Meet the Guiding Designer behind Simply Shetland: Gudrun Johnston

Jimmy Beans Wool recently welcomed Jamieson’s of Shetland yarn into our warehouse for all of you to shop! Alongside Jamieson’s is Simply Shetland, the exclusive North American wholesale distributor of the classic wools. Laura (a.k.a. Jimmy!) is a part of the brand’s guiding team along with Brand Director, Gudrun Johnston, a Shetland-born, US-Based knitwear designer with a passion for fair isle fashion! To get to know the Shetland Trader herself, we spoke with Gudrun on all things fiber!


When did you start working with Jamieson’s of Shetland and what do you love most about their yarns?

I was using Jamieson’s yarn early on in my knitting obsession. My parents retired back to Shetland around the same time that I started to get into designing so I was able to visit the mill (which is just down the road from them) and load up on yarn. My mum designed knitwear in Shetland in the 1970s and I wore a lot of those things as a kid when living there. Some of my earliest “designs” were based off of those items which I recreated for my own kids in Jamieson’s yarn.

One of the things I love about Jamieson’s yarn is the abundance of colors you get to pick from. I also love the organic nature of the yarn. It’s warm, lofty, light and authentic. 

How do you incorporate traditional Shetland knitting into your designs?

I feel very fortunate that my entry into knitwear designing coincided with my parents’ return to Shetland. It was a natural step for me to explore the knitting heritage there as I started to experiment with my own design work. Initially I focused on the lace traditions and my first self published book used shetland lace as the groundwork for inspiration in that collection. I took lace patterns and used them in a more modern context. I have also been long fascinated by the traditional Shetland haps (shawls). I favor the modern construction method when knitting these shawls (which is less common in Shetland) and have used it as a launching point for many other shawl designs that I have created over the years.

Using Fair Isle in my designing came a little later for me but is now a huge obsession. Again I am typically not using super traditional approaches when designing colorwork but instead finding ways to integrate patterns that suit my aesthetic.


For your latest edition of Shetland Trader, where did you get the inspiration to use 1970s silhouettes? Why did you love these silhouettes?

That entire collection is based on knitwear that my mum designed in Shetland in the 70s. So she is the inspiration there. This book was a way to pay homage to her unique approach to Shetland knitting traditions. Although these designs have a retro feel they are still of appeal to today’s audience. One thing I did include in that collection is the option to swap out any elements that might not be to one’s taste. So there are straight sleeves instead of balloon sleeves instructions for example. You can pick and choose! 

What do you love the most about fair isle knitting?

I don’t think there is any one element that I could pinpoint. I love everything about it!

I get excited to take out my stash of shetland yarn and pull colors that are of appeal in that moment. This process might happen quickly or I may spend quite some time shifting the balls around until I get what I hope is a pleasing palette. Then the next fun part is seeing how these colors end up actually interacting in the knitting. There are so many possibilities of how to combine colors and sometimes you just have to get knitting to see what will actually work. Even the Shetland experts swatch!. 

If you could be any of the 225 colors of Spindrift, what color would you be and why?

This is a fun question but also incredibly hard to answer! I am going to say Mirry Dancers as it is a shade I used recently and found to be full of surprises!

Mirry Dancers is a Shetland term for the northern lights which can be seen in Shetland in the winter months. This shade is a very dark inky blue with occasional flecks of green and purple hues which hint at the elusive and playful nature of the Aurora Borealis. 

I chose this shade as the main color for a second version of my Melby hat and gave it to my husband for Christmas (which means it’s also for me)!

Pictured is the Melby Hat showing the original, lighter color design underneath and the version Gudrun knit for her husband on top.

Click here to shop Jamieson’s!

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Written by murat

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