The striking Eathie Shawl was designed by my friend Emily Williams. Designed especially for the limited supplies of yarn from Horse, Frankenstein and Monkey Face the pattern only needs 60g of each beautiful natural shade (Double Cream, Rugged Grey and Hazy Charcoal) – but because of the lace design it makes a generously sized shawl (around 170cm by 70cm). The lace itself is simple and relaxing knitting requiring only increases, decreases and yarn overs. The yarn has been spun beautifully by The Border Mill and is approximately 4ply/fingering weight at 300m/100g. It has a lovely soft natural lustre and blooms beautifully with it’s first wash.
The limited supplies of Horse, Frankenstein and Monkey Face were sold as kits along with a copy of the shawl pattern – and they were all snapped up within 24 hours! However you can still knit your own in another yarn – visit Emily’s Ravelry page to buy a copy.
Keep an eye out too, as I have plans afoot for the pattern to be adapted for use with DK weight yarn and I will of course have more 4ply/fingering in the future. While the design was created for this special limited edition yarn it will look stunning in other yarns, both dyed and undyed.
Hello and Happy Spring (although it’s rather cold here in the Highlands!)
Last post I introduced the yarns in my new batch, Spring 2017, and promised I’d be back to share information and photos of the farms and sheep that grew the wool. It has taken a while to get round all three farms – they’re busy people – but I’m so pleased that I can now tell you more about where the wool comes from.
I’ve been working with my very talented friend Emily Williams to bring you a shawl pattern designed exclusively for three yarns from Orrinside Flock. The release, of the yarns and pattern, is likely to be next Thursday 4th May. I’ll be notifying the date and time of the yarn release by newsletter (sign up on my homepage) and then also on Instagram. I’ll share a couple of sneak peeks below!
I loved working with the two women and flocks who produced the wool that went into my ‘scary fine’ Shetland yarn. ‘Meadows Flock’
Sally is the wonderful woman behind Meadows Flock. From the first moment I contacted her (as the Highland Rep of the Shetland Sheep Society) she has been entirely enthusiastic, helpful and positive about my plans for Black Isle Yarns. She has been keeping Shetlands for many years and I suspect has ‘enabled’ a great many other small flocks in the Highlands. Sally rents a variety of small fields on the edge of the beautiful old town of Dornoch and her sheep are the friendliest I’ve ever come across. On the day we’d arranged for me to visit and photograph the flock unfortunately Sally had to go to a funeral, but she left out a bucket of feed and instructed me to call ‘sheep’ as I arrived………..and lo and behold I had a very willing set of models (including Fudgie the pony!).
Janet is a fairly new smallholder who Sally introduced me to. She lives inland from Dornoch in the stunning Kyle of Sutherland, on the edge of some very wild land indeed. Again Janet couldn’t have been more helpful (as well as making delicious coffee!) – I’m so enjoying meeting these lovely people with a passion for their sheep and an interest in what happens to their wool. Her flock were a little more wary of me as a stranger but were clearly very comfortable with Janet……….Janet has adopted Sally’s ‘sheep’ call and they all came running at the sound of her voice, pausing and slowing down once they spotted me.
The fleeces I bought from the Meadows and Helendale sheep were nearly all coloured and I felt that the yarn options would be enhanced with some white wool. I wasn’t able to source any white Shetland fleeces directly from breeders so decided to approach my local Wool Marketing Board at Evanton. I went with an open mind, not sure whether I’d come home with any wool, but the visit was fascinating and I did pick out several beautiful, high quality white fleeces.
The Evanton depot’s collection range is entirely Highland so although I don’t know the individual farm(s) I do know they’re all local to me. I also know, because of the quality of the fleeces, that the sheep must have been well managed and cared for…………sheep in poor health develop a break in their fleece and will shed parts or all of their wool. The knowledge and skill of the people who work at the Wool Board was very impressive. Rather than have them pick out fleeces for me I decided to try selecting by myself first and then get their feedback. I was pleased that 5 of the 6 fleeces I selected passed muster as being the best quality – the fifth was pretty good too but we did find a better one with a bit more searching.
