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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fleecesorting

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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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preparations

Shetland Wool Week is almost upon us! I have much to do in preparation — one pleasing task involves knitting with this lovely stuff.

This is Shetland Heritage yarn. It is the result of an exciting collaboration between the Shetland Museum and Archives, the Shetland Amenity Trust, Curtis Wool Direct, and Jamieson & Smith — the idea being to produce a modern yarn as close as possible to that which was originally used to hand-knit traditional Fair Isle garments.

Some of you may remember a post I wrote last year about this Fair Isle cardigan, that I picked up second hand.

Like most traditional Fair Isle garments produced before the 1940s, the yarn used to knit this cardigan was worsted spun. This process — in which the raw wool is combed rather than carded, then drawn short, and spun so that the fibres sit parallel to one another — produces a yarn with a smooth hand, and a very even finish. Many old Fair Isle garments have a slight ‘sheen’ that is the result of the smooth worsted yarns that have been used to knit them.

Like the vintage yarn used to knit my cardigan, the new Heritage Yarn is worsted spun.

Because of the way the fibre has been prepared and processed, this yarn has a much smoother, softer, and overall less “woolly” feel than contemporary knitter would be used to finding in other “Shetland” or Shetland-type yarns.

The palette — which is based on that of early Fair Isle garments in the Shetland Museum — works really well for traditional colourwork patterns. Just take a look at the beautiful swatch towards the end of Jen’s post here — suggesting the promise of great Jen AC things to come!

I mention this yarn, because it is one of the linchpins of this year’s Shetland Wool Week, and because I am about to knit up a something in it myself, which will hopefully form the basis of my workshop at the Shetland Museum. In the coming days, I intend to knit the something and produce a design. Then the idea is that we – the class and I – will collectively model the something, photograph the something, name the something, then upload the something in pattern form to Ravelry, live from the Shetland Museum. This plan is, of course, contingent upon my producing a successful Wool-Week something with this wonderful yarn. Wish me luck! I’m off to get knitting . . .

wool 0%

One of my personal bugbears is textile product description – particularly as concerns the word “wool.” Most of my clothes purchases are made online these days, and it really annoys me to be looking at what I assume to be a nice wool dress, only to discover that it is, in fact, 100% viscose. Take the shorts above as an example. They describe themselves as a “wool short” and were turned up in a product search for “wool shorts”, but they in fact contain no wool at all. Now, the consumer can easily apprise themselves of the 0% wool content of this purportedly woollen garment by looking at the useful ‘about me’ tab – but there is still much about the way that this garment is being marketed and sold that is profoundly misleading. Should retailers be allowed to describe products which contain no wool as wool, or have them turn up in a product search with the word “wool” in it? Personally, I think not.

On ASOS, the search terms “wool dress” turns up 88 items. The wool content of these garments ranges from 5% . . .


( is ‘angora wool’ even wool? see below)

. . .to 100%:

By far the majority of these 88 ‘wool dresses’ – more than two thirds, in fact – contained less than 50% wool.

Looking at the examples I’ve shown so far, you might think that price would be an immediate indicator of a garment’s non-wooliness — those River Island shorts are cheap, so what would you expect? Not a bit of it.

Cacharel’s £445 ‘plaid wool’ skirt contains a mighty 12% wool. I’m not sure if 12% even warrants the term ‘wool mix.’ Here, the word ‘wool’ seems to be there to add value to the garment’s generically “plaid” or “tartan” appearance. This is a common error of product description, as is the word “wool” when “yarn” is what is actually meant.

The words “lovely soft wool” in the description of this child’s sweater sold by Monsoon refer to the yarn from which this sweater is made – the actual wool content is virtually negligible at 5%.

UK trading standards are reasonably straightforward when it comes to textile labelling (“all items must carry a label indicating the fibre content either on the item or on the packaging”) but far less clear where product descriptions are involved. According to the documents I’ve looked at, the word ‘wool’ can be used as a descriptive term for the fibre of any animal – so the compound ‘angora wool’ is apparently fine. This merely muddies the waters further as far as I am concerned, and there are no guidelines at all about the percentage of real wool – ie actual wool from an actual sheep – that an item must contain before it can be described as ‘wool’.


