The Final NIFA – Shetland 2

Wednesday took us over to Nesting to take a workshop with Margaret Peterson.  I have know Margaret for many years and she has taught me so much about spinning for and knitting Shetland lace.  Her spinning is exquisite and she has a passion for lace which is infectious.  She is also extremely good at finding out what exactly students need to learn.  After talking wool and wheels, she homed in on fibre preparation and as both Anna and Jane had brought their new Shetland fleeces with them they worked on them.  By the end of the session they were producing faultless puffs of fibre ready to spin as fine as they liked!

Margaret also showed us a 200 year old ‘crepe’ shawl that was given her by an old man she knew.  It was hand spun and beautiful:

From Nesting we went cross country over to Sandness in the far west of the Mainland.  It is a glorious drive over moor covered with peat and dotted with sheep, and the weather was beautiful.  Dropping down to sea level you come into the village of Sandness with its textile attraction – Jamieson’s spinning mill.  This is a time of year when everything is running to full capacity and we were able to see all the stages of the process in action.  The smell of hot wool hit us as we entered the part of the building where the dyeing vats were, and there were bits of a fabulous pink fibre on the top of the steaming vat. In the weaving area one of the looms was weaving an interesting asymmetric cloth, and they were winding a warp with natural colours for one of the other looms.  One carding line was producing a set of dark wine rovings ready for spinning, and the spinning and plying lines were working with several other colours.  Only the packing line was taking a break!

The mill has a shop attached and Anna and Jane both made use of the opportunity to buy yarn and finished items.  Anna bought a lovely blanket (amongst other things!) while Jane stocked up on colours for Fair Isle work.

We got back to our base just in time to go out again, this time to J&S’s shopping evening and trunk show.  Gudrun Johnson was there with samples from her new book, The Shetland Trader….

…and there were also the samples from J&S’s new collection of patterns (including my fishou….

…. more about that when I get home!).  It was a good opportunity to shop, and meet and chat to old friends and new.  A very relaxed end to a busy day!

Very little about Thursday could be called relaxing!  It was our day to travel north up to Unst.  It is a straight run up to the top of the Mainland to get the ferry over to Yell and the good weather made for lovely views over the almost empty hills and valleys.  There had been no cloud cover the night before and the bottoms of the valleys were rimed with frost.

Once on Yell, our first stop was to call on Andi Ross in his weaving workshop.  He was on his own on this occasion, but he usually has students of weaving and design working with him on the looms from the Ann Sutton Foundation.  The idea is to give students a chance to move from college courses to the ‘real world’ of textile design and give them a chance to explore their weaving further and design products for sale.

As Andi is also a singer and singing teacher, he and Anna had much music to talk about as well as the textiles!

From Yell we took another ferry up to Unst.  As anyone who has read this blog in the past knows, it has become traditional for NIFA groups to pause by the boat xylophone to have a tune and a photo.

Then on to that other Unst fun institution, the bus shelter!

Although the Heritage Centre is officially closed for the winter, the kind folk had opened it for us and the J&S group.  They were having a workshop there, but we were just in for a look at the lace.  Earlier in the season they had been given a collection of the ‘everyday’ spinning and knitting items found in many old households, and is had been displayed together to show what equipment was used:

Rhoda very kindly showed us some of the original lace items found in the back of the Uyeasound shop a couple of years ago.  Many of the items, from the 1880s, are very fragile, and these have been replicated by local knitters for show in the cases of the museum, allowing the old items to be stored away from the light etc.  Some of the originals are incredibly finely spun and knitted…

In addition we were shown a couple of Fair Isle items knitted on the island, probably for one of the shows.  The wool is very fine, and the tension very silly – they must have taken hours and hours to knit, and they show no signs of having been worn much. Some folk were (and are!) very keen on knitting for competitions…

As the weather was good, after the Heritage Centre, we went up to the top of the hill to the gates of the old RAF radar station.  Here there are views over the whole of the island, and out to the most northerly lighthouse in the UK, Muckle Flugga.  Then back down the hill to Foord’s chocolate factory for our lunch – home made soup followed by a ‘chocolate experience’:

Backon Yell, we stopped off for a demonstration by Liz Gott of her work.  She uses her knowledge of geography to help her shape knitted landscape pictures.  She took us from the original photo, through her drawing of the main shapes, to the computer where she uses DesignaKnit to convert the shapes into colours which she then knits using an intarsia carriage on the knitting machine.  This background is knit in Shetland wool.  She may then use an embellisher to needle felt areas before attaching it to a cotton backing, padding areas and adding other fibres to complete the piece.  She then mounts these, usually in reclaimed wooden frames.

Liz had another item of interest – a Bronze Age spindle whorl found in the midden of a house in their land and overlooked by the archaeologists!  It is made of soapstone from a quarry on Unst:

We then travelled south through Yell and back on the next ferry to Mainland.  It was time for another meal and we were booked in at Frankie’s, the most northerly fish and chip shop in the UK!  Scallops were a special on the menu and they were delicious.  As was the cheese cake!!  One unusual feature – behind the counter was a sign with the name and a picture of the boat which had caught the fish being used that day…

We got back about 7.30 in time for a quick sort out before going out again –  wool week is not for the feint hearted!   This time it was to view the entries and winners of the fine fleece competition.  There were classes for 3 white fleeces and 3 coloured fleeces, and then the best fleece from either class was awarded the Championship.  Last year it was an organic fleece and this year it was from the same area of Shetland (Aith) but from a different farmer.  Harold Moffat has a large number of sheep and he found this fleece when sorting through the fleeces from his gimmers (a female sheep yet to have its first lamb):

Oliver told us why he had marked it so highly – it was obvious to an outsider like me that it had a beautiful sheen to it, with a good crimp and a fine staple, but Oliver explained the finer points. He reckoned it was the best white fleece that had gone through his hands this year.  It is destined to be hand spun, which is good news!

This morning is the one bit of free time this week!  Anna and Jane have gone down to J&S to buy more fleece, then on into Lerwick to further help the local economy!  While I play catch up – which is why there are two blog posts in a day!


4 thoughts on “The Final NIFA – Shetland 2

  1. What Fun!!! Looks like you had a busy week. I’ve loved seeing all the sights & fibrey goodies!! Wish the computer could let me touch & smell though – fresh scallops & chips??!! OMG . . . I’m sure you broke the budget on this trip. And how many glorious fleeces did YOU buy??? I fell in love with Shetland fleece – I love the smell & feel of spinning right off the lovely fleece. And I think you’ve reminded me that I still have a small one tucked away that I should get to. Thanx for the tour – I think this is the closest I’ll ever get to it!

  2. Oh I love that bus shelter!
    I hope I can get up there one day and look at some of those fleeces. It would be interesting to see how the raw product differs from the Australian raw product. Our climates are so different.

  3. Thanks for the shawl pic–it has inspired me to make another one. I do love your posts about all the places you go, and the great things you get to see.

  4. Shetland travel has got to be in my future. The prize-winning fleece . . . the competition sweater (fantastic color scheme) . . . the people . . . the scenery: inspirations, all of them.

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