Listening to Shetland Wool

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from the wonderful Misa Hay of Promote Shetland featuring this:

Shetland Wool Week canvas tote design by John from We are Left design

It is the design for one side* of a canvas tote being produced for Shetland Wool Week, and I am ridiculously excited to see it bearing my drawing of the knitted speaker I have made with Jamieson & Smith soft-spun yarn.

Speaker knitted in soft-spun yarn from Jamieson & Smith

Speaker knitted in soft-spun yarn from Jamieson & Smith

This is an individual knitted speaker pillow which can be plugged into an mp3 player, an iPod, a laptop computer, or any other device which takes a 3.5mm jack plug. Inside the knitting, there is a pillow speaker, which plays sounds at low levels and which is designed to be listened to while in bed. I chose shades S577 and SS19 for its knitted exterior, because together these colours remind me of the many places in Shetland where I stopped in August to listen to the specific sonic textures of coastal grazing sites.

In many years of living in the South of England, I have never heard Arctic Terns and Shetland Sheep singing in the same airspace, or listened to baas, gulls, and the rumble of the waves combining on the wind. Neither have I seen sheep grazing down by the shoreline, or heard stories of the role that seaweed plays in supplementing their diet. For a landlubber, this is all new!

However I reckon it is precisely these subtle, distinctive particularities which lend a place its own sonic texture; that it is the tiny details like the flora and fauna, the presence or absence of trees, the grain of the wind and the resonances of regional architectures, which tell us where we are.

Whenever I think of Shetland, I think of the sounds of the sea and of grazing land mixed together, and of the corresponding history in the islands of crofters making an income from both fishing and hand-knitting. Wilma Malcolmson of Shetland Designer said to me when I met her in August that ‘we are always in colour’ which particularly resonated with me, because I think that we are also always in sound. So when I am recalling the popping seaweed, the shrill curl of the Arctic Tern, and the desolate bleat of a lamb who’s lost its mum on the hill, I think too of a blue tempered by the grey of imminent rain, and a green laced with golden mosses and burnished at its ends by salty wind. I think of S577 and SS19 in Jamieson & Smith soft spun.

Sheep grazing in Yell, Shetland

Sheep grazing on St. Ninian’s Isle, Shetland

Sheep grazing in Yell, Shetland

Speaker pillow knitted in S577 and SS19 in Jamieson & Smith soft spun

I am always searching for forms which will allow me to combine wool with sound, and which will help me to somehow embed (and share) a sense of place in woolen things. Consequently, you will soon be able to knit your very own Shetland Wool speaker, and download sounds to play through it from the Shetland Wool Sound Map which I have been building on Udo Noll’s aporee maps in recent weeks. 40 kits will be produced for Shetland Wool Week including Shetland wool stuffing, yarn, speaker and the speaker pillow pattern. After this, the pattern will be available through my Ravelry store along with instructions on where to buy the stuffing and the speaker. The sounds, meanwhile, are free for you to download for personal use. You can hear old Shetland wheels, new shima machines, knitting with a belt and steel needles, sheep, terns, and many different varieties of Shetland wind… all of the recordings are quite long, to give you time to really hear the textures and particularities of each place I recorded in.


I am so excited to be able to share the knitted speakers with the world, and that you will enjoy knitting them and sharing the sounds they can convey as much as I do!

Presenting the knitted speaker plugged into my phone and playing ‘Baa-tone’ a couple of weekends ago at ‘Playground on Fire‘, photo by Pier Corona

Presenting the knitted speaker plugged into my phone and playing ‘Baa-tone’ a couple of weekends ago at ‘Playground on Fire‘, photo by Pier Corona

Presenting the knitted speaker plugged into my phone and playing ‘Baa-tone’ a couple of weekends ago at ‘Playground on Fire‘, photo by Pier Corona

For me, Shetland wool is special because it comes from Shetland, and I hope that my recordings can go some way towards celebrating that fact. Thanks to Misa for being so encouraging of the whole idea, and for organising the bags and the speakers in time for Shetland Wool Week! I look forward to seeing (and hearing) some of you there.

Meanwhile, on the subject of sounds and wool, I highly recommend that you check out the wonderful entry on the London Sound Survey website, in which Ian has published the sound of a wool auction from London, recorded in 1935. I am really touched that Ian dedicated this entry to me, and I hope you will enjoy this historic glimpse of the wool industry in London from almost eighty years ago.

*the other side of the canvas tote features a wonderful treat from the amazing tomofoholland!

4 Responses to Listening to Shetland Wool

  1. Pingback: KNITSONIK at Yarn in the City this Saturday » KNITSONIK

  2. Pingback: Shetland oo : wool , textiles , work » KNITSONIK

  3. Pingback: Celebrating Shetland Wool Week hats and the knitters who make them – KNITSONIK

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