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December 12, 2015 By Andy Ross

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The Christmas blog

The festive season is nearly here and this year we are off to exotic Shanghai for a few weeks. That means the blog won't be running for a few weeks so here is a look back at the year that is nearly done, and a glance at what is in store for 2016. 

First of all, thank you for reading and passing on the blog. It has been fantastic to hear from so many people over the year, passing on information and links, and generally staying in touch. We have readers now in the USA, New Zealand, Australia, all over the UK, Europe... A real extended family of people who love craft and art as much as we do.

This year our blog started off in January with a visit to Florence. Amazing buildings and art, great food and even better shopping for vintage clothes, and a visit to a silk weaving mill in the heart of the city. What a fantastic experience and we were very happy to share it with you all. And to those of you who went to Florence and shared what you found with us, thank you. 

January was a time of anticipation for us. On the 26th we were finally able to tell you all that we had been given funding to expand what we do. It was a good start to a Very Exciting Year. 

A few days later we started our Etsy shop and sold tea towels and tweed pouches. the shop had to close while we were busy setting up the new studio and getting our new loom, but it will be open in 2016 with some of the cloths that we have been making. 

While that was happening we were learning about online businesses and courses on Etsy and other sites became the staple diet. What a lot of information is out there, for free, to anyone starting up an internet shop. 

In March we went to visit family and friends in South Africa and my birth country, Zimbabwe. A wonderful trip with poignancy, happiness, delight, sadness... all the gamut of emotions you can imagine thrown in for good measure. The highlight of the adventure must be rekindling the connection to a drama group, Ingonyama, in Zimbabwe. In spite of very difficult times in the country, these young men (and I am pleased to say, now women as well) travel to local schools and tell their stories about conservation through drama and song. Next year we will be doing some fund-raising for the group. 

In April we welcomed Kirsty Brabin as a new member of staff. What a difference this has made! We have a designer-weaver now who can work on the fabrics we want to make, who can advise on what works and what doesn't, and most importantly, someone to chat with and keep things fun at work. Tybalt-the-studio-dog arrived with Kirsty and has made life lightsome with antics in the studio, and Paul, Kirsty's partner has been very useful as we set up the new studio, rewiring and doing all the things that need qualified people to do. 

In May I went to Fair Isle overnight to work in the local school. Always a favourite place of mine, this trip rekindled a love for the island made famous for its knitting. Go if you can...

And in May we started preparing for the new studio space next door to the existing studio. Painting, shelving, lighting... all the preparation that has to go on before installing a new loom.

Summer started in May and with it our first textile tour of the year. Four days of fun, information, chat about all things textile-y, and inspiration in Shetland's varied landscape. And a good tour it was too!

June came bustin' out all over and with it an update on the progress of the studio and the transformation that is June in Shetland with birds and flowers brightening the land and sky. There was a lot to do in the new studio space, much of it involving paint ("Oyster Blush" and "Dove Grey") and plaster. Needless to say we got into a Huge Mess and there was a Vast Amount of Hilarity. 

In July we saw the tattit rugs exhibition at Shetland Museum, finished off the studio, rehung some of the pieces in the old studio, replacing some with new acquisitions, and I got ready to sing in a chamber opera written especially for the North Isles, Jan Tait and the Bear. It was a busy month. 

August was a month and a half! Not only was there the second textile tour of the year, but our new loom, Alvin, arrived, was installed, and we began to warp it up. It was a very exciting month, full of visitors and excitement. 

In September we visited Paris and the fashion house, Chanel, who showed us around their buildings and allowed us to visit Coco Chanel's apartment where we sat on the famous sofa and oohed and aahed over the decor. We went to Premiere Vision, the big trade fair, and spent an exhausting day there looking at fabrics and chatting to manufacturers. It was a bit overwhelming to be honest but a great experience. 

Also in September was Wool Week and Kirsty ran workshops in the studio. It was great to see the interest in weaving and to have a studio of people beavering away on colour samples in stripes and blocks, and weaving Shetland tweeds. 

We got our first ever order made in October. Upholstery fabric for a visitor who saw our chairs in the studio and loved them. And we ran the last tour of the season... except that it was not really the last because a group of Swedish teachers came on a bespoke tour at the end of the month. For a month that it traditionally outside the visitor season, it was busy and very interesting to meet so many people from all over the world. And no sooner had we announced the dates for the next season's tours, than we got bookings. Let's hope that it is a good visitor season for everyone next year. 

November saw some very mild weather with flowers in the gardens until the end of the month. But we could not stop to admire them for long. Our first cloth to be professionally finished came back from the finishers amid much excitement. We are now professional weavers!

It is December. Today we have had snow and sleet as you can see in the picture, but also beautiful skies with low light casting black shadows, and blue and purple clouds hanging over our red and tan fields. The sun is at its height around midday, thirty degrees or so above the horizon, and shafts of light hit the sea causing it to sparkle and shimmer. Indoors we are busy with business plans, and plans for next year. Workshops and tours, cloth making and designing, website revamps and all the things that go into making  businesses successful. We have just been given funding to purchase our studio buildings next year, and we have started working on letting people know what we do now. It promises to be a good year. 

The observant will have noticed that I do not talk much about music any longer. Rest assured that music is still very much a love and I have not stopped singing. It is just time to slow down and take stock. I have been a musician in my adult life for twenty five years, a long time by anyone's understanding. And there is always music around to help me as I work. The sea shanty group that I sing with is a real distraction from work, and singing in the chamber opera this year was a fantastic experience. 

In this eventful year we have also learned about all sorts of artists and craftspeople, we have seen some amazing artworks through the magic of the internet, and we have learned Ever So Much. Who knew ten years ago when I started the studio in Yell we would be where we are now. Onwards and Upwards and a Very Merry Christmas everyone!