I thought that I’d talk a bit about how I work and the steps involved in BIY from field to skein – so that if you ever pick up a skein you know just what has gone into it.

Fearniewell Croft

The first stage is to make contact and build a relationship with a farm or smallholding that has a sheep breed I am interested in, and whose land managament and animal welfare meets a high standard.  I’m now working with around 12 local farms and have found them in a variety of ways.  My very first contact (in late 2015 in advance of summer 2016’s clip) was Fearniewell Croft, a local smallholding which operates mostly as an organic veg grower – and since I buy my delicious veg box from Dan and Rachel it made sense to contact them and ask if they would be interested in me buying fleeces from their small Gotland(ish) flock.  The next fleeces came from Jim and Linda’s Hedgefield Zwartbles – Jim had done some work with my husband, and Jim and I then realised we had been forestry colleagues in Aberdeenshire in the 1990s.  Since then contacts have been made through active searching (such as finding Meadows Flock for my first Shetland fleeces) and word of mouth, with farmers contacting me to see if I’d be interested in buying their wool.  Perhaps my favourite find is Coulmore – my friend Emily bumped into this special organic cheviot flock when she was out on a bike ride!

Over the next few weeks I’ll be contacting each of the farms to get a feel for when they’re likely to be clipping and I’ll then maintain contact until shearing actually happens – in an ideal world I’d visit on shearing day but this often turns out to be quite tricky.  Clipping dates are often decided at the last moment, worked around weather and other farm and work duties, and as I have to work around my family and access to our car it often isn’t possible to visit until afterwards.

When I visit each farm I’ll have in mind the numbers and colours (if theyr’e Shetland) of fleeces I’m aiming to select.  But if there’s lots of great quality that number tends to slip upwards, and likewise I won’t buy fleeces which aren’t good enough quality.  I tend to do a bit of skirting at that stage – I can’t help pulling off daggy and coarse bits as I’m handling a fleece (ingrained, I think, from rolling fleeces as a child!) – but each fleece will be properly skirted back at home.  Ideally I’ll do it the same day but often I don’t manage and then I’ll have a mammoth sorting session and clean-up several lots at once.  Once they’re skirted I’ll weigh the fleeces so that I have a running total of each breed and colour.  I really ought to build myself a sorting table, at the moment I crawl around on the ground in our back garden, or occasionally at the front – which I suspect must bemuse (and amuse) some of my neighbours!  Discarded fleece goes around my soft fruit as a mulch and fertiliser, and any excess goes off to a local orchard for a similar end use.

Fearniewell Croft

Having selected, bought and sorted each batch of fleeces they’ll head off to the mill.  Fleeces that go to The Border Mill will have a pre-booked slot (I have several booked per year) and I’ll take a car-load of fleece when I go to visit family in East Lothian, which is just a short drive from Duns where TBM is based. To date the other mill I have used is The Natural Fibre Company in Cornwall so it is more efficient environmentally for fleeces to be sent to them by courier service.  I work closely with the mills to work out a spin plan for each batch – I’ll have my own thoughts but it is always good to make the most of their expertise and advice.

The spun yarn comes back to me on cones and the first step is to skein the yarn – I place the cone on electronic scales while I hand wind onto my skein winder.  I’m much faster now than I was initially but it is still time consuming!  At this stage an undyed skein just needs the appropriate label filling in from my online template, then printing off, cutting to size and attaching round the twisted skein.  I always include the sheep breed, farm(s) the fleece came from, and clipping year – as well as m/100g – on the label.

35g mini skeins (73 in total!) ready for dyeing before Edinburgh Yarn Festival
A special one-off yarn from Coulmore, still on the cone which will be in the next shop update

After winding, a dyed skein goes through several stages.  The first step is to thoroughly scour the skeins to clean them.  I’ll scour several at a time by bringing them up to 70-80 degrees for an hour or so in tap water with a little pH netural dishwashing soap.  If they’re to be dyed with indigo or a dye material which is ‘substantive’ (i.e. a dye that is applied directly without a mordant) they’re now ready to be dyed after being rinsed.  As an example I don’t mordant if I’m dyeing with gallnut.  Often though the next step is to mordant the skeins (with a naturally occuring salt – ‘alum’ or potassium aluminium sulphate dodecahydrate) which helps fix the dye to the fibre and increases light, water and wash fastness.

Bramble leaves, gallnuts and alder cones

I like to collect as much dye material locally as I can and this includes bramble leaves, heather tops, fallen tree lichen, alder cones and beech mast (and this year I want to try hawthorn twigs and leaves amongst others).  Unfortunately though I’d struggle to get a good range of colour without the addition of bought dye material which I buy from respected traceable sources. The exact dye process varies dependent on the dye material but usually involves heat and then soaking for at least several hours.  Often I’ll overdye to create more complex shades or add more than one dye material at a time – and if I’m experimanting I’ll keep adding until I’m happy (or otherwise!) with the shade I have achieved. 

