Wool Week draws international crowd again

The Hjaltibonhoga fiddlers perform at the opening of Shetland Wool Week. Photo: Dave Donaldson
The Hjaltibonhoga fiddlers perform at the opening of Shetland Wool Week. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Shetland Wool Week continues to be an event with global appeal, attracting people with a passion for wool from all over the world.

The week started on Saturday with the official opening ceremony on Sunday, this year held in Clickimin to accommodate the number of visitors, around 300 – a number which is growing annually as the event goes from strength to strength.

Wool Week patron Donna Smith cuts the celebratory cake. Photo: Dave Donaldson
Wool Week patron Donna Smith cuts the celebratory cake. Photo: Dave Donaldson

This year’s patron Donna Smith gave a speech welcoming guests to the sixth wool week, which offers trips and classes from the South Mainland to Unst, and said she was “honoured and privileged” to be patron. And she was delighted that so many were wearing hats of her design to the opening ceremony.

The hat had been a “sensation” with 3,000 people downloading the pattern, according to Misa Hay of Promote Shetland, which had been involved with wool week since its second year.

One enthusiast sporting hers was Jean Stocker, an Englishwoman living in Germany, who knitted this year’s creation, a bobble hat featuring sheep, on a French campsite. “It’s really easy and fun [to make], my husband’s got one too and I’ve and passed the pattern on to other campers,” she said.

Last year’s featured hat was the brainchild of the world’s fastest knitter Hazel Tindall, who held Fair Isle classes in Jamieson & Smith’s premises in Lerwick’s North Road – her pupils started by making a patterned bookmark on four needles.

She said she had enjoyed the opening ceremony, but added: “I was vexed that some visitors who would have liked to go could not get tickets, it was a shame when some of the invited guests [did not turn up] and there were some empty tables.”

Monday was the first day of the classes, which revolve around a “hub” based this year in the informal surroundings of Islesburgh. A map on the foyer wall extensively dotted with flags showing where participants had come from.

Organiser Selena May Miller said: “It’s a really good venue, like your granny’s sitting room.” Of Monday, she added: “There was a real buzz as people were running round getting their bags [of materials] – it was like the folk festival without the drinking.”

And, she said, it was great to see how much the event had grown. From an event of 10 classes run by Jamieson & Smith it had expanded to three or four classes a day just at Islesburgh, and more throughout the isles.

Right next door to Islesburgh’s hub a dyeing classes took place on Tuesday under the enthusiastic leadership of Australian horticulturalist Julia Billings. The class had skeins of various colours soaking in a mineral mordant and then immersed into a madder solution.

All would emerge a different shade, said Julia, but the class would have to wait a few hours to see them. Meanwhile, they would go on a plant hunt for dyeing material – dahlias, buddleias, hollyhocks, apple leaves and hawthorn could all be used.

She said: “I really enjoy never knowing how it will turn out.”

Participant Barbara Hightower from Montgomery, Alabama, had come as a first-timer to wool week in search of a new hobby – or hobbies – of knitting, spinning and dyeing. She said: “Shetland’s so beautiful and everyone’s so friendly.”

By contrast fellow class member Chihiro Sato from Japan has been coming to Shetland for 20 years and teaches Fair Isle knitting at home in Japan. She said: “I love nature and the sounds of the wind and the birds, Shetland’s so peaceful it speaks to my soul.”

At Shetland College a machine-knit class to create a “shrug”, a tube-like piece of knitting destined to form two sleeves, was taking place over two days. Some pupils, like Diana Warmels from the Netherlands, were complete novices, and she said: “If I just do it many times I think it will work. If I can get some money I’ll get a machine to make things for myself.”

Other class members wanted to improve their technique on their own machines – and make garments far more quickly than by hand.


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