The cat woke me with his heavy weight transferred through his fat kneading front paws alternately pressing into my sticking up right shoulder.
Alfie joined in the attempt to get me to feed them by his repetitive bipping noise. The old, cheap, mantle clock chimed six so I turned face down in the pillows.
The forecast (a habit I have from Shetland of checking) read that we were to expect fog in the city first thing, then a ball of sun most of the day. I lay there for a while, my tired body ignoring the purring and bipping cats. At 7, I gave in and got up, fed and watered the boys, made tea then dressed hurriedly to get out onto the moors. Fog in the city is boring, I wanted to remember what fog was like in Shetland – to remember some part of it that used to haunt me for days on end, so I drove up to Burbage fog chasing. But, at the edge of Ringinglow, bordering on the Derbyshire boundary, the fog started to clear and within seconds, I’d driven through it into pure blue sky and bright sunshine. Another world.
At Burbage, both the moon and the sun hung in the sky casting their natural magic. Fog was nowhere to be seen. A real warmth came from the sun high on the peaks at 8:30am.
I walked towards Stanage Edge where the clear moon tilted over the rocks in a beckoning way. The path was bordered by long dead bog grass, heavy with water, looking like a prairie. Then the fog started to drift in below Stanage rocks, blown gently and slowly from the left, in a long soft ribbon, thick enough for the most magnificent natural thing to happen created by the collision of two things – the bright unhindered sun hit the fog and created a fog bow.
I actually squeaked with joy, turned to look back at that sun, then saw all the fronds on the low-lying fluffy grasses hanging in tiny droplets of water shining like glistening small crystals.
The fog bow came fully into sight.
High up on the rocks, at the Edge, the fog rested in the valley over Hope and Hathersage. Every passing person had a photo at the trig, including me. And every passing person was excited by the energy of the sparkling light and visible moving shifting fog. Until, finally, the gentle wind pushed the fog up and over the edge of Stanage, covering both left and right and finally the trig.
Two years ago, I was chasing a dream. I made that dream a reality and will now begin to write its story. Here is an overview of what happened to make the dream happen, seemingly so long ago. It feels as if a life time has passed but I have a story to tell and here is the beginning.
At the beginning of March 2020, I began to receive multiple messages from friends on different platforms with a link to a tiny old house which faced the sea and was for sale in Levenwick in Shetland.
The house was called Smola.
At that time, I should have been in Lerwick anyway but I wasn’t because the hostel had finally understood the magnitude of Corona Virus and realised that having 12 people sleeping in each dorm was not the best idea in a pandemic. They finally closed on 16th March, informing me with a telephone call, I was already booked on to the train and ferry on the 17th March and was due for an interview on 19th at the Shetland College. All this changed and cancellation happened overnight because of the Virus which we are all now well familiar with but then had no idea of. I’d called both the hostel and the college repeatedly the week before to check they were still open – travelling 850 miles was a risk for me during COVID too but the hostel had said they were still open and the college receptionist said that they were waiting for hand sanitiser to arrive but the college was open. Waves of knowledge of a pandemic take longer to reach an island 60 degrees north.
I was temping part time in the Sheffield Children’s hospital as medical secretary in Neurology and knew the panic of the virus in Yorkshire. So, on the 18th March, 2020, I was still in Sheffield and what appeared to be the house of my dreams was in Shetland – where I was supposed to be but wasn’t.
I’d been half-heartedly looking for a little house in Shetland for some time purely because I thought the idea seemed a good one as I had been going back and forth for the last 5 years. I’d looked at a small house myself, in the old lanes in Lerwick, in November 2019 but it seemed dark and hemmed in and the thought of not being able to have chickens made me think it wasn’t the place for me. I had a vague idea to have a B&B with a chicken or two and sunshine and this didn’t fit the vague idea. Then, in the new year, a Shetland friend went to look at another house for me that was for sale – he reported back that it was damp and wrong. My budget was low and was reflected in what I could afford. Then in March, a sunshine-flooded image of an old house for sale named Smola, didn’t just speak to me, it shouted my name which appeared to be written all over it. I called the agent who had an open viewing day, on Saturday 21st March, the last of any physical viewings of properties before lock down.
