We have been out walking along the West Highland Way near Inversnaid today, and I was put in mind of this landscape’s many famous visitors. Because of its fine views and beautiful surroundings, this was a spot much beloved of the Victorians, and particularly of literary travellers to Scotland. William Wordsworth wrote “to a Highland Girl at Inversnaid” following his visit in 1803, but I much prefer the poem written by Gerard Manley Hopkins almost eighty years later. Finding himself on a prolonged stay in Glasgow in August 1881, Hopkins was keen to “see something of the Highlands” but found himself somewhat pressed for time: “I hurried to Loch Lomond,” he wrote in a letter to a friend, “the day was dark, and partly hid the lake, yet it did not altogether disfigure it, but gave a pensive or solemn beauty which left a deep impression on me.” His poem is dated September 28th, 1881:
THIS darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.
A windpuff-bonnet of fáwn-fróth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, féll-frówning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.
Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
Friday is pattern release day, and today I have for you a pair of bunnets.
Bunnet is a colloquial Scots term for a hat. The word bunnet is etymologically related to the English bonnet, and the French bonnet, but while the English term has predominantly feminine associations, the word bunnet is most often used in Scotland in reference to the headgear of an ordinary working man. A flat, cloth cap is what first springs to mind when one thinks of the word bunnet, and like those hats, these are similarly intended as ordinary, workaday headgear. These bunnets are simple hats both to make and wear – but their colourful crowns make them stand out from the crowd.
The striped bunnet pleases me in its simplicity. From the side, it is a classic, slightly slouchy hat, worked up in the lovely silvery-grey of haar (I love all the Buachaille shades, but this is definitely one of my favourites)
But from the back, the bunnet reveals its colourful five-pointed crown, created by centred double decreases (probably my all-time favourite decrease). I love how these decreases lend a crown immediate geometric structure.
The striped bunnet is shown here in a looser, slouchy version, but its stranded companion has a closer, beanie-like fit.
This version features corrugated ribbing, and, using a stranded method for the two-colour crown allows the simple geometry to work slightly differently.
The hat body uses the majority of one skein, but less than a third of a skein of the contrast colour is used. Juggling shade quantities was one of the most tricksy elements of designing this collection, and it was very satisfying to be able to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together in such a way that would allow everyone to be able to make the most of seven skeins of Buachaille!
The bunnets have now been revealed, and that means I can (with considerable excitement) show you the front cover of the book we are now very close to going to press with. (As you can see, I am wearing the striped bunnet and the Kokkeluri mittens in the photo).
I can’t tell you how happy this book makes me! Not only is it my first collection using my own yarn, but it also celebrates many of the other things that make me feel at home, living here, with the West Highlands on my doorstep. Tom has cooked up five delicious recipes, using traditional ingredients and a dash of Scottish culinary history, and our friend Gordon Anderson takes you on a guided walk around the iconic peak of Buachaille Etive Mòr. Tom has completely outdone himself with the photography, and the whole thing is (with book-designer Nic’s inimitable help) looking really rather beautiful. In so many ways it is a book that feels like us, and I hope you don’t my saying that I am very proud of it, and of everyone involved in making it.
Buachaille: At Home in the Highlands will be shipped out to Seven Skeins members early next month, and will be on general public release shortly afterward.
A couple of days ago, we announced the Seven Skeins Club – a venture we’ve been planning for many months, and which we hope will allow everyone who wants to to sample our lovely new Scottish wool. (If you are interested, you can read more about what the club involves here.)
People have been writing to me with their concerns about availability. Will they miss out on membership if they aren’t sitting by their computers on Friday? Well, we really are hopeful we have enough yarn for everyone. . .
I am hard at work writing and knitting the club patterns, and Mel is knitting too. Some designs will have both plain and colourwork options, so we are making two of everything.
We are also producing a new book especially for club members – Buachaille: at Home in the Highlands. The exciting thing about this tome is that it includes much more than my designs! As well as essays about the landscapes that inspired (and raised) our yarn, Tom has been developing and perfecting some delicious highland recipes. . .
