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Features / Where wool enthusiasts share their passion

Fair Isle knitting with Hazel Tindall at Jamieson & Smith was one of the many workshops held over the nine day long event. All photos: Calum Toogood.

WHEN THE eighth annual Shetland Wool Week got underway last Saturday our reviewer Terri Malcolmson embarked on a busy week trying to take in as much as she could of the ever popular event that attracted around 500 textile enthusiasts again to the isles.

The Shetland Museum and Archives was filled with wool and fibre enthusiasts. Everyone was catching up while deciding which notebook, bag or top to buy from the merchandise.

Da Gadderie is used as a hub where the brilliantly dedicated organisers and volunteers who run Shetland Wool Week information desk to help visitors find their way.

This is a wonderful space to find a comfy chair, drop your coat at your feet and have a cup of tea with other visitors. The hub had a notice board with heart warming posts asking for a lift to classes and selling spare tickets to events as well as a map with pins and tags showing where people have come from to share their love for wool.

Meanwhile visitors, wearing Bousta Beanies, the official hat pattern designed by this year patron Gudrun Johnston, wandered around Lerwick’s Commercial Street on day one, taking in all that was on offer on Da Street before venturing around Shetland for classes, exhibitions, teas and walks over the course of the week.

The opening ceremony, held in the bowls hall of the Clickimin Leisure Centre last Sunday was a two hour long affair that included speeches from organisers Misa Hay and Carol Christiansen, as well as talks by Gudrun Johnston and Andy Ross of the Shetland Tweed Company.

Compere Claire White kept things punctual as well as keeping everyone laughing and enjoying themselves.

A Q&A with a knowledgeable panel gave audience members a chance to ask their questions and of course the fashion show was admired by everyone. With beautifully designed garments and accessories, a group of lovely volunteer models, and music by local band Vair, it was without doubt a highlight of the evening.

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Events and exhibitions throughout the week included Another Happening in the Ollaberry hall, which ran from Saturday until last week’s Wednesday.

After the success of last year, the ladies of Northmavine decided to extend the exhibition for 2017. Haps new and old were on display and busloads of visitors piled into the Ollaberry hall to see them. The volunteers running the teas from the kitchen were kept busy but managed to keep everyone fed.

The Shetland Peerie Makkers had a cabinet display in the Bonhoga Gallery. The display included finished items as well as work in progress by knitters aged between seven and eleven who are part of the project which aims to bring volunteers into Shetland primary schools to teach children how to knit using traditional Shetland methods.

An excellent display of photographs showing local people past and present working with sheep, wool and yarn was on show in the Cunningsburgh History Group Hut for the Monday and Tuesday. The Oo Ta Cloo exhibition also had a board of ‘wooly words’ for people to find out about some of the dialect words and phrases relating to sheep and wool work.

Classes throughout the week covered many areas of textile and fibre work. The first that I attended was Jullia Billings’ 25 Shades from One Dyebath.

This was certainly a class to get you off your seat about finding colour in nature and using it to dye fibres. In this case Jules used madder to create 25 different shades of yarn while only using one dye bath.

I was blown away by the knowledge of both the tutor and students during discussions of the effects of the health of the plant, climate, mordanting, modifying, using different types of fibre, temperature and much more was so interesting. With kind explanations all of the way through, everyone left feeling like a scientist.

Many more classes were taking place, including spinning, brioche knitting, cockleshell lace, lace haps, steeking, various forms of Fair Isle, and so much more.

Each class I entered had between five and twenty-five students completely engrossed in what they were doing; taking in any information or advice they could from the knowledgeable tutors. It was great to see tutors from all over the world as well as many familiar faces here.

It became very clear that anyone coming to Shetland was coming to see and learn from local people. After teaching my first two classes over Shetland Wool Week I would strongly encourage other Shetlanders to do the same.

The organisers are keen for any willing Shetlanders to come forward to teach classes and share their knowledge; after all this is what Shetland Wool Week is all about.

The evening events included talks from patron Gudrun Johnston, designers Marie Wallin and Di Gilpin, as well as the ladies of Thingborg. These visitors from Iceland have been a hit throughout the week.

They were teaching classes as well as presenting a talk to the packed auditorium. These women run a wool centre in the South West of the country. Roles include sorting, spinning, dying, packing, and running the shop and many of them have their own sheep as well as doing their part in the wool centre.

The makers market held towards the end of wool week is a chance to have a closer look at what is produced in Shetland by some of the people visitors have met during the week.

Everything from skirts to socks, knitting patterns and skeins of yarn was available in the Islesburgh Community Centre as well as a great chance to speak to the makers themselves. Taste of Shetland took up a room during the day offering lunch for shoppers as well as treats to take home.

As Shetland Wool Week draws to a close this weekend, Sunday Teas taking place across the isles are the last of the events before visitors head back home: no doubt with a suitcase packed full of yarn and an endless list of projects in mind.


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