Saturday, July 27, 2013

A trip to The Mill

It's still horribly hot and humid here, so much so that I doubt the current thunder storm rumbling in the background, or the torrential rain doing it's best to get in through the need-to-be-open-or-I'll-suffocate windows will actually do much to freshen the atmosphere. My poor lap top continues to pant away in the manner of an overweight octogenarian Labrador that's been taken for a far to brisk walk and at the end of my first week back at work I feel much the same as it does but with added bruises. In my absence an illusive spider has taken to leaving webs in the oddest places, I can't find the damn thing anywhere, just the evidence of where it's - been mostly at ground level so I'm increasingly paranoid that the thing is going to jump out at me, if it does it won't get a warm reception. To lighten the my mood I've been finding homes for all my new woollens, looking at holiday pictures and listening to this and other examples of Shetland dialect on you tube.

We both bought quantities of tweed whilst we were away, D has taken his and gone off in search of a tailor - a suit beckons, but I'm not sure what to do with mine yet. I had vague plans to make hot water bottle covers and scarves from it but am still very much at the stage where the idea of taking scissors to this beautiful piece of cloth feels wrong so instead I'm going to spend my time telling you about where it came from.

Jamieson's mill in Sandness is an experience. Wool from Shetland sheep is quite fine (and I think long, but I forget precisely what makes it so unique - please bear with me) so traditionally had to be mixed with wool from coarser clips to go through commercial spinning machines, the guys at Jamieson's were told that it would be impossible to spin pure Shetland wool, but they wanted a pure Shetland product so they bought a machine anyway and tinkered with it until they could get it to work just the way they wanted. The result is that at Jamieson's you can see the whole process from raw wool coming in, to bales of dyed wool, wool spun into yarn, and yarn knitted up into garments or woven into tweed.
From my point of view the best thing about it is this... You go along to the factory which has a little shop, find the shop is locked and try a few doors till you find the office which looks like somewhere you shouldn't be, but somebody very helpful comes and lets you in the shop anyway. The shop is mostly balls of wool and jumpers which I guess are very slight seconds or overs from large orders, what the shop doesn't have is tweed but if you ask nicely you will be led through a door, round a corner, through another door and into the factory where you skirt around some terrifying looking knitting machines and if you dare close your eyes for a moment imagine that you could be in Victorian Lancashire. Closing your eyes isn't wise because there's a lot more machinery going full tilt to be skirted around,and then just when you're wondering why a man is fixing his car in the middle of a textile mill you find yourself handed over to a man at a loom. He takes you up a rickety set of wooden stairs and into the tweed loft where you negotiate your way around more sacks of wool and find a wall of tweed. He will casually wave at it, tell you the stuff in the corner is samples and not for sale and then go back to his loom whilst you get to rummage around the rest of the fabric to your hearts
content. We had a great time. This is really just left overs - most of the tweed is exported overseas - so you have no idea what you might find or if there'll be enough of what you find to do what you might want with but there's plenty of variety. Eventually you make a choice, retrieve the man from his loom, he gets the scissors out and then you try and reach the shop again without falling into any moving machinery. It's an extremely friendly and civilised way of buying something, the place smells strongly of wool (by which I mean lanolin, once you recognise it is extremely evocative) and seeing the entire process taking place under one roof is inspiring. 

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