Chris’ croft

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The Spring edition of 60 North is out! And its a great issue. Those of you who have my Colours of Shetland book may recall mention of my archeologist friend, Chris Dyer, whose knowledge and inspiration helped me to develop my ideas for my Scatness designs. Well, Chris recently started to raise his own Shetland sheep, and in a great feature he’s produced for the magazine, he talks about the challenges of preparing for and caring for his lovely Bressay flock. Chris is just one of those folk who should be crofting, and it made me so happy to read his piece – and his photographs make me want to be back in Shetland immediately! You might have already come across one of Chris’ fine ewes as the face of Shetland Wool Week. . .

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. . . and this edition of the magazine includes loads more knitterly inspiration too. There’s a Wool Week report from Tom of Holland, and another piece covering last year’s event from Edinburgh journalist, Susan Mansfield. This October’s Shetland Wool Week promises to be really exciting, and I’m very looking forward to seeing the full programme of events which I believe will be published shortly. I’ll be there as a punter this year, and am actually hoping to take a class or two.

So put the kettle on, make yourself a cup of tea, download your copy of 60 North, and enjoy! (Its free!)

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Foula Wool update

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(Foula sheep . . . growing more wool as we speak)

Just popping in to mention that Foula Wool have completely sold out of their current stock of yarn, including all Tea Jenny kits. Magnus and Justyna are waiting for the return of the spun-up new clip from the mill, and if you’d like to reserve a yarn pack to knit your hat (or cosy), they are now taking orders in advance of the new delivery. You can contact Magnus here.

Meanwhile, the Tea Jenny hat / cosy pattern is available digitally via Ravelry, and as a printed pattern through my MagCloud store.

While I’m on the subject of contact details, I have to mention that my customer service email account has unfortunately been hacked. I’ve lost a lot of messages, and have finally had to reset the account. If you have been trying to contact me by email with a pattern query over the past few weeks, could I please ask that you re-send your message to my new address which is: info AT katedaviesdesigns.com. My apologies!

Foula Wool

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Just in case you hadn’t noticed, it is Shetland Wool Week! I’m very sad not to be there in person this year, but I’ve kept up the tradition I started three years ago of designing a hat in woolly celebration! In 2011, it was Sheep Heid (using Jamieson and Smith Shetland Supreme) ; in 2012 it was the Sixareen Kep (using Jamieson and Smith Shetland Heritage) and in 2013 it’s . . . well, you’ll have to wait till the end of the week to find out. I can tell you, though, that this year’s hat uses Foula Wool, a lovely DK (or sport) weight Shetland yarn produced in seven tasty natural shades. Foula Wool is grown by Magnus and Justyna Holburn on the island of Foula, and I was able to catch up with Magnus earlier this week to hear more about their fantastic woolly venture.

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(The island of Foula).

Where is Foula?
Foula (pronounced “foo-laa”) is the most isolated of the Shetland Islands which themselves are the most northerly outpost of the UK. Cut off from the main island group by a formidable sea crossing, Foula lies out to the west of Shetland, approximately 20 miles offshore. The striking silhouette is hard to miss but also equally hard to get to.


Can you tell me a little about Foula sheep? What makes them so different?

Once all sheep in Shetland would have been like the Foula sheep, they are the unmodernised strain of the native Shetland sheep breed. Raised in isolation on our remote island for generations without the external influence of crossbreeding or the flock book they are simply Shetland sheep as nature intended them to be. This strong natural heritage embodies the Foula sheep with their unmistakable character and appearance.

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And do you feel that the distinctive landscape of Foula matches and suits the character of your sheep?
Absolutely so. Foula is a wild and rugged landscape with its own unique natural untamed charm and the sheep are as much a part of this as the dramatic scenery itself. In fact it would be fair to say that the Foula sheep actually are a part of the island landscape and without them the hills would look decidedly empty and forlorn. We are really hoping that some of this natural character will find its way into our yarn and onto the knitting needles of the people who choose to work with it.

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Coloured sheep were once declining in Shetland (and elsewhere) generally. What is now being done to retain and encourage diversity of fleece colour? Is the situation improving?

Foula has always been an important genetic resource for anyone who is looking for coloured Shetland sheep. By and large the crofters on the island have tended to take it upon themselves to ensure that this diversity of natural fleece colour continues. The system is subject to individual preferences and the sustainability of each persons flock. What we are trying to introduce with Foula Wool is something that will help improve a sheep flock’s sustainability whilst also seeking out the natural balance of fleece colours by virtue of what the market is asking for. This in turn is going to depend on the knitters out there making their own choices to knit with these natural wool colours.

