Earlier this year, when I had just received the latest batch of Shetland DK and 4ply/Sport back from The Natural Fibre Company, I began looking for a sweater design that would suit Shetland DK. Around the same time Elizabeth Doherty released a new design, the Sian Sweater which immediately caught my eye. Knowing that I would struggle to knit one myself as quickly as I hoped I asked Clare Shaw if she would be able to sample knit for me and luckily she was able to.

Shetland DK Mocha and Toasted Coconut for Sian Sweater

I decided to use natural undyed Mocha for the main body of the sweater but wasn’t sure what to use for the contrast slip stitches on the yoke. The undyed natural White seemed like the obvious option but I felt it might be a little more stark than I was aiming for. I did a little experimenting with alder cones and cutch, and tried both alum mordant and not and modifying with iron afterwards or not. I loved all the results but felt that alder cones and cutch modified with iron (and not mordanted) gave the effect I was looking for. Clare came up with the name Toasted Coconut for this new colourway which I think is perfect.

Toasted Coconut Shetland DK naturally dyed with alder cones and cutch

As usual Clare knit quickly and checked any queries as she went along. I went for the straight version of the design but lengthened the body a little to suit my long torso. Clare felt the sleeves looked quite tight at the point of picking up stitches so she picked up the number required for a Size Four (the body is knit to Size Three). The whole sweater used 395 grams, most of four skeins of Mocha plus part of a skein of Toasted Coconut. I absolutely love the finished sweater. It is easy to wear, comfortable and flattering.

Sian Sweater knit in Black Isle Yarns Shetland DK

I don’t think Elizabeth has the design available to buy on her website at the moment but copies are available from Ravelry here, or if you would like a copy but can’t use Ravelry let me know and I will help out. Clare’s Ravelry project notes are here.

Shetland DK Sian Sweater

I have now been wearing my Timely Cardigan for over a year and I still love it. With the beginning of June Scotland has suddenly decided to warm up at last and I’ll be wearing my Timely even more over the summer months – I find it is perfect over summer skirts and shorts, paired with a tshirt or vest top.

Timely Cardigan knit in BFL Suri Alpaca 4ply

I knit my Timely in BFL Suri 4ply, which is a lovely soft drapey yarn which has worked very well for this little cardigan. I used just over two skeins of the natural undyed Silver as the main colour. For the contrast stripe I chose Culloden (which is a lovely tonal pink-red shade, dyed with Lac and Hibiscus, and works really well with Timely’s stripes) and needed just over one skein. I knit Size Three which has a finished bust of 32.5″ giving me around 2″ negative ease. I lengthened the body slightly to better fit my long torso but otherwise made no modifications.

Timely Cardigan knit in BFL Suri Alpaca 4ply

I’m currently knitting a second Timely, with undyed Cream as the main colour and Dragon as the contrast (dyed with fustic and indigo, a dark tonal indigo with flashes of green and orange). I don’t plan to make any changes to the pattern other than lengthening the body again.

I would thoroughly recommend this design by Libby Jonson of Truly Myrtle. You can find my Ravelry notes here, and the pattern can be found on Ravelry or Libby’s website.

Woolwork Reviews
Since Auchen arrived back here earlier this year I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know it – knitting and dyeing with a yarn I have dreamed of producing for quite some time was pretty scary at first, but I am finding it a pleasure to work with.  Rather than just believe me though, since my perspective is undoubtedly biased, I had a lovely group test and review the yarn for me. I hope it will be useful information for you in deciding whether you might want to knit with Auchen and what to expect from it.

Sea Green Auchen – naturally dyed with weld and indigo

The review group was recruited through Louise Scollay’sWoolWork (formerly Knit British) Ravlery group. I think the initial idea to do this came from Louise herself, which I’m really grateful for.  I really appreciate her letting me set up a thread in her Ravelry group and especially for allowing me to adopt her Wool Exploration report format.  Louise’ website, Podcast and Ravelry group are a mine of information about sheep breeds and their wool properties.  Very many thanks to the six lovely women who reviewed Auchen so thoroughly for me. Link to Auchen reviews below:

WOOLWORK REVIEWS

The yarn facts and figures
I hope that all this information has been useful. As always I want to be as transparent and traceable in my yarn production as possible. 

The final piece of the jigsaw is the yarn specifications. Auchen has been woollen spun giving an airy, lofty, lightweight and adaptable yarn. It is two plied (i.e. two singles plied together) and is Sport Weight at approximately 375m/100g.  The individual skeins are generous with 410m each and approximately 110g per skein.

Turkish Rose Auchen – naturally dyed with madder and tea
Auchen –‘field’ in lowland Scots, thought to originate from Gaelic ‘achadh’ meaning ‘field of the’

Auchen 
Auchen has been developed with support, for some aspects of the project, from the Highland and Islands Small Innovation Grant Scheme and is the first larger scale yarn I have produced.  It has taken over 18 months to get to the stage of having an awful lot of yarn taking up a lot of shed space!

Auchen is a blend of Bluefaced Leicester hogg*, Cheviot hogg and Shetland – in proportion approximately 40, 30 and 30% respectively. All the fleeces were white apart from a small number of dark Shetland, selected to give the yarn its natural pale grey Haar colour and occasional dark fleck. As usual I hand picked every fleece and then skirted each of them to ensure only the finest fleece went into the yarn.  Most of the fleece comes from the Black Isle itself and the furthest was less than an hour drive away.

Auchen undyed natural grey – Haar

I commissioned my lovely friend Katie Green to illustrate a map showing each of the flock locations. I am absolutely delighted with the map – it will also feature on the yarn labels, so that each skein will come with its own beautiful illustration. I have a post here on Instagram talking a little more about each of the flocks whose fleece has gone into Auchen. If you’d like to know more about the three breeds of sheep this post has photos and some information about each and this post has more information about the wool properties of each breed.  And, if you’d like to know more about why I chose the name Auchen have a look here.

*Hogg = ewe lambs at the end of their first year, first clip

Flock map illustrated by Katie Green

Auchen Yarn Journey
After a lot of consideration I settled on New Lanark to spin the yarn, for their skilled and experienced woollen spinning. New Lanark is a historic mill which has been spinning since 1786.  They offer a custom spinning service on their 19th century machinery (which uses renewably sourced energy from their water-powered turbine). I particularly liked that I was asked to send samples of the fleeces I was planning to use in the yarn – before agreeing to take on the commission New Lanark wanted to be sure they’d be able to spin a quality yarn for me.

Auchen Haar

Sadly, there is no capacity to scour fleece in Scotland (which is the first step before spinning), so I took a transit van full of the beautiful raw (and quite smelly on a hot August day!) fleece to Thomas Chadwick and Sons in Yorkshire last summer.  The cleaned fleece then waited until there was a full load before travelling back north to New Lanark (to minimise carbon miles).  Following spinning, at the very end of 2019, the yarn made a trip back to Yorkshire, to Harrison and Gardiner to remove the spinning oil.  Again, the yarn bales waited to join a load before coming north, back to their starting point on the Black Isle.

Transit van full of fleece at Thomas Chadwick and Sons



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.