an afternoon with Hazel Tindall

I think that the most enjoyable few hours knitting I’ve ever had was the afternoon I spent last Wednesday with Hazel Tindall at the Braewick Cafe. Since 2008, Hazel has held the title of the world’s fastest knitter, working an unbelievable 262 stitches in 3 minutes. She is also an incredibly talented designer – Jamieson & Smith carry many of her patterns, and you’ll find her Peat Hill Waistcoat in their new Knit Real Shetland book. And last but definitely not least, Hazel is a patient and generous teacher, sharing her skills, ideas, and expertise with groups who want to learn more about traditional Fairisle knitting. I had been looking forward to taking a workshop with Hazel, as I was sure it was going to be a treat. And it really was.

Hazel began by telling us about the qualities of Shetland wool, and spoke of her particular affection for the natural sheep shades with their unique warmth and durability. She showed us swatches she had knitted of the same lozenge pattern in different natural colours, revealing the wide variety of aesthetic effects that can be created with this subtle palette of greys, browns and fawns.

The knitterly potential of the natural palette was perfectly illustrated by this fabulous hoodie which Hazel had designed.

Here’s a close-up.

Then it was time for us to experiment with the natural sheep shades. A hush descended . . .

The tea kept flowing, and we kept working under Hazel’s guidance.

This is what we could see outside the windows.

. . . all too easy to get distracted.

Later, Hazel treated us to a demonstration of her working methods. I particularly liked her emphasis on keeping the knitting under control – excess fabric is tied down and tethered, loose strands are kept far away from each other, the project knows who is the boss — no tangles are going to occur here!

Like other Shetland knitters I’ve met, and perhaps contrary to popular conception, Hazel finishes garments with knotting.

Mary Jane mentioned some beautiful knots the other day; and I’ve seen many garments in museum collections that are finished in a like manner. Personally, I never say not to a knot . . .

Would you like a peek of Hazel knitting?

Early in the clip, Hazel is slowly demonstrating how she makes stitches and shifts the work around the wires, and you can see that by the end she is beginning to build up a mind-boggling speed . . .

After the demonstration, Hazel reached behind her into a basket and brought out several of her amazing finished creations. Hold your breath, folks!

There are so many impressive things here, but I particularly like the way that some of Hazel’s designs establish a strong sense of vertical continuity through combinations of pattern and colour. I also felt, when looking at Hazel’s work, that you could really feel the pleasure she’d taken in the knitting. These are garments that really speak of their maker’s distinctive creative curiosity.

Later, over a slice of home-baked cake (nom) and another cup of tea (joy), Hazel treated us to a reading of Stella Sutherland’s beautiful poem about Fairisle knitting — “The Allover”.

Please turn up your audio, and ignore the white noise and clinking tea-cups in the background — it is worth hearing.

The first stanza in the clip reads:

Your mind haes a joy o creation
laek writin a rhyme — hit’s nae lee —
whin your fingers an wires in relation
maks da colours an patterns agree.

All I can say is that these lines absolutely perfectly express what I feel about Fairisle knitting.

Outside, the clouds moved across Eshaness’s golden hills and grand open sky.

Nowhere in the world to match this.

Thankyou, Hazel.