I was greatly honoured and humbled to be selected patron for Shetland Wool Week, especially being its 10th anniversary. I cannot believe how time as passed so quick since that first, short but sweet, email from my employer mid- September 2010, “I want you to set up a Shetland Wool Week, you have one month “. In my lifetime in the wool industry this initiative has had the single biggest impact on marketing crofter’s sheep & wool, textiles and the wider community of Shetland in general. We have been united as an island group to showcase ourselves at the highest level on the global stage.
I was very apprehensive and unsure of taking on the role of patron 2019 (which involved a social media presence writing blogs and Instagram posts as well attending the official launch at Edinburgh Yarn Festival and public speaking). I have had a great deal of help and support from Victoria Tait from the Shetland Amenity Trust organisers of the event. I would not have been able to carry out these tasks without the help and advice from my wife Catherine, and two very special people our granddaughter, Lynsey, and (someone I call my publicist) Leon Riise. I am indebted to them for all their hard work and putting up with me, it cannot have been and easy journey for them, thank you so very much. Also grateful thanks to my designer and knitter for creating my Roadside Beanie Sandra Manson and Ella Gordon for charting my design, also Wendy from Burra Bears for the special gift Peerie Olie o’ Roadside. I would also like to thank all the people who have followed my blogs and the support and good will shown toward me from around the globe, I appreciate this greatly. I would like to think I have shared with you part of the journey I have taken in working with one of the finest fibres in the world, Real Shetland Wool.
Below are some of the images from my year as patron, I will continue to have a social media presence perhaps but to a lesser degree. Thank you all once again.
The new millennium saw a change in my workload with new owners in 2005 and staff changes outgoing and incoming; it was even more important to provide design. We were most fortunate to have a mixture of local design talent and established designers from further afield.
Felicity Ford – I first became aware of Felicity was in August 2013 when she visited the wool store while she was working on a project called “Listening to Shetland Wool “. She wanted to hear and record the landscape where Shetland wool grows. I remember it well as she would record the wool press noise packing the wool, and even recorded me shipping a load of wool. In 2013 Felicity was patron of Shetland Wool week and wrote a song which she played and sang along with on her trusty accordion about her Shetland experience. Felicity has featured our yarns in Knisonik: Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook.
Kate Davies- One of the leading designers in my time and a very good friend of mine, I could write a whole blog series on Kate and her contribution in marketing Real Shetland wool. Kate has produced so many designs in our yarns, too many to mention, however among my favourites are the Sheep Heid and Rams & Yowes patterns using our undyed natural yarns. Kate is not only a very accomplished knitter but also an author of some repute and has published books featuring our yarns. When I started writing the Jamieson & Smith book Kate was a great help in mapping it out.
Elizabeth Johnson- from Shetland Hand Spun has been a personal friend for many years, and like many local women learned to spin and knit from the age of four. Elizabeth supplied us with her own design patterns featuring traditional lace garments, stoles, scarves and such like for many years. Elizabeth was the patron of Shetland Wool Week in 2018, and travels around the globe carrying out workshops in knitting and spinning.
Joyce Ward -Jamieson & Smith were very lucky to have multi-talented staff such as Joyce Ward who created one of my most favourite designs in 2002, the “Lynsey sweater” called after our grand – daughter, Lynsey. It is, in fact, two sweaters a child and an adult version. The yarns used are our 2ply Jumper weight undyed natural yarns, formerly called Shetland 2000, nowadays Shetland Supreme 2ply Jumper yarn.
Leslie Smith -Working alongside Joyce was Leslie Smith from Burra Isle; equally as talented Leslie produced patterns for very distinctive Fair Isle socks which along with design by Joyce featured in our first knitting pattern book Knit Real Shetland.
In more recent times we again were blessed with another staff member Ella Gordon, a graduate from the Shetland Textile College with a BA with Distinction in Contemporary Textiles. It seemed very fitting that I met up with Ella and shared a work space, I found out that Ella was a great-grand- niece of my former manager at J & S, Gilbert Johnstone; she shared his love of textiles. Ella not only designs but is also our social media marketing person. Her ability to take my ramblings on sheep, wool, and textiles and put it into a superb blog format never fails to amaze me.