(wool 100%)

Interestingly, Trading Standards does include specific guidelines for the descriptive use of the word ‘silk’: “which cannot be used to describe the texture of any other fibre – for example “silk acetate” is not permitted.” If an acetate blouse cannot be described as silk, then why can polyester shorts be described as wool? Personally, I think trading standards need to be updated to reflect the world of online retailing, product descriptions, and keyword searches generally, and I feel this is particularly important where sheep’s wool – a wonderful, sustainable, high-quality fibre is concerned.

I feel that:
1. A garment should not be described as ‘wool’ or turn up with the search term ‘wool’, unless its sheep’s wool content is more than 50%
2. a garment with a sheep’s wool content of between 20% and 50% should only be described with the terms “wool mix”
3. a garment with a sheep’s wool content of 12% or under should not contain the word ‘wool’ in its product description at all.
4. The word ‘wool’ should refer to sheep’s wool only, and there should be a clarification of trading standards to distinguish between different animal fibres.
5. When a garment’s fabric is composed of mixed fibres with a sheep’s wool content of less than 50%, the word yarn should be used when describing its composition.

I intend to write formally to UK trading standards and the campaign for wool about the problem of Wool 0%. Before I do, I’d really appreciate any and all feedback you might have. Do you agree with me? Or not? Have you come across other good examples of wool 0%? Do you have other points to add to my initial 5? How do the trading standards of other countries deal with this and similar issues? Can you direct me to any useful resources about standards of product description in online retailing? And finally, would those of you in the UK be interested in signing an online petition about this issue?

me news

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Some of you may be interested to know that I’ve a feature in the new Rowan Magazine (no.46), which is out today. The piece is about British industrial textile history, and the past and future of two important mills — Cold Harbour, and New Lanark.* I really enjoyed writing this feature, as I’m sure you can imagine. In other me-related news, I have finally found some time to finish off not one, but two patterns, which I will be able to ‘release’ in a few days. The first is, at long last, the cloud (about which some of you have been asking) – hurrah! The second is what I am knitting here, on this Jura beach, several weeks ago.

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More about this garment very shortly.

Thanks for your thoughts on the last post. I now find myself able to step back and ponder my own cashmere-antipathy, which — legitimate and important objections to a particular global economic model and and its environmental impact notwithstanding — I fear may also be tinged with a (perhaps suspect) aversion to cashmere’s (incidental?) associations with empire, excess, and a certain kind of femininity. Should one really condemn a fibre and an entire fibre industry because of the way its symbolic connotations feed into a particular (gendered) debate about luxury and the mass market? Because I feel that cashmere-as-commodity somehow offends my version of feminism? I feel much the same way about cupcakes, for example, but that doesn’t stop me enjoying them. And, as Colleen points out, pleasure is not an insignificant component of one’s relationship to ‘luxury’ textiles which can be consumed and enjoyed in thoughtful (and sustainable) ways. Heather also neatly puts her finger on my capacity for self-delusion. While I am a complete sucker for a certain kind of nationalistic marketing (the kind that involves sheep and rolling hills, roaming free and Yorkshire Tea, ahem) I sneer at another which (to me) unfortunately suggests lounge or leisure wear, golf**, and Ronnie Corbett (cue ‘sorry‘ theme tune). Show me a coachload of cashmere-clad English golfbuddies heading for the House of Bruar and I will run a mile. On the other hand, wave 100g of sludge coloured yarn under my nose that smells vaguely of the farmyard, with an ovine phizog depicted upon it, and I’ll have shown you the colour of my money before you can say “British Sheep Breeds.”

I also wanted to say how much I always enjoy your book recommendations, and to thank you for two recent ones in particular: Sigrun for Lucy Lippard’s The Lure of the Local and Kate M for the poetry of Sorley MacClean, which I am really enjoying, and wishing I could read in Gaelic.

*special thanks to Felix and the Felix-mobile
**apologies to Fiona

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