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Features / Wool week off to a flying start

A fashion show featuring the work of several local designers was the highlight of Sunday night's opening of Shetland Wool Week - Photos: Hans J Marter/ShetNews

Now in its 7th year, Shetland Wool Week shows no signs of getting old. The internationally acclaimed festival’s official launch ceremony, held in the Clickimin bowls hall on Sunday night, was a cosy hubbub of all things knitting and textiles, with food and music thrown in for good measure, writes Louise Thomason.

The evening began with a slightly delayed welcome by the Lerwick Jarl Squad, before speeches from the festival organisers got underway.

Wool week Misa Hay of Promote Shetland welcoming the estimated 400 visitors.

Promote Shetland’s marketing executive Misa Hay thanked returning visitors for their support of the festival, as well as 2015 festival patron Donna Smith, of “Baa-ble” hat fame.

Shetland Museum curator Carol Christiansen encouraged visitors to enjoy the numerous events taking place throughout the isles this week.

2016 patron Ella Gordon also spoke; her short but sweet speech paid tribute to the hard work of knitters of previous generations, for whom knitting was not a hobby or passion, but a vital means of income.

Each year Shetland Wool Week features an official hat pattern and this year’s was designed by Ms Gordon. The pattern for her “Crofthoose” hat can be downloaded from the wool week website, something most of the room seemed to have done, waving them enthusiastically above their heads – something Ms Gordon said she found “so weird!”

“…It came from my head… and now it’s on your head!” she said.

This year Shetland Wool Week is supporting a charity. From Shetland With Love (FSWL) was set up by Mona McAlpine and her late husband Ian 11 years ago to help children orphaned as a result of the HIV/AIDs pandemic in Southern Africa. The charity has since raised a phenomenal amount of money.

Mrs McAlpine was invited to speak about the orphanage FSWL supports, Morapeli, in Lesotho, which cares for disabled children affected by HIV/AIDs.

Located in the highlands of Southern Africa, Lesotho’s chilly winters require warm clothing, and wool week attendees are being asked to donate knitted squares, which Mrs McAlpine is sewing into blankets to take back to the orphanage.

She will be at the museum all week and encouraged folk to come and have a chat and join her in sewing or knitting.

2016 sees the largest number of attendees to the festival yet, with an estimated 400 visitors from as far afield and diverse a range of countries as – for example – Iceland, Canada, New Zealand, the US, Sweden, Norway and Japan.

As you’d expect most were passionate knitters, but some, such as Mary Paul from New England, USA, visiting as part of a group brought together by a fabric related tour, had come purely because of her love to travel.

“I like to travel and it gave me the opportunity to explore some areas I wouldn’t have done on my own,” she said.

Other visitors included Chihiro, from Japan, who has been visiting Shetland for 20 years and had taken part in wool week twice before.

A knitting instructor from Tokyo, she is a seasoned knitter but said she still gets a lot from her trips to Wool Week: “I learn so many tips, and it’s great fun.”

Tables were set up in the bowls hall cabaret style, and platters of Shetland nibbles including bannocks, lamb and mackerel pate from local producers, were provided on each one.

A display of beautifully decorated knitting themed cupcakes by Amy Henderson from Scalloway Hotel looked too good to eat.

The highlight of the evening was a fashion show featuring work from local designers, college students and the knitting group Maakin and Yakkin from the Anderson High School.

Izabela Delnicka’s brightly coloured woven textiles were a highlight, as were the creations from UHI students who work in collaboration with Jamieson and Smith each year in a competition to produce a contemporary garment using heritage yarns.

The night was rounded off with talks from cook Marian Armitage and Gary Jamieson of Jamieson’s of Shetland; music from Claire White and a Q&A with the festival partners.

With a staggering range of classes, events and exhibitions across the isles, from spinning, dyeing and knitting to weaving, felting and even yoga, Shetland Wool Week 2016 is off to a flying start. It runs until the 2 October.