A River Runs Through It

The river theme for my yarns started with this yarn I blogged about yesterday. When I was planning it, the lustre of the wool once scoured really caught the light like sunlight playing off water and so I thought a watery theme would give a good yarn name as well as giving a sense of place. It helped with my decision to enhance that by adding 20% silk for a really shimmery lustre that is brought out strongly on the dyed shades.

I’m lucky enough to live in a really beautiful place. Wales is a very varied country and the scenery never fails to nourish me whether I’m at home or travelling elsewhere. At home we are on the top of a hill looking down into valleys – or cwm – whichever way we look.

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We catch quite a lot of weather here! The high level of rainfall drains off our wet clay soils and, along with the natural springs that rise all over the land, flows into the ditches we have to maintain. And at the bottom of our fields, this water run-off starts to form a very baby stream which almost dries up in summer. In the rare summers that it is scorching hot, it’s nice to go down under the trees and listen to this tiny waterway trickling its first “steps” to the sea.

It flows into the brook down to the village and from there into the first small river it turns into – the Afon Miwl. This joins up with the River Severn which is our local main river – or Afon Hafren in Welsh – and from there carries on to England and meanders its way south before heading out into the Irish Sea at Bristol. From small beginnings powerful things can grow and I liked the thought that the small batches of fleece my sheep were growing on our little fields were slowing gathering together before being turned into a proper grown up yarn.

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Late last Autumn I started to wind and dye a few skeins to test out my colour palette. When it came to photographing them, I knew I had to go down to the river and take the wool back to where its namesake flowed. This walk down the Captain’s Pitch is one that Marley and I enjoy occasionally – despite the fact it’s reputed to be haunted by the ghost of a local man murdered on his way back from chapel in the distant past!!

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The October light filtered through the trees for just half an hour or so as I tried to catch the colours (and not topple my basket of yarns off the bridge into the stream!)

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The colours played nicely against the moss of the bridge.

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And the soft shaded light really brought out the lustre.

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There are remains of various mills around this area. The farmer who lived at our smallholding before us was very interested in local history. Before he died he tried hard to enthuse me in the same passion. Sadly in my late teens and early twenties I didn’t fully appreciate all he wanted me to understand, nor had I yet developed the love for my new home, something that takes time to root and flourish. I thought he’d told me that the mills along here were sawmills and that the oak they milled from this land base was felled to provide timbers for the ships for the Royal Navy fighting in the Napoleonic Wars.

I asked for help from someone who has long been associated with local history and textiles in this area and who was also a mutual friend of my farming mentor and she kindly corrected my hazily remembered misinformation, for which I was very grateful. She explained that although later they were converted to grain and sometimes sawmills, in the 19th C they were in the main fulling mills used for the local flannel cloth industry which was in its heyday in this area. As you might imagine, I was delighted to know that the mill was used for woollen textiles rather than wood!

She also directed me to the Cynefin project archives of the tithe maps for the area so I could see for myself the “flannel racks” or tentering frames where the wet woollen cloth was stretched and dried outside after fulling. They’re marked on land behind the trees opposite the bridge where I took the yarn photos above. This shows very clearly to what use the power of the river was being put – and in the 1840’s it was most definitely for wool! This screenshot detail of the overlaid map shows the racks as well as the Walk Mill woollen factory and river.

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I’m a bit clumsy with technology, although it is undeniably as useful to me as it is to others. In the main I prefer to do things by hand, it sits more comfortably with me and I find working things out by hand less frustrating. So when it came to making yarn labels for this yarn and for my other dyed yarns I wanted to draw – literally – on the landscape around my home. Whether looking west to the Cambrian Mountains as above or Snowdonia

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or behind us to the Kerry Ridgeway bordering England or to the soft undulations of the fields around my home…

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…wherever you look are hills, mountains and misty valleys; sheep, cattle and trees. They are connected to each other sustaining, shaping and evolving with the humans that tend them all. I started to sketch a stylised version because these are the things of my daily life.

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Which eventually turned into this label for the Hafren and Gwy yarns.

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And in the case of this Afon Miwl yarn, I’m able to bring the detail right down to the animals names!

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Afon Miwl is quite a sleek drapey yarn with little elasticity. Although it knits as a fingering weight / 4 ply yarn, its dense 80% longwool/ 20% silk worsted construction means its yardage is closer to sport weight yarn at around 290m / 100g (or 317yds / 3.53oz). It is in 100g hand-dyed skeins and is priced at £22.50 per skein. Colour batches are small, around 3 skeins in each colour batch.

It definitely lends itself to shawls and lace knitting. I think it would be amazing woven and hope there may be a few remnants after skeining that I can try this with myself.

I haven’t skeined all of the yarn yet but there will be around 150 skeins in total. And that’s it. I’m unlikely ever to make this yarn exactly like this again. The first batch of around 50 skeins will go on sale shortly once all the labelling is complete. Do feel free to sign up for my newsletter (subscribe button on my website www.barber-blacksheep.co.uk) to be informed of the planned update time.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my yarn project and will maybe want to knit with it too!