. . . and he and our friend, Gordon Anderson (a qualified mountain leader), have been out and about in the highlands, preparing a beautifully photographed guided walk up Buachaille Etive Mor, the iconic mountain which lends our yarn its name.
We are all enjoying working on this project tremendously! If the Seven Skeins Club is of interest to you, you will be able to join from this Friday, September 18th by purchasing a membership in the shop.
Its time to tell you about my yarn colours! I’ve created seven new shades for Buachaille, and all have been inspired by different aspects of the landscape in which I live and love to walk: its flora, its fauna, and of course its weather.
Here’s what inspired Buchaille’s seven Scottish shades!
1. Highland Coo
These noble beasties are a true highland icon, and I have long been fascinated by the wonderful colours of their coats, which range from the palest caramel, through a deep russet, to a rich moorit brown. As I’m out walking, I frequently find myself picking up scraps and samples of coo hair which have been left behind on trees and fences, and wishing I had enough to spin up . . .I decided that dyeing some yarn was easier than shearing a coo. . . Highland Coo is a rich autumnal rusty-orange colour.
Living in Edinburgh for a decade, one became used to the haar – the cold mist that rolled in across the city from the North Sea. Haar – a particularly lovely Scots word – really captures the quality of Scottish mist: light and chill and softly hanging. Fog and mist lend the highlands their characteristic atmosphere, and make the rich colours of the landscape seem even more brilliant by contrast. Haar is a natural fleece shade, a light and airy silver-grey with lovely variegated tones.
The Western Isles abound with beautiful beaches, and to my mind there are few more beautiful than those on the isle of Islay. Here, enjoying a sunny day above Machir bay, the waves beat across the white sand, and the sea is a glorious shade of blue-green. Buachaille’s evocative and deeply saturated blue-green shade is named for Islay, the queen of the Hebrides.
The green woodpecker is perhaps more often heard than seen due to its call which lends the bird its popular name of “yaffle.” We’ve named one of our yarn shades yaffle after the plumage of this beautiful creature: a luminous and saturated mid-green with yellow tones.
A deep, dark, variegated grey is perhaps the most characteristic colour of the highlands. When I’m out walking close to home, and the sky turns this colour in the west, I can time the minutes to the moment I’m likely to get a soaking. Twenty minutes and counting. . . better get moving. Squall is a natural fleece shade, named for our stormy highland skies.
The ptarmigan is a kind of small grouse. It is a hardy highland bird, that has adapted to, and thrives in some truly challenging mountain conditions. In the summer, the ptarmigan’s brown and buff plumage camouflages it against the rocky landscape, and in the winter, it changes colour to a lovely creamy white, in order to blend in perfectly against the snow. With its beady eyes and fluffy feet, this bird is a real highland character, and Buachaille in its un-dyed, natural state is named for the ptarmigan in its winter plumage.
7. Between Weathers
Between weathers is an expression often heard in Scotland that refers to more than meteorology. Literally, it is that patch of blessed blue sky between one wet and windy front and another. But it also suggests the desire to seize the moment quickly, and to get on with things, when the day is fine. The weather must and will turn, so make haste, and make the most of that blue sky while it lasts. Between weathers is a rich mid-blue, the colour of the sky above Beinn Dorain at the top of the photograph above.
So there’s the palette: Highland Coo; Haar; Islay; Yaffle; Squall; Ptarmigan and Between Weathers. Developing these shades has been one of the most interesting (and heart-in-the-mouth) things I’ve ever done. I have found the process fascinating and am incredibly pleased with the results! In the next post I’ll tell you more about that process . . . and should also be able to show you some actual yarn
For those of you who have questions about the yarn, or who are having trouble pronouncing Buachaille, I’ve created a new FAQ page, which includes lots of sound files to help you!
As we have discovered over the past few months, there is an awful lot to think about when designing and manufacturing a new yarn for hand knitting! There are many stages to consider, and many decisions to be made. It occurred to me that one of the processes that’s least visible to hand knitters is how the wool they work with actually gets clean. As anyone who has handled a fleece will know, cleaning raw wool is not particularly glamorous but it is certainly essential. I thought you might like to see a little about these early stages of our yarn’s manufacture.
