Sunday, 28 June 2015

Taatit Rugs - An Exhibition

The latest exhibition at the Gadderie in the Shetland Museum and Archives focusses on Taatit rugs that were once made and used in Shetland for bedcoverings.  It is the outcome of two years of extensive research by Dr Carol Christiansen and covers items from the 18th to the 20th centuries.  It is very exciting to see a textile based exhibition and I spent some time there a couple of weeks ago.

Taatit rugs are made by sewing wool yarn through a woven base, or ground, to form long loops and then cut to create the pile. Usually the coarser wool which wasn't suitable for knitting was used.  The wool used was usually dyed, using natural plant dyes and later using synthetic dyes and patterns were created using the colours, that were often symbolic and had superstitious meanings, such as Nordic symbols were often thought to ward off evil while a person was asleep.

The woven base (ground) in three natural colours

A taatit rug with geometric symbols
They were used as bedcovers and it is thought that the pile was often placed facing downwards on the bed to trap air and presumably make a warmer covering although this is difficult to prove as any photographs are too dark to make out the details.  A typical bed would be a box bed - basically a wood box to sleep in which would have helped keep out draughts.  I always remember wishing I had one when was little, in fact I would still quite like one!

A box bed

The rugs were often made as wedding presents and would be used for the rest of their married lives.  It was thought it give them protection from unwelcome guests such as trows that could take the soul of a woman during childbirth to look after one of their own babies. 

A tattit rug given as a wedding gift to a couple in Houss, Burra Isle in 1871.

The pile would have made them very warm.

By the start of the 20th century the use of the rugs for bedcovers was overtaken by newer materials and the rugs became use more as decorative floor rugs like those shown in the photo below.
Carol works for the Shetland museum and is an expert in textiles.  I asked her a few questions about the exhibitions and the rugs.

It was originally thought that taatit rugs were unique to Shetland.  You recently have found that a similar thing is also found in Scandinavian countries.  Can you tell me how you discovered that and a bit about those rugs?

Taatit rugs are unique to Shetland, but they are related to pile bedcovers that have been made across the Nordic world and Ireland for centuries.  I have known about rya rugs for a long time – I remember when they were popular wall hangings in the 1960s!  I also knew that the way they are made is different from taatit rugs.  But what surprised me was how the designs in some of the Nordic rugs are so similar to taatit rug designs.  While it is possible that rug designs developed independently, I now believe there was cultural contact and exchange of rugs or rug designs between Shetlanders and Norwegians, Swedes and Finns in the 18th century.  The same thing happened in knitwear design – it’s similar to colours and patterns seen across the Baltic, but at the same time has a ‘Shetland’ look all its own.

Have you ever made a tattit rug yourself or do you ever plan to?

I have not made a taatit rug, and while it does interest me, I have a lot of other things that are higher on my ‘to do’ list.

When you first started this project you had 34 samples in the museum.  I remember hearing a call on Radio Shetland for people to come forward with any rugs they might have.  Did you get a good response to this?

I got an excellent response to this, so much so that the project was extended a year and there are twice as many rugs in the publication catalogue than previously envisioned.

I understand you are planning to produce a publication on taatit rugs to follow the exhibition.  Can you tell me any details about this?

The publication will cover the main themes of the research – how taatit rugs were made, their relationship to Nordic rugs, their social importance as marriage rugs and heirlooms, taatit rug design and motifs and their relationship with folklore, colour in rugs and the use of natural dyes, and a chapter on taatit floor rugs.  There will also be a catalogue showing over 80 rugs and grounds with full-colour images.

Do you have to store the rugs in a particular way?

Yes, the rugs in our collection are stored rolled.  We get large cardboard tubes from carpet suppliers, which we cover with foil and tissue to encase the nasty acids in cardboard.  Then the rugs are rolled around the tube with more acid-free tissue and the whole thing is covered in an inert fabric and tied with fabric tape.  The rolls are labelled and suspended on a racking system.

 Do you have a personal favourite rug and if so why?

Yes, but it is not one in our collection.  I fell in love with a rug owned privately because of the amazing colour work in the design.  Unusually, the colours are pastels – yellows and corals.  The maker had dyed natural colours like grey and fawn to create additional shades.  These were sewn next to white yarns dyed the same colours to create subtle changes in colour throughout the rug.  The whole effect is rich, luxurious and very sophisticated – made in Yell in about 1870!  If I were to make a rug, I would do so with these design principles in mind.   

Thank you Carol! 

The exhibition runs until Sunday 19th July and is definitely worth a look.  Carol will also be giving talks about the rugs in the museum on Friday 3rd July at 3.00pm and Sunday 12th July at 2.00pm.

I will keep you updated on when the publication is out!

Further reading:
CHRISTIANSEN, CAROL (2013). Taatit Rugs.  Shetland Textiles 800 BC To The Present (Shetland Heritage Publications)

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Charity Shop Fair Isle Cardigan

We are very lucky here in Shetland to be able to find some fantastic knitwear in our charity shops.  I must admit I am not an avid charity shop hunter (I get overwhelmed by too much stuff) but my Mother in Law works in one one day a week and occasionally she comes home with some real gems.

