I have decided to write a book proposal to send to agents to write my story of living in Shetland as a single woman – in the most beautiful house and also why I left. I sent a pitch to the Guardian for their Saturday magazine ‘Experience’ section. It is below.
I bought and sold a 200-year-old croft house in a pandemic year.
At first sight, the 200-year-old croft house in Levenwick, Shetland, felt like it had always part of my life and I part of its existence. Its childlike front faced east, towards the horizon where the sea bordered the vast sky. The coronavirus pandemic was in the early, frightening months when I sold nearly everything I owned—including my flat in the city of Sheffield—and made the 800-mile journey north to this house that was now mine. I had decided to buy it on a sound, the click of the old wooden latch hitting its wooden casing and the sight of the flag stone floor.
But my move to Shetland was not a knee-jerk reaction to the pandemic. I had stayed on the island multiple times over the previous 5 years, and I’d always had a faint idea that I might move to there one day. Yet it was in March 2020, when Shetland friends sent me links to the tiny, jewel-like croft house for sale, that I knew it was time at age 57 to make my dream happen: living by the sea in a lifestyle of creative knitting.
I arrived in September 2020 with 2 cats, 2 bags, and a cat pram, followed by a few pieces of my furniture a week later. I felt as if I had never lived in any other house in my life. Its easterly facing windows offered ever-changing light and colour, whales in the bay, sunrises, passing ships, dark night skies of stars and the Milky Way or full moons that seemed to rest on the house roofs. The island was there for me to explore, finding favourite spots to collect cowrie shells, taking ferries to see Iron Age brochs and knitting on the beach. I began my creative life of knitting design, writing and teaching online knitting workshops.
Because of the pandemic, no one was allowed in anyone else’s house or car and everything began to close for the approaching winter, but I was happy, learning about myself and living a life close to nature. I began to restore parts of the house, sanding wooden floors, getting the leaky shower repaired so I no longer had to wash in a bucket, sieving the rocky soil in order to grow vegetables in the shelter of the roofless byre. At Easter, a two-day blizzard coated every window with frozen snow as if at the North Pole, an unfamiliar and beautiful experience.
I researched the croft house and the generations of people before me, including a woman who lived there for 83 years. She and I had opened the same doors, looked at the same view from the porch, sieved the same soil. I cherished my time with two friends, one in the village and the other 40 miles away, an 80-mile round trip for us to visit each other. But, by May, I began to feel very alone, which was a deeper feeling than that of lonely. I missed my son and daughter, still in England, and I missed my Sheffield friends and the city’s multi-cultural, outward perspective. Then, there was the wind.
Until you have lived on a treeless island where the wind visibly surges from the four points of the compass, down chimneys with a roar that lifts the bedroom floor boards, pins the ears of the cat to his head when he leaves the house, drives salt spray across the windows from a sea half a mile away, and nearly rips the car door off unless you use two hands to open it, you have not experienced wind. Shetland’s wind is nearly constant and can easily blow between 40 and 70 mph. I found it invigorating at first, but it soon ripped into my thoughts and became exhausting.
When I began to go out every morning to see if the barn roof was still attached, I knew that I could not sustain a solitary life in the raw harshness of Shetland at my age. A friend had said to me, ‘If you bide in Shetland, you’ll need a man.’ A partner may have alleviated much of the loneliness, but my decision to leave Shetland would have been the same.
I learned that a place of great beauty alone is not enough to sustain me. I found that I wanted the multi-cultural, open-minded existence of the city. I needed real connections to people who didn’t just talk about me but with me. I loved the little croft house, but I had to let it go, selling it in the Autumn and returning to Sheffield in October last year, without home or job or knowing exactly what next.
When I came back, friends said, ‘well, at least you tried.’ But I didn’t just try.
I did it, and I undid it.
There is a quote, ‘she believed she could, so she did.’ I believed in my Shetlands dream, and I had the bravery to do it and the courage to undo it when I knew it wasn’t mine anymore.
Grateful thanks to Ann Senuta (who lives in New Mexico) for editing this text for the pitch.
if you would like to support me with the idea of writing my story, then please contact me in the contact form on the home page – I would love to hear from you.
