In august 2020, when I first saw the croft house that I was buying in Shetland (3weeks before moving in) my friend Janette met me, drove me to Levenwick, walked round and fastened a pinhole camera made out of a beer can to the drainpipe of the house. You can see it in some of these images. It stayed there for just over a year.
In September 2021, just before I left Shetland, she removed it. Last night she sent me the pinhole image of a year taken by that beer can camera that was strapped to the drain pipe.
It took my breath away. Janette has asked me to write 200 words to accompany the image for an exhibition in Somerset. I was excited but then became aware of the enormous nature of writing about my one year in Shetland in 200 words. I have started and restarted. I don’t know if I will be able to capture the essence of my one year there because I’m still processing it. And, that one year is still processing me.
I moved from joy and excitement to vulnerability and an inner trauma that spiraled from my own thoughts. Here is my start, it may change.
At a still point of the turning earth, where stars are caught arching and the sun warms the metal roof,
I ask you,
what did we both see in the one year that we both looked outward?
You, with your objective tin-sheltered eye looking south.
Me with my dream-like wishful eye looking east to the horizon from a bed that became a boat tossed around in a sea of extreme weather and emotions.
I arrived on a tide of high hopes and dreams, having moved heaven and earth to make it from city to island. You stoically rested against the house.
All the things came and went – ALL the things, except my son and daughter.
Hushed by clear moonlit nights, wide-eyed at blue winter days and crystalline turquoise seas, looking up to encounter the milky way in the midnight sky, endless pure unbroken fiery sunrises cracking open the fold in the world between sea and sky, whales and tiny golden birds – there is no place like Shetland. But beauty alone was not enough for me.
You sat beside the house through storms, gales, fog, winds so harsh that I could not stand and still your tin eye stayed open capturing a static and whirling world.
But you did not feel. You did not feel the damaging power of loneliness creeping over the horizon month by month eating me away to a vulnerable husk, looking inward, feeling everything and nothing, seeing little outward.
I am still processing my year in Shetland. In truth, I could not even think of it until asked to write 200 words to accompany the photograph. I feel I am touching on the essence of a full year but have not fully done the time justice. This is my thinking process so far.
At the turning point of the earth, on the shortest day, when the sun is furthest away, I celebrate Winter Solstice thinking of a gradual return of light. Celebrating the Winter Solstice is marked by people all over the world, in their own beautiful, personal ways.
I go outdoors. I wanted to connect with the environment but nothing prepared me for how I responded to that connection.
I waited for sunrise in a white sky. It did not arrive, but I felt its energy opening me up to connect to something hugely greater than self.
As the dank air penetrated, without plan or thought, I stood on the edge of Stanage, opened my arms, closed my eyes and breathed in connecting with the landscape and something deep within myself. I rarely express my life’s energy with open arms. Today, I did.
Here I am in my favourite spot on Stanage edge. Standing on ancient rocks, facing the horizon, in the split second of raising my arms and closing my eyes, there it was – that one pure moment of inner freedom, letting go, connecting with living the dance of life.
It is an empowering action to accept life with open arms to allow my inner landscape to melt into the present moment. It is also slightly embarrassing but honest.
TS Eliot came to mind, written in Burnt Norton, one of the Four Quartets, he said it better than I ever could :-
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity.
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement
from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been : but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time…
I am reminded of the man who gave me these 4 Quartet booklets about 25 years ago. A wise man, a teacher, a friend, a patron, a good man who was previously the Provost of Derby Cathedral and retired as Vicar at Chatsworth where I also lived at that time. A man who swapped books with me. I gave him Jeanette Winterson, he gave me TS Eliot and William Morris books. We learned from each other. I often think of him when I am at the still point of the turning world. And, I am grateful.
Today, I returned to Stanage Edge, as I have done so many times over, to acknowledge my internal and external place in life. I return to the solid rocks again and again connecting to past and present, whilst thinking of future. These stones and rocks become an anchor to steady my heart.
A familiar sight holds me, grouse utter their sounds in the heather, a cow bellows, the wind is a gentle whisper.
