Colour in Symphony – trio and chorus

When I was photographing the skeins of Welsh Mule yarn for the shop listings a couple of days ago I quickly put together some colour combinations to help people making colour choices. These photographs are just snaps, not great quality (spot the skew-whiff ones!) and were just as I grabbed the skeins one after the other as the colours leapt out at me at the time not in planned colour ways.

So these are just to give an idea of possibilities, they’re not recommended colour combinations per se.

These are trios of colour. In some cases I’ve just swapped out one skein each time to show the subtle change from a lighter to darker version of a colour can make to a combination. I’ve put them in mosaic format to reduce the picture heavy nature of the post.

These are larger groups of 5 shades – a chorus of yarns perhaps…


And finally 6 shades – mostly warmer shades and mostly cooler.



Remember that these are for different ideas; if you’re looking for stranded colour work you’ll ideally need colours with high contrast in colour depth. If for stripes and edgings, contrast sleeves choosing subtle analogous colours (ones similar in shade) is fine.

When I’m working with colour and I don’t have the actual yarns to hand or if I’m designing colour schemes I’ve not yet dyed up samples to work with, I find it useful to have different materials in the kinds of shades I need just to help me see how they work together.

You can do the same – be inventive! I often use tufts of dyed merino tops as I have a lot in stock but I also use the paint chips that decorating merchants have for you to decide on colour test pots. I also colour in pieces of card with colour pencils or paints or lay them next to each other on white paper. But in a pinch you can use almost anything to give an idea of colour.



Colour in Symphony

Having introduced you to the colours of the Island Song collection last week and their inspirations, I’m now going to show you the colours all together and then in another post I’ll do a series of just pictures showing the colours in different combinations to help give ideas for putting them together.





These images are all displaying the colours on North Ronaldsay heavy lace weight yarn – it was the one yarn I had in 100g skeins in stock to test the colours one last time and I needed all of them together to take colour photos. This is a really lovely yarn, it’s crisp and not especially soft at first but softens with handling. I’ve yet to knit it up myself (too many projects on!) but it’s begging to be made into a lace shawl or perhaps a vest or cardigan, the 2-ply structure will show off the lace stitches beautifully and snap cleanly round the edges of yarnovers. At this time I have only one of each skein which will go in the shop shortly after the Welsh Yarn but I’m hoping to get more of this “island” yarn back in stock at some point in the future.

I’ll be offering the colours first on two weights of the Welsh Mule yarn – one is a heavy DK/worsted 3 ply yarn perfect for squishy warm garments and the other a fingering/sport weight 2 ply which would work equally well as finer gauge garments or for lace shawls or small items like hats, mittens and children’s clothes; it’s a very soft yet robust yarn so will be perfect for items worn next to the skin.

Because of these attributes I’m offering the different weights in different skein sizes. The DK/worsted yarn will be available for now in 50g skeins and the fingering/sport weight in 100g skeins and a mini skein I’ve yet to finalise but most likely 25g. This will allow versatility in buying quantities for colour work or stripes, small items and still have larger skeins in the finer yarn for lace shawls where it’s good to avoid weaving in ends where possible.

For those who are interesting in colour-work I’ve turned some of the yarn photos into grayscale so you can see the colour intensity. This isn’t a subject for this blog post but colour work aficionados will know that for successful colour contrast in stranded knitting, you need a contrast in colour intensity as well as colour to make the shades pop out and work together rather than being lost in amongst shades of similar depth. This is a subject that has been addressed by many other far more knowledgeable knitters than myself so I suggest you google for more information.

Here’s the colours of Island Song.


And the same photograph turned into grayscale.

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You can see that the shades range from almost white to almost black once the hues have been cancelled out. Picking out my favourite range of aqua blues and greens (to the left) for colourwork would leave me with quite an insipid pattern, I would need to mix it up with some of the other shades to give it some muscle.

However for stripes and some other kinds of knitting colour design you can choose whatever you like. You could go for a contrasting selection on a harlequin sweater with contrast sleeves or blocks of colour in the construction or intarsia. Or you might choose gentle shading and gradients or perhaps a delicate edging on a shawl or collar, hem and cuffs.

The choice is yours and the possibilities really wide!



Island Song – v.4

The final trio of colours in the Island Song collection take us into the purple range of hues. They are Bramble, Penrhyn and Guernsey.


Spiky thorn                                                                                                                                                    and tangled scrub;                                                                                                                                   sweet purple stains her lips and tiny hands.

Our family has always enjoyed gathering food from the wild. When we lived in town, dog walks and picnics in the country always seemed to involve foraging for wild food for some kind of meal or preserve or other. I don’t know if we were odd in doing this or not, for us it’s normal. My father had a well-thumbed copy of Food For Free by Richard Mabey which he would consult as to the more dubious species; sometime he could persuade us to partake of them and sometimes he would just have to plough into whatever it was on his own. One of our parents friends was convinced we were trying to poison him by serving slices of Giant Puffball fried with slabs of traditionally cured gammon and refused to eat it although it was perfectly delicious and quite safe. But though I love seafood, even I baulked at picking winkles out of their shells with a pin; I remember watching fascinated as my dad thoughtfully chewed and swallowed before admitting to “rubbery and gritty”.

Some of the more mainstream flavours of the wild are favourites across all our families now; my nephews and nieces have been initiated in the annual excitement that is exploding bottles of Elderflower Champagne, so full of sugar it can dissolve your teeth but delicious and yeasty, even when you have to strain out the tiny insects that were hidden in the frothy white blossoms you pick in full sun. We’ve also bred the next generation of prawners – something of a competitive sport across our much wider extended family as to who can get the longest prawn or biggest haul (weighed in ounces, shell on) and whose successes have been diligently recorded in pencil on the kitchen cupboard door for longer than I’ve been alive (my aunty still seems to hold the current record from August 2000 which appears to have been a bumper year).