The below text is an extract from my ”Dear Susan’ knitting pattern and 15 page story of my Shetland croft house life and the symbiotic relationship between myself and a woman that lived in the house 140 years before me. Even if you don’t knit, the personal story will draw you into a Shetland life – both modern and old. Read the full story here
Shetland, May 2021
One day, towards the end of May, it rained so heavily that when the winds took up the weight of sky and sea water, dropping it upon the house roof, I could hear nothing else but the sound of pelting rain. Dampness penetrated the house, not as seeping or leaking but as a shroud that rested upon my body. I lit the fire in an attempt to fight back. After one hour, the weight lifted and I began to knit, waiting for the promised summer. By early evening, the sun came out as if there had never been rain at all so I walked to pay the wood man for the fire wood and on the way home, I took a detour to the beach. I wandered the edge of the surging waves, churned up by the afternoon’s winds. The sea, still being in a fury, was not able to slow down its waves to meet the sudden calmness of the early evening. The ebbing sea left a wake of tidal crustations as if lace edges on the beach. I looked for Buckies but all in an instant, I saw a tiny green sea urchin the size of a small flat pea. I bent to pick it up just as the tide surged over my shoes but I caught it before it was lost back in to the sea.
I wondered if you ever walked to the beach to collect sea treasures or if you never bothered.
Shetland, The Visit, August 2020
I begin with the outside, with what I have to hand; my reason, my eyes, my spatial understanding, and an openness tinged with the unknown.
On arriving, I need my first investigations of your croft house interior to be made alone. I want to inhale the house, listen to my internal feelings at first sight then recognise how my body responds to the old stones – I need to let body and stones talk to me. Thoughts and feelings need space. I need space. I haven’t yet found you. I do not yet know that you were born in this house 145 years ago.
It is a pale grey day, mist rolling over and down the hill behind the house as if a blind has been half pulled down a window. The sky is bleached out, the day is calm and windless, not particularly notable.
I open the front porch door, then, I try the house door with its mismatched glass panels. It opens in to the tiny vestibule area. To the right, there is a third old, board-door, painted white with a hand-hewn square wooden knob, which I turn to the right. The simple mechanism lifts a wooden latch inside. That sharp click sound of the latch lifting and hitting its wooden casing is the sound that I will forever remember of this place. It is my first sound here and it will probably be my last when I leave. It is a click of old wood against old wood, heard by every man, woman and child that has ever entered this house before me, for the last 180 years. Human touch leaves tangible traces of every hand that has opened it before me. The patina of years lies dirty on the paint’s surface.
Simultaneously, within the sound, my heart is given over to the first sight of the flag floor and fire place in the sitting room. In an instant, I am sold on sound and sight. I know I will not pull out of this crazy unseen deal to buy a house and change my life entirely.
Heart over head, I move in three weeks later, with two cats and a bag, the furniture and belongings on a lorry, to arrive a week later.
Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.
Dear Susan Jumper, Levenwick Beach, Shetland.
Read the The Dear Susan Jumper pattern and 15 page story, which you can find here, It will be part of the book I will be writing about my life in Shetland, a letter to a house, Susan and the landscape and my knitting. There will be 15% off this pattern and story for the weekend of 7th / 8th May 2022.
Mati messaged me this morning, she is on the 5pm Northlink ferry from Lerwick to Aberdeen tonight, now, in fact. She’s heading to London for London Craft Week. I’ll miss that event but I will catch her that last day that she is in London and we will head for the fabulous Wellcome trust Library on Euston Rd and maybe have tea in the tea room with Green Burleigh pottery. I’m looking forward to seeing both Mati and Patti in London – what a treat
Mati messaged this morning to ask if I would do a 1 minute recording of my experience in Fair Isle – there is a blog on it here so,today I found voice memo on my phone, and just spoke from my heart and memory about my experience on Fair Isle for two months at the end of 2019.
You can hear the recording at the beginning of this story.
It is a little longer than 1 minute.
