I had the crazy idea of knitting myself a new sweater in the run-up to last autumn’s busy show season (Perth Festival of Yarn, Yarndale and Loch Ness Knit Fest all came in quick succession). Unsurprisingly I didn’t manage to finish my Newleaf Sweater quite in time but it was actually a pretty quick knit and I thoroughly enjoyed the odd moment of knitting between lots of dyeing.

Newleaf Sweater in Coulmore 4ply, by Jenn Steingass
Coulmore 4ply – Organic Cheviot First Clip from a single farm on the Black Isle

Newleaf Sweater is a design by Jennifer Steingass. Jenn has published a lot of patterns recently but this is the first I have knit – I really enjoyed it and found it a well written pattern. Initially I had some difficulty with the colour-work as my floats were a bit tight. I commented on instagram and had a lot of very helpful comments. I tried knitting the colour-work inside out as a first step and, since that worked well for me, I didn’t try any of the other suggestions…….but it is good to know there are other options if I have problems in the future.

I knit my sweater in Coulmore 4ply, I knew it would be one I’d wear a lot and the hard wearing, and light, properties of Coulmore 4ply would be perfect. The main colour is the undyed grey from my latest batch and the contrast is a dark grey-blue (naturally dyed of course). I think it would also work well with a dyed shade as the main colour and undyed for the colour-work contrast.

I debated whether to go for the long sleeve or short sleeve version. Eventually I decided on short sleeves, which was definitely the right option for the way I’m wearing it – over long sleeve tops, all day most days! It is great for working in, I can dye without having sleeves in the way. I’m keen to knit more sweaters with short sleeves (though I’m not sure it would work so well in heavier weight yarns).

I knit the second size and used 3 skeins of the main colour and 1 of the contrast.

Pondering Coulmore 4ply colour options for future Newleaf Sweaters!

Annie Rowden’s Winter Hoodie is one of my favourite children’s knits. My mum has knit 5 or 6 of these over the years, all sized a little big so that they can be worn for several years. She recently knit one for her youngest grandchild (and my littlest nephew) in BIY Shetland DK. And I’m very happy to report that he seems to be enjoying wearing it – though catching him still enough to photgraph is quite a challenge!

Can’t beat a toddler tummy encased in wool!

The hoodie is knit with Natural Fawn as the main colour and Natural White as the contrast.

I’m so pleased that Shetland DK is soft enough to be used as yarn for baby and child knits and that it works so well for colourwork. I’d really quite like one of these for myself.

Off he goes!

I was delighted in autumn 2019 to receive back a big batch of Shetland yarn from the mill. To-date I have had my Shetland fleeces spun by The Border Mill, and they have done a lovely job (you can read more here) but in order to have more spun this latest batch was sent to The Natural Fibre Company in Cornwall. The yarn is worsted spun, as per my previous batches, and is spun with the same beautiful quality fleeces as usual. I split the fleeces into three shades this time – Natural White, Fawn and Grey.

Shetland DK in Natural White, Fawn and Grey

The resulting yarn is really lovely, a little more plump than my previous batches but at least as soft. The 4ply has 2 plies and is 350m/100g (so will also work as a sport weight and is at the heavier end of 4ply weight) and the DK has 3 plies and is 220m/100g. Here’s a photo of me sorting the many many fleeces which went into this batch!

Sorting Shetland fleeces on my front drive – piles for white, grey and fawn!

I can’t imagine a time when I won’t have Shetland yarn – I just love the wool properties of this special, Scottish, breed of sheep. And I also love working with the farms and smallholdings I buy the fleece from…………it is so good to go back year to year and catch up with the latest sheep (and otherwise!) news.

Black Isle Yarns Worsted Spun Shetland Yarn

I have been really enjoying dyeing each of the three shades. To date I have mostly dyed on my white yarns, and occasionally on grey but I have been particularly happy with some of the shades I’ve been able to achieve on the fawn. I’ll keep both weights of Shetland in stock as much as possible, and you can find it here. I’ve popped a few of my most recent Shetland colours below, all naturally dyed as always.

Plum Shetland DK, dyed on Natural Fawn
Faded Rose Shetland 4ply/Sport dyed on Natural Fawn
Harvest Gold Shetland DK, dyed on Natural Grey
Culloden Shetland DK, dyed on Natural White

Another of my mum’s very kind sample knits for me. And another that I wear regularly and completely fail to keep as a pristine sample! The pattern is the Lanes Cardigan by Joji Locatelli, originally published in Laine Magazine Issue 1, but now also available as a separate pattern.

The cardigan is knit in Coulmore DK and works perfectly for this simple cardigan with beautiful details. To quote from Laine: ‘ If we had to choose just one cardigan to wear for the rest of our lives, it would be this one. Fake shoulder seams make a lovely small detail and the collar can be worn folded or unfolded. Knitting this cardigan is like going on an exciting adventure with a friend ending with a trip to a local button shop – or you do it like Joji and finish your knitwear with buttons that used to be your grandpa‘s.

Lanes Cardigan in Coulmore DK, by Joji Locatelli

Unfortunately my buttons aren’t ones that used to be my grandad’s (isn’t that special?) but are lovely wooden ones that mum bought in South Africa – I always think that mum is very good at picking the right buttons to finish off a project.

The sample uses Coulmore dyed with tea leaves, and I love the neutral colour for this simple design. It is knit in size medum and used five 100g skeins. I have been wearing mine for almost 2 years now (a bit of a blogging delay!) and even with very regular use it shows little signs of wear, and almost no pilling. I’d thoroughly recommend the pattern and yarn combination. Coulmore DK works very well for knits that you want to wear regularly. It isn’t the most sophisticated yarn but it is hard wearing and (for me) comfortable next to the skin…………plus the wool comes from one farm here on the Black Isle which supports three generations of the same family, and that in itself is very special. You can read more about Coulmore here.