Blackberry picking is probably the most acceptable form of foraging though and isn’t just confined to slightly bonkers forager families like ours. My father and oldest brother were the best and most dedicated at blackberry picking, I was never as keen. The headlands are thick with wild bramble scrub and those blackberries are tainted with salty sea spray and less palatable. But around the cottage the bramble thickets yield sweeter, plumper berries and despite the savage thorns that lacerate unwary little bare legs, the brambles are never completely eradicated to supply the delicately scented berries to colour and flavour the ever popular blackberry-and-apple compote, crumbles and pies.




Heather grey                                                                                                                                              riven cold rock;                                                                                                                                              yet warmed by fire, the hearthstone welcomes home.

Most of us think of slate as a blueish grey. Slate of course comes in many greyish hues though depending on the minerals present in the rock as it was formed and for a grey fanatic like me I find this endlessly fascinating.

Welsh slate is famous throughout the world for its beauty and quality as a building material and for decorative use. It’s very smooth and durable and has been exported widely. Although a lot of slate that is used in Britain now is imported from India and China because it’s cheaper, Welsh slate is still highly sought after  – if you can afford it!


There are several slate quarries in Wales, Penrhyn Quarry the one that inspired this shade is still active and is in Bethesda just on mainland North Wales below Anglesey. The slate from here is generally considered to be the finest slate in the world. It’s also the quarry that I photographed the quarry lake blue in from yesterday’s post. Whilst the slate quarrying business continues further up, the lower section now houses the activity centre Zip World where you can fly over the quarry and lake on a zip wire … if that’s your idea of thrills!


The steps to the cottage and other areas are in the gorgeous purple shade known as Penrhyn Purple (or Heather Blue or Bangor Blues) and to me it’s a comforting and soft shade that seems warmer than the stone itself. A cool 590 million years old, it’s so old it’s beyond imagining and puts human history into its perspective of having only just happened by comparison. The slate steps themselves having only been in situ for a mere 130 years…


This soft purple grey is the first shade I envisioned to dye for this collection. It’s the one I’ve had to dye most often to get right and it’s an elusive colour to photograph. Perhaps that’s fitting for such an ancient colour; it’s allowed to be a tad awkward!



Horizon,                                                                                                                                                     waves slap the keel;                                                                                                                                 hand on tiller, a sailor tacks for shore.

This is a slightly odd one but nevertheless it is a very strong association of colour for me. Guernsey is for the warm navy blue shade of guernsey jumpers or jerseys – the Channel Islands seem to have had a monopoly on the naming of these sea faring sweaters!

Made from densely spun smooth 5-ply wool yarn knitted at tight gauge, they’re designed to keep out wind and with wool’s characteristic of being warm even when wet; guernseys must have saved lives of seafaring folks by staving off hypothermia. Now most people will go to sea wearing quite technical manmade fabrics that are both waterproof and breathable. But even when I was little, all our jumpers were made of wool and we all seemed to have guernseys for pottering around on the shoreline or in boats. Flicking back through our family photo albums for this project, it struck me that in the earlier photos, all of us were in guernseys, my parents, us, family friends. Later photos from the 1980’s as we grew, we children were in cotton sweatshirts although my parents continued to wear wool. This photo taken of me in Anglesey on the headland with the sea behind shortly before my first birthday shows me in my first guernsey – oversized to grow into with rolled up sleeves! My mum tells me it was a pale blue shade – I don’t remember this jumper, just the later dark blue ones I had to wear at my first school. It’s possibly the only photo I can show you of me as a small child, rather embarrassingly I was somewhat averse to wearing clothes as a littl’un as scores of family photos show! There is another amusing photo of me half naked having a sitz bath in the washing up bowl on the lawn … but still wearing my guernsey…


My father wore his guernsey as his not-at-the-office clothing for weekends and around the house so to me it is the one garment that is inseparable in my mind from him. My mother has it still and I asked her if I could photograph it to show the colour I had in mind when I was dyeing the shades. Despite years of regular wear, it’s still in excellent condition, just a tiny bit of fraying at the neck where it grazed his neck which I need to darn. Otherwise – perfect. A really sustainable garment which just shows how economic a well designed and constructed wool garment can be – in stark contrast to the sad throwaway culture of fashion we have now where garments can wear out in a matter of months or even weeks.


Guernseys (also known as ganseys) and other similar tightly knit wool sweaters were worn all over Britain and other coastal areas of maritime countries and so are a part of our collective heritage for lots of us regardless of where we live. Some have wonderful intricate stitch patterns; lore suggests they could be regional to allow identification of lost fishermen although I don’t know how true this really is. Nevertheless the beautiful patterning of ganseys is a massive subject on which I personally know little but has been explored extensively by modern knitwear designers to as a rich mine of textile culture. It is something I’d like to explore in my own knitting in due course. They can also be different colours – there are some gorgeous shades available now in traditional gansey yarn.

To my mind though a traditional guernesy  is a simply constructed tight knit, plain stitch jumper with the ribbed neck and cuffs, split hem, straight neck line and the simple rib and garter pattern at the armscye. And it’s always always deep navy blue…



So there you have the final three shades – I’ve finished up on the colours that are perhaps most personal to my memories of being “in a place” rather than the ones that are directly inspired by Anglesey itself. But that is my hiraeth; the true meaning of longing for the place in time that you can only visit in your memory but never truly return to.


I hope you’ve enjoyed the background to the colours too. I will do another post with the colours all together so you can see how they work that way. In time I’d like to do more of just a few of the colours in different combinations to help those who might find it harder to visualise how they work.

But for now I need to get back to finalising the yarn itself, there’s still work to be done on labelling and skeining and dyeing and the product listings so there will be a little pause before it comes into the shop. Thank you for joining me on this trip down memory lane; I’m so looking forward to seeing how you take the colours into the future in your knitting projects!

Island Song – v.3

The third trio of colours in the Island Song collection remain in the blue-green part of the spectrum. They are Squill, Llyn and Breakwater.


Powder blue,                                                                                                                                           nestled in grass;                                                                                                                          shimmering stars like fallen flecks of sky.

