Shetland and Yorkshire

I’ve had a few queries about yesterday’s post . . . Jules asked a good question about the relationship between Shetland and Yorkshire, so I thought I’d explain. Jamieson and Smith and the Real Shetland Company exist under the same umbrella. You might have read Oliver Henry’s Wovember post (if you haven’t, do go and have a look) – – Oliver is the linchpin of this relationship. The crofters bring their fleeces to Jamieson & Smith (who, on the Shetland islands, are simply known as “The Woolbrokers”), where Oliver sorts the wool into its different grades. . .

(Oliver Henry, sorting Shetland wool)

After hand sorting, the wool goes on a trip to West Yorkshire (the heart of the British wool industry), to be processed at the Haworth scouring plant that I mentioned yesterday.

YORKSHIRE: wool’s own country.

While the finer grades of Shetland are set aside to make up Jamieson & Smith’s flagship yarns, such as the Supreme laceweight, or jumperweight, that I used for my Rams & Yowes blanket, the lower grades are used for the blankets, rugs, carpeting, and mattresses now produced by the Real Shetland Company. What is great about all of this is that nothing is wasted, and that ultimately, this great range of wool products goes back to supporting the sheep on the Shetland hill, and the crofters that raise them.

(Shetland rams at Lunna Farm)

At a time when many British sheep fleeces aren’t worth the price of the shearing, and are simply being burnt or discarded, what Jamieson and Smith and the Real Shetland Company are doing is to be loudly applauded. I come into the equation simply because I love their wool, I like what they do, and I am proud to support the skills of someone like Oliver — because, in the end, it is these skills (along with the sheep, of course) that enable my enjoyment in my work as a knitter and designer.

Anyway, I’ve also had a few emails and rav messages from some of you who were unable to apply the discount I mentioned – if you contact Adam at the Real Shetland Company ( and tell him which blanket you’d like, he will apply the discount and sort things out for you.

York Craft Tour

(Felix in Duttons).

I am busy. I do not find long working days particularly good for either body or soul. During periods of insane activity, one must always find a little time to spend in the restorative presence of friends, and it was great to meet up with Felix the other day. We spent a lovely, crafty few hours in York, highlights of which included a cake shaped like a cauliflower, and these amazing tea-cup buttons that Felix found in Duttons (of course).

(very Felix buttons)

After this, and my earlier button pilgrimage with Ysolda, I thought it might be a good idea to produce a map, linking together my favourite York crafty locations. You can click each map-marker to see my notes on each location, or click on ‘larger map’ to zoom in and see the full thing in much more detail.

Each marker takes you to one of eleven craft hotspots. In no particular order, they are:
1. Duttons (for Buttons)
2. Betty’s (tea. baked goods. confectionery.)
3. Viking Loom (embroidery, quilting, beading)
4. Sheepish (best place for yarn)
5. The Japanese Shop
6. York Beer and Wine (and cheese and cider) shop
7. Priestley’s Vintage Clothing
8. Quilter’s Guild Museum
9. York Castle Museum
10. York Brewery
11. Monk Bar Chocolatiers

(Betty’s. Yorkshire delicacies indeed).

This list is entirely personal, and a bit idiosyncratic. For example, I like ‘Sheepish’ for Yarn, and the ‘Viking Loom’ for embroidery supplies, and I prefer both to ‘Craft Basics’ on Gillygate. On my list you will find beer and cheese, wool and cakes, the finest local produce and ingredients, and (perhaps incongruously) some lovely stuff from Japan. There are also two brilliant museums: the York Castle Museum (chock full of fabulous textiles and intriguing domestic objects), and the museum and archive of the UK Quilter’s Guild (now happily housed in their new home in St Anthony’s Hall). Check their websites for opening times and listings of current exhibitions.

(Ysolda by the River Ouse).

One of the best things about York is how compact and pedestrian-friendly it is. All of the craft hot spots on my list are within or near the city centre, and all are in in easy walking distance from each other. Walking around York is aided by two of the city’s unique geographic / architectural features: its rivers and its walls. The city is bisected by the rivers Foss and Ouse, the latter of which is lined by a lovely Georgian path known (then and now) as the “New Walk“. As well as being a genuine pleasure in itself, a quick walk along the “New Walk” takes you to the haven of refreshment that is the York Beer and Wine shop. A York organisation has produced this great guided tour of the New Walk, which I strongly recommend reading. (I used to live in the first location on this tour many moons ago when I was a student. Ahem.)

