Before you leave the blog in disgust thinking I’m talking about deer hunting with rifles, let me put your mind at rest. This is deer hunting with cameras only! At this time of year the rut starts, and as a result it is quite common to see one large stag with a harem of hinds, and as the hills are not far from our front door we have a huge opportunity to both see and hear them around this time of the year.
We have been having some wonderful autumnal weather, so yesterday we set off up to Water Loch, an area where we are usually assured of seeing deer. And we were not disappointed. As we approached Water Loch we realised we’d been rather noisy on our ascent up to the loch – chattering away forgetting that the deer would be on the look out for strange predators. We were also very visible against the skyline, so it was unsurprising our first glimpse of deer was of them disappearing over a ridge in the distance. We headed up the next hill more quietly and carefully, and were rewarded with this:
Peggy and Lexie seem to know the routine now – although Peggy may have been known to go charging down the hill in an attempt to scatter the deer! They are very good and seem to know exactly what we’re doing when we dip down low and watch the deer from behind a rock. And ultimately, if we don’t get to see any deer at all, we still have a fabulous walk in some of the best scenery in the world.
It has been a busy few weeks. The week before last saw Stevan and I and the dogs heading south for Yarndale in Skipton, North Yorkshire. This was my third outing at Yarndale, and as usual it was well organised and well attended. This year I tried to remember to take some photographs:
Mid way through:
Under wraps for the first day:
And show ready!
Peggy and Lexie seemed to enjoy their mini holiday away, especially our stay at the Annandale Arms where they were treated with great respect!
We got home last Monday, and it was a very fast turnaround and before I knew it it was time to pack our Fiat Panda up again for Loch Ness Knit Fest:
This was the first year of Loch Ness Knit Fest and I’ll be the first to admit that it has not been without its issues. But what a wonderfully friendly event! It was held at Eden Court, the arts centre in Inverness. The event was aimed primarily at those who lived outwith Scotland, and it brought in folk from much of Scandanavia, France, Netherlands, and the USA, as well as a few Australians. It was the inaugural year of the event, and as always with a new event there is much to be learned but I’m confident many of the comments will be taken on board and the event will develop year on year.
I cannot deny that I thoroughly enjoyed the LNKF, despite its flaws. I didn’t get a chance to take part in any of the classes, and I have to admit that after the close of the market place each day I was simply too tired to take advantage of the evening events. But those who did only had positive reports about them.
The samples you can see hanging up on the right hand side were not mine, but those of Vithard Villumsen who shared a corner of the stand with me. He is a designer and textile artist from Denmark, and it was fun to have someone whose textiles focus was quite different to my own sharing the stand.
There isn’t much time for rest now I’m home from these two busy shows as the next one is on the 22nd October in Strathpeffer – the Highland Wool and Textile Fair. It will be my last big outing of the year, although you will be able to still find me at local “Made in Assynt” events up to the end of 2016.
I will be updating the website over the next few days, so you’ll start to see stock appearing soon.
This post is a little later than I intended it to be, but the heartfelt, huge “THANK YOU” is very sincere.
Through the sale of the special Mary’s Meals colourway which was called “Crisis in Malawi” you all raised a magnificent £610 which went to Mary’s Meals on the 20th September. I was overwhelmed by your response to this means of raising money for Mary’s Meals, and it effectively means that 50 children will receive one hot meal a day for a whole year. I have received confirmation from Mary’s Meals that the money has been safely received and that it has gone into the Malawi Appeal fund. But today I also received this lovely email from the CEO of Mary’s Meals, Magnus Macfarlane Barrow:
Thank you so much for your kind donation of £610.00, which will allow us to provide nutritious meals to hungry children in their place of education.
During a recent trip to Malawi, I met with many families who are struggling to feed themselves after a terrible harvest. A food crisis has gripped the country and, time after time, we heard that the school meal their children receive from Mary’s Meals was the only meal they were eating that day.
