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.
It is Wool Week in Shetland, and I began it in this cottage out at Vementry. What a spot!
It was lovely to take some time out to visit my friend Hazel Tindall. I just love the part of Shetland where Hazel lives, and it was a real privilege to potter about her garden, and sample her home-grown produce. She’s certainly fared better than I with beans and soft fruit this year! I also explored some Westside nooks that were completely new to me, like Michaelswood – planted and maintained by the Ferrie family in memory of their son and brother, Michael Ferrie, and enjoyed by the whole community. I found this expanse of newly-planted saplings at the top of the hill very moving.
On Monday evening, I gave a talk at the Shetland Museum with my pal, Ella. Ella and I enjoy collecting vintage knitwear . . .
. . . and so we both talked about our collections, what we loved about them, and what we learned from them. Felix chaired the whole occasion with aplomb. As well as speaking to a packed audience, the event was live-streamed from the Shetland Museum to viewers in 9 countries all over the world! Somewhat daunting!
I understand from my friends at Promote Shetland that there are now plans to make the event publicly available to view from their website, so I’ll keep you posted.
It is really wonderful to see how much Shetland Wool Week has grown, and how it has been enthusiastically embraced by knitters and other crafty folk from all over the world. The opening ceremony was a really grand occasion! We were royally entertained by the evening’s knitting pundits, Felix and Louise, as well as by the Hjaltibonhoga Shetland Fiddlers, fresh from the Edinburgh Tattoo, who wore marvellous knitwear created by inventive Shetland designer, NiellaNell
Claire White was a wonderfully professional compere, and sang a beautiful song she’d written about Shetland knitting legend, Betty Mouat.
I could listen to Oliver talk about Shetland wool all day.
And I can’t think of a better Shetland Wool Week patron than wonderful Donna Smith – she’s someone whose warm presence just emanates her passion for knitting and for Shetland.
I am quite a private person, and I get to meet knitters very rarely. I really think this was the highlight of the week for me – and I found it quite humbling chatting to so many engaged knitterly folk! I’d like to give a particular shout-out to Gail, who, like me, was a youthful reader of Giovannino Guareschi, and to Ruth from Rhode Island, who is a very sweet person.
Carmen seems one of those effortlessly stylish sort of people, and I very much admired her Hap for Harriet!
Thankyou, knitters for being so very enthusiastic and inspiring, and thank you Shetland, for your bright full moons, beaches, birdsong, sunsets, the smell of peat fires, the sound of water, rolling hills, rocky cliffs, and your wonderful sheep and wool.
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!
Thankyou for your comments on the last post. When I settled on this new venture, I felt it was important to be able to show you some of the usually hidden processes behind yarn production, so I’m glad you are finding it interesting! I thought you might also like to know a little bit more about the decisions behind my yarn’s development, and who I chose to work with.
(Tom’s kilt hose show off some of Buachaille’s characteristics: the yarn is smooth, yet springy; durable yet soft, and with great stitch definition)
How exactly does one go about developing a yarn? I know what kinds of yarns I like, and what I love to knit with, as I’m sure every knitter does. As you will no doubt be aware, I like sheepy, characterful yarns best of all, and I have some knowledge of how different preparation and spinning techniques can get the best out of different fleece types and wool. I also like to work with a product whose origins I can trace. Knowing what one likes is one thing, but manufacturing it is quite another. This was a big step, and I knew I wanted to work on developing my yarn with someone I liked and trusted. I also knew that person was Adam Curtis. I met Adam and his family through our Shetland connections. They know more about wool than anyone I know, and Adam has a particular talent for developing beautiful and interesting wool products: things that really showcase the best that British wool can be. His family were kind enough to invite me to represent hand knitting and design at this event a few years ago, and, from our opposite ends of the industry, we’ve always regarded each other with mutual respect. In the UK, most raw wool is sold at auction through the British Wool Marketing Board, and the vast majority of it is purchased by merchants such as Curtis Wools. They are a well-regarded Yorkshire company whose commitment to wool is deep and long-standing, and whose resources and reach are pretty unparalleled. I knew they could find exactly the wool I wanted, and help me to develop it into an interesting new yarn.
KD: What were your initial thoughts when I approached you?
AC: I was delighted when you approached my father and I to develop a speciality yarn. Creating unique yarns for customers is one of the challenges we genuinely enjoy and pride ourselves on. With the enormous reserves of British and foreign wools held by Curtis Wool there are few requests that we can’t cater for.
KD: But even so, I came to you with quite a long list of things I wanted the yarn to be! What were your priorities?