Spring at the coast is fresh and full of delicate colour. In the height of the summer, the air seems thick with the compellingly whiffy tang of rotting seaweed and the wiry grasses seemed flattened and baked dry by sun and endless feet. But Spring washes everything clean after the winter storms and in April and May the grass is alive with flecks and sparkles of wild flowers.


I really love the scattering of Spring Squill (Scilla verna) across the headlands. Our holidays as children were only ever in late summer or early autumn – I know if I’d been here at Easter or other spring holidays I would have been trying to gather these miniature lilies to make tiny bouquets for mice and elves…




Azure pool,                                                                                                                                                   light refracted;                                                                                                                                               icy depths suck the warmth from sunlit air.

I don’t know if journeys with young children are easier these days with all the in-car entertainment available to distract them, but with nothing more hi-tech than multiple rounds of “I Spy” and stopping to let out car-sick kids who’d tried to read, the long road trips to go on holiday must have been something of a chore for poor parents.

We lived just off the old A5 and so barely deviated from it all the way up through Wales. It was a good 3 hours drive plus though and I’m sure my parents hearts must have sunk after a few minutes to hear me piping from the back seat “are we nearly there yet Daddy?”

As I grew older I think I understood that to reach heaven a certain amount of traffic induced hell had to be endured. Nevertheless I would be caught out every trip in Snowdonia, still some hour away from our ETA. As we would pass Llyn Ogwen (llyn being the Welsh word for lake) at the base of craggy Tryfan I would be convinced we’d reached the sea (having a child’s hazy grasp on altitude and sea level) and probably took some pinning down by my brothers as I freaked out with excitement (by the way, I still freak out with excitement when I see the sea now more than 30 years later). That lake; it got me every time…

So I wanted to include a llyn/lake-inspired blue in this collection and there are beautiful lakes on Anglesey too one of which I may include in due course as a extra complimentary shade. However for colour contrast I’ve taken poetic licence here and chosen to represent the turquoise of the quarry lake in Bethesda just a little further up the road from Llyn Ogwen. The sediments and minerals in quarry lakes reflect and absorb different ends of the spectrum of light which gives their spooky brilliant blue appearance. Despite their tropical appearance, quarry lakes are actually bone-chillingly cold and can be very dangerous to swim in. Quite a few people get into difficulties swimming in these beautiful but deadly places – much better to admire them from a safe distance instead.




Restless seas                                                                                                                                            roiling ever in;                                                                                                                                               the sea wall soothes and calms the anchored ships.

I couldn’t not include a sea-green. Without the sea, an island doesn’t exist. Without the colour sea-green in my life, I curl up and die! Not really of course! But it is one of my most favourite shades.

It’s almost impossible to capture the depth of colour or the variety of shades the sea can turn as the light plays on it and the weather systems change it’s nature. I chose to name this shade “breakwater” because the sheltered side of that kind of sea wall captures the shade best to my mind. Deep sea water but relatively calm without the surface wave action to cut up the light and change it’s colour.

The Holyhead Breakwater is an incredible piece of building work. At 1.7 miles in length, this huge 19th century sea wall runs out into the ocean like a crooked arm protecting the harbour from the rolling Atlantic crashing in almost unchecked (well apart from Ireland conveniently taking the brunt of course!). At the end stands a small square lighthouse.

Years ago I spent two nights floating within the nestled arm of this breakwater moored to a floating pontoon, rocked to sleep by the relatively calm motion of the sea interspersed with the quiet surging swell as yet another ferry passed the end of the sea wall on its way to Dun Laoghaire or Dublin Port. I also spent a very miserable drizzly day learning to manoeuvre a sailboat under power and MOB drill for my Competent Crew; think reverse parking and three point turns with added drift and wet sheets (ropes) whilst wearing by-then very smelly oilskins…

Outside the wall, the grey waves smack into it on their long journey in. Inside the wall on calmer days, like the one I visited recently, the sea is a smooth rippled blue-green colour that shifts in hue  with the scudding clouds.

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I know the colours are now quite blue-green heavy – I suppose that’s mostly because they’re my favourite shades! But hopefully there is a shade for everyone amongst them.


And tomorrow you can see the final three shades to complete the set and how they all work together.


Island Song – v.2

The next three colours in the collection are Beaumaris, Marram and Seaglass.


Unyielding,                                                                                                                                               impassive stone;                                                                                                                                            cool olive waters guard the flinty face.

I didn’t visit Beaumaris as a child – at least not that I remember. We would hop onto Anglesey via the Menai Bridge and speed north to our beloved holiday without deviating. Beaumaris is only a few minutes drive further east and although day trips out did take us to the south of the island, Beaumaris isn’t one of them that I recollect.

I did however visit it for the first time on one of my first holidays away with my own friends. Rather inevitably I dragged a couple of them back to Anglesey and we stayed in a B&B in the centre of the island and went to various places including my old stomping grounds and had the lovely surprise of finding some of my extended family staying there at the same time. They treated my young friends and me to afternoon tea with Barabrith. It was the last time I saw my lovely and talented great aunt who had inspired me so much more than I ever realised with her crafts and kindness to my family. She was 98 years old and I’m glad my last memory of her is on holiday sitting smiling in her chair at the cottage she’d lovingly decorated with handmade things over the years and shared so generously with many members of her family and friends.

The next day my friends and I did a little driving tour around the east side of the island and visited Beaumaris Castle. I have photos of the three of us smiling through the stiff sea breeze up on the battlements and being photobombed by tame seagulls hopeful that tourists might have food scraps they could scavenge!


Beaumaris Castle was built by Edward I as a means to finally quash the Welsh who were causing him so much trouble by their refusal to be tamed and pay homage (or at least pay homage without their fingers crossed behind their backs!).

Started towards the end of the 13th century it was in fact never finished. Nevertheless it is a beautiful castle and has a very green (!) moat surrounding part of the castle walls and this moat is the inspiration of the green shade – an olive-y, mossy hue I am becoming increasing fond of apparently when I glance into my wardrobe!


