So this is the new project we are working on which has (until today) been very much under wraps!
It has been on our minds for some time now for Tom to pursue a project exploring the documentary photography he particularly enjoys. . . and what better subject than a place we dearly love, and the field we currently work in? OO! “Oo” (if you didn’t know already), is the Shetland dialect word for wool. While for many people the words “Shetland wool” might simply suggest ideas of tradition and heritage, today Shetland “oo” is something much more diverse and vibrant, innovatory and entrepreneurial than you might ever imagine.
Tom has long been interested in people and processes, in the many different kinds of Shetland work that contribute to a contemporary culture of design and textile production that is quite unlike anywhere else in the world. From a crofter determined to improve his wool-producing sheep stock, to the labours of a prize-winning sheep dog; from a ninety-six year old veteran lace expert, knitting beautiful cardigans, to a lass of ten selecting shades for her first Fair Isle yoke, we’ve been exploring the many different ways that humans and animals work together in this industry. And through meeting, talking to, and photographing folk who work with Shetland wool and textiles, Tom and I have both found this an incredibly inspiring project. I’ve been particularly blown away by the often unexpected directions creative Shetlanders have taken into their own routes of making: from an energetic businesswoman who, seeing part of an animal routinely wasted, simply taught herself the skills she needed to transform that waste into a useful and beautiful product, to a talented college student whose stunning textiles combine her own familial memories with modern digital printing in deeply evocative ways. Lives in Oo is a celebration of the difficult, rewarding, and often surprising work of making Shetland textiles, and it will be published as a book before the year is out. Over the next few months I’ll be bringing you interviews with many of the people featured in the book, and I hope you enjoy finding out about their stories just as much as I have!
The hands at the top of this post are those of Elizabeth Johnston, and the yarn is a skein of her wonderful Shetland handspun. Many of you will know Elizabeth from taking a class with her on spinning or lace knitting; others will have read her erudite words about the history of Shetland’s early textiles in this book. To describe Elizabeth as “talented” simply does not capture the unparalleled and superlative nature of her knowledge and skills. I suppose I think of her as an embodiment of the Shetland wool industry in miniature. What she doesn’t know about Shetland fleece and fibre is proabably not worth knowing, and from her spinning through her hand-dyeing to beautiful finished knitted garments, everything she makes just takes my breath away. Read about Elizabeth’s work and travels on her blog of find out more about her hand-spun Shetland yarns and other fabulous products by contacting her here.