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 August woolalong: Shetland!

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Clara Posted - 08/03/2010 : 02:50:15 AM
Hard to believe it's August already, but indeed it is - and the August Woolalong breed has been chosen! I've spent the last week in England teaching at Knit Nation, so it only made sense to choose a British breed. Not just any British breed, but a spunky and varied one that comes equally in fleece, roving, and yarn form.

The breed I’ve chosen for this month is one of my personal favorites. It comes from small, clever little sheep that thrive in remote windswept areas where not much else will. They can take care of themselves, thank you very much. And in the spring, they like to itch themselves on fenceposts and leave behind large tufts of their fiber. In the early days, the women would simply sling the sheep over their leg and pluck the loose fibers - or “roo” as it was called - and toss them in a basket for sorting, prepping, spinning, and knitting later.

Over time, the commercial textiles market demanded bright white fibers from these otherwise quite colorful sheep. And so the farmers began selectively sending more of their colored flock to the Great Beyond while encouraging those animals with bright white fleece to go forth and frolic in the field with their beautiful girlfriend. And thus we lost many colors, though thankfully not all.

This is a breed from which we used to spin yarn for everything, from our ship’s sails all the way down to our underwear. From one fleece.

And most recently, this breed has been the subject of some Mad Scientist Shepherding in England, where people are trying to breed this rugged little individual with the giant Merino - and yet still call the Frankenstein results by the original sheep’s name. Those who live on the islands that also bear this sheep’s name are in quite an uproar. It’s a tempest in a teapot, a kerfuffle, and we do not yet know how it will pan out.

But we do know that this sheep produces a marvelous and intriguing fiber that can be used for everything from sweaters and colorwork bags to ethereal wedding ring shawls. Because it just so happens to be….. SHETLAND. (Ta-daa!)

Your quest this month will be particularly interesting because Shetland yarns (and fleeces) can vary dramatically from one to the next. It depends not only on the age of the animal but on the quality of the skirting and processing. How many of the longer hairs were removed? None? A few? Also, it depends on where the animal lived, because these guys can get mighty dirty. We’ll need you to tell us all about the qualities in the particular yarn or fiber that you discover.

Where do I get mine? A few places. Here in the UK (oh how I love saying those words), I have obtained some of the most magical Shetland yarn imaginable from Garthenor Organic Pure Wool. The lace-weight singles is out of this world, and the fingering two-ply, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be unhappy sleeping under a handknitted sheet of it. The color selection is not vast but it is effective, each with its own nuance. Except the white, which is particularly ethereal.

Of course you could directly go to the mountain and get some Jamieson and Smith. A bajillion colors, right from the source.

And in the U.S., look no further than Elemental Affects. Seriously. Spun from the largest Shetland flock in the U.S., which is actually quite a small flock that we’re extraordinarily lucky to have.

Also, don’t be afraid to check Etsy. I’m waiting on an order of Shetland from Shadyside Farm Studio so I can’t say how it is, but that’s another source.

And then there’s handspinning fiber, boy oh boy. I’m guessing Jen at Spirit Trail has some tasty Shetland roving on hand right now. Do an Etsy search and let me know which others you find. From a spinning perspective, it wants to be spun fairly woolen so that it can bloom into place when you finally block your piece.

Crown Mountain Farms has some Shetland top in natural colors. I did a quick search at Local Harvest and found some intriguing possibilities.

What to knit? It’s a mighty big world out there. I’d love to see colorwork, like Diane Brown’s Reflecting Pools Bag, or a really open and splendid triangle shawl. I’d love to see if anyone tries to overdye the natural shades and do some more nuanced colorwork. Or maybe a real old-fashioned sweater using heavier yarn? The world is your oyster.

What say you? Shall we begin?

Your friendly Knitter's Review publisher
14   L A T E S T    R E P L I E S    (Newest First)
kjelenfy Posted - 11/11/2010 : 08:11:33 AM
New to this forum! I bought some beautiful Shetland wool at the Common Ground Fair in Unity, Maine in September & recently spun some it up. A complex golden brown; lovely! It's in my shop (village Books, Washington, Maine) and if no one buys it by Christmas, it's all mine! Hee! Hee! Shetland Source: Fibah For Ewe, Sabbattus, Maine. And it came in a nifty burlap bag - so much nicer than plastic!
knitree Posted - 08/15/2010 : 8:36:47 PM
I have some Shetland in my stash... and a nephew who lives in northern AZ and just turned 21. Shetland fingerless gloves might be a good gift for him. How is the Elemental Effects once blocked? Softer?

Taking simple patterns and complicating them...
Phyliss Posted - 08/08/2010 : 11:08:17 AM
Oops! I misspelled the link
Phyliss Posted - 08/08/2010 : 11:05:33 AM
I am a newbie and what a great time to start! I love knitting w/ Shetland and have been lucky enough to go there twice.