If anyone can point me in the direction of a breeder who has white Shetlands in the Highlands I’d be delighted – I’m still looking but have had no success so far. Ideally I’d prefer to work directly with sheep owners so they get a good return for the fleeces and so I can build a relationship with them and tell the story behind their wool.
The remaining wool came from one, very eclectic, flock. ‘Orrinside Flock’
Jane is someone who is passionate about livestock and the land – not only does she work in a farm advisory role but she has a huge range of animals on her smallholding, including some very lovely sheep. Her land is on the edge of the Black Isle, not far from Beauly, and has beautiful views inland to Glen Affric and Cannich – a very lovely area with hill after hill on the horizon.
Her core flock consists of North Country Cheviots which are the main sheep around here. They’re not generally thought to have particularly exciting wool and it is often written off as being fit for carpets only. This is most definitely not the case with the fleeces I chose from Jane’s flock!
Alongside her Cheviots Jane has some really special mixed breed ewes. You can tell from their names how much she loves and enjoys them! The three ewes whose beautiful wool I picked out are Horse (Bluefaced Leicester-Cotswold cross), Monkey Face (possibly Gotland-Hebridean cross) and Frankenstein (Bluefaced Leicester-Cotswold-Cheviot cross) – shown left to right respectively (although Horse, as an old lady who wasn’t at all willing to cooperate, has a stand-in by way of her daughter aptly named ‘Horse’s Daughter’!). The three yarns from these lovely ladies are the ones that will be released next week – see below for some first glimpses of Emily’s fabulous shawl design.
Since I first met Jane last autumn she has bought a couple of Cotswold ewes and a Wensleydale tup – and sent me an excited text to tell me about them! I’m very much looking forward to some more lovely cross breed fleeces in the years to come.
I hope you enjoyed that wee glimpse of where the yarn comes from. Here’s a couple of Emily’s photos of the Eathie Shawl in progress. Yarns from, left to right in both photos, Monkey Face, Frankenstein and Horse.
I’ve been very remiss in not posting these mittens sooner. My lovely Auntie Lorna knit a beautiful pair of Gingersnap Mittens (a free pattern by Prairiesque) as a sample for me. She’s very kind! Auntie Lorna adapted the pattern significantly, changing it to two 3×3 cables and reducing the size considerably. Much as I’d love to wear them – they’re so cosy and should be very hard-wearing (not to mention pretty in the yarn’s marled Coal Grey colour)- I’m going to keep them aside as samples for taking along to shows etc.
I’ve recently finished this second sample in my Autumn 2016 Zwartbles~Alpaca Blend. I wanted to knit a shawl that showed off the beauty of this yarn – it’s squishiness and texture – and settled on a simple triangular kerchief design (the Romney Kerchief by Jared Flood).
The pattern itself is simple and straight-forward and I enjoyed adapting it slightly. I used a garter tab cast-on rather than the pattern’s provisional cast-on and then played around with the bottom edge using some stunning Shilasdair scraps in vibrant pink and yellow. As ever I do love Shilasdair (the colours achieved by natural dyeing are so stunning) and was very pleased to use almost every last bit of these two small scraps………my stripes weren’t quite to plan as I had so little to work with but I’m happy with the outcome and with having made best use of what I had to hand. The Shilasdair is 4 Ply and was held double. This was my first time using a sewn bind-off – it looks great but I did find it slightly tedious!
Yarn Details: Black Isle Yarns Zwartbles~Alpaca Blend
I chose a favourite hat pattern for this sample using the Autumn 2016 Zwartbles~Alpaca Blend – the pattern is Reminisce by Libby Jonson of Truly Myrtle. I’m not one for anything too fussy and this hats fits that bill perfectly, a little detail to stop it being boring but nothing over-the-top.
The Zwartbles~Alpaca is lovely to knit with and results in a very squishy and cosy hat. I had intended it to be kept purely as a sample for shows and so on however I have been wearing it quite regularly this winter as it is so cosy!
