Wovember Words: Wool from stuffing to stitches

At WOVEMBER we love to hear exactly why people love to work with wool.  Louise interviewed Linda Regel – owner of Made By Ewe – last year for KnitBritish: her knitting kits are illustrative of her love for British wool and here she explains her inspiration for her Knit Your Own Sheep kits.

Knit Your Own Gotland Sheep kit

“It is absolutely essential to me that all of the yarn in the kits is British. There is so much lovely yarn in this country, as you know, so why would you want to use anything else? I like to know that the yarn I buy is supporting British farmers. I also try to use as many other British things as possible – the stuffing is fleece from British sheep and the new tube packaging is made in Britain. The knitting needles are purchased from a British maker too.

The kits contain yarn from different breeds – mainly Shetland, Blue faced Leicester, Gotland, Herdwick, Wensleydale at the moment. The Gotland wool is local to me, from a farm in Hampshire. I only have a small amount and it is very hard not to use it all up myself!

The Love Ewe kit. Available for £10.50

The Campaign for Wool was set up by Prince Charles to raise the profile of wool as a natural, sustainable fibre. I wanted to be part of the Campaign as one of the main aims of Made By Ewe is to promote wool. I am an approved partner, which means that the CFW have reviewed the business and agreed that I can use their logo and feature on their list of partner websites. I feel very proud to feature their little green sheep on my packaging.

all the contents in the kits is 100% British

Inspiration from the kits comes from my subconscious. I think it must be a mixture of that childhood spent making things and cute things that appeal to me now. I also have a large collection of craft books dating from the 1940’s all through the 1970’s and 80’s to present day. I expect that leafing through the books from time to time sows seeds in my imagination that quietly grow into ideas.

The most popular kits are the Knit Your Own Sheep kits and I know that I spent a lot of time on holiday in Wales as a child picking sheep’s wool off barbed wire fences – such treasure and all for free too! I used to spin it on a drop spindle my Dad made me, dye it with plants from the garden and then knit it into suitable outlandish garments.
No doubt that influenced a general liking for sheep and the idea that their fleeces come off. Some of my customers have knit the entire range of sheep kits and they like them because the fleeces use different knitting stitches – cables, lace work, etc – and they are small enough to practice the techniques without committing to a big project.

Passion for British wool from stuffing to stitches  – and isn’t it infectious? Since this interview last year Linda has opened a bricks and mortar shop in Broadwindsor Craft Centre, Dorset. She champions British wool and the yarn in her shop ranges from commercial spun pure UK wool, yarn from British dyers and wool yarn from small producers, as well as rare breed yarns, such as Dorset horn. Linda has lots of other kits, in addition to the sheep, including Christmas decorations, accessories, cozies and more.
Thanks to Linda for the kind permission to reprint her woolly words on WOVEMBER. Quotes and pictures copyright of Linda Regel/Made by Ewe. 

Designing a Yarn, Part 4

Sue Blacker joins WOVEMBER again for the conclusion of her 4-part series on designing yarns from a wool mill’s perspective; if you didn’t catch parts 1, 2 and 3, you can find them here, here, and here. There are some interesting points in this article about blending wool with other fibres such as silk and alpaca to produce sellable and repeatable results, and also to improve the quality and hand of fleece that might otherwise not produce a commercially viable product…

Blacker Yarns: what fits?

This set of questions applies equally to anyone thinking of making yarns, whether by hand-spinning or in a mill, and here we share our experience…

Is it to complement or extend an existing range of yarns? Possibly adding new colours or yarn specifications? Will this work in practice?

After starting with just the individual breed yarns, we began to try out ranges and blends.

Our first ranges were a 50/50 Shetland/Alpaca and our various organic yarns, based on Falkland Islands Corriedale with coloured wool or alpaca. All of these were designed carefully to be soft and attractive yarns and they did indeed sell quite well. However the Shetland/Alpaca seemed neither to satisfy the Shetland purists nor the alpaca purists! Perhaps it was the name!