Beaumaris is corrupted from the French “beau/beaux marais” meaning beautiful marsh/es – the marsh on which the Norman castle was built and which originally meant it could be reached directly by ship on one side. Now the marshes are drained (I think it’s the car park actually!) but the incomplete ruin is still a fascinating place to visit. Because I had Marley with me on this trip I didn’t pay to go in again, we just peered through the railings to take photos but I want to go back again for another visit.



Whip dry grass                                                                                                                                           halts shifting dunes;                                                                                                                               quick fingers bend it to the weaver’s will.

Marram is the papery silver green grass that grows along sand dunes in coastal areas everywhere. It has very long roots which anchor the dunes and stop them shifting with the weather and coastal erosion. Thus anchored, other species can establish themselves on the dunes amongst the marram grass – natures very own gabion boxes.


Sand dunes with marram on were never that appealing to me; the dry fronds would tickle my bare legs as I ran along the coastal paths and every child knows the best kind of sand is the damp sort on the beach that you can build sandcastles out of or half-bury your long suffering daddy in…


Marram Grass is far more interesting to me as an adult because of my interest in textiles. Marram has been used extensively by coastal dwelling and island people to weave into mats, baskets or creels and even nets and lobster pots. This is especially true of Newborough which is further south from where we stayed which had a thriving industry based on marram weaving. In the 14th century the new borough was partially buried by the dunes and in the 16th c the Elizabethan government ordered more planting of marram to stabilise the dunes and it was illegal to uproot the plants themselves.


Marram grass weaving continued up until the 20th century. I don’t know if anyone still knows how to weave with it now – I would love to find that out! I did find this picture online of one marram weaver Ellen Williams of Newborough making mats (although to me it looks a little more like braiding). Finding out more about the marram weaving industry is on my very long list of things I want to do!



Shattered shards                                                                                                                                 tumbled through waves;                                                                                                                       embedded frosty jewels in salty sands.

Beachcombing is still one of my favourite pastimes. I love hunting for interesting treasures washed up along the shoreline. Driftwood, mermaids purses and sea foam tossed from the sea. Unfortunately in the past four decades I’ve been beach combing, the stuff the sea churns up increasing includes vast quantities of plastic and a walk now along a beach after winter storms is a heart breaking lesson in what destructive and filthy creatures we humans are and how we soil our own environment.

Sandy beaches are great for playing on but the most interesting ones to me are pebbly ones. Delicate shells and interesting colours stones grab your attention if you keep your eyes peeled. My most favourite of all is searching for sea glass – there is just something wonderful about the frosty smooth finish of the sea, the thrill of hunting for different colours and wondering where it comes from.


It will be no surprise to my spinning and knitting online friends that my favourite shade of sea glass is the pale aqua colour that looks like a Fox’s Glacier Mint. Each time I walk on a beach I keep an eye out for sea glass and on my favourite sea glass hunting beach it’s rare that I won’t find just one tiny fragment nestling amongst the stones…


So you now know half the colours. Do you have a favourite yet? Can you guess what other shades might follow? How might you combine the ones you’ve seen so far!


Stay in touch for the next three shades coming soon…


Island Song – v.1

I’ll split the colours into four blog post of three colours each – four verses of the song if you like!

I’ll start with the shades Anenome, Parys and Gorse.


Motionless,                                                                                                                                                blood clots on rock;                                                                                                                     underwater explodes like crimson stars.

When I was tiny I was very afraid of deep seas. To my timid imaginations, all kinds of known and unknown beasties lurked beneath the cool green glaze on a still day or the rough choppy grey waves. Whilst nothing would have stopped me from joining my family on a fishing trip or rowing around the bay, I could be sent into a panic quite easily by my brothers teasing rocking of the boat even when our father would tell them off for frightening me. 

I was much happier when I could paddle about in the shallows with my net and bucket and most favourite of all were the rockpools filled with all kinds of fascinating and infinitely less scary creatures. Even the “crabbums” as I called them back then were smaller and easily avoided – they wouldn’t nip my chubby pink toes dangling in the tepid water warmed by the sun.

Sea anenomes always fascinated me. So vividly red and blobby when exposed at low tide, I loved watching their delicate tentacles waving under water and how they would shoot back when touched oh so softly with my fingertip.




Eerie,                                                                                                                                                                the scarred crater lies;                                                                                                                          bleeding ancient rust from the shallow earth.

Parys Mountain (Mynydd Parys) is a place that doesn’t feature in my childhood, in fact I had never been there until a few weeks ago when I went specifically to see it and take photos for this project. However Anglesey is somewhere of massive geological interest generally, the rock formations everywhere are fascinating even to amateurs and the orangey coloured ironstone in the headlands I scrambled over is everywhere and is part of my association with the place.


Parys Mountain is also known as The Copper Mountain;  as a fantastically rich copper resource it has been mined for almost 4,000 years since the Bronze Age. Although its value was recognised since prehistoric times, it came into its own in the 18th century when it was the most significant copper mine in the world and contributed to the islands economy and established nearby Amlwch as a significant town. Whilst I chose it as the inspiration for the intense, rusty, coppery orange I wanted, there are many shades in the Great Opencast and I want to revisit these colours at some point in my dyeing – a literal mine of colour!


Visiting it on a hot, still day gave the eerie impression that I had suddenly landed on another planet, perhaps on Mars. Very little can grow on the acidic earth, heavy in metals and the bare, richly coloured heaps of rock give an other-worldy feeling that follows you as you walk. I think Marley found it a spooky as did, for once he behaved and didn’t pull on his lead!


