Category Archives: community

winter solstice raffle

It’s well into winter here in Glasgow and the shortest day of the year is upon us…

Grasses

The sun rose this morning at 8.44 and will have set by 4 and, even when it’s up, the sky is often heavy with rain, such a contrast to the warmth and light we’ve just been soaking up on a brief trip home to Melbourne! It was SO lovely to be among family and friends and a powerful reminder of how incredibly lucky we are to so be loved and supported, of how much we have in our lives… We said hello to our lovely wee house and the family enjoying living in it, walked our regular routes and some new ones, ate at our favourite places (yet to find any good Middle Eastern or Japanese restaurants here!) and soaked up the birdsong, the golden bright light and the smell of eucalypts.

Back here in Scotland, we are settling into our second winter here and, this time, embracing the slower rhythm of winter with a bit more knowledge of the long, dark months and how to get through them…  I do love the dark and cold but struggled a bit with just how long and dark it was last year! Friends say that exercise, vitamin D, good company, blankets and other warm woollies, candles and lights and just embracing the need to achieve less and sleep more all help to make winter more fun. I’ll let you know how I go and whether I turn into a hibernating bear as much as I did last year ; )

Today is my birthday and, after the year that we’ve all had, my birthday wish was for a little bit of peace and good news in the world. Instead, I was deeply saddened to wake up to news of more violence, this time in Germany and Turkey, knowing that both events have the potential to further fuel racial hatred. More and more, like so many others, I am finding myself reaching out, scrabbling, wishing I could do something, anything, to make a difference. I know what is happening in the world is so much bigger than me, than any of us, but I want to use the resources I have, humble though they are, to do something. So I am holding a small raffle in the hope of raising money for those who are far less fortunate than Scotto and I and most people we know.

How will it work? I’m offering up 3 pouches made from a very understated Harris Tweed but lined with bright, cheerful cotton, an unexpected burst of colour and joy when the zip is opened, something we all need when times are dark!

Pouch in oatmeal/ lichen Harris Tweed

Pouch in oatmeal/ lichen Harris Tweed

Pouch in oatmeal/ lichen Harris Tweed

I’ll draw three winners from a hat on December 28 and send them each a pouch as a post-festive/ end-of-year treat! To go into the draw to win one, I just ask that, in the spirit of humanity and kindness, you make a contribution to a humanitarian aid organisation- I’m suggesting Red Cross, Medecins Sans Frontieres or Oxfam for the incredibly important work they are doing  with Syrian refugees but please let me know if there is another group that you know of who does good work! The raffle is open to all countries and there is no minimum donation but please give as much as you can afford. I’m not going to ask for proof of donation but instead will rely on honesty! All you need to do is leave a comment here or on my Instagram feed to let me know who you decided to donate to and you’ll be in the hat on Dec 28. Good luck and huge thanks for any support you can give!

fisherman’s knits at wild and woolly

Hello! I’m back from an absolutely brilliant week at Shetland Wool Week (photos of that next week, I promise!) and about to head off for a weekend of working on a top secret knitting project with a couple of friends (more on that early next year!). Suffice to say, I feel very lucky to have the life I do. But I quickly want to let any southerners- that’s UK south, not Australian!-  know that I’ll be in London in a couple of weeks for two classes, the first of which is at Wild and Woolly in Clapton.

I met Anna at Edinburgh Yarn Festival earlier this year, after following her and her crew of local knitters for a while online, and was just as smitten with her IRL. Full of joy for knitting and enthusiasm for colour and community, her shop would be local if I lived in London! We talked about running a dye class together but it turned out her shop just isn’t set up for that kind of mess… so, instead, I’m teaching my day-long class on British fisherman’s knits, specifically ganseys and arans. It’s a class I’ve taught a few times and I’m always excited about it- the combination of theory and prac keeps everyone engaged for the day and there is so much inspiration to be found in these amazing garments…

Fisherman wearing a gansey, northern Scotland, early 20th century

Fisherman wearing a gansey, northern Scotland, early 20th century

We’ll begin by casting on for a shoulder bag. What, you say?! A bag? Ok, so knitted bags don’t have anything to do with fisherman’s knits but I want people to work on and take home the beginning of something useful, rather than a swatch or mini jumper… and the way I’ve designed it, this bag is a great canvas for a whole lot of patterning. Your patterning. Because the class is about absorbing the history, construction and patterning of ganseys and arans and incorporating them into a contemporary knit. That said, some people come out of this class totally inspired to make a traditional fisherman’s jumper and I love that. But I also want to show how easy it is to work the patterns into all manner of knits.

