Greetings from the far North - By Pia Goddard

Greetings from the far North - By Pia Goddard

Pascale Spall

Wrap with pockets

A box of handwoven items has arrived in the shop, all the way from the Shetland Tweed Company on the island of Yell. Wrapped in brown tissue paper, beautiful wool shawls and wraps and silk scarves. All the tweeds are one-off designs, woven in lengths of 30 metres, each item cut slightly differently, the box a treasure trove of the unique.

I’ve never set foot north of Edinburgh, but the little bit of Scottish heritage in me feels an immediate familiarity with the colours and textures of these soft, elegant hand weaves spread out on the table in front of us. In the threads, the broader strokes of the landscape of Yell stand out in colours that read like a list of names in a paintbox - yellow sandy beach, grassy green verge, rusty peat bog, earthy croft brown, cliff grey, alpine white. Looking closer, I can see little flecks of yellow - primrose, buttercup, bird’s foot trefoil, small dots of pink campion, clover and eyebright, and the darker magentas of Marsh cinquefoil. In another piece the silver green of wild thyme, and my favourite of all, wisp of sheep wool caught in hedgerow – strands of greys, browns and creams. Something else is woven into the pieces too - an amazing sense of silence.

       Dogtooth weave

Shetland’s hardy sheep, with their exceptionally fine, soft wool, arrived on the islands with humans over 7000 years ago, working with each other to survive island life. Spinning the fleece and weaving it into fabric dates back at least as far as the centuries’ old loom weights discovered in archeological digs on the island, and the current textile production on Yell is a wonderful fusion of past and present skills, techniques and designs.

As Pas and I put the wraps out in the shop, we are both in reflective mode, thinking weavy thoughts, revisiting shelved plans and projects. Both our looms lie empty. Waiting. Downstairs in the workshop, Pas’s handmade floor loom is covered in shop stock, and my Harris loom fills up the space under my desk. Time fills up with other, urgent things, leaving no space for the process of weaving - a long, meditative journey that takes focus. Yards of fabric take days of mindfulness and these beautiful tweeds are full of that.

Shawl

But it’s not just their peaceful beauty or functionality that makes these gorgeous shawls so appealing, so important now as we address our toxic relationship with the planet. It’s their sustainability. Like the handwoven napkin and tablecloth set in my kitchen drawer at home, easily 5 decades old and still going strong, they will last. And last. Durability and quality are key to challenging a consumer culture which continuously reframes our wants as needs and changes them with the seasons.

These quiet pieces are part of a much-needed change in our buying habits, production processes, scales of output, things that need to be urgently addressed. Mindful businesses like the Shetland Tweed Company support local communities and practices, and hand in hand with that, the revival of traditional crofting and farming practice on Yell helps environmental healing, allows sheep to graze, birds to nest, wild flowers and inspiration to blossom, and of course, shuttles to fly.

Pia Goddard

20 February 2020