Standing looking down into the vast open mine it’s incredible to think it was largely created simply by men with hand tools and gunpowder, a point made by the information signs at that point. Miles of tunnels run beneath the opencast; apparently it is estimated that more than six million tons of copper, zinc and precious metals still lie in this mine. Even the pools of standing water are rusty orangey red…



Coconut                                                                                                                                                           and honey’d spice;                                                                                                                                  exotic scents on a salt-tanged ocean breeze.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Gorse is everywhere in Wales and indeed most rural places in Britain! I most notice the scent of it though when I’m at the coast; it has that sweet smell that to me seems like a cross between coconuts and freshly baked banana bread! Warmed by the sun, I would run through head height gorse and rosa rugosa bushes to get to the beach and the smell would fill my nose and make me hungry for cake.


Yellow is not a colour I can wear and I find it tricky to use. But a small amount of yellow lifts so many other shades, it’s amazing how it works with other colours and brings them to life with its zesty punch.


I loved how the gorse added a bright focus in this picture with the Welsh Mountain sheep, the Menai Bridge and the infamous stretch of the Menai Straits called The Swellies, the part with dangerous tides and whirlpools that can be navigated at slack water. I moored beyond here just the other side of the Menai Bridge for two nights some years ago on a yacht trip sailing round Anglesey. Some of the crew wanted to go through The Swellies but our skipper was a bit lazy and told us it wasn’t really that exciting and said no!


I hope you like the first three shades.


I’ll be back soon with the next three in the second verse of the Island Song!

Island Song

I usually find design ideas for colour in the natural world or in things around me in my home. In creating a colour palette for the Welsh grown yarns, I wanted to draw particularly on the inspiration of my homeland.

Although I was born in England and consider myself a thoroughly British mutt with a healthy crossbreeding of all the nations and islands that make up our quirky United Kingdom, I identify most strongly with my Celtic heritage as this is predominately what I am. Growing up on the Shropshire/Welsh Borders meant day trips usually saw us heading west into the beautiful countryside around the Welsh Marches for picnics and dog walks and my early childhood heading up to Flintshire to visit extended family on my grandmother’s side when those great aunts and uncles were still alive mean I’m more connected to the Welsh side of my heritage than my Scottish, English or (very small amount!) of Irish blood. Moving to Mid Wales in my late teens means I’ve now lived for more than half my life here. The Welsh are my people and Wales is my home.

But the strongest connection I have comes from the summers of my childhood where we spent our family holidays on the Isle of Anglesey, or Ynys Mon as it is known in Welsh. My brothers and I spent many happy hours pottering about in rock pools, swimming in the sea, sailing, rowing and fishing in a variety of rickety (and not always seaworthy!) boats. We had unfettered freedom of a greater kind than at home, the sun always seemed to shine, always something interesting happening and the simple family-centred lifestyle was a luxury that no money could have bought. We took it for granted and yet also appreciated this slice of heaven; for us it was the best part of the year and nothing else could even come close.

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The cottage actually belonged to our great aunt and uncle and long before my siblings and I learnt to swim and explore in this magical place, our father and his cousins had done the same as children and loved it with the same passion that we did. Both my great aunts retreated to living in this area with their young children for safety during WWII and my great grandparents lived here for the last years of their lives. On the other side of the family, my mother grew up on Anglesey for the early part of her childhood and went to school here as my Grandpa was a doctor on the island. Digging through old family photos as an adult it amazed me how many other strands of my family life also centre around Anglesey; to me it explained why it always felt like coming home although it wasn’t somewhere I’d ever really lived and why when you were somewhere else a part of your soul was still there; a kind of exile.

My memories of this place were created before my conscious memory; it simply was. The place seeps into your blood and becomes part of you. It also acts like a magnet to attract or repel; in talking to others it’s clear it is either a place that you “get” or you don’t. Happily for me, my siblings not only “got” it but still love the place as much as I do which is why the cottage now owned by one of my brothers and they can now all teach their children to love the things we did and it’s been a joy to see them experience the wonder and be the fifth generation of our family to do so.

Because those early holidays also formed the strongest creative influence over me surrounded as we were by handmade things and always making things ourselves as a family, it was inevitable that I would draw on some of the colours of the coast that resonate with me for my yarn colour palette – to me they speak most strongly of Wales and of things that are handmade. So I deliberately worked on creating a core of shades that would work together either tonally or contrasting for a variety of design ideas and matching them up with some of the influences about this place I love as well as other later features of the island I learned about later.

Although the achingly bittersweet memories of a time and a place that has passed and you cannot return to is what the Welsh call hiraeth, I didn’t want to name this colour collection that. “Hireath” as a name has had a lot of use recently in various yarn/knitting/fibre places including the Cambrian Wool original commercially dyed palette and it seemed just too obvious to use it as a handle myself.

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Colour is one of those things that really excites those of us who love making things. Some combinations make you want to reach out and touch them, fire off a hundred ideas in your brain so that you can’t sit still and the curious synaesthesia between sound and colour is well known. I’ve chosen to call this collection instead “Island Song” – it’s my love song of colour to the island that means so much to me and I hope the colours will make your heart sing too and inspire you to create beautiful projects.

Like all good songs I hope there will be tonal variations in the future as I overlay the colours over different yarn bases; fibres, weights and shades. My initial core palette includes shades that for me are uncharacteristically clear and saturated which might surprise those who are used to my more subdued dyeing! I’ve done this deliberately to allow room for future muted shades over the natural coloured bases I prefer to dye in due course and expand the range and give something for all tastes. For the future, I have a few more shades planned too and hope also to bring out limited runs of seasonal colours at times too. However for now, I need to learn to walk before I can run. So twelve hand dyed shades it is.

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You can see from this B&W image of them that I’ve also tried to give a tonal depth across the range for colourwork too. I’m hoping mini-skeins will feature in the future as well for those who enjoy stranded work or small projects.

Because I don’t have huge stocks of the initial batches of yarns, I will be dyeing these to order once they open in my shop. So in fact I tested the final shades in the pictures on another British wool yarn which I may also stock depending on demand. It’s a heavy lace weight North Ronaldsay yarn and whilst not Welsh it is a fascinating rare breed and with a beautiful synchronicity is of course from perhaps the hardiest Island sheep we have in the UK, living as they do in their unique environment on North Ronaldsay on a specialised diet of seaweed. It just seemed the perfect yarn to try out for a lace weight compliment for the Welsh yarns. I’d love to know what you think of it too!