Kanyeze Getsimani, 42, is from Timoti village in Chikwawa – one of the districts in southern Malawi worst affected by the current food crisis. He volunteers as a cook at Mchenga Primary School where his six children learn.
He said: “A lot of children are coming to school because they eat porridge here. They used to be tired, but now they are eager to come. I am really touched by this programme. When my children eat here they get a good portion, so at home we can eat smaller portions while food is scarce.”
Your generosity is bringing nourishment to some of the world’s poorest children as well as giving hope to their families. On behalf of the 1,101,206 children currently receiving Mary’s Meals around the world, thank you for your kindness.
CEO, Mary’s Meals
So thank you one and all who bought the special colourway. I’m thrilled with the amount raised, and I hope you are too.
© 2016 Woolly Wormhead
I have always been a huge admirer of Woolly Wormhead’s work. She is a true architect when it comes to hat design. I was thrilled when she told me she’d included one of my yarns in her new book “Painted Woolly Toppers for Kids”. Woolly kindly sent me a preview copy of the book, and it really is lovely! The focus of the designs is on the relationship between hand dyed yarn, structural stitches and 3D design. And while it is titled “for kids” the range of sizes for the patterns are generous, and certainly go up as far as being able to fit me – and I have a big head!
© 2016 Woolly Wormhead
The photographs in the book are beautifully shot – the 2 models are Aran and Ivy Mae. They reflect the playful nature of both the hats and children. It is refreshing to see children photographed in a way that expresses their sense of fun rather than staged, posed and heavily “styled” photographs. The background in all the photographs is black, allowing the colours in the hand dyed yarn to be predominant.
© 2016 Woolly Wormhead
Woolly is always generous with her help regarding techniques and Painted Woolly Toppers for Kids is no exception. There are tips on how to resize patterns or knit in a different weight of yarn. Furthermore there are 8 pages covering subjects such as different methods of casting on, short rows, and even help with how to knit in the round. I particularly concur with her description of knitting on double pointed needles for the first time – she describes it as “fighting with a hedgehog”! When I taught knitting to beginners they always looked like they were about to hide under their tables when I suggested they may like to try knitting on DPN’s. But when I explained they were only ever concentrating on 2 needles at any one time, and once they tried it, the response was generally “it’s not that hard” and “I wish I’d had the nerve to try this before”. The pointers which Woolly gives on this subject are concise and immediately give you the sense that it really isn’t hard.
© 2016 Woolly Wormhead
The design which Woolly used my Doubly Reliable Sock Yarn for is Kelvinside. The colour she used was one of my Hubble Bubble colourways, containing a mix of plum, yellow and grey and natural cream. A brief word of reminder about the Hubble Bubble range – each and every hank is unique because of the method I use to dye it, and they cannot accurately be replicated. The Hubble Bubble and Assynt Storm ranges are my “fun” dyeing time. I don’t keep recipes for the different colour combinations, and this is why these two ranges are always just named with numbers rather than individual names. The Doubly Reliable Sock Yarn is a 75% / 25% mix of wool and nylon. The wool content is merino wool, and the base yarn is sourced in Germany. The manufacturers tell me that the merino is sourced equally from German and South American flocks, and they also have an ethical focus which is summed up in this statement: “Humans, animals and resources are all part of a sustainable society and should be treated with respect. We are committed to this principle.” It is super strong for socks, of course, but also softens up beautifully when washed and so is ideal for hats as well as gloves and scarves.
© 2016 Woolly Wormhead
I cannot stress how much this book brightened my day and made me smile. The long list of test knitters credited in the book is testament to Woolly’s careful approach when publishing patterns. If you want to have your own copy, Woolly is offering an early bird special price , so take advantage! And thank you, Woolly, for including my yarn in this special collection.
