On Shetland Islands with Curt & Nick
After a recent vacation to Germany and Scotland with my husband Curt and grown son Nick, I can honestly say I now know the meanings of certain words. ‘Blind Summit’ comes immediately to mind, followed by ‘Haggis.’ The former refers to the cresting of a hill while driving, resulting in no visible road, for at least a terrifying second or two, beyond said crest. The latter is what is done to sheep when their wool-gathering retirement party is over. Think sheep organs and meat, in the key of oatmeal, to the tune of, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.” But why talk about my experiences with Haggis with neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and mashed potatoes), Haggis potpie, Haggis paté, Haggis-topped chicken breast, toasted Haggis sandwiches, or Haggis mini-lasagne (deep-fried Haggis remaining an elusive ‘consummation devoutly to be wished’), when we can talk about knitting instead?
Actually, the highlight of the trip for me was the Shetland Islands, as inspired by a knitting magazine at Knit’n that I’d skimmed months ago. There was a big article about the Jamieson Spinning Mill in it. After seeing that, I convinced Curt to have us include it on our itinerary. We were further encouraged to go there by the owner of the B&B we were staying at on the Shetland Mainland, who happened to be a cousin of the mill’s boss. So warily we rolled along that morning, on a sheep-infested one-lane road barely ten sheep turds wide, till we reached Sandness, the teeny town that Jamieson calls home. A woman in the office asked us to please go ahead and shop in the sales room first, until the workers had come off their tea break. After they did, we three were left to roam the place by ourselves, our attempts to accidentally snag ourselves on the fast-moving machinery unnoticed by anyone.
Jamieson Spinning Mill
The knitwear is produced by machine these days, since there aren’t enough workers to hand-knit the items anymore. Imagine my shock at hearing that 80% of Jamieson’s Fair Isle-patterned clothing goes to Japan! The Japanese are apparently starved for the bright colors of Jamieson’s products. I was allowed to purchase some flawed panels of the machine-knitted fabric. Normally these pieces are saved and sold to charities which make brightly-colored Teddy Bears from them and sell these bears for fund-raisers. Nothing is wasted, I was told.
Driving back past all those mixed breeds of sheep was entertaining in its own right. They were completely condescending to approaching cars, taking their own sheepy time to get across the road, not budging at all if they wanted to be grazing instead. Curt almost got a sheepish kiss once or twice when his window was rolled down and a sheep stuck its face near. Sheep are inherently cute, though – what can I say? Did you see those two almost-adult twins nursing from their mother, their tails wagging like cranked-up metronomes? Oops, they almost tipped their mother over, and she had to jump over them to get away. Or what about those other couple of sheep so flat on the ground they looked like someone let the air out of them, even their faces were lying on the ground, eyes closed? Thankfully, they got up again. Then there’s the one who had such a case of dreadlocks, it could have been an honorary Rastafarian.
While aboard the ferry from the Shetlands back to Aberdeen, I saw the Fair Isle itself. Fair Isle is barely inhabited today, with only 70 permanent residents. Still, standing there, wearing one of the two Fair Isle tams I’d made to prepare for our trip (tams are called “toorie caps” here), it made me happy to see it, as our boat demonstrated the words “roll,” “pitch,” and “yaw” as we passed the little island.
The town of Portree offered a chance to meet a few fellow knitters at a sort of flea-market in a community hall. One of the women was selling yarn used for world-famous Harris tweed. She said there was a wax coating on the yarn, and that it knitted up into a rather stiff fabric. They also had some antler buttons and vintage knitting patterns from various companies. Both women said that knitters are a rare sight these days.
I did see small yarn and craft shops in some of the towns we went through, although ready-made knitwear shops were much more obvious. Shops advertising kilts were readily available as well.
All in all, if I had a euro for every sheep we saw on our trip, we’d have enough to buy a woolen mill AND a haggis factory. Nothing wasted, right?
Knit’n From the Heart: Looks like you had a great time, Sharon. Thanks for the travelog…and Welcome back!