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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: