I thought I’d write a quick sum-up from Edinburgh Yarn Festival.  I was incredibly lucky this year to attend as a vistor and vendor too.  I drove down to Edinburgh on the Friday and spent a lovely day in the Corn Exchange on Saturday.  The market place really was incredible – so many very high quality vendors.  Apart from feeling rather overwhelmed and not knowing where to start, I had decided in advance not to buy any yarn.  I really struggle to find the time to knit samples and so on in Black Isle Yarns and I knew that if I bought any yarn (however much I’d love the yarn itself and enjoy supporting another business) I’d end up feeling torn about when to use it.  I did however enjoy buying some beautiful buttons from Lydnsay at the Border Tart, lovely knitting themed cards from Julie at Tillyflop and some new chiaogoo bamboo needles from Purlescence.

 

I struggle a bit with crowds, and while the market place wasn’t heaving it was busy, and I kicked myself once I got home for not having visited some of the stalls I really wanted to see…….next time! An addition this year was a huge marquee at the back of the venue which could seat 500.  This was a wonderful place to relax and chat and catch your breath in between forays into the market place.  I loved this extra space.

Meet the Shepherdess 2018

On Sunday I had a Black Isle Yarns stand at the Meet the Shepherd/ess event, also held in the Corn Exchange.  I had been really looking forward to it but was completely blown away by the response to my yarns.  I had so much fun but, my goodness, it was tiring.  Luckily Emily had offered to help out – without her I think the stand would have been utter chaos.  We were kept completely busy for the first 3 1/2 hours (of 4 in total) – we’d imagined there would be time to potter off and look at the other vendors (whose yarn I would have loved to have seen!)……but that simply wasn’t possible.

shetland and gotland Black Isle Yarns

Thank you so much to everyone who came past, chatted and supported Black Isle Yarns.  I really do appreciate your interest and enthusiasim, it means a lot to feel that perhaps my plans are not so daft after all!  I completely forgot to take any photos at all.  Huge thanks to Elin and Kate for sharing theirs with me.  And thank you so much to Jo and Mica, the EYF organisers, for putting on such an amazing show – and for allowing me to be part of it!

I’m really pleased to be able to share the latest Black Isle Yarns design.  The Erradale Shawl is a beautiful design by my friend Emily Williams – which is rather appropriate since she found the flock who grew the wool for the lovely Coulmore yarn (see this post for more information)!

erradale shawl undyed coulmore 4 ply

To quote from the pattern:

”Brioche lace suggests the foamy sand patterns left behind when the tide goes out, as rhythmic and soothing as the receding waves. Erradale is a deceptively simple knit, equally eye-catching in one or two colours.

Black Isle Yarn’s first-clip Coulmore 4-ply is a natural part of the Inverness landscape, from sheep that live just round the corner from me. It’s the perfect choice for a warm shawl with body and bounce, and shows the brioche off beautifully.”

Erradale Shawl by Flutterbyknits in Black Isle Yarns Coulmore 4ply

Erradale uses two skeins of Coulmore 4ply and can be knit with two undyed skeins, as per Emily’s original, or one skein each of two different shades.  I think either version is stunning.  The shawl is a simple brioche design starting from the narrow tip and increasing to the brioche lace at the end.  It is a good introductory brioche pattern – if, like me, you’re new to brioche then Emily highly recommends Nancy Marchant’s turtorials.

erradale shawl by Emily Williams in natural coulmore black isle yarns

I’m really looking forward to seeing lots of Erradale Shawls out in the wild in the future!  I’ll have a shop update on Saturday 31st March focusing on Coulmore 4 ply, with individual skeins of undyed yarn and kits with two naturally dyed shades, one of each of the two used in the dyed version (beautifully sample knit for me by Clare Shaw.  Clare is another lovely knitting friend and a superb, and very fast, knitter!).  The photo below shows a close-up of the two shades, the top is dyed with indigo over heather flowers and the bottom is indigo alone.  I love the effect of the two together – I think of them as peacock colours but I have heard someone else suggest stormy seas.

cof

I first heard of Coulmore about a year ago when I had an excited phone call from my friend Emily – she was just back from a bike ride, with a group of cycling friends from her son’s school.  While cycling along the shore near North Kessock they’d had to stop for a flock of Cheviots being moved along the road.  Emily started chatting to Maddie, the shepherdess, and discovered the sheep were part of an organic flock on a family run farm with land here on the Black Isle and also on the west coast near Ullapool.  Their land supports Maddie and her husband Neil, plus their daughters and families – Iona at Rhidorroch on the west and Bella at Coulmore here on the east.  They have been organic for many years (wth their barley going into Bruichladdich’s ‘The Organic’ whisky!) and the fleece from their Cheviots fetches even less from the Wool Board than normal, not organic, Cheviot.  Even allowing that the family do the clipping themselves, mostly Maddie in fact, they get very little return for their flock’s fleece.

