Updated: Oct 15
DISCLAIMER: I am sharing with the world wide web what I have learned, used and what are my preferences when creating with wool. I, in no way condone nor abhor the use of man-made material for textiles.
My humble beginning...
I was F.W. Woolworth yarn shopping years old when my love for wool emerged. Few specialty yarn shops did exist but were not within my reach when just a kid who was curious and anxious limiting my use of yarn to the heart logo brand, what my allowance permitted by the end of the week. To have a long string transformed into something I could display, wear or just stare at in wonder, mistakes and all, made me proud.
Fast forward 40 plus years and WOW, what wool wonders await to be transformed into an ever-lasting handmade heirloom when wool is carefully selected and cared for properly.
This series begins with the Scottish Isles and the Shetland Sheep. One of the smallest British breeds producing the finest of wools now bred world wide in small quantities.
Historically it has been considered one of the most valuable wools because of its durability and versatility. Cross breeding throughout the 19th century resulted in poor quality wool, ensuing a short, coarse fleece endangering the Shetland wool qualities sought after.
The Shetland Flock Book Society was formed in 1927 to conserve and safeguard the quality of the fleece by doing away with cross breeding with other sheep. Conserving its pedigree with meticulous documentation and record keeping during its reproduction since, Shetland Wool continues to be one of the most sought after fibres for color work and fine lace knitting.
It was not until the 1980s when flocks were allowed to be bred in the U.S. following strict conservation practices placed in 1927 to protect the characteristics of the Shetland Sheep.
There are eleven main colours produced in grades of white, greys, reds, brown and black.
An easy wool to dye in vibrant jewelled colours used in Fair Isle knitting.
"Shetland Wool, taking all its properties together, is perhaps the completest article of the kind in the universe, possessing at the same time, the gloss and softness of silk, the strength of cotton, the whiteness of linen, and the warmth of wool."
Sir John Sinclair September 22, 1790
Multi colored knitting can be dated back to early 16th century Eastern Europe and the Nordic Countries. Colorful designs, often depicting an event, a story or a memory were crafted onto a garment, blanket or tapestry. Some symbols and forms were considered holy, others may have been believed to be talismans for long dark winters. All knitted or woven with different ethnographic embellishment and colours using fiber from their geographic location.
When the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) wore a Fair Isle jumpers in public, in 1921, Fair Isle Knitting became popularly known and to this day the characteristic patterns sets it apart from todays popular "stranded colour-work" knitting. During WWII it was introduced in the United States during rations. They became popular in knitting books in the 1950´s.
The origin of Fair Isle knitting is ambiguous, suggesting the Spanish Armada introduced the intricate textile designs from the moorish influence on Spanish textiles of the 15th century. Many claim its origins are from the Vikings.
Fair Isle is knitted in two and no more than five coloured strands creating a design in natural or dyed shetland yarn. Only using two coloured strands per row to create a pattern.
Once twice as valuable as an ounce of gold.
I will let the video speak for itself.
Weaving and dying with Shetland...
Weaving with Shetland yarn is the most satisfying for me.
It is light, delicate, soft and the colour ways are rich and long lasting when dyed.
The more it is washed, the softer it becomes.
Dying the yarn is alchemy when it is plant based and no two batches of dyed wool result the same. It all comes down to the fleece, the area it was shorn and the amount of lanolin still impregnated in the hair follicle scouring the wool after it has been sheered when processing.
Woven shetland cloth is best known for its resistance to moisture. It was sought-after during the Edwardian period, tailors were commissioned to create shooting outfits for the elite and their leisurely pursuits. Because of its durability, motorists and hunters had custom -fit tailors for their outerwear and sports events. Favoured by the "outdoors" gentleman, Harris Tweed, Houndstooth and Glen Plaid were the preferred designs in the early 1900´s upper-crusts is still popular today.
Caring for handmade Shetland wool garments...
Hand wash is always best when washing any Shetland wool item.
Soaked in lukewarm water with a table spoon of sulfate-free detergent, I use home-made castile soap. Allow it soak undisturbed for 10 minutes minimum.
Swish it gently in the water and squeeze excess water.
NEVER AGITATE NOR WRING WHEN WASHING.
Agitating will cause possible felting and wringing the item will have it stretch out of shape.
Soak again when clearing out the soap, then rinse with cold water.
Once all excess water is squeeze out of the garment, it is to be laid flat on a surface to preserve its shape. If hung to dry the fibers will stretch and the garment may stretch out of shape.
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