Saturday, 24 October 2015

Shetland Wool Week 2015 - more woolly adventures

So much anticipation, and preparation, then it was time to set off for my third Shetland Wool Week.

I had only just got through security at Edinburgh Airport when I met the first Wool Week-ers Christine and Amore. It was nice to have them to chat to, especially as the plane was a bit late. On arrival at Sumburgh Felix was there to pick me up and whisk me off to our very luxurious rented house in Lerwick, found by our third housemate Jeni. Amid lots of chat and catching up we baked the first of our braided Nutella pastries, thus inaugurating the Shetland Nutella Festival. Despite rumours, I had not consumed a drop of Nutella since last year's Wool Week!
just out of the oven

take a quick photo

and then its gone.....
Saturday morning saw Felix and me out on a few errands, which inevitably took us in to Jamieson & Smith.
admiring the new sign on the back of the wool store
I had supplies to pick up for the classes I was teaching, and some yarn to buy on behalf of a friend who couldn't get to Wool Week. And for a couple of projects of my own, of course!
not (quite) all for me.....
A visit to the Shetland Times bookshop, the post office and a couple of the Lerwick charity shops completed the quest.
Our home-from-home was so comfortable it was tempting just to stay in and knit but we did venture just along the road to the Wool Week hub, in the Islesburgh Community Centre. The first thing we spotted on entering was a big pop-up banner featuring Felix' design, also used on the official Wool Week tote bags.
(There might still be a few of the bags available if you pop over to the Shetland Wool Week website). Upstairs in the Hub we met several woolly friends and caught up over knitting and tea. Moving the Hub to Islesburgh was a good decision, it was lovely to have Wool Week activities going on alongside other community activities, and the central space was well lit and comfortable for knitting, spinning and catching up with friends. Free tea and coffee much appreciated too!
On Sunday morning I made the second version of the Braided Nutella pastry (can you have a cake mascot? If so this is it for Wool Week 2015).
This one used croissant dough instead of puff pastry, judged to be an improvement although a bit tricky to roll out. 
Suitably fortified, I had the first of my classes as a learner - Pattern Writing taught by the lovely Outi Kater. Outi's advice on layout, phrasing and how much information to include, and many more aspects of converting a design into a written pattern will be very useful. Shame I didn't have time to convert my rather rambling instructions into a proper pattern before Outi attended my sock knitting class a couple of days later!

Sunday evening saw us at the Opening Ceremony in Clickimin Leisure Centre, having found an excellent Tarmac Tuesday photo Opp on the way (yes we are all about 7)!
The opening ceremony included fabulous Shetland fiddle music,
question and answer sessions about wool production and processing (Oliver Henry, Ronny Eunson and Gary Jamieson) and on knitting and design (Donna Smith, Hazel Tindall and Niela of NielaNell). Donna, as this year's Patron, welcomed everyone and cut the now traditional Wool Week cakes.
The evening was rounded off in hilarious form by Felix and Louise Scolley imagining what it would be like if knitting got the same media attention as football. They got everyone involved in creating the crowd noises, and their Knitting Pundits will be available as a podcast soon. (I was laughing too much to take any photos)
I had a really busy day on Monday, starting with a class on Designing Fair Isle Yokes with Hazel Tindall. What Hazel doesn't know about designing and knitting Fair Isle probably isn't worth knowing, and she very generously shared her wealth of experience as we carefully chose our colours and knitted yoke swatches. I just managed to get mine cast off as we ran out of time.
Hazel also shared some hints and tips on using a Shetland knitting belt, so now I know why I have not been getting on well when trying to use the vintage belt I got on my first trip to Shetland, and am determined to have another go.
In the afternoon I went to Spinning for Lace with Margaret Peterson. I've been spinning for over 35 years and have on occasion spun fine lace yarns, but not often and not recently. I first met Margaret four or five years ago when she showed me examples of her exquisite work, and I was intrigued to learn whether her methods were very different to my own. In fact they were not - we both prefer to spin the fine wool in the grease, after combing with a dog comb. Actually everyone in the class found it easier to spin a fine and consistent yarn from the unwashed wool than when we (at Margaret's insistence) tried spinning some industrially cleaned and combed tops. Margaret also showed us the traditional way of winding the 'wirsit' on to small squares of wood (I used folded up paper) so that's it doesn't knit or roll about when you are knitting.
I just about had time to catch my breath before heading to the Shetland Museum for the evening talk by Ella Gordon and Kate Davies on Collecting Vintage Knitwear. Ella and Kate have quite different approaches to their collections but share a passion for not only preserving and recording vintage knits, but also keeping them in regular use. Felix ably chaired the Q&A session and clearly relished her task of holding out each piece as either Kate or Ella spoke about it. It is amazing how much they have been able to find out about the history of each garment, sometimes even who knitted it.
On Tuesday morning it was time to start teaching. My first class Colours of Shetland: Blending Fibre was designed to complement Felix' Colours of Shetland: Stranded Colourwork class in the afternoon.
Using a photo taken on Bressay last year for inspiration, the learners in my class blended primary coloured wool fibre, plus natural black and white, on hand carders to create a palette of shades.
Everyone had the same photo, everyone had the same fibres, but everyone created a different palette of eight or more shades. Some people spun samples from their blends to see how the appearance of the colours changed. Three hours of carding produced an impressive amount of blended fibre ready to be spun or felted.
all this and more in just three hours