Coulmore Organic Cheviots

All of this was established before Emily shot off to catch up with her bike ride!  I subsequently contacted Maddie and had a fantastic visit, meeting her and Bella, last spring.  They were keen for me to try having some of their fleece spun, not just because I would pay them a good rate for the wool, but because they really want to see all products from their land being well-used and, if possible, with added value.  I bought some of their hogg clip last summer – a ‘hogg’ being a ewe lamb which is being kept on the farm to be bred from the following year.  I wanted to keep the organic status of the wool and consequently had it spun at The Natural Fibre Company in Cornwall.

Coulmore Cheviot Ewes and Lambs

The wool was beautifully worsted spun by The Natural Fibre Company at two weights – DK (220m/100g) and 4ply (350m/100g).  I am incredibly happy with how this yarn has turned out, it definitely proves wrong the popular belief that Cheviot wool is only good for carpets.  It is a lovely strong wool but with a soft smooth handle and very good stitch definittion – ideal for lace designs and cables, and suited to anything from shawls to jumpers.

Coulmore Organic Cheviot First Clip 4ply sm

Coulmore Cheviot 4ply Organic First Clip sm

I am delighted to say that there is a full review coming, later in March, from Louise Scollay of Knit British, the wonderful champion of British wool – but some of the feedback I have had so far (from Louise herself, one of her testers Gem Davis {Gem has given me permission to use her swatch photo below} and Sarah Berry {who has designed the Comely Bank jumper in Coulmore DK, also see below} includes:

‘is really quite buttery and the stitch definition is lovely’
‘it was absolutely gorgeous, a yarn to be proud of and I think everyone will love it’
‘really enjoying knitting with your beautiful springy wool, it shows the stitch patterns off to perfection’

coulmore swatch by Gem Davis sm

There will be two designs to support Coulmore.  Emily Williams (very fittingly since she enabled the yarn in the first place!) has designed a striking shawl, with two skeins of the 4ply weight. The shawl can be knit as one colour or two.  Emily’s shawl will be released later this week and I’ll have patterns, and yarn of course, available at EYF.  The photo below shows a sneak peek of the two colour version which Clare Shaw beautifully knit up for me.  I have dyed up several more sets of yarn in these two shades – indigo and indigo over heather – for kits at EYF.

cof

Sarah Berry has designed a cropped jumper with fitted ribbed sleeves and a top-down circular yoke in the DK weight.  I can vouch for how pretty, comfortable and flattering it is to wear………..I’d be wearing it just now if I didn’t feel I ought to keep it pristine for at least a little longer!  Sarah has only recently finished her design and will have it test knit before releasing the pattern in the next few weeks (I’ll be sure to let you know once it is ready) but has kindly allowed me to share this selfie with you and an image of her original design notes and test swatch.

Comely Bank Selfie sm

comely bank swatch and design concept sm

 

I put a lot of thought into the packaging I use for Black Isle Yarns.  It is important to me that I use sustainable packaging while also protecting precious yarn when it heads off to a new home.

Black Isle Yarns sustainable packaging

Late last autumn, just a few days before Loch Ness Knit Fest, I decided (as one does) that I really needed leaflets before the show – so that I had something pretty to hand out rather than business cards.  I was determined to use recyled paper for these and after a little research settled on using Face Media Group and their 350gsm 100% recycled pulp board.  This is a beautiful quality, fully recycled, matt thick paper.  When I got in touch for a quote I was within a couple of hours of their cut-off for having a proof signed off in time to be printed and posted before the show.  My contact was very helpful and I took to BeFunky (my usual photo editor and collage maker) to quickly put together a front and back design – considering the amount of time I had (and the % of that time which was spent checking for errors over and again, as I had no one else around to take a second look at it for me) I am very happy with the end result.  Face Media kept to their end of the bargain and my pretty cards arrived just in time for LKNF (which I am very much looking forward to attending again in 2018 – this year is 19 to 21 October).

