Shetland Islands/Wool Week 2019

In September of 2019 I joined my sis­ter Beth for Wool Week in the Shetland Islands. These are the places that we went and the things we saw. (Click through the gal­leries for more infor­ma­tion in the pic­ture descriptions.)


Lerwick is the capi­tol city of Shetland. We stayed in an apart­ment just up the hill from the har­bor. A short walk down hill (through “our alley”) led to Commercial Street, the pedes­tri­an shop­ping dis­trict and a block lat­er the Esplanade — the har­bor frontage road. . The con­fer­ence was cen­tered at the Shetland Museum and Archives. The HUB in the large mul­ti­pur­pose room being the cen­ter of all things Wool Week. Furnished with an endear­ing­ly eclec­tic vari­ety of chairs and couch­es arranged in vague cir­cles, it’s the place to sit and knit and meet up with folks from all over. There was a map of the world in which we were each invit­ed to put spin with home town on it. There was a big­ger map of the UK to accom­mo­date all the “locals” at the conference. 

A Walk and Clickimin Broch

From the City cen­ter you can take a love­ly walk along the sea walls to Clickimin Broch. A broch is a type of Iron Age build­ing found only in Scotland fea­tur­ing a round, dou­ble wall and a large inner court­yard area. Clickimin is notable because of its eas­i­ly acces­si­ble loca­tion and it’s loca­tion in the mid­dle of a small Loch. (Really it’s easy to get to from down­town: walk down to the Tesco and cross the Lerwick-Sumberg road at the petrol station.) 


Sunday night was the Welcome Ceremony at the Clickimin Leisure Center. The high­lights includ­ed tak­ing a pho­to­graph of some 500 peo­ple mod­el­ing their Roadside Beanies. Yes, there is an offi­cial hat for Wool Week. Actually, it’s a knit­ting pat­tern you have to make it your­self. Here’s mine:

Can you imag­ine that many peo­ple all wear­ing the same hat? Well, sort of the same hat — alter­nate col­or ways abound­ed as did the occa­sion­al vari­a­tion in form. (Stocking cap any one?) The occa­sion was also graced with a video greet­ing from HRH the Prince of Wales. Seriously. Quite the treat for the colonists. 


Monday morn­ing we went to Scalloway on our way to an after­noon class at Uradale Farm. We vis­it­ed Scalloway Castle and the muse­um there. We had lunch at a lit­tle cafe in town. Very good quiche. 

Knitting at Uradale Farm

That after­noon we had a class in Bohus Stickning at Uradale Farm. Kits were hand­ed out and while we learned about his­to­ry of Bohus knit­ting, we start­ed our own Bohus style sam­ples. Here’s a look at mine start­ed, but not fin­ished. Also a cou­ple of images from Uradale Farm were the class was held. 

A Day Out with Ponies and Chapels

On Tuesday we took our rental car and went all the way west arriv­ing in Sandness to vis­it with the ponies of Frances Taylor famous for their mod­el­ing of Fair Isle sweaters. Beth met her soul mate. We end­ed our vis­it when the sun­ny, windy day turned down-right treach­er­ous with side­ways sleet com­ing from the North. 

We stopped in Walls for lunch. The town min­is­ter kind­ly assist­ed us in find­ing the Regatta Club where they were hold­ing a cafe and craft show. Warm soup and ban­nock for lunch and huge pot of very hot tea. We watched the seals play in the voe while we ate and picked ups few presents at the craft show. 

As we went fur­ther south the weath­er cleared a bit. Our next stop was St Ninian’s Island to look for the ruins of a church. You can’t see any­thing that even vague­ly resem­bles a church from the Mainland side — not even with binoc­u­lars. But Beth insist­ed that there was a ruin out there so we crossed the tombo­lo to search for it. A tombo­lo is a path of sand that con­nects two bits of land and lies between two arms of the sea. The tombo­lo at St. Nianian’s is a semi-permanent fea­ture. Being impas­si­ble only in the win­ter when the rough and high seas wash the sand away. It returns in the spring. 

We did even­tu­al­ly find the ruins. Thought to call it a church is being gen­er­ous. It’s a tiny 12th cen­tu­ry chapel whose out­lines and a few tum­ble­down walls are indi­cat­ed by a hol­low in the hill­side. The site is impor­tant most­ly because of a trove of sil­ver objects found by the school­boy Douglas Coutts in 1958. (No we didn’t see them; they are in Edinburg. Though there are some copies of some of the pieces in the muse­um in Lerwick.) 

Knitting a Peerie Hap

Wednesday we start­ed the day with a class in mak­ing tra­di­tion­al Shetland haps (shawls) And here, for ref­er­ence, is a pic­ture of the peerie hap that is sup­posed to result when I get my lit­tle lace project sewn up. Not near­ly as impres­sive as this huge hap, on it’s stretch­ing board. And yarn bombers were about, here’s a lit­tle mes­sage that they added to the Shetland Sign on the Esplanade. 

