|Oliver explains how to feel the quality of a fleece
Oliver Henry has been sorting Shetland wool for Jamieson and Smith for 46 years. He knows a lot about wool. Oliver took a couple of hours out of his day to give us a tour of their facility and talk to us about wool. Jamieson and Smith purchases over 80% of the Shetland wool grown on the island from over 700 crofters. They are very committed to working with the farmers and improving the quality of the wool. Oliver almost single-handedly sorts all this wool himself.
|The Jamieson and Smith sorting facility in Lerwick
Each fleece has to be sorted by color, quality and type. Some of the Shetland sheep on the island have bred with non-Shetland sheep - Oliver keeps a catalog of lineage records so he knows which fleece are 100% Shetland - these are the only fleeces used to make the Jamieson and Smith Shetland yarns. Within each fleece there are different grades of wool and these must be sorted as well - the wool on the back of the sheep is a different quality than the wool around the legs so these all get seperated into different bins.
|Above left: fleeces have been sorted by color
Above right: tons of wool fleeces await sorting
Lower photo: Oliver has trained a crofter to help him in the sorting room
Jamieson and Smith have developed other products to make sure that they are using all the wool. If a fleece is not suitable for their yarns they can find a home for it in other products they have developed, therefore they're able to pay the farmers more for their fleeces. In addition to their hand knitting yarns (which get only the finest grades of wool) they also have a company that produces wool carpets as well as another company that makes wool mattresses. These products are extremely sustainable and ensure that sheep crofters on Shetland can have a future with their wool. Imagine carpeting your home in 100% naturally colored Shetland wool! Amazing!
|An old photo of women in Shetland blocking their lace Hap Shawls
|Ysolda, Oliver, Malia, Stephen, Amber and Jaime in the Jamieson and Smith sorting room
|A wall of undyed, naturally colored Shetland wool yarn in Jamieson and Smith
Attached to the sorting facility is the Jamieson and Smith yarn shop (also know as heaven to yarnies). We were able to shop to our hearts content all 84 dyed colors and 9 undyed colors of jumper weight yarn! Jumpers are sweaters and since fair isle sweaters are all knit out of fingering weight yarn, the weight is referred to as "Jumper weight" in Shetland.
|Malia and Amber pick out colors of Shetland Jumper weight yarn
|We took a nap on a wool bed in a yarn shop!
|Black Shetland sheep frolic on a hillside in Shetland
|Cuddling Shetland Ponies - a necessary stop
Next up: Shetland museums - Fair Isle and lace knitting galore!