Black Isle Yarns Packaging

When I first started sending out parcels of Black Isle Yarns yarn, just over a year ago, I used cardboard boxes in a range of sizes.  They seemd to be the most sustainable option I could come up with and I sealed them with paper tape.  However, one parcel came back to me, having been lost in the post for a few weeks (and quite some time after a replacement parcel had been sent to the person who was missing theirs).  Aside from my pleasant surprise that it came back to me eventually I wasn’t happy with the state of my packaging – the box was bashed and had holes in the corners.  This worried me as I don’t want beautiful yarn to be damaged before it reaches it’s new owner.  I did some research into packaging and eventually settled on using Tyvek envelopes.  They are sturdy and waterproof and strong enough that they can be re-used several times (which I would encourage, I always re-use mailers for personal posting) and, at the end of their life they can be recycled (and if they do end up in landfill they won’t leach into groundwater because they are chemically inert and don’t contain binders, fillers and plasticizers).  I sourced my original batch from Amazon UK and am very happy with them.  I will continue using them although I will search around for a new supplier for future purchases.

Black Isle Yarns leaflet

I like to wrap all orders in tissue paper, which is something I have done since I first started sewing commissions several years ago.  I have always used a deep, fairly bright, green shade which I love and have carried on into Black Isle Yarns.  My current batch of tissue paper is not as environmentally friendly as I would ideally like and I have done some research into what to replace it with – which will be in the near future as I am running low.  Although I say that my current batch is not environmentally friendly it is, of course, recyclable but it could be better.  I plan to move to an acid free and recycled tissue paper from Tiny Box Company.  However, this presents a dilemma – there is no forest green shade!  I am quite drawn to the Turquoise or Golden Yellow (such a happy colour), but wonder if I should play safe and stick to the pretty Grey shade.  What do you think?!

I’d love to hear from you if you have any thoughts on packaging – especially if you can think of areas I could improve on.  Or if you have received a parcel from me and would like to let me know how you found it.

I thought it might be fun to highlight some of the patterns which I love and which will work well with the yarns going into tonight’s update (7pm GMt Friday 9th February).

The Callachy Hat and Mitts that Emily Williams designed for Black Isle Yarns were intended for Shetland DK *, and the patterns and yarn were available at Loch Ness Knit Fest and Nottingham Yarn Exp selling out before I could make them available online.  However, both Zwartbles BFL Blend and Zwartbles Cheviot Blend would work well for the hat and mitts.   I think the Zwartbles BFL is particularly suited to the hat and Zwartbles Cheviot to the mitts.  You can buy the patterns directly from Emily’s Ravelry shop here – Emily has a very good reduced price if you buy both together.
Callachy Mitts

Callachy Hat

Two skeins of Bluefaced Leicester Suri Alpaca Blend 4 ply would make a wonderful one-colour Eathie Shawl – the original shawl used just 180g, so with 200g you could add a few extra repeats and end up with a beautifully long drapey shawl.  Or a single skein would quickly knit up in Clare Devine’s Lode Shawl……my version, in one skein of last year’s Longwool Blend , is shown below (another yarn that I hope to bring back this autumn!). I find it is such an easy, comfortable shawl to wear and it is getting a lot of use at the moment.
Lode shawl

I do love knitting hats so have another three to suggest to you (all of which would be good in any of my DK weight yarns but I think, especially, Gotland DK).  All will work with less than one skein of yarn and are fun but relaxing knits.  The photo shows myself and my two daughters on a walk this winter, when I suddenly realised that we were all wearing hand knit hats – needless to say that made me very happy!

On the left I am wearing my Acai Hat by Clare Devine (knit for me as a very kind gift, in my Shetland DK, by the lovely Lorna). In the middle, Katie is wearing her Wildflowers Cap, a pattern by M J Mucklestone. I knit this in Silver Grey Gotland DK with naturally dyed Gotland DK for the flower and pompom.  And on the right, Islay is wearing her Chamomile Hat which is (another!) Clare Devine pattern. I knit it several years ago with West Yorkshire Spinners BFL DK and some leftover yarn scraps but, again, I think it would be lovely in Gotland DK.  I think you could have a lot of fun with these last two patterns (or indeed, many other hat patterns) using Gotland DK with one skein of Cream or Silver Grey as the main colour and a mini skein gradient set for accent colours.  **
Acai, Wildflowers and Chamomile Hats

And finally, if you are looking for a bigger project I can definitely recommend Renee Callahan’s Angelus Novus cardigan.  I have progressed quite a lot since I took the photo below and can’t wait to wear this stylish cardigan.  One of the fascinating things about this cardigan is the construction, you start off as if knitting a shawl and then, later, it morphs into a cardigan shape.  So clever!
Angelus Novus Cardi

* Another batch of Shetland DK (and 4ply this time too) is being spun by The Border Mill as we speak – I’m really looking forward to having this beautiful yarn back in stock, it was very popular last year.
** For info, amounts of yarn used per hat as follows (including pompoms): Acai 76g, Wildflowers 71g and Chamomile 69g.