The case in point would be our current stock of black yarn. There is a tendency not to keep a lot of black sheep as they are seen as being genetically dominant. Crofters worry about ending up with too many black sheep, so we then actually end up with hardly any at all. Black yarn sells well, so we have now almost sold out of what we had spun. We then put the word out that we are looking for more black fleeces and people then start to keep back more black lambs. Which is exactly what has happened this year.

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I know that pure white is actually the least common fleece colour for a Foula sheep, but are there certain fleece shades, or combinations of shades, that are particularly prized? Do you have a favorite natural shade?

My father had a personal preference for dark grey sheep as he felt that their numbers were getting low and he liked their fine wool. He started to keep back dark grey rams from the mothers with the best wool, some of these sheep were really fantastic and they looked almost blue. I grew up working with these animals so I do like to make sure that I have a few in my own flock. I am also very keen on the mioget yarn, which we spin from the white/fawn flekit fleeces. This blend of different coloured fibers ends up with a lovely warm honey like tone that I think is very appealing.

mioget
(Mioget)

Foula Wool is a relatively new venture. Can you tell us a little about how you came to develop a yarn for hand-knitters?

It was a combination of a desire to help support our native island sheep and the traditional crofting culture that surrounds them along with finding a solution about what to do with all the wool from our own sheep flock. We decided to send off some samples to a spinning mill and then waited eagerly to see what we would get back, whatever it was it had to be better than just burning the fleeces. When we got those first hanks of Foula Wool back we were really thrilled, it was a much better yarn than we had dared hope for.

I think we knew very quickly that this was going to be a yarn for hand knitters. These were the people who would be able to appreciate all the care and effort that goes into creating something. We also knew the yarn would have to remain undyed as the natural colours were already there and they just simply looked great. We opted for a DK weight for our first production run as it seemed to be a gap in the Shetland Wool market. We thought it would be nice for folk to have something that knitted up quickly but still offered all the colour work options they had come to expect from a traditional Shetland knitting yarn. The feedback we started getting from people in the knitting world all helped to confirm that Foula Wool was going to be a yarn for hand knitters.

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(Light Grey Foula Wool)

Developing a yarn directly from the sheep can be tricky for small producers. What did you find to be the most challenging aspect of the process?

The most challenging thing so far was the initial step to accept that it was going to be possible and that we would give it a go. You have to commit a lot of time and effort to something like this. Certainly running any business from such a remote location throws up challenges, not least when your going to have wait a whole year for your sheep to grow more wool if something doesn’t work out. However these are just problems that you will have to find solutions for, the same way you find solutions for any of life’s other problems. Making the decision that you want to go out and pin your wool colours to the mast that’s the hard part.

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(Grey Foula Wool)

Are you or Justyna knitters yourself? Do you enjoy working with your wool?

We love working with the wool and Justyna is well-bitten by the knitting bug! I find it really rewarding to hear back from people who buy our yarn as it has started to make some sense out of the decision I made years ago when I inherited my own sheep from my father, that I would do my best to keep them going.

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Finally, what’s your favourite hand-knitted garment?

The first thing ever knitted from our Foula Wool, a jumper that Justyna knitted for our eldest son, it doesn’t fit him anymore but his younger brother wears it now. I am always impressed by the natural qualities of pure wool, whether is on the back of a sheep or a little lad out helping his dad with the lambing, you just can’t beat it.

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Thanks so much, Magnus!

If there was ever anything that made me want to own my own small starter flock, it is Magnus’s lovely photographs of his sheep (all of which are reproduced courtesy of Foula Wool). In closing, I have to mention that it was in fact Magnus’s favourite Mioget shade that, when I first got my hands on some Foula Wool, immediately gave me the idea for my new hat design. More of that shortly. In the meantime, you can find out more about Foula Wool here, or meet Magnus for yourself at the Shetland Wool Week Maker’s Mart at Lerwick town hall on Saturday.

Sixareen Cape

While we were in the Highlands, we took the opportunity to photograph a design I’ve had ready for a while: the Sixareen Cape.

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I started knitting this Fair Isle wrap last October. You may remember that at that time I’d just designed a hat especially for Shetland wool week (The Sixareen Kep) using Jamieson and Smith’s wonderful Shetland Heritage Yarn.

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(Sixareen Kep at my Shetland Wool Week Workshop, modelled by Tania Ashton-Jones. Photo courtesy Charlotte Monckton)

Around that time, I was getting a lot of wear out of a circular wrap I’d purchased from Toast (which I am wearing in the photograph above). This wrap was a sort of deep tube with raglan shaping, and I was surprised at how versatile a thing it was. It was a scarf, a cowl, a snood, and very nearly a sweater. I wore it scrunched up inside a coat when I was outside walking Bruce, I wore it wrapped about me inside the house when I needed another layer, and I wore it thrown on over a suit jacket when a little extra warmth was required outside. I liked it so much that I decided to design my own version featuring a deep Fair Isle border of the same chart design I’d used for the Kep, which I’d been very pleased with. This was the result.

