I’m so pleased to be able to introduce you to Duntreath!

After we successfully launched our lambswool snoods last year, I really wanted to develop a line of garments. Having researched and written a book all about the history of yoke sweaters, I knew I wanted to make yokes, and I also knew who I wanted to make them. I was aware of Harley of Scotland because I had, in my vintage knitwear collection, a couple of yoke sweaters made by them. I knew that Harley had been producing top-quality knitwear in Peterhead for several generations, and I also knew that they’d perfected a method of seamless garment construction ideally suited to machine-knitting circular yoked sweaters. So I got in touch with Harley, and developed two garment styles – the first of which is Duntreath (I’ll be able to show you the second style shortly).

Duntreath is a two-shade seamless, circular yoke sweater with a bold and simple colourwork design. We’ve produced the garment in two colourways, and four sizes, which roughly accommodate UK 8 to 16. To give you a perspective on fit: both Jane and I are wearing Duntreath here in the first size.

I’m wearing the blue sweater with 6 inches of positive ease at the bust while Jane is wearing hers – also in the first size – with an inch of positive ease. Both of us are wearing layers underneath. While I am short of torso, meagre of chest, and narrow of shoulder, Jane is none of these things.

I usually wear a UK size 6-8, have a 31 in bust, and am 5 feet 2 inches tall. Jane usually wears garments in a UK size 10-12, has a 36 in bust and is 5 feet 8 inches tall. If I say so myself, we both look fine in the same size of this fine sweater!

If you need more information about fit, here are Duntreath’s actual measurements in all four sizes

So these sweaters have been expertly made at the Harley mill in Peterhead, here in Scotland, but what about the yarn that’s used to knit them?

The wonderful lambswool we’ve used in the production of Duntreath is spun by JC Rennie in the historic Miladen mill they have occupied since 1798. (You might be interested to see this post from 2012, when Mel and I paid a visit to the mill.) One of just a handful of traditional woollen spinners remaining in the UK, Rennie ‘supersoft’ is a light and airy yarn with a beautiful even hand and a lovely range of colours. Much beloved by Scottish hand-knitters, Rennie’s yarn is routinely used by many well-regarded brands around the world in their knitwear and woven products. If you are interested in the ‘supersoft’ colourways we’ve used in the these pullovers, the shades are Silver / Cumin and Therapy / Putty.

“therapy” is a wonderfully matt, saturated, pleasingly greyed-out blue. . .

But the palette also abounds with rich and complex heather shades, of which cumin is a prime example.

Rennie’s ‘supersoft’ lambswool – like most lambswool produced by UK commercial spinners, has been sourced from Australia and New Zealand. As someone who knows the hard work involved in producing a 100% Scottish wool yarn, I understand the automatic wish for completely local provenance, but, as a historian, as well as a manufacturer, I have a perhaps more nuanced sense of the issue. I am totally committed to being totally open about production, so before you move to question Rennie, or Harley, or myself for the product miles, or origin, of the raw materials with which we make our goods, please take the time to read the important aside at the foot of this post.

I’ve spent many years researching, writing about, knitting (and wearing) yoke sweaters. Now I’ve taken the risk of making some myself, on a more commercial scale.

It’s a big step to make. But it’s an exciting step as well.

If you buy a Duntreath, you know that its development began with me. Creative production involves many decisions – from the initial shade choices (there are so many beautiful colours in the Rennie palette!) right down to the location of the garment label (above the waist ribbing, rather than at the neck, because I know so many people who find the latter irritating). If you buy a Duntreath, you know who spun the yarn that made your sweater (Rennie) and you know where and by whom the sweater was made (Harley of Scotland, in Peterhead). When you place an order for Duntreath, you know that it will be carefully packed for you by Jane . . .

And it will be shipped to you packaged in a lovely KDD duffle bag, which you can use to store and care for your sweater . . . or which you might use for any other purpose, when you are out and about.

I really am very proud of everything that has gone into the production of Duntreath, and love the end result. I do hope that you like it too.