The following blog posts will (finally!) introduce you to the actual shades. Once they’re all up I hope to open orders on the website and you can purchase them!

A Welsh Yarn

This is a story about Wales, about sheep, about wool – a Welsh yarn. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we shall begin…

I’ve been dropping hints about yarns for a long time now. Creating and selling proper Welsh grown yarns from my own sheep is something I’ve desperately wanted to do since before I started selling my fleeces as BarberBlackSheep.

When I first started keeping Gotlands and crossing them for different coloured fibres I had this idea I’d somehow handspin everything. Hmmm… maybe not!



Having yarn spun commercially from individual fleeces or from breed specific flocks is actually quite tricky. Within the UK there are now very few commercial mills that can cater to the small market and of the mills that can spin the kind of worsted yarn that benefits the kinds of fleeces I grow there are only two. And only one of these can deal with the tiny quantities of fleece I have.

When I switched from keeping commercial meat sheep to Gotlands I did so with the aim of looking for the “perfect” sheep. Over 10 years later I think I’ve now realised that this doesn’t exist within the parameters I was looking for; an animal is always going to lean towards one characteristic or other.
I was going through a rather zealous eco-friendly stage after a prolonged period of ill-health that forced me to give up my job in my mid-20s. Having ignored and even scorned the knit-your-own-yoghurt / wholemeal-socks brigade as we thought of them I was forced to think differently – but there’s nothing like chronic illness to burst an arrogant bubble.

My long and uncomfortable quest to find my health again involved facing a few home truths I’d chosen to ignore and realised that what we eat, wear and live in has a major impact on what we are. Having gratefully clawed my way out of debilitating pain over 18 months I threw myself 110% into natural food, clothing, toiletries and even housing in that way that converts do! I was interested in permaculture concepts and became somewhat obsessed about sustainability, often setting the bar impossibly high. No aspect of my life was spared the scrutiny of sustainability and that included the animals we were keeping.


The meat sheep we’d kept till then were bred purely for the European export market. The fleeces went to the BWMB for not very much money and the sheepskins from the fat lambs would have been a waste product, I believe most likely going to China for making trainers (although I’m not certain!). I don’t have a problem with animals being farmed for meat or eaten as a moral principle I do however feel very strongly that nothing should be wasted, that we should never take lives unthinkingly and few things make me as angry as meat or animal products that gets thrown away. I wanted a sheep that’s fleece was as valuable as its meat but unfortunately we consumers dictate demands that often require a specialist breed rather than a dual purpose one.

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Wool growing sheep are usually rangy rather than meaty but we like juicy plump joints of meat; those sturdy, well muscled breeds that provide the kind of cuts the butchers require don’t have soft, snuggly fleeces for fine spinning.
I considered several traditional breeds for some time and narrowed it down to either Wensleydales or Shetlands for different reasons.

In 2006 I went to the Royal Welsh Smallholders Show which also included the Green Building Exhibition and the very first WonderwoolWales – fraction of the fabulous show so many of us went to last month. I had recently taken up knitting again and was learning to spin but I’ve always been a bit obsessed with textiles so I was blown away by the idea of an exhibition about textiles and wool.
I got chatting to a lady on a felt making stand and said I was hunting for “the perfect sheep” and she said “Gotlands!” and I said “whats?!”. She pointed me in the direction of Sue Blacker who had just bought Natural Fibre Company and was moving it from Wales to Cornwall (Oh how I wish it were still in Wales though!) and also had a flock of Gotlands and was manning the Gotland breed stand with another Gotland breeder. Gotlands in the UK are marketed as “the three crop sheep” for wool, meat and pelts (back in Sweden they are generally used for pelts).
There weren’t any Gotlands on show but she had photographs and Sue told me what massive personalities Gotlands have and then I saw some of the handspun overdyed yarns the other lady had spun and I was sold from that second.




Over the next few years I fiddled around trying to breed from my two foundation ewes I acquired and crossing a Gotland ram onto another couple of different breed ewes we already owned. I quickly discovered I liked crossing for fleeces types more than I liked breeding pedigrees!


I also realised that creating a “perfect” sheep is not a question of putting one breed onto another and hoping for the best. Genes will play the lottery, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes the results are predictable, other times not. First crosses can vary wildly, new breeds are created by selectively breeding those first crosses back to each other to reinforce the desirable characteristics whilst culling any that don’t meet the grade and I quickly realised also that a 15 acre smallholding combined with a shepherd with a complete inability to part with anything as adorable as a Gotland sheep is not cut out for creating a new sheep breed!

However I did get some interesting sheep and fleece types out of my experiments. One of the most special is what I refer to as Swedish Mule (neither a slipper nor a cocktail – a sheep!). A straight Gotland/BFL cross, it’s like the best of both breeds with none of the downsides. I bred 4 of these before I sold my ram. I’ve only ever sold a couple of their fleeces, I’ve carefully stored them over the past 4 years and last year I had enough to reach the minimum quantity for processing.


Artisan yarn like this is really expensive to produce; having discussed the yarn a year ago I had to save up the capital to do this project and so it was late autumn before I could afford to ship the fleeces to Natural Fibre Company with my heart in my mouth for the next stage of a project I’d wanted to do for so long.


The yarn came back a couple of months ago – it’s truly beautiful and I’m very happy with it. The yarn I designed is a worsted spun 4-ply/fingering weight yarn blended with tussah silk to enhance the wool’s characteristics – specifically created for a drapey, lustrous luxurious yarn perfect for lace shawls or other items where lustre and drape is an advantage. It’s limited edition, it will be costly and there isn’t actually a huge amount of it. It will also probably never be repeated exactly like this because I now have only 3 of the sheep whose fleeces it’s made from, having lost Boudicca to pneumonia last year. So I wanted to be sure exactly how I was going to sell it, skein size, colours etc.