Also it’s still quite difficult, unless a farm-sourced name is added, to get the deserved premium on organic yarns.

Blacker_organic

Similarly, alpaca opens an enormously wide variety of options. As our Natural Fibre Company organic and alpaca bespoke customers are producing great yarns, it seems to us unnecessary to duplicate. So a selection of organic and alpaca yarns, as well as some additional rare breeds and blends, is now available via our Natural Yarn Company marketing department within the Blacker Yarns website. This variety of carefully selected yarns from named farms and flocks helps broaden and deepen the availability of British breeds yarns.

It is always a question of making choices… not easy when you run a wool mill!

But we do have to be realistic: even when we have selected an appropriate yarn style and specification, carrying small stocks of too wide a variety of yarns can start to confuse us, and so we know it will confuse our customers and stockists too! Creating or extending a range for the sake of it simply doesn’t make good business sense, so behind all the decisions on fibre, yarn specification, blends, colours, etc., have to come the realities of money and stock levels, as well as the marketing opportunities afforded by each choice we make.

Meanwhile, the lessons we learned with our earlier ranges led us to introduce both Blacker Classic and our new Blacker Elegance range, using naturally coloured alpaca to add a smoother finish and reduce bulk in the soft and fine Falkland Island wool. The Elegance range also fits neatly between our Blacker Classic and Blacker Swan ranges in terms of price and degree of luxury.

Going back down the time-line, our first non breed-specific yarn range was Blacker Classic, designed to make pure wool yarns more accessible while not compromising on quality. We achieved this initially by adding 30% Blue-faced Leicester to Lleyn, but have since refined the Lleyn to a blend including Portland and other suitable wools. The second edition is even better than the first… and we are very pleased with it.

Blacker_classic

As a woollen spun yarn, it improves with handling, age, washing and wearing and is a suitable alternative to most of our more expensive individual breeds woollen spun yarns. Because it is based on white, fawn and grey blends, it is not available in the darker browns and blacks, but these can be compatibly selected from our Manx Loaghtan, Black Welsh Mountain or Hebridean ranges, and indeed we add Manx and Black Welsh Mountain to make the grey and fawn Classic shades. Blacker Classic is available in 4-ply, DK, Aran and Chunky with natural and dyed colours in all but Chunky, which has the natural colours only, so it is pretty universal and we are gradually adding colours: new this year by popular request are pale blue, red and plum.

However, Classic will not be available in lace-weight, both because our equipment permits this only as a worsted spun version at present and because the blend is not well suited to lace. The St. Kilda lace-weight is probably the nearest in character to Classic, while the Blue-faced Leicester and our planned finer Shetland weights will provide a good range of styles overall.

Is it a new blend or for a new seasonal purpose or a new set of pattern designs? For instance are we blending wool with alpaca or mohair? Are we adding silk or flax? Do we want higher stitch definition for some design or craft technique?

We have specialised, since our earliest days, in blending wool, originally with mohair, but also, as noted for Blacker Elegance, with alpaca.

The first blend was of 50/50 Jacob with mohair, originated in Wales by Myra Mortlock, and we have extended this to blends of mohair with Manx Loaghtan and Hebridean (also previously Zwartbles too).

The main purpose of the mohair blend is to add softness to a coarser wool, but it also of course adds lustre and whiteness, so this has enabled us to make some lovely subtle dyed shades over the dark grey Hebridean blend, the soft warm Manx blend and the mid grey Jacob blend.

Because we now have dyed Teeswater, we do not need to continue with the colour sorted white Jacob/mohair and, for the same reason, because we have Hebridean/mohair, we equally don’t need the colour sorted dark Jacob/mohair (and it saves time and cost on colour sorting all the Jacob too!). However, we are looking at introducing some additional natural worsted spun pure Jacob colours in a silver and mid grey, to provide two more shades to our existing three.