As I couldn’t attend the viewings of the tiny house in Levenwick, I was sent the house report and two small videos the week following the open day – one video of inside the property and one of the outside of the house, the back yard and the byre – which is below.
Although the tiny house in Levenwick was basic, it was perfectly formed and without question, it seemed ideal for me and the dream I thought I had of living in Shetland began to firmly take hold of me. No one was allowed to go to see it for me on the island, due to COVID restrictions. Everywhere had finally closed down, as in England. I pondered, repeatedly looked at the videos sent by the agent which, internally, were mostly of the floors, out of the windows and of himself caught in the mirrors but I did nothing else. Then, on the Monday 23rd March, the agent called to say that one of the Saturday viewers had put an offer in on the tiny house and I lost hope and duly whined about it on Facebook. It appeared to me that this was not just a house, it had become a dream filled with ideas of sharing it, offering artist exchanges to exchange and share skills with each other artists and the wider community, artist retreats, workshops, air B&B to friends and people who have connected with me on Instagram, but most importantly, it would be a home where my (art) work / and life would become without borders – indistinguishable. This dream like state of rose-tinted glasses took over every thought.
I continued to work at the NHS typing consultant letters about very ill children while the heat wave and the pandemic raged on in Yorkshire and I dreamed of a 60 degrees north life where, in the Shetland March, I knew that it was sleeting.
I was screaming inside, it should have been me buying that house because during the preceding seven days, I had been booked to be in Shetland and could have been there, seen it, felt it, put the offer in but instead, I was in my tiny flat in Sheffield forced in to city lockdown, whilst still working, feeling helpless. Then a friend of mine messaged and said, just put an offer in. It was the most practical and real advice I had been given, so I spoke to people I knew in Shetland, who in turn, put me in touch with Chris, who had rented the little house for 3 years. He told me about the house. It wasn’t damp (except the porch), the bedroom was warm because it was over the fire, you could park your car in the grass by the house (what car) the man who owned it was a builder and could help with any issues, he’d really liked living there and the neighbours were lovely. I mean, what more did I need to know? My glasses became rosier as the house became more verbally known to me as some questions were answered.
Someone else messaged to say the roof was sound but it had been derelict in the 90’s and had had a lot of grants and an architect had altered it. In any case, I had already fallen in love with the village in August 2019, when I came across it on the bus route when I was flying to Norway and spent one glistering hour on the beach.
That weekend, I thought about nothing other than the tiny Shetland house and artist exchanges and workshops on knitting and design whilst all the time mentally composing a letter, in parts, to the owners, in order to compete with the unknown offer already on the table. Without seeing, smelling or touching the house, the letter flowed. I was honest, direct, clear and shot from the hip on the financial offer, which was 10% over the asking price.
On Monday 30th March, I emailed my letter to the agents with my ideas of what I wanted to do with the house and ended with the financial offer (which was 10% above asking price), then promptly let it go. I went to work in the searing heat of March and April at the Children’s hospital and through the real harsh uncertain beginnings of the Virus. I got on with my week. The pandemic gathered steam and I started knitting.
On Thursday, 2nd April, I was sitting on my procrastination my bench in scorching heat, outside the flat after work. It was at 5:20pm – a call came from the Shetland estate agent. I assumed it would be a rejection call. But it wasn’t. The sellers had accepted my offer on the proviso of a non-refundable deposit to take it off the market and that they would wait for me to sell my Sheffield flat (which wasn’t on the market and we were in complete lockdown other than anything essential) and finalise Scottish missives within 6 months.
Between 2nd April until 7th May, two Shetland solicitors were involved in writing the agreement for this non-refundable deposit, which I signed, in a wood in Sheffield on 8th May, honoured by my friend Deborah witnessing and co-signing the document. So, just over 8 weeks after seeing an image, both moving and still of a little house in Levenwick, I signed a document to say that I would pay the non-refundable deposit, deductible from the cost of the house, if I finalised the Scottish missives and all the papers to purchase within 3 months – an IMPOSSIBLE task. If, after the initial 3 months, I hadn’t made the sale agreement, I would be offered a further 3 months agreement with the same terms but the first non-refundable deposit wasn’t to be carried over – that became lost and I was to pay a second deposit.
