Category Archives: creatures

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!

faces and places: sariann and her wool project

Part of a series introducing some of the places and people we’ve come across since moving to Scotland. Some you may already know but, more often than not, they will be new to you. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do…

I recently had the chance to talk to Sariann Lehrer of Chopped Ginger about a project that she’s got going over the past few months…

A chef and cookbook writer, Sariann grew up on a working New England farm and then attended the University of Vermont, where she became involved in the local food and small agriculture movements and spent time working on a dairy farm. She’s also a keen knitter who, on moving to Scotland last year, was overwhelmed at the abundance of sheep in the countryside, the native sheep breeds, and the connection to agriculture that so much of the US lacked.

After noticing that there was a lot of focus on the end product of wool farming- that is, the yarns that we all love so much- and very little on the farmers who care for the land and animals that produce them, Sariann took the plunge and contacted small flock shepherds across the UK to launch the Wool Project. In her own words, the Wool Project “focuses on connecting knitters and the recipients of knitwear with where their wool comes from, the importance of keeping traditional small farming alive, and the integral role that we as yarn consumers have in saving heritage and rare breeds here in Britain”.

Sariann has bought 20kg each of fleeces from four different growers and is producing a small batch of yarn from each of them, to highlight both the value and beauty of each breed and the work that the individual growers are doing to sustain them as wool breeds. She launched the project a couple of months ago with her Wensleydale yarn, has just released a Teeswater yarn and will bring out both Gotland and Bluefaced Leicester yarns over the coming few months.

Sariann strikes me as the kind of woman who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty or her heart broken, a good thing for the driver of a venture that many may say is too difficult in the current market. So many UK-based mills have closed in the last 20 years that there are few medium or large yarn companies still having their yarn spun here. But it is encouraging to see that there is a growing number of small fibre growers and individuals using specialist mills to produce small-batch yarns, enough to sustain a number of specialist processors and mills, such as the Natural Fibre Company and the Border Mill, who Sariann decided to work with. Her reasoning was threefold; the Border Mill is based nearby in the beautiful Scottish Borders, owners Juliet and John are happy to work with many different types of fleece and to process any quantity, from a single fleece upwards, and they specialise in alpaca fleece, which has long, smooth fibres similar to many of the breeds she is working with.

A little about the breeds and end products of the first two batches…

Chopped Ginger Wensleydale

The Fa’side flock was started by Susan and Ian Brash, with their purchase of three Black Wensleydale foundation ewes, and has grown to include a separate flock of White Wensleydale sheep. The Rare Breed Survival Trust lists Wensleydale sheep as “at risk” on their register, meaning there are between 900 and 1,500 registered sheep in Britain. Fa’side Wensleydales are meticulously bred and registered each year, with the hope of preserving and growing the breed.

The Wensleydale breed originated in North Yorkshire in the early 19th century with the crossing of a since-extinct, local longwool ewe and a Dishley Leicester tup. Unlike most sheep breeds, the lineage can be traced directly back to one ram, Bluecap, born in East Appleton, five miles from Bedale in North Yorkshire. Developed as a dual-purpose breed, Wensleydales still carry the characteristics of the founding tup: dark skin, excellent quality of wool and large size.

A separate register was started in 1994 for black lambs, and the number of registered ewes has been quite volatile, with 88 registered in 1999, which has since declined. The black wool colour is a double recessive trait and is impossible to predict within a white herd. Historically the dark lambs were culled to avoid contaminating the valuable clip with their dark fibres. However, these unpredictable black lambs from white herds have become a valuable resource for the small number of Black Wensleydale herds, as they widen the gene pool and lessen the likelihood of inbreeding.

Wensleydale fibre is very strong but soft, lustrous and especially beautiful in its naturally coloured forms. Yarn made from it has lots of drape and silkiness and, although it develops a slight halo, shows up texture well.

