Cordova Gansey Project - The Long Story (cont.) #4 March 21 2015, 3 Comments

#4   a spin of the wheel and a pat on the back

The reality of my time in Shetland for Wool Week is that basically I had just signed up and so I showed up. I was too busy with life to really take time to figure things out too much beforehand, and so everything was an adventure and a surprise, and I was open to whatever came my way, with few expectations.  I just showed up each day in each place that I had just sort of picked out without much thought.  I knew what I liked and what I was interested in, and that I wanted to make the most of every moment, so I had a full schedule of a variety of classes in a variety of subjects that I had quickly chosen last April, so I wouldn't miss out. I was so busy with planning and executing Fiber and Friends that I didn't have the time or energy to invest in much research.  There were, however,  some classes I had thought I would have liked to register for, one in particular,  but that one was full, and I felt grateful for the classes I was able to get into, so I was mostly content. 

It was now Thursday, and I was registered for a  spinning class in the southern town of Sandwick,  and providentially  found myself in class with Suzanne, another American and a kind and dear soul, who happened to have joined us at our Net Loft Fiber and Friends event in Cordova this past summer. What a great surprise!


Oh my goodness, this was a delightful class. Our excellent instructor,  Elizabeth Johnston of Shetland Handspun, was a wealth of information and had a wonderful sense of humor.   Suzanne, our classmates, and I had a fine day learning about the remarkable  and special qualities of Shetland sheep. 

I felt excited and grateful to be having this intense learning experience and took careful notes of  Elizabeth's teachings.   We cleaned and studied a variety of Shetland Fleeces, examining the details and unique qualities of the fleece from these sheep and what  make them special.  This was followed by demonstrations of a variety of techniques, all of which reinforced the joy of handling and transforming fiber to yarn, and further strengthened my love for wool, and especially for this primitive breed that I had had no previous experience with.

It was a great day, and I was delighted to be spinning again.  I was so enthused from the class experience with Elizabeth that I actually purchased a few fleeces, which is a tale in itself.  I was able to get them in a variety of colors with hopes of spinning enough yarn for a natural colored Fair Isle jersey for myself someday in the future.

It is hard to put into words, looking back at how this all fit together, but what I find interesting is that my love of spinning placed me there that day in that particular place at that particular time.  The chain of events in all this and what followed is one of those serendipitous times that makes life and its circumstances somehow come together in a way one cannot always plan or expect.  

My love of spinning, The Net Loft Fiber and Friends and meeting Suzanne last summer. My involvement in fishing.  My presence in Shetland. My years at The Net Loft. My love of handcraft.  Generally not having time to think or reflect on such things,  looking back I see that these elements  of who I am and who I have met and where I have been and what I do  and what I like and what I want to know, were at that time converging  in the same way spokes of the drive wheel on a spinning wheel come together and intersect in one spot, and how that coming together is where it finds stability.   In the whirl of life, things often seem to be spinning  in mad constant motion in a million different directions,  but now these different components were actually meeting  and coming together in synchronicity. 

This being said, Suzanne and I, after having been reacquainted during our class  decided to have dinner together. During dinner I  mentioned to Suzanne that I had been interested in this "Fishing for Ganseys" class that was supposed to happen the next day.  I  had been explaining to Suzanne this connection I was experiencing inside me concerning  Fishing and Knitting, and that I had originally  wanted to sign up for the class, but that the class was full.  I shared with her about the taps on my shoulder, and how something unknown was stirring inside me that I couldn't explain.  As it turned out, I was surprised to hear that she actually had a spot in the class, and I was excited for her to be able to participate, as I heard  the class would take place on an actual Shetland fishing boat, which sounded fun to me. Even though I wouldn't be able to take part,  I looked forward to her return and hearing more about the class and her adventure.

That night, together we both went to hear the evening program, which included a lecture from Hazel Tindall, who  had been my instructor for the Fair Isle yokes class, and another, as it turns out, by Stella Ruhe, the author of the book, “Dutch Ganseys”, and the teacher scheduled for the class on the fishing boat the next day.  