It just seemed the right thing to do and somehow, I naively felt that although my flat in Sheffield wasn’t on the market and everything was shut down, and I hadn’t even seen the house in Shetland – that somehow, it would all work out.
I was asked by a friend, – ‘what did I get for my non-refundable deposit?’ and I said TIME but my wise friend Deb added, security. No one else could buy the house either but maybe no one else wanted it and I had paid way over the odds – it was a risk I took because something is worth its value in many different ways.
Anyway, from 14th May 2020, I had 6 months to turn everything around, still in lock down, during a pandemic and a recession to sell my flat and to purchase a house I had then begun to label – my dream.
My dream was to truly live a life fully, without borders between creative thought process and daily life, with my 2 cats, to go swimming with the Selkie swimming group in the sea, to write a book of knitting patterns and the homes the knitters lived in, to make site-specific art, to offer air b&b to friends and artist whom I have come to know over the years through my artistic practice – was my rose-tinted dream – just words and thoughts…
But, in truth, I achieved the dream and moved into Smola on 10th September 2020 – I lasted just over one year – the house never dropping from being the love of my life and the most beautiful house I have ever owned – a house that drew me to accept a challenge to change every part of my existence to make happen.
I still love that house, I still love how that house made me feel because so many stories unfolded. It was a place of creativity, a place of sunrises so magnificent that the world stopped to watch, a place of history and tangible beauty. But, it was also a lonely house.
Two years exactly to the date of moving into Smola in Levenwick in September 2020, I will be returning to Shetland to stay with my friend Mati on Fair Isle. I need to think and go over what has happened in the last two years, to understand what I achieved in Shetland and to be proud of that. to share it, to shout about it, to not hide it.
I aim to write a book on my year in Shetland and going back to the location will help re set my Shetland barometer.
Whilst on Fair Isle, I will be carrying out my online Colour blending workshops for Fair Isle Knitters. The workshops and I, have been successful in teaching over 200 participants how to develop an eye for colour blending in Fair Isle knitting projects and to get it right so that they can choose their own colours successfully for their own projects. If you would like to join me on any of the workshop dates in Fair Isle, please take a look at this page and get in touch via the form, or message me directly.
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.
As a reader of my blogs, you’ll know that in September 2020, I moved to a croft house in Levenwick, Shetland. It has been a busy 7 months, buying a car, driving a car again after 12 years of not doing so, restoring the south bedroom to its original floor and fireplace and to a more relaxed palette, applying for work, getting project co-ordinator jobs, developing, devising and presenting successful online knitting workshops, digging out a byre, sieving soil, learning how to get furniture to an island parallel to Norway, that although is technically in the UK, it is miles away from London and finding that deliveries do not easily arrive on this island.
As well as living here, I have been researching Susan Halcrow and her parents and paternal grandparents who lived in this house for 3 generations from the early 1800’s. I’m particularly interested in researching Susan (Cissie) b1876, d1960 who was born in this house and lived here alone after her parents died early 1908 and 1914 and then her brother died in the Battle of Jutland in 1916.
I, as Susan did, make the fire in the hearth, grow things, open the latch door and look out to sea every day. We both live and lived here as single women.
Through this new frame of mine, my Shetland practice became entirely local (Shetland) based and I began to want to develop a digital written piece with an online knitted design created through my own (phenomenological) lived experiences of living in the same house that Susan had. I diarised my life in small chapters related to the morning or light, or sun rises or moon and frequently of the wind. Through a daily practice of experiential writing, I began to wonder about Susan and her life by researching photographs of her and working on a small colour blending knitting design. That pattern became, Good Wishes for the New Year and it was exactly that – all about Susan.
But, I wanted to develop a deeper understanding underpinned by archival researching of her and her family to write my story of Susan, this house and Shetland, juxtaposed with my own lived experiences in the same house and to share it internationally. This can never be The story because I cannot talk with her but it will be a story to honour a woman who lived a long life within this house.
At the end of January, I read about The Visual Artist and Craft Makers Awards (VACMA) which is a programme of small grants schemes with a range of local authorities and art agencies across Scotland to support Scotland-based visual artists and craft makers in their creative and professional development. I had become really interested in the idea of writing a booklet about Susan and I living in the same house about 140 years apart. And to write part of the story through the experience of developing a knitting design with Susan in mind.