Fresh Starts

I’ve had a little time to catch up with myself in the couple of weeks the shop has been shut. A little time to spend with family and the rest of the time to dye up some things for the next shop update which will be tomorrow – Monday 15th August – in the evening UK time … because I still have an awful lot of things still to do to get it ready!!

Just a hint of what will be coming; I’ve now washed and dyed all the 2016 clip fleeces from my purebred Gotland sheep. Tomorrow will see me editing the product photos I took yesterday – there are 36 colour batches to choose from, there’s a lot of shiny colourful fleece in my house just now!!

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I don’t know what other people grow in their polytunnels – for me it’s a really useful place to dry batches of wool when the weather outside is either to windy or too rainy for it to dry there!! This summer has been patchy, some gloriously sunny days interspersed with a few damp drizzly ones. I’ve changed my dyeing studio set-up slightly this summer so that I can dye whenever I want or need too now which is fabulous and the polytunnel extends that “all weather” dyeing capability. Makes life a lot easier!!

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I’ve also got Haunui New Zealand Halfbred back in stock – I love this wool so much, it’s hard to describe all the things I like about it. Anyway, this time around I have not only got my regular mid micron Haunui tops that I dye and use for blending into my batts but something really special.

I’ve got some of the finest micron Haunui (that’s 23micons) that has been gilled with Grade A mulberry silk – the resulting tops, well it’s like sticking your hands into warm soft clouds! As you can imagine it’s a dream to spin and the dyed tops shimmer with the colours on the silk. It really represents the immense care that goes into producing Haunui wool from the breeding and care of the sheep right through to the processing of the finished fibre – I think this is the nicest fibre I’ve ever dyed.

I really hope you’ll have fun trying out these new luxury spinning fibres! The first batch is going into the shop update tomorrow. It’s impossible to truly capture the shimmering beauty of the silk and wool in photographs but here is a tiny taste.

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I’ve also got a small batch of regular mid micron Haunui that I’ve dyed in mirror gradients. The narrower length of Haunui tops and its versatility as a finished yarn just lends itself to the ever popular gradient fashion – you have the choice of spinning it as a gradient or mixing it up for barber-pole yarns or random 2-ply or fractal spinning with a little extra processing. I love dyeing these and they never quite turn out exactly like another I’ve done previously!

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I really enjoy listening to podcasts when I’m working and there are some excellent knitting and woolly ones out there to choose from. So I was very grateful that Louise Scollay of the KnitBritish podcast agreed to road test my new yarns and the first part of her knit sampling (on the Hafren yarn base) is included on the latest episode 64. I just need to add the info that the Hafren yarn isn’t actually from my own sheep flock, it’s spun from Welsh Mule sheep farmed in Mid Wales which is where I’m also based of course so it’s a yarn local to me. One of the other yarns Louise is hopefully going to review in due course is the one that’s from my own flock.

If you’re new to podcasts generally then maybe you could try them out and KnitBritish is a great place to start, Louise has her knitterly finger right on the pulse of the yarny world and along with some of my other favourite podcasters has a beautiful speaking voice that’s wonderful to listen to. Lots of people listen whilst they knit or spin but podcasts are also a brilliant way of learning about new things and interesting goings on in the fibre/yarny world whilst you get on with (quiet!) household chores or routine work or even whilst you’re out and about if you listen on a mobile device.

Not in shop news but a commission I was given lately was to dye some beautiful handspun for a friend of mine. I wouldn’t normally accept a challenge for business like this because there’s too much room for mishap. Yarn dyeing and fibre dyeing both have their different challenges and with dyeing yarn as semi-solids in repeatable small batches you have to be meticulous about weights, measurements and note-taking to reduce the variables. (all that beautiful hard work someone else has put in combined with bulk dyeing and permanent dyes – yikes, it’s scary!). However this is a good friend and we’d discussed it carefully and with a bit of lateral thinking I was able to work around my limitations and it’s good to push yourself every now and then.

I love the colour she chose from some new shades I’m hoping to introduce to the range soon – a soft sky blue I’ve called Halcyon. I thought you might like to see it drying on the line. In this photo it looks similar to Squill but it’s a slightly more smokey shade. We’re both very pleased how it turned out and I can’t wait to see her finished sweater.

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Over in my Ravelry group I’ve done a little tweaking of threads. We’ve a brand new chat thread – the old one was very long! It’s always interesting to hear what people are getting up to in their spare time and see photos of their crafting or travels or pets. With members from all around the globe it gives a window into another person’s world which is one of the nicest things about online communities I think.