Stella was genuinely excited about her Dutch gansey project and book.   My mind opened further as she further unfolded the story of the transport of knitting patterns that followed the herring fishery in the North Sea. As she spoke, the auditorium screen revealed larger than life images of fishermen donned with the Dutch version of this fisherman’s attire. The words HISTORICAL and TRADITIONAL were a large part of the conversation. It was as though the words historical, traditional, fishermen and knitting, were somehow entwined and closely bound together.

Looking back, I had always been fascinated by ganseys and those that knit and wore them, but that was the extent of my knowledge. Years ago, I had corresponded with Mary Wright in Cornwall, England, because I loved the photos in her book on  Cornish Ganseys that we carried in the shop, and she had actually helped me get copies of several of the photographs printed from her local museum to hang in the store, like the one below which has always been one of my favorites, because I loved the look of the fisherman leaning back on the stone in the background looking at the fisher girl knitting . If you have been in the Net Loft, you may recognize this picture we have had hanging since the days in the old Net Loft. It just seemed like a perfect fit and was nice of Mary to help me get a copy.


In the past, I hadn't really paid much attention, or grasped the extent to which historical, traditional, and fishermen were bound in regard to working in wool ganseys.  As I was listening to the lecture, and after my day with Elizabeth, I felt like I was literally being pulled even moreso into this tangle of fishermen and knitting and wool and my own personal connection to it all. Day by day it continued to grow stronger.

After the lecture, to my surprise, Suzanne offered me her space in the class for the next day, as she could see I was feeling this strong connection. She would not let me refuse. I have to admit I was very excited. 

Then came more than a tap; this was definitely an encouraging pat on the shoulder, and I felt grateful for Suzanne’s gift of her class space, for how it all came about, and really looked forward to the next day and what more lay waiting to unfold.  A fishing boat and knitting.... the perfect combination... 

Follow the fish...sail on to #5 to find where it leads you....


Cornish Gansey Knitter from

Cordova Gansey Project: The Long Story (cont.) #2 March 17 2015, 2 Comments

Shetland Islands #2   The next nudge...for the love of sheep... the list

The next day of my Shetland Islands Wool Week Adventure,   I was pretty overwhelmed from all that I had experienced thus far, and needed to catch my breath. The place I had chosen to stay for the week was more of a bit of a drive than I had anticipated.  The night before, after a full day of classes and activities, I had arrived in the dark  after driving for quite some time with a few sheepish friends that joined in here and there.  It was late, and I was very very tired. 

My little spot at Vementry Farm was at the end of the road beyond the town of Aith. When I awoke (late, mind you, weary from the travel) to see the scene from my sheep farm croft cottage at the edge of the sea, the panorama took my breath away, but  hardly had a minute to catch it (my breath),  for I had to make haste to get  back down the road and off to Lerwick for my first class of the day, even though the view from my little Shetland home for the week beckoned me to stay.

There was no such thing as rushing on the small lane I had to travel leaving Vementry, and trying to acclimate to driving with the steering wheel on the right didn't help, even though the inside of me was racing at full speed.  I had a workshop on Fair Isle Knitting with Hazel Tindall on my schedule for the morning, and I was desperate not to be tardy, but it was too late for that.  I could only drive so fast, and there was no way I could make up the time.  The class was on "Designing Fair Isle yokes for Round Yoke Jumpers and Cardigans".   I took a deep breath and walked in late, with my head held low as class was already in session.  I didn't like having to race to get caught up with the class, but I loved hearing the stories Hazel shared and tried to soak up every drop I could of  the colorwork and design of her samples on the table.

If you are interested in The Art of Fair Isle Knitting, Hazel has an excellent DVD on the subject and worth investing in.  She is a great instructor and grateful I could attend even though I was a little frazzled.

I now could really take a deep breath  I had no afternoon class, and so I finally had some free time to explore the museum and read through the  literature provided in our welcome pack,  and so, after milling around the museum, sitting down for a rest and quietly leafing through papers seemed like a  really good idea.  I found myself a cozy corner and I began to read through the brochures they had given us.  There was one document in particular from the Campaign for Wool that I was compelled to read over and again . I had seen it somewhere before, but this time I read it extra intently.  Much of it I already knew, but there it was, point by point, in black and white, all the features of wool that make it such an excellent fiber. 