So, I applied for a Visual Arts and Craft Maker Award (VACMA) 2 days before the closing date, and submitted by the skin of my teeth on 2nd February. The application flowed because this is real for me. I don’t have to make this up, it is my life, my home, seen alongside a very real woman who lived here – I just have to find the right way to write it.
I hope to creatively experiment through an auto ethnographic practice (personal experience in order to understand cultural experience) to enable me produce a 16-page digital booklet about the real life of 2 single women in different times living in the same house (140 years apart).
I will be experimenting with written word, photography and knitted design to tell our linked stories and I will also include a pattern design in the booklet. The project will bring together my previous 5 year’s skills and experiences, my Masters, Artist Residencies and my move to Shetland in an ongoing commitment to my creative practice.
Within time, I received an email from Shetland Arts to say that my VACMA application was successful, which I was over the moon about. To enable me to dedicate time to the project, I stopped all online teaching colour blending workshops until the end of May to give me time to knit the sample, research the family in the Archives at the Museum and to design the pattern and to write this work as beautifully as possible.
Though, from next week, my part time job has increased hours and I also volunteer at Women’s Aid too so I’m finding life very busy and full on but still, without fail, this booklet, the writing, research, design and knitting has been on my mind every day since February. I’ve been to the archives 4 times, I write when I can, I have, tonight, just finished the sample knit which has two different sleeve finishes and uses two types of yarn – as a sample, I am happy. The pullover will develop into another piece. I have a wonderful test knitter, Cait, from Cream City Yarn, a wonderful yarn shop and creative knitting space in a one-room schoolhouse located in the suburbs of Milwaukee.
Maybe the booklet doesn’t need a knitting pattern design in it, but a recipe of life in this house, and of knitting and two women.
This project is supported by VACMA from Creative Scotland, Shetland Arts and Shetland Islands Council
For some time now, I have been thinking of doing online Colour Blending Workshops with Fair Isle knitting. Colour seems to be my thing in knitting. I’ll never be as good a knitter as the Shetland ladies but I do have a sense of freedom with colour ideas and I think that is because I come from down south and have never been taught traditional ways. I see in colour from the place I live, the sky, the sea, the reflection in the windows, the beaches, the soil. I incorporate these colours into my designs which are always inspired by Shetland.
I was approached by one of my lovely Patreon supporters to see if I would be able to zoom a meeting with her and her friends on colour blending. One of the good things that has come out of COVID is that we are all now becoming more familiar with online meetings. I often video meet with friends from Sheffield and Fair Isle on WhatsApp or FB messenger. My son also messages, my daughter is more in hiding from me – sometimes I can corner her. The connection gives real time conversations and a chance to catch up – especially when you live alone – you feel less alone. Verity and I make tea at the same time – Mati and I sometimes knit, my son usually looks online whilst talking with me. I love this – a natural conversation whilst sometimes doing other things. I’m mostly eating.
I had been thinking of Zoom workshops but knew I had to subscribe to carry out workshops of over 40 minutes – today, I subscribed. It feels a big leap. It feels good. I feel ready.
On Saturday 23rd Jan, I will be carrying out a workshop with the lovely ladies from Canada and on Sunday 24th, I’ll be zooming with UK ladies – so now there will be no stopping me.
Here are some of the workshops that I am thinking of
Swatch Book Saturday
Shetland Saturday catch up – show me what you got.
Yoke sampling (that’s not an egg yolk) it’s for cardis.
Norwegian Star cushion making
If you would like a 1:1 workshop – I’m set up. If you would like to have a specific workshop with your knitting group or guild – let me know, I’m ready.
If you are an individual and would like to join one of my workshops with other lovely participants – then you’re welcome. Just contact me through this site or email me at the email at the end of this post 😊
The workshops will be interactive BYOY –(Bring your own yarn), informative, skills based and time for fun and questions. In the workshops, we won’t be ‘knitting’ but looking at colour and how to blend. I used to teach English in China and here in the UK, I have devised my first workshop session for Colour Blending – here is the core of it –
This is a design workshop where you will learn the skills and gain experience to enable you to blend colours and design your own samples of Shetland traditional tree and star yoke patterns. It’s a fun creative session to experiment with colour in Fair Isle knitting to take forward to create your own swatches for future projects. You’ll be able to throw yourselves into the many colours of yarn on offer to us and you will look at your stash of yarn with a different eye. We will look at a traditional Shetland tree and star pattern, used on Shetland cardigans and jumpers, and at examples of Fair Isle knitting including Yokes, flat knitting and knitting in the round. I will show you real examples of Shetland and Fair Isle knitting and design pattern books and explain how I blend colours.
