What does oo mean to me?

Although I may be writing about wool, my mind is thinking ‘oo’ which is the Shetland dialect word for wool. As an islander the word oo means so much to me and in many different ways.

Oo means the croft. As a Shetland lace knitter I obviously associate oo with the yarn that I love to knit with, but it means so much more including heritage, culture, and family. I grew up on my Grandad’s croft, which provided food for the table, money and wool. Our lives were punctuated by the working year of a croft which itself was dominated by the needs of the sheep. When I think about Shetland I see images of parks full of sheep. I see them walking along their well-worn paths one after another, traversing high sided hills or the sides of steep burns. The fun watching little lambs play and run.

Oo means community. When it is time for the hill sheep to be rounded up, all the local crofters and their families came together to drive the sheep from the hills. People could identify their own because of the marks in sheep’s lugs. These marks were created by cutting out little pieces, and each croft had its own distinguishing mark. Lambs had a different identification mark called a caddel, which was easily removed if the lamb was to be sold. A caddel is a twisted piece of yarn and cotton thread placed in the ears of the lambs; they would be only marked like an adult if they were going to be kept. My Granddad’s colours were a Shetland black yarn and a scarlet cotton thread.

Oo also means childhood memories. My mother is not just a wonderful lace knitter. She is also an amazing spinner. She would ask us bairns to go around the hills and parks to collect the hentilags for her to spin. Hentilags are tufts of wool, which are lost by the sheep onto the ground or rubbed off along fences. She would carefully clean, teases, and card before finally spinning. She spins the finest of yarns; her 2ply is thinner than most bought 1ply yarns!

Of course, oo means knitting. Over the centuries wool has been spun by Shetlanders to create yarn. When and how Shetland Lace developed is for another discussion, but for certain it forms a part of the rich culture of Shetland, which I am delighted to be part of. Like paint to an artist, oo is the medium in which we can make such amazing items as haps, scarfs and shawls in a variety of colours, textures and forms.

So you can see that oo means many things to me and of course different folk will have different associations. I would love to know what oo means to you?

Elizabeth Williamson is a knitter, designer, and teacher who specializes in Shetland Lace. Born in Shetland, Elizabeth took her love of knitting with her as her family lived in several different countries. Learn more about Elizabeth and her classes on her website