Sandra Manson – Last but not least, I admire all the fore mentioned individuals greatly but Sandra has a special place in my wool journey. I first came into contact with Sandra when she was five years old, a first cousin to my wife Catherine, we would meet up at their grannies house. Their granny and aunty both were avid knitters; Auntie Mary worked in Tullochs Mill and was a very highly skilled textile worker. It was fairly obvious from that very early age that Sandra would share their passion for knitting always busy on her knitting needles. It was only fitting that Sandra and I would meet up later on in life in the work place similar to meeting up with Ella it was if it was ordained. Sandra and Catherine are very alike very driven and they always have the last word! Similar to Kate I could write a blog series on Sandra (perhaps I will, what a good idea!) Sandra has produced so many designs over the years, again too many to mention, however it was her interpretation of my sketches for my Shetland wool week Roadside Beanie that has pride of place in my heart. Coordinator of Shetland Wool Week, Victoria Tait, when I asked her how can I come up with a design for a hat in my role as patron of Shetland Wool Week, she said “tell your story”. I need not elaborate any further the proof of the pudding is in the Roadside Beanie, which Sandra somehow created from my sketches. The Beanie depicts a simple but an essential way of island life, my journey and that of many Shetlanders of past times.
I was asked by the Shetland Sheep Society to give a talk on wool; judging and Shetland’s past connection with the famous Hunters of Brora. After the meeting I was joined by a old friend of mine, Robbie Parkin, formerly of Hunters wool mill, to judge a fleece competition. The wool was of exceptional quality and was produced by members of the Shetland Sheep Society.
We attended some of the venues in Dornoch which hosted the event and met new contacts, as well as some old friends; such as Julie of Black Isle Yarns who I had met on her fact finding mission to Shetland last year. There was a very interesting mix of classes and textile exhibitors attending the event.
The hospitality and kindness of the organisers and Sheep Society toward us was beyond belief. Sally Wild and her husband Peter provided us with accommodation in their uniquely restored former blacksmith cottage. I had the great pleasure to meetSally’s flock of Shetland sheep, their look and appearance reminded me of some of our own peerie native Shetland hill sheep.
IMAGE SALLY & ME WITH SOME OF HER FLOCK ( PICTURE HAZEL SYME)
As a former golfer I had heard stories about the famous Royal Dornoch golf links, although my golfing days were over I was taken by the layout of the course which ran parrarel to the golden beaches of the Dornoch fore shore. We attended the local history group film night where we saw an enactment by the Dornoch school bairns of the burning of the last condemned witch in Scotland, Janet Horne, in 1772. The bairns acted out a tale of misfortune, cruelty and bigotry toward an elderly lady suffering from dementia and her disabled daughter. It was very refreshing and heartening to see a folklore tale told through the eyes of local children.
This was not just about sheep, wool and textiles it was also an opportunity to visit the local landmarks and meet up again with friends especially from past acquaintances from Hunters of Brora. Our last visit to this area had been in 2010 on route to the Stirling Knit Camp. This time we were determined to travel in to the hills of Brora and view first hand its magnificent scenery. My old friend the late Tom Simpson of Hunters Wool Mill said I would have to come and see the magic of the mill and the surrounding hills valleys and lochs which Tom described as the true highlands of Scotland. After visiting with Bill Ballantyne and Ann both formerly Hunters of Brora employees we travelled up into the hills. Even at this time of year and with poor weather conditions we were not disappointed as we travelled further west through the hills and Glens. The only disappointment was we saw no sign of wild deer, plenty of deer fences and a few wild goats in the hills.
I mentioned this to a local lady attending the fibre fest who suggested we travel further west up into the hills and mountains and recommended Glen Cassley however it would be hard going and there was no guarantee of seeing deer. We set off following our Satnav instructions and soon encountered fairly tough driving conditions. Despite Catherine’s protests we ventured onwards narrow roads often flooded in places barely a single track. I had to admit I was getting concerned there was no sign of human habitat and sadly no deer, worse there was no place to turn around. After countless miles away in the distance we saw a solitary house tucked under the lea of a snow capped mountain. We reached the end of the track and were greeted by to our complete surprise a distinct yellow sign which said CCTV in operation and strictly no admittance, I noticed at least two cameras. Up at the front of the fairly large house was parked a modern looking four wheel drive vehicle. We managed just to turn and thought we had better not tarry to long as the message you are not welcome was loud and clear. We set off down the road and stopped a safe distance away and I took some photos of the Glen and made the comment to Catherine “this could be the film location for the James Bond movie Skyfall!” Googling the area it is a privately owned estate and is listed in an ordnance survey report as one of the most remote areas of Scotland. “Getting up there is only for the hardier of us “; I can certainly endorse that comment!
