Tea Jenny

teajennys

So, no prizes for guessing exactly what I was reminded of when, some months ago, I first opened the package containing seven tasty balls of Magnus and Justyna’s Foula Wool . . .

cupofteas

TEA!

Maybe I was feeling particularly parched or something, but it really did occur to me just how tea-like the familiar Shetland shades of Mioget, Fawn, and Moorit are — to my mind, Shetland sheep are really never coffee-hued — their particular brown has red and pink tones underlying it . . . just like a Nice Cup of TEA.

Tea is a big deal in Shetland, and indeed further south here in Scotland, and I have given this hat the fine Scots moniker of Tea Jenny, which, if you were wondering, is how you refer to someone who likes to drink an awful lot of tea . . .

tejenny2s

. . .someone like me . . .

tejenny3s

Jolly teapots dance around the body of the hat . . .

teapotss

While the crown is a swirling, kaleidoscopic homage to the theraputic wonders of my favourite beverage.

crowns

I am put in mind of the immortal words of Father Ted’s Mrs Doyle

“The playful splash of the tea
As it hits the bottom of the cup
The thrill of adding the milk
And watching it settle for a moment,
Before it filters slowly down
To the bottom of the cup
Changing the colour from dark brown to…
A lighter brown
Perching an optional jaffa cake on the saucer,
Like a proud soldier, standing to attention
Beside a giant… cup of tea”

brims

Foula Wool is a DK-weight yarn, so knit up, this makes for quite a substantial hat worked at 22 sts to 4 inches.

slouch2

The finished hat has a wee bit of slouch in it, and its important to swatch carefully and wash and block your swatch before knitting (I’ve found that Foula Wool blooms and grows quite a bit)

crown2

The hat uses each of the seven shades of Foula Wool, and Magnus has told me that he is now creating yarn packs with the exact quantities of each shade that you’ll need to knit the hat. These will be available on the Foula Wool website from early next week (when Magnus has returned to Foula from the Shetland mainland). You’ll have to purchase the pattern from me, either digitally (via Ravelry) or in print (via MagCloud). If you want to knit the hat and are in Shetland for wool week now, you can put your name down for a yarn pack with Magnus at the maker’s mart in Lerwick tomorrow.

In the meantime, the Tea Jenny pattern is available to download from Ravelry!

Now, put the kettle on . . .

slouchs

Foula Wool

shetland-wool-week-image

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.

foula
(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.

foulasheep3

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.

foulasheep1


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.

foulasheep4

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.

lightgrey
(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.

grey
(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.

foulasheep2


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.

foulawoolposter

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.

sixareenfulllength

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.

kdworkshop1
(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.

sixareenclose

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.

tworepeats

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 . . .

sixareen

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

sixareenfrombehind

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

sixareenadjusting

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

sixareenfromabove

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

sixareenlandscape

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

sixareenflare

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.

a taste of Northmavine

Quite a few of you have been asking about the design depicted in my site’s new header. As there’s not long to go now till my book is published, I thought I’d give you a bit more of a taste of it.

This is the Northmavine Hap.

It uses one of the most familiar and easy-to-knit Shetland openwork patterns. This pattern is perhaps most often used to add a decorative border to plain accessories and garments, but I love its simple waves and bold stripes so much that I had to feature it all over the design!

Something about the all-over nature of the combination of shaded stripes with openwork makes this hap feel quite fresh and contemporary, I think.

The construction isn’t particularly traditional either, and I suppose neither is the distinctive centre shaping . . .

. . . which is meant to echo the smooth scalloped edges of Shetland’s beautiful and famous neolithic knives.

You may remember that, back in May, I was knitting a gigantic swatch, inspired by the colours of sea and stones. I played around with every green and blue and grey in the Jamieson and Smith palette before settling on the parrticular combination I used here.

I am really pleased with the end result — the hap neatly mixes a number of traditional and contemporary elements and speaks really well to the Northmavine ‘colour story’ it is designed to be a part of.