I hardly know where to begin telling you about the most recent Ripples Crafts knitting retreat on Tanera Mor. The island wove its magic, the weather was kind, and the 10 wonderful women who made their way across last Friday morning all helped to make it just the most relaxing and happy retreat. As I watched the tiny Patricia make its way across from the mainland with the the group on board, on what was a fairly grey day, the usual feelings of anxiousness arose.
Would everyone get on? Would they be happy with the accommodation? Would anyone not want to stay? I should have realised, as I watched the Patricia berth at the pier, and watched the group wave and chat to one other, that I had absolutely nothing to worry about.
Those who came were a 50/50 mix of returnees and those to whom the island was new. Some knew each other, others were strangers, but not for long. As the group made the long climb up the hill to Farmhouse and Schoolhouse, the 2 houses that were to be our home for the next few days, the chatter didn’t stop, except to allow for the catching of breath and swatting of midges, who made their presence felt this year!
As I put dinner in the oven on the first evening, it was so lovely to hear laughter, chatter, and a general hubbub from the lounge in Schoolhouse. And of course who could fail to be impressed by the view from the dinner table?
The group just gelled so quickly, and before very long it was as if we’d all known each other for some time. Everyone was respectful of each other’s reasons for being there, and there was understanding if one wanted to go for a walk on their own, or find some peace and have some time of reflection in a quiet corner. Everyone just “got” it. The 10 women with whom I shared the week were some of the most delightful, generous, kind, encouraging, funny, strong and understanding women I’ve met, and it was an utter privilege and joy to spend time with them all.
It wasn’t only knitting that kept us occupied. As I’ve mentioned, the weather did its best to show the island off at its best, and we all took advantage of the fine weather whenever we could. There was a lot of walking done. A few of us on the island were trying hard to achieve the 10 000 steps a day target that is recommended, and it has to be said that it is pretty hard to do on a small island where much of the ground is rough under foot, but a few did indeed achieve this total every day.
We were exceptionally well fed by Tim and Holly, who did all the catering for us on this trip. At times we had to have a short break between courses to make room for the consistently delicious puddings that appeared each day. Nipping outside for a short walk to take in the dramatic skies and sunsets happened on a few occasions.
We were also able to arrange a boat trip around a few of the Summer Isles with Ian on the good ship Isabella. Unfortunately that was the one occasion the weather didn’t play ball, and we had grey, grey skies for the whole trip. But we still saw some wonderful things.
There was a LOT of knitting done, but not only knitting. Alison produced some beautiful stitched pictures of the scenes both of the island itself with its lakes and bays, and the circular path around the island, and also the view of the Assynt peaks visible from the island – Suilven, Cùl Mòr, Cùl Beag.
And on the back of her beautifully stitched memory book of her time on the island, the names of all those who were there:
On the trip home to the mainland there were calls for a range of Tanera Mor colours, so watch this space. There was certainly some beautiful colours this year to provide inspiration.
Let me close by saying thank you. Thank you first of all to Tim and Holly who took such good care of us and kept us fed and watered. We left a small gift behind for them – each of us took turns in doing a few rows so I can’t guarantee that they’re the most evenly matched pairs of socks but they were knitted by us all with much gratitude for all your hard work:
We did have to sneak a peek at their wellies one evening to get what was hopefully the correct foot size, but we hope they keep their feet warm and cosy on the long trips up and down the hill to the houses – a trip they often make several times a day.
Thank you to Lizzie and Richard for allowing us to share Tanera Mor with them. It is a very special place.
And finally, but of course by no means least, thank you to the 10 women who joined me on the adventure this year. Some of you travelled great distances, both physically and metaphorically, to be here this year. When things went a little wonky (and I’m thinking of that particular washing machine here) you all bore it with humour and grace. You skipped over the late night frogs with ease, and applied yourselves to finishing left overs with great gusto. It was fun and I know many of you will treasure the memories for a long time to come. Thank you.
We have a little hen, Elsa. I say little – she’s not really that much smaller than our other ISA Browns, but she is certainly special.