It is the shortest day of the year – Winter Solstice and I am finally
Cold fingers and knees atop an edge of ancient stones.
Today, I wore my newly finished ‘New Year Beret’, which I started in Shetland and finished in Sheffield.
I wish you a Happy Winter Solstice and I honestly want to say Happy Christmas and Good wishes for the New Year. I want to say thank you to every one of you who have joined me this last year in an online workshop and thank you to those who have bought a pattern from me. I’m truly grateful. Tracey, December 2021
Hat design, research and process – Tracey Doxey November 2020
On September 11th 2020, I moved into a small but perfectly formed decrofted croft house called Smola, formerly Croft Number 7. More or less immediately, I began to research the previous names and inhabitants of the house, which I found by looking at some of the archives at Shetland Museum and then confirmed by word of mouth by people still living in the village. I found that the Halcrow family had lived here through the 1800’s – 1960. They are listed on the 1888 valuation role of the Symbister Estate, Whalsay, partly owned by William Arthur Bruce who was the laird (landlord. In 1888, John Halcrow (Susan’s Father) tenant, paid a yearly rent of £4, 10 Shillings for croft number 7 – at that time, it had outlying lands with the house. Susan would have been 12 years old. The whole family are on the census of 1881 and ‘Susanna’ is listed as being 5 years old – there were 7 people living in this small house at that time – Thomas Halcrow aged 86, Barbara Halcrow aged 83 ( Susan’s grandparents), John Halcrow aged 40 and Ann Halcrow aged 41 (Susan’s parents) John aged 9, Susan aged 5 and a boy named John Brown aged 13. 7 people living in this small 2 bedroomed house.
Susan, was born on 6/2/1876 -and died in 4/1/1960 – she was a capable, marvellous 83 year old who had lived in this house alone after her parents died in 1908 and 1914, then her brother John died in the Battle of Jutland May 31st 1916. I have been to see the family graves at Levenwick cemetery. Susan is on her own next to her parents and brothers. John was a twin to Thomas, who died at the age of 2years.
I was fully introduced to Susan through photographs brought to the door by Raymond, whose Aunt Alice, lived at Smola until the 1990’s, for 30 years after Susan. Raymond also returned the old pottery that had belonged to Susan, which had been removed after Alice had died. Looking at the photographs and turning her jugs, plate, glasses around in my hands, was as if she was back in the house again. She would have used the Salt ware jug with a pewter lid on, daily – maybe for milk which she sold to the villagers. Raymond told me that it was on a shelf in the kitchen – and I’ve put it back in the kitchen. I have been told the she placed the milk bills in a row on a little shelf in the porch about 80 years ago. That was just before the 2nd world war, She would have been in her 60’s.
My newest knitting design is entirely inspired by Susan Halcrow and her beautiful serene face. When I was handed the photographs, I couldn’t stop looking at her, at her clothes, her smile, where she stood by the wall, her dog sitting on the wall, her horse and people standing by the wall that still stands today. I can touch the history of where she lived in this place. I can sit on the wall, where her dog is photographed sitting, I can lift the latch of the door that she lifted, open the door to the porch which was her door and see the sea – as she would have looked out, especially I am sure, when her brother died at sea in the battle of Jutland on the HMS Invincible. I can lift the pewter lid of her salt ware jug – these things feed inspiration. These things are real. Tangible.
I have 7 photographs of her and have studied what I think are the colours of her peat stacks, her tri-coloured dog, her dark clothes and hair, the lichen on the walls, the turf, flowers, grass and the house itself. I can still see these things today within this landscape – tangible, visible, visceral history. So, after much reflection, I chose colours that I felt reflected Susan and her life here – Peat, Sunrise, Havana, Cocoa, Rye, Moorgrass, Dewdrop and Maroon. They are not showy colours, but colours of strength and of solid ground. The design I chose for the hat is an all-over traditional Shetland pattern and I have blended the colours to work with each other – the background and foreground have had much consideration and work harmoniously. The background is all grasses, seas, lichen and skies, stone walls, and the air – the foreground is of peat stacks, woollen clothes, shawls and warmth. The motif has a kind of stacking pattern, as I felt the peats did in the peat stack photo and the colours chosen for this hat reflect what I am learning of Susan by just living here, seeing the weather, feeling the winter, holding the peats and sitting on those stones.