(The New Walk in 1756)

The Romans built the original walls around the city they named Eboracum. These defensive walls have been rebuilt several times since over the centuries, and today you can walk almost the whole way round the city centre along well-maintained wall paths which, according to York City Council, are tramped on by around a million people a year. Several of my craft hotspots are near to the bars (or gates) which form the stopping-off and getting-on points for wall-walkers. These include Monk Bar Chocolatiers (located, unsurpsingly, by Monk Bar) and The Viking Loom (close to Bootham Bar).

(Felix walks along the city walls toward Bootham Bar).

As I said, this list is entirely personal, but if any of you Yorkshire folk feel I’ve missed a really vital craft hot spot, do tell me, and I can make additions (or amendments) to the map. Hope you enjoy it! Thankyou!

(tree of knowledge on the doorway of York Minster).



Ysolda and I have been pursuing our craft tour with gusto. It now appears to be extending out from Edinburgh in several directions. The other day, we traveled a bit further than usual on the East Coast Mainline, and hopped on a train to York. York is one of my old stomping grounds, and there are many reasons to visit. It is a great compact city in which you can literally walk through a whole millennium, admiring fine examples of British architecture from the Roman to the Victorian. It is home to one of the most important Gothic cathedrals in Northern Europe. And the light in York is always particularly beautiful — something about the flatness of the landscape and the soft colours of the stone. None of this interested us, however. We went to York for buttons.


In York, Duttons for Buttons is something of a local institution, and, if you ask me, it deserves to be a national one as well. For Duttons is so much more than a well-stocked haberdashers with friendly, knowledgeable staff, selling an excellent range of needlecraft and dressmaking supplies and notions. Duttons is, in fact, the spiritual home of the button, a palace, a shrine, a hymn to that tiny and miraculous combination of decorative form and function . . .




For Buttons!

Buttons exemplify the appeal of the numinous and miniature. They are ordinary things, neither jewels nor sweeties, but there is still something precious, sensuous, near-edible about them. And, unlike jewel-things, buttons have an important functional point to make. If fabric is the language, then buttons are the grammar of our clothing — openings, pauses, closings — as well the decorative accent of any outfit.


We all know the singular pleasure of poking around in a button box — the delight of handling, arranging, and admiring lovely button-things. Now imagine that box-sized pleasure magnified to the size of a shop, and you have some sense of just how great it is to be in Duttons. There is the satisfying knowledge that you have over 12,000 kinds of buttons to play with and choose from. Then there is the space of Duttons itself, with its medieval beams and wobbly floor. The shop fittings have stayed the same for forty years or more — the buttons are displayed, floor-to-ceiling, in worn, compartmentalised cardboard boxes, which you can examine on pleasing tables that pull out from the button-wall.


The sheer range of Duttons buttons is frankly amazing. There is glass and acrylic, wood and cloisonné, in an incredible array of sizes, styles and hues. And what makes some of this stock so precious, is that so much of it is discontinued. Many of the buttons sold here have their stylistic origins in the 40s and 50s and are literally at the end of the line. The nine buttons you buy for your coat or cardigan might be the last few available anywhere. Superlatives really cannot capture the sheer wonder that is Duttons. If you are lucky enough to live in West or North Yorkshire, you will also find branches in Ilkley and Harrogate.

Here are some of my spoils.


so tasty.

Oh, and by the way, York is brilliant for many crafty things other than buttons. These include Betty’s . . .

(the mere phrase ‘selection of miniature cakes’ on the menu made me stupidly gleeful)

. . . and of course, beer


. . . the subject of other posts.

