The Knitter


Misa Hay shares the story behind Shetland Wool Adventures, her tour company taking knitters around the Shetland Isles

- - www.shetlandwo­oladventur­

We chat with Misa Hay

MISA HAY fell in love with Shetland on her first visit back in 1999, and since then she has dedicated her career to sharing her passion for these Scottish islands with other people all around the world.

Her work with Promote Shetland, which included the Shetland Wool Week festival, has been instrument­al in raising the profile of Shetland amongst knitters, and more recently Misa set up her own company, Shetland Wool Adventures, which organises specialist knitting tours. During the Covid-19 pandemic, with tourism on hold, Misa published the first edition of

Shetland Wool Adventures Journal, a beautiful magazine offering knitting patterns, local recipes, walking guides and fascinatin­g essays. It proved a big hit, and Misa has just launched the second volume of the Journal. We caught up with Misa to find out more about her life on Shetland, and her plans for the future.

When did you first visit Shetland?

“My first encounter with Shetland was in 1999, on a high school exchange. When we heard about the trip, we were thrilled as it sounded very exotic to us, and the journey involved an overnight ferry crossing - an adventure on its own when you come from a landlocked country (Czech Republic).

“The minute I set my foot on Shetland I fell in love. Mostly this was due to my wonderful host family, who took me on many walks and showed me some stunning places. Fast forward to university studies where I studied tourism management, and a summer job in Shetland seemed like the perfect opportunit­y. I met my husband-tobe here, and I moved to Shetland one day after my graduation. And that was the start of my own Shetland adventure.”

Can you tell us about your work before you establishe­d Shetland Wool Adventures?

“Since tourism was my background, I wanted to find a job in that area, and after a lot of trying, I got a job in Lerwick Visitor Centre, at that point run by Shetland Islands Tourism. This was a brilliant experience, as I learned so much about the place, the history, heritage, nature, culture and life in general.

“A year later, in 2005, all Scottish tourist boards merged into one organisati­on, VisitScotl­and, and a marketing job came up which I applied for. What a steep learning curve that was! But I’m a great believer in taking on challenges, and one of them was to carry out rebranding of all Shetland marketing, followed by transferri­ng to the newly establishe­d Promote Shetland marketing and management body, which was independen­t of VisitScotl­and.

“The best part of the job at Promote Shetland was that we were starting from

scratch, virtually with just a new laptop and an empty email box. There were only three of us, and our boss gave us great freedom to explore new projects and ideas, provided they were relevant to promoting Shetland in a sensitive and sustainabl­e way.

“At that point, I started to realise that although our marketing budget was limited compared to other regions, we had a great advantage of being very different from anywhere else. Shetland is a unique blend of Norse and Scottish heritage, with interestin­g location and geography, as well as distinctiv­e heritage. And of course, most importantl­y the textiles – Shetland wool and its knitting and weaving traditions.

So, I thought that we could achieve a lot by promoting Shetland to niche markets such as knitters. Initiative­s like 60 North magazine, Shetland Wool Week and the

Shetland Wool Week Annual were all part of the mix that allowed us to project Shetland on a worldwide stage virtually on a shoestring budget. Although there was a lot of pressure, I think of those times fondly, as promoting and sharing Shetland is my passion and the place is in my heart.”

When did you decide to form your own company, Shetland Wool Adventures?

“In 2015 I started feeling that I’d like to do something where I could decide things for myself, rather than sit in endless meetings.

I’ve always had a head full of ideas and I wanted more creative freedom. After a lot of thinking and many months of putting in two hours every day, before and after my regular job, in September 2016 I launched Shetland Wool Adventures.

“I’ve always been keen on showing visitors the place, and with my passion for wool, heritage and tourism, organising small group tours seemed like the perfect combinatio­n. I started small, with just five tours in the first summer (2017), and since then the demand has greatly exceeded our capacity. It would be tempting to continue growing the number of tours or spaces on each tour, but I decided I didn’t want to do that; instead, I’d always focus on quality and providing the best possible experience. Travel to Shetland is expensive and for many it’s a trip of a lifetime, so my aim is to make the trips truly memorable.”

Can you tell us about your knitting tours?

“Each tour is a blend of the very best Shetland has to offer in terms of sightseein­g, locally produced food, walking and learning experience­s with prominent local knitters and tutors. The tours are designed to offer an insight into Shetland’s knitting traditions and textile industry, and the programme is packed with activities, classes and experience­s.

“The Knitting & Hiking tour has proven increasing­ly popular, and I think it’s because it is a great opportunit­y to explore Shetland in an authentic way and at a relaxed pace. Visits to local farms such as Ronnie Eunson’s Uradale Farm, Chris Dyer’s Garths Croft, or Marion Anderson’s Breckenlea Pony Stud and Croft are always popular, while Jamieson’s Spinning Mill in Sandness is the most favourite stop.

“I think the reason Shetland is so popular is because here knitters can follow the whole process of seeing the sheep on the hill, wool being sheared, and then processed and made into yarn, followed by producing finished garments. And of course the possibilit­y of meeting and learning from some of the most talented and skilled knitters in the world. The wonderful thing is that since the start of Wool Week we have seen a real resurgence in the textile industry, with more and more people choosing textiles and designing as a career rather than a hobby or a side job. I hope the future for Shetland wool and textiles continues to flourish.”

