Spinning A Shetland Hap

I had the great good fortune to visit the Shetland Isles several years ago. When I returned, I was anxious to start knitting my first Shetland hap. These knitted shawls were commonly worn by generations of women who lived and worked on Shetland.

I looked at wonderful old photos of haps in the Shetland Museum and Archives collection, which you can see online. In my rush to cast on, I grabbed handspun leftovers from a Fair Isle project and jumped headfirst into a Shetland hap; it worked well! After reading Debbie Held’s article “The Shetland Hap: A Handspun Garment Wrapped in History,” which was featured in the Fall 2018 issue of Spin Off, I had to start another. For my next Shetland hap, I’m going to make some changes and spin specifically for the project.

Shetland hap

Kate’s first Shetland hap, knitted with leftovers from a Fair Isle jumper. The yarns were all spun from Shetland sheep’s wool in natural colors, and one skein took a quick dip in madder root dyepot. Photo by Kate Larson

Planning a Second Shetland Hap

1. Spinning
The handspun I used for my last Shetland hap was a 2-ply, woolen-spun, fingering-weight yarn. This yarn was very similar to the Jamieson & Smith Jumper-Weight yarn often used for haps by today’s knitters. However, I love the slightly finer yarn (light fingering to heavy laceweight) that I see in both old haps in museum collections and on Elizabeth Johnston’s knitting needles. The haps in the image above are very different; Sara Greer’s darker Shetland hap on the bottom is a much heavier gauge than Elizabeth’s hap that is lying on top. I’m spinning a very lightweight 2-ply. This woolen-spun yarn is finer than a typical fingering-weight yarn. (I’ll share more about this in the future!)

2. Knitting
My first hap started on long double-pointed needles used with a Shetland knitting belt. I switched back to my more familiar circular needles early in that project, but this time, I’m determined to knit the entire hap using a knitting belt.

Shetland hap

Kate learned to use a Shetland knitting belt in Elizabeth Johnston’s studio on Shetland. Photo courtesy of Kate Larson

3. Blocking
I didn’t add an outer lace edge to my first hap, so I didn’t block it into points like a traditional Shetland hap. There is a great picture of how haps were, and often still are, blocked. If I add a lace edge, I can properly “dress” my hap, as they would on Shetland.

I love returning to a project such as the Shetland hap, fine-tuning my handspun, and seeing how the fabric changes. As handspinners, we can make adjustments in fiber selection and spinning draw, gauge, and grist—intentionally and unintentionally. The possibilities are as limitless my desire for more shawls and scarves!


Featured Image: Dreaming of a handspun Shetland hap. Photo by George Boe

Dive into Shetland knitting traditions!

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