If this project works well then there are other kinds of yarn I’d like to create from other fleeces I have stored once I’m able to afford to do so. I’m aware that my tagline “made in Wales” that originated from starting with my own fleeces is drifting further away from it’s roots in my products although everything I dye or card myself is made here in Wales and strongly influenced by the Welsh landscape and everything I stock has been carefully chosen for a reason such as the stunningly beautiful Haunui New Zealand Halfbred which has such great provenance behind the sheep and the business.

A couple of months back I realised that the Cambrian Wool project (part of the Cambrian Mountain Initiative) which had been in discussion for some years was getting close to launching so I started making enquiries about stocking their yarns to dye myself to compliment my own homegrown ones.


It’s beautiful and I’ve spent some times in recent weeks finalising the palette of twelve shades I will be offering these lovely Welsh grown yarns in … as well as future yarns I hope. I’ve chosen initially to stock the DK weight to compliment the 4ply/fingering weight of my own yarn and it’s created from Welsh Mule, soft but robust and springing, perfect for garment knitting.

So there you have it – two contrasting Welsh yarns, spun in England and dyed in Wales. Coming to a shop near you soon!! ;0)

In my next few blog posts I’m going to tell you about the new colour palette I’ve been creating; it’s inspired by Wales and by my childhood memories so each of the colours has meaning for me and make my heart sing when I look at them. I can’t wait to share them with you now it’s done!

Goose Bumps

We’ve kept geese for quite a few years. In the past we’ve reared them under their mothers but geese don’t always make the most diligent of mummies and it didn’t always work out very well. We’ve also had eggs incubated by friends and had the older goslings back to bring on. I don’t think we’ve ever incubated them ourselves though, or if we have it was so long ago I don’t remember it. We’ve hatched other poultry at home but goose eggs escape my increasingly patchy memory!

My mum bought a new gander a while back; Steve McGoose of the Great Christmas Dinner Escape. Steve has grown up into a massive, beautiful and filthy tempered bird – I can often hear mum out in the orchard begging for her life – well OK, shouting at him as he noisily attempts to attack her – but the intention was always to raise some goslings again. This year she borrowed an incubator from friends and set 9 eggs to hatch. We tried candling them a couple of times at the appropriate intervals, I was pretty certain they were growing nicely but goose eggs have very thick shells and it’s actually quite hard to see through them even using the very strong studio lights I use for product photography!

On Sunday night the first egg started pipping and by morning was showing cracks. When I got back from work on Monday evening, the first gosling was flopping around with spiky wet down in amongst the other eggs in the incubator and more eggs were showing signs of pipping. Over the past 48 hours 5 eggs have hatched out. We think the other 4 probably won’t although we’ll keep them in the incubator for a little longer just to be sure.

The famous Five however have now moved to a brooder box. Cuteness overload warning. I’ve been chittering about them in my Ravelry group and promised I take photos. I just “took a couple” now and when I uploaded them found I’d taken around 70 pictures…So I thought I’d edit them out and put some pics of the cheeky chap pies on here!


Two have leg issues, one I think will come OK with a little physio and possibly splinting with soft handspun wool to get his/her legs under it. The smallest one unfortunately seems to have a deformed leg and we’ll have to see how it goes. It may be that as it gets bigger it might be kindest to put it down; geese are large and heavy birds and would not be able to hop around on one leg like my little lightweight one-legged blackbird friend in Anglesey. For now they’re looking out for each other.


The biggest gosling – or gullies as they are known locally – is no shrinking violet. He’s a chip off the old block and is very bossy and has lots of attitude. Despite being around 24 hours old, Steve Junior is going to be a handful as he grows up it’s already clear!


Geese imprint on the first thing they see which means mum and I are big geese to these guys. If they’re out of their box and we walk away they try to paddle after us. The ones without leg issues are surprisingly nifty on their feet already!

They aren’t camera-shy either!!



They’re hungry little chubsters tackling the chopped grass I’ve given them, strands of my hair if I get too close and even a nice juicy finger. This is Steve Junior again by the way…


After working out his beak isn’t yet big enough to savage my fingers he triumphantly climbed on top of my hand instead to claim the high ground – victory of another sort!


They actually want to be warm and to snuggle and I need little persuasion to snuggle baby animals either so I did give them a group hug and they nestled under my chin.




Steve II wondered if I’d fallen asleep, a quick nibble (pinch – yow!) on my eyelid reminded me I had work to do and I sat up ready to put them in their brood box again. I discovered that I had stowaways inside my handspun Blank Canvas sweater I was wearing under my coat. It turns out even baby geese appreciate Me Made May!

There are two and a half geese in there, one is heading for my armpit, one snuggling down inside the collar and the third tucking it’s head inside because by that stage there was no room in the inn and standing room only outside the venue.


Baby animals are big time wasters – but in a nice way! They grow so fast though and I miss having babies around the place,  we don’t breed much anymore. I think I will be spending a bit of time in mum’s conservatory over the next week or so playing Mama Goose. Like this…


Sea Dog

Marley and I just had a quick 48 hour trip to Anglesey to sort out some building work. We always manage to squeeze in some other stuff too though and although the weather forecast was poor it turned out to be wrong – in our favour and we had glorious sunshine for most of the time.

Poor Marley missed out on the last two trips for different reasons so he hasn’t been to the sea for nine months. He does love it so and although he quite often goes on short trips with me when I’m going somewhere in the car – he just likes coming along for the ride – he sort of knew it was a extra-special trip just minutes after leaving home. As I turned right out of the village he did a small bounce on his pile of bedding on the back seat and did an excited small “wuff!” before settling down happily to sleep – he knows by now that the journey takes almost 3 hours.

We did stop for coffee halfway and stretched our legs.


And then a bit further on from that we popped in to see some friends of mine and Marley got to play with their dog – I was a bit apprehensive about this as Marley is deeply suspicious of black and white dogs having been bitten a few times in recent months by collies but happily Drew is very relaxed and they had a nice playdate whilst I caught up with my friends over delicious soup!