Jamieson’s Mill

Later in the day we went back to Sandness in the west (by full-sized tour bus on one-lane roads) to vis­it the Jamieson’s mill where they spin and dye Shetland wool into yarn. They also do a bit of weav­ing. I made this lit­tle video of tweed weav­ing on a jacquard loom. 

Bressay Island and Garth’s Croft

Thursday we made the 10 minute cross­ing to the island of Bressay on a lit­tle fer­ry that car­ries maybe 15 cars. The park and ride on the Bressay side was full. Lots of peo­ple who live on Bressay work in Lerwick. On Bressay we toured Garth’s Croft the home of Chris Dyer and his flock of Shetland Sheep. He’s also got pigs, chick­ens, and hoop house for grow­ing fruit trees and ten­der veg­eta­bles that can’t stand the Shetland cli­mate. He’s also a mas­ter builder of dry stone walls. 

Then we had a light lunch at the com­mu­ni­ty cen­ter in the old grade school and vis­it­ed the stu­dio of RAM knitwear. I bought a love­ly cowl assist­ed by the moth­er of the designer. 

A Brewery and Some Vikings

In the after­noon we went to the Lerwick Brewery — per­haps the most north­ern brew­ery in the UK. And final­ly the MRI Maakers sup­per at the Town Hall where we looked at some nice stained glass win­dows and met Vikings. We also had some mut­ton, pota­to, and lentil soup. (I think that I will make it a “tried it once” thing.) 

Experimental Lace Knitting and a Spree

Friday we took anoth­er lace knit­ting class, this one about mix­ing yarn weights and nee­dle sizes and the effects both good and bad that you can achieve. 

Friday night there was the Spree — a tra­di­tion­al Shetland rave-up — where Beth con­vinced me to dance. And there is, thank­ful­ly, absolute­ly no video evi­dence. I am com­plete­ly inca­pable of fol­low­ing even the sim­plest of phys­i­cal direc­tions mak­ing the task of teach­ing me to dance the Boston Two-Step neigh on impossible. 

Tour of South Mainland

Saturday, ear­ly in the morn­ing, Beth left for the air­port and the long trip home. I went on a tour of the South Mainland. We start­ed with the Croft House Museum. A recre­ation of a typ­i­cal croft with two small liv­ing rooms, a store­room, a barn, and thatched roof. While we sat inside next to a (smokey) peat fire, local story-teller David Cooper told us a ghost story. 

Scatness is an Iron Age vil­lage (and broch) that has been exca­vat­ed a cou­ple of times, most recent­ly in the 70’s. You can’t just go wan­der­ing around here; you get a guid­ed tour. We were lucky to find one of the arche­ol­o­gists in and got a very infor­ma­tive tour. She point­ed out that the broch is the old­est of the build­ings that they have exca­vat­ed so far but that there is anoth­er lay­er under­neath. When or if they will work that old­er site isn’t decided. 

Finally we vis­it­ed the light­house at Sumberg Head where there was cake, amaz­ing views, and the very large engines that make the fog horn work. 

Sunday I spent most of the day sit­ting in the HUB knit­ting and chat­ting with the folks stay­ing ’til the very end of Wool Week. Had love­ly din­ner and then packed up for the trip home. 

I am now on an air­plane very far up in the sky — fly­ing very fast on the way home to Seattle. And in a cou­ple of days you all will get to see this report. 

The Odyssey — Homer

Translator — Emily Wilson
I learned of the new trans­la­tion of the Odyssey last sum­mer and fig­ure that per­haps I should revis­it clas­sic that I had last read in col­lege. This new trans­la­tion makes the old sto­ry sparkle. Wilson does a mar­velous job of avoid­ing the baroque lan­guage of pre­vi­ous trans­la­tions and presents the adven­tures of Odysseus in a fresh and riv­et­ing manner.

a bright new face on a classic 

Letter Home — 29 Jan, 2019

I nev­er could get the hang of Thursday”

Arthur Dent

Thursday is easy. It is pre­ced­ed by Wednesday and fol­lowed by Friday.
Wednesday is the piv­ot point of the week. The day of look­ing for­ward to the work I have to do and look­ing back to see how much of my to-do list I have accom­plished. Wednesday is that ris­ing feel­ing that I won’t get it all done.

Thursday is the day of defeat. Wednesday’s ris­ing sense of doom set­tles in with a detailed list of those things that will not get done. 

Friday is just “do the best you can.”

Monday is, of course, the day of hope­ful opti­mism. The day of find­ing all the Things and putting them onto a tidy to-do list and knock­ing off the first one

But Tuesday — what the hell is Tuesday? Tuesday is the day of shift­ing pri­or­i­ties as every­one else’s Monday to-do list col­lides with yours (con­fu­sion, anx­i­ety.) It can be a day of tick­ing the box­es on the to-do list (pride.) A day of plug­ging along on some big project (var­i­ous­ly: accom­plish­ment, bore­dom, or utter pan­ic.) Or, it can be a day of wait­ing for the inputs and replies (bore­dom and fid­gety nothingness.)