Fa'side Castle and Wensleydales

Fa’side Castle and Wensleydales

Wensleydale Grey

Chopped Ginger Wensleydale Grey

Chopped Ginger Teeswater

Tunstall Teeswaters are a small but dedicated breeding farm, located in Captain Cook country, with one aim- to keep the Teeswater breed alive and to help remove them from category 3 (vulnerable) of the Rare Breeds Survival watch list. When the small flock was started a number of years ago, the breed was at category 2 (endangered) on the RBS list, so the Tunstall shepherds like to think they have gone some way towards achieving their aim. Today Tunstall-homebred lambs are located as far south as South Devon and as far north as Aberdeenshire.

The Teeswater breed is descended from longwool sheep brought over to Britain during the Roman invasion. Initially, they were used to crossbreed with the highland and hill sheep to create larger, fatter sheep suitable for lamb production on gentler, more fertile land. There are records of Teeswaters being exported to Tasmania, Australia, in the early 1800s and they were also bred into Leicester Longwool flocks to improve the breed. When Teeswater ewes were crossed with the Dishley Leicester Longwool ram named Bluecap, the offspring were the origins of the Wensleydale breed. With the rise of the Wensleydale sheep, Teeswater numbers began to decline, until the 1920s when the breed was nearly extinct. The Teeswater Sheep Breeding Association and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust have worked hard to keep the breed alive, supporting farms like Tunstall Teeswaters to ensure that Britain does not lose this historic breed.

Teeswater fibre is incredibly lustrous, strong but soft and has extremely long fibres of up to 30cm. Yarn made from it has the sheen of silk and lots of drape and shows up texture well.

Tunstall Teeswater

Tunstall Teeswater

Tunstall Teeswater

Tunstall Teeswater

Teeswater

Chopped Ginger Teeswater

You’ll have to wait a couple of months to see the next instalment of Chopped Ginger Wool but here is a sneak preview of one of the handsome sheep contributing to the next batch…

Griffin, the Pedwardine Gotland

Griffin, the Pedwardine Gotland

Sariann has been really pleased with the results of the first two batches; the lustre and smoothness of both Wensleydale and Teeswater fibres have been highlighted by the processing and spinning and the resulting yarns are smooth, strong and drapey… I’m really looking forward to seeing what projects these beautiful yarns inspire. Sariann’s aim is to eventually buy the entire clip from some of her growers, thus ensuring the continuation of their flocks and an ongoing supply of these beautiful fibres.

As for what I’m going to do with mine, I think I’ll stockpile it until all four are released and then use them together… perhaps a striped shawl?!

You can find out more about the project and buy Sariann’s beautiful yarn at Chopped Ginger and at Ginger Twist in Edinburgh.

glasgow

Hello from Glasgow! We’ve only been here for two weeks but the craziness of January, what with packing up our house and lives in Melbourne and saying goodbye to so many loved ones, already seems like months ago- although I think we are still recovering! We came with work leads but no real plans or commitments and so have been able to take the time to settle in gently. We’ve been spending most of our time wandering the streets and doing a bit of sightseeing too, so the city (or parts of it) is starting to feel like home…

Looking over at Park Circus, the swanky part of town!

Looking over at Park Circus, the swanky part of town!

University of Glasgow

University of Glasgow

Wonderful windows at the University of Glasgow

Wonderful windows at the University of Glasgow

Stained glass

Stained glass

Although we’ve tried to just take it easy, we’re also very keen to start putting down roots and so have been looking at loads of tenement flats and have our fingers crossed that we’ll be accepted for one in particular- so, so lovely! Scotto is in discussions with several acupuncture clinics and I’ve already got some work teaching knitting (more on that tomorrow) and am exploring how to run workshops in natural dyeing too. I’ve also been in contact with coordinators at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens to see how I can get involved there. So there are good plans in the works! Now I’m just looking forward to making some friends here and building a community and routine for myself- after being so busy recently, it’s so strange to have so little in place!