Adding alpaca has a slightly different purpose than mohair. While the smooth, fine fibre will soften a yarn, and also, like mohair, add to the drape and weight of a final fabric, the additional interest is from the many natural colours available in alpaca fibre. For our alpaca blends, now focussed on the Elegance range, we intend to add some further natural blended shades but will keep the whole range in natural colours – after all, we have plenty of dyed shades in Classic, Blue-faced Leicester, Teeswater and our mohair blends as well as in Blacker Swan! Elegance is woollen spun, helping to reduce any risk of shedding from the alpaca while still benefiting from the smoother finish achieved by adding alpaca to the blend.

Silk is another interesting fibre for blending and we used to use tussah silk to help hold together our Castlemilk Moorit yarns, but we have now found fleeces of a quality which will work alone so can make a pure yarn from this particularly rare breed, which we believe is preferable. The right proportion of silk, or indeed any blended fibre, is crucial and silk in particular can easily overwhelm the wool, alpaca or silk, so we tend to keep it below 25% (silk is also expensive!).

Generally, we find that less than 30% of an added fibre will add a desired benefit while 50% will make a completely different blend, but 10% can be sufficient in some cases – it all depends on the starting point!

We have also experimented with blends using flax, and have been very pleased with the results – making a crisper and lighter yarn with a naturally brown tinge, which also over-dyes very well. So watch out for more like this for summer yarns in 2015…

However, while we do add nylon and bamboo for bespoke yarns for particular purposes, we do not currently have plans for more Blacker Yarns using these fibres, both because we are trying to be sensible with containing our range and also because we feel that the energy consumption and environmental impact of these fibres is not entirely in keeping with our approach.

If it is a new yarn, how will it fit within our yarn ranges?

Our most successful new yarn so far has been Blacker Swan, which is a very special luxury yarn, from a single farm and the result of a joint venture with Andrez and Alison Short in the Falkland Islands.

When Andrez approached us, we were already seeking a high end, fine soft yarn and the trial batch more than fulfilled our expectations. The sheep husbandry in the Falkland Islands is of high standards and with Andrez’ small specialised ram breeding flock, even higher standards prevail. This is very important to us and fully in keeping with the Blacker Yarns and Natural Fibre Company ethos. And of course, the yarn is wonderful.

We have, however, broken the rules a little, as Falklands producers, users and merchants would be horrified at the idea of adding coloured fibre to this white wool. Yet, if you make a pure white yarn and dye it, it lacks the variation and natural shading which makes for a special knitting yarn and also tends to have a slightly “artificial fibre” appearance when dyed. So we, very carefully, blend in small amounts of very fine fibre from carefully selected black Blue-faced Leicester or moorit Shetland fleeces, to make the Pale Maiden ivory base for most of the over-dyed Blacker Swan shades, and also the Sand and Stone shades. This rule-breaking is still within both our ethos and our overall approach to getting great natural-feeling and unique yarns, and these are the criteria which work for us.

dyed Blacker Swan

dyed Blacker Swan

We also had to decide between woollen and worsted spun for Blacker Swan: the luxury objective led us to worsted as the choice, as well as the fact that the Dohne merino is a naturally bulky fibre so the yarn would come out a bit leaner and with better stitch definition if worsted spun, despite the slightly added risk of pilling from short, fine fibre. However, it would also be quite heavy in a thicker specification, so we have made our limited edition natural Chunky Pale Maiden yarn as a woollen spun.

Blacker Swan is hard to improve upon, but we did feel that the Elegance range would slip nicely between Blacker Swan and Blacker Classic. We also have some limited edition plans, for a Westcountry Tweed yarn being launched in November and also some variegated dyed yarns, to be called Jazz. And there will be more…

Meanwhile, we have also offered, for a while, a limited range of Guernsey yarns. These will never be the softest yarns but have a particular purpose in making dense, crisp, high definition fabrics, able to resist hard wear, wind and weather. They are also a wholly traditional British yarn and we are carefully extending the over-dyed colour range and maintaining a basic set of natural shades in pure or blended named breeds. These yarns are also particularly suitable for the slightly coarser and stronger wools, and enable these to be used as knitting yarns rather than being relegated entirely to weaving or rugs.