A little further down the road we stopped off at the spectacular Achness waterfall tumbling down out of the hills. As we boarded the car we spotted in the distance a herd of fleeing white tailed deer, a fitting finale to what had been a never to be forgotten trip!
I have just finished archiving and recording our work with designers since we started retailing knitting yarns. Many who we have featured and worked with I have not had the privilege of meeting and talking to. I would like to mention a few who I have had the pleasure of meeting and sharing some time with on a personal level.
My first experience of a designer was with Sasha Kagan, one of the foremost up and coming knitting designers of that era. The design was first created in 1969 in Jamieson & Smith two ply jumper weight (4 ply) and was called the Silver Birch Scarf. Sasha produced in kit form and featured in Women’s Wear Daily. It was while attending a knitting show in Harrogate in the 1990s; I had the pleasure of meeting Sasha and talking about old times. If my memory is correct shortly after this meeting, Sasha was commissioned to produce design for us, latterly the Chequerboard Leaf Cardigan in our 2ply Heritage & 2ply Jumper yarns. Sasha and I met again at Knit Camp 2010 at Stirling University and she is still producing high quality design.
The first local designer of note I had the good fortune to meet in the mid- 1970s was Gladys Amedro. Of all the designers I worked with, Gladys, for me, was instrumental in turning around the fortunes of the company from a knitting yarn prospective. I have recently archived well over a dozen of her designs which featured in magazines in the 80s/ 90s and had an everlasting impact on J & S. It was our old manager, Gibbie Johnstone who recognised the need for pattern support in order to reach a wider audience. It was therefore with his passing in 1986 that we commissioned a design in his memory; the Gibbie Shawl.
Our first Shetland Fair Isle pattern was produced for us in the 1980s by a friend of Gladys and one of our crofters from the west side of Shetland Patricia Alderson. Her design was in our 2ply jumper yarn and was titled the Hamnavoe, called after my home village. This design featured in the ladies magazine, the Bella, and it would be fair to say was amongst the first of its kind produced by a Shetland knitter in this promotional format.
Another Shetland designer I have worked with in the 1980s/90s and got to know very well is Hazel Hughson from Shetland. She produced a range of Fair Isle patterns for us for hand and machine knitting the Noss and Gletnesss unisex sweaters. One other local designer I worked with at that time was Margaret Stuart, from the village of Walls, who designed for us ladies traditional openwork sweater hand knitted from our lace wool. Another local designer I have worked with since the early 1980s is Mary Kay from Lerwick; she produced a range of fine lace patterns for us. Mary played a key role as one of our main local knitters who tested our new “wirsit” worsted 1 & 2ply lace yarn spun from 100% Shetland wool.
At a recent wool meeting someone brought up the need to help protect and save the environment and try to address some of the damage the human race has done to the planet. His point, I assume from the Shetland wool producing view point, was to encourage more use of native Shetland hill sheep and wool. As an individual I have handled and marketed native Shetland hill wool from Shetland sheep kept on the heather clad mills and moors for over 50 years, and I wholeheartedly agree.
Pollution of our planet has brought about today all the very visible sad events we are witnessing due to global warming. It is the processing end of greasy wool that I wish to talk about, in particular wool scouring. No matter how little foreign matter passes through our hands and into our ecosystem it will add to the damage done to our planet.
The regulations that apply to the scouring process are very strict and are levied by the UK Environment Agency and also by the Water Company that removes effluent from the plant. The company who scour our Shetland wool Haworth Scouring must ensure that they meet a number of stringent limits on the wash and rinse water that is discharged from the process so that grease, dirt, suint salts and any residual sheep dip pesticide are all minimised – the latter are at the part million or even part billion levels. To do this Haworth Scouring Company use a dedicated on – site effluent treatment plant comprising coarse filtration, grease extraction, decanter centrifuging and dissolved air flocculation. As much of the rinse water as possible is recycled within the process by using a separate ultra-filtration system. This effluent treatment plant represents several million pounds of investment to make Haworth Scouring Company probably the most environmentally responsible plant of its type in the world.
Energy and water use are both kept to a minimum and Haworth Scouring Company is part of a Climate Change Levy Agreement to continually reduce impacts on the atmosphere.
