Monday, 13 January 2020

Shetland Wool Week 19: 14 Spinning for Fair Isle

Wed Oct 2:Day 17 

When I knit Fair isle I like to have naturally dyed the colours first, to me this helps make the garment special. Natural dyeing is a slow and very enjoyable part of the total project. If I am doing the dyeing I don’t usually spin the yarn - life is too short and there are so many other textile things I like doing.

I was looking forward to this class ‘Spinning for Fair Isle’ with Elizabeth Johnston as I would be taught how to get a coordinating range of colours by carding and spinning. Just like natural dyeing I could have my own unique  item - this is  a different way of ‘making the colours’. It was also rather special for me to have a class with Elizabeth as it was her who first taught me to spin on a drop spindle in 2000. Life changing at its best! 

It was a full day class at Hoswick, which is a lovely place to spend a day. There were just 6 of us  in the class and I believe I was the only British person there. However, I had already met Helen, from Sweden in Unst and I knew Suzanne from the USA from previous years at Wool Week. I had taken my Joy  wheel and also my own carders because I could! I was also able to spin with my wheel in Unst this year and of course I needed it for yesterday in Ollaberry. 

We started by preparing rolags in each of black and white and then from these a range of colours  in between. Elizabeth was keen to help those that she thought could make rolags more easily. I kept my head down and hoped my method met with approval as I had done carding, albeit for lace during a class, with Elizabeth last year. 

We had the chance to  repeat this with brown and white so we would have 2 naturally coloured ranges during the day. My carding certainly improved. I like to do things slowly but even my speed improved with all this carding. The aim was to get a range of rolags of different colour values. 

The afternoon was more experimental when we added colour into our initial mix of fleece and got great variations and I could see the endless possibilities of what we could achieve by these techniques. Careful notes were needed to know what I had done. 

Some of the class were spinning before lunch but I like to get everything prepared first! 

I was delighted with the results as I began to spin some of the rolags later in the day, but they were really too good  to spin! 

The day went so quickly but this is another wool related hole to fall down..... no spinner can ever be bored! 

I had been planning to go to the High School for the Knitting  night. I knew I had to give up on this idea in the interests of managing to get to my class, another full day, tomorrow. I guess the Knitting  evening will be on next year too. It is always nice to go and chat to friends who I only meet at wool week but if I got a migraine I wouldn’t be going anywhere tomorrow. 

So dinner and an early night for me! 

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Shetland Wool Week 19: 13 Ollaberry plus

Tues Oct 1: Day 16 

This was a day without any classes.  I had planned to go to Isleburgh Knitters and Spinners again this year in the evening, but realised that if I did I would be so knocked up I wouldn’t cope with my classes on Wednesday and Thursday. 

We started off in Mackenzies as we usually do in wool week for our second breakfast. Then it was a quick trip along to Isleburgh. I had arranged with Bunchy that I would pick up my Natural Dye Colours from Shetland book before her class. I knew how frantic preparing for the class might be so I had the money ready in a sealed envelope and all I had to do was swap it for the book. I had followed  the progress of the book on IG and I believe I was the first person to put my name down when Bunchy said she was producing this book. (1) I had seen the book in Unst as Helen got her copy when she was on Mainland and brought it along to our dye workshop  on the Wednesday evening. Taking as little time as possible I got my hands on the book. 

We then parked the van at the museum and went in for a coffee. 

Entrance Hall Of the Museum

This was my opportunity to have a closer look at the items belonging to the patterns in the SWW annual and also to look round the knitwear section of the Museum. It doesn’t matter how many times I look round I always ‘see’ more things. I was particularly interested in grafting in shawls this year. 

So first of all the Hub where the Annual Knitwear display was - it was good to see how Elizabeth (Johnston) had mitred the corners on her shawl pattern in the annual. 

What a mitre! 

The museum hosts other exhibitions of interest during wool week. One such was from Deborah Gray:  ‘Of the land: Icelandic Wool’ from her time as an artist in residence there. The frames are bound with hand spun wool, naturally dyed. During her time there she explored the differences between the two different wool fibres in the fleece  and the effect of natural dyeing on these. 