Anstruther bag

Anstruther bag

And, then, over the day, we’ll delve into the history, regional styles and construction methods of this knitter’s hallowed ground and explore the elements that make it immensely practical and very beautiful. We’ll take a look at both traditional and contemporary materials and how contemporary taste is altering the shape, fabric and aesthetic of the original jumper. After learning to work cables (both with a cable needle and without) and knit/ purl textures, we’ll explore some of the more unusual stitch patterns and tackle the issues and challenges involved in designing with a combination of stitch patterns, putting pencil to paper to come up with personals designs for a shoulder bag.

I was scheduled to teach this class twice at Shetland Wool week but only recently realised that I’d left many of my appropriate samples at home in Australia when we moved here! So I quickly knitted up a couple of jumpers to show how one contemporary designer, Michelle Wang from Brooklyn Tweed, is playing with both arans and ganseys… to reinvent them in new but equally wearable garments.

The first is Ondawa, a great favourite on Ravelry; this one is a take on the aran, with a new take on its drop-shoulder, shaping-free silhouette:

Ondawa by Michelle Wang

Ondawa by Michelle Wang

Ondawa by Michelle Wang

Ondawa by Michelle Wang

I knitted it in a John Arbon Polwarth/ alpaca/ Zwartbles blend which gives it a beautiful drape so that, despite the very boxy shape, it is quite a flattering shape!

And the second is Vanora, a beautiful light gansey that Michelle designed to be knitted flat in pieces. I subbed out Loft in favour of knitting it in Frangipani Gansey Yarn and reworked it to be knitted in the traditional seamless method and incorporated traditional elements like underarm gussets and faux seam. I’ll post photos of this one as soon as we have some sunshine- it’s a petrol blue and is impossible to photograph, even on a bright day! I’ve been wearing this quite a bit and love the warmth and drape of the gansey yarn (the gauge is 24st/ 10cm, which is spot on for the weight of the 5ply yarn but a looser gauge than most ganseys are knitted at) and the subtle patterning.

I know that there are still a few spaces available- you can find out more via Wild and Woolly. So, if you are keen to learn more, do come along- it’s a fun class!

collaboration with daughter of a shepherd

Well, it’s been a little while since I posted! The last couple of months have been full and yet I have very little to show for it; we’ve spent quite a lot of time outdoors, taking full advantage of the soft Scottish summer weather and that’s been lovely… but it’s actually been a bit of a frustrating period workwise! Since moving here and starting my shop, I’ve learnt a lot about the joys and challenges of working on my own and, while I really love the creative and physical freedom of running my own show, I do find working on my own in a newish city a bit tough- I just get a bit lonely! Although I’m quite introverted and need my own space, which means that production work quite suits me, I’m realising that I actually prefer to work as part of a team and that, when things get busy or when I have a series of different things on, I can become overwhelmed making all the decisions and doing all the things myself. It’s all good learning and I’m really grateful to be doing what I do- I just need to put a few things in place so that I can bounce ideas off others in my field and break up the long stretches of solo production with joint projects!

So I’m really excited to be collaborating with my ace friend Rachel Atkinson in just such a way… If you don’t already know of Rachel and her Daughter of a Shepherd yarn, her wonderful story of transforming her father’s Hebridean fleeces, deemed pretty much worthless by the British Wool Board, into stunning yarn gives hope to many of us knitters and fibre producers that wool has a real and tangible value beyond compost, landfill or carpeting. Many farmers face this challenge of what to do with their wool, at a time when it is worth less than the cost of shearing, and I think Rachel’s knowledge of what handknitters want in a yarn in the post-merino age (and her willingness to take us along on her yarn-making journey) shows what is possible if you are able to combine good wool, good business sense and good spinning skills.