The raw wool for our yarn was cleaned, its fibres blended, and the blended fibres processed into lovely combed tops here at Haworth Scouring. This large plant is based in Bradford, a short drive from where both Tom and I were born and grew up. The textile industries in Yorkshire and Lancashire have seen an awful lot of changes in the past 50 years, but Bradford is still the beating heart of the British wool industry.
This is a large operation, capable of scouring a million kilos of wool per week. That’s right – a million kilos. Our first order seemed enormous to us, but it is merely a tiny proportion of what Haworth Scouring can process here in a single day.
Much of the raw wool processed here is British, but Haworth Scouring processes wool from other countries too – these are Norwegian bales in the photograph above.
Customers have different requirements, and some of the wool arrives in a very raw state, needing preparation and grading by specialised wool sorters.
Wool grading is a really important, and sadly declining skill. (If you would like to learn more about wool sorting and grading and its importance to the wool industry, I recommend you visit Jamieson and Smith and meet Shetland’s top wool man, Oliver Henry)
The scouring process is designed to remove dirt and other impurities from the raw wool, along with suint (sheep sweat) and lanolin. At Haworth, its really important that this process is as environmentally friendly as it is efficient (more of this later). Here is some wool, prepared and ready for scouring.
The wool is put through a series of washes and rinses at several different temperatures.
It is repeatedly and carefully cleaned with swinging rakes. After every wash you can see the wool becoming gradually cleaner and cleaner . . .
. . . with the wool’s heat and moisture content being monitored at every stage.
After this, the wool goes through a gigantic metal detector. This is one of those processing factors that’s completely obvious when you think of it – sheep often pick up bits of wire in their fleece – but which I’d never previously considered. You don’t want bits of metal in your yarn, and you certainly don’t want it in the machinery that’s making your yarn. The work of the metal detecting machine is reinforced by this lovely chap, who double-checks there’s nothing non-woolly in the wool.
After washing, the wool is dried. As part of the drying process, the fibres are loosened and mixed, and blended together.
Just check out what’s going on in that huge machine!
After drying, the wool is beautifully clean. What a transformation!
For some of the wool that comes through Haworth’s doors, this is almost the end of the story. It is compressed and packaged into huge bales and prepared for the next stage in its journey elsewhere.
These large bales are compressed by an amazing machine, and, as you can see contain over 350kg of wool. It was at this point that the sheer scale of what goes on here started to astound me. This really is a whole lot of wool!
A significant recent investment in new jobs and machinery means that wool that’s not sent away at this stage can be expertly processed at Haworth into tops. There’s now a state-of-the-art combing operation here, and this is where our wool first started to resemble something like yarn. Our unique blend of fine Scottish fibres was developed and created on this machine!
The wool fibres are relatively blobby and clumpy at this stage – the worsted processing practised here, and which we felt was important to get the best out of our wool, enables the fibres to be opened up, smoothed out, and carefully combed to lie parallel to one another. When I observed the several different stages of combing, gilling and drafting, I was very intensely struck by the technological complexity of these machines, their skilled operatives, and the sheer magic both perform.
From raw wool, to lovely combed top!
Here is what is known as a bump top, at the end of the combing process. . .
And here are lots of bump tops, ready to go.
I mentioned previously that environment is as important as efficiency here. The whole purpose of wool scouring is to remove grease and impurities from fleeces: this is a relatively high-impact process, that creates a lot of waste, and Haworth’s verifiable green credentials were certainly important to us when making early decisions about our yarn’s processing and manufacture. The plant’s water monitoring is extremely careful and completely transparent, and we were impressed that very little in this process actually goes to waste at all! Lanolin removed here is sold to the cosmetics and vitamin industries, while other by-products are used as feed for shrimp and prawn farming (who knew?!)
