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

Fiber Fun on Orkney

Yesterday was a mix of many different activities including doing laundry. But the most fun was meandering out to the countryside and finding a fiber studio/home. She had lovely fiber from the seaweed eating sheep we visited yesterday but some of her fleece and yarns were dyed and hand painted. Plus she had so much more. Some fun pictures from our visit. This is the view from their driveway with the North Atlantic in the background! This is our walk up to the workshop A basket of beautifully dyed North Ronaldsay wool. The sheep of North Ronaldsay and their natural dehaired fiber. In foreground is some that is colored. Lesley got some of this for us to spin and sprinkle throughout the vest we are each going to spin and knit. Another view. Wind turbines are all over the islands. I like to see them. They signify a responsible shift away from fossil fuels and show it can and is being done quite successfully. Flowers and stone wall

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Highland Park Distillery

The most northern distillery of spirits in the UK

Wee Peerie Things I Notice

I'm not saying one way of doing things or the other is better or worse but I notice things are a wee bit different over on this side of the pond. First of all, oatcakes. They are quite marvelous. I notice they are served with just about every meal. Crunchy, textured, and not much flavor to write home about. But they work. Odd. Trees, there aren't any! Screens. None of these either. There are no screens on any windows anywhere! Hats are nice. Tea, the tea is delicious. Coffee....ugh! The coffee is awful and they serve the coffee with skim milk. Not sure what that is about as I assume dairy resources are abundant. What do they do with the cream? Cars. Cars are smaller, roads are narrower, and the steering wheel is opposite from ours. What side of the pond decided to switch the steering wheel and why? Slow pace. It's a noticeably slower pace here than the states. And I don't even live in a fast paced section of the country! And don't rush anyone. It just won't work. At first I thought I was being ignored but with some patient observation I realized it's about pace. Slow but steady. Kinda nice really, something to learn from here. Clotheslines. Clotheslines are everywhere! They are wonderful to see. So many colors flapping in the breeze. That brings me to something rather obvious. Green. Simple green aka ecologically responsible choices are subtle but obvious. Smaller cars, wind turbines all about, clotheslines, cloth towels in the wash rooms as well as a hamper, outlets that you need to turn on in order to get power, fairtrade coffee advertised proudly, biking, walking. I wish we Americans were so environmentally conscious. Stone, it's everywhere! Many buildings are stone, stone fences, stone streets. Gardens, there are hardly any vegetable gardens on the islands! I see flowers but no veggies. Locals say it's because of the winds and salt air. The few I see are protected by fairly high stone walls. Seems there must be a way to garden. Condoms, condoms are available in all public restrooms. Just like tampons are available in machines (this isn't Texas! sorry, just had to get that in there :) so are condoms. Our money is worth only 2/3rds of what pounds are worth. So I have even less than I saved and planned for. Old, it's old here and there are many artifacts and reminders of that. You can see it and feel it everywhere.

Monday, July 15, 2013

North Ronaldsay

Today we flew to the tiny island of North Ronaldsay, population 60. This is the island famous for its unique sheep that live on seaweed. I read about them years ago in Spin Off magazine and again in Wild Fibers magazine and have wanted to visit this island and its sheep ever since. Very early this morning 8 of us hardy souls and die hard fiber nuts flew at 400 feet elevation over the Orkney Islands to the very remote island of North Ronaldsay in this plane We landed at this airport on the tiny island! It's hard to see the sheep in the next photo but there are 3. There are hundreds if not a few thousand on the island. This is the bag that I want to get some Ronaldsay fiber for. I plan to spin and then knit it using this primitive fleece. It's the bag that was recreated by The Shetland Museum for their Gunnister Man exhibit. Gunnister Man was unearthed in the peat of the Shetland moor a very long time ago (1600's I think). Well I got enough fiber for the bag and also for a vest. I emailed Jane who runs the mill there before we even left on our trip and she set it aside for me. The mill here is an interesting story of how a cottage industry on a remote island was saved. The story begins with the sheep. You see these sheep are special, very special. No one knows exactly how they got to this island or when although there are several stories. But we do know that to keep the sparse grasslands available for other livestock the islanders blocked off the fields from the rocky shore 150+ years ago. The sheep were left on the other side of the 6 foot high 13 mile long stone dyke that was built around the island's perimeter! Well the sheep lived and even thrived. They survive almost totally on seaweed! Tey are what's called a primitive sheep, dating back many, many years. Most primitives have guard hairs as well as an undercoat. These guard hairs are course and they cause the wool to be very itchy against human skin if left in the fleece after preparing the fleece for spinning. These sheep, I learned, have a very greasy fleece. I was expecting a very course fiber when I arrived due to the outer hairs. I quickly realized how wrong I was and how I totally misunderstood the purpose of the mill. About 10 years ago Jane and her husband who live on the island traveled to Prince Edward Island to look at a Belfast Mini Mill. This mill has done marvelous things for cottage wool industries because it's a small manageable mill used for wool processing. Jane gave them a sample of her rough fleeces and much to everyone's surprise when the mill did its magic of washing, dehairing, and carding the fleece what they had was an amazingly soft fleece! It turns out the undercoat is so very soft. Reminds me of musk ox fiber which is called, quiviut. So this is a very special sheep indeed!! Pics of the mill which is near the lighthouse and some of the precious fiber Something else that was totally surprising was the cafe. I didn't expect a cafe there. And I certainly didn't expect an amazing cafe with delicious gourmet food, handmade chocolates, and the best fresh French pressed coffee! Best coffee and food of the trip! We were shocked. Flying back to Orkney and looking down on this unique and special place Note: the farm we are looking down upon is a very common looking Scottish farm or croft. On Shetland they call the farms "crofts". I assume they do here too and maybe even throughout Scotland. Today was the most special, magical day of my trip. It was what I came over for and to visit the heart of fiber world with my friend Lesley. Hope you are able to find some simple magic in your day today too. Warmest thoughts to you all, Mary