Now that I have decided to write my own story (book) of living in Shetland, I may go back to write it in Shetland and where better than on Fair Isle? Maybe you would like to join me in a virtual meeting – let me know. I am thinking of September.
here’s the Sea Urchin pattern, mentioned in the recording. It’s been my most popular knitting pattern and one that I use in my colour blending workshops.
I think my stay on Fair Isle embedded my love of Shetland. It will be good to go back for a visit, though I’m not that keen on the tiny plane from Tingwall to Fair Isle but it is always worth the journey.
In my dream, I am walking along the side of the croft house, holding the white washed wall with my right hand to both steady myself on the uneven ground and to touch the old dwelling, built an unknown number of years ago, but recognised as being almost 200 years old. The white wash paint, cheaply thrown in a thick running coat painted over the wall just before I bought the house, by the previous owner’s husband – a stoic man a very few words, is/was beginning to flake and grow a frill of green mould around the edges of each flake, a little like lichen, created by the harsh southerly storm whipping winds and lashing rains.
It, having stood for almost 200 years, defiantly, strongly, needing nothing but paint to protect it, had seen and heard generations of families who lived here/there before me, is/was my protection against the fierce elemental swirling world.
Every second of living in that beautiful house, I knew from which direction the wind was blowing. I felt it, heard it, saw it even, the ever-present wind. The house, picture perfect, faces/faced the sea to the east but I had already begun to look Southward to distant thoughts of friends and son and daughter. Threads of invisible people pulling me back through lack of regular contact and communication. It was then that I recognised a deeper loneliness than I had ever before in my life – the loneliness of self-imposed isolation that would not change over time but become more heart wrenching.
In my dream, I walk/ walked along the side of my beautiful croft house to the roofless byre, to sieve the soil to grow things but nothing really grows/ grew outside in Shetland without a great deal of protection from the elemental sea salt burning winds and harsh rains. The time-heavy extra labour to protect growing outdoor plants that grow horizontally below the storms, takes its toll on body and soul and does not always pay off in fruitful crops or a feeling of personal value or reward but becomes at best, a learning curve and at worst, exhausting. I began to dream of having a polycrub but that was out of my reach financially and with land space. I then began to realise the value of land on that island. Land struggled for by many for many generations and still held as priority.
In my dream this morning, here in the city, there was a brief and fleeting, but very real walk along the south side of a house I once bought and loved. I heard the crunch and shuffle of endless rocks and stones beneath my unsteady feet to walk ten steps in my memory of a place that was home and felt completely right, for a while.
returning, walking back from work, having cried openly all the way to my temporary home, along the roads, with all the bags, on opening the door, the parcel wrapped in brown paper rested on the hall table in my friend’s house.
I knew exactly what it was and whom had sent it.
the generous kindness of Françoise Delot-Rolando, an artist that I have long followed for her beautiful paintings of fragments of clothes. beautiful clothes. She had contacted me a few weeks before asking if she could share the painting she had done of an old cardigan I had knitted some years ago.
on seeing her message to me, i thought she was joking but she was not. I was honoured by her connection. her equisite, detailed, expression in paint of my expression in yarn took my breath away, so you see, i knew what was in the squared parcel wrapped in brown paper. a gem, a gift, a rare thing.
i stupidly opened it whilst on the phone to a service that i thought might listen to my deepest sad moment, a moment that surfaced so strongly that the flood gates couldn’t hold it back – a result of analysing my current housing situation. six months without home, constantly moving from pillar to post, searching, getting one, losing one, then another, and another loss but i began to learn from the losses. all the hours of searching online, phoning for viewings before all the viewing spaces are gone within 2 hours of the property going live on the market, no slowing down of the cruel speed within which hiked-up house prices rise by the week to be bid upon by people paying 20% above the asking price with their hard earned money to be in a ‘best and final’ bidding war where we all offer more over the most we can offer and we are in a whirl wind of houses going for a ridiculous price whatever their state.
i hear of people going to painting residencies labelled, Loss and Renewal, painting into being. everyone has loss and renewal but loss pours from me and i yearn for renewal. in my deep sadness in not finding a home, i am becoming a shell, a husk of what i was – functioning well at work, but not any place else.
BUT – then, there the little orange tin glowed on the floor, sent from France, to remind me of kindness and good. from a good woman who does not know me but for some kind and beautiful reason connected.