One reason Haworth’s environmental credentials are so laudable is because it has ENco on site – an environmental testing company that does important work with the textile and farming industries. As well as ensuring the wool products produced at Haworth comply with strict environmental standards, ENco also acts as a consultant, testing many different kinds of finished textiles to check for levels of mothproofing agents and other chemicals. Carpets, military uniforms, knitting yarn, and the fabrics used in high-end fashion houses all receive environmental testing and certification here. If you needed to check whether a certain yarn contained 20% or 30% nylon; or discover for how long a particular moth-proofing agent would protect a certain kind of fabric; or wanted to ensure that the animals providing a batch of fleeces had not been treated with particularly harmful pesticides in their sheep dip, then ENco could find out for you. It was absolutely fascinating chatting to Mike and his team, and learning about their work.
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We are getting very excited here, as we are anticipating a large woolly delivery, and it will soon be time to announce the launch of our new yarn. I thought it was time to tell you a little more about it.
(my favourite sheep, from Colours of Shetland)
I am a great advocate for using local materials, and nowhere more so than where wool is concerned. Sheep, and the human work around them, are an incredibly important part of the structure and character of the British landscape and I find it very sad that so many yarns made and sold in Britain in general, – and Scotland in particular – are not raised here, from our native sheep. With some notable exceptions, much of the wool described as “Scottish” has little or nothing at all to do with the many sheep raised in this landscape by hard-working farmers and crofters. So I wanted to create a yarn that was truly raised in Scotland – a yarn that was part of the work of this landscape – but I also wanted to make a yarn that defied long-standing assumptions about what Scottish wool was or could be. I am so tired of hearing that British and / or Scottish wool is coarse or scratchy. Scottish sheep produce wonderful, wearable fibres that, when properly sorted and graded, spin up into truly beautiful yarns. Over the years I have knit with many such yarns from small local wool producers. You might describe these yarns as lofty or springy or smooth or soft – you might describe them as interesting – but you would never describe them as coarse. I wanted my wool to reflect the characteristics of the interesting sheepy yarns I loved and admired. My yarn would be woolly and springy and durable – speaking of this land, and of the animals that grew it – but it would also be smooth and light and soft enough to wear next to the skin. These were my requirements, and, after many months of development and hard work, I am very happy to say, that this is what we’ve got in the finished product!
Selecting the finest fibres of some distinctive Scottish sheep breeds, we’ve created a completely unique yarn that you won’t find anywhere else. The yarn blends wool fibre that hails from as far north as you can travel in Scotland, and from as far south, too.
The yarn is called Buachaille. The first thing you are going to want to know is how to pronounce it.
Am Buchaille (the herdsman), is the Gaelic name associated with two mountains – Buachaille Etive Mòr, (great herdsman of Glen Etive), and Buachaille Etive Beag (little herdsman of Glen Etive). These mountains are well known to anyone who has followed the West Highland Way, or who likes Scottish mountain walking, and I’d go so far to say that Buachaille Etive Mor is among the most familiar and iconic of all Scottish munros.
These are mountains for which Tom and I hold an affection of long-standing. They are rugged and rocky and elemental . . . yet they are also breathtakingly elegant and sublime. They are somehow what one pictures when one conjures up the idea of a Scottish highland mountain. This – and their relative accessibility – explains why they are so frequently photographed. I think you’ll immediately be able to see the relationship between familiar images of Buachaille Etive Mòr, and Beag . . .
and the logo we designed for the yarn!
Suggested by this one word – Buachaille – are a series of connections between humans, animals, and landscapes – all of the things, in other words, that we wanted the yarn to capture and express.
As you can see from the tag, Buachaille has been “raised in Scotland” and “made in Yorkshire.” As well as being grown by a host of Scottish sheep and farmers, and designed by us, Buachaille has involved lots of hard work from the best folk we know in the UK wool industry – these folk are in Yorkshire. Its important to me that the wool for Buachaille originated in Scotland, and its equally important that several skilled Yorkshire processors and manufacturers have been responsible for making it into yarn. As time goes on, I will tell you much more about the different processes involved in making Buachaille. . .