I had wanted to make Susan a beret but instinctively knew that when I was knitting the hat, the body was a little short for a beret. I could have knitted another section of the pattern – added to the length but I didn’t because it would have taken on an altogether different shape. The design of my hats is usually dictated by the motifs and where they fall. This hat follows that design process – the motifs have dictated the amount of rows and the perfect place to decrease. On a number of occasions, I took the knitting off the small circular needle and placed it on a larger one so that I could try it on my head to see how it fell – I already knew in my heart how it would fall and it wasn’t going to be a beret. In the end, the finished shape is more like a pudding bowl and I gently blocked it purposely in that manner over an inflated balloon. It covers my ears and is a neat, solid, stoic hat made in pure Shetland Jamieson’s of Shetland yarn. Spun from the fleeces of the sheep that roam these islands.
I knit intuitively. I don’t use the computer to design. I draw all the patterns out on graph paper, feel the yarn, consider the colours and sometimes knit a swatch – sometimes not. I instinctively figure out the stitches, length and depth and adjust as I go along. This is, of course, open to risk but I can always recover my knitting and we learn from mistakes. My process is based on 40 years of knitting, the tactile act of handling yarn and by drawing out the pattern with a pencil.
This hat pattern design actually means a lot to me in the sense that it is unique to this house and a woman who once lived here and it is now a place that I live in, in some ways, like Susan – alone, growing things, making the fire, opening the old latch door, looking out to sea every day. I will be very proud next year if I have a peat stack like Susan’s.
I have decided to call this pattern – ‘Good Wishes for the New Year’ – A message Susan wrote at the bottom of a Christmas card that she had taken and printed in a Commercial Photography Studio in Lerwick. This photograph will be on the pattern as it is Susan and her writing that has inspired this pattern. She may have borrowed the fur stole as a prop – we will never know, but she was an ordinary crofting woman living a simple life – often, I think a hard life, but meaningful.
I have attached the following images with this post – the colours and a close up image of the colour blended motif in the knitted hat. The image of Susan serenely captured in her Christmas Card – ‘Good Wishes for the New Year’ which will be on the cover of the knitting pattern plus research images of Susan’s family tree.
I will be adding more pieces to accompany this knitted hat and I hope that this has opened your heart to a Shetland Woman and to knitting with colour inspired by the landscapes of the people that lived here.
I will publish this pattern on Ravelry on Friday 27th November
I teach colour blending workshops and yoke sampling workshops. I hope to teach them in person next year and also offer workshops during wool week.
7th December, 2021
When I look back at my journal entry about the ‘Good Wishes for the New Year’ hat pattern, I see how much integrity and love went into that design. It is not just a knitting pattern or the unearthing of a story – it was a true connection to a life lived within the house that I lived in and to my love of it. How many people really do and feel that?
I published the Good Wishes for the New Year hat pattern last November. So many people have knitted it and after my online workshops to teach colour blending, participants have been developing their own colour choices within the pattern and it makes me smile to see everyone else developing their colour blending practice.
Now, in between finding a home, rehoming my cats, looking for, applying for, interviewing for and not getting jobs. I am turning once again to this Good Wishes hat and I am developing it into the beret that I hoped at the beginning of last november.
I feel grateful for the chance to have met Susan Halcrow and honour her in some small way with the new design which is a beret in greens and mulberry colours.
If I don’t write here again before Christmas, – I want to say Good wishes for Christmas and the New year and thanks to everyone who has bought a pattern and attended a workshop. I have genuinely enjoyed meeting everyone from all over the world. Tracey 😊
when I left Smola on 23rd October 2021, I also left the saltware jug with the Pewter lid. This is the last photo that I took in the house before the cats and I left the house for the long journey back south. It is Alfie, mirrored below Susan’s jug.