It was this time of year when I first visited Shetland. How well I recall that crazy drive across Unst in a blizzard! The weird half-light at midday! My first feeling of the profound difference of the place, but my immediate sensation that it was somewhere I could easily feel at home. . . Anyway whatever it is, for the past few days, I’ve been strangely feeling the pull of Shetland on me. Perhaps it is because I’m wearing a lot of Shetland wool: I’ve scored quite a few vintage sweaters recently, and these are now in regular circulation in my winter wardrobe.

(My new favourite gansey – an eBay find)

(Bright red Shetland yoke found in a Milngavie charity shop)

Perhaps it is because I’ve been listening to Shetland voices. A recent episode of Radio Scotland’s “Our Story” featured many of my Shetland friends and acquaintances talking about knitting. Please go and listen to the programme if you haven’t already. This really is a great programme (in a great series) which, because it is largely shaped by the words of ‘real people’, rather than the agenda of ill-informed researchers, is SO much better than the ‘novelty’ accounts of knitting of which the mainstream UK media is often sadly so full. You’ll hear Oliver Henry enthusing about the unique qualities of Shetland’s “kindly wool”, Carol Christiansen unpacking the origins of island knitting in the Shetland Museum, Hazel Tindall on the cost of knitting, and knitting as ‘wearable art’, Jan Robertson’s truly lyrical account of the colours of Shetland sheep, and Ella Gordon talking in a most inspiring fashion about design and her sense of place. (The programme is just under half an hour long, and is available on the BBC iplayer for the next 29 days)

(image from Misa Hay on instagram)

Perhaps its because I’ve been reading 60 North . This issue of the magazine (which is newly available in print) could really be described as a bumper Shetland knitting edition.


There’s a lovely piece by Donna Smith, this year’s patron of Shetland wool week, about the importance of knitting to her own sense of heritage and identity. Donna is one of those people who just seems to have an easy and effortless sense of style, and this image of her knitting a beautiful fair isle glove while wearing a sleek bright blue leather makkin belt and an Orla Kiely print really sums her up for me.

“Shetland hosiery taken in exchange for shop commodities”

Glasgow University’s Ros Chapman shares her research in a brilliant and very telling piece about knitting and Shetland’s truck system – which made me think differently about the various ‘repository’ shops that sprang up around Scotland and England in the late nineteenth century, some of which still exist today.


. . . There’s a feature by Alistair Hamilton about Edmund Hillary’s world famous Everest sweater (a Shetland icon) as well a fabulous account of last year’s Wool Week by Diana Lukas-Nulle and a profile of Selina May-Miller, Shetland Wool Week’s new co-ordinator.


Finally, I wonder if my current yen for Shetland has anything to do with what arrived in the post this morning? These are seed potatoes – Shetland black tatties, to be exact. Last time I saw Misa we spent a good hour enthusing about gardening, and particularly about the joys and challenges of growing vegetables in our respective parts of the world. I am intrigued to see how Misa’s Shetland black tatties fare down here with me in the west of Scotland, and how lovely it was, on a cold January day to open this parcel, see its sprouting contents, and to feel excited about growing things again. Thanks so much, Misa!

So, in short, I find myself with a curious yearning to be in Shetland . . .which sadly cannot be fulfilled right now. I’ll just have to make do with the live broadcast from Up Helly Aa next week . . .

32 thoughts on “Thinking of Shetland

  1. Have also been longing to visit Shetland for the past few weeks. Usually visit from Oban up the West Coast past Skye but the urge to ‘Shetland go’ is strong and it’s not just because of the heat right now here on the southern tip of Africa….
    Thanks for everything Kate, you’re an inspiration


  2. I’m hooked! Or rather, as mostly a knitter, I guess I’m on pins & needles. Just ordered a year’s subscription to 60 North. Thanks Kate, for the inspirations. We are hoping to get to Scotland this summer.


  3. So timely for me to read this. I’ve never been to Shetland but this week saw me booking flights for wool week in Sept/Oct and the arrival of the 60 North magazine which I’ve been reading this morning (and would recommend to all). I’m so excited about going and your post made me even more so. Thank you!


  4. Hi Kate, your posts over 2014 have inspired me to book a textile tour this summer in Shetland so am feeling the pull too. I had never heard of Bohus until you did that post so I am now the proud owner of a Bohus Forest Darkness yoke kit from Pernille at angoragarnet as well as your Yokes book so I have some big projects to get started on and learn the art of yoking and steeking this year. I have learnt so much about history of knitting across different cultures and groups from your posts and followed up with my internet meanders. It is so interesting, I am totally hooked. Thank you.


  5. Thanks so much for your lovely comments Kate! I grew Shetland blacks one year, they were lovely and “mealy” (floury), but I lost momentum with growing so lost the seeds. Tatties have never done well in our vegetable plot for some unknown reason so I have to find somewhere else to grow them. Hope you get good results!


  6. I loved reading your post today. I am a long long way away over the seas in Western Australia and its hot right now and not good weather for speed knitting. However, after listening to the Radio Scotland show just now I thought I would see how many stitches I can knit in a minute – stocking stitch in the round – I managed 50…. not quite up to Hazel Tindall but not too bad!

    I hope you enjoy your yummy tattoos too…


  7. Thanks for the recommendations Kate. The 60 North issue sounds very interesting and inspiring. I’ll try to listen to the radio piece one of these days, while knitting on my new Shetland yoke. I hope the Shetland black tatties will do well in the garden, come spring!


