Once again I was able to visit and tour both the Jamieson's and Jamieson & Smith factories. These are the two yarn producers on Shetland and they are both incredible businesses!
Jamieson's is located on the west coast of Shetland in Sandness. It is a multi-generational family-owned business. We were able to tour Jamieson's mill and factory which is also connected to a shop that sells their products and is open to the public. They process Shetland fiber from fleece to finished goods right there in Sandness. They scour, dye, card and spin yarn. This is then either sold as hand knitting yarn (known as Shetland Spindrift) or it will go into production. They use the yarn for either weaving or knitting. The weaving department produces fabric yardage as well as heavier weight blankets. The knitting department produces fair isle sweaters and other goods such as hats and mittens. They use Japanese knitting machines that they have figured out how to program to use up to 16 colors in one garment - it was incredible! They are able to knit many differnt shapes including sweater fronts, backs, and sleeves. These pieces are then bundled together and sewn and finished by workers on machines. It is fascinating to see the Shetland wool going into so many uses for the end consumer and it supports a lot of people on the island from farmers to workers. I was lucky enough to be able to purchase a few meters of woven Shetland wool fabric from Jamieson's. I'm not sure what I'll sew with it yet, but I'm in love with this special cloth.
Jamieson & Smith is located in the main town of Lerwick. It is a warehouse attached to a shop that sells their products. Like Jamieson's, Jamieson & Smith also produces Shetland wool yarn for hand knitting as well as finished sweaters. We had a tour from Oliver Henry who is their main wool buyer and sorter. We had met Oliver Henry on our first tour and it is always a treat to hear him talk about the story of Jamieson & Smith and Shetland wool. Oliver receives bales and bales (a bale of wool is about 300 lbs) of wool from the farmers around Shetland. He is then in charge of sorting and grading the wool. He looks at each fleece (there could be 80 fleeces in each bale) and checks for staple length, quality, color, and determines if it is pure Shetland. There are some farmers who have sheep besides just Shetland and it is important for Oliver to only use the finest Shetland wool for their hand knitting yarns. There are other uses for wool that is too coarse or not high enough quality to be made into knitting yarn such as carpets and bedding so none of the farmers wool will go to waste. The wool that is sorted and graded is then shipped to Yorkshire England where is it spun into yarn and made into other wool products to sell. Jamieson & Smith has a cool project going on where Oliver worked with curators and experts at the Shetland Museum and Archives to re-create historical Shetland yarns which are being sold as Shetland Heritage Naturals. These yarns are worsted spun as opposed to the majority of their yarn which is woolen spun. We are excited and proud to start carrying these yarns this fall in addition to all the colors of Jamieson & Smith jumper weight we currently carry.
It was fascinating and fulfilling to see the journey that wool goes through from sheep to finished product on Shetland. The sheep are such an integral part of the Shetland economy and culture and it is apparent the care that goes into the yarns and jumpers that are made with it.