The final step, after several rinses and air drying, is to twist and label each skein………although for a 4 ply yarn I will reskein each of the skeins, once they are dry, before twisting and labelling.  This is my least favourite step as it is time consuming and fiddly, but I find that 4ply can get quite tangled during dyeing and I’d much rather it got to you without any tangles.

A {not quite} rainbow of mini skeins

For yarn that I list online there’s a a final few steps – photographing, editing (to ensure the colour is accurate) and listing each shade and yarn into the shop database.

And there you have it!  I hope that was an interesting insight into what I get up to and what makes each skein of BIY.  If you have any questions please do ask.

I’m delighted to introduce a new book by C&T Publishing. The editors of Love Patchwork and Quilting have pulled 27 flying geese (flying goose?!) projects together into this one stop shop for inspiring projects – I was incredibly surprised, and also very happy, to learn that one of my quilt designs is included!

All Around Arrows uses simple quilt blocks, including flying geese, to create a series of arrow shapes which chase each other around the quilt.  This one belongs to Angus (all my children have at least one of my published quilts) and is happily in use on his bed.

All fabrics are by Robert Kaufman Fabris – the front uses Blueberry Park by Karen Lewis and the back is Pacific Widescreen by Carolyn Friedlander.

The book is a great source of insipiration and ideas and if you’d like to explore flying geese I’d definitely recommend it.  Page 37 shows two step by step technoques for making the perfect flying geese (by Jeni Baker) – and I think, as long as you’re adventurous, beginners would be able to tackle any of the projects within the book by referring to the technique focus.  As with all Love Patchwork and Quilting work the quilts are laid out clearly, well photographed and have easy to follow step by step instructions.

My personal favourite projects from the book are Rainbow Brights by Elizabeth Dackson and Folksy Flock by Jemima Flendt.

Have a look at the rest of the book tour to find out more about the other projects included:

Tuesday 3/26: C&T Publishing at ctpub.com/blog
Wednesday 3/27: Karen Lewis at karenlewistextiles.blogspot.com
Thursday 3/28: Nicole Calver at snipssnippets.ca
Friday 3/29: Amanda Castor at materialgirlquilts.com
Sunday 3/31: Jenn Nevitt at mommysew.com
Monday 4/1: Moira de Carvalho at quiltdesignduo.com
Tuesday 4/2: Peta Peace at shequiltsalot.com
Wednesday 4/3: Julie Rutter at blackisleyarns.co.uk
Thursday 4/4: Jeni Baker at incolororder.com
Friday 4/5: Minki Kim at minkikim.com

I was introduced to Hannah Longmuir’s beautiful designs at Perth Festival of Yarn when lovely Kuku of Kukufrakak showed me a card she’d bought in Edinburgh…….. it was the foxglove illustration shown here (one of my favourite plants and hers too – kukufrakak is basque for foxglove). I remember being so eager to find out more about Hannah’s work eagerly scrolling through her website when I got home.

Hannah describes herself as ‘a countryside artist based in the Scottish Borders…… Her work captures a moment in time and conveys the sense of stillness and peace she feels when she is in the countryside’. She certainly captures a countryside that I recognise and feel at home in.

Weeds – photo by Hannah Longmuir

All Hannah’s cards are printed on FSC approved cardstock (here in Scotland) and she is moving to biodegradable cellophane sleeves.

Under This Old-Tree – photo by Hannah Longmuir

For this first time, I have chosen a few of my favourite card designs – it was hard to pick (you may not be surprised to see that there’s quite a few tree designs included)!  All the cards are blank inside and the only design which has a specific purpose is the ‘Bees – Thank You” cards (I always find it handy to have a thank you card or two to hand).

Ancient Woodland – photo by Hannah Longmuir

It must be almost a year since I first came across Bec’s wonderful soap and skincare. I can honestly say that I love using her products – as a very headache and migraine prone person I find many scented products difficult to use, but I have been absolutely fine with these essential oil fragrances.  The soaps feel like such a treat to use, the salves work beautifully and the bath salts are incredibly relaxing.

In Bec’s words she creates ‘100% natural soap and skincare, Inspired by nature, Handcrafted in Scotland’.  One of the things I love is that some of Bec’s work overlaps with mine – for instance the orange colouring in the ‘Sweet Orange with Cedarwood & Clary Sage Soap’ comes from annatto seeds – which I also use in natural dyeing to create a similar orange shade!

Sweet Orange with Cedarwood & Clary Sage Soap – photo by Nurturing Soul

All Nurturing Soul skin care products are 100% natural and free from sls, synthetic fragrances, parabens and never tested on animals. All the soaps are cold processed, free from palm oil, vegan and made with the finest plant based botanicals.