How did you find the experience of launching your own magazine?

“Sometimes I stop and wonder how it all happened; when I think about the last year’s events, setting up my own publishing business seems like serendipit­y. But in reality, it is a natural progressio­n

from running my tours. Starting the journal was a gamble, but I knew there were many people out there that either have been to Shetland or dream of visiting one day, and I knew there was demand for inspiring and beautifull­y produced publicatio­ns from Shetland. So, in a way the first volume was a test to see if this venture could work on an ongoing basis. And thankfully Volume 1 was a real success and is now sold out. I can now build on this foundation, and my plan to is publish the journal on a regular basis twice a year, as well as to work with other Shetland authors to help publish books that might otherwise not be viable.

“Starting a new publicatio­n has been my dream for a long time, and I am so delighted with how it came together. Created during these strange and challengin­g times, it wasn’t an easy feat, but it brought me joy and a destinatio­n to steer towards. I am grateful to be able to continue promoting Shetland and inspire through stories, beautiful photograph­y, interestin­g interviews and personal insights into our lives here.”

What can we look forward to in Volume 2?

“It is a celebratio­n of all things Shetland, and features six beautiful knitting projects, interestin­g articles written by Shetland experts, walks, seasonal Shetland recipes, book reviews, stunning photograph­y and much more. Designers featured in volume two are Wilma Malcolmson, Ella Gordon, Anne Eunson, Rachel Hunter, Linda Shearer and Barbara Cheyne.”

Do you have any idea when you might be able to start running your tours again?

“Everything is on hold at the moment, with clients that were booked for 2020 transferre­d to 2022. I sincerely hope we can restart next year, but who knows really. In the middle of last year, I was optimistic about this summer, but now I don’t dare to plan too much, as everything is very fluid. Since most of my tour clients are from overseas and travel takes longer to plan, I thought it was wise to take another year out and wait until everyone can travel safely. My paramount concern is the safety of the community, and at the moment I don’t feel I can run my tours in the usual way due to many restrictio­ns still in place.”

What’s your favourite place on Shetland?

“That’s a difficult one! Anywhere on a coastal walk, with Deepdale, Noss, Nibbon and Clibberswi­ck in Unst being some of my favourites. Fair Isle is a wonderful place to spend a few days in. And recently, as things have been very busy and the weather has been good, I have loved pottering around the garden where we grow vegetables, and

I enjoy cooking with them. My Shetland garden is my other passion, and I have started working on a cookbook inspired by ingredient­s that can be grown in Shetland’s challengin­g oceanic climate.”

Are you a knitter yourself?

“I’ll be completely honest, I’m not a skilled knitter, but it’s one of the things on my list. Life is very busy at the moment, but I dream of knitting Fair Isle tank tops, hats and gloves. I really enjoyed spending a week in Fair Isle with Marie Bruhat on her knitting holiday and learning about designing

Fair Isle and using a knitting machine.

That was where we created the ‘Storm Dennis Snood’ for Volume 1 of the journal.

“My favourite yarn must be Donna Smith’s wonderful Langsoond - it’s so beautifull­y soft in various shades of grey as well as in naturally dyed colours. Uradale’s organic yarn is wonderful too. And Jamieson’s shade range is just fabulous, especially its ‘tweedy’ blended colours. Jamieson & Smith’s Supreme Lace yarn in natural shades has always fascinated me and I have been dreaming of knitting a cobweb-like top. Maybe one day… Yes, we are truly spoiled for choice here, with so much yarn made from the wonderful Shetland wool available locally.”

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 ??  ?? 1 ‘Atlantic Waves Slipover’ is a design by Anne Eunson for Volume 2 of the Shetland Wool Adventures Journal 2 ‘Up Helly Aa’ by Rachel Hunter 3 The Journal has patterns, recipes, essays and walks 4 Misa with the ‘Nighthawk Slipover’ by Wilma Malcolmson 5 ‘Hamar Slipover’ by Linda Shearer 6 Misa’s Shetland tours are very popular
1 ‘Atlantic Waves Slipover’ is a design by Anne Eunson for Volume 2 of the Shetland Wool Adventures Journal 2 ‘Up Helly Aa’ by Rachel Hunter 3 The Journal has patterns, recipes, essays and walks 4 Misa with the ‘Nighthawk Slipover’ by Wilma Malcolmson 5 ‘Hamar Slipover’ by Linda Shearer 6 Misa’s Shetland tours are very popular
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 ??  ?? 1 ‘Hillside Handwarmer’ is a pattern from Volume 2 2 ‘Nighthawk Slipover’ is knitted in Jamieson’s of Shetland Spindrift 3 Misa created the ‘Storm Dennis Snood’ with Marie Bruhat
1 ‘Hillside Handwarmer’ is a pattern from Volume 2 2 ‘Nighthawk Slipover’ is knitted in Jamieson’s of Shetland Spindrift 3 Misa created the ‘Storm Dennis Snood’ with Marie Bruhat

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