An important aside:
Before questioning the use of Australian and New Zealand fleeces in British (or Scottish) yarn and knitwear, we should carefully reflect on our own position as first-world consumers and the murky imperial story of these beautiful wool products. Why do our spinners produce so many yarns that are Australian and New Zealand in origin? The main reason is that profiting from the natural resources, climate, and productive capacity of these regions of the world was what empire was all about. Britain’s punitive restrictions on colonial manufacturing meant that raw materials had to be shipped back home for processing into goods that might be worn or used: those who lived and worked in Britain’s former colonies were simply not allowed to make things themselves (this is why homespun cloth became such a powerful sign of resistance during the American Revolution). The rules of the global wool trade were effectively set by Britain centuries ago and we continue to reap the empire’s historic legacy in the fact that the vast majority of the New Zealand wool clip is still scoured and spun here, simply because we actively prevented New Zealand from developing its own processing infrastructure. One aspect of the “international localism” I began discussing yesterday might be to start conversations which reflect a little more deeply on our ourselves before engaging in knee-jerk condemnation of another country’s agriculture, industry, or – by extension – its identity. Before we denunciate product miles and global trade networks, we have to first understand how these things are symptomatic of our own imperial legacy (and indeed how commerce still happily thrives on such thoughtless imperialist attitudes). Perhaps if we began by treating everyone involved in fibre production and processing – wherever in the world they are – with interest, and with respect; perhaps if we sought to understand the global complexities and imbrications of everything we eat and wear and buy; perhaps if we were all a little more transparent and a little less judgmental, we might begin to change commerce and manufacturing for the better.

64 thoughts on “Duntreath

  1. Kate, you are extraordinary. It is such a pleasure to read your thoughts in such wonderful prose. This piece is a revelation in terms providing such a clear explanation of the residual impacts of colonisation. Thank you!

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  2. This is a beautiful pattern and the garment is stunning in its simplicity. Would love to knit one. Or buy one in an 18 size. Hope all sell out so new sizing will appear! Best wishes and thank you for all your lovely designs.

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  3. First of all, you are my hero. Secondly, there are two sides to every story…as consumers, it is certainly easier to put in the back of our minds the more gritty and sometimes less than romantic thoughts of how our food and goods are produced. In fact, responsible animal husbandry is what we should be focusing on… producers using topicals for pain relief and to control flys and infection, for instance. Basically, if you eat beef (primarily steers – castrated male calves) or wear wool or work with wool (primarily wethers – castrated male sheep) then you have to accept that those animals have been SURGICALLY altered to produce what we use. Thanks for your beautiful and inspiring designs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Krist- just one slight correction: wool comes from primarily ewes and a few wethers, (castrated males). Most boys go intact to freezer camp in the Fall ;)

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  4. Aside from the above, I would like to say, the sweater is beautiful. Thank you for the history, it is a passion of mine and it is so nice when someone else does the work! :D Just the wool colour’s name “therapy” makes me want to buy it.
    As another poster said, a readable history on the British, even colonial history of sheep and the wool industry would be wonderful. The Border Leicesters in Canada are only allowed now to be bred with other registered BLs in Canada. It is a very limited gene pool given they all came from Britain at one point and have been interbred along the way. Knowing more background may help younger farmers save the breed in the long run.

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  5. In recent years i have had extended conversations with two UK sheep women, one from the Isle of Skye, the other from Wales, about the role of the British Wool Board today, and the difficulty that presents in privately marketing their own wool. i would love to know more about this and how it affects the marketing of specific breeds. Hint, Hint

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Gorgeous jumpers. I have a much-loved Harley yoke bought in Mallaig and was fascinated to read more about their manufacturing. My jumper is beautifully constructed and I’ve always wondered how it was made.

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  7. Really interesting to read Kate thanks so much for your great explanation of the imperial legacy of local production in the former colonies. i always appreciate your great knowledge and research.

    I think that life is pretty awful for most sheep and cattle raised in Australia and their presence here has certainly wrecked huge areas of natural habitat for native flora and fauna. I don’t think we have a great reputation here – raising livestock in a country that’s prone to drought, live export, mulesing….our country is run by middle-aged white conservative men who care only about money so nothing is done for these miserable animals.

    There are a few small companies emerging – i’m really pleased to support them – sheep are raised kindly, wool is processed as locally as possible (we even have a few mills in NSW now!). Local processing means that it must be processed in an environmentally-friendly way. I would encourage people to support these small Australian companies – you can even find natural browns/greys!

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    1. I understand concern about mulesing, but it is simply necessary for sheep raised in most of Australia, along with tail docking – if you’ve ever seen a flyblown sheep you’ll know why. But sheep raised in Tasmania are not routinely mulesed, since the climate means there is a much shorter fly season, and there are several breeders producing very high quality superfine wool here from sheep which are not mulesed. However, there are no local processing mills for knitting yarn, so wool is shipped interstate or to New Zealand for processing.

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      1. Absolutely!!! In order to keep making money from sheep on mainland Australia they are mulesed. How about not having them at all on mainland Australis? Wouldn’t that be kinder to the sheep and the native flora/fauna? At some stage in the not too distant future of our planet money will have no value

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  8. What a lovely design. I was hoping to order the #3 size, but it was out of stock. Are you planning to restock more sweaters in the future?

