this post is not meant to bash either to the company or the person that contacted me, I just thought it was interesting to share and sparked a train of thought within me..
I was recently contacted by quite a large clothing brand, based in the UK wondering if I would write a piece for them about Shetland as their new collection featured a number of designs knit in Shetland Wool. The piece was to give people a feel for the landscape, lifestyle and culture here. I was interested but asked if they could tell me where the Shetland Wool came from in their collection. As you know I work for one of the only Shetland Wool companies – Jamieson & Smith, and most definitely one of the only ones in Shetland itself. The reply I got stated that the wool wasn’t going to be from Shetland so they understood if I didn’t want to write a piece.
What bothers me about it is that if I hadn’t asked about the origins of the wool and just written the piece that the people reading it would feel ‘wow, this is where the wool in my cardi/jumper whatever comes from’ when obviously it won’t be. Even without writing it, if it say’s on the label ‘Shetland Wool’ while that might not mean anything to some people, to others they will know about Shetland and the connotations of the wool. This made me think about the day I went to at the Shetland Museum a few months ago and reminded me of a phrase..
handwritten note of unknown date found at the bottom of a typed letter by A.I Tulloch in relation to Shetland knitting
Now times have changed since this was written (there was no date on it but it was a long time ago) but it still holds true in some regards, and I don’t blame companies for calling the fibre they use whatever the manufacturers have called it. I know enough about this industry to make a guess at the mainland company probably responsible for the fibre that will be used in this companies products. The unique landscape and climate of Shetland is what makes the wool the way it is, Shetland Wool even from mainland UK feels different – not in a bad way, it just does. Usually those makers of Shetland Wool not from Shetland are specialist breeders and indie spinners, Unfortunately, the phrase ‘Shetland Wool’ has come to mean a style of spinning and type of fibre rather than origin of fibre which I can be pretty sure that’s what this will be.
Perhaps I am a bit touchy, as a Shetlander involved in the textile industry, I understand how fragile it is. We don’t have the amount of knitters and sheep that Shetland had at one time. Our industry is strong, thanks to things like the internet, Ravelry and Instagram to name a few but it is fragile. We rely on people wanting the real thing and coming to us for it.
Those fibre manufacturers using and in my opinion abusing Shetlands name are relying on the strength of the word ‘Shetland’ and the connotations surrounding it. As knitters and makers I think it is our place to ask questions about where wool and fibre comes from, I don’t like doing it (I’m not a fan of confrontation or arguing) but there are ways to do it without being an arsehole about it, On a wider scale wovember does a brilliant job of celebrating wool – all wool throughout November, and asks the questions in an educational way, have a look at their website here.
Preaching over… back to the knitting and on a cheerier note I got an email yesterday with a very exciting picture – the cover of this year’s Shetland Wool Week Annual!
Yes – I had one more Crofthoose design in me! And they made it into the cover!! I cannot wait to see this year’s Annual and I know I will treasure my copy forever, pre-orders begin next week and I’m sure this page will be updated soon. Very excitingly too, my lovely pal Vivian is the model for the annual so I can’t wait to see all the pictures.
Speak soon, xx