KNITSONIK 03 – The Shetland Diaries

This is the second in a series of experiments in adapting some of the KNITSONIK concepts and recordings to a rough and ready podcast format. I am sitting on a mountain of recorded sounds from Cumbria, Estonia, and Shetland, and my brain is overflowing with ideas connecting KNITTING with SOUNDS. I wanted to see if there is a nice way I can share all of this with you, and whether I have any comrades out there who may be interested in joining me on a fortnightly basis, to explore connections between WOOL and SOUNDS. There may well be some accordion music… there will always be some knitting… and the sounds will be AMAZING! Who is up for this? Are you game? Then let me fire up my mixing desk, my sound-recordings archive, my microphones, and my SONIK devices!

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(If you prefer not to use the player, you can download this episode of KNITSONIK directly from here).

This week, the KNITSONIK Podcast continues for a while on the theme of bells, before we delve into exploring some of the recordings created by me in Shetland prior to Shetland Wool Week. In talking about sound and its relationship with our sense of place, I discuss a pamphlet entitled “Dartmoor Sheep Bells” by R. Hansford Worth, from which comes this salient quote encapsulating the key role that sounds can play in defining our sense of place:

Sheep bells may seem a trivial subject, but not to those in whose memories they yet ring; they were a part of that countryside which has suffered so much change, and is still changing, to our sorrow.


In this episode, I also muse on the idea of a KNITSONIK Christmas in 2014, reflecting on a host of decorations which might be chosen specifically for their SONIK qualities! I discuss the sonorous loveliness of some porcelain decorations recently acquired from Lauren Denney, and the construction of a bell garland.



All the Shetland sounds which you hear in this show can be directly downloaded by you for free from a dedicated sound map entitled “Listening to Shetland Wool“, which was made using the aporee soundmaps, built by my SONIK comrade, Udo Noll.


You can buy a pattern from my Ravelry store containing instructions on how to build a special wool-clad pillow speaker if you would like to play the sounds from the Listening to Shetland Wool map through the medium of Shetland Wool.


Several wonderful recordings from the Tobar an Dualchais archives are referenced in this podcast, which, for copyright reasons, cannot actually be played in it… however, you can easily go and hear these files for yourselves. They include:

Carding as a social event – Laura Malcolmson being interviewed by Alan Bruford
Carding nights ended in dancing – Barbara Graham being interviewed by Alan Bruford
Fetlar women worked so hard carrying baskets that the skin was scraped off their backs – James Laurenson being interviewed by Alan Bruford
Roo the bonnie Oo – Rosabel Blance singing her song ‘Roo the Bonnie Oo’ to Tom Anderson
Doon da Rooth – Tom Anderson introduces and then plays this old fiddle tune, ‘Doon da Rooth’
Sheep grazing on seaweed – John Robertson being interviewed by Calum Iain Maclean about sheep eating seaweed in Shetland

I also talk about:

The Voe & District Agricultural Show
Oliver Henry – Wool sorter and grader for Jamieson & Smith for 45 years

Laurie Goodlad recites a Guddick during the podcast, and you can learn more about guddicks (riddles) in the amazing book which she and Amy Lightfoot have produced together and which you can purchase here. Elizabeth Johnston is the hand-spinner I mention in the podcast, and Hazel Tindall is the World’s Fastest Knitter, whose steel needles you can hear in this podcast working at impressive speed.

Let me know whether or not to include MORE such sounds in the next podcast, and have a wonderful Christmas, and a Happy New Year. Here are the lyrics for the Shetland Wool Week Song and the wonderful video made by Liz Musser.

SEE YOU IN 2014! x

I live in Reading, 800 miles from here,
It’s famous for brickwork, seed packets and beer,
And… like… much of the UK…
Once famous for it’s wool, but not so, today!
Memories are all that we’ve got,
Of our once-famous sheep-breed “The Berkshire Nott“,
Alas, this fine animal is now extinct,
The last vestige of its genes is in the Hampshire Down I think?


If places were graded and sorted for their wool
Then Shetland would be an ACE, 1-star, and full marks
while Berkshire would be down there round about nine,
Unusably coarse and not very fine!!!

Yes, I live in Reading, and I like its beer…
Its brickwork brings me inspirational cheer,
And I like to gather from familiar streets,
ideas to turn into hand-knitted treats…
But – oh no! – what can I use, to knit my ideas?
You can’t knit colourwork from seed packets and beers…
What I need, is wool, that is soft and yet strong,
That’s bouncy from sheep that are short-tailed not long…


If places were graded and sorted for sheep
Then Shetland would be at the top of the heap,
With its kindly-fleeced sheep breed, and also its rough –

I live in Reading, and I visited these isles…
And I am blown away, but not just by your textiles…
But also a deep sense of connection with place,
A feeling that wool and landscape grow together,
Surrounded by ocean and shaped by the weather,
Stories of fishing and knitting entwined…
A High Street of KNITWEAR that will blow your mind!!!


If places were graded and sorted for knits,
For gloves, socks and mittens, and hand-dyed yarn kits,
Then Shetland would surely get the top grade,
For all of the “maakin’” and all that gets made?

I live in Reading, with my cat, and my man,
And I love it there but I do hope I can
Return here often, to listen to terns,
To go up on the peat hills and hear the burns,
To listen to Shima machines, record the looms,
And revel in knowing that the Shetland Isles,
Are still rocking the world with amazing textiles…

That unlike in some other parts of the UK,
The wool industry here is still thriving today,
That people here still know that knitwear is hip,


If… places were graded and sorted like wool,
then Shetland would be an ACE, 1-star, and full marks,
And I am so happy to be here to share
This wonderful textile that we should all wear.

2 thoughts on “KNITSONIK 03 – The Shetland Diaries

  1. I loved this so much, I’ve just listened to it yet again! It’s certainly been adding some sonic sparkle to my evening’s wool-working.

  2. Hello Felix!
    This podcast was a beautiful companion on the journey to visit my aunt yesterday and all the bells added to the festive spirit. I listened to the second half in bed last night and have woken up with the chorus of your song ringing circles in my head!

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