Episode 14 – Donna Smith, Shetland Wool, and Cutting the Steeks

Fruity Knitting Podcast - Episode 14 - Click on the image to view
Fruity Knitting Podcast – Episode 14 – Click on the image to view

In Episode 14 come to Shetland with Fruity Knitting!  Meet the lovely Donna Smith, creator of the iconic Baa-ble Hat and Patron of last year’s Shetland Wool Week.  See more designs and hear about the Shetland knitting tradition.  For Knitters of the World we’re staying in Shetland to hear from Finnish designer and knitter Outi Kater.  And there will be some sensational Fair Isle action with the cutting of the steeks for Jade Starmore’s Firebirds jumper.

Interview with Donna Smith, Shetland designer and creator of the Baa-ble Hat

Donna Smith comes from a long line of Shetland residents.  Her family still lives on the “croft”, or small farm, with sheep, and Donna continues the tradition of creating garments with wool.

Donna Smith, wearing her Shallmillens Snood
Donna Smith, wearing her Shallmillens Snood

Donna herself studied marine biology, and still does some work as a science technician in the Shetland schools.  However, her deep interest in textiles brought her back to designing a creating with wool.  You can find her designs under Designer Donna Smith on Ravelry.

Houlland Hap

Kate Davies invited Donna to submit a pattern for The Book of Haps, and the result is the Houlland Hap.  In our interview, Donna talks about the traditional construction of haps, and how the children used to knit the plain center section, whilst the more experienced knitters would create the fancy edging.

Donna Smith – Houlland Hap

I am always struck at how knitting, which survives as a creative hobby and art form, was for a long time a labour pursued to bring in a little more money for the family.  The knitting belt, maybe convenient at any time, was also to allow knitters to work more hours in the day, including when walking.

Shetland Knitting Belts
Shetland Knitting Belts

Inspiration for the hap came from Aunt Emma, still knitting at 95 years of age.  Nothing is written down, so Donna had to watch, take a sample, and figure out the technique herself.  The hap is named after the croft where Aunt Emma lived on Shetland.


These details about the creation of the hap design show Donna’s passion for preserving the heritage of Shetland knitting.  Her blog is well worth a read, particularly if you are not able to dash off to Shetland yourself.  Follow the link at www.donnasmithdesigns.co.uk.  (Donna’s blog is currently undergoing a redesign, and at the time of this release the site is having some the technical challenges.  But persist, she has beautiful writing and it is definitely worth a visit).  You can also go straight to Donna Smith’s designs, or follow her on Instagram as DonnaSmithDesigns

Baa-ble Hat

Donna’s now iconic design, the Baa-ble Hat, was the official pattern of the 2015 Shetland Wool Week, for which Donna was also Patron.  The pattern was originally free, partly due to its connection to the Wool Week.  It is now available from Ravelry at a small charge, and if you don’t already have your own Baa-ble hat, we encourage you to buy the pattern and get knitting.  As a small project it is a great entry to Fair Isle knitting, and if you need any help, you can go through it step by step with Andrea’s Baa-ble Hat tutorial on the Fruity Knitting YouTube channel.  (But you still need the pattern!)

Outi Kater – Knitters of the World

Our guest on Knitters of the World was Outi Kater.

To start with, we have to apologize to Outi.  Twice…  Firstly, in the introduction to the show we said that Outi is from Norway.  Outi is originally from Finland.  She lived in Ireland for some time, and moved to Shetland around 13 years ago.  Secondly, Outi’s name is pronounced “oh” – “tea”  “kay” – “ter”.  I think in the show we had several variations, but I suspect that we didn’t get it right once.  Outi, please forgive us.  We could have checked both points, but just didn’t get to it before recording.  I can only say that we are both due for a holiday and we are sorry.

Outi Kater - Poseidon Tam
Outi Kater – Poseidon Tam

Outi fell in love with the Shetland yarn and Fair Isle knitting, and this love combined with her nordic knitting heritage has resulted in some beautiful Fair Isle designs.  My favorite is the Poseidon Tam, the colours and the design making a beautiful interpretation of the waves of the sea.

A Shetlander's Fair Isle Graph Book, from the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers
A Shetlander’s Fair Isle Graph Book, from the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers

Steeking the Firebirds!

Jade Starmore - Firebirds - Front and back neck steeks
Jade Starmore – Firebirds – Front and back neck steeks

Andrea finished the body of the Firebirds (Jade Starmore), complete with the modifications to take it from a girl’s cardigan to a bloke’s jumper.  (The birds are facing each other on the front – thank you all for your input.)  So it was time for the steeking, and I got to do the honors.  (I’m ticking off my first steek.)

