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Published: 20 April 2019

By Andy Ross

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Shetland tweed in the Archive Store

Samples from the Adies of Voe collection Samples from the Adies of Voe collection

On Friday this week I visited the Shetland Museum and Archives Store, a fascinating and eclectic collection of all things Shetland.

Carol Christiansen is the Curator at the Store and I had arranged to go in to look at the tweed collections and artefacts. What a fantastic day it was!

A weavers' yarn ball A weavers' yarn ball

Shetland's tweed history starts, as far as I know, in about 1880. That is according to the references I have read in libraries and archives. This is a later date than the rest of Scottish tweed (1830s/ '40s), for reasons that I have yet to decipher, but what it means for anyone researching is the likelihood of there being substantial amounts of material extant. Those extra forty or fifty years in a place like Shetland would mean far fewer items to look at. As the Archive Store has thousands of items and many volumes of sample books and patterns as well as artefacts, keeping to the dates does restrict what could end up being a Very Big Project indeed!

Two handwoven scarves from the collection Two handwoven scarves from the collection

Back to the day spent in the Stores. We first looked at some blankets and a tiny braided, intricately woven strip which looked like it was made on an inkle loom. Then the fun really started. Carol brought out a box filled with beautiful sample books and yarns, and we went to town. Hauling out page after page of wonderfully coloured tweeds we also found the pattern cards and the yarn range cards so that we could match up all the items.

Samples pasted into books for reference Samples pasted into books for reference

One of the pieces really confused me. The warping plan indicated three stripes of colour with the first being 3 Grey threads. However the sample did not have three grey threads anywhere. It took the long drive back home and ferry ride to figure out that 3 Grey referred to a colour - 3 Grey, not to a number of threads. 

Small breakthroughs like that are always good in research. I cannot wait to get back into the Store and start to analyse the fabrics, putting yarns, samples and plans together. We should be able to do that with a substantial number of the items and get a real feeling for how the company making those particular tweeds, Adies of Voe, was creating these unique pieces.