Greenhouse and cold frames, Glasgow Botanic Gardens

Greenhouse and cold frames for starting seedlings in the cold climate, Glasgow Botanic Gardens

Tender plants under glass

Tender plants under glass

Children's gardens

Children’s gardens

The River Kelvin

The River Kelvin

This part of the Kelvin was frozen over when we arrived and much of the vegetation was beautiful shades of brown and grey but, over the past week, the ice has disappeared, birds are more active and there are bulbs and buds appearing everywhere. To me, it feels like spring is around the corner. Or perhaps not? We don’t know the weather patterns yet!

Hornbeam

Hornbeam (Carpinus spp.)

Flowering quince

Flowering quince (Chaenomeles japonica) is a winter flowerer in Melbourne but is appearing now in very early spring here

Viburnum

Viburnum spp.

Spirea

Spirea

Snowdrops!

Snowdrops (Galanthus spp)

Snow

Snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum)

Winter aconites

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

Crocuses

Crocus spp.

Chirpy Robin

Chubby, chirpy robin

Squirrel

Chunky squirrel!

I’ll be back with more very soon but, for now, we send our love to all our family and friends! xx

japan

We’ve arrived in Glasgow! More about that very soon but, for now, here are some moments captured on our 4-day stopover in Japan, where we caught up with friends just outside Osaka.

We spent a day in Nara, where sacred deer roam freely through all the temples and parks…

Temple guardian

Temple guardian

Mama and baby deer

Mama and baby deer

scottdeer

Scotto feeding the deer

Yoko and the deer

Yoko and the deer

Baby deer

Baby deer

And visited a number of temples, including Todai-ji, the largest timber structure in the world and home to a beautiful 15m buddha…

Todai-ji

Todai-ji

Daibutsu

Daibutsu (none of my photos turned out as it was so dark in there!)

Butterfly

Temple butterfly

Temple incense

Temple incense

Timberwork

Timberwork

Patterns on the steps up to Nigetsudo

Patterns on the steps up to Nigetsudo

Lantern carved with tomoe symbols

Lantern carved with tomoe symbols

Stairs at Nigetsudo

Stairs at Nigetsudo

Kaisuga Taisha

Kaisuga Taisha

Kaisuga Taisha, a glorious Shinto temple

Kaisuga Taisha, a glorious Shinto temple

And wandered the streets and temples of Kyoto…

Following the leader at the Emperor's residence

Following the leader at the Emperor’s residence

On the way to Kiyomizudera

On the way to Kiyomizudera

Maiko

Maiko

Beautiful paneling and timber

Beautiful paneling and timber

Swan

Swan

Exquisite woodwork

Exquisite woodwork

And I snuck in a bit of plant hunting too!

Winter-flowering sakura or cherry

Winter-flowering sakura or cherry

Wintersweet

Wintersweet

Willow

Beautifully pruned willow

The 800 year-old wisteria at Kaisuga Taisha

The 800 year-old wisteria at Kaisuga Taisha

Mossy tree

Mosses and ferns cohabiting this tree

The ubiquitous Japanese camellia with a chirpy little friend

The ubiquitous Japanese camellia with a chirpy little friend

All in all, a brief but very lovely visit that I’m sure we’ll repeat on the way to or from Australia!

macro

I recently tried out my macro lens for the first time.

DSC_2251Denim

lichenLichen

Lichen speciesLichen

dsc_2272
Pea

dsc_2255Horehound

dsc_2275Grassflower

dsc_2280Grasshopper

dsc_2288Leaf Margin

dsc_2308Feather

dsc_2302Gold-tinged Feather

dsc_2309Seedhead

dsc_2319Skink

So much fun getting lost in the tiny details of life but so much to learn and I definitely need a tripod. I’m thinking of doing a course covering the basics of photography as I know nothing about manual settings and basic photographic language but there are so many out there- I’d really appreciate any advice from anyone with experience and opinions about good teachers and courses…