Journal entry from Shetland – November / December 2020

Good Wishes for the New Year.

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.  

You can see my initial findings of Susan on my blog here

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 😊

here is the original hat – Good wishes for the new year

and here is the start of the new one.

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.

Shetland Wool Week 2021

This week is Shetland Wool week 2021.  The first time I visited Shetland, was for a Wool Week in 2015. I stayed at the hostel in Lerwick and every bed in every room was taken by wool week visitors.  I fell in love with Shetland, its culture of knitting and the tangible, visible history across the islands.  I also visited St Ninians for the first time and squealed with joy at just seeing it.  I still sometimes squeal at seeing St Ninians. 

Since 2015, I revisited again and again – for Up Helly Aa in 2016, a few more holiday trips, an Artist residency at the Booth in Scalloway in December 2017, and an R&D trip to Unst in 2018.  All of these trips deepened my love of the social history across the islands and my love for Shetland knitting.  I remember meeting Hazel Tindall in the Textile Museum one day in May 2017, and I recorded her talking about her Grandmother collecting the peats for the rayburn. (At that time, I had a passion for old stoves left in abandoned croft houses)   I still have that recording and I have always been in awe of Hazel, her skill and her warm character. She makes me smile when I see her. She is a Wool Week Goddess.  I met her for lunch a couple of months ago.  We went to the Mareel.  It was a joy to be with her, such an honour.

Hazel in one of her amazing knits.

Six years after first visiting Shetland, it is once again, Wool Week.  It is not a face to face Wool Week where thousands of participants descend upon Lerwick and the surrounding areas to enjoy workshops, trips, visits to museums and of course both Jamieson’s wool shops, but a virtual wool week. Next year will be real, I know it.   But, in 2015, it was my first experience of being here – I sat by the pier knitting and watched an otter come in carrying a huge fish.  He didn’t know I was there until I moved. I mean, a city girl watching an otter whilst sitting on the pier knitting in the town – who would have believed it?

Here is a blog from that time https://www.travelblog.org/Europe/United-Kingdom/Scotland/Shetland/Wick/blog-901174.html

This week, six years later, I am teaching Online Colour blending sessions in the Virtual Shetland Wool Week programme -2 this weekend, 2 next weekend and on Friday, three ladies are coming to the house to do a face to face colour blending session and incidentally, they are from my home town of Matlock.   Seemingly, we are 6 degrees of separation, or maybe just one degree.

I’ve been teaching online sessions since January when one of my supporters asked for a class, in December, for her friends for a Christmas present.  I said that I was busy with the house but would do a workshop in the January.  It happened the last weekend of Jan, – I got in by the skin of my teeth and since then have been teaching up to 4 sessions every month ever since – except when I took a 6 week break to work on the Dear Susan Project.  I would very much like to thank that supporter who truly developed my own Creative Practice.

This weekend, I have met ladies from America, Canada, Australia, Britain, Germany, The Netherlands,  Sweden and Scotland.  Today, I had two ladies join me from Canada and America at 2am and 5am their time – I felt honoured and flattered that they were so dedicated to join me in the middle of their night.

Every time I do an online workshop, I feel warm and happy afterwards.  I get so many messages after the sessions that I know that all the hard work to teach, inspire, engage with and to share skills is worth it.  Some of the ladies over the last 6 months have also become my international online friends – especially Cait St. George, whom I met through a session with Cream City Yarn in Milwaukee.  Cait became my test knitter for Dear Susan and also number crunched the pattern.  The Internet and Instagram has made these sessions possible and I want to thank every one who has attended a session already, everyone who is booked on to a session and to future bookers.   You make my creative practice valued and I value every one who has joined me.   If you would like to join a colour blending workshop, I have a couple of places left on 17th October and I am taking a waiting list for November (dates to be confirmed) If you go to my online workshop tab, here on the website, you can see information of the classes.

Dear Susan jumper

Here’s to Shetland Wool Week 2021.

I look forward to seeing your work – tag me on Instagram.  Tracey 😊

Oh yes, I have 20% off all of my knitting patterns during wool week.
The code for the basket is Wool Week Workshop

and patterns are here

https://www.ravelry.com/designers/tracey-doxey

A house of two women.

July 2021

In September 2020, I moved to a croft house in Levenwick and began, more or less immediately, to research the people that had lived here before me. Through conversations with local people, the return of photographs and pottery and 8 sessions in Shetland Museum Archives,  I found that the Halcrow family had lived here from the mid 1800’s until 1960.  I became particularly interested in researching a woman called Susan (Cissie) b1876 –  d1960 who lived in my croft house for 83 years – and after her parents and brother died, from 1916, she was alone.  She made the fire in the hearth, grew things, opened the old latch door and looked out to sea every day, as I now do, also as a single woman.   Susan was the last of three generations of the Halcrow family to live in this house and she lived through some of the most recorded changeable times in Shetland history.

Through this new frame of mine, I began to write a story of two women living in the same house over a century apart.  I began to write and research through my own lived experiences, diarised in a daily practice of writing. I researched a story of Susan, this house and Shetland, juxtaposed with my own lived experiences in the same house and out of that story, I knitted a pattern for Susan.  When I look at Susan’s face in any of the photographs that I have been given, she looks calm, serene and has a real beauty about her.  The glint in her eye was there to the end.

I was awarded a VACMA award.  (Visual Arts Craft MakersAward) to write the story of Susan and myself living in this house over a century apart and to design a knitted piece dedicated to Susan Halcrow.  I have made a neat little pullover dedicated to her, with her in mind. The jumper hopes to embody the natural elements of Shetland and how serene and calm Susan looked –  always smart, usually wearing a brooch or collar when photographed outside the house.  The body of the jumper is inspired by the colours of the Shetland seas of turquoise, aqua, greens and all the blues you could ever imagine and I wanted the yoke to be jewel-like.  It is a knitting recipe of light, wind, the sea, yarn, Shetland life and a woman called Susan as well as my own creative practice. My creative practice is a way of expressing my life through the art of storytelling and technology of knitting and through the use of expressive colour.

I would like to thank Shetland Arts and Creative Scotland for supporting this project – for me, it is a thing of great beauty – not only the design but the 15 page story of Susan and I.  The writing of this work has been a research and a personal journey written in letters to Susan. If you are interested in the knitting pattern, it is available on ravelry (with the story too).

Big love from Shetland in these long summer days. Tracey.

For the knitting pattern and 15 page story

https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/dear-susan

Online knitting workshops

Colour Blending workshops.

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.
  • Colour blending
  • 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 traceydoxey@hotmail.com

My knitting designs are here.

Ravelry: Designs by Tracey Doxey

take a look – you’ll see lots of easy colour blending projects. Sea Urchin hat is almost one year old and a beautiful traditional Yoke pattern which is perfect for colour blending.