She is much tamer than our other 4 hens for a start. She’ll happily lie down and let you stroke her and stroke her until her eyes close and she nods off. It really is quite endearing. She lies down quite a lot! While the other 4 are on the march around the garden catching frogs, worms, and lifting their skirts to run after almost invisible insects, Elsa sleeps.
She’s never laid an egg, despite being the same age as the other ISA browns, who have been laying every day for the past few weeks. I doubt she will ever lay. We think that she has some kind of balance issue. If she walks too quickly, or if you pick her up and put her down, she tips over onto her face. She quickly picks herself up again, but she does seem to have difficulty staying upright – hence her nickname – Tippy. And she’ll sit down at any opportunity. She eats, and preens herself, and drinks, and seems happy in every way, but something isn’t quite right with her.
We’ve heard tales of how the weak one of the flock can often be picked on by other hens. With Elsa it seems to be the contrary. The other hens appear to take it in turns to “keep an eye” on Elsa. If she is snoozing, there is usually one of the other hens not too far away, sometimes snuggled right up next to her. We’ve even seen them preening her.
We’re not sure what is wrong with her, but we noticed once we bought her home that her beak wasn’t quite as well developed as the others. We’re wondering if she was perhaps pecked or attacked when she was just a small chick. Even if she never lays, she’s welcome to live out her life pecking at the grass and eating whatever we feed her. And she does tuck it away! Her crop is always full when she goes off up the ladder to bed at night. We just have to keep a special eye on her as she is vulnerable to attack from the likes of stoats and other predators. The stoat has already had a go at her, but fortunately Stevan wasn’t too far away and managed to whisk her out of harms way.
To be honest, if she never lays we’ve still got plenty of eggs to keep us fed!
Our google searches as to what may be the problem with her have come up blank. So if there is anyone out there who recognises this issue, do let me know. We’d love to know if there is something we could or should be doing to keep her comfortable.
Camping, Malawi style
How often has someone said to you “Are you hungry?” and the immediate response has been “I’m starved!”. I know I’ve said it many times. But in reality most folk reading this blog entry haven’t ever experienced true hunger. The sort of hunger that leaves you without the energy to do anything. The sort of hunger that means concentrating on any one thing is difficult, as all you can think about is being hungry. The sort of hunger that means you are willing to scratch through bins and rubbish tips to find something to eat. THAT sort of hunger.
We’ve seen programmes in the UK about school meals which children are able to get here, and how important a good, balanced diet and healthy nutrition is to their well being and their education. We all know ourselves how important it is to eat healthily and we know how quickly our health suffers if we don’t eat properly.
When I began thinking about doing a special colourway to raise funds for a charity this year, I looked at various options, but I kept coming back to one small, but busy charity – Mary’s Meals.
Mary’s Meals has one aim
“At Mary’s Meals, we are focused on one goal – that every child receives a nutritious daily meal in a place of education.”
They go on to say:
“These life-changing meals attract hungry children into the classroom. The food fills their empty bellies so they have the energy and opportunity to learn, giving them the chance of a brighter future. The meals also support families struggling to feed their children while boosting the country’s wider economy.”
Rowing, with friends, on Lake Malawi
It is at this point that I should explain a little why there is a very personal reason for choosing Mary’s Meals. As many of you reading this blog will know, I spent much of my youth in southern Africa. I never managed to visit Malawi, but Stevan, my husband, spent quite a bit of time there. His family moved to Malawi for a few years, and it had a long lasting effect on him. He remembers his time there with great fondness, but he especially remembers the people with whom he came into contact and recalls them as happy, friendly folk. Nothing was too much trouble.
Choose your hat!
Mary’s Meals have worked in Malawi for some years now, where poverty is rife and malnutrition a very real problem. And while Mary’s Meals offer school meals in many countries across the world, the Malawi programme is their biggest, where they reach over a quarter of all primary schools across the country. This equates to approximately 814,000 children receiving one proper meal every day. The food is simple – porridge, but it is healthy, warming, and nutritious.