We will also continuously review the opportunities for rare and special breed yarns, seeking quality and appropriate supply, but this is now working so well for The Natural Yarn Company that we can be quite choosy … although there are tempting British flocks of white and coloured merino and Vallois Blackface around, worth a try probably?

Thanks so much for these interesting posts on yarn design from a mill’s perspective! All content © Sue Blacker and used with kind permission.

A sock in a pot

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‘A sock in a pot. In the outside loo at the bottom of my stairs, it’s now a potting shed.’ – Jeni Reid

Wovember Words: Click go the shears

Team WOVEMBER’s Louise cannot resist a woolly song or poem.

I was searching for a song for your Sunday listening pleasure and I found Click Go The Shears, an Australian folk song from the turn of the 19th Century. This is a totally new one on me, but may be familiar to some of you.

The song perfectly describes large scale hand shearing operations, before the advent of the machine assisted age, and it also introduces us to the various roles and characters in the proceedings.

 

Out on the board the old shearer stands,
Grasping his shears in his thin bony hand,
Fixed is his gaze on a bare-bellied yoe —
Glory, if he gets her won’t he make the ringer go.

Chorus:
Click go the shears, boys — click, click, click,
Wide is his blow and his hands move quick,
The ringer looks around and is beaten by a blow,
And curses the old snagger with the bare-bellied yoe.

In the middle of the floor in his cane-bottomed chair,
Sits the boss of the board with his eyes everywhere;
Notes well each fleece as it comes to the screen,
Paying strict attention that it’s taken off clean.

The tar boy is there, awaiting in demand,
With his blackened tar pot, in his tarry hand,
Sees one old sheep with a cut upon its back;
Here is what he’s waiting for — it’s “Tar here Jack!”

The colonial experience man, he is there of course,
With his shiny leggings on, just got off his horse.
He gazes all around, like a real connoisseur,
With brilliantine and scented soap — he’s smelling like a whore.

Shearing is all over and we’ve all got our cheques,
So roll up your swags, boys, we’re off on the track,
The first pub we come to, it’s there we’ll have a spree,
And everyone that comes along, it’s “Come and drink with me!”

Down by the bar the old shearer stands,
Grasping his glass in his thin bony hands,
Fixed is his gaze on a green painted keg,
Glory he’ll get down on it, before he stirs a leg.

There we leave him standing, shouting for all hands,
While all around him every shouter stands,
His eyes are on the keg, which now is lowering fast,
He works hard, he drinks hard — and goes to hell at last!

 

Great imagery in this song; from hard work to hard drink, you can almost smell the fleece, sweat and booze. I particularly like the “Colonial experience man”, a ‘soft man’ of the English gentry trying out life on the station, but not quite achieving it well!

There is in earlier version of this song from around 1891, which is the version sung in the video. Called The Bare Bellied Ewe in this version the old shearer is geared towards heaven, rather than hell, in the end!

What is interesting is that also in 1891 there was the Australian Shearers’ Strike. A dispute between unionised and non-union wool workers broke out as the growth of wool export meant the work force grew too. Non-union workers were cheaper for stations to use and this resulted in large camps of striking shearers forming throughout Australia, particularly Queensland. The strike lasted 5 months with the shearers breaking strike due to no income, poor living conditions and hunger. This particular song must have been bittersweet to have been published during that time of unrest – illustrating exactly the type of graft that the union members were trying to fight for.

The Institute of Australian Culture website has a little more information about the origins of the songs and their words. There is also further information on the Landline programme from ABC which this video is from

 

The image below shows Chris Dyer hand clipping on his croft in Bressay, Shetland. We will meet Chris later this week as he discusses the aspirations of a first time crofter.

