Descriptions or Meanings Used in my Work with Wool & Yarns.

Since beginning my blog posts on my life with Shetland wool I appear to have concentrated more on sheep, wool and crofting. I would like to share with you more about the yarn and textile side of the business which began in the late 1960s I received a lot of help and advice from our spinners at Brora, in particular  Alistair McDonald sales executive at the mill. Alistair had a wide knowledge and a lifetime in textiles in the borders of Scotland. Alistair had composed an alphabetical list on the various textile meanings and most of my working life been guided by his writings, over the decades I have been asked many questions which I have been able to answer by referring to his text, perhaps this will also clarify points that are more difficult to understand. I spoke to Alistair a few years ago when I started blogging and asked permission if I could make use some of his descriptions in my blogs. I am pleased to say he was in agreement with this; I have used his description and added in what context it has and in some cases still is used at J & S, also some of my memories at work involving the subject. Alistair’s original description is in bold letters. I have added in some of my images from around Shetland.

Burravoe Sheep

Aran.The original Aran yarn and sweaters probably originated in the Aran Islands of the North West coast of Ireland”

 Catherine and I were very fortunate to meet up with a crofter from the isle of Aran who had his own wool spun into genuine Aran yarn. He explained to us in great detail how the vast bulk of so called Aran yarn flood the market and is made from foreign wools which have never seen Ireland, something I told him we had in common with the misuse of the name Shetland Yarn. At J & S we do have a 100% Real Shetland Aran type which is worsted spun but does not have the characteristics of the original Aran woollen spun weight, but is still a very high quality product. When I showed the crofter our Aran type yarn, his response was “to be sure you’re as bad as the people who imitate Shetland yarn! Having never been to Ireland I would imagine Aran as an island group similar to the islands below where my ancestors came from and are mostly flat and exposed as in my image below.

Isles of the West Coast of Shetland

Batch number or Lot number. “Each batch of yarn made should have a distinct batch number because each batch is different. Even with sophisticated spinning and dyeing machinery and techniques in use today colour variations do occur”.

 This fault used to be fairly common when we sold our yarns on hank there was no way of labelling each hank so I remember very well more than once receiving an unfinished garment from an irate knitter with an uneven strip across the garment. With the introduction of balling and labelling the yarns this fault more or less ceased.

First Yarns on Hanks

Blend. “The mix of fibres at the commencement of spinning. This may be different fibres, for instance wool and synthetic, or different qualities of one fibre perhaps wool with lamb’s wool, or different colours of the same fibre, for instance a grey mixture made from a mix of black and grey fibres”.

 When asked to create Shetland 2000, now Supreme jumper yarns, we had to blend some of the natural yarns together due to a lack of some of the historic shades such as Gulmoget.

Shetland 2000 Undyed Yarn
Coloured Shetland Sheep

Branding. “Is the process of giving a meaning to specific organization, company, products or services by creating and shaping a brand in consumers’ minds. In my mind one of the greatest mistakes made regarding Shetland wool of all time failure to protect what is a precious commodity, I shall expand on this as we go through Alistair’s textile directory.

Carding.” A teasing out process used on wool and cotton fibres prior to spinning”.

 In times gone by Shetland ladies would have carding evenings where they would gather and have a night of carding, drinking tea and of setting the world to right, this would while away the bleak winter’s nights.

Rolag – Shetland Dialect (Rowers) Hand Cared Wool
Rowers Shetland Yoals

Chunky.” A bulky heavier yarn”.

  In the 1960s we had two such yarns woollen spun at Hunters of Brora used to construct heavier hard wearing garments. Unst Fleece which was 4/7.5 Gala count equivalent to a heavy Chunky. Embo 3 ply yarn, Gala count 3/11 this was the original “Harris Tweed” yarn Hunter’s suppled to Western Isles weavers before the onset of the “Orb” mark which stipulated the yarn had to be spun in the Western Isles. The name of the yarn Harris had to change and so was renamed to Embo a small village not far from Brora.

Viking Tunic in Chunky Yarn by Sandra Manson

Combed Yarns. “The purpose of combing of fibres in cotton and worsted spinning after carding is twofold; short fibres are removed are removed and the remaining fibres are left in a roughly parallel order. The result is a stronger even yarn”.

 We introduced natural combed tops in 2004/5 this followed on from a visit to a knitting and stitches show in Harrogate. We were unable to take greasy fleece with us due to environmental reasons, I remember one lady saying why you not supply combed tops do, and the rest is history!

Shetland Combed Tops

Cone. “The yarn package most familiar to the machine knitter”.

 With the introduction of  yarn on cone in the late 1960s and with little storage space available meant I had to carry huge heavy cartons upstairs where they were stored in the balcony area of what had been the North Roadside church our only building of note at that time. I do not think the language would have been approved of by past congregations as I struggled to carry boxes of 100 cones upstairs approximately 50kilos today, than goodness for the maximum weight limit of 25 kilos today.

Cones Today

Dyeing.” Yarn can be dyed after spinning either in cones or in hanks. Loose fibres are dyed prior to spinning typically in the woollen system. Garments can be knitted in undyed yarn and piece dyed after manufacture. Today in most yarns colour is reasonably fast. If you knit with yarn in “oil” when you wash the garment to remove the oil there may be a great deal of loose dye which colours the water. You must wash and rinse until all this is removed, before wear. The washing often lightens the colour of the garment so the colour of yarn on this cone does not always give a true indication of the colour of the finished article”.

I had no experience of dyeing our yarns as it was a highly skilled procedure, one of our heather mix yarns had as many as six colour combinations in order to get the finished result.

Heather Mix Cone
Autumnal Heather Hills

If you want more details or on how to order any of the above yarns please contact  I will continue with Alistair’s’ directory in another post.

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