This cardigan she bought last week has been hand knitted in natural coloured Shetland yarn.

The design is made up of a series of 25 stitch stars, each of which is different and panels with peerie patterns.

Its interesting how the shading varies on each star.

I love how the panel down the front at each side of the button hole bands echoes the panel down the centre of the back.


The cardigan has been made in the round, extra stitches made for the steek and then it has been cut up the centre to form the cardigan opening.  No reinforcing has been done before the work was cut but the extra fabric has been folded back and stitched down using the background yarn.

You can see the stitching a bit better on the extra fabric around the arm opening where the sleeve is joined.

In my opinion is it a beautiful cardigan which has been well thought out and is, like so many Fair Isle garments, a wearable piece of art.  We can learn so much from looking at knitwear and studying the stitches and finishing, its actually a privilege to be able to actually touch and study a garment like this closely. 

Enjoy what's left of the weekend!

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Tip for making pom poms

The Baa-ble hat pattern features a pom pom (optional of course!) but sometimes they can be quite tedious to make.  I noticed on Pinterest and a post from Ysolda Teague a while ago a technique to make pom pom without having to thread the yarn through the hole, eliminating the need to switch to using a needle at the last bit which can be quite fiddly.

Draw two circles with circles inside onto card - for the the Baa-ble hat pom pom the outer circle should be 7cm diameter and the inner circle should be 2.5cm diamater.  I used a compass but you could draw around objects that are more or less those sizes.  I used the box from cat food pouches but a thinner card (from a birthday card) is a bit easier, I found the thicker layers of card got in the way a bit when cutting the pom pom.

Cut them out - but instead of leaving them as a complete circle cut a section out of it about one fifth of the circumference.  Think about taking a slice out of a donut!
Place the two pieces of cards together and start wrapping your yarn. 
Wrap until the "centre" is more or less full - it reminds me a bit of a woolly croissant.
Then the cutting part - cut the yarn around the edge of the pom pom. Remember to hold it tight with your other hand! 
Cut a fairly long length of yarn (approximately 50cm) in the main colour of the "sky" part of the hat as this piece is yarn is used to attach the pom pom on top.  Place the yarn between the two layers of card and pull tight (but not so tight that you break the yarn).  I tend to do this as I go along when I am cutting it.  If the yarn you are using isn't very strong you might want to use an alternative yarn.
Then remove the card, you will end up with a lop-side untidy pom pom -
All it needs now is a good trim, but make sure you don't snip the yarn holding the pom pom together, this will be used to fix the pom pom to the hat.  I find it easiest to hold the long pieces of yarn while I am trimming.
All is left to do is attach the pom pom to the hat.  Instead of sewing in the ends I tie them in a double bow - that way the pom pom can be removed fairly easily for washing or if you fancy a change your hat can be pom pomless!

I you have other pom pom tips or have used something else to adorn your Baa-ble hat please let me know, I would love to hear/see them!

Monday, 25 May 2015

Shetland Wool Week 2015 Programme

Exciting news - the Shetland Wool Week 2015 programme is now available to see online!  (although if you signed up for a membership you will already have seen the programme so you know how good it is!).  There is also a shiny new website, which I think looks great!

Go to and click on Events - this will take you to the programme.  There are a huge number of events this year, it will be very hard to choose!

You will be able to book from 9 o clock tomorrow morning (Tuesday 26th May) through

I hope you find something to interest you!

Friday, 22 May 2015

Peerie Baa-ble Hat

For those of you who don't know "Peerie" is a Shetland word meaning "little".  I recently knitted a peerie version of the Baa-ble hat, the official free Shetland Wool Week pattern (you can get the pattern from here).  I basically followed the pattern using Shetland jumper weight yarn from ten different colours from my stash (which is equivalent to fingering weight), except I only knitted 10 rows of rib using two colours rather than the turned up brim.

I originally thought it would fit my 3 year old, but he has an exceptionally large head and actually the adult size fits him pretty good.  His cousin is only 9 days younger and was a much better sized model.


I decided to leave off the pom pom as I like the look of the graduated colours on the crown. 

 I have summarised some of the details below to help if you want to have a go making your own peerie version.
Yarn used: Shetland jumper weight, available from Jamieson and Smith OR Jamieson's of Shetland  

Needle size: 3mm for the entire project

Gauge obtained: 26 stitches and 34 rows over 10cm.

Finished size: Around brim: 42.5cm; from brim to centre of crown: 16cm. 

From brim to start of decreases: 11 cm.  If you want to make it a bit bigger for an older child, you could add in a few extra rows either above or below (or both) the sheep. 

Knitting it as I have done here would fit a child aged 2-3, although I find it very hard to size childrens' hats as the bairns I have around me are very different in size even though they are the same age!  You might be best to get the measuring tape out.

We are still very much enjoying seeing your finished Baa-ble hats, remember to show us!

