Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Breanish Tweed, Lewis, Outer Hebrides

Earlier this month I received a newsletter from Breanish Tweed. It's a family-owned business and their studio is located at the northern end of the Isle of Lewis, near the little village of Ness. Weaving is a tradition in this area, although the number of individual weavers have decreased greatly. Gaelic is still the common language. Have a detailed look at their site: http://www.breanishtweed.co.uk/ and especially watch the video. They offer a line of high-quality tweeds in a variety of weights and beautiful colours. The photographs will bring back happy memories to those who've come on the 'Scottish Skeins & Skerries Tour' in the years which included the Outer Hebrides on the itinerary.

The tweeds of Breanish are unusual as they are frequently woven in a lighter weight to those from Harris, using Shetland yarn, lambswool and cashmere, either alone or in combination. The yarns are all dyed and spun in Scotland. They even offer a Robbie Burns check to mark Scotland's Year of Homecoming and the 250th anniversary of their national poet and cultural icon.

I am not a weaver and from watching the video, can now understand when I've been told that the warping and tying on the traditional Hattersley looms can take longer than the actual weaving.

During our visit last year we met Iain Finlay Mcleod and several of the weavers, and I can attest that some beautiful lengths of tweed were purchased by our tour members. At that time, Breanish Tweed was located in a trailer but with plans for larger, more permanent, premises. We'll be able to see the changes during this year's tour in July.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Knitting Guilds

I've been going through the newsletters of guilds I belong to and am impressed by the commitment and activities of so many widespread memberships. They all offer a variety of activites: guest speakers, field trips, workshops, charitable knitting, frequently a guild library, a 'show and tell' session and a general mutual support and enjoyment of the craft.

My home guild is the Ottawa Guild of Knitters: http://www.ottawaknittingguild.ca/. They have a large membership and well-planned meetings with enthusiastic attendees. Their newsletter is called 'The Tangled Skein'--I always look forward to receiving an issue.

I also belong to the Gilli-Hook Heritage Knitters Guild in Calgary: http://www.gilliknitters.org/. Since I haven't been able to attend their meetings, for several years, I keep up with their activities through the newsletter. I think the most talented knitter I've ever met is my friend, Gladys Vallance, a member of the Calgary guild. For anyone who doesn't know, a 'gilli hook' is of Nordic origin and was used by knitters to hold their yarn, so they could knit while going about their other duties.

One of the Toronto area guilds of which I am also a member is the Downtown Knit Collective, also known as the DKC: http://www.downtownknitcollective.ca/. This is a large, active guild and they have a number of well-known designers and authors, in addition to many talented knitters amongst the membership.

Probably one of the older guilds is the Knitting and Crochet Guild in the U.K.. which recently marked their 30th anniversary: http://www.knitting-and-crochet-guild.org.uk/. Take some time to look at their comprehensive website in detail--there is a lot to see. Their twice-yearly journal is called the 'SlipKnot' and I found each issue has an interesting collection of articles. Recent topics were, "The Home Front in World War Two" and "Thoughts on the cataloguing and classification of knitting patterns", news from regional guilds, techniques, announcements of upcoming events, ads. In fact, I've been reading through a recent issue and was reminded of how much I enjoy the 'SlipKnot', plus it's time to renew my membership! For anyone planning a visit to Yorkshire, the guild has a permanent home with a knitting collection and an extensive library of books and patterns.

Although not just for knitters, the Textile Museum of Canada: http://www.textilemuseum.ca/ should not be missed. Their mission statement is: "Explore the continuum of textile art through time and space, from 2,000 years in the past to the day after tomorrow"--something they do very well. The attractive building, easily accessible in downtown Toronto, offers a variety of exhibitions and an extensive library. Two displays at present are: "The Cutting Edge" and "When Women Rule the World; Judy Chicago in Thread".

I also belong to the Tucson Handweavers & Spinners Guild: http://www.thsg.org/. This guild started in 1973 and have many study groups--not just limited to weaving and spinning, but to knitting, rugs and baskets. Their newsletter is called "Woolgather" and in addition to its printing, the guild sends out frequent email updates. Although the primary interest of the membership seems to be spinning and weaving, there is much for knitters too. They are a very active group and hold events and meetings for those interested in any of the textile arts.

Whether knitting is a craft which gives us independent pleasure, this quick review of some guilds and newsletters shows us how we are all part of a much larger community. I'd be interested to hear of other guilds. Please send me an email: knitting@joycejamestours.com and I'll be able to mention your guild in future posts.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Jamieson & Smith, Shetland

The venerable firm of Jamieson & Smith in Lerwick, Shetland has produced a new website: http://www.shetlandwoolbrokers.co.uk/. Have a look at their home page and the circulating photographs at the top. The firm is known locally as 'the Wool Brokers' and our visit there is highly anticipated by group members--in fact, you could say it reaches something approaching a fever pitch!

Our first stop is in the receiving area where the farmers bring in their clip, and it is weighed and graded. Oliver Henry, known as 'the wool man' is always there to speak to us about the process of grading. There are enormous bins of different qualities of fleece and Oliver shows us how he decides if the end result should be the fine cobweb yarn or destined for a wool carpet, plus all the gradations in between. He is very obliging and well deserves his reputation as an expert.

The very helpful retail staff are there to give us advice on choosing colours and amounts for any project. Frequently, one visit isn't enough for the tour members and they often make time to go back again if not once, but several times during our five days on Shetland. The staff are also experts in mail order and for those who want to take their yarn back home with them, offer us the courtesy of bundling up the purchases and sending them to our last hotel in Glasgow, thus avoiding the luggage restrictions on our domestic Loganair flights. In fact, mail order is a speciality of the firm and several years ago they won a national postal award for their services. In the office upstairs, the phones seem to be constantly ringing with orders from around the world.

It is amazing to see their stock room with the myriad yarn colours in boxes reaching to the ceiling. J. & S. also carry the famous knitting belts, a woolly board for blocking sweaters, plus a selection of patterns and books. They carry a wide range of yarn weights and colours--from the one-ply lace weight which is used to make the treasured shawls (including the beautiful 'wedding ring shawls), through the 2-ply lace, jumper weight, to the heavier Shetland aran (formerly known as 'Brora Soft Spun'). A range of nine natural shades is found in their 'Shetland Supreme Natural' line, which comes in 2-ply lace and cobweb weights, plus a jumper weight. For spinners, there are 'Shetland Combed' tops which is in white. Have a look at their blankets--completely woven from Shetland yarns. As another option for spinners, depending on the custom import regulations where you live, it could be possible to order a fleece which Oliver will select.

More about yarns from Shetland in another post.