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The border of the circularly-knit ‘cape’ features three repeats of the ‘kep’ chart. Its a design I’ve come across in several Shetland sources, and, if you look at it, you’ll see that it is an interestingly stretched-out and squashed incarnation of a traditional OXO motif. There are several things I find really pleasing about this chart. The background is unusually spacious for a Fair Isle motif (there are stretches of 7 stitches in some places), and there’s something about this space that allows the different shades to sing. Because of this, when repeated, the motif develops a shimmering near-kaleidoscopic quality, which I really love.

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The heritage yarn is amazingly soft, and wonderful to work with. It is the perfect yarn for traditional Fair Isle, but it also has a marvelous drapey quality which makes it absolutely ideal for this kind of garment. The plain stockinette portion is knitted at a slightly looser gauge to enhance the drape, allowing the garment to be worn in several different ways.

It can be worn scrunched up, cowl-like around the neck . . .

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Pulled forward, collar-like, around the shoulders . . .

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Or pulled down, cape-like, around the torso . . .

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Decreases are worked through the plain stockinette part of the garment in exactly the same way as the shaping of a raglan sweater.

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. . . and the end result is a striking and versatile wrap that is also great at warding off chilly highland breezes.

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These photographs were taken above Rannoch Moor on a truly beautiful evening.

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The cape comes in seven sizes, with a circumference of 45″ to 59″. It is fitted by measuring the wearer’s total shoulder circumference, and it should be worn with at least 2 inches of positive ease, to allow the wearing of layers underneath. If you would prefer a deeper or shallower wrap, the length is easily adjusted following the instructions in the pattern.

The Sixareen Cape is now available to purchase digitally through Ravelry and you can also purchase the pattern in print, to be shipped directly to you, (wherever in the world you are) via my Mag Cloud store.

backward . . . and forward

2012 was really a pretty good year. Here are some highlights.

Work-related trips to some wonderful places . . .
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Shetland

falls
Donegal

cutsteeks
Dublin

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(photo courtesy of Charlotte Monckton)
Shetland again!

My first time as a Woolfest trader.

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My sister, Martin Curtis and me, meeting Sophie, Countess of Wessex (note: Helen is wearing a Manu and knitting a Betty Mouat Cowl, I am wearing a Deco and knitting a puffin sweater, and Sophie is looking at a copy of Knit Real Shetland).

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Travelling with Tom and Bruce to our favourite Hebridean spots . . .

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fingerhasarrived
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swimming
. . . and swimming in the sea!

Working with my favourite folk . . .

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Mel

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Sandra and Ella

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Jen and Nic

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Tom

. . .to make a book!

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But if you asked me what was my biggest achievement in 2012, then I would say . . .

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. . . learning to ride a trike, and inspiring a few other people with brain injuries, balance issues and similar disabilities to give it a go as well. In 2013, I intend to try moving things up a gear, and am about to begin learning to drive again. My aim is to be pootling about in our van by June. If I say it here, then it has to happen!!

Most of all:
I am so grateful to all of you for stopping by here, for continuing to read this blog, for leaving so many lovely comments, and for supporting me in all sorts of ways in 2012.
THANKYOU, ALL OF YOU! x

I’ll be back shortly with a couple of related posts about my favourite books and yarns of 2012. . . .

In the meantime:

My pal Jen is having a New Year pattern sale. This includes a 3 for 2 deal on some of her super newly-available designs (I particularly like the Porlock socks with their gansey-inspired stitch patterns and personalised lettering) and 25% off the lovely Cloudy Apples accessories collection. Pop over to Jen’s blog to find out more.

And finally, if you are knocking about Pittenweem this Saturday and fancy meeting me and the samples from Colours of Shetland, then pop down to The Woolly Brew between 12-2pm. I’ll be signing books, too, if you’d like a copy.

Shetland Wool Week in Pictures: part 3

where we stayed (I would heartily recommend it).

And the view from our window.

Shetland Times Bookshop, ready for Wool Week.

Delicious Fair Isle Cake, at the Heritage Yarn launch


Wonderful new yarn from Shetland Organics

Projection of Jo Jack’s work at the Bonhoga Gallery



Luminous Yarns

Jane Outram’s prize-winning tablet weaving at the Shetland Textile Museum.

Pressed-felt brooch by Donna Smith


Shetland Wool cushions by Ella Gordon

Phat Sheep Textiles

Handwoven pincushion from Aamos Designs

Nuff said.

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