In April this year, Malawi declared a state of emergency after complicated weather resulting in both droughts and floods. Approximately 2.8 million (about 20% of the population) are now what they call “food insecure” (a political term if ever I heard one!), i.e. hungry. Mary’s Meals are working hard to try and alleviate a small part of this suffering by feeding as many primary school children as they can. But they need support to do this. For £12.20, Mary’s Meals can feed one child for a whole year. And while the primary aim is to feed children, a further aspect of the work that they do is to provide employment in the areas that they work. In Malawi there are currently 70 people employed on the project.
And so, Mary’s Meals is my choice for fundraising this year. I hope you approve. The cost of this special Mary’s Meals colourway will be slightly higher than the normal price for the Reliable Sock Yarn. It will cost £13.00 to buy, but £6.10 from every hank sold will go to the charity. The reason I settled on £6.10 as my donation is because with every 2 hanks sold one child will receive one daily meal for a year.
“So what IS the colour” I hear you cry! Well, I’ll be honest. There was a lot of trial and rejection for this one. I had so many of Stevan’s old photographs for inspiration, as well as the beautiful pictures on the Mary’s Meals website. Africa is so colourful, and so vibrant, but everything I tried didn’t quite cut the mustard. And so taking a leaf out of Mary’s Meals books, I decided to keep things very simple. The overriding colour in all of Stevan’s photographs (and my own memories of Southern Africa) is blue. Blue skies, blue lakes, blue land rover! And the colour used by Mary’s Meals on their promotional material is also blue. So, blue it is!
Each hank will be slightly different because of the dyeing method I’ve used, but the deep blue shade gives way to a paler blue. At the moment I am only offering it on my reliable sock yarn base (if you’d like it on a different yarn base please get in touch).
I’ve just managed to knit a tiny bit of the first hank out of the dye pot:
I’d be absolutely thrilled if I sold 20 hanks of this special colourway – that would allow me to donate £122 to Mary’s Meals, meaning 10 children would be supported for a year. Can we do that? HERE is the link to the yarn.
UPDATE: Wow! you lot are wonderful! Within 2 hours of this blog entry going up you had very kindly bought the first 20 hanks that I put up. Thank you! I have added a further 20 hanks – lets see if we can arrange for 20 children to have at least one good meal a day shall we? All hanks will now be dyed to order, so there will be a delay in getting them out to you but they will be on their way soon, I promise!
Some of you may have noticed that there has been some work done on the shop website. Stevan has been working hard behind the scenes (thank you Stevan!), giving the shop a cleaner look, which should work more smoothly across various platforms and devices. Some of you have already purchased from the new-look website since it went live about 10 days ago and so far it has all run pretty smoothly.
To formally celebrate the updating of the shop site, and just because tomorrow is Wednesday, I’m calling Website Wednesday. For 24 hours on the 19th July 2016 all yarn will be discounted by 15%. Please note that this does not include yarn already discounted or club memberships. The discount only applies to full priced yarn in the online shop. You will know that I don’t often have sales across the full range of yarns, so this is a rare opportunity. And remember, if you are outwith the UK, the exchange rate really is in your favour right now. And as others have said, don’t feel bad taking advantage of the exchange rate – a pound is still a pound for us.
A Teal Time
So sharpen your elbows (so you can elbow your way in), pick yourself some yarn, and get ordering from one minute past midnight tonight and until midnight tomorrow – UK time.
I can’t believe Woolfest has come and gone. So much preparation goes into big shows such as Woolfest, Yarndale, Edinburgh Yarn Festival, etc, and then, in a flash, it is over. I have to admit, though, that when I see my stand set up I do feel a sense of pride knowing that everything on the stand has come out of my tiny dye shed in Assynt, and more to the point the whole stand has been transported in our tiny Fiat Panda and trailer!
