Clickimin’s sports hall played host to a global gathering on Sunday night for the launch of the 10th Shetland Wool Week.
Around 500 visitors from every continent were present, having queued in the rain to get in. Most were in their finest Shetland knitwear and sporting this year’s signature hat, the Roadside beanie.
The huge number, roughly half of the 1,000 people who have flocked to the isles for the event, was testament to its ever-increasing popularity.
This year’s launch was a sell-out ticketed extravaganza, with Shetland cocktails and chocolate for the guests, stalls to browse and buy from and speeches from the main players.
Wool week is organised by Shetland Amenity Trust, and its chief executive Mat Roberts, sporting his beanie, took to the stage to give a “huge welcome” to one of the largest contingents of visitors to come to the isles.
He said that the “key activity” of the trust was to celebrate the isles’ heritage, of which knitwear was a vital part.
Heading to Shetland on a plane recently, he said he had noticed four people wearing the beanie. They were not a cult, they told him, but he said: “I think you are.”
Mr Roberts urged visitors to return next year: “Come back, bring a friend, bring two friends, stay longer.” Many of the participants were in fact return visitors, just as enthusiastic as those coming for the first time.
This very special 10th wool week has Shetland’s “man of wool” Oliver Henry of Jamieson & Smith (Shetland Wool Brokers) as patron. He had been “very apprehensive” about accepting the role because, he said: “I’m a simple wool man.”
The first wool week in 2010 had been instigated by the Prince of Wales’s Campaign for Wool, Mr Henry said, and launched to 30 folk in the museum’s boat hall. But it had been so successful over the years that Prince Charles had sent a video message to congratulate Shetland on wool week’s 10th anniversary. In it, the Prince praised the “fibre of ecological choice” for its sustainablity and biodegradable properties, as well as providing a vital income for crofters and farmers.
Patrons from previous years took to the stage to speak about their creations, and a musical interlude which gave an opportunity to mingle, share their stories and admire the design and colourways of each other’s knitwear.
Newcomers to wool week were a young family from China. Vivian We, wearing a Fair Isle slipover she had completed two days before the event, said she, her husband and two children had braved a two-day journey to get to Shetland. This was their first trip to the UK and they had come specially for wool week. She said: “It’s amazing. I’m so excited. I’m going to learn to use a spindle.”
Alison Pagonis from Maine, USA, arrived in Shetland on Friday, then bought the wool and knitted half the beanie. Wearing it like a headband with the remaining yarn tucked in, she said: “I plan to come to this week for the rest of my life. I love knitting.”
Her friend Karen Clerke, a return visitor, added: “I’m coming every year, it’s a no-brainer.”
The week, which is actually nine days, continues with classes and workshops on everything from lace knitting to spinning, dyeing and weaving, taking place in all parts of Shetland, as well as the drop-in hub at the museum’s Gadderie.