This workshop will aim to work towards you making a hat using your colour ideas. I will show you how to work on your own idea and choose a tree and star pattern and colours for colour blending so that you can make your own colour combinations that work really work well for you.
At this online workshop, you will learn: –
How to see colour / tone / contrast
How to blend colours in your knitting to create a harmonious pattern.
How to get excited about colour and not frightened
How I take inspiration from my Shetland surroundings to design using colour as a base starting point.
If you love colour and textiles, you will enjoy the opportunity for experimentation
I am looking to carryout February Online Colour Blending workshops on
6th, 7th, 2oth and 21st Feb – 10am – 12noon for UK participants or 3pm Shetland time 10am Canadian time and anywhere in between. If you have a group, we can figure out the time.
If you are interested, please contact me using the contact form or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday, Sitting in this old house, with the doors open for this fine Shetland sunrise, listening to the sparrows and starlings mutter and chatter over the breakfast seeds on the wall, the red light pours sharply in to the house as a shard of light, hitting the back wall at an angle in the corner – a different place from even two weeks ago where light hit the middle of the sofa. I am learning a cycle of annual shifting light.
Light, so commonly taken for granted, is a big thing here. Its appearance is being squashed into a smaller opening by the darkness of Winter speeding in to borrow light’s hours. The night darkness is squeezing out the daylight day by day but sunrise is putting up a spectacular morning fight.
For a brief half hour, I listen, wait and watch to see the magnificence of a new day writing its signature across my walls, through my windows and refracted through the old lead chandelier prism crystals that now become brokers in this arrangement between sunrise and light. The crystals throw rainbows of light across the walls and ceiling. The moment is enchanting. Why not be enchanted? – if only briefly.
I have always noted shifting light, where it hits the walls of my homes, how it affects me, how it shifts around the room at different times of year, how I wait for it to appear at certain times of year and how it slips away. I have rejoiced in it for years. But here, here it is more powerful because being so northerly, the light is extra precious during winter. I have yet to learn of its daily power during living here through a summer where the light fights back to take over the hours of darkness.
This morning, all my world stopped to be in this November moment. Grateful at being able to see the pure light and to feel its powerful healing properties.
Pure Moon light.
A moon beam paints its light in the whole shape of the window across my bedroom floor. Unbeknown to me, light is also painted across the floor in the room downstairs.
Outside, the moon world is brought together by a party of present and missing elemental guests. The sharp light is here because wind and rain are missing. The moon is the main guest of honour. A moon so bright and full that it creates a pool of light in the basin of the wide and deep sea. The fold of the earth, visible through the window, as horizon line between earth and sea, marks a line between moon light and night darkness as if drawn by a spirit level.
After the storm, after the Orcas, the moon paints the sea silver and my bedroom floor with a faint but clearly defined light in the shape of a window resting on the old wooden floor boards.
How can I turn away from this natural visual world that is lit by a full moon guest? To sleep is to miss it. I cannot sleep, or read and although knitting beckons me, the moon light pulls my gaze and I see nothing but tones of grey, silver, slate, graphite, black, white. A boat sails on the horizon trailing its own white light.
To be alive at this moment, here, now, with all the elements in perfect harmony is priceless. Except for the personal cost of noticing, taking time, being aware, being in the moment – given freely.
I write in the pure darkness, not seeing the pen or the words. The white page is faintly highlighted by the painting moon light.
Suddenly, rain arrives at the party, accompanied by blowing wind and bringing cloud. Other natural elements join the party, breaking up moon’s isolated glow. Rain, wind and cloud cover moon – he leaves the moonlit party, taking with him light.
Black ness returns accompanied by rain on the roof and wind down the chimney.
