Saturday 19 October 2013

My Shetland Wool Week 2013

Words can hardly describe the wonderful experience that is Shetland Wool Week - an intense woolly whirlwind of sights, textures, people, traditional and contemporary crafts, colours all steeped in the extraordinary atmosphere of Shetland. So here are a few of the many photos I came home with, to give you a feel for the week, and I'll have a go at describing my Shetland Wool Week.

I spent the first three days of Shetland Wool Week teaching spinning workshops, and enjoying the generous hospitality of my friends on Yell.

Monday and Tuesday's workshop were on the island of Yell, hosted by Andy Ross of ASF Shetland, in the weave studio in Sellafirth.

On Monday we covered fleece sorting and preparation, and drop-spindle spinning.
A happy new spinner with her first skein

Tuesday was an improvers' day, but I also covered some Art Yarns for one learner from Unst (the most northerly island) who could not make it to the workshop in Lerwick.

 As a result I was too busy to take any photos except this one of Andy plying yarn on Maggie's Haldane Lewis spinning wheel - while declaring that he will never become a spinner! All I can say is - I think you've been bitten by the bug Andy!! And Brigitte definitely has - the Ashford Traveller spinning wheel I took to Shetland has now gone to live with her on Fetlar.

Early on Wednesday morning Andy and I made our way to Lerwick, where my third workshop, on spinning Art Yarns, was held in the Shetland Museum.

 A lively group of experienced spinners spent the day exploring a number of techniques to create unique and unusual, but still useable, yarns

My teaching duties (which I enjoyed very much) over, I settled in to becoming a learner for the rest of the week.

The Wool Week Lecture on Wednesday evening was in fact two presentations, one by Di Gilpin about the expanding presence and influence of hand knitting in high fashion, and a fascinating presentation by Felicity Ford who has been recording soundscapes (and images) of all the phases in wool production from sheep to garment.  Felix gave us a new insight (should that be in-hearing?) to the things that go on around us and I heard many people remarking that they were listening differently as the week went on.

I had been lucky to get a place in Felix's Quotidian Colourwork workshop on Thursday morning.
Felix (in the hat) - and loads of lovely Jamieson & Smith yarn to play with
 We each brought our source of 'everyday' inspiration to interpret in stranded colour knitting. Most people were sensible enough to bring a photo, but my inspiration was some sea-smoothed shards of Willow Pattern china which I had found on the beach on Bressay island, last time I was in Shetland.
Despite luggage weight restrictions (I flew to Shetland this time), because part of the bigger project is to locate the shards and their knitted interpretations into the whole pattern I also brought an antique Willow Pattern soup plate from my late mother's collection.

After the class it was time for my first foray (of this Shetland visit) to the Wool Brokers (Jamieson & Smith).
The inimitable Oliver Henry was in full flow demonstrating wool grading and sorting in the wool store when we arrived. I was particularly impressed that he is already growing a beard in preparation for his part in the jarl squad in Up Hellyaa.

When I brought my carefully selected fleeces in to the shop to be packed for posting I was equally impressed by Sandra's feats of memory, even remembering where my parcels have to be delivered if I am not at home!

A lovely scarf made by the textile students at Shetland College found its way round my neck before I left J&S - and I was very glad of it in the cold wind!
It may look sunny but it doesn't mean it was warm!
Looking over to Bressay, where I found the original Willow Pattern shards

Thursday evening was spent learning how to incorporate chance into designing Fair Isle, with Felix and TomofHolland. They explained their Aleatoric Fair Isle project, boggled our minds with the 'rules' (thank goodness they were written down for us!) and then had us selecting colours by rolling dice, before sitting down to start knitting swatches.
my aleatoric Fair Isle swatch
 It is an interesting approach to design and colour that takes you away from habitual thinking, challenging ideas of what works and why it does,  and I will try to find time to explore it some more.
a few of Felix and Tom's swatches

Friday's workshop was challenging in a different way, as the lovely Mary Kay showed us some stunning examples of fine Shetland lace knitting, then had us casting on our own scarves in cobweb 1 ply Shetland wool yarn.

The 2mm needles supplied were terrifyingly sharp - for the first time in many years I wished I had my Mum there to do my cast-on! There was less chat in this workshop than in any other, due to the concentration required when knitting pattern rows.

