From the Middle Ages until the mid 1700s Shetlanders made ‘wadmal’, handwoven wool cloth, for paying rent and tax to landowners in Norway, Scotland and Shetland. 

The people spun the yarn which they then wove in their homes on upright looms, then fulled the long lengths. Unlike other cultures where fulling was done by stamping in tubs and on other surfaces with the hands or feet, the Shetlanders (and Faroese) fulled the cloth in toevakoddies, rocky clefts at the shore.   The cloth was secured and immersed in the toevakoddi.  The seawater movement, with underwater rock surfaces, stabilised warp and weft, strengthened and thickened the cloth and lightly milled the surface.   Depending on the amount of fulling required, the cloth could have been immersed for several days.  The precise working methods involved are unrecorded.

Many of these sites of communal work are still recognised as place names in most areas of Shetland. The Norse term toeva means to full cloth and a koddi is a hollow or bowl. The risk of losing the cloth to the sea, the production of a year’s work, could have grave consequences.

The three artists have taken differing approaches to a common goal in responding to this early and innovative use of wave power.


  • All Shetlanders paid rent, some also paid tax.
  • Rent was also paid in butter and fish oil, and calfskins.
  • In 1664, people in the communities owned by one landlord paid over 8080 meters of cloth.
  • The basic unit of cloth currency was an ‘ell’.   In northern countries the dimensions of the ell varied.  For this project an ell is taken to be 30 inches  wide  by 2 feet in length.
  • ‘Pennies’ were half the value of an ell – one foot in length.
  • 6 ells = one ‘shilling’    10 shillings = one ‘pack’. 8080 meters of wadmal =  220 packs



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Ballantyne, John H. (ed.) (2016) Shetland Documents 1612-1637. Lerwick: SIC & Shetland Times Ltd.

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