I am using "Shetland Supreme" it's original name was "Shetland 2000". It was the brainchild of Yarns International and Oliver at J & S. It is devine. All undyed, there are about nine shades. It is delicious to knit with and has a beautiful hand.

I'm going to do the "Birds Eye Shawl" in the new Shetland Supreme Gossamar weight. It's on their website under the Hermaness collection. I bought it at this year's MSWF, a friend w/ me, lost a bet and got to wind the thousand yard plus yards for me!

You can get that and the other weights they carry, jumper and lace weight through their website: . They also have some exclusive designs of Ron Schweitzer and other designers.

If you haven't used this yarn it is a must. As the italian woman said in the old Alka Seltzer commercial, "Try it, you'll like it". Posted - 08/06/2010 : 07:44:32 AM
Count me in, too! My LYS, Sheep Street Fibers, has their own flock of registered Shetland. At our spin-in last night, I began spinning some of Tortellini's fleece (she's a sweet ewe with cream, brown and black markings) for fingerless mitts. In my already-spun stash is some cream fingering weight that I've planned for a triangular shawl in a leaf pattern. After knitting it, I want to handpaint the leaves in shades of autumn colors - or maybe spring green colors.
Marg in Mirror Posted - 08/05/2010 : 09:19:23 AM
Originally posted by BeanerMom

I'm in! I got my Shetland from a local farm, a couple of skeins in the moorit color. I keep rubbing my little swatch against my neck...very heavenly.
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I too, got mine from a local farm -- in fact, I watched it being shorn right off the sheep! It's a lovely white, and this spring I was able to borrow a picker and electric drum carder to do up 7 small batts -- so I'm ready to spin!

I've also been spinning from a large grey-brown batt -- unlabelled -- that, based on experience, feeling it, pulling out fibres etc., my spinning friends suggested to me was 'likely' Shetland. I'm inclined to agree, based on how it's spinning up.

Then again, I also have a wee bit o' Jamieson's Spindrift, which I get here in Canada from which might just go beautifully into some Fair Isle mittens or a tam...

TLWKOTB Posted - 08/05/2010 : 08:00:33 AM
My introduction to Shetland wool is by way of Black Water Abbey Yarns when I ordered yarn for Sommelier pattern by Mary Scott Huff. This yarn is from Ireland. I haven't made the sweater yet but the yarn is very pretty if a little coarse to the touch. This topic is very interesting. Posted - 08/05/2010 : 03:06:21 AM
Wonderful choice. I'm working on 6 purebred Shetland fleeces I brought back from my sister's small flock in Missouri. I was there at lambing time, and every ewe produced twins! Shetlands are small, intelligent, and friendly--tickle them in the right spot and they wag their tails.

The fleeces do vary. Some Shetlands are double-coated, with hairlike fibers over a fine undercoat. It's this shorter undercoat that was shed or rooed for lace weight yarn. Most fleeces are silky throughout, with a good crimp, and wonderful to spin. The colors, which range from white to black with several shades of brown and grey, are amazing and complex--a real treat after using merino dyed in single flat colors.
Clara Posted - 08/04/2010 : 8:12:33 PM
Most excellent! I'm thrilled that the troops are rallied and ready to go.

I think I'm keeping all the wonky question-mark formatting thingies in that post, too, as a souvenir of my time in London. (I think that's why they're there. Is that possible?)

Your friendly Knitter's Review publisher
minh Posted - 08/04/2010 : 09:32:20 AM
Woohoo, I am pretty sure I can find some shetland spinning fiber in my stash, maybe even some shetland in yarn form. Let me stash-dive tonight and I'll report back.
eldergirl Posted - 08/03/2010 : 7:12:43 PM
Oh, hurray hurray! My favorite in all the world wool!

I want to do a color work bag, felted. Any pattern ideas?

I have *pounds* of shetland in stash!

NutmegOwl Posted - 08/03/2010 : 07:47:41 AM
Luann gifted me with sample cards from Garthenor and I spent a whole afternoon with my owlie heart going thumpety-thump at the possibilities. OTOH, an Allegan Cardigan from some perfectly lovely Jamieson's Soft Shetland in stash would also fit the bill. Possibilities!

Nutmeg Owl
Quaecumque sunt vera
AngieSue Posted - 08/03/2010 : 04:16:36 AM
I'm in! I got my Shetland from a local farm, a couple of skeins in the moorit color. I keep rubbing my little swatch against my neck...very heavenly.

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Jane Posted - 08/03/2010 : 02:56:20 AM
Oooohh, I've been waiting for Shetland! Garthenor, here I come!


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