hard at work
Maggie's meticulously labelled and recorded colour experiments
I spent the afternoon in Felix's class, using the same image and the Knitsonik system to look at shapes and colours and come up with a stranded colourwork motif. Again it was fascinating to see the very varied interpretations that people came up with, based on a small selection of images and a carefully curated palette of Jamieson & Smith yarn.
My next teaching stint on Wednesday morning was Knitting Socks two-at-a-time and toe-up.
my socks with Fair Isle motifs, knitted two at a time and toe up before the class
using Jamieson & Smith Shetland Heritage yarn in traditional colours
This was a very popular class, although for a while the learners seemed to be struggling with the closed cast on, which is the trickiest part of this way of knitting socks. Those who were familiar with the magic loop technique had an advantage - next year I will offer an Introduction to Magic Loop class a couple of days before the Knitting Socks two-at-a-time class. Eventually everyone had the toes of both socks  started, and the atmosphere relaxed quite noticeably!
toe-caps of two socks on one needle, straight forward knitting from here on
From there, the knitting is quite straightforward, and  although no-one got to the heels during the class I was able to show how to turn the heel, which I think is easier on toe-up socks.
my Macmillan Pocket Kipling socks showing gusset and heel construction
During the rest of Wool Week I occasionally met people who showed me how much further their socks had progressed, and since the end of the week I have seen at least one pair from my class completed and posted on Facebook, which is nice. I'm repeating this class next weekend in Oban and sometime in the New Year in Dundee, before running it again during Shetland Wool Week 2016.
A bit of free time in the afternoon saw me making a third Braided Nutella pastry, to test a further variation. It looked and tasted just the same as the last one but was easier to roll out, as we had invested in a small bag of flour.
Lerwick Library hosted Stitches from the Stacks on Wednesday evening - all their knitting-related books on display, lovely knitted bunting decorating the library, and teas and wonderful home baking. Are you picking up on a non-wool theme yet?!! It was lovely to meet and knit with local knitters as well as those who were visiting for Wool Week.
We had a day off from wool (well, nearly - but not cake!) and went to visit Mike and Gill Finnie on Burra, where Mike helped us make lovely silver buttons etched with Fair Isle designs. Gill's home baking is legendary! I had knitted a cardigan specially for my buttons and sewed them on that evening.
three hand-made silver buttons in place on my naturally-dyed, hand-blended, hand-spun and hand-knitted cardigan
(Brynja designed by Helene Magnusson)

beautiful patina on one of my silver buttons, against my wool/silk/mohair blend yarn
I love Mike's Red Houss jewellery so much that I have had to make a self-imposed rule to only wear two items at a time (over four years I have made quite a collection!) but I bought one of Mike's Gulls Egg necklaces which will be an exception to that rule as it is very different.
My last teaching duty was on Friday afternoon, so in the morning I was able to visit the Shetland Organics exhibition in Vaila Fine Art, and then browse in some of the shops before a quick bowl of chowder in the Peerie Shop café. After a brisk walk I was back at Jamieson and Smith in time to visit the inner sanctum of the wool store and stock up on fleeces for the next year, before starting to teach my drop-spindle spinning class. J&S had asked me to teach using their Shetland Wool combed tops, so I showed some more advanced spinners how to spin thicker woollen style yarns from tops instead of their 'default' fine worsted, and gave them a selection of silk, linen and other fibres to blend with the wool tops. The beginners in the meantime were also using the tops to spin woollen style, as it is easier to start that way than spinning worsted. They all did very well and most managed to produce a small skein of 2-ply yarn - although the smiling faces at the end of the class are the most important product to me.
After a day on my feet it was nice to put my feet up and have my dinner cooked for me (thank you Tom). Good company and a glass of wine soon made me forget my aching toes!
Saturday was Flock Book day at the mart, one of the highlights of Wool Week for me. Since the 1920s the Flock Book Society has ensured that only the best rams are used to keep up the standards of the Shetland sheep breed and the wool they produce.  Rams are carefully and thoroughly inspected for their wool, judged by Oliver Henry assisted by Jan Robertson.
Oliver and Jan judging the wool on a lively ram lamb