To read more of that story, you’ll have to wait for my Colours of Shetland book . . .

(not long now! We are almost there!)

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.

Shetland Wool Week in pictures: part 1

Sheep on the hill . . .

. . . and at the marts.

Some fine boys . . .

. . . and my secret favourite.


Oliver Henry, Shetland Woolmeister . . .

. . . judging fine wool on the hoof . . .

. . . and off.


straight from the sheep . . .

. . . to the wool store

. . ready for sorting and grading.

real shetland competition and offer

Happy Friday, everyone! After the release of the rams & yowes blanket, this week really has been all about Shetland sheep and wool for me. And today I have a bit of Shetand woolly news for you:

In support of the Campaign for Wool, my friends at the Real Shetland Company have organised a competition for a new slogan to promote British Wool. The winning slogan will be printed up on bumper stickers, and distributed and used all over the UK. The slogan can be serious, humorous, bold or brash – - the only important thing is that it is catchy and memorable.

It is not the first time such a competition has been organised – you may have read the Wovember post I wrote about the International Wool Secretariat’s popular “There is no Substitute for Wool” campaign in the 1950s. . .

I am very fond of the ‘no substitute’ verses, but they are very much of their time – plus, an 8-line poem will not fit on a bumper sticker, so. . .

British Wool now needs a slogan to take it through the next decade!

The rules are simple: you can hail from any part of the world to enter the competition; you can enter as many times as you like – just let your woolly imaginations run riot and have a go!

The writer of the winning slogan will be invited to visit the world famous Haworth Scouring and Combing Company , to receive an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of all the processes that transform raw sheepy fleece into glorious wool. (If you are from outside the UK, then you will have to make your own way to Yorkshire to take the tour!) The winner will also receive a beautiful Shetland wool throw in a design of their choice from the Real Shetland Company.

To enter the competition, just send your slogan, together with your name and contact details to adam@realshetland.com.

Or you can send your entry by post to:
The Real Shetland Company
Campaign for Wool Bumper Sticker Competition
Huby Court
Harrogate Road
Huby, Leeds,
LS17 OEG
UK

The closing date for entries is January 31st – so you have two weeks to enter. The winner will be announced on the Campaign for Wool and Real Shetland Comapany websites in early February.

I am the proud owner of two of these Real Shetland throws and I absolutely love them. They showcase the range of beautiful, natural Shetland sheepy shades and their subtle designs are inspired by those historically used by the famous Shetland weavers, Thomas Adie & Sons, whose sample books can be seen in the Shetland Museum.

Even if you aren’t interested in entering the competition, The Real Shetland Company is offering my readers a 10% discount on all of its Shetland wool rugs and throws until the competition ends on January 31st. Just use the code TEXTISLES when checking out to receive the discount.

Good luck to all competition entrants!

worn

The best things in my wardrobe are made of wool. Some of these are ‘vintage’ items that have worn incredibly well. I thought I’d show you one of my favourites today.

I picked up this hand-knitted cardigan second-hand. From its shape, patterns, buttons, and the kind of worsted- spun Shetland wool that was used to knit it, I reckon it dates from the 1930s. 80 years later, it is still in fantastic condition. The right side of the fabric has that slight sheen that Shetland hand-knits seem to develop after many years of wear. There is not a single pill to be seen.

The strands along the back of the fabric have felted ever-so-slightly. The work is incredibly fine and neat.

But this is not a pristine garment. It has been worn a lot. Where this is most evident is under the arms. Here, movement and friction have created areas of felting on the fabric’s right side.

It is also a garment that has been cared for. There is a place on the back of one elbow where an area of about two square inches has been repaired. The darner has taken great care to match the pattern. You can see that wool of a slightly paler-blue than the original has been used. Here is the darn from the wrong side . . .

. . . and here from the right side.