Françoise has a keen eye for detail, painting something more than a knitted pattern in a cardigan, more than a fragment of clothing expressed in paint and marks but the nuance of telling the story of a life in a garment.
but this perfectly formed, generous, gift arrives and i cannot take my eyes of its form until finally, i stop blethering about my situation and see a thing in front of me to be most grateful for.
when finally i get a home, and i will, shabby or broken or not, with its high price tag and cost of living in energy and worry, take this painting and it will hang in pride of place and i will be removed from this sad day of mine.
grateful thanks to Françoise Delot-Rolando, for lifting me on this grey evening. Please take a look at her beautiful work on the website or on instagram mentioned below.
At Church Ope Cove, I arrive just in time for sunrise. I squat on the pebble beach to build a pebble stack, reaching arm’s length for stones.
What I soon realise is that I cannot rush building a pebble tower. There always needs to be a solid safe foundation stone. I cannot grab just any stone because any stones laid on top, rely on the base and each other to stand strongly. I soon realise that I cannot rush the build otherwise it will be messy and unstable, ultimately falling down. The building of a pebble stack at sunrise, which I briefly recognise as an analogy of me and my rebuilding of a life, teaches me to find a solid foundation stone. As I build, I recognise myself as both the possible unstable stack and the foundation stone. I connect to the stack because I am not entirely stable at the moment and I have been building on instability, therfore, becoming wobbly and unstable.
I am the foundation of my future life and need to make this position strong and secure, with balance and steadiness.
Hello Day, hello balance, hello understanding.
In the nineteen minutes between the visibility of the very top of the rising sun and its full emergence, I learn that the stack foundation stone is not stable and neither am I. We are both unsteady. I start again, with new stones, finishing with a perfect egg shape, that can neither be built upon nor be entirely safe but is aesthetically pleasing. I will continue to practice building pebble stacks every day I am here now, mindful of self and rebuilding. I have rushed the job because I am distracted by the sun rising and a swimming man. Rushing is also recognised as a problem of mine.
As a small fishing boat passes, I wave to the fisherman. He does not wave back.
I shout, ‘Wave to me, wave to me.’
And he slowly raises his right arm and waves briefly left then right, half-heartedly but steadily and surely. I laugh out loud reciprocating with both arms waving with gay abandon.
At this precise moment, I feel free, clear headed, understanding some small but importante requirement of rebuilding a new start of self and home.
Get the foundation right and the rest will follow.
I watch as a man strips to shorts, gloves and sea shoes, wades bravely into the choppy sea without flinching and swims. He is submerged in freezing water to his chin. This is his foundation stone.
I need to stop my internal struggle. Stop the internal fight with myself and internal dialogues. I need to stop. It will help build a steady foundation stone.
Pebbles are pulled back into the sea. The ebbing tide rolls a cacophony of singing stones. Once again, I reach for my knitting and knit to the rising sun, feeling the sun’s warmth and glow upon my face, the pebbles singing to the ebb, a man swimming and a rare deep, honest contentment fills me from inside out. Nature has taught me a clear lesson.
I understand something fundamental. We are our own rocks.
We sing, we balance, we fall, we are unstable, we are attractive and attracting and we are also rubble.
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.
19 days in the city and finally, no longer is my first involuntary sense that of hearing.
My body is not accompanied by that initial, uninvited, instinctive sense to hear before listening, which partnered me for the year I lived in the small croft house facing the sea, in Shetland. I learned that my human body automatically responded to the anger or the brevity or the absence of the sound of the wind whipping around the house or down the chimney by hearing to listen. We gather information by hearing. but, what of it when there is nothing to hear?
I no longer need that first sense because here, in the still city, basic survival it is not a requirement – for me, though it will be for others – I think of the homeless, or abused.
To hear before the body wakes fully is about survival, it is a fully lived experience of the close surrounding external world. Hearing first is a heightened way of living dictated by surroundings.
To hear fully in this way is not heard by all – not even in a lifetime. In my case, it / was is closely related to fear.
