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!

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