If you would like to receive a monthly newsletter on living in Shetland, I have started a Patreon site for unpublished stories – which will only be available to Patreon supporters. If you would like to receive monthly newsletters, stories, updates on research on this old house and Susan Halcrow, discounts on my knitting patterns and information on Shetland, please consider supporting me through Patreon at £3 per month or £6 per month. The link is here. https://www.patreon.com/TraceyDoxey
This story is the first one and it is free. After that, my Patreon supporters will receive exclusive stories and I will dedicate time to my writing on that page.
If you are interested in staying at Smola in Shetland, the link to Air B&B is here
I pack the bike paniers for the beach – a place that I know is today in a wind storm. Laying the blanket upon the fine sand, making ready to start knitting the gloves with my online Ravelry Knit group is wonderful moment. It is THE perfect location to sit and knit, think, feel – the sea rolling and heaving in front of me, the bike tyres being quickly buried under small sand drifts behind me. I dig into the bank of the crescent beach and unpack a speckled banana and Christmas biscuits in an old tin, my 5 year old Thermos from Japan, my note book, pen, yarn and chart.
I sit as if a child on a picnic for no one and watch the weight of water lift the surface of the sea in front of me. Waves break and reach the shore line as if they move along the keys of a piano – right to left along the entire long beach.
Sand grains settle on the surface of my tea as if in a grain huddle, in the base of the open biscuit tin, on the blanket in the shape of the base of my shoe, in the threads in the ball of yarn, on the canvas yarn bag that travelled a thousand miles, in my hair, on the scarf.
I scan the sea for whales – the whales that came in to the bay last Weds when I was at St Ninian’s. The weight of the sea water, rising and sinking, ebbing and flowing – covering secrets below its surface in the cold, cold depths of ancient sea sounds.
Today is the first day of my online Ravelry Knit Along where you can join me until 12th October in a group to knit the Smola gloves – named after my home in Shetland. You can ask questions, add photos, let me see your projects. THANK you to all those who have bought the pattern for the gloves already.
Happy knitting, happy sea and beach thoughts – If you’d like to join me on the beach next year, I will be offering Air B&B for single lady crafters, artists and explorers. Message me if you are interested in staying in my 200 year old house by the sea.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” ― Theodore Roosevelt
This quote, for me, is not only empowering during my trying to sell my home in Sheffield and move to a tiny house in Shetland, without seeing or feeling it, but it sums up my story.
I feel that there are critics of what I am trying to do. I feel there are non supporters, and worse, I feel there are people who say they want to help but really don’t BUT and more IMPORTANTLY, above all that, I have such love and support from friends who listen, ask how it’s going, check in on me because, as with most great risks I have taken, I am doing this alone. I am grateful for that support of those people
In the meantime, I am trying to get to this dream of a new life in Shetland – a life built on over 6 years of returning and building experiences. It is not easy selling a property in lock down, recession, fear, job losses and a pandemic but I am trying with everything to make this happen.Here is a link to the original post
I sure know that I am in the Arena and if I fail, I will have dared greatly.
Around the 18th March, I began to receive multiple messages from friends on different platforms with a link to a tiny house in Shetland. On that day, I should have already been in Lerwick, but I wasn’t because the hostel had finally closed on 16th and the interview on 19th that I was going for, was finally agreed to be a skype call because of the Virus which we are all now well familiar with. I’d been looking for a little house in Shetland for some time, having looked at one myself, in the old lanes in Lerwick, in November. Then, a friend, went to look at another for me in January. But March, the little house in the sunshine-flooded image didn’t just speak to me, it shouted my name which appeared to be written all over it.
I called the agent who had a viewing day of Smola, on Saturday 21st, the last of all viewings of properties before lock down. As I couldn’t attend, I was sent the house report and two small videos – one of inside the property and one of the byre. Although the tiny house is basic, it is perfectly formed and without question, it seemed ideal for me and the dreams I have of living in Shetland, but on the Monday 23rd , one of the Saturday viewers had put an offer in on the tiny house and I lost hope and duly whined about it on FB on 25th March. This was not just a house to me, it had become a dream filled with ideas of sharing it, offering artist exchanges to exchange and share skills with each other artists and the wider community, artist retreats, workshops, air B&B to friends and people who have connected with me on Instagram, but most importantly, it would be a home where my (art) work / and life would become without borders – indistinguishable.
