A Tale of two yarn companies....

On the trip to Shetland in July, we were met in Lerwick by Robert Jamieson, owner of Jamieson's Bus Company from Unst -- and I asked him if he was related to Peter Jamieson of Jamieson's Spinning (who also met us)......no he said. I asked why, in such a small community, could so many families be called Jamieson, and not be related. He just laughed.

It was a Norse custom to name the son after the Father, so the son of a James would be called "James son" - get it? Jamieson!!!! As James was a popular name, obviously there are now a lot of Jamieson's. This might explain a lot in itself!

Why are there two Shetland yarn companies with similar names? How are they similar? How are they different?

This is what I know......

They both have disclaimers on their web sites saying they aren't related to any other company in Shetland that has a similar name.

Jamieson & Smith Shetland Wool Brokers (J&S from now on) was founded in 1930's by the Smith family -- according to their web site. (Tell me, why would they call it Jamieson & Smith if there wasn't a Jamieson involved.) J&S are located in Lerwick (East coast), right down at the waterfront -- easy for the crofters to deliver their fleece. J&S buy the bulk of the Shetland wool clip. After the fleece are sorted into grades, they were bundled and shipped to the wool processors on the UK mainland. The finest wool was used in high quality knitwear, and hand-knitting yarns.

In 2004, J&S was purchased by Curtis Wool Direct, an international company which is based in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England. Now the fleece is shipped to their facilities in Bradford -- where most of the wool cleaned and sold on to specialist users in the textile business. The finest grade of Shetland wool is processed into yarns for the hand-knitters and the knitwear industry -- this is sold through the J&S facilities in Shetland.

The original "Jamieson" (of Jamieson's Spinning) was Robert Jamieson who in the early 1890's set up a business in Sandness (West coast) which bought (or exchanged goods for) knitwear produced by the local crofters (handspun yarn from their own sheep). Hats, gloves, stockings, sweaters, lace shawls, veils and stockings, all produced locally, by the crofters, were in great demand at the turn of the century.

Andrew (son of Robert) continued the business. When handspinning declined, he became one of the first wool brokers -- buy from the crofters and ship to Scotland to process into yarn. The Scottish mills believed that the Shetland fleece was too fine and soft to be processed without being blended with other wool. Yarn produced by the Scottish mills was approx. 60% Shetland and 40% other wool.

Robert, aka Bertie (son of Andrew) established a retail location in Lerwick -- which still sells yarn and knitted garments. He believed that 100% Shetland yarn could be spun. When his son Peter joined the business in 1980 -- they experimented with spinning pure Shetland fleece into yarn by machine. Encouraged by their results, they proceeded to buy spinning equipment (from spinning mills that were shutting down) and had it shipped to their Sandness location. Soon they were producing 100% Shetland yarn produced from the two finest grades of fleece from the native Shetland Sheep.

Both Jamieson's and J&S sell various weights of yarn, but since Fair Isle is my passion, we'll talk about the "jumper" weight yarn that is used in the traditional fair isle sweaters. Both companies product jumper weight yarns which are spun to the same spinning specs. Both yarns are put up (now) in 25 gram balls. The J&S 25 gram ball is 125 yards (115 metres) approx. The Jamieson's 25 gram ball is 115 yards (105 metres). Both yarns are available in an extensive color range of dyed shades and natural undyed fleece shades. There is a lot of overlap in the shades offered, just as there are unique shades in each range.

You can use either or both yarns in the same fair isle project.

Both of these yarns were used at times by a famous Scottish designer who doesn't like to be named for fair isle designs. But, it was Jamieson's yarns that were offered as her designer labelled yarn.

J&S sells direct to the public. There are retailers who import the J&S yarns for sale in their shops.

Jamieson's Spinning has a distributor in North America who does just that -- imports and handles the distribution of their yarn to yarn retailers in NA. The distributor also produces a design book annually (with designs in the various weights of Jamieson's yarns).

Rumour has it that the two original Jamieson's involved in both companies were brothers.....but that's just a rumour.

I'm assuming that if the Scottish mills wouldn't/couldn't spin 100% pure Shetland yarn, that once Jamieson's Spinning was established and doing just that -- they had to! So that's why we now have two companies offering pure Shetland yarns.

Two different approaches, with similar products.

I prefer Jamieson's Spinning yarns -- you might or might not -- you have a choice!


  1. Anne- I probably don't need to preach to the converted, but my preference is for Jamieson's, although I have used both extensively. Knowing that Jamieson's Spinning employs people on the Shetland Isles, as well as their more intense shade pallette makes it all the more attractive. Each to their own.

  2. Thanks for the history, Anne. I've sometimes wondered about the two companies.

    I've only had a chance to try J&S so far, but will probably branch out as I do more Fair Isle projects.

  3. How interesting! Usually you hear the opposite...everyone is related to everyone...but that certainly makes sense.

  4. Thanks for writing about this. I've been wondering. I just read "Knitting by the Fireside and on the Hillside". If I remember correctly it mentions Jamieson's but didn't really mention J&S, although it I think it mentioned Smith.

    Why do you prefer Jamieson's?

    Are there other Shetland yarns that Shetland knitters use?

  5. Thanks for background info Anne!


  6. Thank you so very much for this discussion! I've been as confused as others have been about these two companies! Love their yarns, though! And spinning shetland fleece is just wonderful.

  7. Thanks for the history. Please contact me so I can discuss this article privately.


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