While looking around the knitting section my eye caught a glimpse of a name I was familiar with from a fb lace knitting group. I duly messaged the owner, in Thailand,  who was really pleased that I had noticed this. He had answered the call some time ago to take part in the Nottingham-Shetland Lace Research Project and had sent in his samples in 2018. He did not know they  were exhibited in Shetland Museum and was very pleased to be able to see photos I sent him. Another example of the wonders of fb! (2)

Then I had to return to look at the exquisite examples of the ‘so fine’ lace and tell myself to be patient. I am spinning fine, I just need to do metres and metres more and then design my own shawls just like these truly amazing women did. 

We left at lunch  time and were going to drive up to Ollaberry. The day was warm and bright, what a super journey we were in for. 

 Hays Dock by the Museum, it was October! 

Ollaberry is special, it is associated in my mind with much marvellous lace, the ability to talk to lace knitters with real expertise and great food. We decided that we would have our plate of food when we got there and call it lunch! 

We were too polite to be the first for the spread, but were encouraged by the ladies serving that this would be good. As we sat down they told us they were expecting a coach tour, this was  one  of the tours put on for wool week and it must have been full considering the number who came in for lunch. As always it was a wonderful spread and after the coach had left more food was added and one would not have known 50 or so people had just been in for lunch. 

We had come to Ollaberry this day in particular as I was going to meet Gordon (Fleece loved products) and his wife Gill. I had been in touch with him before we left home and I was hoping I could buy  one his fine lace bobbins and the brake system that he had customised for my wheel. Kate had told me how great they were and so I was very excited by this prospect. We met and I used the said system on my wheel and was delighted with it. It was great to be involved with these expert fine spinners such as Betsy Williamson who the bobbin, named the Ollaberry bobbin, had been expertly designed for. This was one of the major highlights of my week. I decided to have enough bobbins to spin and ply the yarn this way and also purchased an Ollaberry Lace Weight Gauge (and one for another Shetland Spinner and knitter) who had seen Gordon on Saturday and not acquired one. As a bonus I was able to try Gill’s Ashford electric spinner. I didn’t expect to like it, but I absolutely loved it. DH came back from his bird watching walk as I was using it and I believe I heard him say I ought to have one for Christmas! It was a delight to meet this couple and to feel that spinning as finely as I do in not ‘freakish’. (3) It was lovely to be made so welcome by the local ladies spinning at Ollaberry and to be able to talk to them again this year. 

Fine lace gauge and a bobbin

On show close to where we were sitting was displayed the most gorgeous and perfect shawl. This  had been knitted by a young knitter and won lots of prizes. Her name was Lauren Anderson and I heard from one of the ladies (her grandmother) that she had ‘knitting genes’ from both of her parents.(4)

Lauren’s Shawl

What an afternoon this had been, on top of a wonderful morning. It only needed to be finished off by stopping off at Frankie’s Fish and Chip shop in Brae for a very tasty dinner. 

People coming to wool week get upset when they can’t get the classes they feel they ‘need’ when booking. I hope this day will go some way to showing that there is so much wonderful stuff to see and marvellous ‘wool’ people to meet and talk to, that having a day with no classes is nothing to worry about. There is so much to see and do. Everything I did today was free, except for the purchases I made and yet it will be one of my best days in Shetland. Keep your mind and eyes open, talk to people and you will learn so much! 

  1. Again a very good example of social media, Bunchy posts as Spindrift Crafts both on iG and fb and it has been good to follow this publishing journey with her.
  2. Carol  Christiansen mentioned this project on her talk on Thursday. I will be writing more about it then. 
  3. Gordon has amazing skills. An engineer by training he is making a number of laser cut birch products of quality for knitters, spinners, weavers and crochet lovers. It is the ‘cleverness’ of the design which is particularly striking eg on the Ollaberry Gauge just 20 winds of the yarn can give you the wpi down to 200. A very useful tool when actually spinning. If you search for ‘fleece loved products’ you will find Jelly Bean yarns on Etsy and Beaker Button (also both on fb) as some of the stockists or contact directly at 
  4. This is the second shawl of Lauren’s. She was just 16 when she knitted the first shawl and won the children’s section and the judges were so impressed that the shawl was put in the adult section where she won that prize too. She was just 20 when she knitted the shawl in the picture and it won all the prizes possible at the Voe Show. This shawl is just perfect. Lauren was interviewed for the  Fruity Knitting podcast no 87 and  she can be found on iG as laurenclaireart

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Shetland Wool Week 19: 12 Advanced Shetland Lace

Mon Sept 30 Day 15 

I had been really looking forward to this class for a very long time indeed. 

