bap at The Final Checkout (2). I thought I recognised the man sitting there drinking a hot drink, and I quickly realised it was Michael who, with his wife Dot, lives at the Zero Carbon House which they run as a B and B. Dot was part of the dyeing group at the Heritage a Centre last year and kindly asked us round for tea. (3). We chatted for quite a time and then left to go to the Viking Longhouse as I was determined to take some photos of the shawl(4).  I had knitted it many years ago and there was also the Dunella scarf that I had completed earlier in the year. It was going to be dark in there but not wet and hopefully not windy. In fact it was windy, but I had taken pegs and string and would be using the tripod so could use a long exposure if I could keep the lace knitting still. One or two visitors turned up as I was doing this and clearly thought I was crazy. 

These are a couple of my shots. 


I had spent a long time on the Dunella Shawl and got thoroughly frozen. I really need to take the bigger shawl back next year and spend quality photography time on this to get a sharper image. 

It had been very cold in there so then needed coffee, we made a quick visit  to Victoria’s and met a Swedish lady who was over early for wool week.

The it was onto Norwick, as we were so close and we made an early lunch of soup. 

It was great to look at the Turnstones, turning over the masses of seaweed that had been brought in. They are very well camouflaged. 

The Unst  Partnership shop was open from 14.00-16.00 and it would be good to look round a local ‘secondhand shop’. This proved a great place for me. I bought some dpns, some machine knitting cones of yarn (but not all) and some machine knitting patterns that were definitely in the category of vintage and I had never seen any like them before. M got some novels and we decided we would go back to the hostel and warm up and have our afternoon tea there. Yes, this was a day of sitting and relaxing and having drinks and cake. The Swedish lady, Helen, was staying at the hostel for the night and as I chatted to her, as she was here for wool week, I was very envious. She had done 5 day courses in Sweden last year, one on designing and Knitting a yoke for a jumper (that I think was taught by Hazel Tindall) and the second was learning to use 5 spindles for spinning in 5 days. We realised we were both doing Elizabeth Johnson’s ‘Spinning for Fair Isle’ workshop. 

After dinner we moved the van down by the sea, it was getting much windier and was wet, M sloped the van into the wind. 

So now I could semi organise my photos from the week. 

M has written the following about his ‘birding’ when we are in Shetland during this trip. There was little birdwatching today, other than of the gannets plummeting into the rough sea at Norwick. 

From Michael 

People often ask me when on Shetland what do I do while Janet is taking part in  Wool Week.  Well I do have an interest though I have never even learnt to knit.  My Father, like my Grandfather before him worked as a tackler (5) in a Cotton Mill near Wigan in Lancashire.  My Dad in fact was more interested in the engineering side and went to night school in Bolton to get his qualifications.  The mills were closing down and he managed to get a job in Manchester as a journalist on a specialist magazine before being taken on by the Civil Service to work for the Cotton Control during the 2nd World War.  He then became the editor of a magazine for the Textile Industry (The Textile Recorder) until he retired.  I remember as a Chemistry student he would recruit me to read some of the articles on Dyeing  to make sure the Chemistry was correct!

However what I really come to Shetland for are the birds.  I am not an expert or a very experienced birdwatcher but it does give me a chance to see birds that I would not normally encounter.   We always spend our first week on Unst, during which I will go to Norwick or Skaw, my two favourite places, as often as possible while making sure I check out some of the other good spots for example I always visit Halligarth Wood to see what might be there.  This year we were lucky to find the American Golden Plover right by the Uyeasound turn off the main road.  I found a red breasted flycatcher in the Health Centre garden, saw a redstart at Valyie and also at  Skaw as well as a Whinchat and another flycatcher.  I also picked up another bird I have not seen before in the Geo on the other side of the headland to Norwick, an Iceland Gull.  Going back to Valyie later in the week I had my best ever view of a yellow browed warbler.  There is often not much more that a glimpse of one in a bush but this one came out and let me watch it at close quarters for about ten minutes while it moved around feeding.   It is experiences like this when I find a bird by myself and can observe it properly that bring me back to birding again and again.  On getting back to Mainland I heard about a Bee-eater  at Ollaberry.  After dropping Janet at Hoswick for a class I headed North and found the Bee-eater happily using the gardens there to catch insects.  There I  joined about 20 birdwatchers and was able to watch the bird for 30 + minutes.  As I drove a 90 mile round trip to see this bird I am told I was behaving like a twitcher, not really my normal style!


Back to Janet......

 ...and so to bed 

I was glad our bed was at the back of the van. The wind calmed down considerably about midnight but it was another night I would not have wanted to be crossing from Aberdeen. 

