The depression which affected our Shetland wool and especially the lower grade qualities was gradually improving, however this did not apply to the native Shetland coloured wool. As I said previously, wool mills preferred dyeing the white wool, to quote one mill, “We add a touch of dye to standardize these ‘natural’ colours.” The result of this was that natural coloured fleeces were rendered worthless, and if used at all by mills was over dyed into darker shades.
I recall us having a backload of bales containing coloured wool stockpiled in the wool store. The price we offered was only pence, producers simply dumped the coloured wool. Our only market was in the summer months to hand spinners visiting Shetland on holiday. We also had some interest in the U.S, Canada, and Japan but government trading disagreements and introduction of strict animal health regulations ended that avenue of sales.
In the summer months we would have many visitors to the wool store. One of these visits I will never forget, as it not only brought forth a positive change for native coloured wool, it also would help me in the future develop Shetland products. The lady was Betty Lindsay, co-owner of Yarns International, Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.A, on holiday with her husband Joe Lindsay. Inspecting the natural coloured fleece with the wide variety of shades, Betty enquired what were they used for, when I told her, she was horrified and said she would do something about this.
True to her word, along with business partner Bonnie Hassler, Betty decided they wished to create a market for this unique wool, something I had always wanted to offer a affordable natural coloured yarn from pure Shetland Native sheep. It was like a meeting of minds we both shared the same wish. The first step was to hand-sort and match up the 9 shades required by Yarns International, this presented little problem as we had quite a stock pile of natural fleece. We enlisted Hunters of Brora to spin up the wool and in a matter of months had the finished yarn. “The yarns natural softness made it pleasant to work with and extremely comfortable to wear, while the natural saturation of the colours gives the knitted piece richness and a depth unavailable in dyed yarns. Moreover, the absence of any dye or chemical processing yields an environmentally friendly product”, a quote from the testimony of Yarns International.
Yarns International produced several books of design and many patterns featuring these special yarns, such was the success of these yarns that it was no surprise that every- one wanted to follow suit.
Sadly Yarns International closed down several years ago however the legacy continues. The 2000 yarns, we now call Shetland Supreme jumper yarn and so retains all the key attributes of the original natural colour palate. Modern designers such as Kate Davies and other creative people have continued to produce patterns of stunning beauty. To quote the original designer Ron Schweitzer, “Shetland 2000 leads the knitter on an unmapped journey – into new ways of thinking about Fair Isle patterns and garment construction.”
Yarns International produced a design in natural shades called the “Sheep- Saver”, a fitting title for the late Betty Lindsay!