It was a pleasure to meet Deb Robson in person during the lace class, I must remember I promised to get some information for her.

I completed my Jamieson & Smith purchases after the class
and wandered back to my welcoming B&B for a much needed cuppa, before having a stroll around Lerwick.

Friday evening was spent in the company of Amy and Ana, who led a workshop on making little felt birds
- I chose wet felting as the knitting needles in the lace class had put me off sharp objects for a while! The range of birds produced was remarkable, and Amy and Ana were cheerful and encouraging to those who had not made felt before.

By Saturday morning I needed a (short) break from wool so I picked up a hire car and headed to Burra Isle with two things in mind - to go to a beach, and to find the studio of artist and silversmith Mike Finnie.

Shetland has loads of beautiful beaches, some sandy and others shingle or rocky. I spent a while on Meal beach, and found treasure!
I spent ages beachcombing, recording the sound of waves on the shore and looking at footprints in the sand. I think these tiny ones may be a young otter (my car key for scale).

When I got to Mike's studio at Red Houss, East Burra I got a bit carried away....

I had seen Mike's silver jewellery etched with designs from real Fair Isle knitwear in a gallery in Edinburgh. (So not entirely unconnected to wool then!). See more of Mike's work at
Houss, East Burra, from West Burra

Mike too is exploring ways of incorporating sea-smoothed china shards in his work - maybe we'll do some sort of collaboration...

After a really interesting conversation with Mike and his wife I was ready for some lunch so headed to the beach recommended by my B&B host - Bannaminn at the southern tip of West Burra Isle, and had a picnic.

The beach is a tombolo, connecting a small islet to the tip of West Burra. One side of the tombolo is sand, the other shingle. Sheep were being moved across the tombolo to the island while I was having my picnic.

Back in Lerwick, I spent the evening in a workshop making felt and bead brooches with Amy and Ana. They had brought such a variety of materials everyone was able to make very individual brooches.

On Sunday morning I headed west, my ultimate destination a beach at Dale of Walls suggested by my hostess Christine. On the way I made several attempts to photograph sheep - they are all over the place, and in a range of wonderful colours and markings, but clearly camera-shy!
The scenery changes greatly as you pass through different areas of Shetland, the weather too, which I was glad of because it had been windy and cold in Lerwick but at Dale it was sheltered and warm enough (just) for another beach picnic.

Several seals came to see what I was doing and sang to each other.

Heading back from Walls I discovered that at least one Shetland graffiti artist has a sense of humour! (if you don't get he joke, ask me!)

The Shetland Spinners' Guild afternoon tea at Weisdale was an opportunity to catch up with many people met at different workshops throughout the week, as well as to see the impressive displays of craftwork produced by the guild members and enjoy their lovely cakes.

That evening over a Nepalese curry with Felix we discussed her Wovember blog, which I recommend you to look out for in November. I've followed it with interest for the last two years and fully support the campaign to only call things wool if they really are made entirely from wool. This year she is planning more of a focus on spinning so I may pop up there!

Monday was my last day in Shetland and I spent the morning strolling around the old atmospheric landing stages of the Hanseatic traders, called the Lodberries.
the only steps to the beach are covered at high tide
I was waiting for the tide to ebb enough for me to get on to Bain's beach for a final beachcombing session - which was well rewarded!

After lunch I headed back to Sumburgh airport, finding it hard to believe that I had been in Shetland for over a week the time had passed so quickly, but also amazed at how much I had packed in to the time.
As well as the obvious threads of wool, spinning and knitting that were woven through my stay in Shetland there were other repeating threads - people met in a number of different settings, links to past and future events, Viking influences, music and the sea. I've visited Shetland before and found it unforgettable, but Shetland Wool Week adds a whole extra layer of impressions and memories.


  1. What a wonderful trip you've had!

  2. What a great week!!!! Thanks for the beautiful pictures you took!

  3. Sounds like a delightful week Deborah - we found and loved Bannamin beach too!

    And my yarn stash was significantly enhanced - though not perhaps as much as Louise's!

  4. Enjoyed reading your blog! Maybe you were one of the many people I met at Guild's Sunday teas.