This is the list that  I read again and again...Take time to read it slowly, it's worth the read.


Wool is a protein fibre formed in the skin of sheep, and is thus one hundred percent natural, not man-made. Since the Stone Age, it has been appreciated as one of the most effective forms of all-weather protection known to man, and science is yet to produce a fibre which matches its unique properties.

  As long as there is grass to graze on, every year sheep will produce a new fleece; making wool a renewable fibre source. Woolgrowers actively work to safeguard the environment and improve efficiency, endeavoring to make the wool industry sustainable for future generations.

At the end of its useful life, wool can be returned to the soil, where it decomposes, releasing valuable nutrients into the ground. When a natural wool fibre is disposed of in soil, it takes a very short time to break down, whereas most synthetics are extremely slow to degrade.

  Wool is a hygroscopic fibre. As the humidity of the surrounding air rises and falls, the fibre absorbs and releases water vapour. Heat is generated and retained during the absorption phase, which makes wool a natural insulator. Used in the home, wool insulation helps to reduce energy costs and prevents the loss of energy to the external environment,
thus reducing carbon emissions.

  Wool fibres are crimped, and when tightly packed together, form millions of tiny pockets of air. This unique structure allows it to absorb and release moisture—either in the atmosphere or perspiration from the wearer—without compromising its thermal efficiency. Wool has a large capacity to absorb moisture vapour (up to 30 per cent of its own weight) next to the skin, making it extremely breathable.

   Wool fibres resist tearing and are able to be bent back on themselves over 20,000 times without breaking. Due to its crimped structure, wool is also naturally elastic, and so wool garments have the ability to stretch comfortably with the wearer, but are then able to return to their natural shape, making them resistant to wrinkling and sagging. Wool therefore maintains its appearance in the longer term, adding value to the product and its lifespan. Wool is also hydrophillic—it is highly absorbent, and retains liquids—and so dyes richly while remaining colourfast, without the use of chemicals.

  Thanks to its hygroscopic abilities, wool constantly reacts to changes in body temperature, maintaining its wearer’s thermophysical comfort in both cold and warm weather.

  The protective waxy coating on wool fibres makes wool products resistant to staining and they also pick up less dust as wool is naturally anti-static. Recent innovations mean wool items are no longer hand-wash only. Many wool products can now be machine-washed and tumble dried.

   Wool is far more efficient than other textiles at absorbing sweat and releasing it into the air, before bacteria has a chance to develop and produce unpleasant body odor.

   Wool is naturally safe. It is not known to cause allergies and does not promote the growth of bacteria. It can even reduce floating dust in the atmosphere, as the fibre’s microscopic scales are able to trap and hold dust in the top layers until vacuumed away. Thanks to its high water and nitrogen content, wool is naturally flame-retardant, and has a far higher ignition threshold than many other fibres, will not melt and stick to the skin causing burns, and produces less noxious fumes that cause death in fire situations. Finally, wool also has a naturally high level of UV protection, which is much higher than most synthetics and cotton.


All of these features,  growing in this environment, on this creature.  What a marvel.

As I read and reread this list, all I could think about was the ganseys I had seen the day before, my fishing family, and the idea that wool is indeed a very good idea. 

Now, I have always liked wool, but somehow being in this environment surrounded by sheep, knitters, and with a moment to contemplate, I pondered these qualities and the first of the dots began to connect. I thought about our fishermen and the work they do and these living animals with this inherently superior fiber growing on them, roaming the green hillsides. Of course there is the economics of it all, and much more complicated than my simple thoughts, but the elementary concept of sheep, wool, fleece, yarn, knit, wear, work, fish just seemed like such a natural and logical progression to me. My thoughts were drifting.  It worked for could work for the midst of knitting, I was contemplating fishing...


It was then as clear as day that I felt another tap on my shoulder, and maybe even accompanied by the ting of a bell, maybe even a ship's bell.  Something was most definitely stirring. This was tap number two.



More to come… the saga continues...



Etchings  by Nicola Slattery

I was fortunate enough to take an etching workshop with her while in the UK.  For more info on etchings and workshops, folllow link above.