Image by Vince Veras

History of Fibres

Scotland has a long history connected to sheep. These hardy creatures are able to survive the less arable land making them more adaptable and suited to Scotland's hills and rough terrian. 

The Shetland Islands is a subarctic archipelago where sheep is the sole reason people manage to survive the harsh terrain.

01

Herds Over Seas

Shetland Islands’ archaeological records show that sheep have been there since the end of the Stone Age.

When the Vikings came over from Norway, they brought over their own sheep.

These hardy Shetland sheep have characteristics that they share with the current Norwegian sheep indicating that the Vikings interbred with the native herds.

Alongside bringing their sheep over, the Vikings likely also brought over the practice of knitting.

They used the fibre to make their sails for the longboats.

02

Crimping

Over the centuries the locals bred the herds for their soft fine wool and well-crimped fleece.

The special crimp in the raw fibres of the wool creates a wonderful springiness filling the yarns with lots of life.

Shetland Sheep are known to have 11 main colours and over 30 different markings. These natural colours are just as lovely as the dyed ones.

03

Wool Itself

When the herd is ready to be sheared, they are rounded up into pens.

Once the wool has been sheared it has to be skirted, a process of removing contamination and the greasy outer edge. After that, it is stored in bags and kept away from moths and mice.

Sent to the wool mill where it is washed, carded into rovings and then spun into strands.

These are sent back to the croft where they are either dyed and/or packaged up ready to post.

04

Famous Fibres

Shetland Islands fibres are well known for their lace, fair isle style jumpers and tweed. 

Read more below

o5

Lace

Shetland lace became famous when the founder of P&O shipping presented Queen Victoria with Shetland lace stockings and shawls; she immediately ordered more after seeing them. In the early 19th century it became fashionable to wear them and provided many Shetlanders with a means of getting a second income. Unst has a heritage museum dedicated to Lace.

06

Fair Isle 

Over the years, the decline of the demand for lace turned the knitters to create knitted garments. A distinctive style called Fair Isle was developed.

Fair Isle's traditional iconic look comes from using more than two strands of colours per row but the whole pattern has a limited palette of 5 colours.

Became popular and known to the general public in the early 20th century when the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) wore a fair isle jumper in 1921.

07

Tweed

Tweed, like lace, also became popular in the 19th century when Prince Albert bought Balmoral Castle and designed his own tweed design. After that, the upper class with highland estate began to produce their own unique designs of tweed. Shetland Tweed was used as climbing apparel for Sir Edmund Hillary and his Everest expeditions in 1953.

Shetland tweed is a lighter more casual tweed style than the more commonly known Harris and Herringbone tweed.

08

Shetland Islands Heritage and Culture

The Shetland Islands has a wealth of cultural history if you want to find more there is the Shetland Museum in Lerwick and other is the Shetland Heritage and Culture with online information. 

Support Shetland 

Support the Shetland Islands by creating your own knitting project and using our wool. When you finish we would love to see your work, tag us on Facebook or Instagram