I nev­er know what sort of day Tuesday is going to be. How can I antic­i­pate my (emo­tion­al) mind set on a day with so many variables?

No, I nev­er could get the hang of Tuesday. 

Which prob­a­bly says more about my need for emo­tion­al pre­dictabil­i­ty than it does about Tuesday. 

Four Books on the Modern Essay

In the last cou­ple of months I have been read­ing a lot about essays. Of the four books reviews here, the one I’d most rec­om­mend for the gen­er­al read­er is the D’Agata. It’s a col­lec­tion of essays with short intro­duc­to­ry notes suit­ed those curi­ous about the shape of the mod­ern essay and how it got there. For a rec­om­men­da­tion for the writer I am torn. None of the oth­er books is spec­tac­u­lar and none of them com­plete­ly reflects my cur­rent think­ing on the essay. But, I’d say the Lopate con­tains the most use­ful exam­ples and that Moore’s Dear Mr Essay Writer shows the inner work­ings of the essay writer’s mind best.

The Next American Essay (A New History of the Essay) — John D’Agata. 2003.

D’Agata is inter­est­ed in stretch­ing the def­i­n­i­tion of essay as far as pos­si­ble then  look­ing to see what is hap­pen­ing at the mar­gins. Some of these essays are very exper­i­men­tal and not all of the exper­i­ments suc­ceed. The foot­notes essay is a chore to get through. Others, like “India” — a series of “fac­tu­al” state­ments on India tak­en from ancient sources, are stun­ning suc­cess­es. This is a worth­while book to read if you’re inter­est­ed in the shapes that essays can take and in stitch­ing up your own ideas about the form. Just be pre­pared to find a few that miss you. It’s very indi­vid­ual — sev­er­al peo­ple have praised “Black”. I thought it was over­wrought and grim.

* Ur texts for the mod­ern essay *

Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy: Advice and Confessions on Writing, Love, and Cannibals. Dinty Moore. 2015.

Questions from oth­er essay­ists are vague­ly answered with quick replies and illu­mi­nat­ing essays. There is a medi­a­tion on the exot­ic and the eat­ing of a zebra burg­er that doesn’t go near­ly as far as I would have liked it to, but… The one about how not to be a jack­ass about exes is sol­id life advice. Then there is some weird thing about brains and cau­li­flower that shouldn’t have been pub­lished. Other essays riff on top­ics or tan­gents to the ques­tions asked by oth­er essayists.

* amus­ing, short, uneven. *

Crafting the Personal Essay. Dinty Moore. 2010.

This book is meant to be used as a text-book. There are dis­cus­sions of essays that are not includ­ed in the book. Clearly these are meant to have been read on class hand­outs. Many of the essays cho­sen for the book are old-fashioned. (And, con­ve­nient­ly, in the pub­lic domain.) The oth­er essay exam­ples are Moore’s own. And while not bad. Well, he’s not my cup of tea.

* if I need­ed a cheap text-book with exam­ples in the pub­lic domain *

To Show and To Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction. Phillip Lopate. 1994.

Another teach­ing text. I like the Lopate book bet­ter than the Moore. It thinks more deeply about the essay and the mem­oir in mod­ern terms. It also makes bet­ter use of old­er essays. Though I think Lopate spends too much time on the mem­oir and diss­es the lyric essay as not real­ly being the thing — not being truth­ful enough. He likes a sol­id fideli­ty to real life. Even as he admits that mem­oir is nec­es­sar­i­ly slant­ed or one-sided, he still pumps strong­ly on the side of writ­ing the truth/fact.

* a lit­tle less fond of the lyric and exper­i­men­tal forms than I am but care­ful­ly thought out *

Letter Home 4 Aug, 2018

Dearest ones,

I went to a lec­ture last week. Ilya Kaminsky, a famous Ukrainian poet, began by ask­ing “How is life on this shiny plan­et?” I did not know how to answer him. He taped pic­tures by Diego Rivera to the wall and read from Calvino’s  Invisible Cities. He spoke of how our work is always in con­ver­sa­tion with oth­ers and point­ed to two of my favorite artists. I was, all at the same time, utter­ly chuffed and in com­plete despair.  And I won­dered how am I ever going to find myself in the mid­dle of that con­ver­sa­tion? I remain a child stand­ing at the edge of the room watch­ing the adults play word games in a lan­guage that I am just learning.

Later that after­noon while dri­ving down the hill to town I was over­come by a deep wave of homesickness.

Do you remem­ber the emp­ty lot in down­town? The one that is so deep? There is an apple tree down there. Filled with lit­tle green apples — green apples that are about to ripen, many have red shoul­ders already. Somehow this does not seem hope­ful to me. I must be deranged in some way.

Between all that and the dis­ap­point­ing lemon cake… well you can imag­ine my state of mind.


Yrs affec­tion­ate­ly, L