Thank you to one and all who came to Woolfest and who made a point of coming to say hello. It was lovely to see you all, and I am sorry if I don’t remember names. Part of the problem with names is many fibre folk have 3 names – their real name, their Ravelry name and a Twitter name, and so it is easy to get muddled! And a big thank you too to Dorothy and Lizzi who, once again, helped on the stand.
Since returning home I have dived straight back into work again as I have a couple of special custom orders. One is still under wraps, but the other is for Knockando Wool Mill. If you’ve never visited the Mill I would urge you to do so. It is a fascinating place and set in the very beautiful Spey Valley. I have been dyeing for Knockando for a couple of years now, and love the rustic feel of the yarn. My hands are extremely soft at the moment as the yarn is full of lanolin. It is a non-superwash yarn, and so it takes the dye very differently to the Ripples Crafts range of yarns. Colours are much more muted, but really in keeping with the surroundings of the Mill and the beautiful tweed which they produce. The first batch of dyed yarn will be heading back to Knockando next week and I look forward to seeing it on their shelves.
As with any independent business it always feels like there is a lot of juggling of tasks going on. Dyeing, of course, is the main focus for me most of the time, and Stevan takes the load off by doing many of the tasks I don’t have the skills for such as maintaining the IT side of things, and writing the notes for the Yarn Notes from Assynt Yarn club, as well as more practical tasks such as the PO run each day. Besides the dyeing there is always the need to think ahead, plan, ponder on whether or not to add different yarns to the collection, admin, accounts, and so the list goes on. But even with all the juggling, I still think I have one of the best jobs!
I know many small business owners are feeling unsettled by the outcome of the recent referendum in the UK. I certainly am. All of those UK indie businesses in the wool world that I know work hard to provide a living for themselves and, in many instances, their whole family. From yarn spinners, to designers, to dyers – we love what we do but we haven’t chosen the easiest of lives. We need our customers from all over the world, including Europe, in order to keep the business sustainable. To be very personal for a moment, I certainly did not reject the EU and I very much regret the outcome of the referendum. But it will be many months before the way forward becomes clear, and so, in the meantime, I will keep on keeping on, and I look forward to continuing to trade with and in the EU. From a business perspective, some of my yarn bases are sourced in Europe (Reliable Sock and Doubly Reliable Sock), and it is inevitable that prices for these will rise given the fluctuation in the UK Pound at the moment, but I stocked up on these bases before the Referendum, and so there will not be a price rise in the immediate future. I have spoken to the suppliers for my other bases and they have assured me that there will not be immediate rises for these either. All of which is good news. And in the current climate I am trying hard to focus on the good news!
Most days we do a walk down to Stoer beach. Now that Lexie is getting on and is less mobile than she used to be, walks up into the hills are not as easy for her as they once were, so we stick to a walk that keeps her on a good surfaced road rather than making her scramble over heather and bracken. Visiting the beach most days means we see daily changes, and the changes includes flotsam and jetsam that is constantly washed up with the tide or an overnight storm.
Recently a huge log washed up on the beach, and somebody, we know not who, put in a huge amount of effort to get it up from the beach onto the green which is alongside the beach. Now, as you will see from the photograph below that I took when we were having a beach clean up a while back, Stoer beach has a steep section of pebbles and stones which takes some clambering over to get on and off the beach.
Whomever it was that saw the log washed up on the beach was not content to just leaving it there – no, they rolled it uphill over the loose stones, and then had the brilliant idea that they would find other bits of flotsam and turn it into a bench, so that those passing could sit and enjoy the view:
And it is quite a view:
And a very comfy bench too, as I found out today while Peggy, Lexie and I had a wee breather during our walk. They clearly also had Peggy’s enjoyment in mind too, as she decided it was the perfect obstacle on which to practice her old agility training: