Knitting enthusiasts from all over the world were in the isles last week to pursue their hobby and further their knowledge of Shetland yarn.
They had recently been at Knit Camp, the international gathering of fibre fanatics of which Jamieson & Smith (Shetland Wool Brokers) had this year been the main sponsor. It had been held this year at Stirling University, its first UK venue.
After their experience at Knit Camp the enthusiasts (18 women and one man), who had embarked on the Shetland “fibre tour” organised jointly by Jamieson & Smith and Orkney-based designer and teacher Elizabeth Lovick of Northern Lace, gathered at Jamieson & Smith’s Lerwick premises for workshops.
Spinning and knitting classes were taken by Unst-based Margaret Peterson from NorNova knitwear and champion knitter Hazel Tindall from Bixter.
Mrs Peterson, whose class was using raw fleece (which some combed with hair combs) and dropped spindles, said: “The class are using the finest yarn. It’s the first time many of them have used raw fleece. They’re amazed at the lanolin and length of staple.”
She said she deplored the decision to drop knitting tuition in schools. “Dozens of people come from all over the world to the isles to learn our craft. I think they should reconsider stopping knitting in schools. When you see the wonderful knitting from boys and girls in our country shows we don’t want to lose that.”
Knitwear had been the backbone of Shetland from way back, Mrs Peterson said. “People from all over the world are now taking up knitting, but we need to look after own first.”
Her pupils certainly appreciated her. Sarah Jane Humker-Mengel from the USA said: “Within half an hour Margaret had me spinning a finer thread than I’d ever spun in my life.”
Mrs Tindall’s class included Mardette Liddell from Eyemouth who said: “Knitting is a solitary pursuit so the chance to sit with other people is quite unusual.”
Danielle Labonte from Canada said it was interesting to learn “little tricks” as all nationalities have their own techniques.
Ms Lovick said: “Knitting is a very relaxing hobby – a lot of men like lace because there is so much maths involved. Any knitting can be as straightforward as you want or as cerebral as you want.”
Jamieson & Smith, which handles more than 80 per cent of the Shetland wool clip from more than 700 individuals, had sponored the yarn for Knit Camp classes.
Managing director Oliver Henry, who addressed an audience of more than 80 at the event, said it had been an “ideal opportunity” to raise the profile of real Shetland wool and knitting yarns to a multi-national audience. “With so much competition from non-Shetland wool it is necessary to reach more people.”
In particular, Mr Henry said, the “back to back” challenge in which a Shetland fleece was spun and knitted into a garment in an attempt on the world record – “the highlight of the show” – had done much to raise the profile of the yarn.
Seven women – two Germans, one Dutch, two from Yorkshire, plus Susan Johnson from Reawick and Sandra Manson from Jamieson & Smith – who had not met until the day before had been “thrown together” to become the first international team to attack the record.
They took the catmuggit Shetland fleece, donated by Stirling provost Fergus Wood, carded it, hand spun it to make yarn and then knitted it, producing the garment in six hours and nine minutes. Although they did not beat the world record, Mr Henry described their effort as “phenomenal” and said it generated a lot of interest.
He thanked the development department for their assistance with the Knit Camp project and Ms Lovick for her help.