CallachyMitts sm

I have just realised that I didn’t share these two fabulous patterns by my friend Emily (flutterbyknits).  Emily designed the Callachy Hat and Mitts in my Shetland DK, to make the most of just one or two skeins of this lovely yarn (they use less than 100g each).  While they do work especially well in my Shetland DK these simple and cosy accesories they will be great in most of my DK weight yarns.  If I don’t have any Shetland yarn, or other substitutes, in stock in my shop when you look please do contact me as I may be able to make you up a custom order (the stock isn’t always stocked between yarn dyeing sessions etc). My email address is mail@blackisleyarns.co.uk .

As Emily says ”Some things are best kept simple. When you have one skein of perfect yarn, you need a pattern that shows it off without too much fuss. The Callachy hat uses a classic cable combination and careful details to make a comforting slouchy hat that’s as soothing and beautiful as the beach on a grey day. Paired with the matching mitts, it’ll be your new favourite. The fingerless mitts are so rewarding: simple and quick to make, but very practical. Callachy Mitts have no unnecessary complications, just beautiful details to warm your hands and your spirit.”

Callachyhat sm

I’m really delighted to introduce you to ‘Shivelight’ a beautiful cowl designed by the talented and very kind Claire (Claieinstitches) .   I was completely bowled over when Claire sent me the finished knit – I couldn’t imagine a more perfect cowl.
black isle yarns cowl in gotland yarn
Claire was inspired by the woods on the Black Isle and the design perfectly captures ‘lances of sunlight piercing the woodland canopy and the shadows cast on the woodland floor’. I have prepared kits and they’ll feature at shows and occasional shop updates, the kits include lovely pattern cards prepared by Claire, joined by a stitch marker, which include an extract from a beautiful poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

‘……Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash,
wherever an elm arches, Shivelights& shadowtackle
in long lashes lace, lance & pair……’

gotland mini skeins sm
Shivelight is a snuggly colour-work cowl knit with four shades of my Gotland DK (Cream, Silver, Grey and Charcoal) and has been designed to be a good stepping-stone into the world of colour-work, as well as being an enjoyable knit for the more experienced.  If you are keen to knit yourself a Shivelight Cowl and there isn’t any Gotland in my shop at the time, do please contact me as I may be able to put together a kit just for you (mail@blackisleyarns.co.uk).

gotland black isle yarns cowl

meet the shepherdess

I am so excited to be part of Meet the Shepherd/essEdinburgh Yarn Festival’s new Sunday event.  I’m delighted to be part of a small line up of ‘farm to skein’ yarn producers.  You can read all about the other exhibitors here, there’s a lovely bunch – some who I know and some who I’m looking forward to meeting for the first time.

Tickets go on sale tonight (wednesday 31st January) at 7pm GMT.  It is a relaxed event to wind down EYF 2018, with lots of room to knit and relax.  I’ll be ready for lots of chatting about where Black Isle Yarns wool comes from and the fabulous local shepherd/esses who so carefully manage their special flocks.  I’ll bring my top-secret new wool, new designs, kits and naturally dyed yarns as well as beautiful nature’s shades.

The event will run from 10am to 2pm, Sunday 18th March at the Corn Exchange in Edinburgh. I’m really looking forward to seeing lots of you there!

I am delighted to have worked with two new flocks, in addition to ones used previously, for Batch IV.  They have very different characteristics, terrain and sheep.

The first new farm is South Muirnich where Glenda and Ian are bringing an old croft back to life.  It is a wonderful wild spot to the south of Loch Ness with stunning views to hills and lochs.  Along with their Highland ponies Glenda is building a flock of Icelandic sheep. I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting this flock, they are a characterful bunch – all somewhat good at escaping, especially Aragorn the tup – and, with their primitive Northern European Short-Tailed ancestry, behave very differently from the Scottish Mules I grew up with.

aragorn

Icelandic sheep are double-coated with a strong outercoat called the ‘tog’ and a fine undercoat called the ‘thel’ which we have spun in the traditional Icelandic ‘Lopi’ method.  Both coats have been worked together in an unspun fibre – which can be a little fragile until knit together when it becomes a very durable, and warm, fabric.  Broken ends can be easily joined with a little moisture (otherwise known as spit-splicing!).

