SHET­LAND WOOL WEEK

We re­port back from Ler­wick

The Knitter - - Contents -

THE SHET­LAND ar­chi­pel­ago lies 105 miles from the Scot­tish main­land and just 190 miles from Nor­way. There are more than 100 is­lands, although only 15 are in­hab­ited. This re­mote com­mu­nity of just over 22,000 peo­ple has a rich her­itage of knit­ting and crafts. Up un­til the 1970s, these were a valu­able source of in­come for women while their men­folk were away on the fish­ing boats. The is­lands’ tra­di­tional yoke-style jumpers and the achingly beau­ti­ful Shet­land lace shawls have been well doc­u­mented by knit­ting de­sign­ers in­clud­ing Kate Davies and Su­san Craw­ford. These tra­di­tional skills are be­ing kept alive by an en­er­getic guild of spin­ners, knit­ters, weavers, and dy­ers, and through the yarns pro­duced by Jamieson & Smith and Jamieson’s of Shet­land.

Shet­land Wool Week was started in 2010 as a way to cel­e­brate these skills and pass them on to a wider au­di­ence, and this year I was one of the lucky ones to travel to the is­lands, along with four friends.

Our jour­ney be­gan back in Oc­to­ber 2017, when we man­aged to book some ac­com­mo­da­tion - if you are plan­ning to go, the sooner you can find some­where to stay the bet­ter, be­cause ac­com­mo­da­tion gets booked up very quickly! Es­ti­mates vary, but the num­ber of crafters vis­it­ing Shet­land for the event is be­tween 500 and 700, and this year they came from as far afield as New­found­land, Canada, the United States, in­clud­ing Hawaii, Aus­tralia, South Africa and most of Europe - and those were just the peo­ple I met.

Is­land ex­pe­ri­ences

In spring 2018, my friends and I de­cided to pay for a pre­mium mem­ber­ship so that we could get our hands on the Wool Week work­shop pro­gramme in ad­vance. There are so many dif­fer­ent ways to en­joy Shet­land Wool Week, but plan­ning the tick­ets you want to buy be­fore they go live in May is essen­tial. There is quite a scrum when they launch.

The range of work­shops is ex­tra­or­di­nary, taught by ex­pert knit­ters, spin­ners, weavers, dy­ers, fel­ters, jewellers, whit­tlers and book binders, cov­er­ing all skill lev­els. There are talks al­most every day, ex­hi­bi­tions, tours, and so many ‘drop ins’ where you can meet groups across all the is­lands. One of my favourite places was The Hub at the Shet­land Mu­seum, where knit­ters just hang out in be­tween their ac­tiv­i­ties. Fur­nished with comfy so­fas, no sooner have you taken a seat than some­one will draw you in to a con­ver­sa­tion or ask to see which project you are work­ing on.

Quite a few peo­ple I chat­ted to had come with­out man­ag­ing to se­cure any tick­ets to work­shops or events, but the Hub has a noticeboard where vis­i­tors can trade tick­ets they no longer need. I met a group of Amer­i­can ladies who were just happy to be a part of the whole ex­pe­ri­ence, and an­other group that had been every year and re­li­giously took at least three classes. The beauty of Wool Week is that it’s en­tirely up to you.

But there is so much more to dis­cover. We ar­rived a few days early by boat and plane, and hired a car so that we could ex­plore – a very good idea. We drove the length and breadth of the main­land, and ev­ery­where we went we met peo­ple wear­ing the of­fi­cial SWW hat. Each year, the pa­tron cre­ates a de­sign that is re­leased in ad­vance for vis­i­tors to knit, and this year it was a pretty Fair Isle pat­tern by El­iz­a­beth John­ston. It’s a great ice­breaker, be­cause you can just go and in­tro­duce your­self to a com­plete stranger, con­fi­dent in the knowl­edge that they are ‘your kind of per­son’ and are there for ex­actly the same rea­son as you. I never saw two hats that looked the same. The sheer va­ri­ety of colour com­bi­na­tions and pal­ettes used was a cel­e­bra­tion of our cre­ativ­ity in it­self.

It is so hard to cap­ture the whole ex­pe­ri­ence in a few words, but the wel­come we re­ceived from Shet­landers was so in­cred­i­bly warm. They were more than happy to share their skills in an in­for­mal and gen­er­ous way, which com­pletely bowled me over. I learned so much, both in and out­side of the work­shops.

Then there’s the cake. On Shet­land they have 11 O’Clocks, 3 O’Clocks, and 8 O’Clocks when you can ex­pect to be of­fered co­pi­ous amounts of the most de­li­cious home-made bakes – some savoury, but mostly sweet. In fact, I am pretty sure that Shet­land would find it hard to func­tion with­out cake!

I was asked if I would be back for the tenth year in 2019. No. This year was so per­fect that it would be hard to beat, and I am con­tent to bask in my won­der­ful mem­o­ries and make room for one of you to ex­pe­ri­ence the hol­i­day of a life­time. – Next year’s Shet­land Wool Week runs from 28 September to 6 Oc­to­ber. Find de­tails at www.shet­land­wool­week.com

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