While visiting Neil Brochu and Derek Sullivan a few weeks back, Derek was kind enough to show us some samples he's knitting using Shetland wool. The testing of colours in pattern is both a preparation for sweater making and perhaps a spark for his art practice.
Shetland wool comes exclusively from a small group of islands belonging to, and north of Scotland. Because of the inclement weather and diet of heather and seaweed, the sheep who live here produce very strong, soft and warm wool. Over 700 crofters supply wool harvest from their Shetland sheep to Jamieson and Smith, the company responsible for distributing 80% of Shetland's wool. With a mandate to support and sustain both the fragile industry and Shetland's textile heritage, Jamieson and Smith is making sure that the tradition carries on.
Because of the nature of Shetland wool, it can be spun very thin and worked into small and intricate patterns. This type of knitting (seen above) is called Fair Isle and comes from a tiny place of the same name. Less than 10 km square, Fair Isle sits alone between Scotland and Norway. Since 1500, people have been knitting here, but it wasn't until the 1920's, when the Prince of Wales wore a vest knitted in the Fair Isle manner, that the look became a real comodity. Today, the style has spread the world over with designers like Ralph Lauren, Burberry and Prada reinterpreting the Fair Isle sweater. With such a wide array of beautiful colours and patterns available, the combinations are seemingly endless. We marvelled at Derek's work in wool and look forward to seeing the completed sweater, now well under way.