As Alison Rendall took up her knitting needles to click and clack her way to creating her first Buggiflooer Beanie, she may well have felt the world watching.

Her eagerly awaited woolly hat would showcase a new and unique Fair Isle pattern named after the pretty sea campion flowers found near her Shetland home.

Knitted in colours inspired by the island landscape, before long it would be the hottest hat around, seized upon by fellow knitters around the globe.

The release of her beanie pattern last April marked her role as patron of the annual Shetland Wool Week, and immediately triggered a frenzy among Fair Isle fans around the world.

From Tasmania to the United States, New Zealand, Taiwan, Serbia, Japan, Canada and in homes across Europe, knitters seized Alison’s pattern and set about making their own Buggiflooer Beanies.


The Herald: Shetland Wool Week 2023 patron Alison RendallShetland Wool Week 2023 patron Alison Rendall (Image: Alison Rendall)

At last count, more than 850 members of craft website Ravelry had posted photographs of their versions, some showcasing several efforts in an astonishing variety of colourways.

Others have popped up on Instagram and across Facebook labelled #buggiflooerbeanie, #FairIsle and #ShetlandWoolWeek.

For some, the beanie would join them on a pilgrimage across land and sea to its spiritual home: wearing Shetland Wool Week’s patron’s beanie at its opening event in Lerwick has become a tradition resulting in dozens of the same patterned hats in a wild array of colours, all worn at the same time, in the same place.

Once a niche event for a handful of knitting enthusiasts, last year’s Wool Week saw scores of workshops, exhibitions and behind the scenes glimpses into the islands’ wool and knitting industry attract more than 800 visitors – around 60% of them from outside of Britain – and inject £1 million to the local economy.


The Herald: Shetland Wool Week attracts more than 800 visitors to the islandsShetland Wool Week attracts more than 800 visitors to the islands (Image: Shetland Wool Week - Alexa Fitzgibbon)

Described as a ‘Mecca’ for Fair Isle fans, many visitors plan their Shetland trip at least two years in advance, booking out accommodation for a time of year when businesses might traditionally be winding down for winter, and crashing the festival’s website for tickets in frenzied scenes compared by some to “like a Beyonce concert”.

Now, with just weeks to go before the 2024 Shetland Wool Week patron is revealed along with their beanie design, tension – and excitement - is mounting among Fair Isle fans.

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And the whole astonishing process will begin again.

It’s an indication of the remarkable turnaround in fortunes for Fair Isle knitting: not long ago dismissed as a dying craft even in its Shetland home, there was a air of it being for past generations, no longer taught at firesides or in schools.

The Herald: Demonstrations and workshops attract visitors from around the worldDemonstrations and workshops attract visitors from around the world (Image: Shetland Amenity Trust)

Times have changed.

“Shetland Wool Week was set up to celebrate and promote the unique wool that comes from the native Shetland breed of sheep, and to revive the textile industry,” explains Alison, who juggles her Fair Isle knitting with work as a nurse.

“It started off quite small but has grown into an international event, with people from all over the world joining in both online and in Shetland.

“There is a buzz around knitting designs and styles,” she adds.

“After years of man-made fibres and disposable clothing people are now more interested in sustainable fashion, natural fibres and making their own clothes.

“Shetland wool has gone from being virtually valueless to a highly sought after product that the local yarn producers can hardly make enough of.


The Herald: Shetland Wool Week events include visits to crofts and farmsShetland Wool Week events include visits to crofts and farms (Image: Shetland Amenity Trust)

“I believe people are increasingly interested in culture and heritage and the uniqueness of communities like Shetland.”

Visitors to Wool Week come face to face with the sheep that produce Shetland yarns, meet artists and attend talks in community halls, high schools, kitchens and livingrooms across the islands.

Yet no-one is quite sure what precisely has inspired such a passion: theories span the revival in interest in handcrafts, television shows like detective drama Shetland, social media chat and the ease of sharing of pattern, and knitters’ craving to keep traditions alive.

“Shetland Wool Week was invented to celebrate and promote Shetland oo (wool) and the textiles industry, when the value of the raw fleece was down and traditional skills were being lost,” says Victoria Tait of organisers the Shetland Amenity Trust.

“It has been incredibly successful in recognising the value of the products and traditions.”

The Herald: Shetland Wool Week attracts more than 800 visitors Shetland Wool Week attracts more than 800 visitors (Image: Shetland Amenity Trust)

This year’s event will be the 15th, with more than 800 visitors expected to attend.