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  9. Thank you for the comments at the end about the colonial aspect, Kate. You did not mention the South African wool industry which of course came into being exactly as the Australian and New Zealand industries did under British rule. I wrote a comment about this responding to Katie Weston’s post on this issue just a few hours ago and so was very pleased to read your much more detailed and comprehensive comment here.

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  10. Neat, elegant design, excellent colour choices too which I think will suit a range of skin tones. Was torn between the two colourways and finally opted for the blue and am very happy to be supporting both independent design (KDD) and a local company, as Peterhead is just along the coast from us …

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  11. As always Kate you have produced a beautiful garment. And made a brilliant point at the end of the blog. Keep up the amazing work you’re doing it’s so informative, beautiful and has made me stop and think several times.

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    1. yes – extending the size range demands a bigger investment and there are manufacturing issues to consider too – but it if these sell, and if (crucially) there is demand, I hope to extend the size range with the next order.

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  12. Had to start again so I will shorten this.I am an American with more than average American knowledge of Irish history (but still limited). I have long wondered how the 1699 Wool Act led to the current state of Irish wool. https://www.libraryireland.com/JoyceHistory/Restrictions.php
    Currently wool produced primarily go for carpet production and other industrial uses. Native breeds have pretty much disappeared such as Galway. There are only a couple of mills (Cushendale is one) with some small production popping up (S Twist Wool).

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Love the new sweater!!!
    It would be helpful to know the actual chest measurement of the 4 sizes!
    There’s a lot of variation in women’s clothing sizes! I have everything from 8-14 in my closet…and they all fit!

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  14. I would love to learn more about the economic issues you discuss in your aside. Are there any books you could recommend on this subject? Thanks! (SUCH a lovely sweater design!)

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    1. I have a suggestion that is sort of tangentially related – it’s not about wool, but cotton, called The Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert. While cotton is the focus, and not wool, I learned an immense amount from this book and it’s part of why I want to give Kate’s aside a standing ovation. It gives a lot of insight into the role of the textile industry over the past few centuries and the role that it’s played in shaping modern capitalism today.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Your yoked sweaters are beautiful- wonderful for non knitters who covet the work of their knitting pals, wonderful for knitters who don’t like to or want to work yokes, two color knitting, or sweaters! Frankly, just wonderful.

    As a student of US history, I can attest to what you wrote about the British restriction on colonial America. We were to produce the raw materials- tobacco, ships stores, cotton – sell it exclusively to the mother country, and buy finished products only from her. This is one reason why the New Englanders, who had poor, rocky soil for farms but desired to establish factories, were the most ardent revolutionaries.

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  16. First of all, what a beautiful jersey, are you going to produce a pattern? I have knitted several of the patterns in your Yokes book and would love to knit this for my daughter-in-law. I could probably figure out the repeat for myself if you gave some quantities.
    But more importantly I want to echo what you said about colonialism, especially with regard to the Antipodes. For those who have been lucky enough to go there, it cannot have escaped notice that by altering the land use in order to raise sheep and cattle, we seriously damaged the environment, such that in Western Australia, for an example, there are now salt lakes that grow at a rate of 1 metre diameter per year, rendering land useless for livestock, but equally unable to revert to native bush. And while not meaning to beat up our present generation, for the misguided agriculture of our Victorian ancestors, we should remember this and try not to repeat their mistakes. There is now, thankfully, a huge local industry in woolen products made in New Zealand, and knitting is a domestic industry that helps a lot of stay-at-home parents make some money, as well as knitters for pleasure. The same is not true for Australia, the Merino wool is becoming less and less profitable as an industry, much of it goes to Japan for insulation! This is partly due to drought, but other factors play into the mix.

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    1. Kudos to NZ for ending mulesing. These days even some of those who raise the merino breed admit they are poorly adapted to many environments. I live in an area designated as high desert and as you point out it’s critical to recognize the fragility of such environments. They don’t regenerate themselves easily. It’s past time to abandon 19th century thinking of landscape as an opportunity for profit even if short term. There is still a lot of that thinking where I live as those who never consider creating value rather than exploiting for profit continually battle for access to public lands.

      Liked by 6 people

  17. You both look wonderful in your sweaters, and they are beautiful. I regret that I will not fit into them, and I am seriously hoping that you will still be selling them when I have shrunk down enough to get into one :) Motivation is a powerful tool in weight loss :) :)

    I find your piece on imperialism and the reasons for the wool coming from Australia and New Zealand, to be very interesting, and, for what it’s worth, I totally agree with your aesthetic on using this wool.

