The Tait family have lived in Ireland Bigton since the mid 1800s all that time crofting and keeping sheep. Brothers James & Cecil Tait are the 6th Generation of the family to work the family croft along with doing other jobs. James is a tour guide and Cecil designs and builds furniture Cecil’s wife Jennifer studied textile design and selling textiles through the Paparwark studio.
A few generations ago wool was an important part of the family income. Women turned wool from the family’s native shetland sheep into high quality yarn, doing all the work at home including spinning – a true cottage industry. They would then knit various garments to be sold in local merchant shops often in exchange for other goods.
In more recent times the Tait family in common with most other crofters simply sold all their wool to a local wool broker. Over many years particularly in the late 20th Century prices were poor not just in Shetland but across the UK and the wider world. Wool became a byproduct and the focus was on breeding larger sheep suitable for producing lambs suitable for the meat trade.
The ewes on the Tait family croft are a mixture of breeds. Of course there are some colourful native Shetland Sheep but you will also find 2 other hardy British breeds, Cheviot a tough Scottish hill sheep and Lleyn Sheep which come from Wales and are also very suited to the harsh Shetland climate. Most of the ewes are cross bred from 2 or all 3 of these breeds! All ewes are home bred on the croft with only Rams being brought in. Although our croft is not organic we do give our sheep as natural a life as possible, grass fed all year round supplemented by home grown silage and some bought in winter feed.
A few years ago the Tait family came into contact with visitors to Shetland who were keen to learn about crofting and also to buy wool and yarn from small local producers. Tours and workshops were arranged in Bigton as part of “Shetland Wool Week 2019.” The croft tours were a hit with the visitors and the idea of turning their own wool into yarn and selling direct to visitors was born.
In early 2021 the first batch of wool was sent away for processing into yarn very much as an experiment. A limited range of colours have been produced along with natural white and a blend of natural dark wool. All colours are available in both 4 ply (Jumper Weight) and DK (Double knit.)
West Lynne is the name of Cecil and Jennifer’s house and croft. Selling yarn is part of a new croft tourism venture where visitors can see the sheep, see and handle fleeces from the most recent wool clip and then have the opportunity to buy yarn from the same croft.