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.

Yarn from Monkey Face, Frankenstein and Horse

Eathie Shawl - simple lace knitting

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.

Lace chevrons in Eathie Shawl Eathie Shawl in Eathie Salmon Fishing Bothy Eathie Shawl in Black Isle Yarns

 

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!).

Meadows Flock
Meadows Flock

‘Helendale Shetlands’
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.

Helendale Shetlands
Helendale Shetlands

‘Highland Shetlands’

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!
Orrinside Flock grazing with views towards Cannich and Affric sm

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.

Orrinside Flock - Horse's Daughter, Monkey Face and Frankenstein
Orrinside Flock – Horse’s Daughter, Monkey Face and Frankenstein

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.

Eathie Shawl
Eathie Shawl

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Hello and happy March – my goodness time does seem to be flying by!

I’m so pleased to let you know that the second batch of Black Isle Yarns is ready (I think it will be referred to as Spring 2017).  I picked it up from Juliet and John of The Border Mill in Edinburgh last Thursday when they very kindly took a break from setting up their Edinburgh Yarn Fest stand to handover and chat about this latest batch (and plans for the next).

I’ve been looking forward to seeing these yarns for what feels like such a long time now.  The first fleeces were bought, and carefully stashed in our gardening shed, at the end of last summer.  And gradually, over the autumn months, more and more fleeces were added until I delivered a load down to Juliet and John in early January.  We had a planning phone call in mid February, to work out the specific yarns weights and blends, and they worked at high speed to have the yarn ready so they could bring it all up to Edinburgh for me last week.

I’ll introduce the farms, and sheep, who kindly grew the fleeces in another newsletter and keep this as an introduction to the yarns themselves – otherwise this will turn into a not-so-small novel.

Very sadly the mill was unable to cope with the Ryeland fleeces which I talked about last autumn – their staple length is just too short for the particular set-up that The Border Mill has.  Perhaps at some future date I’ll be able to work with their beautiful fleece, but for now that plan is on hold.


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Shetland Cheviot Blend from Spring 2017 Batch heading to the dye pot this morning
I posted this photo on Instagram a few days ago – do you use Instagram?  I really enjoy it as a way to connect with lots of other like-minded people.  I post quite regularly so it is a good way to keep up with what I’m up to.  If you click the photo you’ll open up my account – have a wee look, there’s usually lots of lovely Black Isle and Highland scenery as well as my latest wool and craft snippets.


The first set of yarns is some absolutely gorgeous Shetland in a range of natural colours and white.  The coloured fleeces in particular were extremely soft – to the extent that they were dubbed as ‘scary fine’ by Juliet.  They posed a real challenge to the mill and weren’t able to go through the separator (which helps remove bits of vegetation and dirt) as it would have shredded the fine fibres, so they have been washed and tumbled multiple times instead.  All the extra effort and care has been very worthwhile as the yarn is beautiful.  I’m very grateful to the mill for adapting their process and treating each set of fleeces in the best way possible.

Three different yarns have been spun all at approx Light DK weight.   The first is a beautiful barberpole variegated with three plies one each of charcoal, fawn and white.  The second is a heathered grey and finally there is a simple natural white.  All three will work well together and all should take dye beautifully too.

Black Isle Yarns Shetland Wool natural coloured, undyed - white, heathered grey and barberpole


The next set of fleeces came from a lovely small farm with a very eclectic flock.  As well as some very high quality cheviot (which I’ll talk about below) I picked out some special, rather unique, fleeces.  Needles to say there’s only fairly small quantities of each of these yarns.  They have been spun at an approx 2-ply weight.

Monkeyface is rather uncertain of her origin, she looks somewhat Hebridean but her fleece doesn’t bear too much resemblance to that fairly hardy fleece type, instead it is soft and lustrous with a lot of character (and the occasional Hebridean-like guard hair).  Now that I have seen it spun I wonder if she may be a Heb-Gotland cross with a fleece that takes after her Gotland ancestry. The resulting yarn is a very dark charcoal black with just a hint of brown.

Frankenstein has a multi-coloured fleece which perhaps reflects her muli-breed background of Bluefaced Leicester-Cotswold-Cheviot.  The spun wool is a warm grey/brown and, though not quite so soft, has a gentle lustre.

The final ewe doesn’t have her own name, poor thing, but is a Blueface Leicester-Cotswold cross and her fleece has made a lovely soft, lustrous white yarn.

Again, all three yarns will work together and I think would make a superb shawl.

Black Isle Yarns, from top- bfl~cotswold, Frankenstein (bfl~cotswold~cheviot), Monkeyface (hebridean~gotland_)


The Cheviot fleeces have been spun as two different yarns, both at Light DK weight so that they can be combined with the Shetland yarns.

The only blend in this time is a 50:50% mix of Shetland~Cheviot.  I have some mordanting in the dye pot at the moment and I think it is going to dye beautifully.  The blend retains much of the softness of the Shetland but gains from the strength of the Cheviot.  It should be a very adaptable yarn.

And finally, the last yarn for Spring 2017 is pure Cheviot.  John and Juliet were very complimentary about the quality of the Cheviot fleeces which I think must reflect on excellent husbandry from Jane – who I’ll introduce next time!Black Isle Yarns cheviot (top) and cheviot shetland blend (bottom)


I’ve just had a lovely weekend at Dornoch Fibre Fest and thoroighly enjoyed meeting lots of fantastic woolly people!  Now that I’m back from the show I’ll settle down and work out my plans for releasing this batch.  I am hoping to work with a couple of designers to develop a pattern or two written specifically for these yarns, which may mean that not all are going to be available on-line straight-away.  They will get there eventually but there may be a slight delay while the designers work their magic……….but, of course, I’ll let you know what is happening and will ensure first notice will come out by newsletter (do join if you aren’t already, there’s a wee box on my homepage). I’ll be back before long to introduce the sheep and farms who grew this latest lot of wool.