Image: Chris Dyer

Image: Chris Dyer

 

Designing a Yarn, Part 3

Sue Blacker joins WOVEMBER again for part 3 of her series on designing yarns from a mill’s perspective; if you didn’t catch parts 1 and 2 you can find them here and here.

Blacker Yarns: what works?

This is the question of the fibre/yarn compatibility…

Personal taste does play a role here – we tend to like yarns with some “presence” – over-soft worsted yarns can be like knitting with cooked spaghetti, but equally some fibres do not seem ideal for some yarn specifications. Therefore, after careful assessment, we are not making more aran-weight Shetland or Blue-faced Leicester yarns as the bulkiness does not best suit the fibre and similarly we are not making 4-ply in Ryeland.

ryeland_shetland

We now make our Blue-faced Leicester as worsted spun, but our Gotland as woollen spun, because these seem the most compatible with the fibres: worsted spun Gotland, although delightfully soft, can shed, while woollen spun Blue-faced Leicester is not quite as lovely as worsted spun. Equally, we made our Herdwick in woollen spun aran weight but have seen some great worsted spun and blended yarns from Natural Fibre Company customers, who, however, are specialists in the Herdwick, while we focus on a range of regional and rare breeds.

Sue Blacker's Gotland sheep

Sue Blacker’s Gotland sheep

We would never, of course, say never! We know that a hand-spun or specially selected yarn can be wonderful in a way that our machine-spun yarns are not. We also know that we cannot always get the quality of fleece which would make the perfect yarn. So we have to do our best and make judgements from what we can source and what enables at least a degree of repeatability.

Can we actually make it?

Aha! Yes! Believe it or not, there are yarns and styles we cannot make.

For example, we do not have a fancy twister to ply boucle or soluble core yarns. Nor do we have a machine able to make brushed yarns, so some of the traditional mohair styles are not possible for us. Indeed, there is now no UK capability in brushed yarns, though fancy yarns are still able to be made here.

Also partly due to the cost of new mandrils (around £500 each!), we are limited in the range of sizes and designs available from our ballwinder, and thus also for labelling them, though we now also offer hand twisted skeins/hanks and various labelling options.

Similarly we cannot at present make woollen yarns finer than around 15 YSW or 7-8 NM or worsted yarns beyond 20 NM at present. We can only make roving yarns with some difficulty and for experimental purposes. But watch this space, and it still depends on the fibre, as we can go finer with some than with others.

Also we are able to work with others, to commission special scouring or finishes. Once again, it is partly a question of demand and partly of commercial reality – we do not actually have many requests for some of these options. It is always difficult to know, though, as we now have a waiting list for worsted spinning, which was only 20% utilised when we installed it at first, and the same applies to our dyeing facilities, so if we can justify it we will always try to do more.

dyed Blacker Swan

dyed Blacker Swan

Handspun socks in progress

22handspunsocksinprogress

‘Handspun socks in progress. I love the satisfaction which comes from spinning and knitting socks, I even enjoy darning them!’ – Jeni Reid

Wovember Words: Man’s best friend

I was thinking that in all this talk of wool, sheep, sheep products and those involved with those, that we are forgetting someone very important..the sheep dog!

Time is short and I can’t obviously celebrate every breed, but after stumbling across this picture on the Internet Archive, I felt we must take a brief moment to say hello to this fellow.

Image from page 131 of "The new book of the dog : a comprehensive natural history of British dogs and their foreign relatives, with chapters on law, breeding, kennel management, and veterinary treatment" (1911)

THE BEARDED COLLIE

I wanted to share this fantastic description of the breed from The Dogs of Scotland from 1891 (Full text is here) and just what makes it so well suited to being a sheep dog, despite what, a first, might sound like a bit of a dressing down regarding it’s looks!

