When we received the first delivery of yarn-five shades to start with my introduction to them was in the form of loose hanks, which I had to twist up into a head which comprised of 4 hanks. This was a knack which took a bit of learning; and so began my journey into yarn. Word soon got around that the “Brokers”, the most popular name locally for J & S, were stocking yarn. The shop was upstairs in the area which had been the balcony of the church I assisted Jim Smith in building a small office and putting in a floor to accommodate the yarn. Shortly after introducing the yarns we had to build a larger shop downstairs to accommodate all the various types.
I was now called upon to deliver yarn around the houses of Lerwick and to the country bus depot at the Viking car park. Yarn deliveries were also made to the Whalsay fishing boats who would be landing their fish and taking on provisions. Whalsay an Island to the north east of Lerwick was similar to Burra Isle a fishing crofting community its knitters famous for their distinctive Fair Isle garments. The jumpers appeared to stand out above the rest of the fleet and so made it easier for me to identify the vessels (as boats were not my forte).
The geographical location of the company on the outskirts of the town and close by the sea front meant it was at the heart of the herring industry and was instrumental in the next major phase in marketing yarns. Many women were required to work in the herring season on the herring stations gutting and packing, squads of women would arrive from the U.K. mainland at the start of the herring season in May and depart the Islands for home in late summer. On a rough day when the weather conditions kept the fleet tied up, local Shetland women who shared accommodation with the incomers would take up their knitting and sell the finished garments. It was only natural that the visitors would take to knitting and make some money whilst being idle on the work place. I remember the distinct rich of mixed dialects echoing through the wool store as they would go upstairs to purchase yarns.
On returning home to the mainland, they would continue with their knitting and of course would require yarn so in late 1968 we set up a direct mail order to service this demand. Our first mailing list consisted of thirty addresses. I was given the task of filing their yarn orders; my desk was the wool sorting table. Such was the demand through 1969 a lady was taken on to handle all the yarn orders and enquiries. She herself was an avid knitter and excelled in blending colours as well as having her own family’s heirloom lace knitting collection.
Word of mouth played a large part in the early days. Word soon got around that we were providing a yarn service home and away. I am fairly sure at that time we were the only local company selling yarns direct by mail order. A few local knitwear manufacturing companies would also sell by direct mail as did the cottage industry knitters, the lady of the home, such as my own mother who had their private orders.
Shetland Fair Isle and Shetland lace knitting is an art form a skill handed down through the generations of families in the isles. Patterns were closely guarded and most local knitters could knit complex patterns and colourways from memory, they seldom departed of their knowledge.
This was a major hurdle for the company to overcome in providing pattern support native Shetlanders would be reluctant to publish design at that time. In order to improve direct mail sales we needed a designer!