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Wool Exploration 1 – North Ronaldsay

View of North Ronaldsay.

As the name suggests, North Ronaldsay sheep are from the island of North Ronaldsay, the northernmost island in the Orkneys. The breed is included among the feral breed of sheep – animals that for one reason or another have been allowed to go wild. Most feral sheep live in remote islands, away from human contact. I am glad Louise chose this particular breed to begin our year of wool exploration since it is not only an endangered breed but also it is a fascinating one! It is one of the oldest breeds of sheep in existence, with DNA tests dating it to the early days of sheep domestication, around 3,000 BCE. Although we don’t really know how it got to the island of North Ronaldsay, the story of its adaptation to the local environment is an interesting one. Until the early nineteenth century, the inhabitants of this remote island in the North Atlantic made a living out of harvesting and drying seaweed for the kelp industry. Once that industry collapsed, the local inhabitants had to go back to subsistence farming and to keep the feral sheep from the bit of good land in the island, they built a dry wall all around the island and place the sheep on the other side of the wall, between the sea and the wall. Cut off from the rest of the island, the sheep evolved to tolerate a diet of seaweed.

North Ronaldsay sheep. Image from The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, by Deb Robson and Carol Ekarius.

According to the North Ronaldsay Sheep Fellowship, there are only about 600 breeding females, which is why it is considered a “vulnerable” breed.

The sheep are small, weighing no more than 35kg, and its meat is considered very “gamey” because of the amount of iodine in the sheep’s diet.

I was thrilled to find a Canadian connection to wool manufacturing at North Ronaldsay. It seems that until the 1990s, the local fleece was sold to the wool board at low prices and sent to the mainland for processing. The local community council decided to start a company that would buy the local fleece at higher prices than paid by the wool board to bring back some value to the community. They got scaled down spinning equipment from Prince Edward Island and were able to start producing yarn in the island itself. The yarn I bought to test is processed in island and I am thrilled to have got some on its way. Can’t wait to try it out!

For more information on this very interesting sheep, check out “North Ronaldsay Sheep” in the Rare Breeds Survival Trust website (accessed on November 23, 2017) as well as Louise Scollay’s post. The Fleece and Fiber sourcebook by Deb Robson and Carol Ekarius is also highly recommended.

Wool Exploration 2018

Map from The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, by Deb Robson and Carol Ekarius.

When I first started knitting, back in 2011-12, my friend Kathleen, my knitting mentor at the time, encouraged me to experiment with different fibres and introduced me to the notion of breed-specific yarn. I had no idea at the time there were so many breeds of sheep and that the fleece from each breed could vary so much. Over the years, I have knit with cotton, linen, silk, yak, alpaca, and yarn from merino, BFL, Wensleydale, Shetland, Icelandic, and a few other breeds. I wanted to learn a lot more so when Louise Scollay from Knit British announced her Wool Exploration project for 2018 I knew I simply had to join. The idea is that each month of 2018 will be dedicated to one sheep breed and participants will source any yarn from that breed and knit or crochet any pattern in a big swatch to explore the properties of that sheep’s wool. The first four months are:

  • January – North Ronaldsay
  • February – Gotland
  • March – Ryeland
  • April – Jacob

My plan is to knit at least two swatches for each yarn: one in a tight gauge to see if it would be good for a garment, perhaps with a cable and plain stockinette section, and another at a looser gauge with some lace to see how it behaves for shawls. I’ll create a page for the project to organize a table of contents for all the posts and then write two posts each month: one about the sheep and one with a review of the yarn. I am very excited about it!

New yarn: Milarrochy Tweed by Kate Davies

Every time I commit to not buying any new yarn and focusing on knitting with all the wonderful yarn I already have, someone comes up with gorgeous new yarn that speaks to my soul. The new one this year is by Kate Davies. Look at these beauties:

©Kate Davies Designs. Image from Kate’s blog post. Click on the image to read her post about this wonderful colour palette. 

I haven’t touched this yarn, I have way too many other projects that need to be done, but I can’t get over how much I love this. I think I’ll have to join the Milarrochy Tweed club when it comes out next week.

The Good Intentions Club

In her last podcast, Louise from KnitBritish announced her new yarn/pattern club. Appropriately called The Good Intentions Club, she challenged us to look through our yarn stash and choose four yarns for which we already have a pattern in mind, put each in a project bag, and then commit to knit those four projects, one on each quarter beginning on October 1st. Considering that most of the yarn I own was bought with a project or two in mind, I should have no problem finding four projects. I decided to narrow my choices down to the British yarn I have since this is sponsored by Knit British.