Sadly I had to say goodbye to my most loved sheep last week. She was the very first Gotland I bought in 2006 and gave so much love and fun over her life as well as a few stressful times to keep me on my toes! I’m going to miss her so much. But in the vein of fresh starts and being positive, having said goodbye to a few older faces in my funny mixed fibre flock this year it’s giving me ideas about who we could invite to join us and increase the variety of fleeces… Who knows!

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Knit 1, Love 1

Sometimes life catches you up … or out. I do a lot of other things I don’t mention online that aren’t to do with my textile “life” and as with anything, you go through times outside of your control that feel like you’re slogging against the odds with no end in sight, that every throw of the dice turns out unlucky. I often remind myself that life is not about the hand of cards you’re dealt, it’s how you play them that matters. But rightly or wrongly, lately it felt like I’ve staked everything on chimeras and false hopes and disheartened was beginning to lose sight of things that matter.

Social media has opened many doors for me, both in terms of work as well as leisure and friendships with wonderful people I wouldn’t otherwise have had the good fortune to know. I’ve generally kept things low key in the years I’ve interacted online and escaped the more toxic aspects of it for which I’m grateful. However even in the happy world of textiles I generally inhabit, the political events of this summer meant that an edginess has seeped even into that. I’m not built for conflict and don’t generally engage in things that involve it and yet still was unable to escape the bile rolling up my social media feeds. The pervading air of petulance and anger on all sides indicated just how childish adults can be at times and left me confused, hurt and sick at heart because it doesn’t reflect how the people I know deal with things in the real world.

Social media not only opens doors, sometimes it opens a pandora’s box. Realising this, almost too late, caused much distress in recent weeks – for all its good aspects it’s important to hold onto the fact that neutral things can be used for ill as well as good. After a deal of thinking and with the prospect of family visiting I made the decision to close my online shop for a couple of weeks to give myself a space in which to spend time with loved ones as well as take a look at the creative and admin aspects of the business ready for some new stock and ideas.

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Being able to walk away from some online activity and focussing on the humanity of face to face conversations and eye contact with people who’ve known me since I was a child, simple things like laughter, hugs, board games, writing postcards instead of texts, drawing, reading from paper instead of screens … restored some balance. For me I am happiest outside in nature and several days spent in, on or under saltwater washed away some of the tears.

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As a childless person I sometimes feel inadequate and clumsy around small people. However I am blessed with a large collection of nephews and nieces as well as my goddaughter and these youngsters I love with as fierce a love as though they were my own. I love watching them grow and develop, learning new things, experiencing life and becoming the next generation to take responsibility. Family is central; nowhere is the sacrificial nature of love demonstrated more strongly than in a family. Genetics do not make you all the same and yet you are bound together by love. Love is sometimes an act of will, choosing to be excellent to those you are responsible towards even when you don’t feel like it. And knowing in return your family will always have your back even when they don’t really understand gives security that you can thrive within that nothing else can.

Patience is a virtue they say. It’s not really one of my virtues and having to slow down to accommodate tiny people, whether the footsteps, understanding or physical skills is also good for my soul. Going out for a morning’s kayaking I was ready long before my family, underestimating the time it takes to get children ready to go out. Sweating in my wetsuit and feeling every so slightly impatient, I picked up my knitting and headed off to sit outdoors and wait productively whilst my lively nephew and niece were wrangled and processed into teeny tiny wetsuits by their parents. I must have looked very odd knitting attired thus but then I’m used to being the oddball. Shortly a shadow appeared at my side and peered curiously at my hands.

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Aunty, why are you knitting?

Because I like knitting, darling.

But you like animals!

Yes. I like lots of things, not just animals and knitting.

What things do you like Aunty?

Well, I like reading and cooking and being outside and music and making things. Lots of things.

Do you like people?

Yes I like people.

Do you like friends?

Yes. I love my friends and family.

….

A short pause whilst my niece processed this as I finished my round and put my knitting away. And then…

Aunty, you like everything!!!

I hid my smile at the simplicity of her four year old’s perspective on life. Kissed her bonny wee head and we went off down to the beach hand in hand to play, kayak, swim and build a series of sandcastles decorated with shells and sea glass along the shore, one for each member of our family.

But maybe she’s right. If you like people and love friends and family maybe you really do “like everything”. Not in the individual micro sense of course, nobody likes every single thing. But in the overall macro sense. Love really does make the world go round; a choice, an act of will, sometimes through gritted teeth and over misunderstanding, pain and differences. With love, those differences then become the things that bind us together, not the things that divide us.

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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…

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Penrhyn

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!

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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!

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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…

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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!

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Guernsey

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…

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

Squill

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.

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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…

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Llyn

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.

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Breakwater

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.

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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.

Beaumaris

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!

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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!

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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.

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Marram

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.

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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…

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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.

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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!

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Seaglass

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.

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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…

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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!

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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.

Anenome

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.

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Parys

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.

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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!

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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!

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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…

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Gorse

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.

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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.

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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!

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I hope you like the first three shades.

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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!