I am sure that the experience was heightened because I lived it alone, in unfamiliar surroundings, without a person to share any of my experiences with. If I had had someone by my side to share the initial waking of a day, I am sure the immediate sense of acute hearing would have been diluted, slower, but I didn’t. Living alone in extreme weather conditions is not like living alone in a city or town where the weather is halted in some sense by buildings.
And I think that here it is uncovered – the second layer of external and internal effects that required survival techniques – being alone. I did it all alone. Dealing with everything alone in extreme conditions multiplies sensory response – when there is not a support network to turn to.
Humans intuitively have sensory responses to situations. When I am alone, sensory perception is heightened.
But, three weeks back in the city and I am not yet used to its silence. Even in the long queues of purring traffic, the emergency vehicle sirens, the streets of people talking, kids and dogs, it is all still and silent to me. I am surprised by the stillness of the crowded city. I am not yet used to the loss of the wind.
Stillness meaning windless.
A swapped state of experiential extreme natural elements, which almost can be looked back on as charming, but only from the comfort of a busy city. A city where the fierce weather is removed and it is not a daily battering, nerve fraying occurrence.
Two years ago, I lived on Fair Isle for November and December and the winds did not shake that island world. Last year, I arrived in Shetland in September and the winds did not shake my world for weeks, but this year, 2021, the winds did latterly shake my world daily. In the end, my experienced days were accompanied by the ever-present winds of between 40 and 55mph driving around the house – driving me in. But, when the exhaustion of a howling harsh wind is removed, only then can the memory of it change in to something that was maybe a dream.
So, I have lost my partner – the wind, and I am not sorry. I had craved a changing world from a city, and I got it. I experienced it fully.
Looking back through journals, I see that every entry expresses my daily companion to some extent or degree – the weather features in every written page and not as an English conversation but as an observation of how it affected the day – both positively and negatively. My closest daily companion, with all its friendliness and rage was the weather – the fog to the ground for weeks, the brightest blue sky and sea, the lashing rains, the sea spray plastering the windows, the sun sparkling, a full double rainbow as big as the world view, the cracking open of the day light in the fold between earth, sea and sky, the extended moonlit nights, crisp crunchy ice, the crystalline constellations and stars above and the winds – all extreme, all experienced fully.
The elemental life that I so craved for five years before moving to Shetland, became my first and last daily thought – and, you might say to yourself that I knew what I was getting in to. And I will say to you, no human will ever know such extremes until you fully live it, without escape, alone with your own thoughts. Even if you did your research for extended previous stays, it appears that the weather is changing and living with extreme winds is different.
At the end of a Shetland year, what does one desire? A windless day? A respite in weeks of fog? A walk along a beach, a street, in a park, through a gallery, by the canal or along a pedestrian shopping street? A full moonlit night? A partner? Ease in the storm? A long awaited visitor? A long train journey south? A son sitting opposite me at a table with a dinner laid out? Or a daughter’s arm place around my shoulder as she steps off the train? These are not material things. Materialism is long gone from my desire – these desires are peace.
It is easy to – guild the lily, over egg the pudding, lay it on thick, go overboard when all is beautiful and in Shetland there is plenty of beauty but when there is no longer the heart for it, it is time to go.
An inner landscape changed by an outer one. I changed into something vulnerable.
I missed my son and daughter. I missed the choice to visit them – for them to visit me. It all changed, it went off like a light switch.
Release comes in bursts, in letting go, in acceptance. The process to understand will take time – it is complex.
True enough, I am not stirred by the sun rises in the city, nor the way in which the moon shifts. I do not have a clear unbroken view of sun or moon or sea as in the beautiful house in Shetland but I am calm in the arms of the city – both inward and out. Nature was not enough in all its beauty. A beautiful house was not enough, in all its glory. In the end – a painful experience which I am still slowly unravelling. I am a changed person from it . Someone told me, ‘the soul knows where it has been’
It will soon be Christmas, but before that will be a friend’s birthday – a time to celebrate with more faces in one room than I had seen in one year in Shetland. A place to be part of something bigger than just me and a beautiful house.
I am slowly processing so much. Slowly, slowly accepting the moving city of stillness in all its chaos. Everything is familiar but new again. Nothing yet everything has changed.