Daughter of a Shepherd Hebridean

Daughter of a Shepherd Hebridean

Daughter of a Shepherd Hebridean

Daughter of a Shepherd Hebridean

Rachel contacted me a few months ago with the idea of using the beautiful Hebridean tweeds produced by Ardalanish, weavers on the Hebridean isle of Mull, to make a limited run of pouches to sit alongside her yarn at Yarndale. I was thrilled to have the chance to both work with Rachel, whose work I really admire, and to use such beautiful fabric; I had read about Ardalanish before moving to Scotland and have dreamed about working with their yarns…

I was out on Mull and Iona with Scotto and my mother-in-law in June and so we stopped at Ardalanish to pick up the fabrics that Rachel and I had chosen. We were lucky enough to be able to have a quick tour and chat with Anne, who, along with her family, took over the weaving studio in 2011 (after “retiring”!). She does a much better job at telling the story of how the studio came to be, of the machinery and those who work it and the sourcing of fibre on their website but I can certainly say that, after talking to her and seeing their setup, I feel very pleased to be part of bringing their fabrics to a new audience! Ardalanish is a great example of how to combine small island life with a strong business sense, an appealing aesthetic and good people.

I managed to get a few shots on my phone while excitedly oohing over their beautiful tweeds, yarns and clever range of lovely but practical goods made from them:

Tweed on the looms at Ardalanish

Tweed on the looms at Ardalanish- natural wool shades and woad

Ardalanish tweeds

Ardalanish tweeds

All the colours of the Ardalanish rainbow

All the colours of the Ardalanish rainbow

Ardalanish Shepherd Plaids

Ardalanish Shepherd Plaids

We chose four fabrics from the range, all of which pair their own homegrown Hebridean fleeces with those of silvery-grey Shetland sheep local to the area, and we hope that they highlight the beauty of the Guinness-black Hebrideans as much as we intended… (I should mention that all non-sheep colours in the Ardalanish tweeds are dyed with woad, madder and other plants so you can imagine that I was a bit pressed not to choose any of them!)

Poches in Ardalanish Tweed

Poches in Ardalanish Tweed

Pouch in Silver Diamond Twill

Pouch in Silver Diamond Twill

Pouch in Hebridean Tatttersal

Pouch in Hebridean Tatttersal

Pouch in Silver Keystone

Pouch in Silver Keystone

Pouch in Hebridean Dark Herringbone

Pouch in Hebridean Dark Herringbone

Rachel and I are so thrilled with how they turned out! For all you folk going to Yarndale, you’ll find them on the Daughter of a Shepherd stand- but if, like me, you’re not going but would really like one, Rachel is keeping a few back and will have them in her shop in early October. And, assuming that they are as well-received as we hope, there will be more- just keep an eye out on our social media and, as always, I’ll announce the next release in my monthly newsletter.

If you are going to Yarndale, have a ball!  And please say hello to Rachel and her sheep for me- she is taking her lovely Hebridean spring lambs, Knit and Purl!

dyeing with nettle, coreopsis, elder and logwood

Another group of newbies got a taste of natural dyeing a couple of weeks ago… as always, I was too busy setting up and then teaching to get any photos of the workshop itself but here are the results from our dye baths…

Samples of silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen

Samples of silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen

We worked with both protein and cellulose fibres and four plants that display some important  aspects of the dye process: nettle as a readily-available, weedy species with a strong affinity with different mordants; dyers coreopsis, a flower that is easy to grow and requires very little processing to extract its dye compounds; logwood extract for easy, quick colour and elderberry for its crazy colour response to pH change. (I’d also hoped to use iron to modify some of our logwood samples but had a scale malfunction and the samples were WAY too dark to show any further colour modification!)

