Shetland’s love affair with wool

This weekend should have been the start of the 11th annual Shetland Wool Week here in the island’s capital Lerwick. It has instead gone digital due to Covid. I had no idea such a week existed – until yesterday when I stepped into a peti knitting shop called Jamieson’s.

My mum has always been the knitter in the family, making clothes for me and my brother growing up and knitting herself a dazzling wardrobe of jumpers, cardigans, scarves, hats and mittens over the years.

By total contrast, I’ve never thought I really suit jumpers, and I don’t know how to knit. I just about managed two rows of a blue woollen scarf once, before mum had to step in.

Even so, as we entered Jamieson’s, closing the door on 40mph winds, I could tell we’d walked into knitwear Mecca. A colour kaleidoscope of a sweet shop consisting entirely of wool.

Scroll on for a photo story of my initiation into Shetland’s wonderful world of wool.

Spools of Jamieson’s colourful wools

Shetland, and Fair Isle especially, is famed for its wool production, its knitters and its knitwear. There are Shetland sheep all over the islands, an ancient breed that produces very fine wool. It was only a few years ago that knitting was taken off school curriculums.

Jamieson’s bag

Jamieson’s has been the leading player in the Shetland wool industry for a long time, launching as a business in 1893. Every item of clothing or spool of wool they make has been produced from yarns they’ve spun themselves from the fleeces of their flocks of these ancient sheep.

A Fair Isle patterned hooded jumper
A Fair Isle patterned vest jumper

Using a mixture of natural-coloured wools and dyed wools with names like Yell Sound Blue, Aubretia and Peat, they produce intricately patterned classic jumper styles, and also headbands, gloves and beanie hats.

My new chunky knit jumper
Me wearing my chunky knit jumper

Remember Sarah Lund in Danish drama The Killing? As I scanned rows and rows of knitwear at Jamieson’s, it seems I was destined to channel her Scandi jumper-toting style with this chunky knit number. It was a perfect fit.

Knitting in a Fair Isle jumper

Not to be left out, my mum treated herself to a hooded cardigan jumper, knitted in the Fair Isle style.

What actually is Fair Isle? The use of colour isn’t necessarily different to other styles of knitting, but the styles of patterns that are most associated with Fair Isle originated there, 67 miles from the Shetland mainland. While they share similarities with Scandinavian tradition, Fair Isle jumpers are entirely in a league of their own I think.

Royal fun fact: this painting of Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor from 1925 made Fair Isle famous.

Jamieson’s gloves
Jamieson’s Fair Isle accessories

Accessories. Hard to resist accessories when they look like this! I felt they were necessary to brighten the harsh winter ahead.

The Shetland Textile Museum

Riding high from our successful shopping spree, we made for the other main Lerwick knitwear landmark, the Shetland Textile Museum.

Looking just a bit unassuming, this building on the northern edge of Lerwick was originally an 18th Century fishing böd (or booth).

It houses some fascinating and beautiful objects, and the museum has over 600 objects in its collection.

Plaque at the Shetland Textile Museum

The böd was the birthplace in 1792 of the co-founder of P&O, Arthur Anderson.

Another royal fun fact: on her coronation in 1838, Anderson gave Queen Victoria a pair of Shetland wool lace stockings. She liked them so much that she ordered 12 more pairs, sparking a significant trend among the wealthy for such wool items and greatly increasing Shetland wool sales.

Loom from the front
Loom and rug
Loom and outfits

This loom on display was given to the museum five years ago. It was owned and used by the company TM Adie and Sons, and by members of the Jamieson family.

At its most basic, a loom holds the threads that go into making an item of clothing or soft furnishing, weaving them quicker than human hands can.

Iris rug
Knitted berets

Here are a few of the items on display I liked the most. An iris rug, some natty gloves and lots of woolly berets.

My mum knitting

After seeing all the great knitting on show, my mum was inspired to pick up her knitting project for the first time in our trip.

My chunky knit jumper laid out
Close up of neck pattern

So I’m a knitwear convert now.

I love my chunky knit jumper and my gloves. They will serve me warmly over many future winters, and the expert, loving way they’ve been made tells me that Shetland’s wool industry is only going to keep growing.

But I won’t just be taking woolly souvenirs home with me from Shetland. I’m also inspired to take up knitting when I get back.

Jamieson’s needn’t lose any sleep though!


Inspired to pick up some knitting needles too? Browse Shetland Wool Week’s programme of digital events here.

Published by Kateonhertravels

An insatiable appetite for travel.

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