We were definitely up early and first in to Mackenzies for a bacon bap at 9.00. I would certainly need fuel for today. The class was at  Islesburgh  and Michael was going to have a whole day to himself, although he was hinting about having a rest day. We were just over half way though our month away so a suitable time to have an easy day. 

The class was being led by Anne Eunson and Kathleen Anderson (1), two truly expert lace knitters. I had done a lace grafting class with them before and learnt to do things that I did not even know was possible. That was a half day class and today was a full day so even better. I learnt to spin to enable me to knit lace with yarn finer than Jamieson and  Smith cobweb yarn, which was the finest yarn they sold then.(2) I am confident in designing my own Fair Isle. I don’t feel I have reached the same level with my lace knitting. I can spin finely and knit with fine yarn and make a wedding ring shawl. I can take a pattern and alter all the components (3).  However,  I don’t feel I can start with a blank piece of graph paper (well several sheets) and design a whole traditional Shetland shawl, knitted outside in. I hope to make progress towards that aim today. 

There were 12 in the class and just 2 British, Kate and I. I had previously spoken to the Japanese lady at Terri’s Creative Crew evening on the Saturday. She is also a spinner, which if I understood her correctly is an unusual activity in Japan. She was wearing a lovely shawl she had made. There was also a German lady wearing an amazing lace dress that she had knitted, it wasn’t any simple lace dress, it was completely fitted. Awesome in the true meaning of the word. 

Before the class, Anne and Kathleen unwrapped what seemed like an endless collection of amazing shawls of all sizes and shapes, their only common feature was they were excellent. If my memory is correct, at least one of them Anne had spun the yarn for as well. I think  a question and answer session about these would have been a suitable additional class! 

Part of just one of the shawls

Anne and Kathleen shared talking through the construction and what they hoped we would achieve for the day. They talked about favourite books, ways of  designing and planning and some motif designs were available to get us going if we wished along with the blank graph paper. 

It was a great workshop for me, I had thought long  and hard about what I thought I most needed to know to progress my own lace shawl journey. However, as always you learn things that you didn’t know you even needed to know. I had some motifs with me that I had charted, that I particularly liked and thought I would try and incorporate these into my design. I was certainly noticing much more detail than I had previously about shawl construction. 

Naturally, as with any workshop, the participants all start at the same point and all end up in a variety of places having taken different paths. With 2 tutors  there was little if any waiting for help and Anne and Kathleen were brilliant at answering any question that would help us progress during the day. 

Kate had a very specific focus, she is hoping eventually to reproduce her family shawl that is in the Museum. Anne and Kathleen have been working on this and so could help with the interpretation of one of the motifs that Kate hopes to knit first. It seemed a very complex design with very little ground between the motifs. It is a remarkable item. 

Many in the class were knitting early on, I felt I could knit what I had designed and was more interested in doing more of the design and getting the motifs in suitable positions so concentrated on this and in fact did not knit  anything on the day. It was hard mental work but so rewarding and before the class was over I felt that I had got over my hurdle  to this sort of designing.

I was able to think ahead and see what a mammoth job designing a whole shawl is. I never start actual construction until I have the whole of an item planned and each stage will have undergone several trials, that is how I work and it seems to work for me. 

Some of my designing on the day and a couple of great Shetland Lace Knitting  books

It was a great class and I would happily have spent the whole week doing the same class. Now I am home I need to find time for that  the week (or several) to complete the design. 

Soon after 5.00 when the class ended I left my bag of books etc in Kate’s camper van and we walked down to the Dowry where we were booked in for dinner. M was already there waiting for us. We were meeting some friends from a previous wool week and then four of us were going on to Oliver’s talk at Mareel. (4) Unfortunately the friends had to pull out of the meal at the last minute for health reasons. We never did catch up with them last year, so will try and meet up at the next wool week that we are both at. 

Mareel seats more than the lecture theatre in the  museum and this extra seating was needed. Oliver was well prepared and gave a great talk on ‘A Journey with Shetland Oo’. He is an excellent speaker, could be heard easily, kept to the topic and of course is always entertaining. Wool Week would not be happening without him and it was a fitting  tribute that he was chosen to be patron in this 10th anniversary year. 