  1. I have the Unst app on my iPad and we have found this accurate for the imminent weather. 
  2. Victoria’s tea room does not open until 11.00, and the bacon bap at The Final Checkout is very good. 
  3. Post of 4 Nov 18 gives details of this.
  4. This was my first fine hand-spun (88wpi) it is Shetland fleece with some Crookabeck Angora from the side of Ullswater in the Lake  District  added to give lustre. It was knitted in 2003/04.(I first started spinning after a trip to Shetland in 2000). The yarn is 2ply. The shawl weighs 88g, size 100cm x 50cm) and goes through a wedding ring. I combined motifs from Sharon Miller’s first Heirloom Knitting book (pub.02) and knitted this, in the Unst traditional way. It is not very fine compared to my spinning now! 
  5. A tackler was someone who could tackle anything.  When the looms broke down, as they often did, it was his job to get them going again.  With the weavers on piece work it was important to be able to get each loom back working as quickly as possible.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Shetland Wool Week 19: 7, Birds, photography and natural dyeing

Wed 25 Sept: Day 10

Today started with a visit to the Health Centre where M had an appointment for his INR test at Baltasound. It was a glorious sunrise. (The square building on the right is the ruined Greenwell’s Bod, see post 27 May 18 for links to the Hanseatic League in Unst and Norfolk and more about it) 

The blood test indicated his INR  level was not within his given range. This had two immediate implications - the need to ring the surgery at home for them to adjust his medication and also we needed to book another appointment in a few days. The phone call was made and we needed to make another after 16.00 to be given the medication dosage. Fortunately M had a new mobile phone which made this relatively straightforward. The mobile signal was good, the most frustrating thing was trying to get through to our home surgery which is always very busy and can take around half an hour! 

Today we decided we needed  a second breakfast at The Final Checkout. We met a couple in a large rented motorhome, who were also not aware of Wool Week. They had flown up from London  and were enjoying a few days away from it all. They were becoming increasingly concerned about the weather forecast for Thursday and were deciding to drive back to Mainland today to be sure they got back for their flight home on Friday. It seems 50mph winds are forecast for Shetland and there was torrential rain in the north  west of England and Scotland. (It seems from contact with family at home East Anglia was pretty wet too!) The bacon bap was great, but soya cappuccino was not available so I collected lactofree  milk from the van and had a different sort of coffee for a change. 

Today we were driving along the road  to Skaw, the most northerly beach in Unst. We stopped along the way and M walked along the road to Lamba Ness to look for a Short-toed Lark. It had temporarily moved on somewhere and could not be found. I played with my graduated filter taking photos of the breathtaking scenery. It was a great day to be out in this wild place. 

We then drove onto Skaw and walked on the beach, where again I took more photos, this time of seaweed. This beach is great for getting a variety of seaweed. We had another good beach view for lunch and as a bonus we saw a Redstart and Winchat as we sat eating. 

M went on a walk round the headland and saw more birds (he’ll write about this in a day or so) and I stayed in the van checking I had everything ready for the evening. 

That evening  I was running an indigo dyeing workshop for the Knitting and Spinning ladies at the Heritage Centre. Last year we had dyed with madder and this year  it would be more hands on, with everyone able to have their own indigo vat. I had all my fingers crossed as clearly I could not bring all the dyeing equipment with me. Normally I would have varying with me if I was running a workshop at home. We had been in correspondence before the trip and we were all looking forward to the session. M had weighed out the ingredients, we had a couple of hours and I hoped everyone there would get some strong blue and also feel confident  to repeat the dyeing at home on their own. 

The mixed yarns and fibres I had dyed whilst trialling the method before travelling

We went back to the Hostel, cooked an early dinner then drove to the Heritage  Centre to prepare. The ladies were extremely well prepared and all had insulation for their dye baths sorted out as well as plenty of yarn and items to dye. I demonstrated setting up the indigo dye bath and  whilst waiting for this to be ready the ladies were able to get set up. 

All went very well indeed and the colours achieved were superb, I got so involved I forgot to take photos but this one sums it up. 

One of the ladies, Helen who lives in Yell, dyed a white linen top which she had  already tied up. She added this photo a few days later to her iG thread ( hart_of_shetland ) 

What a wonderful evening, I was paranoid about the clearing up as I knew on Friday the room would  be used to show fine lace and be the venue for the Knitting and Spinning ‘have a go’ session. Clearing up was a case of ‘many hands make light work’ ! 

It was a very rewarding evening for me and a delight to see everyone get great results. On the way back to the Hostel my head was already hatching embryonic plans for what we might do next year!