If you would like to be the first to know about our plans for the yarn, when it launches, and when you can get your hands on it, I have set up a newsletter. So if you’d like further information about Buachaille, please sign up here.
As anyone round these parts will tell you, it has not (so far) been a vintage Scottish summer. One must make most of the fine weather when it appears, so we headed out for the hills, and enjoyed a lovely day’s walking.
A favourite tree
Dog on log
Falls of Falloch
I love the rich golden tones of this time of year. The heather and bracken are beginning to turn, and, despite (or perhaps because of) the poor weather of recent months, everything seems lush and thriving. A few days ago, on a patch of ground around half a square mile, I counted over fifty different wildflower species, including glorious blooms of Sea Aster and Grass of Parnassus.
But one thing I really notice in August is the lack of birdsong. Woods that were alive with wood and willow warblers are now silent; there are no larks or meadow pipits and even the wren that woke me at 5am throughout July is quiet. Around our steading, I only now hear buzzards and crows. A young hare passes our living room window nightly, sniffing the evening air and looking for a meal. I suspect it is to blame for the state of my kale and leeks, but a single hare cannot destroy nearly as much as last year’s evil rabbit hoard . . .
. . . and although my six tomato plants have yet to produce a single tomato, we have been enjoying lots of home-grown vegetables of late: broccoli, carrots, cucumbers that keep on coming, and, of course, lots of potatoes. There will be tatties for supper tonight, and probably for many nights to come.
Whether you are at home or away, I hope you are all enjoying a lovely weekend!
(Tom stares quizzically at An Ceann Mor, which is worth a look if you are passing.)
We had a wonderful day.
We walked across the fields and over the causeway to Eilean Mor
Lucy played “Ho Ro, My Nut Brown Maiden”
Mel read this short piece by Yeats:
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
We made our vows, exchanged our rings, and were married here.
The ceremony was solemn and joyful and deeply moving.
Bruce looked on.
We toasted each other from a quaich given to us by my parents, with a Gaelic blessing.
Mìle fàilte dhuit le d’bhréid,
Fad do ré gun robh thu slàn.
Móran làithean dhuit is sìth,
Le d’mhaitheas is le d’nì bhi fàs.
(A thousand welcomes to you with your marriage kerchief,
may you be healthy all your days.
May you be blessed with long life and peace,
may you grow old with goodness and with riches.)
We are very happy
Thankyou, Mel and Gordon, for sharing our day with us.
Thankyou, Lynn and everyone at the Finlaggan trust for allowing us to marry in this wonderful spot.
Thankyou, Lucy, for piping so beautifully.
Thankyou Sharon, for being such a warm and wonderful registrar. We couldn’t have asked for anyone better to celebrate our marriage.
Thankyou, Isle of Islay. Our favourite place.
Thankyou, all of you, for being there with us in spirit.
Love from Kate and Tom (and Bruce, of course) x
Finally! A break in the weather. It is beginning to feel vaguely Spring-like at last.
Primroses! Things in bloom on my doorstep again!
Bruce and I have been making the most of the weather on our daily walks.
You can see the water levels of Loch Lomond are rather high – a result of the near-biblical rain we’ve been having of late.
One of my greatest pleasures on my walks is observing the way the weather (of which there is a lot out here) transforms familiar objects. The light, for example, is different every single day. This tree (a favourite) looks different each time I see it. Yesterday it was all but submerged.
Tom has been making the most of the weather too – running the Deeside Way – a 33 mile race in preparation for the Highland Fling. I rather like the lo-fi jam-jar lid ‘medal’. 4 hours 19 minutes! Well done, Tom!
I had hoped to show you some knitting today – but there is honestly not much to see. For the past few weeks I have been working on a garment with an, um, “atypical” construction. Today I had to concede that despite my best efforts it really hasn’t worked out. Now, if you were ever in need of a tightly-fitting woolly superhero outfit that sits on the bias, then what I have created would suit you rather well. Sadly, though, this wasn’t quite the look I was after. Time to rip it out and start again!