  8. Dear Kate,
    thanks so much for sharing this nice post on Shetland knitting and the special ‘wooly’ edition of 60 North! I´m excitedly awaiting that copy in the post right now and just wanted to say hello to you, having come across your post today. I´m the one who wrote the account on SWW 2014, and am very curious on how it might have turned out in print ;–)
    It´s a pity we couldn’t get to meet you during Wool Week last year, but I´ve been eagerly following your blog and love those new ideas on yokes – wonderful book!
    If you feel like putting a link onto “Diana Lukas-Nuelle”, you´re very welcome to put my (admittedly not at all so very perfectly and up-to-date-kept as yours, so far…) blog there,
    Now i must listen to the great BBC radio piece, thanks a lot for the link – will make a good background for some more knitting ;–)
    Have a nice and wooly weekend, best wishes!

    P.S. I must confess I´m a very big fan of Bruces chronicles, too … looking forward to next one ;–)


  9. I really enjoyed listening to the programme Kate, thanks so much for the link. I doubt I’ll ever travel to Shetland but with the help of your links and the wonders of the Internet, my experience of knitting is still enriched. I’ve been knitting for 60 years and it brings me increasing joy as I feel connections with enthusiasts around the globe. It’s truly exciting and inspirational.


  10. How wonderful to hear the voices of the people I’ve come to “know” through following all things Shetland through your blog, Kate, and Ella’s and 60 North. Wish I were not 3,000 miles away! Maybe someday I’ll get there. Meanwhile I knit & dream.


  11. Thank you for blogging about this – and the link to Scotland Radio! I had to listen to some parts twice (those speakers might find my accent a bit daunting, too); the accents and the topic made the programme all the more fascinating.


  12. Heard that Programme and was elated! Live broadcast of Up Helly Aa ??? REALLY?? must be on Radio Shetland and will definitely check in…with a wee dram :) And need to look at the new North 40, thanks for alerting us. Black tatties eh? Will have to check those out!


  13. Thanks for the link to the BBC programme about the Shetlands. I am Canadian and find the accents most delightful. Now I wish I could hear you speak, Kate!


  14. Thanks for the link to the radio program. I’m in the US & truly enjoying the accents on the show. They’re delightful to this Yank ear!


  15. Just imagine Everest was climbed in Shetland wool! it wouldn’t happen nowadays, but actually, I live amongst a hardcore climbing community, and there are some whispers of it making a return to the scene, fingers crossed …


  16. I had no idea there was an Everest Sweater worn by Sir Edmund Hillary. I am a friend with the leading guy who tried to recover Hillary’s body on Everest. He has summited several times, but his mission for a long time was to recover his body. I met with Andy a few months ago to talk about travel but has been a fan of some items I knitted. We talked about craft, design and what those explores wore. He wanted to make a pair of mittens that Shakleton wore in Antarctica. I did a little research and found some boiled wool mittens and a general pattern. But that sweater! Would he love to have someone make it for him! I will look on Ravelry. It would be such a meaningful knit for someone like Andy.


    1. I must correct my comment. My friend Andy was a leader in recovering George Mallory’s body. There has been an ongoing debate on who summited Everest first.


    2. Stacy, it sounds like you believe that Sir Edmund Hillary’s body is on the mountain. It isn’t. Sir Edmund is buried in his native New Zealand. He was the first person to conquer Everest in 1953. He lived a long life of service to the Nepalese people and died in 2008. :-)


  17. Thank you Kate for sharing a dear friend who is now passed, said to me once; ‘when I heard her speak for the first time (his Scottish bride of 68yrs) I thought I was listening to the voice of an angel’…well today, I’ve gotten to listen to angelic voices, speaking about the one thing I live and breathe…knitting! What a wonderful radio program. Such a treat to hear Hazel Tindal, Oliver Henry and Ella Gordon speaking along with all the others.

    Now I have a link that works (BBC links don’t always work in Canada) I will check back often. :)


  18. Kate, you have me so obsessed with Shetland wool and stranded color knitting that I dream of all the designs I want to do. Today I really want to visit three yarn shops here and buy 20 different colors of Jamisonan Smith yarn to start knitting color combination samples. I have dozens of sweaters, socks, hats and mittens that need to get knitted once I decide on the colors I want to use.

    I will finally finish my lovely red and white socks today from your First Footing Pattern. I have learned so much doing that pattern and taking some classes in stranded knitting. I thought I knew what I was doing until I took a class. My whole knitting world has been put on a tilt while I learned to do this style of knitting correctly. The first sock is close to the second but my knitting has improved so very much that I can feel the difference between the two socks.

    Thank you for your inspiration, great books and challenging patterns. After knitting for almost sixty years, it sure is fun and humbling to learn something new.


  19. My husband and I are on our way to Shetland this weekend for Up Helly Aa and I for the wool. Can’t wait to get there, it is our first time in Shetland. Thank you for sharing your memories and longings.


  20. I want to go with you! Thank you for sharing the broadcast and the magazine; I am so inspired as I wait for bad weather to move in tonight here near Gettysburg Pa. Getting ready to start the mittens, which should be a cozy evening by the fire with my own version of the fabulous Bruce (two Labradoodles, Gus and Finn.)

    Thanks, Kate!


  21. Two visits to Shetland for Wool Week, and the place feels like my spiritual home. I know in my heart of hearts I am unlikely to leave Edinburgh but that doesn’t stop me following the links tweeted by @ZEProperty often, just to see what delights I could swap my tiny city-centre flat for. I shall be listening to the programme for those weel-kent-voices this weekend, and suspect it will tug at my woolly heart-strings. Thanks for the link!


  22. Really enjoying reading your very interesting articles. There is something about our wonderful local knitting designs and the history attached to them. Thank you!


  23. If you can’t get to Shetland, you have the next best thing – get Shetland to come to you. (My crop of Shetland Blacks are still in the celllar. Small but perfectly formed.)


comment here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.