    Love to you, Tom, Bruce and Bobby xxx

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  18. Did I need a new jumper – nope, not until I saw this post then 5 minutes later the order was placed. These are stunning, Kate, and it’s so helpful to see a garment styled on two different and lovely shapes. Sometimes measurements alone don’t tell you all you need to know. I’m your height, size 8/10 and Jane’s chest size so the size 1 should be lovely – but, I’m wondering, if it turns out that size 2 would be better for me then will it be possible to do exchanges?

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  19. What a beautiful jumper and wonderful to see how it looks with different amounts of positive ease. Thank you for adding the footnote and for explaining the broader context. Illuminating and enlightening.

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  20. Wonderful – sweater, pictures, text and thoughts.
    And a grey one is now on its way to Germany to join my two snoods. Which I can wear surprisingly well given the fact that I’ve hyper sensitive skin on the neck.

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  21. Beautiful sweater. Are you planning a cardigan?
    BTW I live in a Victorian era house (in Victoria) with a roof of Welsh slate. We sent wool over there and then slate was bought back as ballast in the ships.

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  22. I hope this does not come across as knee jerk but more a considered response which has been formulated over the years having done quite a bit of research myself. I could not agree more about the role of our colonial forebears. I wish I could say things are more balanced and reciprocal but
    that would be naive and frankly, incorrect.

    My concern is for those without whom none of us knitters would probably have ever started knitting. The sheep. I would like to know more about the provenance of the flocks and the welfare of the animals used. Again, looking historically, sheep have been over and selectively bred to produce far more wool, and to not shed naturally, to meet the needs of consumers. Many are still mulesed, a horrific practice, which, whilst one may argue is broadly done to stop the horrors of disease and infestation, is often done without anaesthetic or pain relief. We don’t dock puppies anymore for example. The pressure for shearers to work fast means sheep are often cut and either left injured or sewn without anaesthetic. This in addition to being herd and prey animals the whole separation and grab process is frightening.

    I may come across as a crank but I would like provenance of fleeces if I am to use wool. I love your designs, your colours are simply awesome and I am really impressed with your ethos in keeping businesses alive but unfortunately at the moment feel this is an area which would stand for more investigation. Not just by your business but by the whole industry. Unlikely by most of them I know. If the information is unavailable, surely one must question why this is the case? Certainly the images and video of what goes on is readily available. I accept that for most plausible deniability is a must but for now I will use your designs with gratitude and with some gnashing of teeth as a fairly novice knitter, getting better every day, but will use cotton and other yarn. And Yes, the damage cotton and other yarns cause is a very definitely nuanced argument too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I fully appreciate your concerns, but I also have to say that the agenda (and activities) of organisations like PETA in regard to wool and animal treatment are often deeply misleading. To produce one or two (horrible) videos and suggest they reveal that wool itself is “cruel”’or “bad” is like suggesting that the care industry itself is “bad” because abuse has occurred in a single care home. Everything I have seen of the wool industry (and I have seen a lot) suggests such instances are rare and anomalous. Mulesing does not occur in this country and you’ll find that the majority of reputable processing businesses can, like me, verify that their fibre comes from non-mulsed sources. Wool is *not*, in itself, remotely cruel – and I have serious concerns about the way unnuanced ideas of “cruelty free” fibres are being successfully exploited by retailers like ASOS to deflect attention from their impactful use of plastics, bamboo (not always ethically produced) and – yes – cotton (about which there is another conversation to be had). I don’t think you are being cranky at all – you are asking the right questions – but such questions need to also be asked of publicity seeking (and deeply dubious) organisations like PETA.

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      1. Hi,

        Museling aside, I think that animal welfare advocates are also deeply concerned about the issue of live export, as merino sheep often travel from australia to turkey by boat, in inhumane conditions to be slaughtered.

        Wool being a by product of the meat industry, animal welfare advocates who condemn meat eating may also have a problem with the fact that they are giving money to the meat industry when purchasing wool, british or not – although as you pointed out, the alternatives they suggest are not really that great for the environment, and according to report on the manufacturing process of these eco marketed yarn, factory workers are breathing formaldehyde without protective masks in chinese factories, while turning bamboo or soy into yarn.