The Highland or bearded collie is quite a different animal from the common collie, although their duties are similar […] A big, rough, “tousy” looking tyke, with a coat not unlike a doormat, the texture of the hair hard and fibry, and the ears hanging too close to the head, is a rough and ready description of this dog. The breed is a familiar one to us. Its origins unknown. That the dog belongs to mountainous country and a cold climate his dense, shaggy, and harsh coat testifies […]
A very interesting letter on this variety appeared in the Live Stock Journal of November 15th, 1878. The writer, Mr Gordon James Phillips, Glenlivet, describes the breed…

“The animal itself is about the size of an ordinary collie, but a good deal deeper chested. It is thicker in skin; it is also flatter in the forehead. Altogether the head would be somewhat repulsive looking if it were not relieved by the beautiful dark brown eyes. Its greatest peculiarity in form is its tail, which is simply a stump, generally from 6 to 9 inches in length.
That the animal is Scottish in origin, owning to it’s resemblance to other Scottish animals, is apparent, if we compare it with the Scots Terrier, which it resembles much in colour – a dark grey. At all events, the black-and-tan collie, now common throughout Scotland, would be much more at home in the southern part of the island than in the north. It cannot endure the same amount of cold. In the winter it has a great inclination to get near the fire and is generally shivering; whereas rough-coated collie seldom draws to the fire, but seems to be at home amongst the drift and snow. It is finely adapted for hill climbing, owing to the strength of its limbs and depth of its chest. Shepherds have an idea – which on the whole is not a bad one – that it was intended by nature to be specially a sheep dog, owing to its short tail, which does not let it turn so swiftly as it would otherwise so if gifted with the long tail of his brother collie.
To understand this it is necessary to know that when shepherds send a dog to hunt sheep they desire it to take a wide circle round, not to dash in among them. The black-and-tan collie must be trained to do this, but the rough-coated one must make a wider sweep owing to the stump.
Perhaps better proof exists of it being specially a sheepdog when we consider its aptitude for driving. Shepherds state that they can safely trust 200-300 sheep to the sagacity of this valuable dog, which does not hurry or push, but drives them as coolly and as cautiously as if his master were present. Another proof is that this dog will not follow game. The black-and-tan collie, if it sees a hare, will dart away after it at utmost speed. Most dogs will do so, but it is different for the rough coated collie. If a hare starts amongst it’s feet, it will simply look after it with a scared-like look at then move on it’s way again.”

Image from page 145 of "The new book of the dog : a comprehensive natural history of British dogs and their foreign relatives, with chapters on law, breeding, kennel management, and veterinary treatment" (1911)

FROM THE ‘NEW BOOK OF THE DOG’, 1911

Complained about for being rough and repulsive, but for the brown eyed variety (though later we are told that yellow eyes make the dog look objectionable!), AND praised for being singular as a herding and driving dog – he still manages to put that poor “black-and-tan” dog to shame a bit there, doesn’t he?

Many people keep beardies as family pets, but they do have quite a long history as a working dog, though the modern breed we know today is thought to have been founded in the mid-1940s. Hardy, reliable and able to withstand harsh conditions, I have seen for myself their eagerness with the job at hand – choosing to get on with the task rather than make friends. Alas they are more commonly bred now to be show dogs – grooming out their rough, wavy coats!

It’s resilient and ability to cope with the hilly  and inclement Scottish terrain is perhaps why I have seen this dog used in Shetland, but does anyone else use Bearded collies? Leave a comment and tell us about your sheepdog.

Image from page 131 of "The new book of the dog : a comprehensive natural history of British dogs and their foreign relatives, with chapters on law, breeding, kennel management, and veterinary treatment" (1911)

Friday night Vi-EWE-ing: ADDICTED TO SHEEP

About this time last year WOVEMBER became aware of a wonderful new buzz around the Internet; we heard tell of a film-maker seeking support to produce an amazing documentary detailing the lives of a tenant farming family living in Upper Teesdale. Entitled “Addicted to Sheep” and with the support of 167 people & The Heart of Teesdale & HLF, the film has now been produced by independent film-maker Magali of Provenance Films, and work is now underway to get it out there and into the world. The trailer promises a film that is a rich celebration of the cultural heritage of tenant farming in the North of England.

