Monday, 31 August 2015

Wool Holiday Workshops

Sorry for the lack of blog posts of late - it has been a busy few weeks with holiday things, other work and some deadlines.  Shetland Wool Week ran two holidays during the summer, one inJuly and one in August.  The holidays consist of 5 packed days of sightseeing, workshops on Fair Isle knitting, lace knitting, spinning and visits to woolly places and I had the pleasure of giving the lovely ladies a couple of workshops.

Hazel Tindall ran the first workshop of the holidays, she did an introduction to Fair Isle knitting.  The class made "Mug Haps" or mug cosies (so called as in Shetland a hap is a large shawl you can wrap up warm in), and I did the second part of this where we looked at steeking, and finishing methods.

The class I took was held in the long room at Busta House in Brae, a lovely setting for a relaxing afternoon knitting.

These are the lovely ladies in the July class, we had a surprise visit from Susan Crawford (of the Vintage Shetland Project), Ella Gordon of Ella Gordon Designs and Louise Scollay (AKA KnitBritishHazel Tindall also popped in to see how the group were doing.
 These are the lovely ladies from the August group

In the evening after both classes I ran a workshop of basic wet felting techniques, it was a short workshop since one half of the group did some spinning and the other half did felting and then they swapped over half way through.  There is so much that can be done with felting and this was very much a taster session, I think many of the ladies were keen to try it again they found it quite therapeutic!


The next wool holiday is planned for Thursday 19th November - Wednesday 25th November and again in March (dates to be confirmed) - this would be a perfect way to break up the autumn months before Christmas.  For details see the holiday page on the Shetland Wool Week website by clicking here

I quite fancy going on it myself!

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Vintage Shetland Project - Blog Tour

I first met Susan Crawford at the makers market during Shetland Wool Week in 2013.  I recognised her as the author of the vintage knitting books A Stitch In Time volumes 1 and 2 and there was that moment when you feel you know someone as you have seen their picture online but they don't know you!  She was lovely and very easy to speak to - she bought a brooch from me and we had a fascinating discussion on knitted swimsuits!

Susan has been travelling back and forth to Shetland for several years to the Shetland Museum to work on creating patterns for several knitted garments that are in the museum's collection.  With the support and help of Dr Carol Christiansen (whose knowledge of textile history is enviable) she has painstakingly looked at and documented each garment stitch by stitch, while looking at the construction, which was quite puzzling in some of the pieces.

Susan examining a Fair Isle jumper in the museum collection

This work will be published by Susan as a book later this year, with details on the history of 25 pieces (which I am really looking forward to reading), multi sized patterns for each garment as well as a chapter on the work involved in the research. Additionally the samples will be photographed in Shetland using local models.  This blog post is the last in a series of posts of a Blog Tour, "To Shetland and Back" to help promote this project. 

The Shetland museum holds a huge collection of amazing knitwear, most of which have been knitted by what might be said to be "ordinary folk" and have been donated.  At one time almost all women in Shetland spent much of their time hand knitting, mostly to sell.  Very often patterns and colours were stipulated by the buyer or agent but Fair Isle knitting lends itself to experimentation and self expression and many pieces can be described as a work of art.

Generally in Fair Isle patterns weren't used (and still aren't - I have heard many knitters say they just lay on loops (cast on stitches) and see what happens!), there might be a garment or sample piece to follow if it was for a specific order and techniques were passed down through word of mouth.

We can learn so much from the past, and although it's a bit of a cliche, these textile pieces are a way of connecting us to the past. I am glad I have several of the garments my Mam made, and I can remember seeing the knitting process in most of them.  There is so much more sentiment in those handmade items than there are in any of her other clothes.

 It is vitally important that these details are written down, knitting doesn't feature so prominently in our lives here anymore so we must find ways of holding on to these traditions. 

As part of the blog tour we were asked to choose an item from the collection and show it in our posts.  I have seen the garments that have been chosen for the book and I love them all, each one brings something different.  However, I particularly love these gloves.