All solid wastes from the process are either re-used as chemical feedstock (wool grease is a valuable source of cholesterol chemicals in pharmaceuticals and in animal feeds) or are directly applied to the land as fertiliser because their high nitrogen and potassium content is beneficial to soil. Other wastes such as plastic and cardboard packaging and metal bale bands are recycled using local companies.
Haworth Scouring Company is continually looking to improve all its processes and especially those associated with the environment and have achieved several levels of accreditation including Enco Certification ISO14001 and ISO9002.
Shetland is renowned for its beauty. Its heather clad hills, sandy beaches and crystal clear waters which in turn are the habitat for all types of marine life, we at Jamieson & Smith are very proud of the fact that we in no way pollute our shores.
It is not only the responsibility of the producer of woollen goods to ensure that these environmental standards are met but also the end user who must ask for assurance from their supplier that the product they purchase conforms to the highest standard.
There has been a great interest and debate over the descriptions of Shetland sheep and wool over quite a few decades, in particular the natural coloured. When I started out in wool in 1967, our yearly intake of wool contained vast amounts of native Shetland natural coloured fleece. Looking back into J & S archives roughly a quarter of the wool purchased was natural Shetland coloured, the island of Yell being the largest supplier of this wool that went through our hands. The topography of Yell with its heather clad hills and endless peat moors plus access to the sea shore made the island a perfect home for these very small hardy native Shetland sheep. In fact nearly all the coloured wool we bought was from Shetland hill bred sheep.
From a purely practical point of view in the wool store I was told, in order to keep wool classing simple and cost effective, the colours were grouped fairly simply. Shetland Black consisted of a dark chocolate brown and also a charcoal shade which would contain some white or light grey fibres. Moorit (brown) was made up of dark Moorit, Medium Moorit, and Light Moorit. Grey the same; dark, medium and light. It was far easier to identify the colour and markings of a Shetland sheep while it was attached to the animal then in a fleece that was often rolled up. It was only when I started judging wool with some of the older wool people such as the late P.B.Hunter that I became more aware of the individual names given to the various shades. Even then, depending on the district a particular individual came from, there would sometimes be a difference in the descriptive name for the coloured fleece.
In recent times in Shetland I have noticed a steep decline in local sheep breeders concentrating on breeding specific colours. This is due mainly to a distinct lack of marketing in the smaller finished Shetland lamb and in particular the coloured lamb. I have asked many times why this should especially apply to the coloured lamb, the answer normally is that the buyers are not keen on them but I never get a reason why that is.
As mentioned in a previous blog prior to 1997 there was no demand for Shetland coloured wool and the returns to the producers was pence. Wool mills spinning Shetland wool preferred to dye up white wool simulating a natural shade and still be able to call it natural. With the introduction in 1997 of Shetland 2000 which was an international collaboration between Yarns International, Bethesda, Maryland, and Jamieson & Smith Shetland Wool Brokers a much needed positive change took place in this unique natural wool. The aim of the venture was to produce a truly natural undyed yarn from the native Shetland hill sheep which offered the user a truly unique experience. Its natural softness makes it pleasant to work with and equally 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. After the launch of these yarns there was a marked improvement in the demand and price for the finer grades of natural Shetland coloured wool. It was also interesting to note that other users and organisations started to offer natural Shetland coloured wools. This all has helped to improve the lot of the native Shetland coloured sheep from a wool point perspective.
As I mentioned in a previous blog I was most fortunate to meet and become friends with the late Stanley Bowie who always championed the cause of native Shetland animals especially the native sheep. Stanley would visit our store in the wool season and would spend hours down in the basement amongst the finest of our coloured wool testing and photographing all the various shades and markings on a fleece. Stanley provided me with a lot of information on the various colours and markings. I am correct there were thirty descriptive names. Much of his information came from the writings of Norse historian, Jakobsen who said there were indeed many more words in the ancient Norn language pertaining to specific colours which sadly have been lost.
Today we are most fortunate that the Shetland Sheep society on the U.K. mainland since the 1970s fought to safeguard these names through selective breeding of Shetland sheep. I must admit to having a limited knowledge of these individual descriptions of coloured sheep, I prefer to leave that to the experts; the breeders of the sheep. I will list below the five main whole colours in Shetland sheep passed on to me by my friend the late Stanley Bowie.