These are clearly the repairs of a seasoned darner. The stitches are perfectly made, the fabric perfectly stable. I do love to see good darning. One of the most moving hand-knits I have ever encountered is a Fair-Isle sweater now on permanent display in the Shetland Museum. It belonged to a local who spent much of WWII as a prisoner. He wore this sweater constantly, repairing and re-repairing the areas that suffered from wear. A powerful document of his interment, as well as his Shetland identity, this sweater really looks as much darned as it is knit. It is very beautiful. Next time I visit Shetland I’ll get a photograph for you.

Here is another repair conducted by the hand of an inexpert darner – ie me.

Not only is this an example of my second-rate mending, but you can also see how difficult it is to find contemporary yarn that is a good match for vintage palettes. The brown colour I’ve used to darn is a Shetland that is close in hue to the original, but it is a blend with flecks of green in it. Like all of the colours used on the original sweater, the rusty-brown shade is very flat and solid. This ‘flatness’ is one of the many things I find interesting about knitting wool from the 30s and 40s. Those marled, heathered, or tweedy effects that we might think of as being ‘traditional’ are really of relatively modern ilk.

I love the simple construction of this sweater. The button bands are so neatly done that I originally assumed they had been knitted at the same time as the colourwork. Had the knitter actually purled those stitches back-and-forth instead of working in the round?

No they hadn’t – but they had conducted a kind of knitterly magic when picking up the stitches. Each cut yarn-end on each row has been individually bound down and woven in. It is an incredibly nifty piece of work.

Impressive! But how had the knitter secured the steek before cutting? When I looked closely at the armhole steeks (similarly neat, and flat) I discovered more about her method.

Upon careful examination I discovered some tiny cotton thread ends showing that the steek had been hand-sewn before cutting. While the majority were removed when the steek was completed, a few of these stray cotton thread-ends actually still remain in the armhole joins, as you can see at the centre of this rather blurry photograph.

The work is so neat, so very carefully done, that there is no bulk at all — hardly a hint of anything resembling a join or ‘seam’.

The sweater has very little shaping: there are some decreases in the arms, and a narrowing at the waist created by the ribbing, but there is no underarm gusset, or setting-in-of sleeves. The sleeves are, in fact set in to the armholes totally squarely, as you can see here.

This squareness is probably one reason for the increased wear that the underarms have seen – but the totally un-tailored sleeve actually fits surprisingly nicely under the arms — not much excess fabric at all.

The cardigan is a good, neat fit on me. I love it, and love to wear it. I’ll keep admiring it, repairing it, wearing it, caring for it. Maybe under my proprietorship it will be able to see another several decades of wear — just as it did with its original owner.

news &c

A miscellaneous post:

First, a reminder that there are only five days remaining for entries in the Wovember competition. You could win some amazing things! One grand woolly winner will be selected by our friends at Jamieson & Smith, and there are other great prizes too: Blacker Designs are offering three runners-up awards for the best photos of sheep, and the Wovember team will also be choosing three “3 bags full” winners for the entries that best capture the creative use of wool. Above you can see some of the contents of the “bags” – a selection of lovely British wool in appropriate colours!

Next, I don’t know if you have had a look at the Wovember blog recently, but if you pop over there you’ll find some great posts from our wonderful woolly guests. For example, in from Sheep to Skein, talented British designer Susan Crawford tells us about the development of Excelana, a superb new breed-specific wool. You can also hear Diane, the Spinning Shepherd, talk about her woolly year, see Deb Robson’s take on endangered sheep breeds, learn about the different meanings of wool from inspiring artists and makers, and read some truly beautiful woolly stories, such as Rachael Matthews account of Walter’s Crook. But I am particularly excited today, as our guest blogger is none other than Oliver Henry — world expert on Shetland wool! You can read Ooey Ollie’s account of what wool means to him here.


(Oliver Henry demonstrates sorting Shetland wool. Photo by Billy Fox.)

