In this special episode I go to Jamieson’s of Shetland to their newly refurbished Lerwick store, to chat with owner Garry Jamieson and Lizzie Ratter, who oversees the running of the Lerwick shop.
Jamieson’s of Shetland (different to and separate from Jamieson and Smith, (but just as woolly!)) have been a family-run business specialising in Shetland wool for over five generations. The business was started in the 1890s in Sandness, Shetland, when Robert Jamieson bought and sold knitwear in his shop. Robert’s son, Andrew, began a wool brokers and shipped the clip to the mainland to be processed. The business was expanded in the 50s to incorporate a retail shop and the knitwear business. In the late 70s it was Garry’s grandfather, Bertie, and father, Peter, who took on the challenge of setting up Shetland’s only commercial woollen mill and for the first time 100% Shetland wool yarn was produced in Shetland. With wool processing, dyeing, blending, carding and spinning; a successful knitwear company exporting all over the world; weavers of fine Shetland cloth and with retail shops and online sales – it takes a special team to accomplish all this and at Jamieson’s it is definitely a family affair, for example in this recording you can hear CEO Peter working on the refurbishments upstairs in the shop!
This episode of the podcast has three people from Shetland in it. There are lots of “peeries” and “ken’s” and other well-used Shetland dialect words. There are no subtitles available (!) however there are no real uncan words in there. If you REALLY can’t understand, just sit back and enjoy the sounds and imagine some wool!
| Like a brand new shop
Garry and Lizzie discuss the history of the Jamieson’s shop in Lerwick and the recent renovations to the shop which have totally transformed the Grade A listed building from a certain 70s chic to a fantastic, light and colourful shop.
Garry talks about the origins of the mill, out on the West side of Shetland in Sandness. His grandfather wanted to spin 100% Shetland wool, which at that point was deemed too fragile to make useful yarn; the idea was experimental, the equipment was all second hand and there were no manuals but with hard work and determination came the results they were looking for.
I asked Garry if he expected he would be the fifth generation of Jamieson’s to take on the reins – he says the wool is the veins! Along with Garry, his father, mother and sister all work for the company. The company has a workforce of around forty and Lizzie jokes that they only ever get to meet up at Christmas!
| A very traditional tweed
I was utterly blown away by the soft tweed garments made from cloth produced at the Jamieson’s mill. Garry talks about the production and how it differs from other woven cloths. These garments are available from the online shop, but they are spectacular, timeless and, in my humble opinion, very well priced for this utterly unique cloth.
We talk about the jobs at the factory, including dyeing process, and Garry remarks on how dedicated his dad is to the business and that they all have a lot of enthusiasm for the company and the product – for example, we talk about the practice of finishing all the knitted garments by hand – as they would have been traditionally – in order to create as close to a replica of a handmade Fair Isle sweater as possible.
|The beauty of the blend: Trade and Mail Order
I asked about colours and if they follow trends. Due to the enormous input from their knitwear customers, mainly in Japan, they take the initiative from them. Often colours used in knitwear for their Japanese customers are very bright. Lizzie showed us 400 Yellow, or Mimosa, which was created for a customer. While the yellow is inordinately bright, Garry talks about how this colour has been blended with others, as shown below.
Around 95% of the knitwear created at Jamieson’s is bound for Japan, with orders starting to come in from China and Korea (really resists the urge to photoshop Kim Jung un in a Fair Isle gansey). Lizzie talks about the mail order side of the business and how Shetland wool is much sought after over the world. She had orders for Estonia, Beijing, Norway, Australia and Bahrain and the UK in one day!
I also asked about the availability of the knitwear and the woven goods online – while it’s their aim they are not quite there yet. You can get the woven fabric in fat quarters and patchwork squares though. There are such a lot of beautiful items in the shop, besides the sweaters and the wool, but for now it’s a case of ‘watch this space’ for it being available online.
As you know I do like to get some sneaky hints about wool week for you. Jamieson’s of Shetland are one of the partners of the festival and Garry can reveal there will be more mill tours (check out my visit to the mill last year) and Garry will be doing some talks in the evening and there are some more evening events planned too. Both Lizzie and Garry praise the work of Shetland Wool Week co-ordinator, Selina-May Miller and say that the programme is going to be jam-packed! The programme is out on the 25th of May, so you will soon be able to see for yourselves!
| Wool: A by-product
In talking about the Shetland Flock Book Society – a group set up to improve and promote the quality of the animal, meat and wool – Garry talks a bit about how there needed to be an body like this and an emphasis on preservation.
| All hands
Garry and his family are dedicated to the company and there is no need for them to go back to the floor. They are in the factory, in the wool shed, in the office, in the shop and can turn their hand to any job. Lizzie describes the Jamieson’s team as a special group of people and without that the company would not have lasted for 5 generations. Their export customers can be baffled by the CEO and the owner of the company working with machinery, fixing what needs fixed and working in every aspect of their company.
I was truly impressed by their outlook and really inspired too. Their cohesiveness as a family translates flawlessly into the work place and their enthusiasm and warmth is really something to behold. I think Shetland wool from Shetland will always be a product that has a bit of prestige to it, but when it comes from a company like this that is has even more importance.
Thanks so much to Garry and Lizzie for lending me their time, chatting with me and letting me squidge wool!
You can find Jamieson’s of Shetland online at www.jamiesonsofshetland.co.uk, on Facebook and on Ravelry. You can read about my trip to Jamieson’s mill here, with photos and watch my video of all the different mill machinery at work here.
Images by Clint Watt. Please do not use without permission.
Music is by Antiqool Mind’s Made Up, from NoiseTrade.