The Shepherd and The Shearer – together!

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(Photo ©Susan Gibbs and reproduced courtesy of Juniper Moon Farm)

The Shepherd and the Shearer is live! So, if you would like to purchase one of a limited number of kits to knit either (or both!) of mine and Kirsten’s designs, please pop over to the Juniper Moon Farm Shop. Or, if you’d just like the pattern for the Shepherd hoody, you can now purchase this digitally via Ravelry here.
ETA: Kirsten has also written a post about the process of designing her richly-cabled, perfectly balanced, and totally timeless Shearer pullover, and you’ll find the Ravelry link for The Shearer here.

Happy knitting! x

Shepherd hoody

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You may remember that, last year, I mentioned how thrilled I was to be invited, along with Kirsten Kapur, to design a sweater for Susan Gibbs and Emily Chamelin’s project The Shepherd and The Shearer. Well, the sheep have been shorn, the yarn has been spun, the patterns have been written, and a lovely booklet and a sweater’s worth of yarn is about to wing its way to 200 subscribers. I’ll explain the process, and my part in it.

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Susan’s original brief was one I found particularly exciting: to design a functional cabled sweater that would suit the robust properties of a good, natural woollen-spun yarn, that would wear well and look good over time. For my swatches and sample I used some local Scottish stuff that we imagined would be a really good match for how Emily and Susan envisioned their yarn turning out – New Lanark Aran (a yarn whose weight is equivalent to a US ‘worsted’) . I popped over to the mill to pick up yarn for my sample back in April, and decided that I wanted to make a simple, functional hoody – a garment which a shepherd might easily throw on before nipping outside to check her animals. I thought I’d use a simple modified drop-shoulder construction (a style that’s easy for shepherds of all body shapes and sizes to wear) and an allover cable pattern (both fun and straightforward to knit). I finally settled on a stitch that I have always found really pleasing.

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When knit, this alternating cable has a lovely rhythm to it. It is simple enough to make the knitting a pleasant distraction, but has enough action to remain interesting to work. This was the cable for the Shepherd hoody! I started to work on the design.

While I was knitting away in Edinburgh, over the pond in the US, Emily was shearing sheep.

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The fleeces used for the Shepherd and the Shearer were shorn by Emily from animals raised in fifty flocks on small farms across the Mid-Atlantic region. One thing I find particularly interesting about the yarn that’s resulted from the project is the variety of identifiable breeds and crosses that are blended in it, mixing the fleeces of ancient British breeds like Shetland, with relatively new US breeds, like the California Red Face.

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(I spy a goat-buddy)

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After shearing, the fleeces were prepped and skirted . . .

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. . .then sorted and baled

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From there, the bales were taken to MacAusland’s mill in Prince Edward Island.

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(Here is Emily, heroically joining the bales on their trip to the mill following an accident which severed tendons in her left hand. I’m very happy to say that after surgery and physio, she’s back to shearing again.)

MacAusland’s has been in business since 1870, and under a vertical operation where all processes are finished on-site, scours, cards, and spins raw wool into yarn on a 128 bobbin frame.

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With its firm springy hand, the yarn has indeed turned out to be very close to the New Lanark Aran I used for my sample.

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While the yarn was being processed and spun, the Shepherd hoody was being knitted. Here’s how it turned out.

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Now, I like all my samples, but I immediately developed a very special affection for this finished garment. Once I’d put it on, I seriously didn’t want to take it off. I think its equally suited to tramping about the fields in a brisk wind . . .

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. . . or cosying up by the fire on a chill winter’s evening.

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The hems, cuffs and hood are finished with moss stitch.

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. . . as is the pixie hood

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I’ve used buttons on the facings, but they are equally well suited to the insertion of a zipper, if preferred.

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The construction enables the hoody to be knit all in one piece, completely seamlessly, with minimal finishing. The pattern is sized from 30 to 57 inches, and I reckon it could easily be worn by a shepherd of either sex.

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In short, I absolutely love this garment, and it was really very difficult packing it up in a box and sending it off to the US.

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The pattern for the Shepherd hoody, together with that for the breathtakingly beautiful Shearer pullover, designed by Kirsten Kapur, is included in a booklet produced by Juniper Moon Farm telling the whole story of The Shepherd and the Shearer. This booklet, together with a plump package of yarn to make their choice of sweater, is about to be posted to the project’s 200 subscribers, without whom none of the processes I’ve described in this post would have happened.

From start to finish it has been a delight to be part of a collaborative project which truly celebrates sheep and wool, and which also makes transparent and legible the many different kinds of labour that go into raising and processing fibre. It is quite rare to receive a commission to design a garment to support that labour, and to showcase the unique properties of that fibre, rather than to speak to a trend, and I have to say that this is one reason I was so pleased to be invited to participate. The project has brought together the skills of many talented women and I am very proud to have been involved. I want to say a special thankyou to Lauria at Juniper Moon, who has been cheerfully brilliant at co-ordinating the project, and bringing everything smoothly together. I hope the subscribers enjoy their wonderful yarn, and the patterns that Kirsten and I have designed, and I understand that a limited further number of Shepherd and Shearer kits will also soon be available from the Juniper Moon Shop, so if you are interested in knitting yourself a Shepherd hoody or a Shearer pullover, do keep your eye on the site for updates.

Photos reproduced courtesy of Juniper Moon Farm

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The Shepherd, The Shearer, and me

When Susan Gibbs recently contacted me to ask me if I’d like to be involved in a new project, I already knew I would say yes. I love everything that Susan does at Juniper Moon Farm, and was thrilled to have an opportunity to work with her. But when she explained precisely what this project was, I was totally blown away. Let me explain: the project’s starting point was the shared desire of Susan and her friend and sheep shearer, Emily Chamelin to raise awareness among knitters of the virtues of really good, hard-wearing wool. As you are all no doubt aware, this is the kind of wool I really love; the kind with which you can knit beautiful, classic garments that will last for years, if not generations; and the kind which is unfortunately often sidelined in today’s luxury-yarn dominated market. While buttery-soft merinos and merino-blends may well be lovely to knit with, they are often not the most hard-wearing. And certainly, when used for sweaters and other outdoor garments, the fabric knitted from such yarns has an unfortunate tendency to look ratty really quickly. As shepherds and shearers, Susan and Emily are often outdoors, and what you need for outdoor work is something properly fit for purpose: namely, a good hard-wearing woolly sweater. So Emily and Susan decided to produce this ideal sweater themselves, totally from scratch. They would purchase fleeces from the clients whose sheep Emily shears, prepare and spin yarn to their own specifications, commission a couple of sweater designs, and then enable knitters to become part of the process by producing these ideal sweaters themselves. I am thrilled to have been invited, together with the redoubtable Kirsten Kapur, to create a sweater design for Emily and Susan.

The fact that shepherding and shearing are male-dominated activities is almost too obvious to state. I love how the project’s logo proudly situates Emily and Susan as representatives of these noble professions, and one of the many laudable elements to this project is that a proportion of the profits will go towards establishing a scholarship to support other women to be trained as shearers. Seriously, there are so many things I love about The Shepherd and The Shearer, that I could gush about it for hours, but I am genuinely, truly honoured to be involved in a project whose whole purpose is to celebrate wool, and to value the work of women.

I’ll be posting more about the project and my involvement in it as time goes on. In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about The Shepherd and The Shearer, or fancy signing-up to be a knitterly collaborator (spots are very limited, and open today, I believe) then head over to Juniper Moon Farm, where Susan will tell you all about it.

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