Yarn Details: Black Isle Yarns Zwartbles~Alpaca Blend
Introducing our Autumn 2016 batch of Zwartbles and Zwartbles blend yarns:
Zwartbles sheep originate from the Netherlands where they’re an uncommon breed. They were developed as a multipurpose breed and are valued here in Britain for their calm manner and as lovely mothers with good growing lambs. Their fleece is dense and bouncy and a very deep dark brown colour, although with age and sun it bleaches rusty red at the tips. The 2016 fleeces we sourced from Hedgefield Zwartbles (link) are from shearling fleeces, from lambs in their first winter, and consequently the wool is less rustic than is typical and retains the very dark, almost black, colour – we like to think of it as Bitter Chocolate! As well as pure Zwartbles wool we have developed three blends. The first is a lovely rustic heathery Coal Grey with the addition of 45% Cheviot wool (from Drumsmittal Farm (link)). Secondly we have added 50% mohair (from a farm near our mill, The Border Mill (link), in the Scottish Borders) – this blend is a Steel Grey colour, has a real sheen and a soft yet strong handle. The final blend is with 50% alpaca (again sourced close to The Border Mill (link) in the Scottish Borders) – the alpaca fleece used was fawn coloured and the resulting fibre is a beautiful warm Toffee Fudge colour in a soft, squishy yarn.
Introducing our Autumn 2016 batch of Gotland yarns:
Gotland is an uncommon breed here in Britain with only around 1500 in the country altogether. They are an old breed of sheep having been developed on the Swedish island of Gotland over 1000 years ago. Fearniewell Croft’s Gotlands have a ‘hint of Shetland’ thanks to a determined tup a few generations ago (link). Thanks to this adventurous tup the normal range of Gotland greys is increased to include paler greys and a creamy white. The wool is typically soft and warm with a slight sheen and the addition of the Shetland genes, although perhaps reducing the lustre slightly, can be felt in the lovely soft handle of this beautiful wool. The 2016 clip from this special flock has been split into five colours – Dark Grey, Mid Grey, Light Grey, Silver Grey and White.
Knowing that I would be struggling for time to knit up samples before attending Loch Ness Knit Fest (30 Sept to 2 Oct 2016) I asked mum to knit a Granny’s Favourite Cardigan in my Autumn 2016 batch of Gotland yarn. Grannie (to my children) has knit this lovely pattern several times for my girls and was happy to help by knitting another.
She reported that the Light Grey Gotland was lovely to knit with – it is soft and light, as you’d expect from Gotland, and would be so lovely for a baby……..but I’m keeping this one as a sample (sadly, no babies more planned around here!). If you want to see one of the cutest ever knits come along to my next fair for a wee squish of this lovely little cardigan!
It was a tricky to decide which of the Black Isle Yarns Autumn 2016 yarns to knit with first but in the end the Zwartbles Mohair blend was selected – ‘eeny meeny miny mo’ can always be relied on in the case of indecision! I settled on the Hackberry Hat pattern by Ginny Sheller. I love the simple but elegant design and know I’ll wear the hat a lot (as well as, of course, bringing it along to upcoming yarn festivals as a sample!).
The pattern was beautifully straight forward and a pleasure to knit. The Zwartbles Mohair blend is really lovely to knit with, smooth and soft, but with a definite feeling of strength, and I didn’t have the nose tickling problems which are sometimes associated with mohair. There’s a real character to this yarn and a definite drape which works well with what Ginny describes as the ‘fun pseudo-slouchy style, more of what I call a “poof” hat’ – although it possibly isn’t the best yarn choice to show-off the textured design to full effect (the dark Steel Grey colour is also probably to blame here…….but, even if it does hide texture, it is such a pretty and wearable colour!).
Katie very helpfully modelled the hat for me (only a small amount of bribery involved!) – as her head is smaller than mine, it doesn’t show the yarn over increases after the ribbed brim to their full effect but is infinitely better than me trying to take selfies.
Yarn Details: Black Isle Yarns Zwartbles Mohair blend (50%~50%)