When we got back to the campsite I got my spinning wheel ready for tomorrow, it was in for a special treat. We decided to attach the thicker half of the quilt to the current layer we were using. Never before have we not used it’s full thickness during all of our time in Shetland in the autumn, it had been unusually  mild this year. 

  1. Anne and Kathleen are heavily involved in the current lace knitting research being carried out at the Museum. More about this in the post about Thursday 3 October.
  2. Jamieson and Smith now sell Worsted spun Shetland Supreme 1 ply yarn 1/16NM
  3. An example of this is shown in one of my shawls I photographed in the Viking Longhouse last Thursday which can be seen in the post of 12 Dec19 
  4. Each year the patron of Wool Week gives a talk on the Monday evening.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Shetland Wool Week 19: 11 Jarlshof and Sumburgh Lighthouse

Sun Sept 29 Day 14 

In all the years we have been to Shetland, although we have been to Scatness we have never looked round Jarlshof at the far south of mainland. Before we left home we found out that it was open normal hours for September. We decided we would go this day and had booked tickets online. You get a time slot and ours started at 9.45. The car park at the Sumburgh Hotel was quite busy but it did not look as if many were looking round Jarlshof. 

Although we usually start the day by having a second breakfast of a bacon bap and coffee at Mackenzie’s Farm shop, we would have to forego this today. They have a late start of 11.00 on a Sunday and they definitely deserve this. Once at Jarlshof we made ourselves coffee in the van and were entertained by a helicopter arriving on the hotel’s landing pad. We were interested to see who stepped out, but it looked as if it was just the crew! 

Jarlshof did not disappoint. We were each able to have an audio guide and despite M wearing hearing aids in both ears he was able to use the guide. For anyone looking round the site I would recommend this addition. We briefly looked round the display in the entrance room so we could get an overview and set off. What a wonderful tour of history this was. It is one of the most important prehistoric sites In Shetland with a history of uninterrupted habitation right up to the 1600s. (1) I took a photo record as well as some ‘arty’ shots and other than it feeling cold it was a great way to spend the Sunday morning. 

A general view of one small part of the site 


Colour inspiration for Fair Isle Knitting 


We decided we would drive on to Sumburgh Head and see if we could get an early lunch in ‘Katja’s Cakes’ pop up cafe which was there. We briefly queued and then I joined a local couple at their table while M queued to order. I had noticed the cake looked divine and determined that after lunch we would buy some to keep for afternoon tea. I had chicken and rice soup which was superb and M had goats cheese quiche. What a find this was. Great views, great food and good company as  we chatted to the couple we sat next to. I also spotted a cookery booklet, supporting Lerwick Amateur Swimming Club for sale. This is great and contains recipes by local people to cook when home. If I can make cake half as well as I eat in Shetland I will be pleased. 

After lunch we walked around the buildings and popped into the shop where we bought more cards to send to the grandchildren back home. I treated myself to a new spectacles cleaning cloth which would be a nice reminder when we were home.

This image shows a part of Katja’s  wonderful van with the lighthouse above, love the shapes on the top.

As we walked back to the van looking at birds as we went,  we realised that it was such a fine day that we could see Fair  Isle on the horizon, if you look hard. 

Unusually for us we had decided not to go to the Wool Week Opening Ceremony this year. It is better for me if I can eat at regular times and going to this disrupts that, we knew walking round Jarlshof would be tiring, I easily made my 10,000 steps just doing that and more importantly I had a full day with the Advanced  Lace workshop with Anne Eunson and Kathleen Anderson the next day when I was expecting to need 100% plus concentration to design knitted lace. I did not want to jeopardise that by suffering a migraine! Although it was sad not to go we made a sensible choice as we were both exhausted by being outside for so long. After all, this was supposed to be our rest day. 

So after our roast chicken dinner I packed my bag for Monday and treated myself to some fine silk spinning which was part of an ongoing project started earlier in the summer. I had got my Joy spinning wheel with me for a spinning workshop later in the week. 

