Johnston honoured to be Shetland Wool Week patron

The Shetland Wool Week guest patron for 2018 has been named as knitwear designer and hand spinner Elizabeth Johnston.

New wool week patron Elizabeth Johnston wears the Merrie Dancers Toorie which she designed.

The news was announced yesterday at the start of Scotland’s largest urban yarn and fibre event, the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, where the Shetland Wool Week team is exhibiting.

The annual wool week hat pattern, which is now synonymous with the launch of the patron, was also released. This year’s official hat is called “The Merrie Dancers Toorie” and was designed by Ms Johnston. The hat is based on a fisherman’s kep in the Shetland Museum Boat Hall and features three small patterns but is not a Fair Isle design.

Ms Johnston has lived in Shetland all her life, and like many others who grew up in the islands, has knitted from childhood. She bought her first spinning wheel in 1978, which changed her focus from knitting to spinning, and also teaching these skills.

She eventually started her own business, Shetland Handspun, which has taken her to many places around the world and she is in high demand as a speaker and an instructor.

She said: “I am honoured to be this year’s patron. I have been actively involved in Shetland Wool Week for some time, running classes for the last five years with Niela Kalra at Hoswick. I love the buzz of the event, so being this year’s patron will only add to my overall enjoyment.

“I have loved designing the Merrie Dancers Toorie as well. The kep has a dark background with colours that remind me of the northern lights, or ‘merrie dancers’, and a familiar sight to fishermen.

“You can blend or contrast any colours and I have suggested a variety that use yarns from Jamieson & Smith; Jamieson’s of Shetland; Uradale Yarns and Shetland Handspun. I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone comes up with.”

Wool week co-ordinator Victoria Tait said: “We are delighted to announce Elizabeth as our new patron. She was a natural choice for the committee and we are honoured to have someone with such a deep textile knowledge.

“She is an inspiration: running her own small business, transforming Shetland fleeces into beautiful yarn which she then naturally dyes and eventually works into delicate hand knitted items. We are looking forward to working closely with her over the next 12 months.”

Shetland Museum textiles curator Carol Christiansen added: “Elizabeth has a life-time of knowledge about Shetland wool, learned from those who came before and honed through practice.

“Centuries of Shetland textile craft come together in her work: sheep-rearing, wool processing, dyeing, spinning, knitting, weaving. Perhaps more importantly, she is passing on her skills and knowledge to others through practice-based teaching, just as Shetlanders have always done.”

The Merrie Dancer Toorie pattern is available from the Edinburgh Yarn Festival or as a free download from the Shetland Wool Week website. It will also be available from the Shetland Museum shop and all textile outlets in Shetland from next week.

This year’s wool week will take place from 22nd to 30th September. Membership for the programme will be available from the end of March with tickets on sale at the end of May.


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