The October project is a no-brainer. I had already selected The Uncommon Thread’s BFL Light DK, from Brighton, England, which I bought at Loop of London last Christmas, to knit the Wishmaker Shawl, from Helen Stewart’s The Shawl Society II.

The choices for the remaining three projects are many:

  1. The Croft by West Yorkshire Spinners – a gorgeous Shetland tween yarn that I am DYING to knit up. Since I only have one skein of this Aran weight yarn, this would be a very quick small project such as a cowl or hat. I have yet to decide on a pattern though.
  2. Buachaille by Kate Davies Designs – A beautiful Scottish yarn, I bought a sweater quantity to knit Kate’s Braid Hill’s Cardigan. I have yet to knit a cardigan with that many steps and details, so it feels a bit intimidating at the moment.
  3. Opus by Walcot Yarns – A brand new yarn British yarn, this is also one I have only one skein. I can make a single skein hat or cowl – something with texture or some cables would be nice. I am also considering ordering a second skein of a contrasting colour and make Kate Davies’ Cochal Cowl.
  4. St Kilda Laceweight by Blacker Yarns – I have two skeins of a main colour and two contrasting colours. It would make a lovely traditional lace hap. Perhaps a good option for the May KAL?
  5. Cornish Tin II also by Blacker Yarns – I have two skeins of a main colour and one skein of a contrasting colour and started knitting the Bovey Cardigan with it. I have finished the lace section of the cardigan but do not like the difference in tension between the colourwork section and the lace so I am going to frog it and use the yarn for something else. I am considering swatching it in garter stitch with a bigger needle and see if it would be a good option for Joji Locatelli’s Pure Joy shawl.

Who wants to join me in this effort to us stashed yarn??

Bousta Beanie done!

It took me only a bit over a week but the Bousta Beanie is done! I feel I am getting better at my colourwork tension. There were no bumps along the way this time and the resulting fabric is very smooth. I am also in awe of how both smooth and wooly, Jamieson & Smith’s shetland yarn is. The beanie is a bit long and I wish I had adapted it to be a bit shorter but it looks fine if I pull it back a bit.

Click on the image to see the pattern page.

Fair Isle Friday

Fair Isle is the name given to the multicoloured knitting typical of the Shetland Islands (It is named after the Fair Isle, one of the islands in the Shetlands). I’ve tried knitting stranded colourwork for the first time this past year and I was surprised to find that I enjoy it a lot! I usually don’t like doing a lot of straight knitting since I get bored easily but having to change colours and do slightly different order of colours on each row is just enough change to keep me interested. Since Shetland Wool Week is upon us, I decided to knit the official pattern of the festival – Gudrun Johnston’s Bousta Beanie.

Last time I knit a stranded colourwork hat, I discovered my tension is much looser when doing that type of knitting. My first Julie and I knit the same hat, with the same yarn and this was the difference in our gauges:

Photo of two knitted hats that were knit with the same yarn by two different knitters. One is considerably larger than the other.

The one on the left was actually done with needles one sizer LARGER than the one of the right.

I knit the hat about with 3mm needles. Since the Bousta Beanie is knit with the same yarn, starts with 10 more stitches, and calls for a 3.5mm needle, I decided that I needed to knit a gauge swatch. I also wanted to test the colours I had. The yellow and rust was clearly the best:

Two days later and I have made nice progress:

Iceland

We spent Christmas 2015 in Iceland and people are always asking me for tips of what to do, where to eat, where to buy yarn. I better write it up here so I don’t have to dig up all my notes all the time.

Yarn

Yarn is everywhere in Reykjavik. In grocery stores, in souvenir stores, at stores in the airport, in random clothing stores. The standard Icelandic yarn is Ístex Léttlopi and it is probably the only thing that is cheap in Iceland. The first yarn shop I went to was Storkurinn, which sells not only Icelandic yarn but also yarn from around the world. They moved locations and are now a bit further from downtown, but I think it is still worth a trip. In addition to yarn, the store carries an amazing selection of buttons. I bought a few skeins of Léttlopi for a shawl there but regret to this day not having bought Hélène Magnusson’s lovely Icelandic yarn. After wandering all over Reykjavik for a week and browsing online, it seems that the best place to stock up on Icelandic yarn is The Handknitting Association of Iceland, which is also where you can buy handknit sweaters and cardigans. There are two stores downtown, one of which carries more yarn. That’s where I bought enough yarn for a cardigan and a vest for the equivalent of $40.

