Festivals and conferences explore textile heritage and design

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Between now and October, Shetland will host two major events of interest to anyone with a passion for textiles and knitting.

Shetland Arts' International Textile Festival will run from 31 July to 5 August. Aimed at a wide audience, it will cover art, knitting, design, education and business. The Festival will explore the contemporary potential of textiles, making new connections, learning from other textile cultures and looking to the future.

As part of the Festival, ten textile artists will be visiting from Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, exhibiting along with two Shetland artists in Lighten, an exhibition in Bonhoga Gallery from 3 August to 15 September. The festival will also include textile tours, gallery talks and Meet Shetland Textiles, a free networking event for the public, textile makers, artists, knitters, designers, the exhibiting artists and delegates. The festival will include In the Loop 3.5: Making Connections, an international conference with a focus on knitting, a Nordic theme, and an emphasis on the development of contemporary textile cultures. Speakers will include artists, curators, designers, knitters, theorists and historians. Tickets for In the Loop 3.5 are on sale via Shetland Box Office (01595 745 555) or online.

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Later in the year, beginning on 7 October, the Shetland Wool Week is another highlight for anyone interested in wool textiles and knitting. It's a celebration of Britain's most northerly native sheep, Shetland's textile industries and rural farming communities. Organised by a committee of local public, private and voluntary organisations, this community-led event has a world-wide following, and attracts ever-increasing numbers of wool and knitting enthusiasts to the isles every year. It will include a four-day North Atlantic Native Sheep and Wool Conference, beginning on Friday 11th October.

Guest patron of this year's event is Felicity Ford, who, in addition to her work with 'Wovember' is also an accomplished sound artist and textile designer. Felicity's workshops and lectures will include a focus on the 'sounds of Shetland sheep', inviting participants to 'listen' to Shetland wool.

Felicity will be joined by Tom Van Deijnin, otherwise known as 'Tom of Holland' for selected events. Tom is perhaps best known for his Visible Mending Programme (VMP), where he uses darning, patching and weaving techniques to give a new lease of life to
damaged or over-loved garments.

Well-known local designers and knitters will also be providing a range of courses and events for aspiring Fair Isle and lace knitters, spinners, weavers and dyers. The Hoswick Visitor Centre has an astonishing array of events planned through the week with Niela Nell, Kalra and Elizabeth Johnston. Jamieson and Smith (Shetland Wool Brokers) Ltd will open their shop daily for lessons with Hazel Tindall, Mary Henderson and Mary Kay, to name a few. Other events will take place throughout Shetland.

Before then, knitters in Shetland are also participating in Alzheimer Awareness Week, from 3 to 9 June, when Shetland Arts and Alzheimer Scotland are to launch a new challenge for knitters of all ages in Shetland. The aim is to make at least 171 special knitted patchwork pieces, stitched from sets of squares of any size, or completed blankets. The 171 objects will be installed during Alzheimer Awareness Week in and around the foyer and café in Mareel. The total of 171 represents the number of people in the Shetland community who have a diagnosis of dementia.

Meanwhile, the BBC in association with the L.A.B. Scotland project has released a great little documentary on the knitting club at Whalsay school, which you can watch here. It's also an opportunity to tune in to Shetland's (and Whalsay's) dialect and accents.