Shetland dialect / English equivalent
Shaela – Dark steely – grey. Emsket – Dusky bluish-grey. Musket – Pale greyish-brown. Mioget –Light moorit ( yellowish-brown). Moorit –Light to dark reddish-brown.
I grew up on Burra Isle, the largest of the islands off the west coast of Shetland and close to the neighbouring mainland village of Scalloway, the former ancient capital of Shetland. I was very aware of the smaller islands around us, from Sunday boat trips and fishing expeditions with my father and grand – father. It was in the late 1950s that I also discovered that I had close family ties with these smaller islands. I clearly recall an elderly gentleman with snow white hair visiting my grand –parent’s home. His name was Laurence Duncan. His family had originated from the islands of Hildasay and Langa, he was closely related to my Great – Grandmother, also a Duncan, who was born in Hildasay. Her father was born on the island of Langa according to our family tree. Laurence wished to visit Hildasay so I and a younger cousin accompanied him in our grand- father’s boat. He showed us where the family home had been, now in ruins. The island has now been uninhabited since the late 19th century. He told us a sad story of how one of his relatives had drowned in the freshwater loch while swimming to a small islet for birds eggs.
If my memory is correct he also said there had been a herring station at one time, perhaps at a place called Tangy Voe. We visited the old quarry (famous for its red granite) we followed the path of what had been similar to a railway which he said carried the granite, and we saw the rusty remains of the tracks at the top of a steep sheer rock face where the cargo ships would take on board their; cargo some of which went all the way to Australia. I was a bit sceptical of some of his stories. When crossing with the boat he said where he came from down under they had huge fish similar to skate which would leap out of the water, later in life I was to learn this was a stingray.
However, later in life my father told me that Laurence Duncan and his family immigrated to New Zealand, I now have found out this was in 1922. The Duncan’s acquired a fishing boat and continued with their trade as fishermen, and in the absence of fishmongers shops would travel around the district selling fish out of a hand cart. It was not so long ago at a Hamefarin, (Shetland word meaning home-coming) where people from every corner of the globe to celebrate their roots in the islands of their forebears I was to hear the name Laurence Duncan. An elderly lady in her 80s visited the wool store, she hailed from New Zealand and I told her that we had distant relatives in New Zealand and their surname was Duncan. I was astonished to hear from her that her father and brothers had been rescued from their sinking fishing boat by a member of the Duncan family who had emigrated from Shetland. I believe this story was documented in a local publication.
While writing this blog another startling coincidence took place; Fraser Duncan from New Zealand and his partner called along the wool store. They were in Shetland for Up Helly Aa and were also visiting relations in Shetland. Fraser and I are, in fact cousins and he is a descendant of Laurence Duncan,- who if I am correct is a great – grandfather to Fraser. I asked Fraser if he could research the fishing accident involving the Duncan family.
IMAGE ISLAND INFORMATION JIM SMITH
These small islands, for instance Papa, do not have much arable ground so crofting must have been quite a hard task; it was fishing that was the main provider. The islands were very close to the fishing grounds; however in the early days sail and rowing were the means to get to their destination. There was a demand for fishing vessels to be built and in Papa they had a renowned boat builder one of the Slater family. Papa would have been a very important island for all the smaller islands, as I mentioned in a previous blog about Papa it was home to the “ Peerie Kirk “a small church; it would not only be a place of worship but also a chance for these islanders to catch up with what was happening in their own lives and island communities.
All these smaller islands are uninhabited now the last residents of Papa leaving in the first of 1930 as they found it impossible to survive in these harsh conditions and with a down turn in fishing. I recall writing a short piece on my day out for a Jamieson & Smith blog called “Oliver’s day out in Papa”, describing gathering and shearing the Smith family sheep. I think this was posted around 2010; imagine my surprise when receiving a phone call from a grand- son of one of the former residents. His grand- father had left Papa and eventually emigrated to either New Zealand or Australia. The question was could I provide him with information on his ancestors and their time in Papa. My old boss, Eva, put me in touch with an elderly neighbour who had close family ties to Papa who could tell me details of life on the isle at that time. I contacted the gentleman in Australia and provided him with information and also the contact details of the elderly crofter. I am very pleased to say that two years later the grand – son and his family visited Papa, not only did he visit he actually followed in the wake of his ancestor by rowing from Scalloway to Papa. I am proud to say I met him and his family on the beach as he set foot on the former home of his grand – father. It was a very emotional reunion. I have no doubt there are many other instances of families returning to our islands to discover their families origins.