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In the second interview for our second ShetlandMade exhibition, we chatted with local textile artist Rosalynn Fraser about her journey to this point, her inspirations and much more.

Rosalynn designs and makes unique handcrafted cushions, bags, phone and iPad covers and jewellery all made using techniques such as felting and knitting in 100% wool. Her work can be seen in our ShetlandMade exhibition at Bonhoga until Sunday 15 July.

What is the name of your company and where do you do your work?

I’m Rosalynn Fraser and my company is called RoLo. The name RoLo comes from my son and daughter’s names, Ross and Louise.

I work in my house in Tingwall. We’ve spoken for ages about getting a dedicated workshop in the garden but because I work part-time, I feel like it would take me away from the family so I quite like just having it in the house even though it does create a lot of stoor (dust)!

What interesting equipment do you use?

I knit and I needle felt. The knitting machine I have is my mam’s old one. I think that I took possession of it in 2013, we were up in Whalsay one day and I decided I wanted to try it so I set it up and had a go. It has been a bit temperamental but I have persevered and I taught myself to work it, it’s an old hand-frame Fair Isle knitting machine. I also have my heavy duty sewing machine and overlocker that I couldn’t do without.

Who or what do you draw inspiration from?

For the first cushions that I made I chose a Fair Isle pattern that I loved.

I didn’t realise that it was the same pattern that my mam made me and my three sisters jumpers with when I was about 15. My youngest sister, Andrea, pointed out that it was the same pattern, I was really quite surprised and now realise why I had been instantly drawn to that pattern in the first place.

I also knit cushions with sheep, peerie houses and fish on them. I grew up in Whalsay on a peerie croft and my dad was a fisherman all his life so I suppose it all comes from that. Just really Shetland in general, where I grew up.

Why do you choose to use the materials that you use? Where do you source your materials?

When I learned to knit, I don’t know if I was even at school. My mam was a big knitter and John Tait had a knitwear factory in Whalsay so they would knit up the bodies and we would knit in the yokes. That’s how we earned our pocket money when we were peerie.

We were doing that before we were 10. I have continued to knit ever since.

I try to use local materials. I normally use Jamiesons & Smiths yarn because the shop is easy to access – it’s quite dangerous to go into the shop because I go in looking for a couple of cones and come out with 10! For needle felting, I try to use local wool but they can be quite limited with the colours so I do source stuff from south as well.

I just really like using wool. It is amazing how a few balls of wool can be knitted into a stunning piece of work. The needle felting never ceases to amaze me how you can take a lump of oo and create something quite solid or create designs onto pieces.

How do you work, what is your process? What's your favourite part of the process?

For my cushions, I tend to knit long strips; I don’t knit a cushion at a time. I will knit up a few and then felt it in my washing machine. I might knit up 10 at a time, either the same colour or different colours. I then hang it on the washing line and once it is dry cut it to the size that I need. Because it has been felted it doesn’t spret (unravel) and the felting process creates a stronger end product.

Then it’s the overlocking and sewing. And a lot of ironing!

Do you have a favourite kind of piece to make?

I like making my cushions, my favourite part is knitting them up on the machine. Eenoo at Bonhoga, there’s a mustard cushion with dark grey houses on them, which is my favourite piece at the moment, but that could change next week. That colour is quite unusual for me because I love blues and teals. My house is mostly decorated blue so I do have to force myself to make different colours because I have to mind that folk like different colours, not just blue.

How long does it tend to take you to complete a piece?

It’s very difficult to say because I don’t do it in a one-off. It’s quite a lengthy process and I’ve always meant to knit one and see how long it takes me. Because I tend to have 10 on the go, I’ll sew all the zips in and then sew up the cushions so I don’t tend to do a one-off piece.

With the needle felted pebbles I’ve been doing, it can easy take up to an hour to make one. It’s not a very quick process.

What does your craft mean to you?

It’s a really big part of me. I have always been creative and love making things. In the past I have made bridesmaid dresses, I made some extra money at university by making ballgowns for friends as well as other things. I really enjoy creating and making but it is a struggle to juggle my business with work and family. There have been a couple of times recently, I’ve been working 30 hours a week recently at the high school, where I’ve thought that maybe I should give it up. But I can’t bear to, I love it, I find it very therapeutic and I get an awful lot of satisfaction when folk buy my products.

I never meant to start this business, it all happened by accident. I broke my leg in 2010 and was in plaster for 11 weeks, 5 of them I had to have my leg up so I learned to needle felt then and I was crocheting and knitting. I ended up with a massive pile of stuff so a friend encouraged me to go to the farmers market with it. It just kind of went from there.

When I got my mam’s machine, I just borrowed it to play around with and was never planning on making cushions at all but I made myself two cushions and put a photo on Facebook. All these comments came in, asking where I had bought them from, could you get them in different colours. I was quite surprised by people’s reactions and now I have no idea how many I’ve sold.

Folk have bought ones at the craft fair and gone with them to New Zealand and Australia and America. I wish that I had kept better track. It’s amazing to think there’s somebody in New Zealand sitting with one of my cushions.

Do you make your craft full time or do you have another job?

I work as a learning support worker at the Anderson High School but I’m down to two days a week now. I had a temporary contract for three days that was maternity cover. I’ve said absolutely no supply for the first few weeks. I’m going to leave it like that for the time being and dedicate a bit more time to my craft.

What are your most popular pieces?

I think it’s the cushions. I think I had about 60 with me at the craft fair last year and came home with less than 10 so I was just delighted.

Craft aside, what do you like to do in your spare time?

We have a peerie dog and I like to go for walks, although I’ve neglected everything recently getting ready for the ShetlandMade Exhibition which has taken up all my nights and weekends. So I’ve been dreaming cushions as well as making them!

I just like spending time with my family and all the usual things, going to the beach, seeing friends, reading and enjoying Shetland and life in general! I’m not big into holidays at all, I just like puttering about home with Graham, Louise, Ross and our lovely dog, Brooke.

If you could own another artist’s work, who would you choose? Why?

Cheryl Jamieson from Glansin Glass. I’m wearing her necklace today; she gave me it for my 50th birthday. I absolutely love Cheryl’s work and I have one of the driftwood pieces, that was the first thing I bought from her and I just love it. I have a couple of necklaces. My husband, Graham, got Cheryl to make me one of the driftwood pieces with the seaweed and glass for my birthday and I just love it. I plan to get more. I love the way the light glances off of it, it is so beautiful.

What motivates you to do what you do?

A lot of it is folk’s lovely comments. So many people have been so supportive and helpful, Joanna Hunter of Ninian was the one person that convinced me that my things were good enough to sell and when she offered to take some of my things in to her shop I think that I was in shock for a few days! She really gave me so much advice and gave me the confidence to carry on. Angela Smith from Shetland Arts has also been so supportive, she is always there to offer advice and help out. The whole of the Shetland Arts and Crafts Association have been brilliant, they are always quick to answer any questions and help out where they can. We are very lucky in Shetland to have such supportive organisations and people to encourage and help local producers to continually develop. That is what really motivates me.

The super comments folk put on Facebook, coming back really positively. That really means a lot.

What constitutes a successful piece for you?

Something that I hope is well made and turns out to be popular.

If I get positive comments about my products that’s successful! If someone buys it, that’s a bonus!

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