Finally, on a personal note, things have been quite busy round here. There’s apparently a discussion of my work in the latest issue of Vogue Knitting, and, (just as exciting) on the pages of the new Shetland sheep magazine. I’ve yet to see either, but several folk seem to have found me having encountered Sheep Heid in the latter publication, so a big welcome to all you Shetland sheepy folk. Also, I’m pleased to say that some of my patterns will soon be available on the shelves of several UK retailers. I’ll be “launching” my new range of printed patterns at Baa Ram Ewe in Leeds on December 3rd. Just pop along between 4 and 6 if you’d like to have a chat! I’m not exactly sure what a pattern launch usually involves, but I’m pleased to say that this one will also feature my Ma and my sister, and perhaps a mince pie or two.

If you are a UK retailer and are interested in stocking my patterns, then do get in touch with me at the email address you’ll find over here. Meanwhile, I am working on two new designs which, all going well, will appear next month. One takes my Shetland sheep obsession to new levels, featuring over a hundred of them, and the other is inspired by this:

more anon.

she swatch sea shells


(photo by me, courtesy Shetland Amenity Trust)

I’ve been swatching sea shells on-and-off for a few months now. To explain: when I visited Shetland in January, I fell in love with this stole, shown to me by the wonderful Carol Christiansen at the Shetland Museum and Archives (it is seen here from the wrong side). The colours were probably not those I would have personally chosen, but just look at the pattern! There was garter stitch! Openwork! Undulating hues! An intriguing effect created with what appeared to be dropped stitches! What wasn’t to like? After a few days on Shetland I realised that this stole showcased a pattern that would be immediately familiar to any local knitter — the cockleshell. I’m sure most experienced Shetland knitters would describe the cockleshell as one of the simplest openwork repeats there is, and it seems to be the scarf pattern of choice for many a beginner who is getting to grips with lace. On Shetland, you can’t move for cockleshell lace — it is everywhere! What a place to be.


When one goes looking for it, the pattern is pretty much everywhere, too – you’ll find one variant or another in most stitch dictionaries and introductions to knitted lace. Barbara Walker has it listed as “grand shell, or hoopskirt” in her Second Treasury, and darkly warns “raw beginners” to “stay away from this one” (the dropped yarnovers, perhaps?)

It is also a curiously mercurial pattern that, when knitted in different types of yarn, produces startlingly different effects. Above is “Margaret’s cockleshell scarf” from Carol Noble and Margaret Peterson’s Knits from the North Sea, which is worked in quite a heavy 4 ply merino. But when knitted in fine Shetland laceweight, the pattern can be light, airy, and delicate. To get a sense of just how beautiful the pattern can be, take a look at this gorgeous example, knitted in Supreme 1ply by Sandra at Jamieson & Smith.

Some versions of the Shetland cockleshell open up the lace with fine yarn and double yarnovers, while others create an effect that, with single yarnovers and kfb increases, is more ‘closed’, lending itself better to coloured stripes. For my purposes, I was more interested in the second version, and began to swatch using the variant described in Glady’s Amedro’s Shetland Lace.

I tried a few different yarn weights . . .



. . .and colours . . .


I liked some swatches more than others, but I felt that the fabric was a little too ‘closed’ and that my shells just weren’t shell-y enough. I returned to the stole I’d originally admired in the Shetland Museum . . .


(photo by me, courtesy Shetland Amenity Trust)

The stole formed its shell with a greater number of dropped yarnovers than Amedro’s variant, and there seemed to be a little more space between repeats. I charted up my own variant, using the stole as a guide. I began swatching again. BINGO! This really looked much more balanced. It was at this point I discovered Fleegle’s no-purl-in-the-round garter stitch, and plans for a twist on the traditional cockleshell were properly afoot. Energy levels permitting (I’m not quite out of the woods yet – bah) I’ll show you the final results of my Shetland sea-shell swatching this weekend!

To be continued. . .

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