I was screaming inside, it should have been me because during the preceding developing 7 days, I had been booked to be in Shetland and could have been there, seen it, felt it, put the offer in but instead, I was in my tiny flat in Sheffield forced in to lockdown feeling helpless.
Then, Beate, a friend of mine, messaged and said, just put an offer in. It was the most practical and real advice I had been given, so I spoke to Emma, who put me in touch with Barbara, who in turn, put me in touch with Chris, who had rented the little house for 3 years and he told me about it. So, the house was more known to me and some questions were answered. And, in any case, I had already fallen in love with Levenwick last August
Are you still reading? After all the chronological dates and lost hope? Here’s Levenwick when I was there last August
That weekend, I thought about nothing other than the tiny house and artist exchanges and workshops on knitting and design whilst all the time mentally composing a letter in parts to the owners of Smola, in order to compete with the offer on the table already. Without seeing, smelling or touching the house, the letter flowed. I was honest, direct, clear and shot from the hip on the financial offer. On Monday 30th, I emailed it to the agents with the letter and offer, then promptly let it go. I went to work at Ryegate Children’s hospital where I’ve been a temp medical secretary since early Feb. Just because of a pandemic, the children don’t stop being ill with severe neurological issues, so I didn’t stop going to answer calls from worried parents, arrange medication and type consultant letters from clinics. I got on with my week. The pandemic gathered steam and I started knitting. Below are some of my recent designs.
On Thursday, 2nd April, I got a call from the agent. I assumed it would just be a rejection call. But it wasn’t. The sellers had accepted my offer on the proviso of a non refundable deposit to take it off the market and that they would wait for me to sell my flat. Since 2nd April until 17th May, two Shetland solicitors have been involved in writing the agreement for this non-refundable deposit, which I signed, in a wood in Sheffield on 8th May, honoured by my friend Deborah witnessing and co signing the document, and Lola the jug waiting as patiently as she could tied to a branch.
So there you have it, just over 8 weeks after seeing an image, both moving and still of a little house in Levenwick, I have signed a document to say that I will pay the non refundable deposit, deductible from the cost of the house, if I finalise the Scottish missives and all the papers to purchase within 3 months – an IMPOSSIBLE task. After the initial 3 months, I have a further 3 months agreement with the same terms but the first non refundable deposit isn’t carried over – that becomes lost. I was asked by a friend, – ‘what do I get for my non refundable deposit?’ and I said TIME but my wise friend Deb added, security . So, I have 6 months to turn everything around, still in lock down, during a pandemic and a recession to sell my flat and to purchase my dream.
I have 6 months to make this dream come true.
A dream to truly live a life fully in Smola, without borders between creative thought process and daily life, with my 2 cats, to go swimming with Barbara D and the Selkie swimming group in the sea, to write the book with Shetland knitters – of their mothers and mothers’ mothers and their knitting patterns and the homes they lived in, to make site-specific art, to offer air b&b to friends and artist whom I have come to know over the years through my artistic practice.
I can imagine the artistic exchanges that I hope to offer twice a year to share skills and art with other practitioners including and open call to hand block printers, wallpaper printers, basket makers, knitters, painters, writers and I can see it all happening in that tiny house. I am keen to be part of the village of Levenwick, keen to give and not take by being a supportive member of the local community and I want to make art, knit, share Smola with other artists, create exchanges and opportunities for others to come and work in and draw creativity from the fine little unassuming place.
This is my dream.
If you are interested in supporting this idea, please contact me.
If you are interested in future residencies or exchanges, please sign up to this blog so that you will see further progress on my move to Shetland because if it does not happen with Smola, then it will be another place.
If you are interested in coming to share skills, stay in the tiny house with me as an air B&B, also please let me know by contacting me through this website then I can see how many people would like to share of this dream.
If I do not make the exchange within the time – I will realign my dream.
In the meantime, if you would like to support me, you can do this by buying one of my knitting patterns here.
I am also looking to create a website for Smola and the creative business I will carry out there and I am looking to buy a new camera to capture the beauty of this place and to capture the offer to others.
I also have started a new Instagram page for Smola, which is here and where you can follow progress.
