the best wee yarn shop in the world?

If you are lucky enough to find yourself at Kilchiaran, where lichen, wind and water claim the graves of Islay’s ancient dead. . .

lichen
(Kilchiaran)

. . . if you take the narrow road that winds up the curve of the bay; if you follow that road in sight of the sea; and if you turn on that road a few miles before Portnahaven, you will discover what may well be the best wee yarn shop in the world: Tormisdale croft crafts.

kilchiaran
(the road to Tormisdale croft)

At Tormisdale croft, the wonderful and talented Anne Kemp hand spins the fleeces of many different breeds of sheep currently on Islay: Manx Loghtan, Black Hebridean, Cheviot, and Shetland, to name but a few. She also handspins some truly amazing yarn from Port Mor’s now-famous residents:

alpacas
The alpacas near Port Mor. If I were an alpaca, I would like to graze in sight of Loch Indaal. (Photo taken last July)

Anne sells her handspun yarn; a wide range of quilting and knitting supplies; horn buttons and walking sticks; and some truly beautiful finished garments — including finely-worked lace shawls. These are all made by the knitters of Islay from her handspun. If you, like many contemporary spinners and knitters, are concerned about the environmental impact of your craft — the stages of processing and the miles your raw materials travel — then what Anne is doing is really exemplary. The yarn is processed, spun, and knitted up on Islay. From the back of the beast to the shawl round your shoulders, nothing has been taken off the island.

longhtan
(handspun manx loghtan)

Anne’s yarn is powerfully connected to, and redolent of, Islay. Just like the island’s whisky, it speaks of the landscape.

suri
(handspun suri alpaca)

I hope to knit something with it that speaks of the landscape too.

And if you think I am sounding slightly crazed and rhapsodic now, just imagine what I was like when I was actually there, in Anne’s workshop, surrounded by fleeces, baskets of naturally dyed shetland, gorgeous handknitted shawls, and handspun alpaca. When I first felt the skein of suri depicted in the photo above I emitted a range of curious noises and entered a troubling state of near-hysteria. Poor Anne put up with all of this most tolerantly. Anyway, just in case you haven’t got the idea already, I really, really like Tormisdale croft crafts — I am impressed both by the ethos of what Anne is doing, as well as the quality and beauty of the things that she produces. I shall return in the Spring when the lambs are there, and write a proper feature about Anne and her yarn.

Anne doesn’t have a website yet. But I encourage all of you who can to visit the croft in person. Take the back road between Port Charlotte – Kilchiaran – Portnahaven.

islaymap

14 responses

  1. That must be one of the best recommendations for a place I’ve ever read. I’ve last visited it two years ago, I will aim to return to it during one of my visits this year.

    Looking forward to your feature about Anne and her yarn.

  2. What an immense endorsement of the wonderful yarn shop and what a comforting place to be thinking of, just now… hooray for the landscape/yarn theme of things…

  3. that’s all the encouragement I need…about time I visited Islay. My Scottish (McKelvie) relatives were originally from there until half the family moved to the borders and the other half to New Zealand…and then the borders contingent to Wales. None of them have lived in Scotland in my lifetime and I’m based in London but I’ve been drinking Laphroaig for years in tribute. Now, thanks to you Tormisdale calls and having changed my work/life balance in 2008 there’s no excuse not to plan a visit and I’ve never needed an excuse to buy more yarn/knit more. Thanks for the inspiration.

  4. Wow – sounds fantastic! How did you find out about the croft? I’ve not been to the islands – sadly I don’t have any hiking friends here, or a car, or, indeed, enough free time, but I’m dying to go. And Islay just made it to the top of the list!

  5. Ah, I was fortunate enough to visit Tormisdale in June- it is indeed wonderful. Took the backroad you described, what a journey! Almost as good (bad?) as some of the roads in Assynt. I was in awe of many of the finished projects- I long to be able to knit like that! Picked up a few old and worn wooden bobbins, too- beautiful.

  6. I am having palpitations at the mere thought of it. I had been planning some sort of wool pilgrimage this year and this is the ideal thing. Thank you thank you!

  7. I forgot to ask before- is the wee blind doggie still there?

    I fell in love with him almost more than I did everything for sale…

    Anna

  8. I have ordered a “Wildness Shirt” made to measure by Anne at Tormisdale from Islay materials (tweed, leather, staghorn buttons).
    The quality of this garment is just OUTSTANDING!
    Anne’s communication during the whole ordering process was top class. Her genuine kindness and sincerity can only be matched by her great mastery in her artful craft.
    She actually mentioned a tweed she had in her shop, and I’ve chosen it only upon a written description she made of it, no picture.
    Well, this is certainly the most beautiful shade and pattern I’ve ever seen!
    I already loved Islay for its amazing whiskies, but they’re certainly not the only gems to be found on that Isle. I’m now planning to go and visit Islay and won’t miss to drop by and say hello to Anne!

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