Jade Starmore - Firebirds - Cuttnig the steeks
Jade Starmore – Firebirds – Cuttnig the steeks

A quick, live-on-air try-on looked good.  I tried it on again after the show and it seems to be a great fit.  Sleeves and collar to come, should be just in time for our German winter.  In the last weeks it has got drastically cooler.

Jade Starmore - Firebirds - Shoulder steek
Jade Starmore – Firebirds – Shoulder steek

The Hiking Jacket

I am making steady progress with the Hiking Jacket, and the back panel is almost complete.  That will leave left front, right front, left sleeve, right sleeve, collar, fitting the zip, and maybe some other finishing sort of stuff.  We were planning to have some small panels in the contrast color on the sides – under the arms.  I am spoilt having a dedicated head designer to guide me every step of the way, and I am full of admiration for those who are more independent in making advances in their knitting skills.

Hiking Jacket - Just done the armhole shaping
Hiking Jacket – Just done the armhole shaping

Shetland Wool Week 2016

As we release this Episode, Shetland Wool Week 2016 is in full swing.  It sounds like a delightful event.  We’re envious of those who are able to attend, and imagine that it is on the wishlist of many a passionate knitter.  Both Donna and Outi are holding classes.  Patron this year is Ella Gordon, and the official pattern is her Crofthoose Hat design, which you can get at the Wool Week website.


We would love to hear from you if you have been lucky enough to attend.


We have also spoken to Felicity Ford / KNITSONIK, who was patron of Shetland Wool Week in 2014 and regularly teaches classes at the event.  If you’re keen on Fair Isle knitting, then you’ll want to have a listen to Felicity.


Map of Shetland: Finlay McWalter, Wfm shetland map, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0

Theme Music: Bach, Well-Tempered Clavier, Prelude No. 3 in C-sharp major, performed by Kimiko Ishizaka, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

Serenity – Songs for the Soul

A few people have asked about the music, and yes, it is Andrea singing.  You can get her album, Serenity – Songs for the Soul, from CDBaby – as MP3s to download, or as a real CD.

Andrea Doig - Serenity - Songs for the Soul
Andrea Doig – Serenity – Songs for the Soul




7 thoughts on “Episode 14 – Donna Smith, Shetland Wool, and Cutting the Steeks”

  1. Christine Wamberchies

    Thank you, thank you.

    Your videos are so interesting and I could watch them several times.
    When I was learning to knit at school (I was 6 years old) we kept the right straight needle under our right arm. And now I continue to use this method.
    I should have liked to learn with a belt like Shetlanders.
    I miss your walkings in the German woods with Andrew and the dog.
    Continue your blog and the videos and congratulations for your knitting items (specially the fair isle and the steeks).

    Christine from Belgium

    I am better in french.

  2. Bonjour Christine. Thank you for your comments, and feel free to watch any of the episodes again! It is fascinating seeing the different knitting techniques – we’ll get to the Portuguese style one day.

    We will be back in the woods soon. We’re very busy right now, but we love walking in the winter, so it will be back!

    Et tu peux ecrire en francais, je le comprendrais!

    Andrew and Andrea

  3. Hi there Andrew and Andrea
    Have just discovered your podcast as it came up in my Instagram feed and really enjoyed your latest episode. I am from Derbyshire in England although wishing, this week, that I lived in Shetland so I could be at the epicentre of all things woollen ! Particularly enjoyed your interview with Donna and listening to Outi talk about her designs. Am halfway through Donna’s Houlland in Laceweight Shetland.
    That Firebird sweater looks lovely and is going to fit a treat and am sure the Hiking sweater will be finished in no time.
    Look forward to catching up with your previous podcasts and watching future ones – must figure out how to subscribe so I don’t miss any. Love the music too btw.
    Regards Jane

  4. Hi Jane. Late in responding… Thanks for watching and enjoy the earlier episodes. Donna was lovely, and has been very generous in supporting us right around Shetland Wool Week, which kept her busy. It’s great to hear that you’re knitting the Houlland. The Firebirds is almost complete now – not so much progress on the hiking jacket!
    Cheers, Andrew.

  5. Hi, I am absolutely loving your podcasts.
    I have just been trying to back track through some of your notes looking for the name of the knitting technique book you mentioned. Please could you let me have the name of it. Want to put it on my Christmas wish list!
    Many thanks

  6. Trish Annie Stevens

    I am slowly catching up on all your amazing podcasts. They are always so full of information and inspiration, and so much work goes into them. I particularly enjoyed this one, as I lived in Shetland from 2007-2009, but missed Shetland wool week as my yarn obsession hadn’t started at that point, sadly. But I am inspired to go back…Thank you so much for all your hard work.

    1. Hi Trish. When we went to Shetland we wondered what it would be like to live there – sort of isolated, but also a critical point for some travelers, and an important tourist destination. We loved being by the sea and out in the weather. Enjoy the show, and thanks for your feedback! A + A.

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