I’m hoping to share this dream with many people. When we are allowed to take visitors, I will be offering Air B&B for single travelling women – I’ll also be offering residencies and looking to create artist exchanges. If you are interested in any of these ideas, please email me on the contact form.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this new move
If you would like to keep up with my move to Shetland, please sign up to the blog here.
Dear lover of Yarn Stories and of the tactile art of knitting,
Making marks at the border of two paint colours.
I have designed a hat which harks back to my wanderings across Shetland. This hat didn’t just happen. It has a story, as have all the knitted articles still in Shetland. I wasn’t born in Shetland but my heart resides there. I can say that my hat was ‘inspired by’ but that feels too shallow. The hat was made like a recipe, gathering the ingredients by sight, sound and touch. This hat recipe has painted flowers in it, abandoned crofts, tussock grass, boggy land, a home without a roof, a lean-to kitchen and women and their creativity in it.
Painted by a woman, I think, by a woman with cold hands and an eye for detail. She will have looked at that wall and maybe, whilst knitting or walking or crofting or cutting peats, or caring for the children or family, she might have thought how she would like to make the walls pretty. Stencils seem visible in some homes. Where did the stencils come from to arrive at such remote, isolated homes? This unassuming row of flowers is deeply moving in its simplicity. Far away from neighbours, with a view of the sea, between the window and the sink is a row of 8 pointed flowers. The point where the energy of present and past meet are at the end of my touching finger and the disintegrating row of flowers. In some parts they have been painted over, but they are clear and proud. I ache at the beauty of the most simple stamped design carefully placed in groups of four V shapes to make an 8 pointed flower.
When did she think this pattern up? How did she do it? As I step back, I feel the same sense of pride that she must have when stepping back to see her row of flowers in her newly fitted kitchen in the lean to. A sink, a tap inside, cupboards and a border of flowers. I can see it now. The cups and plates and pans, with a view of the sea. This moment of really seeing takes my breath away. I stay for only a few minutes. Long enough to touch the woman that lived here long ago through her creativity and eye for detail and the end of my right forefinger.
Since September 2015, when I first visited Shetland for Wool Week, I’ve revisited the Islands many times. Over the years, I’ve stayed for weeks and months at a time, including stays with Barbara in her beautiful house built by a Sea Captain overlooking the sea in Lerwick, an R&D trip to Unst, a 4-week artist residency in Scalloway, 7 weeks with Mati Ventrillon on Fair Isle and 2 weeks in Brindister with endless stays in between. Returning to Shetland has always been about knitting. During these visits I began to build a strong love for finding the derelict, abandoned croft houses that are visible across Shetland, to see the interiors to in some way connect with the women who once lived in them. I’ve looked at censuses to find out who lived in certain homes and looked at their professions, I’ve looked at photographs of women in books ploughing the Fair Isle land who are looking straight into the camera lens, then I have gone to the walled old grave yard by the sea at the South End of Fair Isle and sought out those women by their names on the stones. I’ve worn old original Fair Isle cardigans, sat in the Lerwick library for hours and hours pouring over the Shetland knitting books and crossed the seas to touch and feel knitwear created by absolute artists of their time. All of the knitted pieces that are still in Shetland today, tell a story – a story of the woman who made those knitted pieces – the work bears a story that is woven into every stitch.
On my walks across Shetland, I found and looked at many derelict croft houses which were the homes of knitters, crofters, mothers, fishers, daughters and ‘spinsters’. The more I looked at, and went inside the homes, I felt more of a connection to the women who had lived there through visible signs of the past. My most favourite croft houses, which I visit each time I return, bear the marks of flowers, and leaves painted onto the walls. Each design is carefully and beautifully made by the families who used to live in those homes. I can imagine a woman carefully stencilling or stamping the flowers in a border around the wall of the lean-to kitchen. Some wall painted decorations particularly move me because they are so deeply powerful in their simplicity. I gently touch the patterns to feel through history to a time when a woman painted them long ago in a past that I long to know about.
As I walk away, always, the lasting memory is of the painted walls and it is these that I am honouring within this pattern. This hat pattern is inspired by the disintegrating flowers and leaves that I have found painted on croft house walls and the hat is made as a testament to the gendered craft of knitting, home, and to the beautiful women of Shetland, who knitted all of their lives and made homes a welcoming place.
here, you may find the Shetland Wall Flowers pattern.