“It’s always fun to see the pins in the map grow through the week to indicate where folk have travelled from,” adds Victoria.

“Attendees primarily come from UK, Europe, Scandinavia and North America – but we have visitors from as far away as Australia and Japan.”

The Patron’s beanie is at its heart: “It’s a fun way for folk to feel part of Shetland Wool Week and is an easily identifiable way to connect with others when folk are out and about.

“Folk who can’t make it to Shetland also knit them, so there’s a little bit of Shetland tradition in all corners of the world.”

The enthusiasm extends to the yarn itself. Shetland wool specialists Jamieson, and Lerwick-based wool brokers Jamieson & Smith, which handles more than 80% of wool clipped on the islands gathered from more than 600 crofters and sells Buggiflooer Beanie kits, both despatch a steady stream of yarn parcels around the world.


The Herald: Alison Rendall's beanie pattern has been copied by knitters around the worldAlison Rendall's beanie pattern has been copied by knitters around the world (Image: Alison Rendall)

Jamieson & Smith founded Shetland Wool Week and ran it until it became clear it was just too big.  

“The event grew arms and legs,” says company spokesperson Ella Gordon.

“We now get loads of wool tourists every year from March right through to October.

“They say coming here is like Mecca for knitters. They want to see the sheep and meet the people who look after them.

“Wool Week is crazy,” she adds.

Visitors’ enthusiasm has helped restore interest in the craft closer to home, she adds.

“Shetlanders are owning it,” she adds. “It used to be that people would come here and write books about Shetland yarn and Fair Isle.

“But now Shetlanders have taken back ownership of their heritage; they are the ones making patterns and writing books.”

Nearly 3,000 miles from Lerwick, in Saint John on the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, Elizabeth Miller is among the global army of Shetland yarn and Fair Isle fanatics.

The Herald: Wendy Inkster with her Fair Isle Burra BearsWendy Inkster with her Fair Isle Burra Bears (Image: Dave Donaldson)

She has rattled out several Buggiflooer Beanies in varying colour schemes to add to the countless Fair Isle designs in her repertoire.

Although on the other side of the Atlantic, she immerses herself in a Fair Isle world, with a yarn shop that doubles as a weaving studio, spinning shop and which stocks Jamieson & Smith and Jamiesons of Shetland yarns.

At first, she wasn’t sure her fellow Canadians might share her passion. It soon turned out that she had under-estimated demand.

“I was worried I would be catering to a very few people. I was so wrong,” she says.

“Now I know of at least three places selling Shetland yarns.

“We have events around the Shetland Wool Week and contests with the yarns. It’s fun, and really strikes a chord with knitters here on the East Coast of Canada.”

Her yearning to knit with Shetland yarn and to create Fair Isle patterns is in her DNA: she has part Scottish heritage and comes from a family of ‘needlewomen’ as has been knitting Fair Isle patterns since she was a teenager.

“The combinations of colours, the natural “real wool” feel of the yarns, were what I loved,” she adds.

“In an era of acrylic, and other synthetics, many knitters and weavers preferred actual wool, and we all knew good wool came from the UK.”

The Herald: Former Shetland Wool Week patron Wilma Malcolmson Former Shetland Wool Week patron Wilma Malcolmson (Image: Wilma Malcolmson)

But it’s not just traditional Fair Isle items that fly off the shelves. Wendy Inkster

began making teddy bears from discarded Fair Isle knitwear more than 20 years ago using rejected knitwear from Jamieson’s stock.

She now has customers around the world, and her Burra Bears sell within minutes of going online.

“When I started 20 years ago, I was just selling to local people and the odd person on holiday,” she says. “But since Facebook and Instagram and social media, I have customers from all over the world.

“The Japanese love Fair Isle, and there’s huge interest from the States, Australia, New Zealand - places where there is a bit of a connection with the Shetlands because people emigrated there.

“I can put a bear online at 10am, and it will be sold by five past.”

Former Wool Week patron, Wilma Malcolmson, who began her knitwear business in the 1970s, says the boom in interest has brought many positives for Shetland.

The Herald: Alison Rendall's Buggiflooer pattern has been turned into socks and mittensAlison Rendall's Buggiflooer pattern has been turned into socks and mittens (Image: Alison Rendall)

“We are lucky that so many people want to come and experience the genuine community of knitters and people working in the wool industry,” she says.

“It’s part of our culture here, and it seems to be different from any other place.”

For information on Shetland Wool Week go to