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 avocado pips

A few years ago, after reading on Ravelry dye threads and other blogs about the dyes held in avocado pips and skins, my friend Nandi and I collected a whole lot of pips and got together for a day of dyeing. Carol Lee, one of the great American dyers, had established that the colour is best extracted slowly in an alkali environment so we’d chopped the pips up to increase the surface area as much as possible and left them to soak in a 50/50 water and ammonia solution for a few weeks. Then came the time to see the results of our patience! We heated the dye bath (leaving the dyestuff in) and yarn and waited patiently as the fibres took up the dye… but the end results were unspectacular shades of beige- after seeing and hearing all about the pinks and rusts that other people were achieving, we were more than a bit disappointed. After washing and squirrelling away the pips for months, I turned my back on avocados as a dye ; )

But, after seeing the lovely results that London-based plant dyer Rebecca Desnos achieves with both pip and skin on cellulose fibres, I recently decided to give them another try and set up a large jar on our kitchen windowsill- I half-filled it with water and enough washing soda (sodium carbonate) to take the pH to 10 and , as we finished each avocado, I chopped the pip finely and added it to the jar, ending up a few months later with a jar full of pip in a very dark rust-coloured solution. Over the period of collecting, the solution naturally began to ferment, in turn resulting in a drop in pH so I regularly tested and modified the pH to keep it up around 9-10. Other than that, I just let it do its thing.

Preparing the pips for soaking

Preparing the pips for soaking

The colour emerging on contact with oxygen

The colour emerging on contact with oxygen

A few weeks ago, it was time to try dyeing with it. I added the solution and pips to a dyepot, gradually heated it and let it sit at around 70C for an hour. I then let it cool, strained out the pips and set them aside and added yarn to the pot. Avocado pips are rich in tannins which acts as a natural mordant, however, after my last experiment dyeing with it, I really wanted to maximise the results and so used yarn mordanted in alum- two sample skeins of Shetland, one white and one grey, and two skeins of one of the yarn bases I’ve been dyeing with, a blend of alpaca, silk and cashmere. I again gradually heated the solution to 70C, held it there for around 90 minutes and then turned the heat off and let the whole lot sit overnight.

The next morning, I pulled out the yarn and was thrilled with the soft salmon colour! However, the solution was still dark in colour and the pips that I’d strained out the day before were the colour of cooked quinces- a rich red. So I added them back to the dye bath and put the pot back on the stove to resimmer and then dyed a whole lot more yarn. In the end, about 25 pips dyed over a kilo of yarn!

Silk/ mohair, alpaca/ silk/ cashmere and Shetland, all dyed with avocado pips

Silk/ mohair, alpaca/ silk/ cashmere, alpaca/ linen/ silk and Shetland, all dyed with avocado pips

Silk/ mohair, alpaca/ silk/ cashmere and Shetland, all dyed with avocado pips

Silk/ mohair, alpaca/ linen/ silk, alpaca/ silk/ cashmere and Shetland, all dyed with avocado pips

shetland

Silk/ mohair, alpaca/ linen/ silk, alpaca/ silk/ cashmere and Shetland, all dyed with avocado pips

I modified some of the skeins with iron, which transformed the salmon-peach to soft, warm greys and complex purple-greys.

Greys from avocado and iron

Greys from avocado and iron

And, as avocados are rich in anthocyanins which are very sensitive to changes in pH, next time I’ll also try adding them to an alkali bath after dyeing to try to achieve the dark reds and purples that Carol Lee mentions. I suspect the the difference in pH (and minerals) between the water of Glasgow and that of Melbourne may be responsible for the more interesting colours achieved this second time… or perhaps it is the soils that the avocados we buy here were grown in that did it. Either way, needless to say, there is a new collection building in the jar and I’m really looking forward to using this wonderful dye again.

If you’re interested in learning more about dyeing with natural materials, I’d really recommend Rebecca Desnos’ e-book as a good basic introduction to plant dyes, especially if you’re interested in working with avocado dyes and cellulose (plant-based) fibre, and I have two upcoming classes at Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens on Sunday August 14 and October 9. And I’ll be adding these skeins to the shop as part of an update in the next couple of weeks so, in case you can’t be bothered collecting pips and dyeing your own, keep an eye out on here, Instagram or sign up for the newsletter for notifications!

oban, argyll and benmore

Scotto had a birthday recently and both our mums, knowing how much we both treasure presents that are experiences, rather than things, and remembering what it’s like to be away from family, gave him some money towards something that we’d love and remember in years to come- a fantastic daylong boat trip to Lunga and Staffa to see the thousands of puffins and other seabirds nesting on the tiny islands, as well as seal pups, amazing landscapes and the famous Fingal’s Cave!