Food

The food in Iceland was fantastic. It was also very expensive. I basically stopped trying to convert the money into Canadian dollars, and just went with the flow. Some highlights of our trip:

  • Kex Hostel – It was probably the place we went to the most. The hostel has an amazing cafe area, with a lovely patio in the summer and an amazing view of the bay and the mountains across. We went for their famous buffet breakfast, then again for lunch on another day, and then again for coffee a couple times. It’s a great place to just sit, write postcards, knit, relax. The food is excellent, the coffee is from Reykjavik Roasters, and they serve lots of craft beers. Highly recommended.
  • Mandi – I am very sorry we only discovered Mandi on our final two days in Reykjavik. It doesn’t look like the kind of place you would want to go in. It has that corner store vibe and the only sitting is bar style along the edges of the store. See link above. But if you like fish, order the Mandi Specialty Fish and then thank me later. OMG. So good. And ridiculously cheap by Reykjavik standards. Trust me. Go there.
  • Icelandic Fish & Chips – It was one of the first places we went to and it was excellent. The fish anywhere in Reykjavik was amazing. There’s a neat little volcano museum next door.
  • Reykjavik Roasters – Put simply, one of the best roasters in Europe. On any half decent list of cafés to go around the world if you are a coffee geek like me. It was busy and crowded when we went but it was still worth it. Excellent place to buy coffee beans to bring home. Excellent cortado.
  • Nora Magasin – Very high quality food here. Alan had the famous deep fried chicken and I had a fish dish (of course). It was an excellent meal.
  • Skúli Craft Bar – The place to go for craft beer. A very wide selection that included some interesting Icelandic options.
  • Sandholt Bakery – The most amazing sourdough bread I have had. Also a good spot for lunch.

What to do

It was winter, so we didn’t feel brave enough to rent a car and drive around. The weather can be very treacherous in Iceland, so ALWAYS listen when a local tell you to avoid one thing or another. There was a thick binder full of news clippings at the tourist office of tourists who died or were terribly injured because they did not listen to the locals. In the end, we booked a few day trips from Reykjavik Excursions, the same company that runs the shuttles to and from the airport. We took the Golden Circle tour with a stop at the Fontana Spa and the trip to the Blue Lagoon. The rest of the time we simply walked around Reykavik from coffeeshop, to restaurant, to cafe, to bar, with the occasional museum and opera house thrown in.

Take away

It was an amazing trip. Alan and I talked about it for months. I definitely want to go back in the summer.

Bristol and Bath, April 2017

I haven’t done much photography for a while and have mostly relied on my phone for a while. I considered buying a new camera but I also did not want to be carrying a bulky camera around. I have a Canon Powershot G16 that I bought for research so I decided I would take it on my recent trip to Bristol, UK, for a conference. It would be a test of sorts to see if I really needed a new camera. I have to say I am quite happy with the results I got!

Click on the pictures below to see the slideshow.
Bristol 2017

Souvenir yarn at Bath, UK

I was recently at Bristol, UK, attending a conference and of course I had to check out the local yarn scene. After some online searching, it seemed that the place to go was Bath, just a quick train ride away. So before the conference started, I hopped on the train and took off to Bath. Since I was a bit early, I combined my love of yarn with coffee and went to one of the prominent specialty coffee shops in Bath – Colonna & Small. It was definitely worth a visit – the space was beautiful, with lots of natural light streaming in through the skylights. The staff was knowledgeable and willing to talk at length about the properties and flavour profiles of the range of coffees they had available that day. I was very pleased.

After my coffee, I walked up the street to find the shop I was looking for: A Yarn Story. The place was small but cheerful and I could see that knit nights there must be very enjoyable. I chatted with the owner for a while, she had been at the recent Edinburgh Yarn Festival and we talked about that and some of the British yarn dyers and designers that I knew about and the podcasters I followed from Canada.

I was happy that the stock of La Bien Aimee yarn was a bit low.

From left to right: La Bien Aimée Merino Singles in Driftwood Graffiti, Walcot Yarns Opus in natural grey, and The Walk Collection Delicate Merino in Blush colourway

 

I’m hoping to use some of these for the Shawl Society this year!

Colour cards obsession

I’m on a yard diet this year. I have no issues with having a stash – my main problem is that most of my stash is carefully curated and I do want to knit all the yarn I have. Unfortunately, I knit very slowly, which means the more yarn I buy, the more anxious I get that I’ll never get to what I want to knit. So I decided to de-stash a bit this year. The plan has been going well but I have discovered a new obsession: colour cards. I now own three and there are two more on the way. I have the full colour card for two of the best Shetland yarn companies: Jamieson’s and Jamieson and Smith. I also have the colour card for Blacker Yarns brand new yarn: Samite. I love looking at them and planning what I might do with that yarn when I finally get to order it.