At Christmas, with a daughter, there will be a serving of dinner and memory making of family, however small but true.
I wonder if the last year was all a dream but I am assured that it was not. And, I regret nothing, not the dream, nor the extreme move, the purchase and sale of a house within a year, the extreme move back, the terrible fall on the ferry, and now, my feeling adrift. I regret nothing because, I suppose, when my energy is high, I am a soul searching woman.
Below is an entry from my journal. I notice now that, retrospectively, the wind was creeping in. I read that I was fascinated with a sense the excitement of everything new, including the wind.
It was A dream.
15th day of the 11th Month, 2020 – one year ago.
Now, every day, the winds blow to some degree (except the occasional pure crystal clear still day – but they are few in Winter). By the porch, I have a creeping juniper that is growing flat to the ground, over the flags, across the stones. It seeks solace and creeps lower than the wind / under the wind. It grows entirely horizontally covering the contours of the stones, adopting the shapes beneath it, twisting its arterial trunk backwards upon itself to grow low. This tree/bush cannot escape the wind but it has devised a way to survive. I nearly removed it for practical reasons of access but it has been a topic of conversation for anyone local – they say it is years and years old and I will respect that. I am learning each day. It will go on creeping.
On waking, my first sense is hearing. Before my eyes are open, I register the day by what I can hear. This is not a conscious decision, it is my living body waking to my surroundings, possibly drawing on human’s need to survive. I now realise that anyone living in this house before me would have done the same – listened. Weather can dictate our entire Island day. Wind is no element to strike up a fight with. My living body listens to the day before I open my eyes. If there is no sound of wind, sight swiftly decides the situation by looking seaward. These sensory responses of hearing and sight take place over a nano second.
My waking gauge of the strength of the wind is primitive, having said that, I have unwritten and flexible wavering levels of experience. If I can hear the sound of wind wrapping around the house, down the chimney to the blocked fireplaces or rattling the gutter downpipe in its socket – the wind tells me it is here and from which direction it arrives. It will blow my hood down, blow the ash from the fire into a dust cloud, will make Alfie squint and fold his ears back when he exits the porch, will make my door knocker, knock as if the wind itself is trying to get in.
I was told that there is a sense of hibernation here in the winter. I have yet to burrow down.
We have had one storm. I sat by the fire watching the fanned flames in the stove burn the coals away at a ferocious speed. I need a capping on the chimney before next winter. It is difficult to get anyone to come out at this time of year. I have not yet gone through a winter but learned I need to stop the wind fanning the fire.
Yesterday was a harsh weather day. Visible driving winds from the west full of spiteful rain, chased down the hill, across the road in sheets towards the sea. I thought that because the house faces East with its back to the West and a hill behind the road, I might be protected from the Westerly winds but found that the wind hits the other side of the hill with high pressure. On this side of the hill is low pressure due to being protected but the low pressure sucks down the high pressure and causes Flans, which are sudden squalls of wind that are channelled in direction and take out anything in their path. They have been known to take out residential caravans, sheds and outbuilding roofs.
I have decided, at my cost, to never leave the house now without wearing waterproof trousers during Winter. I can be drenched in minutes without warning. Often after brief fine weather, we have fog rolling over the hill, often accompanied by winds.
I am finding this fascinating – taking me back to a way of life dictated entirely by weather. This I never felt in the protected city.
I have a small porch, and in it, I have dragged the solid garden pot plants that I had growing so calmly in Sheffield. A jasmine, star jasmine, orange blossom, two cherry trees grown from stones and a rusty pot with Allium like fireworks. Outside, they were all suffering. Inside the porch, they are flourishing sheltered from the winds and salt water rain. Yesterday, rather belatedly, I dragged in the hydrangea which now resembles sticks with odd burned leaves from Sea salt in the winds. I am hoping that they will regain strength.
Here are no Autumn Apple harvests or fir cone collecting days or bunching of dried flowers for wreaths – I will look to other ways of foraging and collecting – I have started with whale bones from whales long washed up on a shore in Scalloway.
I am growing and learning along with the plants in the porch, and the starlings and sparrows coming for their seed breakfast.