 Then other judges check their teeth, toes and testicles. When the best six in each category have been chosen they are taken in to the ring for the final judging.
judging rams
After lengthy deliberation rosettes are awarded, then the next category is judged. This all takes a considerable amount of time occasionally enlivened when a lively ram makes a bid for freedom by trying to jump out of the ring. Some of them nearly succeed.  After the judging was complete and a hearty lunch taken in the mart café there was a sale of rams. I was fascinated to sit through the sale with Jan, who was both selling and buying, but was not too busy to give me a commentary on the sheep as they came through the ring. There is also a competition for the best group of three coloured fleeces, won this year by Addie Doull of Islesburgh.
 These three superb fleeces scored 96 out of 100 and, after some negotiation, are now residing in my fleece shed - I cant wait to get started on them! I already have several projects in mind for them.
my Flock Book haul
The Flock Book marked the end of Shetland Wool Week 2015, and in fact many of the visitors had already headed back south, with many goodbyes and 'see you next year'. We had decided to stay on for a few more days so several friends donated their left over groceries to us - enough to feed far more than three people for a week! Thank you Ysolda and Becks, Tom, Anthony and Anna, and Team Holland! On Sunday morning we left our very comfortable and central house in Lerwick and moved to a fisherman's cottage on West Burra Isle. A more beautiful setting would be hard to find, with a view over East Burra to the Shetland mainland, and a beach at the bottom of a small sloping field beyond the modern-day planticrub (a small sheltered vegetable plot).
evening sun on East Burra, with Shetland mainland behind

Papil sunset
The good weather we had enjoyed so far continued on Monday and Felix and I had a lovely walk over the tombolo at Bannamin to Minn and and around Kettla Ness.

the tombolo at Bannaminn

clear clear water and nosy (but camera shy) seals
We wandered among deserted and ruined croft houses

last year's shwook hat in colours that blend with the landscape

so that's where the sheep that escaped from my baa-ble hat went
and then over to the far side of the island, with its dramatic cliffs and seabirds - and of course, sheep.

We spotted two sheep on an isolated stack and wondered how they had got there.
completely cut off and surrounded by the sea
On the way back I was fascinated by a hut roofed with an upturned boat.
view towards Papil

Some of these photos may be the images for my Colours of Shetland: Fibre Blending class next year! Heading back across the tombolo we gathered sea spaghetti, dulse and sea lettuce and made a foraged seaweed salad, with walnuts, for lunch. We all survived. Actually it was delicious.
free lunch (except the walnuts)
By Monday evening the wind and rain had set in, for the next two days we had gales and horizontal rain. Time for some serious knitting inspired by bananas,

and aided by some seriously good chilli vodka chocolate fudge from the Shetland Fudge company.

bad weather is also conducive to baking - as there was a can of stout in the fridge, left by previous occupants of the cottage, we made a chocolate stout cake with peanut butter icing, and stout and oatmeal bread. We really should rename it Shetland Cake Week!
On Tuesday evening we braved the weather and went in to Lerwick to knit with the Islesburgh Spinners and Knitters. They were very welcoming and we had a jolly evening, but I was very glad I wasn't driving home. Wednesday saw us back in Lerwick for some errands including posting my many purchases home.
plus three more parcels sent earlier...... all wool!
Our errands also took us to Jamieson & Smith. We didn't get any further than the wool store as Oliver and Jan wanted to know all about the sheep we had seen on the stack.
Jan having a well-earned cuppa and telling stories
Oliver thought the likely explanation was that a pregnant ewe had fallen off the cliff into the sea, and had managed to scramble up onto the stack. There was plenty of grass up there for her and her lamb to survive on. Oliver knew who crofted the land and would let him know about the sheep. He also showed us a very special and beautifully photographed book, In Search of the Precious Wools of the World, in which he is featured - as are some of Jan's sheep.

Oliver in the wool store - twice
We spent the afternoon with Donna Smith and her young son, knitting, drinking tea and eating lovely home-made bannocks.
Our last full day in Shetland was spent with Hazel Tindall. The weather had changed again, sunny and mild with no wind. We went out west to Sandness and visited Jamieson's spinning mill, where we had a good look round.
weaving Shetland tweed

washed wool


carded sliver

 I bought some of their tweed - wool grown in Shetland, dyed, spun and woven in the mill. It feels like a piece of the land.  After the mill we went to Melby beach, where the water is a rich deep brown because of the run-off from the peat.

Felix recording the sound of the water

the end of the road?
Hazel fed us home made soup for lunch before we headed back to Lerwick in search of knitting belts for Felix and Jeni. I got two more sets of the long double-pointed needles to use with my vintage knitting belt, now that I have a better idea of how to use it.
A sunset walk on Bannaminn beach seemed like the perfect way to end our stay

but, as a special treat for our final night in Shetland, later on there was a display of the Mirrie Dancers (Northern lights). Thanks to the internet I knew that they were predicted, so once it was dark I went out every ten minutes or so. It was a remarkably clear night, with the Milky Way bright overhead, and out at Papil virtually no light pollution. On my third or fourth trip outside I could see a glow arching over the horizon to the north. I walked up the hill a bit and was rewarded by green fingers of light and shimmering curtains reaching up towards the Milky Way.
proof that a phone camera is not good enough to capture the Northern Lights!
Shetland never fails to make an impression, but it certainly pulled out all of the stops this year! I will be back for Shetland Wool Week 2016, if not before.