Monday, November 11, 2013

Kate Davies Sheepheid Tam

Blackfaced sheep of Shetland Isles are really something to be seen. I fell in love with them as well as that lovely place Shetland. Now as I sit by my wood stove back in the states I'm knitting the coveted Kate Davies sheep tam that I purchased. And I must say, what fun it is! The yarn is the to die for Jamison & Smith Jumper weight Shetland yarn. Jumper means sweater to Americans. I bought the tam and blanket kit while in Lerwick, Shetland Scotland. So as I knit I'm transported back to that wild and vastly open place. This is my first "real" colorwork knitting. Sure I've done other pieces before but this is the real McCoy. Here's my progress so far: You can see the sheeps' legs and body taking form. As that was happening I noticed that I accidentally knitted one sheep with 3 legs! I debated ripping it out and then decided to embrace the Navajo tradition of always working in a mistake as they do with their woven blankets. Reminds us and humbles us to the fact that we are human and thus not perfect. So a three legged sheep the tam will have. Another funny decision I've been toying with is the color of the sheeps' faces. The pattern calls for knitting white faces. But most of the sheep we saw in Shetland were blackfaced sheep. When I opened my computer this morning the sheepie photo above was staring at me. Another decision made. One blackfaced sheep the tam will have. I must say that this is a lot of fun so I'm called back to my tam and my blackfaced sheep. Enjoy your day and I hope you are able to find time to include some fiber work in your day, Mary

Friday, August 16, 2013

Knitting Gunnister Man's Bag

The knitting has begun and stopped. (I ran out of spun yarn and fleece. I am waiting for more of the colors I have to become available from North Ronaldsay). And what a tricky beginning it was! You can see the crocheted chain loops. These were done every 7 stitches. I am assuming the final chain will go through these loops to act as a pull closure. The pattern called for a knit cast on which sounded very much like cable cast on so that's what I did. Every 7th stitch was pulled through and a 10 stitch crochet chain was added. Then put back on needled to knit 7 more and add chain. This continued until 105 stitches and 15 chain loops were in place. This was very new to me and I am hoping I did it right. I'm working on size 2 dpt needles. I really don't know why circular needles couldn't be used for this. If I was home where I could grab a circular needle I would. But for now I'm at the lake and I'm following the directions which says to use dpt (double pointed) needles. There must be a reason. I hope. This pattern comes from the summer '06 Spin Off magazine. Here's what the finished bag should look like although rather than a dark brown stripe I'll have a pink stripe like the original bag had. This is fun so far. Mary

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Spinning for Gunnister Man's Bag

Deep in the vast chocolate moorland high in the 60*latitude north the remains of a man, Gunnister Man, lay hidden for many years. It is assumed that he walked the Scottish island sometime in the 1700's since a coin in his bag was dated 1690. His remains were found by two crofters, aka farmers, in 1951. I read about him years ago in the Summer 2006 issue of Spin Off Magazine. What caught my eye was a photo of the recreated bag that he was wearing. It is believed that his bag is one of the oldest examples of Shetland knitwear and a very early example of stranded knitting (two color knitting). This magazine's pattern was part of a larger article written by Deborah Pulliam on the seaweed eating sheep of North Ronaldsay. North Ronaldsay is a tiny island off the northwest coast of Scotland and is considered part of the Orkney islands. Ever since reading that article I've wanted to visit that island and it's sheep and spin/knit that bag using North Ronaldsay fleece. Years ago when I tried to purchase some fleece I found out I couldn't. Hoof and Mouth had spread through the UK and raw fleece was not available to anyone in the states. Then I found out about this fiber trip (many older posts below)and was surprised and ciked to see that a trip to this tiny island was part of the itinerary. I signed up and I wasn't disappointed. And the best part was that fleece and yarn are now available to purchase! You can read about my visit to the island at this link: So I'm back in the states and a bit jet lagged but very excited to see packages from Orkney and Shetland have already arrived. They contain the coveted fleeces from Shetland's wool brokers (Jamison and Smith) and some from North Ronaldsay. After sorting through the fleeces and yarns and choosing which I wanted to share with knitting and spinning friends I decided that I would use the Shetland fleeces after all for this bag. Gunnerston Man was found in Shetland after all! I pulled out my madder to dye the white fleece pink and then stopped when I noticed that some of the fleece from the wool broker was the perfect heathery pink color. Which works just right since I only had an ounce of the white fleece so I didn't really have enough to dye it anyway. Then I notice that the pattern calls for a tad more grey fleece then I had. But I had a lovely fawn brown. Since the bag was found in the peat bog I thought it must have been brownish because the peat soil of Shetland is the most chocolaty soil I've ever seen. Rather magnificent looking really. (But it really stinks when it's burned for heat!) Once I was done spinning the pink and the white I began combining the tan and the grey to make a tanish grey. While it would not be something I'd use in a piece of clothing it was perfect for this project.See the slight different shades of these two fleeces. The 3 skeins of yarn have been hand washed in a gentle soap, rinsed in a mild vinegar water, and are now drying while this knitter waits patiently for the knitting part of this project to begin. I do worry that my yarn is thicker then what is called for. I'll measure them when they dry and go from there. The pattern calls for the yarn to be 15-16 wpi (wraps per inch). I'll keep you updated as I progress, which will be slow I'm sure. Happy spinning/knitting! Mary