Shetland Wool Week now has a Ravelry group where you can post your project (and enter into discussions) - we really would love to see them!

Friday, 1 May 2015

A few Baa-ble hats

It is wonderful to see lots of you knitting the Baa-ble hat, the free pattern I designed for Shetland Wool Week 2015.

It is also very exciting to see you using different colours, making them unique and I wanted to share a few that I have seen on Ravelry and Instragram for some inspiration!  You can see more photos of each version by clicking on the knitter's name - it will link you to their Ravely page.

I love the turquoise sky in Ribbels' version


Look at these fantastic colour choices from SyllyMae:

I absolutely love the colours Fidlstix has used especially the contrasting stripes in the ribbing (she also has several amazing patterns including a Fair Isle hat recipe using Shetland jumper weight yarn - check out her designs here).

Ella Gordon has made a grey version, which we often joke is a mutual favourite colour way, I need to make one like this for myself!


She has made a few adaptations to the patterns to suit her "flat head" (her words not mine!).  You can read about it in her blog post.

Lunargirl has gone for a slightly more muted effect with softer colours with a lovely effect.

The Winter's Night Baa-ble hat by Nelago uses darker colours very successfully, of course I love the grey sheep!

Torirot has made a gorgeous version using several shades of blue and green  - I think it works really well photographed against this wall, the colour just pops out.  You can read about her hat on her blog as well as getting a peak at some beautiful cardigans at a Colourwork Cardigan Parade.  She is also an amazing knitwear designer, you can see her designs here, if you aren't familiar with her work you need to see it!

Magfly has added an alpaca pom pom to great effect.

You can see more projects on the Baa-ble hat project pages on Ravelry and if you haven't already you can download the pattern from the Shetland Wool Week website.

Thank you to the knitters above for allowing me to use their photos.

Please keep adding your projects to Ravelry, it is so good to see them.  Remember if you are posting photos of them on Instagram on Twitter to add the hashtag(s)  #baable #baablehat #baablealong and/or tag Shetland Wool Week and/or myself (@shetlandwoolweek and @donnasmithdesigns on Instagram) or tag Shetland Wool Week on Facebook. 

That way we can see them and get even more excited about the flock of Baa-ble hats that are emerging!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Birthday Jumper

My Dad had a significant birthday last week, what do you give something who has everything?  A jumper!  In the 1980s and early 90s in Shetland there was quite a high demand for Icelandic style yoked jumpers made of chunky yarn.  My Granny (Dad's Mum) used to hand knit them to sell to Anderson and Company in Lerwick who would then sell them through their shop and send them away.  I always remember Dad wearing her jumpers, they were very warm and thick and made an excellent garment for wearing when working outside.  This is the last jumper she made him, it is in a very good condition other than a bit of fraying around the hem and cuff.  This was my template for the Birthday jumper.


I chose Jamiesons of Shetland chunky yarn to recreate the jumper, in natural colours, shaela for the main colour and sholmit and ivory for the pattern.



There were several agents in Shetland buying these chunky style jumpers during the 1980s and 90s and many knitters made them to supplement their income.  Many Shetland women I spoke to about the Birthday jumper said they used to make them.  They knitted up relatively quickly; my Aunt Betty remembers how she would sometimes make two in a week, this was on top of all the other work that had to be done. The knitters would be given written instructions to follow like these below used by Granny's cousin, Aileen.  Her instructions were for a "Mens Quick Knit (Scalloway Jupy)" (Jupy being a jumper) for an agent in Scalloway.  The instructions were quite basic sometimes only with numbers giving the quantity of stitches and rows, assuming that the knitter had enough experience and knowledge to able to complete the jumper with minimal input from the designer.  I obtained a few different versions during my research of the Birthday jumper, all were quite different as different agents would have had their own designs. 
The jumpers were made in the round, making the body and sleeves first and then joining it up for the yoke.  Interestingly, in Fair Isle knitting a general rule is that only two colours are used in any particular row, in Icelandic knitting often three colours are used in a row.  This gives a very thick fabric particularly useful around the shoulders which provides an excellent barrier to the weather.

I found some old patterns among my Mum's things - the yoke of this pattern below is almost the same as the yoke of the Birthday jumper but the pattern around the sleeves and the waist is different.

Often the yokes were made with plain rows between the pattern, this would have been where the decreases were made.

And this booklet for the mere sum of 75p has several patterns.

The photos and colours of these patterns make the jumpers look very dated, but they are very fashionable again, there are several updated patterns available now such as the Asta Sollilja by Kate Davies in her latest book "Yokes", Strokkur by Ysolda Teague, the Icelandic designer Vedis Jonsdotter has a huge range including this free pattern for a yoked jumper.  A search for "Icelandic yokes" on Ravelry will give you a huge range to choose from.

This jumper almost became the "Belated Birthday Jumper" but I managed to get it washed and on the jumper board at 9 o clock the night before!  It was a close one though!

You can see details of the Birthday jumper on Ravelry.