Colour at the woolbrokers

I want to begin with thanks, today, for all your lovely messages. I will be honest and say that I am having a hard time: Tom excepted, Bruce is who I spent most time with, after my stroke. The love I felt for him was very pure and uncomplicated. How could this not be difficult? Anyway, at the moment I feel very grateful for my friends, and today’s post comes from some of my first and best woolly friends – the fine folk at Jamieson and Smith, Shetland Woolbrokers. One of the things that surprised me when I really got into knitting colourwork was how many neutral shades I always seemed to need, and, over time, I’ve really come to appreciate how neutrals work as the backbone of so many colourwork designs. All hail shade 202! You’ll find out about this important yarn shade – and much more – in what follows, which has been written for J&S by Ella Gordon, a brilliant colourwork designer in her own right, and the genius behind J&S’s daily Wirsit Inspo. Take it away, Ella.

At Jamieson & Smith we annually purchase over 80% of the Shetland Islands Wool Clip. We hand grade and sort the wool here in Lerwick, and then have it commission spun for us on the UK mainland through our parent company, Curtis Wool Direct. We have been producing yarns since the 1960’s, and over the years have made a wide range of yarns suitable for knitting of all types, but as you would expect our main focus is on the yarns that are perfect for Shetland knitting such as Lace or Fair Isle. in 1967 our first yarn was produced, and it continues to be one of our best sellers to this day, 2ply Jumper Weight in shade 202 (Light Fawn). 

shade 202

Colour is extremely important in Shetland knitting.  Shetland knitters who love Fair Isle like to use quite a few different colours and blend these shades in a sometimes surprising but overall pleasing way. From the 1960’s until the 90’s our yarns were produced for us by T.M Hunters of Brora and our yarn names and shades of that time come from them. 2ply Jumper Weight is a 4ply (fingering weight) thickness yarn made up of 2 plies of yarn, it is our most popular range and available in over 100 colours. 

J&S’s famous jumper weight wall at the woolbrokers in Lerwick.

2ply Jumper Weight It is a woollen spun yarn, perfect for Fair Isle (naturally) and due to the fibre (100% Shetland Wool from Shetland of course) can be steeked with no worry of unravelling. Shetlanders on the whole like to knit in the round as much as possible so casting on extra stitches which can be cut keeps knitting and time efficient! 

hues of jumper weight

We are often asked why we don’t use names for Jumper Weight and the reason is we have always used a numbered system for this range and actually once you learn it is easy and quick.  Additionally, there is no confusion over different peoples’ interpretation of a descriptive word – if you want emerald green… that could cover lots of different options but if you say you want 79 we know exactly what you mean! We have a wide mix of solid and marled shades, traditionally solid shades were what was used, and the marled, very mixed shades came later.

J&S shade cards, old and new

Within our numbered Jumper Weight we also have the FC colours, these are based on the Hunter days where they would annually bring out a selection of ‘Fashion Colours’ these were for trade customers and often J&S would bring them into our range and keep them. There is nothing that separates them from the other Jumper Weight, just that at one time they were a trendy shade! The FC shades are often marled and mixed colours which you can see on this card showing that years’  FC colours, we still produce 19 of these shades today.

Shetland, its colours and landscapes are our constant inspiration and every week on our social media we post our Wirsit Inspo posts, these are wool inspiration posts where we take a landscape picture and match it up to our jumper weight palette. I enjoy this process, which really shows how well these shades – which were developed 50+ years ago – still chime profoundly with our contemporary Shetland landscape.

Wirsit Inspo!

Alongside our dyed Jumper Weight we also have our Supreme Jumper Weight, a range of 100% Undyed Jumper Weight, which was developed in the late 1990s/early 2000s to try and add value to the coloured Shetland Wool we take in at J&S. White is the most popular shade to keep for wool as it can be so easily dyed, but Shetland sheep come in a huge range of beautiful natural colours and we wanted to highlight these lovely shades.

supreme jumper weight

The range comes in 9 shades, several of which are just as they come off the sheep, with the remainder being mixes from the overall-coloured clip. The yarn comes out slightly heavier than the dyed Jumper Weight but it can be knit together with jumper weight with no problem. It’s really important to the future of Shetland sheep in Shetland that we value these natural colours, in early examples of Fair Isle and Haps natural colours were what was used as accents and for interest so its an important part of our textile history.

Of course some of the designs which helped to make this yarn so popular was Kate’s Sheep Heid and Rams & Yowes blanket, these patterns both use all the shades in the range and show how well these natural colours play off each other. When they came out we couldn’t keep up with the demand and we still sell the yarn for both designs all the time.

Sheep Heid and Rams and Yowes

We also have natural shades available in other ranges, one being the Shetland Heritage range which we launched in 2010. This was inspired by the traditional textiles in the collection of the Shetland Museum and Archives. We were approached by Dr Carol Christiansen to view the collection, and to try and replicate the yarn which was used in the first Fair Isle knits.  

original Fair Isle knitting from the Shetland Museum

Using contacts through our parent company we were able to develop a worsted spun light-4ply weight range that closely resembled the yarn used.

Shetland heritage yarn, and gansey

The original yarn would have been handspun and combed rather than carded. This results in a thinner but more drapey yarn than jumper weight, with a much softer handle than you would perhaps expect from Shetland wool. We initially launched the range with 6 colours, and later added 7 more. These colours are flat, solid shades like those you’d find in early Fair Isle and they were later joined by some more natural shades – again using our precious undyed fibre.

Heritage naturals

This is a quick overview of just some of the ranges and colours that are part of our daily life at J&S, we are passionate about both the colours and natural shades that it’s possible to achieve with Shetland wool and the resulting textiles they produce. We aim to keep creating them for many years to come!

Thank you for this introduction to Jamieson and Smith’s shades and yarn ranges, Ella!

You’ll find Jamieson and Smith’s wonderful yarn range here, and Ella’s own work here.