Probably the cutest ever knit in BIY – I love the Cockle Socks by Katie Green! Lovely Katie is a talented illustrator and comic drawer but also designs knitting patterns, and luckily for me she designed these socks in my Killen Sock yarn. There’s more information about Killen Sock here.

Cockle Socks in Killen Sock, by Katie Green

Katie’s fabulous design uses just under 100g of Killen. Currently, Killen is one of my small batch yarns so won’t always be in stock but, when it is, I’ll try to ensure there’s some Cockle Sock kits available in the shop. Each kit will have just the right amount of yarn, in two shades for knitting your own pair of Cockle Socks.

Katie says: ‘ The Cockle Socks are knitted from the cuff down with a Picot Hem, charted colourwork design, heel flap and gusset and a barn toe. The pattern is written in one size for a stitch count of 64. Gauge adjustments will enable you to knit different sizes. ‘

You can find the pattern in Katie’s zine The Green Bean which you can buy here directly from Katie.

Cockle Socks in Killen Sock, by Katie Green

My talented friend Emily Williams has worked her magic again, this time with my Bluefaced Leicester 4ply (one of my small batch yarns spun by The Border Mill). As Emily says:

‘Fyrish’s rippling waves of colour flow as far as you let them. This unusual narrow shawl (or is it a wide scarf?) tucks neatly under your coat, but can be puffed up to make a beautiful statement just at the neck. Or you could knit a longer version for a dramatic wrap. This distinctive openwork ripple stitch makes the most of Black Isle Yarns’ deep hues and soft handle. And if you find those strong gaps and scalloped lines suggest gothic arches… well, you should come visit Fyrish some time.’

Fyrish Shawl by Emily K Williams

Fyrish itself, and the inspiration for the shawl, is a hill just to the north of the Black Isle. The monument on top of Cnoc Fyrish was built in 1792 as a means of providing work during the Highland Clearances. The local laird, Sir Hector Munro, organised the construction of the monument as a means of providing work – reportedly rolling stones back down the hill to extend the length of time it took to build.

Fyrish Monument on Cnoc Fyrish

The Fyrish Shawl is my current favourite to wear – in BFL 4ply it is wonderfully soft and has a slight squish and drape. The shawl is very economical, using just one full 100g skein plus two 25g mini skeins. I have been thoroughly enjoying dyeing sets for the shawl. BFL is a small batch yarn so may not always be in stock but Fyrish will work well in BFL Suri too and I will try to keep mini skein sets in the shop as much as possible.

Fyrish Shawl in BFL 4ply
Fyrish Shawl in naturally dyed Black Isle Yarns

Once again my lovely mum has been helping me out with some sample knitting – and once again, I’m wearing the so-called sample all the time! St Catherines is a superb design by Kate Davies, who says that it is a ‘shrug-style garter stitch cardigan, with dolman sleeves and short-row shaping‘. Mum knit my version in BIY Bluefaced Leicester 4ply, I love it in this soft, slightly squishy and drapey yarn and find it very wearable – comfortable and flattering. It would also work very well in Bluefaced Leicester Suri Blend 4ply, the addition of the Suri Alpaca in this blend would add even more drape and work very effectively with the deisgn.

St Catherines Cardigan in BFL 4ply

The cardigan used 3 skeins of BFL 4ply to knit the 2nd size (with longer sleeves) and is knit in Seaweed. Seaweed is naturally dyed (as always) with locally collected bramble leaves and indigo. I loves the colour tones I achieve when dyeing with bramble leaves (Rockpool is also dyed with bramble leaves, with more indigo for a deeper shade, and has a similar tonal effect). If you look in the Ravelry gallery here you’ll see you can also knit St Catherines as a striped cardigan, I love it this way too.

St Catherines by Kate Davies

I’ve had the Puzzlewood Mittens pattern on my to-make list since it was first published a couple of years ago. The original design, by Ruth Werwai, was published in the lovely book WOODS, by the Making Stories team. I love that they feature local sustainable yarns – and, in fact, Black Isle Yarns are the original yarns used in the Puzzlewood Mittens design.

Puzzlewood Mittens

I no longer produce one of the original yarns so I decided to knit my pair with two skeins of Gotland DK (one of the two original yarns). I have been testing the colour-fastness of yarn dyed with Safflower and used a sunshiny yellow Safflower skein combined with a soft beige dyed with oak bark. The pattern is a straightforward and satisfying knit. I knit size 2 although I would have been better with size 1. Since taking the photos I have machine washed the mitts to slightly shrink and felt them! With two 100g skeins you could knit two pairs of these mittens, reversing the colour dominance for the second pair.

I’d definitely recommend this pattern as a quick and simple knit.

Puzzlewood Mittens in BIY Gotland DK, Size 2

Earlier this year Clare Devine released this lovely shawl pattern in Black Isle Yarns Bluefaced Leicester Suri 4ply. BFL Suri is an 80:20% blend and is soft with lots of drape.

Avoch is a striking shallow and long triangle shape. Clare’s sample used 150g, but it could be adapted for any amount of yarn – I think it would be wonderful with two 100g skeins! The sample is knit in the BFL Suri Natural Silver – which is a combination of white BFL with white and black Suri Alpaca to create a subtly heathered yarn.

The gentle wave pattern is worked across the full length of the shawl. This simple lace pattern is fully charted and written instructions are provided if you prefer.

Thanks so much Clare for your stunning design!

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.