Friday, April 27, 2012

Haaf hats

After a challenging week of little or no access to email due to an 'upgrade' gone very wrong from our local island service provider, I thought I would cheer myself up and visit the Shetland Museum photo archive in search of historical versions of those wonderful hats Martha photographed on her visit to Fair Isle last summer.  Sure enough, they have several of these hats in their photo archive.  Not all had information with them, but this wonderful pair had a wealth of information!

Haaf hats  

This photo - #01383 in their collection, was taken by the museum in 2002.  Here is the description that accompanies it:
"Haaf hats were the type of hats worn by the crew of a sixareen (a type of boat) at the haaf fishing. The haaf fishing was deep-sea fishing for ling, done mostly at the north end of Shetland. It is Shetland's native commercial fishery lasting from the 1730s to the 1890s.

These examples were knitted around 1950 by an old woman who remembered such hats being worn by, and knitted for, the men in her family when she was young. Therefore the designs, and colours are representative of hats worn around 1880.

Haaf hats were typically patterned with small geometric designs. The skipper of the boat wore a bright red cap while the rest of the crew wore darker ones. This differentiated him from the rest of the crew."

Monday, April 23, 2012

More photos from Martha's trip to Fair Isle with Elizabeth - Summer 2011
 (All of the comments under these photos are from Martha.)

"Anne Sinclair proudly displays some of the 45 tall, colorful hats knitted in preparation for a visit of one of the tall ships that was part of the Tall Ships race and festival.  Local friends got together, some of whom had to be taught to knit and made these hats in honor of the old tradition of bartering knitwear to the many ships that passed the island exchanging the "hosiery" for spirits and tobacco.  I think they received a few tea sets this time!  Anne said it was great fun to do and they just hoped for good weather so that a ship would stop."

"Still in Fair Isle, sorting wool at the croft of Kathy.  Kathy has 50 sheep and shears them herself.  She was having a serious talk with herself about how much wool she had and with the help of these volunteers they were sorting it and getting it ready to be sent to a mill.  Kathryn, who is in the pink shirt came right up to me and said, 'Aren't you Martha Owen?'  David (Martha's husband) couldn't believe how hard we had worked to get so far away and someone knew my name!  Kathryn lives in Kentucky and has been to our shop (Yarn Circle) when taking a class at the Folkschool!"

"Our view from where we ate our picnic.  The boats are pulled up into boat shaped grooves."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Martha's Summer Vacation travels to Fair Isle, Shetland Pt.1

Martha Owen sent me several wonderful photos to share from her trip to Shetland last summer to visit Elizabeth Johnston.  If you've not had the opportunity to visit Shetland, it involves a bit of time to actually get just to Mainland where Elizabeth lives.  First you need to fly to an airport hub in Europe (we chose Edinburgh on our trip).  Next you need to transfer to Aberdeen in the NW of Scotland.  For the final leg of the trip, you can either take a verrrry long ferry ride across the North Sea (not a good chose if you get sea sick easily), or a rather short plane flight to Sumburgh, the airport on the south end of Mainland, Shetland.  If you started in the US, by the time you get to Shetland you are pretty bleary eyed and in need of some fresh air.

This pony lives up the hill from Elizabeth in Scousburgh.  Martha took the photo on a walk shortly after getting to Shetland just as the sun was setting. 

Fair Isle is another island in the group of islands that makes up Shetland.  It lays half-way between Orkney and Mainland, Shetland, about 25 miles south west of Sumburgh head (where the airport and Scatness are).

When Martha and Elizabeth got on the plane to Fair Isle for a 6 hour day trip, they were weighed and then arranged accordingly on the tiny plane that flew them over to the island.

The island is owned by the National Trust for Scotland and is just 3 miles long and 2 miles wide.  The 70 or so islanders that live there live mostly in traditional crofts on the south end of the island.  The northern part of the island is primarily rough grazing land and rocky moorland that rises up to 700 feet above the sea.

The view from the plane as they approach Fair Isle.

To be continued...

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Ramblings on Fair Isle knitting...

When you raise Shetland sheep you learn lots of arcane little details about the breed that you would never know otherwise.  Unlike modern breeds of sheep, Shetlands have not had the color genetics breed out of them. These primitive sheep come in 11 official colors and lots of patterns, many with old Norn names.  For example, 'moorit' is old Norn for the color reddish brown.

My small spinners folk of Shetland sheep
If you want to knit a nice thick sweater out of one fleece for someone my size (well let's just say I'm not your average models size 2), one fleece might not be enough.  They come off the sheep weighing about 4 pounds.  But by the time you remove all of the hay, dirt, manure and lanolin you're now down to 2 or 3 pounds of usable wool.  And then there's that little detail about the fleece having a bit of color variation in it...

Elizabeth in 2010 visiting Chris Lubinski's flock - note her sweater
Knitting Fair Isle patterns seems like the perfect way to use these small, soft fleeces.  The subtle shades in color blend really well together.  When you card the colors together, spin and then dye these shades you have an infinite number of color/pattern possibilities...

Elizabeth's undyed handspun Shetland yarn