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.
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……’
I am so excited to be part of Meet the Shepherd/ess – Edinburgh 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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
The beautiful, cosy and stylish Comfort Shawl was designed by Sarah Hazell. Sarah is a very talented (and lovely too) designer with a vast amount of experience. So when she suggested working with my yarn I was bowled over and followed up her offer pretty quickly!
After swatching with Batch Number 2’s Shetland, Shetland~Cheviot Blend and Cheviot, Sarah decided that she’d like to work with the Shetland~Cheviot Blend. This blend brings out the best of the two different wool characteristics; it gains softness and a slight lustre from the Shetland plus strength and bounce from the Cheviot (the other yarns are lovely too, of course, each with their own special characteristics!).
I knew that Sarah had a textured shawl in mind and although I did see a couple of in-progress sneak peaks I wasn’t prepared for how lovely this shawl would be. It is simple yet detailed, soft and cosy yet striking – I can’t believe how lucky I am to have had such magic worked in my yarn!
The Comfort Shawl is completely reversible and is an easy meditative knit. It is a long and shallow design which is cast on from the top edge and decreases each row……….very rewarding as the knitting speeds up the further you go on!
The Comfort Shawl is beautifully sized for wrapping cosily around your neck or can be worn in a more draped fashion for a bold and dramatic effect. The shawl measures around 200cm (79 in) along the top edge and is approximately 55cm (22 in) deep excluding the tassels.
It uses 330g of Black Isle Yarns Shetland~Cheviot Blend, beautifully semi-worsted spun at DK weight by The Border Mill. Each kit will include 360g of yarn plus a paper copy of the pattern. Kits will go on sale tomorrow (Wednesday) night at 7pm UK time.
There’s only a few kits left, if you’d like to snap one up before they are all gone you can find them here.
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.