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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New Lanark, the egg, and the naming of things

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Hiya! It is I, Bruce. Today I am here to tell you about the place called New Lanark.

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Tom and Kate have been to this place many times, and are fond of it for many reasons. Kate particularly likes New Lanark because
1) it is the birthplace of Utopian Socialism and
2) it makes yarn.

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As well as being an important World Heritage Site, New Lanark is a place where you can enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Falls of Clyde.

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This was definitely the bit that interested me.

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Up along the river banks and woods, there is much fun walking to be had. I smelt many interesting smells and went for a swim . . .

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. . .I looked after the humans, hurrying them along the paths, and posing obligingly for photographs.

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. . . I also heard some sounds that were new to me. For example, these icicles on the opposite bank made an interesting crrrrrrack and crrrrrash sound as they broke and fell into the river.

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Then we came to a place called The Hide.

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There was much excitement around The Hide because The Egg had just appeared in the nest of a Peregrine. The humans at The Hide had equipment through which Tom and Kate could look and see the Peregrine sitting on The Egg. Kate seemed quite interested in The Egg, but was perhaps even more animated by the colour of the Peregrine’s eyelids, which were apparently a very very very bright yellow. I was not allowed to look through the equipment, but I was very good on my lead and did not snaffle any of the Hide humans’ tasty meat-filled sandwiches while they were being distracted by the excitement of The Egg.

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Now, I know and understand many human words — egg and chicken, for example, are two words that make a lot of sense to me. But two words that do not make sense are the words called Monkey Walking, which is what the humans shout at me with glee when I do this on a path with gaps in it:

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The naming of things is perhaps the deepest of all human mysteries. For example, why is this crunchy, tasteless, pointless thing called Lichen when there is nothing to like about it at all?

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Why is this piece of Scottish hydroelectrical equipment called YORKSHIRE?

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Who named this bench BROWN LONG EARED BAT?

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And which daft human decided that this fence should be called DONKEY?

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Answers on a postcard, please . . .

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See you soon, Love Bruce

Kate adds: A shout-out to Laura, the New Lanark ranger, who reads this blog and who we met on our walk today. Thanks so much to Laura and all her colleagues for their hard work maintaining this wonderful landscape for everyone to walk in and enjoy! xx

the grand owl prizegiving!

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Yes, its time to announce the parliamentary victors, and give away some owlish prizes!

There are 57 owls in the parliament. I excluded myself and my knitting comrades (Hannah, Kate B and Melanie) from the fun; put the remaining 53 names in a ‘hat’, and selected one at random.

Congratulations, Elizabeth! You are officially the Parliament’s prime owl! You win 10 x 50g of New Lanark DK (more than a sweater’s worth . . perhaps two sweaters), a fabulous Owl tote bag from these Edinburgh designers (on whom I have a post coming shortly), and a large selection of the owl-themed goodies mentioned below (as befitting a prime owl).

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I have really enjoyed the, um parliamentary process – – it was always thrilling for me when another photo turned up in my inbox and I’ve felt proud and humbled at the same time (if that’s possible) to see so many fabulous women wearing o w l s. What I’ve most enjoyed, though, is seeing how every knitter made the sweater somehow entirely hers — through yarn choice, customisation, personal style, or the sheer vim of her knitterly character. So here are some other prizes reflecting the parliament’s owlish variety and vim:

Most impressively owlish photo: There were a few candidates for this one, but the prize has to go to Stacey, who is perching on a branch in her photo.
Most original customised owls: This was a difficult decision to make, as there were so many amazing owlish transformations through the additions of steeks, button-bands and colour. In the end, though, I thought I’d give this prize to Suzanne, who customised her owls into a cardigan complete with stars and embroidered branches.
Early bird : This prize goes to Gabrielle, who knit the sweater in record time, and sent me her photograph on January 23rd.
Ma’s prize owl: For this category, I asked my mother (who is a great admirer of the parliament) to pick her favourite sweater. She selected Karen (USA) because “her sweater fits beautifully, and in the colours she chose, the owls really stand out.”

Congratulations, all of you! You all win 100g of New Lanark Donegal Tweed & Silk (tasty!), a selection of owl-themed goodies, and a wee project bag to store your owlish loot in — made by me.

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The design of these project bags is based on one owned by my knitting comrade, Kate B, originally made by her mum. I’ve often noticed the bag and thought how satisfyingly neat and simple its design was — ideal for a couple of balls of yarn, some needles and notions. So using Kate’s prototype as a template (thanks, Kate!) I whipped up these babies! I am quite pleased with how they turned out and may post a tutorial about making them later . . .

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. . . Anyway, on with the matter in hand. More prizes!

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Is it just me, or are owls everywhere at the moment? I became quite excited when I discovered (thanks once again to Kate B) that owls had colonised the shelves of a prominent chain of UK stationers. I am such a sucker for this stuff! I just can’t help myself! Inevitably, I found myself with a small excess of owl-themed treats — stickers, badges, sticky-notes, tea towels, and pencils — to give away. I picked five of the remaining names from the hat and five happy owls have won a selection of these goodies. You are:
Rebecca (from Canada), Orianna, Jules, Fa-Linn, and Meghan (from Nottingham).
I will be in touch with the winning owls soon to confirm addresses, and suchlike. Meanwhile, things are busy and beelike here. More anon.

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My sister Helen and her family are visiting this weekend. Yesterday we all went to New Lanark (I will seize any opportunity to go to New Lanark!) Helen and I hail from Rochdale, and I think she is as proud as I am to have grown up in the birthplace of international co-operation. There are important links between New Lanark and Rochdale — because of the textile industry, obviously, but also because both places are associated with the pioneering nineteenth-century movements that sought to improve the livelihoods and education of working people.

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It was interesting to see that the steam powered machinery at New Lanark comes from Rochdale too.

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As well as exploring the history of Utopian Socialism (my kind of day out), there are many other things to enjoy about New Lanark. For example, the wonderful riverside walks by the picturesque Falls of Clyde . . .

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. . . it is a great place for kids . . .

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. . . and then there is wool . . .

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wool!

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WOOL!

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As will be evident from these pictures, my sister is also a knitter of the avid and excitable variety, and I am proud to report that my ten year old niece, Robyn, knits too. While Helen treated herself to the gorgeous heathery yarn (shown above), Robyn was able to buy a kit to knit herself a Harry Potter sweater (just like the one that Mrs Weasley knits for Ron). Robyn will soon be a Rochdale knitting pioneer!

We had a grand day out.

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