        As a knitter i only buy traceable wool, and i mostly buy British/ local wool because the UK is the country with the highest animal welfare standards. Im not british though, but i happen to live here. Like a lot of emigrants, i have indeed noticed the rise of some nationalist pride by some brits, wanting to make Britain Great again by buying British stuff. But I do also feel for the british industries which have been completely destroyed by the Thatchers governmenent and i understand their newfound sense of pride to buy something that their country has manufactured, eventhough a lot of brits cant quite shake off their colonialist heritage even to this day.

        But to me buying british wool is about connection to the land where i walk my dogs everyday. I get to see the sheep who grow some of my yarn. It’s a connection to the country where i live, eventhough it’s not “mine”.

        Ive always admired your work and your efforts to support the bristish wool industry. Getting wool from New Zealand sounds a bit far, but then life is about connections and if you and the people you work with have made meaningful connections with the people and sheep who grow the wool there, then why not. But it would nice for us to know more about the sheep, the people caring for them, the landscape where they all live etc… That’s what has made you and your work so special, in my opinion… Not just the traceability, but the story behind, the landscapes, the connections… :) we all love reading about Bruce, im sure a lot of us would love to read all about the sheep in New Zealand too, as after all, as knitters and knitwear lovers, we wouldnt go far wirhout them :) it’s nice to give them the recognition they deserve :)

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      2. Thank you for this insight. My daughter is a vegan and it’s a conversation we have had more than once. Wool is such a wonderful thing and am grateful it exists. Knitting items in synthetic yarn is something I do out of love but not choice!

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      3. Amen, Kate. As someone who works with a small flock not only do we get frustrated with the intentional misleading information from “animal rights” organizations, the people who accuse have never been to a working farm in this country, Canada. We have strict rules about the docking of tails. They must remain a definite length…to cover the exterior sexual organs of the sheep. They do get anaesthetic which is allowed to set in before docking takes place when they are a week old. A good shearer doesn’t cut a sheep. Period. Our sheep have never had a injury in the 8 years they live on our farm. New farmers have the opportunity to take well-crafted courses in small ruminant care courses led by experienced sheep farmers who are members of the Canadian Sheep Farmers. They hear only what is allowed and they are given a mentor to help them through their first few years of farming. If you want to know about domestic animal farming, ask a farmer. Visit a farmer. Talk to them at all the fall fairs going on right now. Be cautious about a video compiled of clips from unknown sources claiming that all animals are treated that way. It isn’t true.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi. As the original poster on this mini thread I agree that only relying on footage from organisations (from any side of the organisation) can be unreliable. I perhaps wasn’t clear that personally my research has led me to sheep farms and to meat producers locally ( In the days when I ate meat I also raised a pig for meat in an attempt to be more respectful). I would not ask for clarity if I had not tried and failed miserably to find out what is going. I am sure there are producers who act responsibly and I would seek to support them. The frustration is that there is no way of really identifying them which I’m sure must be equally frustrating for them and why I keep revisiting wool to see if things are any clearer. Hope that helps.

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      4. Kate you are too right.
        as a veterinarian, and also a shepherd who understands the critical importance of grazing animals to the health and maintenance of pastures and rangelands, i can tell you that it’s all in how it’s done. PETA and those like them do not get it right and furthermore don’t understand animal and plant interaction.
        i agree shearing sheep is not in any way harmful–compare it to cutting one’s own hair–and most sheep breeds (we have the naturally double coated Icelandic sheep) will shed their wool naturally in matts in the spring anyway–though perhaps not merinos…shearing in the Fall and Spring just makes it easier for the sheep and wool is a useful product for their shepherds.
        good sustainable and regenerative grass-based production systems using sheep, cattle or goats, mimic what Nature has done herself for millions of years: maintain that wonderful balance between grazers and healthy grass/pasture/meadow growth. it is a fact that rangelands and pasturelands grow BETTER and have healthier soil, better native wildlife diversity, and better water and carbon-holding capacity when grazed appropriately (ie–not under grazed or over grazed). grazers and rangelands have evolved to gather for millions of years and do better WITH each others’ presence.
        wool (and meat and milk) is sustainable and healthy for all involved, when done right.
        to illustrate some of these important principles (which we’ve used so successfully on our farm also), please see this moving and hopeful TED talk by the great Allan Savory on how grazers combat climate change and restore otherwise dying rangelands and pastures: https://www.ted.com/talks/allan_savory_how_to_green_the_world_s_deserts_and_reverse_climate_change?language=en

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  23. Dear Kate, the sweaters are stunning! Thank you for your ever enlightening and deep thought-provoking stories concerning the history, the broader context of things and sharing your personal experience. I have been following your blog for some time and really am grateful for the inspiration you are bringing to my life. Love from the Czech Republic! Adela

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