These gloves were knitted by Theodora Coutts who was a leading Shetland knitwear designer and ran her own business designing, making and selling knitwear in Lerwick.  These gloves are more unusual than the older more traditional Shetland knitwear as they were knitted in just two colours.  This and the star-like patterns on the fingers show how Norwegian influences affected Shetland knitwear. 

The strong connection with Norway began in the 1940s due to a rise in the number of Norwegians coming to Shetland during the second world war.  When Germany invaded Norway, several thousand people fled Norway, most of whom were transported to Shetland through the Shetland Bus, a system of boats that transported refugees out of Norway to Shetland. Many of these people settled in Shetland and this influence could be seen up in the knitwear in the 1950s and 1960s and still can be seen in many designs today.

The gloves show a modified star, almost like a rose which is softer than the traditional spiky star, I think they are as contemporary today as they would have been back them, I definitely want to make a pair for myself!

To help Susan pay for printed copies of the book she has set up a Crowdfunder campaign through the platform Pubslush and to raise money.  Other costs that will be covered include photography, model's fees, technical editing etc. - basically, lots of things need to be paid for when publishing a book.  Initially Susan set out to raise £12,000 to cover these costs, but amazingly she reached this target within 48hours!  Tonight the total has reached just over double that figure - Susan says the extra money will be used to pay for more photography, more licence fees, etc.  You can read more about this over on the Pubslush page here.  Basically its a way of pre-ordering a copy of the book but helping with the production costs at the same time.  But hurry - there's only 2 days left!

Susan will be having a trunk show during Shetland Wool Week 2015 on Thursday 1st October in the learning room at the Shetland Museum and Archives from 1p.m. - 4p.m. There will be several of the recreated garments on show and you will get a chance to speak to Susan.  This event doesn't require tickets or booking and it is free entry, so its a good way to spend part of an afternoon.

This is the last stop of the blog tour, we started in Shetland with Knitbritish and we have ended up back in Shetland and its over to Susan's blog tomorrow.  Have a look through the blog posts in the tour - you will get a glimpse of some of the garments that will be featured in the book, and there are some beauties!.

The Full Tour Schedule Thursday 9th July
Sunday 12th July
Tasha By Gum By Golly
Monday 13th July
Hazel Tindall
Wednesday 15th July
Ella Gordon
Friday 17th July
Jess James
Saturday 18th July
Jen Arnall-Culliford
Sunday 19th July
Maja Karrlson
Monday 20th July
Karie Westermann
Tuesday 21st July
Rachel Atkinson
Wednesday 22nd July
Woolly Wormhead
Friday 24th July
Deb Robson
Saturday 25th July
Julia Billings
Sunday 26th July
Helen Magnusson
Monday 27th July
Tom Van Deijnen
Wednesday 29th July
Kate Atherley
Friday 31st July
Jamieson & Smith
Sunday 2nd August
Donna Druchunas
Monday 3rd August
Felix Ford
Thursday 6th August
Donna Smith
Friday 7th August
Susan Crawford

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Clipping Time

This is traditionally the time of year on crofts around Shetland, when the sheep have to be clipped, including these sheep on Dad's croft.  The weather this summer has been particularly wet and cold, and we started to wonder if it wold ever be good enough weather to do it.
After a very rainy start to Saturday, the sun came out and shone enough to dry up the sheep's fleeces and after a lot of running so we got the sheep in the cro (the pens where they are clipped).  Tib the sheep dog seems to think she is a sheep so we have to do all the work while she runs around with them.  She is also very camera shy so I didn't get any photos of her!
Thankfully our neighbours were passing and came to the rescue.  Dad still uses the traditional shears but the clippers are so much faster when the person is experienced.


The fleeces are rolled up then put into bags.

That's better!

Here I am last year using the shears - Its back breaking work and I applaud anyone who does it for a living!  And I am very slow - I reckon Liam could do ten in the time I did one!

The wool (or oo in Shetland dialect) will be delivered to the Woolbrokers (Jamieson and Smith) in Lerwick soon where is begins its journey to become yarn.  You can read what happens to the wool in their store and how they sort it in their blog post here.  They have a series of very interesting posts on their various weights of yarn which you will find by clicking through the post.
I always wonder if any of our fleece ever comes back to me as yarn!

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!