It’s really interesting to see the role that social media has played both in spreading the story of this film and enabling it to find both financial support and an audience. It’s also heartening to see it happening in the same cultural landscape as the project we profiled last week: One Hut Full. Perhaps these grassroots projects evidence a growing cultural need for stories that reconnect us with the landscapes which are the provenance of our food and our clothes. We think Addicted to Sheep presents the story of wool’s origins in the landscape in a very moving and intimate way: move over John Lewis Ad with your fake polyester penguins: Here is a story that really merits tears. All content borrowed here from the official website for Addicted to Sheep by Magali Pettier.

Addicted to Sheep is an intimate portrait of a year in the life of a tenant farming family who live 1300 feet above sea level in Upper Teesdale.

Nothing about their lives seems easy, but with passion and dedication Tom, Kay and their 3 young children (Jack, Esme and Hetty) aspire to succeed in this beautiful, but also harsh landscape.

Although sometimes life may seem like the survival of the fittest, with the parent’s positive approach to life and the children’s maturity, we learn to reconnect with the people behind the landscape and value the importance of small communities and family life.

Thanks to Magali Pettier for telling this important story; if you would like to help support the mission to get wider exposure for the film, you can consider donating to the project here. We would like to do a follow up story next WOVEMBER about how the film has been a Hollywood Box Office Smash hit!

Fair Isle socks

21windspunsocks

‘Fair Isle socks knitted with yarn from Maine and designs from Mary Jane Mucklestone’s book of Fair Isle Motifs.’ – Jeni Reid

Wovember (lack of) Words: In Sheep’s Clothing

Ahead of this week’s Friday Night Vi-EWE-ing, Louise has fallen into the archive rabbit hole again to bring you an early
WOVEMBER matinee. Not so heavy on the words, the film in question is Jenny Gilbertson’s silent film, In Sheep’s Clothing (1932)

Jenny Gilbertson, nee Brown, was born in Glasgow at the turn of the 20th century. Originally planning on becoming a teacher, she saw an educational film about Loch Lomond and decided instead that film-making was the career she was destined for.
After spending holidays in Shetland as a child, Gilbertson returned in the early 1930s armed with a 16mm Cine-Kodak camera and embarked on the beginning of a long love affair with Shetland and film.

Jenny Gilbertson

Writing, filming and editing herself, Gilbertson’s style was observational, unobtrusive and captured life in Shetland from rural croft (and craft) to town life.

In Sheep’s Clothing is a 10 minute film produced in 1932 showing Shetland crofters gathering (‘caaing’ in dialect) sheep, rooing the wool in the traditional harvesting method, then carding and spinning the wool to knit Fair Isle jumpers. It is a really important resource to look at the history of wool work and the skills that are no longer employed. It also shows a great affection for the sheep (look out for the lady who is rooing the sheep stop to give it a pet and a cuddle) and for the skill applied in creating the finished garment. What I especially like about the film is seeing that sense of community and occasion in gathering the sheep and carrying out the work at hand.

Gilbertson made several films in Shetland before the outbreak of World War II and found her way into teaching, as she had first intended. In the 60’s she resumed her film-making career and carried this on until her death in 1990, aged 88.

The copyright for this, and other Jenny Gilbertson films, is held by the National Library of Scotland, in their Scottish Screen Archive and we cannot share it here, but we can send you over there to watch this wonderful film by following this link, or clicking in the image. Many thanks to them for the use of the image.

Untitled
Come back tonight for your vi-EWE-ing pleasure when we will feature another intimate portrait of farming life.

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