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Published: 19 January 2019

By Andy Ross

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Shetland's tweeds - a new research project

Shetland's tweeds are a small part of the islands' history today but in the past these cloths were much more important.

Way back in the proverbial mists of time, from the 14th century onwards to be a little more precise, Shetlanders paid their rent in a kind of cloth called vadmal. These cloths came in, as far as we can tell, at least two different qualities - one rougher than the other, and the latter fine. The cloth was this way because of the sheep which produced the wool for yarn and this is still the case now. Our Shetland sheep on the hills have sustained cloth production for centuries and although vadmal production had ceased by the 18th century, in the 19th tweed came along and the woven fabrics of the isles once again were in demand.

This winter I have started a Master of Reseach degree at Glasgow School of Art which is looking at the history and heritage of Shetland's tweeds, and how to make them vital again in the 21st Century. It is a fascinating subject and already my preliminary research has turned up some interesting facts which could help the industry to develop, finishing methods among them. Finishing is the final act of making tweed whereby the cloth is washed and pressed, maybe even brushed to make the surface of the fabric fluffy. It is all useful and I will blog about the research as it continues. 

If anyone out there has any information, no matter how insignificant you think it is, about Shetland and its woven cloths, please email. Already readers have sent in a piece of tweed from the Adies business, and some books. All Very Useful, thank you very much.