Soothed by Nature Body Balm – photo by Nurturing Soul

I have selected some of my favourite products and included a couple of very gentle soaps which, as well as the lip balm and body balm, should be suited to even very sensitive skin.

Wild Flower Himalayan Bath Salts – photo by Nurturing Soul

I had a custom order before Christmas for a yarn set to knit the Indigo Sea Shawl by Carrie Bostick Hoge – it is a lovely shawl which uses 50g each of three shades of 4ply.  I dyed the set in heathery shades on Bluefaced Leicester Suri Alpaca 4 ply, over the Natural Silver shade (naturally dyed with logwood, lac and iron). While I was dyeing the order I created another 3 x 50g set (165m/50g x 3 =  495m/150m) and several 5 x 50g sets (165m/50g x 5 = 825m/250g) which fully exhausted the dye bath.

The three shade set would make a lovely Indigo Sea Shawl as per the original custom order, and there will be many other options I’m sure.  For the five shade sets I had a quick search on Ravelry and found some really stunning designs that I think would work well (this is just a tiny snippet, have a look here for more ideas) ……..

Designs, clockwise from top left – Winterlight by Meg Gadsbey, Miso by Ambah O’Brien, Indigo Sea Shawl by Carrie Bostick Hoge, Honey Honey Honey by Lisa Hannan, ADVENTurer Scarf & Wrap by Ambah O’Brien, Bark Lines by Joji Locatelli and Colourblind by Jana Huck (all design photos by designer)

Of course, it would also be possible to combine one of these sets with a full 100g skein or two of BFL Suri in Natural Cream or Silver for a beautiful light-weight drapey colourwork or striped cardigan or jumper.

Once again I am delighted to be joining in with Project Peace, Christina Campbell’s (aka The Healthy Knitter) annual worldwide Knit Along to promote peaceful mindful knitting during the hectic holiday season.  Christina already has almost 1000 people joining in so far this year – from all around the world…..ready to knit the beautiful Project Peace cowl and ‘spread seeds of peace’ by knitting together.  One or two skeins will knit either version of the cowl.  I will donate 10% of all BFL Suri Blend, sold in December, to Unicef and I will pop a peaceful little ‘something extra’ into each package too.  In addition, Christina will donate all pattern proceeds to charity.

The best place to find out more about this wonderful initiative is to visit Christina’s website. But, in summary, this is a way to join knitters around the world and to ‘promote peace for self, family, community, the people of our world and this beautiful planet’. Christina posts a blog daily with little ‘seeds’ helping us to think and reflect – last year I found them lovely calm little points in each day, just perfect to quietly absorb for a few moments during this very busy time of year.

 

I will add a special new dye shade ‘Sea Breeze’ , just for Project Peace, in BFL Suri to the shop over the weekend of 1/2 December – hopefully Saturday 1st December in the evening.  It will be a tonal indigo blue, similar to the shade I am knitting my version in……but completely unique just for Project Peace! In the meantime there are lots of lovely dyed and undyed (natural cream and silver) skeins in the shop at the moment.

*As of 29 November, I haven’t yet finished my version of the cowl (which Christina kindly released early for me to begin testing yarn suitability) so I can’t be certain I’ll complete the whole cowl with one skein – it may be a little close, but the pattern is very forgiving and easy to adapt – the final repeat can easily be missed out if yarn looks to be running low.  Or you could choose two skeins to knit the larger version of the cowl.  All the pattern details are available when you buy the pattern and the full knitting instructions are released on 1 December.

 

 

Rockpool – dyed with indigo and bramble leaves

I realise that I haven’t talked all that much about natural dyeing – I think that, as it is something I do on a regular basis (rather than new patterns and yarns which are more of an ‘event’), I don’t tend to share what I have been up to.  I thought I’d share part of an interview that I did for Clare Devine’s blog (thank you Clare!)…………..

Seaweed – dyed with indigo and bramble leaves

”Clare: Your yarns are naturally dyed. Could you tell me a little more about why you decided to use natural dyes and what inspires your colour choices.

Me: It was actually natural dyes which drew me into setting up Black Isle Yarns. I began with natural dyeing for my own use – collecting plant material while out on walks and experimenting with colour for fun. I very quickly began to feel that I wanted to know where the yarn I was dyeing came from and, having grown up on a smallholding and having a lifelong love of farming and land management, I knew there would be a lot of wool locally which was fetching little to no money for the farmer. I sounded out a couple of local flock owners who I already knew and began searching for a mill to use. I was incredibly lucky to start with The Border Mill, they are great to work with and always prepared to try new ideas.