icelandics South Muirnich Farm

The second new flock for Batch IV is Eilean Dubh, a small flock of pedigree Bluefaced Leicester sheep kept and shown by John and Sheena’s children (one of whom is a school-mate of my eldest).  They are based near Culbokie on the north side of the Black Isle (Eilean Dubh being the Gaelic for Black Isle). Their beautiful flock of majestic-looking Bluefaced Leicesters produce typically fine, silky and lustrous fleeces. They were my first experience of working with this special wool and I really enjoyed skirting (cleaning) them one warm afternoon this last summer.

BFL fleece from Eilean Dubh

Unfortunately John and Sheena have been unable to secure grazing for the future and were very sad to have to disband their flock – but pleased to know that their lovely sheep have found good new homes.  I will be working hard in the coming weeks to find more local Bluefaced Leicester wool for future years as it has been a pleasure to work with this beautiful fibre.

John and Juliet from The Border Mill, who once again spun the yarn, very kindly took a wee detour on their holiday to personally deliver the boxes containing this latest batch.

The yarns in this batch (Batch III) come from two local crofts, both of which I have talked about before and you can read more about them here (Fearniewell Croft and Orrinside Flock).  I am really enjoying entering my second year of Black Isle Yarns and building relationships with the people whose sheep grow such glorious wool – visiting the same flocks at different times of year, seeing lambs grow and anticipating their fleece being available at the next clip is very rewarding.

Once again Jane’s very eclectic Orrinside Flock has produced some special fleeces. Batch III includes two new yarns from this summer’s clip (and there’s more to come in Batch IV).  Jane has been really enthusiastic about seeing her flock’s wool turned into yarn and I think this is influencing her choices when she’s thinking about buying new stock.  Earlier this year I had an excited message telling me that she had bought a couple of Cotswold ewes and a Wensleydale tup………..and, now, here is their wool spun up as yarn!

The first yarn is a beautiful longwool blend of 2/3 Cotswold and 1/3 Wensleydale – it is drapey, lustrous and has a wonderful halo (and is approximately 4 ply). I have really been enjoying dyeing with it – the colours are stunning!

Cotswold Wensleydale Blend

The next yarn is a real mix and will have to be referred to as Cross-breed Blend for simplicity.  It is a blend of three cross-breed ewe fleeces – Bluefaced Leicester and Cheviot, Lincoln and Cheviot, and Lincoln and Hampshire. The fleeces were all lovely and I felt they would blend well together – the resulting yarn picks up drape and sheen from the longwool ancestry, softness from the Hampshire genes and a bounce and lightness from the Cheviot influence. It is approximately DK weight and is going to be so good to knit with.
Cross-breed Blend
Dan and Rachel of Fearniewell Croft were the first people I contacted about buying wool last year.   They have a lovely Gotland-ish flock (‘ish’ because have some Shetland genes and aren’t quite pure Gotland).  I have been eagerly anticipating this year’s clip and I am delighted that I was able to select a few more fleeces this year, so there’s a bit more Gotland-ish available this time round. I haven’t yet wound any of it off the cones as there will be a special colour-work pattern coming soon, developed especially for this yarn.  I don’t want to start winding skeins until I know how much of each shade will be required by the pattern, but it won’t all go into kits so there will also be the usual 100g skeins for your own projects.
Gotland Charcoal, Grey, Silver and White small Gotland Shades
I really want to make sure that a good amount of Batch III is available online for those that can’t make it to the shows I’ll be attending this autumn………I suspect they will be snapped up pretty quickly when seen in person.  I have naturally dyed a fair amount both the Longwool and Cross-breed Blends this week and am planning to have them ready in the shop by tomorrow evening at 7pm (Friday 29 September 7pm UK time).  There won’t be much chance for previewing this time I’m afraid – they’re still hanging out on the line drying at the moment so I won’t be be photographing and listing in the shop until tomorrow! I’m hoping for another shop update later in October.

I snaffled one of the Longwool Blend skeins to knit a Lode Shawl (pattern by Clare Devine).  I’m only in the early stages but am loving knitting with the wool and thoroughly enjoying the pattern.

Lode Shawl in Longwool Blend small

Thank you so much for your support for the naturally dyed Cheviot which went into the shop at the beginning of this month – it nearly all sold within 24 hours!  I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate your interest in Black Isle Yarns.

 

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