I returned home in the middle of September from Knit Camp Stirling, quite satisfied but very tired and to a backlog of wool grading. Shortly after returning I received an email from our employer and joint managing director of our parent company. “I’ve just left a Campaign for Wool Meeting, I want you to set up a Shetland Wool Week; you have a month!” My immediate reaction was not at all favourable, how was I supposed to arrange this out of the tourist season, the middle of our wool season and at such short notice?! If that was not bad enough, after reading about the Campaign I found out it was virtually a royal command!
The Campaign for Wool is a cross-industry initiative convened by HRH, the Prince of Wales, in January 2010. As a serious environmentalist, the Prince believes the natural, sustainable origin and highly technical structure of wool can offer fashion, interiors and the built environment many superior benefits. Choosing real wool – as the Prince understands – will also help to care for our planet.
My best thinking time is when walking our dog Jo and that night it dawned on me that this was an excellent opportunity for us at J&S; the main buyer of the local clip, and the Shetland wool community to raise the profile of Shetland wool on the global stage. But how were we to do this? My experience of Shetland textile people since 1967, as was highlighted by the comments of the gentleman at Hunters of Brora’s new mill opening, was that unity was not a strong point in Shetland textile circles. I could see little chance of all the various groups following us; the way forward must come from the community.
With this in mind, I contacted Jim Nicolson, secretary of the Shetland Flock Book society, and put the idea to him that at their annual show and sale in mid-October, where I judge the wool on the hoof, we create Shetland Wool Week. His immediate response was go for it.
I mention in previous blogs our work with the museum on the reconstruction of the Gunnister Man’s clothing, and the revival of Shetland “wirsit” lace project. I recalled a huge crowd of interested people; crofters, knitters and general public who attended the unveiling of the “reborn” Gunnister Man at Lerwick Museum. I felt a great deal of satisfaction and pride having contributed in a small way in this historical event, which was an important part of Shetland’s heritage. It was obvious the way forward was to involve the Amenity Trust and the museum and archives; after all they are public bodies.
The morning after talking to the Shetland Flock book society I paid a visit to Jeemie Moncrieff at the Amenity Trust asking him if he could bring forward the launch of the revival of the (wirsit) lace project to mid-October and thus play a key role in creating a Shetland Wool Week. His reaction was totally positive; his staff worked day and night and we as a community (the Trust, Museum and Archives, Shetland Flock book and of course Jamieson & Smith) had created our Shetland wool week, which we launched at the Shetland Museum. The patron of the Campaign for Wool H.R.H. Prince Charles received a presentation pack of hand knitted lace (wirsit) stole, D.V.D. and pattern.
We had little time to arrange classes and promote the event, the fact it was also the launch of the Museum’s lace revival generated a fair bit of interest locally. Despite the short notice there were a few visitors to the islands at the opening night in the boat hall at the Lerwick museum.
After my opening speech and talking to some of the visitors, perhaps thirty people I discreetly left the proceedings around about 9pm. As I was leaving the building I became aware of a man shouting at me. He enquired where I was going; I excused myself saying I was going to pop into my local for a quick drink on my way home. “Hold on, what a good idea, I will join you” was the reply from Jeemie Moncrieff as we set off for the Marlex.
I can only recall a part of our opening dialogue; Jeemie asked, “How do we grow this event and involve all concerned in wool and textiles? How do we manage that?” as there were a few key people missing from the inaugural event.
I suggested we meet up later on in the week and we can then discuss the way forward. After that initial discussion the rest of the night was quite blurred, the one drink led to quite a few more! A few of the Amenity Trust staff who organised the event joined us, years later one of the team sent me a very poignant and happy memory of that night, an image of Jeemie and myself looking very jolly. My wife Catherine said to me the next morning, “that must have been a good night you only came home around 2 am!” It certainly was a good night and the beginning of something really special and which would be of great the benefit to the wool producers, knitters and textile companies and the wider Shetland community!