On the way up I wanted to detour via a few places so we stopped in Beaumaris (or Biwmares in Welsh) and he nearly got his ears blown off when he put his paws up on the seawall! Marley’s ears lean somewhat to his Golden Retriever ancestry, they’re very silky and long and flop all over the place when a strong wind blows. I find this hilarious but Marley doesn’t care even if I sing “Do your ears hang low?” at him as they whirl madly around his head like a bouffant hairdo fresh from the salon…


The scenery is no laughing matter though, for me I think this stretch of coast looking back off the island over the sea at Menai Straits towards the mountains of Snowdonia on the mainland of North Wales is so utterly and heart stoppingly beautiful it can make me cry with the sheer wonder of it. Normally I’m driving when I see this view from a different angle further west – it was great to stop and drink it in for a while.


Marley gets slightly bored with me taking photos – he can only take so much before he vocalises his opinion on the matter so I put him back on his bed in the car for a few minutes where I knew he was safe. When I came back I found he’d commandeered my seat and that he can still convey his dim view of my need to stop and admire scenery and take photos – I think he was telling me if I didn’t get a wiggle on he’d drive off and leave me there!!


We meandered back past Menai to pick up the A55 again, me stopping in each lay-by to get out and take photos closely followed by a German couple who were doing exactly the same! We exchanged sheepish grins as we met several times!! Marley groaned and went to sleep…


I did stop in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwryndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch briefly – almost for less time than it takes to say the name! I got all overexcited by the word “weavers” (not realising it is basically Edinburgh Woollen Mill! I’m so ignorant!) which to mind suggested all kinds of Welsh textiles but I was bitterly disappointed by the mass produced very non-welsh, not-woven goods and shot out almost as quickly as I scooted in.


As soon as we got to the end of our journey he was off out of the car and exploring sniffs and if you could see a dog’s worries roll off his shoulders it was then. The past couple of weeks he’s been one wired doggy because of all the lambs bleating in the fields around home – I’m constantly watching him because he has a strong chase instinct and he’s desperate to run and get the endorphin high so natural to predator animals such as utility breeds of dog. He’s been tormented and I worry more than usual. Both of us end up edgy and irritable with each other with the stress of it. But at the seaside he has space to run around on, kicking up sand, swimming till he’s tired and chasing seagulls is completely legal because they just take off when they get fed up with him.

Minutes after arriving and before we’d unloaded our bags (he has his own little overnight bag!) we went down onto the beach for a quick paddle after sharing the yummy fish and chips I’d bought from Enoch’s on the way past.



Fishing for seaweed and stones – labrador-style.


And finding all sorts of alien life forms abandoned on the sand … although apparently even on holiday you’re not allowed to roll in/eat things…


The next day we had meetings and things to do but managed to fit in walks and swims around this too – in the afternoon we did a little bit of exploring by car on other parts of the island. I was quite tickled to find this mini island is called East Mouse. Marley couldn’t find the mouse I was yelping about, not even under the map I was holding…


We stopped at different places to take photos (cue doggy sigh from the back seat) and even pulled up at the windmill I’d meant to visit but no dogs permitted (aw!!) and it was too warm to leave dogs in the car so this will wait for another day.


Talking of maps, I got hopelessly lost navigating my way back via tiny lanes across the interior which I chose rather than retracing our steps back along the coast road – thanks to some eejit who’d removed the signs from the sign post at a crucial point. Luckily it was late on and the sun was low in the sky which made it easy to navigate by the direction of the sun and various landmarks such as recognisable mountains and between that and the aforementioned map I backed us out of the pickle we’d got into and got home without too much hassle and with a large ice cream. Who says women can’t read maps? Marley hastily said he said nothing of the sort… (and please can I share your ice cream?)


I just had a few things to do on the second morning before we packed up for home so the walks were a bit shorter although we did a bit of beach combing / swimming.


Marley has now discovered that chasing a seagull in water is always going to end in disappointment and also invented a new kind of retrieving. This involves swimming out to the stick I’ve thrown for him, fetching it, doggy paddling furiously further out into the bay and leaving it there bobbing helpless on the receding tide before swimming back to shore empty-mouthed. I spent some time carefully explaining the pitfalls of this kind of game (i.e. you run out of driftwood quite quickly) but he was unmoved by my logic and wasn’t going back in to get it. Apparently he thinks I can not only magic dog food out of cold boxes with lights inside each morning (always exciting, that trick!) but also magic new sticks out of the shoreline too. And anyway by then Stick was slowly drifting out of the North West Passage on its way to Ireland… I told him it was very lucky I wasn’t especially fond of that particular stick.


Spring at the coast is just beautiful with flowers starting to appear everywhere on the headland, both those planted by humans and the prettier more delicate wild flowers more in keeping with the landscape. Lying on your tummy taking photos in the sunshine is sheer joy. Possibly only beaten by lying on your back waving your paws in the air.


What are you laughing at?…


Whaaaat!? Why you laughing at meeeee?!!!


Hey!!! Stop laaaaaaaafing at me!! Wufff!!!


We got to say goodbye to our friends next-door whom we almost missed seeing this trip. Marley’s special friends as he likes me to be aware. People who don’t laugh at him but lie on the floor just to tickle his ears, play with him and tell him he’s a lovely boy.

We had one last mad snorty, wuffy dash around on the golden sand as the tide was out and headed back off through the mountains of North Wales to home. We stopped briefly to watch crazy humans do crazy things in a slate quarry – Marley was very perplexed by the creatures whizzing overhead. And why, pray, would you go to the trouble of putting a leash and collar on if you can fly like that anyway?!



We discovered that Spring is everywhere in Wales just now and that we’re so lucky to be able to live in such a beautiful and varied place.


It might have been short and very busy – but it was a good trip. We both feel better for it. Marley sums it up pretty well here…