Nettle on silk velvet, silk, habutai, cotton and linen

Nettle on silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen

Nettle on organic merino, mordanted with alum, copper and iron

Nettle on organic merino, mordanted with alum, copper and iron

Nettle on organic merino on a series of different wool yarns, all mordanted with alum

Nettle on a series of different wool yarns, all mordanted with alum

coreopsis2

Dyers coreopsis on silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen

coreopsis2

Dyers coreopsis on organic merino, mordanted with alum, copper and iron

coreopsis2

Dyers coreopsis on a series of different wool yarns, all mordanted with alum

logwood1

Logwood on silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen

logwood1

Logwood on organic merino, mordanted with alum, copper and iron

logwood1

Logwood on a series of different wool yarns, all mordanted with alum

elder1

Elderberry on silk velvet, silk habutai, cotton and linen; we dyed extra samples of silk velvet and habutai and then treated them with acid (upper) and alkali (lower) in order to demonstrate the influence of pH on the colour achieved from anthocyanin-rich plants (middle)

elder1

Elderberry on organic merino, mordanted with alum + acid, alum, alum + alkali, copper and iron

As always, it was interesting to see how different fibres took up the dyes; I was particularly interested to try a yarn base with two strands of merino and 1 of superwash merino (third from the left in the bundle), as it is commonly thought that superwash yarns take up dye more readily and are less able to hold onto the colour over time. So it was fascinating to see that, while that proved true in this case, the degree of difference in colour uptake seems to depend on the dye! It definitely needs more work but it certainly looks like there is more difference in colour in the coreopsis sample than in the others…

And I was thrilled to get such strong blues on wool using the logwood extract, because dyeing with indigo, while a magical and essentially simple process, requires a lot more work to set up (and a bit tricky in an indoor rental space!). The downside is that logwood is not as colourfast as indigo but using an iron modifier will greatly improve fastness…Something to play around with more.

Logwood on organic merino over dyers chamomile

Logwood on organic merino (over dyers chamomile)

If you are interested in learning more about plant dyes, there are places available in my next class on June 19 at the Glasgow Botanics Kibble Palace; you can find more information through my shop.  And, bonus, here will be so many plants to try by then!

spring

Without us even realising, spring has arrived! After all the preparation for Edinburgh Yarn Festival and then the joy of the actual weekend itself (more on that soon!), it feels like I’ve now stopped to look around and everything has changed… the daylight lasts two hours longer than it did a couple of months ago, we all have a spring in our step, the tiny birds are out collecting for their nests and calling at all hours and there are green shoots everywhere!

Buds

Buds

Fresh green leaves!

Fresh green leaves!

Tiny bundles of larch needles

Larix decidua: European Larch

Cercidophyllum magnficum: Katsura

Cercidophyllum magnficum: Katsura

japmaple

Acer palmatum ‘Sangu-kaku’: Coral-bark Maple

We recently moved and are lucky enough to now overlook the river Kelvin (just a ten-minute walk along the river to the Botanics!) so those shoots are whispering promises of the green cathedral that will be on our doorstep in just a few weeks… and, although we are so excited about the idea of all that green, we can’t quite believe it will actually happen! I’m wondering if that is just because we’ve only had one spring here or if it is another expression of the human capacity to forget all but the physical state we are currently in? Perhaps part of the reason that the ancients performed midwinter rituals to recall the sun back to them was because they didn’t quite believe that it would return of its own accord! We haven’t been ritualising but we certainly have been willing the sun to come… For those who’ve grown up in cold climates, te’ll me, do you begin to remember the seasons as you see years pass?

The early spring flowers are certainly nudging us to remember the colourful beauty of last year’s warmer months…

Salix sp: Willow

Salix sp: Willow

cornus

Cornus mas: Cornelian Cherry

Gold

Forsythia sp.

Narcissus pseudonarcissus: Daffodil

Narcissus pseudonarcissus: Daffodil

Flowering currant

Ribes sanguineum: Flowering Currant

We were lucky enough to head out on Good Friday with one of Scotland’s great foragers, Mark Williams, to learn about recognising and harvesting wild foods which shows that, even this early in the growing season, there is plenty of stuff out and about!

I hope you’re enjoying the swing of the seasons, wherever you live xx