Friday, July 26, 2013

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Shetland On My Mind

First breakfast home after returning from Scotland. From now on I'm going to refer to my visit as my trip to Shetland because I have decided that it really was all about Shetland. Back to breakfast...what could be better than a first breakfast back home in Maine with a good cup of coffee, oatcakes with this years strawberry jam, and porridge? Sitting outside on a cool,clear morning watching and listening to cardinals at a birdbath and opening Facebook to find these two articles on Shetland wool and knitting! Tis first article is on a talented Shetland knitter who designed and knit a lace christening shawl for the new royal baby... And another on Foula (a small Shetland island)wool and shearing. I have handled my fair share of fleeces/raw wool and I have to say that the wool raised on the Shetland Islands are the nicest wool I have ever handled. When watching the video notice the absolute gorgeous luster and crimp! Amazing! Now to pick raspberries. Slàinte, Mary

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Heading Home

As we prepare to head to the airport for our return trip home I naturally find myself reflecting on our trip here. I'm certainly glad to have come to Scotland where I was able to learn and experience so much. The highlights for me have been the ones with a fiber focus so that means Shetland. Sheep, wool, knitting = Shetland. North Ronaldsay of the Orkneys also counts. While the Outer Hebrides were stunning in geography they don't compare with the fiber experiences of Shetland. But I must say that I can't wait to get home to my family and friends and sharing at knitting on Friday. I just may be signing off. Over and out from Scotland. Xoxo Mary, And a poem to head back home to by Scotland's Robert Burns: My Heart's In The Highlands - My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here, My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer; Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe, My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go. Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North, The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth ; Wherever I wander, wherever I rove, The hills of the Highlands for ever I love. Farewell to the mountains, high-cover'd with snow, Farewell to the straths and green vallies below; Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods, Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods. My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here, My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer; Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe, My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Last Leg, Glasgow

Back in Glasgow. Here for a relaxed day before heading back home. While here we had amazing Indian cuisine and a delicious Italian meal and all we did was walk a block or so from our hotel! Today we went to the botanic garden and art museum. Both free and within very nice walking distance. I've enjoyed Glasgow. It has been a lovely city to visit. Something else that was fun to do was visit a little grocery market and look at the foods from this side of the Earth. Tiny grapes from Italy, flat nectarines from Spain and of course local porridge, oat cakes, and Scottish tea. Guess what are making their way home in our bags!? :) The first night in Glasgow I woke in the middle of the night and was wide awake from an upset stomach and some typical night sweats. So I got myself another room so as not to wake Lesley, who is still struggling with a nasty cold and sore throat. I was thinking about making myself a cup of tea wishing I had mint tea when I remembered a ziplock bag my travel fairy godmother gave me. And look what I found in it... Thank you Gi Reed!!!!!! And there was even a tea bag for Lesley's sore throat. Xoxoxox Our visit to the Glasgow Botanic Garden And art Museum Now to pack and get ready for the long flights home. First stop Iceland.