And just a quick a note about the owlet – – I was very interested in your comments, and in Franklin Habit’s remarks about the same issue, to which Lucette linked. After reading both, I was filled with a militant desire to chat to mums in the street, and ask their kids to wear my sweater. Over the past few days I’ve tried this with mixed results. Unlike Franklin, the problem I discovered was not the attitude of the parents to the weird-sweater-brandishing-person (all were interested, most were helpful) but simply the age and size of the kids on offer — I’ve just not been able to find any 1 year olds! In Duttons, for example, I got chatting to a lovely mum with an equally lovely toddler, but when we matched kid up to sweater the latter turned out to be much too small. And just when I was beginning to think that, since toddlers seem to be clearly the most numerous, or at least the most publicly available size of kid, I’d better just knit another sweater, I received an email from a someone and her just-one-year-old who may well turn out to be my owlsend. Hurrah! More soon.

sixes and nines

I’ve been tagged by two of my favourite blog buddies, Helen and Suzanne. Helen was kind enough to name me as a kreativ blogger (thankyou Helen!) while Suzanne‘s tag involves doing something complicated – nay, well nigh apocalyptic – with six bloggers and the sixth photo in your computer’s sixth folder. Now, I know that Suzanne was hoping that the number of the beast would actually turn out to be that of Jesus (my cat), but unfortunately it didn’t – I’ll just have to make my feline household god pose for you another day. Anyway, I picked the folder that is sixth alphabetically on my external storage (I stopped keeping pics on my mac since it went ape last year) and that folder was entitled Coast to Coast. Here is the sixth photo.


To add another random six to the mix, this photo was taken on the sixth of the twelve days it took Tom and I to traverse the fine northern country from St Bees to Robin Hoods Bay, following the well-trodden footsteps of Alfred Wainwright. What you see here are a few of the mysterious cairns that give Nine Standards Rigg its name, and the figure of yours truly, leaning against one of them.

Though it is not half-way in terms of distance, Nine Standards Rigg is the psychological mid-point of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk. It marks the historic boundary between Westmorland and the North Riding of Yorkshire and also sits on the Pennine watershed. Westward, rivers flow toward the Irish Sea, but from this point on, they empty East into the North Sea. It affords spectacular views across spectacular country. To the West, you see the dome-shaped sleeping giants that are the Howgill Fells, and to the East lies green and lovely Swaledale. “The attainment of Nine Standards Rigg is an occasion for celebration,” writes Wainwright, “if you are carrying a can of beer, prepare to drink it now.” We did not crack open the ale, but I recall that I did guzzle two mars bars (obligatory walking fuel) shortly before this picture was taken.

On the matter of what exactly the Nine Standards are, many walking books say something like “their origins are shrouded in mystery”* before claiming (with sadly predictable Englishness) that they acted as a warning to marauding Scots with (one presumes) terrible eyesight, since wee Jimmy was supposed to mistake the stone “standards” for those of a waiting army. Wainwright pooh-poohs this notion, but notes that the cairns are clearly not Victorian follies as they appear on much earlier maps. I myself have seen them marked on eighteenth-century topographical surveys, but to be honest, I quite like not knowing just what they are. Because to me, the standards are simply the best kind of folk art — spontaneous built-things, marks on the landscape, structures and signs with a purpose quite other than that of human shelter or the shelter of beasts. They are incredibly characterful cairns — stubborn, stolid, querulous, even — and when we were up there, the original nine had been joined by some proudly teetering additions of much more recent construction.

Before this picture was taken, we had walked across the Westmorland limestone pavement– a landscape I love. Our path took us past stone circles, tumuli, and the mysterious remains of Severals Settlement. As we neared Kirkby Stephen, the Nine Standards came into view on the horizon, and I remember finding them just as evocative as all the other signs of earlier lives — earlier feet and earlier hands — that we had seen that day.

Well, before I spiral off an into orbit about the Wonder of Ancient Stones or something, let me return quickly to the photo. Tom took it with one of those crappy disposable cameras (pack-weight is a serious issue on a long distance walk) — and given that, I think its pretty good — all I did after we had it developed was scan, desaturate, and turn down the brightness (it was a bit flare-y). I’d also like to mention that despite my near-rapturous account of Nine Standards Rigg, shortly after this photo was taken, things took a turn for the worse as I reluctantly traversed eight hideously boggy miles across Whitsundale. By the end of the day, I recall that I was forced to turn to my thing of last resort in these situations — what I must do when the mars bars run out — which is to silently narrate The Love Match, scene by scene, in order to to stave off sheer exhaustion (seriously, don’t ask).

There are far too many blogs and photographers I enjoy to name just six of you. Please consider yourselves well and truly tagged if you are reading this, and dig out the sixth of the sixth of the sixth photo. . . . or whatever, and write about it. Fun!

*Re: the puzzling origins and function of the Nine Standards, while writing this post I discovered that this Kirkby Stephen scholar has apparently Revealed All in a recent publication. . .


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