AC: We knew you wanted a thoroughly British yarn with traceable links to Scotland, and the Scottish highlands. And we knew you wanted the yarn to be light and lofty. So we were looking for Scottish-origin fleeces with a natural crimp that would add loft, and which would spin up to create a classic hand that would just feel right to the knitter.
KD: How did you go about selecting the wool?
AC: We decided that a combination of wools from different breeds would be necessary to arrive at the perfect match for your requirements. We then sourced and chose a selection of the finest hand-sorted Scottish origin fleeces. These were then scoured at Haworth, combined together, and combed to create the perfect top. Combing your wool allowed us to remove any coarse fibres and noils [short fibres] in the fleece, and to create a blended top with maximum smoothness and softness. Combing and blending the wool really made it sing! As you know, the blend we’ve created for Buachaille is unique and exclusive to you. I was very pleased with the result.
KD: so what happened then?
AC: Then I sent you a sample of the combed top for approval. You were just as pleased with it as I was, which was great! With the blended constituency of the combed top in place, we were then able to begin developing the two other natural shades you wanted to complement your dyed palette.
KD: Yes! As you know, Adam, I’m very pernickety about colours. . .
AC: Well, like all designers you knew what you wanted, and we had to get those natural shades just right.
KD: I just love the two other natural shades you’ve created – sheepy fleece colours really are my all-time favourites.
AC: Yes – and they sit really well with the dyed shades you created too. So after your tops were combed at Haworth, we had them worsted spun – a spinning technique which completely suits the wool type and its preparation – and we were then able to arrange for you to see your yarn being dyed. I think you are going to talk about that later?
KD: Yes, I certainly took lots of pictures that day! I am very happy with the yarn, and I know you are just as excited about Buachaille as I am!
AC: Yes indeed -its one of my favourite yarns and I’m really pleased with what we’ve achieved. I think we’ve managed to create a yarn that combines all of your requirements, and perhaps added a little bit more as well. Best of all, its a yarn with a heritage that can be traced from the hills and mountains of Scotland to the textile powerhouse that still exists in Yorkshire. Its a thoroughly British product, made entirely in the UK and inspired by some of the worlds most beautiful mountains, Buachaille Etive Mor and Beag!
KD: Thanks, Adam!
We’ve designed seven distinctly Scottish shades for Buachaille, including four dyed shades to complement the three naturals that Adam created. In the next post I will talk a little about the inspiration behind each shade.
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It has been an incredibly busy week here! As you might imagine, the imminent arrival of Buachaille means we have a lot to do, and I am hard at work creating a small collection of designs to accompany the yarn’s release (only a few weeks to go!) Then my friend and colleague, Jen, came to stay with us for a few days – together Jen and I are currently developing several rather exciting projects . . . one is a book which will appear next Spring, and another is a new volume of Cross-Country Knitting. Above is a sneak peak at the latter’s content, of which more very soon.
Jen and I got lots of work done, laughed a lot, and had time for a hearty post-photoshoot dinner at the Bridge of Orchy hotel. It was lovely to see her.
Meanwhile, In the Loop 4 was happening down the road in Glasgow (one year I will make it to this event, which always features a fantastic line-up of speakers and some important research). This year, the conference was hosted by my friends at the Knitting in the Round project (who you’ll remember I’ve mentioned before). I was really honoured when they asked me to provide some samples for the fashion show which closed the conference!
Jade Halbert selected three of my designs, and I styled them with the original garments I’d used when photographing Yokes. I genuinely love styling – visualising a look is often the starting point of the design process for me – and I really appreciated the thoughtful way that Jade styled the models to suit the work of each designer in the show.
The lovely model wearing Buchanan even had her hair in braids!
I loved the soft and subtle palette of the beautiful garments shown by Jade Starmore , and was blown away by their styling with these stunning leather skirts (also the work of Jade)
The show featured well-established names of Scottish knitwear design such as ERIBÉ
. . . and Di Gilpin
. . . alongside the work of emerging contemporary designers like Laura Muir
It was lovely to see the work of some of my friends and comrades in hand-knit design, like Gudrun Johnston . . .
I also came away feeling inspired by the work of designers I’d never previously encountered. This cashmere dress by Stephanie Laird was truly gorgeous.
And I loved the fresh take on colourwork in Hilary Grant’s bold machine-knit accessories
Thankyou, Lynn, Marina, Jade, and the whole team at Knitting in the Round and In the Loop 4 for inviting me to be part of this fantastic event! Thanks too to Tom, who took the great catwalk photos in this post.
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.)