We hired a car for a couple of nights and headed up to Oban, pitching our tent in the beautiful Sutherland’s Grove, a small forestry park with a towering stand of Douglas firs, some up to 45m and planted in 1870. We snuck in a quick walk in the twilight, soaking in the damp beauty of the place, before the rain set in. It continued all night and, although snug and dry in our tent, we woke up with a nagging suspicion that things might not be looking so bright for our day on the boat! Alas, the notoriously wet west coast weather had set in for a good few days and the tour was cancelled… SO sad. Still, there is a reason why Scotland is so beautiful and mossy and green and it requires giving up the expectation of reliable good weather and we’re getting used to that! So the puffin plans are on hold until next spring ; )

As we’ve already spent a bit of time in Oban, we decided to head down into Argyll Forest to have a wander through its stunning oak forests and rivers and to see if we could get to Benmore Botanic Gardens, a place I’d heard about and had been keen to visit… Benmore is a part of the RBGEdinburgh, a place envisioned for species of plants better suited to this wet coastline than Edinburgh; it houses many species of conifers and broadleaf trees from western USA, Asia and Europe and extensive collections from Japan, Bhutan, Chile and even Tasmania. A major drawcard to the gardens is the amazing avenue of Giant Redwoods which were planted here in 1863 and stand at over 50m…

Avenue of Sequoiadendron giganteum (Giant Redwood), Benmore Botanic Gardens, Argyll

Avenue of Sequoiadendron giganteum (Giant Redwood), Benmore Botanic Gardens, Argyll

Avenue of Sequoiadendron giganteum (Giant Redwood), Benmore Botanic Gardens, Argyll

Avenue of Sequoiadendron giganteum (Giant Redwood), Benmore Botanic Gardens, Argyll

And there are many other younger redwoods planted across the gardens, ensuring an ongoing population here- not that there is any expectation of the older specimens dyeing anytime soon as they can live up to 3000 years!

Walking among baby giants...

Walking among baby giants…

Stand of immense conifers, Benmore

Beautiful conifer root system, Benmore

I always enjoy seeing species that I’m familiar with a very different habit to normal; this English Oak is growing amongst quite tall firs and spruces, which has encouraged the development of a tall, straight trunk with very little branching. And, interestingly, the bark on the lower branches is white and thin, almost like a birch and very unlike the grey, fissured bark usually seen on this species…

Quercus robur (English or White Oak)

Quercus robur (English Oak)

Acer palmatum

Acer palmatum

Benmore is particularly known for its rhododendron collection, not a genus I’ve been particularly interested in in the past… I’ve always found the highly hybridised cultivars that we see in Australian and UK gardens pretty gaudy and also very blobby in the landscape but here there were some beautifully slender silhouettes and really interesting foliage. I think I need to add it to next spring’s calendar as I suspect that the flowers on some of these may be much more subtle and beautiful than the ones I’ve seen before!

Rhododendron pachysanthum (Thick-flowered Rhododendron)

Rhododendron pachysanthum (Thick-flowered Rhododendron)

Layered rhododendron roots

Lovely layered rhododendron roots

It was a real treat for us to discover the Tasmanian collection and to wander through the eucalypts, cedars,  and southern beeches and to smell the lovely heavy fragrance of Eucryphia lucida, which is used to make our distinctive leatherwood honey… I miss the flora of Australia!

Eucryphia lucida (Leatherwood)

Eucryphia lucida (Leatherwood)

Eucalyptus pauciflora (Snow Gum)

Eucalyptus pauciflora (Snow Gum)

Dianella tasmanica (Tasmanian Flax-lily)

Dianella tasmanica (Tasmanian Flax-lily)

And the fernery… the subject of an 18-month project involving the renovation of the Victorian building that had fallen into terrible condition, the fernery is beautiful in and of itself but also forms a great method of display for its collection- I was really excited to see ferns growing all the way up the stone walls on protruding stones and plinths. The collection is still in its development stage and I think it will be an amazing and innovative display in years to come.

The fernery and Tasmanian Ridge

The fernery and Tasmanian Ridge

Ferns on stones

Ferns on stones

Unfurling

Unfurling

I love these millipede-like fern fronds!

I love these millipede-like fern fronds!

Such complexity in these structures...

Such complexity in these structures…

Soft new growth

Soft new growth

Beautiful mauve, fuzzy new growth

Beautiful mauve, fuzzy new growth

Doodia aspera

Doodia aspera (Prickly Rasp Fern)

The gardens are open from March 1 to October 31 and I’d really recommend including them in a trip to the west coast. If you’re interested in visiting and are also into walking, CowalFest, a local festival of walking and the outdoors in the first two weeks of October, is offering a number of walks combining the gardens with the surrounding landscapes. We’re definitely hopping to get there so perhaps I’ll see you there!

woollenflower yarn at ginger twist!