Harris Tweed

"From The Land Comes The Cloth". love that saying from Harris Tweed. I have to be honest and admit my ignorance when it comes to Harris Tweed. I had no idea what went into making Harris Tweed. The laws are explicit and strict. Wool must be raised, sheered, and processed on this island in order to qualify for Harris wool. Then it must be woven in small private weaving workshops by local weavers on specific non-mechanical looms. It must then be finished off by these extremely dedicated and talented weavers AND pass the strict inspection to qualify for a Harris Tweed. Amazing really. And the tweed fabrics are as stunning as you might imagine. Wish I could have bought a bolt to make a door curtain for winter. Now that would be one classy curtain! A Harris weaver demonstrating the traditional loom used today by the local Harris weavers. They must have huge thighs! Just look at those beautiful bolts of Harris Tweed fabric! Mary

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Beauty of Lewis and Harris

We have spent the past two days at the island of Lewis and Harris, a part of The Outer Hebrides, also called The Western Islands. I didn't realize that Gaelic is spoken here and signs are in Gaelic. That was a fun surprise. But I guess it's a bit different from Irish Gaelic. I'll double check my spelling because I think Scottish is spelled differently. The majestic beauty has left us speechless at times. As we drive through the inner island I've been surprised by the almost alpine looking countryside that reminds me of being above tree line yet we have never gone above 2,000 ft. The lack of trees tricks us this way. The inner moorlands that go on forever, the rocky coast, the cliffs, the turquoise waters, the expansive white sandy beaches and dunes! Pure beauty and eye candy. Who would have though that the west coast of Scotland's western islands would have such mountainous terrain and such gorgeous beaches!? The northern tip of Lewis Old is obvious on this island as well. Whether it's standing stones that are scattered throughout Lewis or old churches remind us of the antiquity of the peoples who have inhabited these lands. The Callanish Standing Stones in the picture are believed to have been erected 3,000 BC. That is 500 years before Stonehenge. I was very pleasantly surprised that we were allowed to meander through them.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Off the Beaten Path in The Hebrides

We are at a very remote And lovely country inn. Wifi is iffy and we don't have cellphone service. After we landed we were held up in traffic, bovine traffic! Cows were in the road and they were moving to their own beat. Continued driving through the most remote moorland we've been in. Flat, no trees, and not a house or sheep in sight. Reminded me of driving through the American southwest desert but instead of hot, dry, oranges and browns it was cool, wet, greens and heather. Very wild and eerie. Take care! Mary

What the Heck is Fiber Touring?

I've been asked the following question a lot, "What is a fiber tour?" This fiber tour is the only one I can describe since it's the only one I've ever been on. It's a tour of places that have a fiber heritage, tradition, fiber artists...aka anything sheepy/wooly. While other fibers such as alpaca or mohair count, this tour is about wool and the sheep. Visiting sheep farms called crofts, talking with shepherdesses, working with knitters, spinners, weavers, fiber dyers. Learning new knitting techniques. Natural dyeing on the mainland: Handspun/handknit Shetland lace....AMAZING! Everything Fair Isle! The history, the techniques, the colors, the choices, the knitting: Learning to knit Fair Isle Appliqué from a tapestry display we saw and I enjoyed.

Very Old in Kirkwall Orkney

The Orkneys are off the north coast of Scotland. not nearly as north as Shetland Islands though. and Kirkwall is the capital and was a lovely place to walk around. While walking around this quaint and old town we couldnt help but run into an extremely large cathedral. This church is one of the oldest human made items I've ever looked at. St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, 1137. It supposedly took 300 years to build. The colors of the sandstone are just beautiful. Parts of this cathedral are over 850 years old. Sandstone seems like it would be a soft rock to use. And I guess it was and due to that and the weather the effects created are lovely. It is still an active church and was quite enjoyable to walk through and sit in. Around the corner are two castles, actually called palaces. While not as old they are still pretty old. I went through the Earl of Orkney's Palace (castle). It was built in the 1600's I think and was eerie to me. Off to The Outer Hebrides! Hope my family and friends in the Northeast of the states are able to find relief from the heat. Xoxoxox Mary