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May 30, 2015 By Andy Ross

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A letter on Sunday

Dear loyal readers,
This week I decided to write you a letter about all the newsy happenings in our neck of the woods.

Getting a letter is so rare these days, unlike when I was young and "writing to Grandma" was a frequent and enjoyable pastime. Pencil and later, pen, in hand we would write all the news since the last missive, punctuated by drawings and sketches, posting the letter to Grandma, who lived in Worcester, Cape, South Africa, Africa, the World. It was always a minor miracle when the reply arrived, respendent with brightly coloured stamps ofStamp of a protea flowers like the protea (left), birds or gemstones. Nowadays we have instant communications, even with far-flung places, through the magic of in the internet, but in those days, a handwritten or typed letter was an Important Event. 

Back to the news. This past few months I have been travelling the length and breadth of Shetland, working in Primary schools on a mini-opera Under the Sea. The basic idea is simple. I go into the school and work for five weeks, two hours each week, on creating a performance. The children learn one song, this time around the Unst Boat Song  (performed here by Fridarey), and gradually over the next few sessions we build up a story, and a repertoire of songs, instrumental pieces, and sounds. We make a stage set and props, with a background made up of the storyline on a loooooong sheet of paper, and we devise characters. During this series we have explored the undersea - sharks have featured heavily! And we have all decided that making wise use of the ocean is a Good Thing for our planet. It has been brilliantly entertaining working with the children and the schools, and seeing how imaginative we can really be. A couple of days ago, I walked into one of the schools on performance day to discover children dressed in mermaids tails, or wandering around in bubble wrap and green tissue as seaweed, or, and wait for this one, dressed in shredded plastic bags as jellyfish! It was wonderful and we had an absolute blast singing and dancing and acting for our capacity audience. 

Of course the miles rack up when I do this series of schools work. On average at the moment, I travel over three hundred miles a week, so I only do this type of work for a short period of about three or four months at the end of the school year when the weather is better and it is easier driving. Then I can concentrate on the other work in the studio over the summer...

Tybalt the studio dog Tybalt the studio dog And speaking of the studio, things are moving on apace. Kirsty has settled in quickly and is doing marvellous things for us on our Twitter page, Facebook where Kirsty and her helper, Tybalt (pictured here eating an old cone of yarn in the studio), have made us a  new Facebook page, and working on an Instagram page. We are both working on Exciting Developments, about which more soon, and waiting impatiently and anxiously for our new studio space to be ready. We are planning to start work on the new studio in a month's time and are going to paint, put shelves up, new lighting, etc, etc. And we are very excited about our plans for the space. By the time we have finished, we will have something that will work for all of us including a space to show fabrics and textiles, and a place for the weary traveller to relax and read, surrounded by lovely things including the beautiful scenery of the islands. 

Which brings us neatly onto the summer. We have had a slow start to our season here - in some places, yellow daffodils are still flowering! But the light has been tremendous. It is our Simmer Dim season when the light days roll on and on, and, even at eleven at night, it is light enough to White rainbow over Bluemull Sound White rainbow over Bluemull Sound read a book. Last night returning home from visiting friends (hi, Lawrence and Margaret) the light was incredible. Huge puffy white substantial clouds rolling along the edges of the peat covered hills and surrounding a violet sea accompanied my trip northwards, while in the distance rainbows curved across the horizon. On arriving home in Gutcher the sky blushed pink and purple-blue, and the sea turned deep and dark. It is a truly spectacular time of year in Shetland, as you can see from the picture, left, which I took a few years back of a white rainbow across Bluemull Sound, and the only downside is that we all wake up really early, determined not to miss a second of the spectacle!

So it has been no surprise that our studio has been busy with piles of tweed and patterns and colours. The drama of the season has not escaped us, and we have been busy looking at what we are actually going to be making, once we have our new loom. It is such a good feeling to be moving ahead with our plans, (which include, not only our own manufacturing but also offering our cloth-making services to anyone who wants a short run of fabric made in Shetland. How exciting is that!) and to be spreading our wings. 

Our summer season now has well and truly started. The Shetland Gallery next door to us is busy, and we have had visitors from all over the world already. We love having people visit us because new people mean new ideas and conversations, new ways to look at things and new paths to travel. So we have been tidying up and clearing out the studio, re-cataloguing the library (open to the public) and started our sewing group again. Our volunteers have been in, working hard to make the studio a peaceful and calm place to visit and explore, thanks everyone.

A few weeks ago, we held a demonstration with a dear friend from the USA who brought along a rigid heddle loom to show us how it worked. It was a really fun morning, even though we had just finished a textile tour and so were a little tired to say the least, and folk travelled from the South Mainland to see the demo. Thank you for running it, Mary-Ellen, and to all the people that came along, thanks for making the trip too. I know one person who was so enthused by the loom that a new one has been ordered for delivery to her home in the USA! 

And every week I still get lovely emails from people who have found interesting things for us to share. This week we have had two heads-up (is the plural "heads-ups?") from a very good friend. Thank you, Ms You-Know-Who-You-Are, for the website about artist, Freddie Robins, who uses knitting to amuse, titillate and make us question, and for the dazzling coolness of Rita Parniczky's weaving. Fabulous!

A very special thank you to all of our readers and contributors for coming along with us on this exciting and exhilarating summer journey. As they say, Onwards and Upwards...

Andy and all at the studio