  1. From the Guidebook Jarlshof. It is one of eight Historic Scotland properties in Shetland. 

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Shetland Wool Week 19: 10 Leaving Unst, Wool Week Starts

Sat Sept 28 Day 13 

We woke up to a very mild morning and the sea was flat calm with hardly any movement- what a difference 24 hours can make! As always we were very sorry to be leaving Unst but we were also looking forward to seeing wool weeker friends and soaking up the general atmosphere of wool week. We had decided  not to take the earlier ferry but to have a leisurely start and could have coffee before we left. We did some sums and made a plan for the day taking in some things I ‘needed’  to do in Lerwick before we drove south to our stop for the next 10 nights. Once we reached mainland we decided we needed more tea and cake, and enjoyed some lovely ginger cake we had saved from the Final Check out.

We were travelling leisurely and were quite surprised how much fog there was on mainland. We should have stopped and I should have got the camera out but there were lots of ‘must dos’ on my list so reluctantly I left photography for another day. 

It began to look sensible to stop at the Bod first which would open at 12.00. Last year I had bought a super set of dpns needle ends, made by Brita’s husband.(1) I had contacted them some weeks ago and they had kindly offered to reserve another set.  Brita knew all about these and produced  the set. I love these too, so now have a set for my fair isle knitting and a set for my lace knitting. It is so lovely to have Shetland thoughts when I get my knitting out during the whole year. 

The latest needle ends

Next stop was Jamieson and Smiths and some cones of natural yarn  to buy before the shop got super busy in the week. This means that  once the weather obliges in the New Year natural dyeing will not have to wait for the postman to arrive. 

Next stop was the Hub. From posts on the Wool Week page prior to leaving home  it seemed this year as if there were likely to be more than the 600 or so people that  attended in 2018. I was amazed at how many people were queueing to pay in the Museum Shop and thought this suggestion would be true. Little did I know then when the numbers were calculated for 2019 that 1000 would be the number estimated for attendees. (2) I collected my SWW annual from the hub and was very pleased with it. It is such a great publication each year and is a physically nice annual to have and as always there was more in it than just the knitting patterns. However, the knitting patterns themselves are excellent. I had seen Hazel’s Hoosiefield gloves before I left home and decided to take some wool with me so I could get started once I got the annual. What was nice was that in the hub there was an example of each of the items knitted from the patterns in the annual and these were very nicely presented. There are several that I would like to knit. 

We popped upstairs to look at the new cafe (3). It was good to see that it was busy and we noticed that some of the tables were reserved and knew that we would be having coffee there later in the week. 

Next stop was Tesco, we were able to get an organic chicken and some other provisions so would be set up for the start of the week. The shop was busy, it looked like with local families doing their shopping. I don’t think I had ever seen it that  busy. 

I was keen that we got the shopping done as quickly as possible as I wanted to visit Sally Ead (4) and her pop up shop on Commercial Road. I had been in touch with her before either of us set out as I saw that she was bringing some knitting sticks with her. Knitting sticks appear to have been used in East Anglia and much of England to serve the same function as the knitting belt in Shetland. I was hoping to buy one. It was just like being in a sweet shop, there were some beautiful linen smocks, sheets of linen and hemp, some knitting sticks and rag books made of hemp. I was particularly interested in items made from linen and hemp (5). I was so delighted to be able to chose  one of the knitting sticks and also treated myself to a small rag book with hemp pages. 

I hoped to return later in the  week to look more seriously at the hemp sheets. 

We then drove on to our campsite, where we would stay for the next 10 days. We were surprised that there were 3 caravans with families and their children. Usually the only campers are there for Wool Week. 

Kate arrived back from her trip to Ollaberry so had much to report about the haps and the fine lace spinning that was taking place. I was planning to visit on Tuesday and was very excited by the thoughts of this. 

We made a quick dinner as the day was not over yet. We were off back into town and to meet up with other members of Terri Malcomson’s Creative Crew fb Group who were coming to SWW.  This year we were meeting in Havly Cafe. We got a drink and some excellent cake and then caught up with old friends and newcomers to wool week.

What a great start this had been to Wool Week. I was glad we were having rather a rest day on Sunday as I wouldn’t be able to take this pace all week. 


  1. The post showing these is 20Nov18
  2. Giving an actual number is impossible. There are so many events over the whole of the islands that make up Shetland. Many are free and any number could pop into these without being registered so I suspect any official number given is an underestimate. 
  3. Sally Ead can be found on Instagram.Sallie Ead 
  4. The house we live in, in East Anglia, is built on land that belonged to Flaxlands Farm and there is quite a large area of our village called Flaxlands.