Ginger dyed with annato, quebracho red, rhubarb, cutch and sorghum

I was originally drawn to dyeing with natural materials because of my love of plants and the outdoors – there is something incredibly satisfying in creating colour with material gathered while out walking. Perhaps because of my background, I tend to have a map in my head of the plants in my local area and when they are likely to be coming into leaf or flower. I love spotting something new on a familiar walking route and storing it’s location away for future reference. I think these same walks inspire my colour choices. I’m incredibly lucky to live in a very beautiful part of the world. The Black Isle is a unique part of the Scottish Highlands, a little peninsula surrounded by sea. From home I can walk down to the beach and along the shore to caves and cliffs, or inland through fields and up into the hills and woods that make up the top of the Black Isle. Colours here are often slightly muted with beautiful shades and tones, and I think these are definitely reflected in the colours I dye. Over time, and as I build expertise (natural dyeing is such an artform, I will always be learning), I would like to work towards a set of deeper more saturated shades which would reflect the more bold colours we have when it is cold and clear after a good fall of snow.

Culloden dyed with lac and hibiscus

Curiosity dyed with sorghum and Pearl dyed with gallnut

I’m so very pleased to share with you the Munlochy Socks, designed for Killen Sock (you can read more about Killen Sock, my all-natural sock yarn, here) by the very talented Clare Devine. When I first started planning Killen Sock , over 18 months ago now, I knew that I’d ideally like a pattern designed by Clare. She is a very experienced sock designer with a beautiful, subtle aesthetic which I love – and she champions the use of no-nylon, all-natural sock yarn.  There’s some great information, about knitting with and wearing no-nylon sock yarn, on her website: here and here. I was quite nervous about asking Clare and so delighted when she said yes!

Clare has designed ‘cosy socks which are perfect winter warmers – they are warm and will wear beautifully. The simple cable wave undulates over the garter stitch panels creating a gorgeous texture.’

If you design a pair of Munlochy Socks in Killen I’d love to see the finished socks – and would be very grateful for any feedback on my new yarn.

I’m incredibly pleased to be able to tell you about Killen my brand new all-natural sock yarn.  Killen is designed as a strong but soft yarn suitable for knitting socks, with Mohair used alongside Bluefaced Leicester for strength.  This yarn is a soft, strong 4 ply (fingering weight) which takes dye beautifully.

Killen Sock: Bluefaced Leicester and Mohair Blend (80:20%) 320/100g 4 ply/fingering weight.  Spun in Scotland by The Border Mill

I first began thinking of making an all-natural sock yarn around 18 months ago and had a small test batch of Killen spun with summer 2017’s fleeces. The Bluefaced Leicester came from a small show flock called Eilean Dubh (gaelic for Black Isle) owned by a school friend of my eldest. Unfortunately later that summer the Eilean Dubh flock had to be disbanded as the Laughton family were struggling to secure rental grazing. For 2018’s larger batch I worked with two new-to-me local flocks, Wester Raddery and Craigallan – I aim to build a long-term relationship with both farms and to continue selecting and buying high quality fleece from their beautiful flocks. Killen is a small rural hamlet in the centre of the Black Isle and lies more-or-less centrally between these three flocks, hence the name of the yarn.

Sourcing Mohair hasn’t been straightforward. I started, in 2017, with fleece from a flock local to The Border Mill (who spins Killen so skilfully) but unfortunately the fleeces had skin flakes and couldn’t be processed. Luckily TBM had some British Mohair leftover from a previous project and that was used in the test batch. I worked hard to track down traceable Mohair for summer 2018 and was delighted to find a flock in the Lake District from which I bought the fleeces needed for the second batch………..but unfortunately it transpired that these fleeces were contaminated with a resin which couldn’t be washed off! Having searched pretty thoroughly earlier in the year I knew I was very unlikely to find any other British Mohair fleece so I decided to use South African Mohair in order to be sure of the quality of the yarn.

I was absolutely delighted when Clare Devine (Knit Share Love) agreed to design a pair of socks in Killen for me.  Clare is a very talented sock designer and is quite a champion of all natural socks.  There’s some great information on her website: here and here. Clare’s Munlochy Socks are absolutely stunning – you can read more about them here.  Thank you Clare!

My lovely local friend Emily has designed the prettiest pair of cosy winter mittens in Black Isle Yarns Shetland DK.  The Resolis Mittens use three mini skeins, one each of Natural Cream, Natural Grey Heather and Naturally Dyed Culloden.

Resolis Mittens are just what you need for a winter walk by the beach. Using just three mini-skeins of Shetland DK and a simple 4 stitch colour work motif, these striking mittens are quick to knit and will keep your fingers toasty warm whatever the weather.

They’re a great introduction to stranded colourwork……..I think I must knit my own pair so that I’m not tempted to get the sample pair mucky!  Thank you Emily, once again, for designing something so beautiful for my yarns.