As some of you may know, I’m really interested in dyeing with plants, especially the ones I find growing around my neighbourhood… Of course, the species at hand changed hugely when we moved to Scotland last year and I’ve had a wonderful time trying plants I’d read about for years in my dye books! I’ve been experimenting for quite a few years but recently I thought that, seeing as I always had a dye pot on the go and mostly just dye small quantities to use in colourwork, blankets and that kind of thing, I could perhaps add a few extra skeins in and offer them up for sale at this year’s Edinburgh Yarn Festival. As at all big events, there was a LOT of yarn on offer (heaven help us knitters!) but I was thrilled that there was some interest in my yarns.

Plant-dyed yarns

Plant-dyed yarns

So I’ve been beavering away dyeing more since then but have stalled on the process of getting them up into my shop… I think it’s mostly that I’m a bit nervous about getting the colours right in my photos and I don’t want to disappoint people! So, when Jess of Ginger Twist Studios asked me to be her featured Yarn of the Month for July, I jumped at the chance- it’s a perfect way for local knitters and tourists to have a look and feel without the issue of colours. My yarns will have a dedicated wee corner in her shop for the whole month and I’ll also take over a couple of sample shawls to show the different qualities of the various base yarns…

Starman in fingering-weight alpaca/ silk/ cashmere dyed with sumac leaves

Starman in fingering-weight alpaca/ silk/ cashmere dyed with sumac leaves

Starman in fingering-weight alpaca/ silk/ cashmere dyed with sumac leaves

Starman in fingering-weight alpaca/ silk/ cashmere dyed with sumac leaves

I’ve been working with three bases; all are fine-gauge (a fingering alpaca/ silk/ cashmere, a light-fingering alpaca/ linen/ silk and a laceweight kid mohair/ silk) and the interesting combinations of fibre pick up the plant dyes in a lovely, soft way. Because of the work that goes into this type of dyeing, I also wanted the end yarn to be special, the kind of yarn you treasure for those one-or-two skein projects. I guess my choices also reflect the fact that I also love both working with lightweight yarns and combining two strands together to make an interesting texture!

Plant-dyed yarns

Plant-dyed yarns

So, if you are in Edinburgh or nearby, I’ll be installing the display early afternoon this Friday (feel free to come by and say hello!) and they’ll remain there until the end of the month… and, if you’re not local but would like to get hold of some, do keep an eye out for shop updates either here or Instagram or, alternatively, you can sign up for the monthly newsletter. Thanks so much to Jess for giving me space in her lovely shop xx

shop update

It’s been a bit quiet around here of late as we’ve had both our mothers in Europe! I spent a couple of weeks travelling with my mum, both in Spain where I joined her to walk a small part of the Camino (she walked a good third of it- amazing and inspiring at 77!) and then in London… it was so lovely to see her and six days of walking was a perfect way to both catch up with what we’ve both been up to and on news from home but also to get to know each other in different ways- I’d really recommend it! (in case you’re interested, I only took my phone camera with me but you can see a handful of pictures on my Instagram feed)

And then Scotto’s mum came to spend a week with us- we had a lovely time showing her our new neighbourhood and then spending a few days on the west coast of Scotland- we based ourselves in Oban and explored the surrounding coastline, including a trip out to Mull and on to Iona… It was just an introduction to this stunning region and we are planning a trip back in a couple of weeks to visit Staffa and Lunga to see the thousands of nesting seabirds, including PUFFINS! (I’ll definitely post photos from that trip!)

Yesterday’s shock announcement that the UK will exit from the EU has left many people here reeling and I must say that I feel very sad about the decision and unsure about the shape and colour of the future for the UK, Europe and the world in general… It’s already an uncertain time for many and that is surely only going to increase now. In light of that and having been away from work, I’ve found myself feeling a bit disconnected from what I’ve been working towards- so it is definitely time to get back to it! There is so much to catch up on and I’m working on quite a few little projects which I’ll be revealing over the next few days but, for now, I just wanted to mention that I’ve added some pouches to the shop… they’ll be available tomorrow, Sunday 26 at 12pm Glasgow time, but you can have a sneak peek now if you’d like!

This is a soft little group of colours and, as usual, a mix of Harris Tweed and other fabrics and a variety of sources….

Pouches

Pouches

 

purple4

Lovely vintage lilac and pink twill from my friend Anna

A subtle dark tan and oatmeal wool

A subtle dark tan and oatmeal wool

This is the last of this lovely vintage wool tweed

This is the last of this lovely vintage wool tweed

Beautiful fabric from Ted Baker trousers found by my friend Jeni

Beautiful fabric reminiscent of night cityscapes, originally Ted Baker trousers found by my friend Jeni

Wishing you a peaceful weekend and, wherever you are, community and a sense of purpose xx