Tippy, the Hen, AKA Elsa

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

Are you hungry? I mean really, REALLY hungry?

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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“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!

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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).

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I’ve just managed to knit a tiny bit of the first hank out of the dye pot:

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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!

Are You Ready for Website Wednesday?

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.

Laceweight anyone?

Laceweight anyone?

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

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.

 

Juggling

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!

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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!

Waste Not, Want Not

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.

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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:

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And it is quite a view:

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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:

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Missing, but not Lost

My poor blog has been dreadfully neglected over the last few weeks, but to say that May didn’t go quite according to plan would be an understatement!

My trip to Australia was good.  It was wonderful to catch up with family, meet new family members, do a fund raising walk in memory of my sister, Alison, and generally soak up the sunshine, and relax.   I left Glasgow in snow and rain, but despite  being autumn in Australia, the weather was incredibly kind!  Most days we had temperatures in the high 20’s, early 30’s, and the sun shone and shone and shone.   Here’s a taster of the things I saw and did:

 

 

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Great Food

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Architecture to inspire

A Family Affair

A Family Affair – Mother’s Day Classic Cancer Charity Walk

 

Colour Inspiration

Colour Inspiration

An Old Friend

An Old Friend

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My fabulous Mum and Dad

A bit more colour

A bit more colour

All the Blues

All the Blues

Sisters

Sisters

New textures

New textures

Culture

Culture

Fisherman's Memorial, Freemantle

Fisherman’s Memorial, Freemantle

Airports in the rain and snow (Glasgow, obviously)

Airports in the rain and snow (Glasgow, obviously)

And airports in the sun (not Glasgow!)

And airports in the sun (not Glasgow!)

 

I apologise for my absence from the blog over the past few weeks.  Unfortunately I didn’t return home alone from Australia, but managed to bring chicken pox home with me.  As a result the month of May ended in a haze of anti histamines and anti viral medication!   I’m pleased to say I’m well on the way to being 100% again (despite having a few stubborn spots), and am now busy preparing for Woolfest which is in just a few weeks time.  I look forward to seeing many of you there.   And while on the subject of shows, my grateful thanks to Stevan and Fiona Tulloch, who stepped in and looked after my stand so ably at the Highland Wool and Textile Fair in Dingwall a couple of weeks ago.  Between them they did a grand job, while I was safely tucked up in bed.

 

Off on an adventure

I’m acutely aware that this poor blog has been neglected over the past few weeks.  It has been a bit of a crazy few weeks with lots happening here.  But tomorrow I set off to Australia for a few weeks to visit family and have a bit of a holiday.

It will be a trip tinged with memories of my sister Alison, who will be very much in my mind as I visit Brisbane.  On Sunday 8th May I will be doing the Mother’s Day Classic walk in Alison’s memory.  I will be walking alongside my brother in law, Russell, as well as Alison and Russell’s 2 children, Tim and Nic, and their own families – so we’ll be quite a team!  The youngest among us will be just 8 weeks old – the twins of Mel and Tim.  While I haven’t set up a fund raising page, Nicola has and if you feel you can support this good cause then please feel free to make a small donation to this page.  Please note, there is an “other” button so please don’t feel you have to donate the specified amounts on that page.

As you can imagine I am really looking forward to getting to Brisbane to see my new great nieces and nephews, as well as seeing all the family.  I will also have the chance to get to Perth to see my sister, Sheena, and we have dog walks on the beach planned, along with some knitting.  Actually I suspect that there is more yarn in my suitcase for Sheena than there is clothing!  It will be a bit of a whirlwind trip, with much happening while I’m there, but now that my suitcase is finally packed, I am beginning to get rather excited, even though tomorrow morning will bring the start of what will be nearly 40 hours of travelling.  There will be cars, buses and planes, and I can’t wait.

I’m leaving Stevan in charge of all order dispatches, so make sure you keep him busy while I’m gone.

EYF – Over for another year (sadly!)

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Wow! What a week it was last week.  Early on Thursday morning found us on the road to Edinburgh.  The trailer was absolutely stuffed, as was our little car.   The poor dogs were wondering where they were to squeeze in, I suspect, but we all fitted in and had a trouble free run down to Edinburgh.

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I suspect Emma, one of the hens, wanted to come too

On our arrival at the Corn Exchange we were not surprised, but were very pleased, to be met by helpful volunteers and coffee (or tea) on tap!  When you’ve been on the road for close to 7 hours it is a lovely way to be welcomed, believe me.  After locating the stand and unloading the boxes, we were ready to set up.  Sorry about the blurry phone photograph but it gives you an idea of how stands look before we get started on set up.  I always forget to take a proper photograph.

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About 4 hours later and we were set up ready to welcome customers on Friday morning.

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On Friday I was joined by my glamorous assistants, Lizzi (left) and Dorothy (right), who proved as invaluable as always, allowing me time to chat to customers.  I owe them both a huge thank you!

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By the end of the second day we were shattered, but very happy.  I have to say that EYF is probably one of the happiest events I attend all year.  Maybe because it is held indoors, and is warm, as opposed to being in an open market where it can be draughty and cold, but I don’t think it is only that.  This year it was so apparent that there was a genuine enthusiasm and joy around knitting that I’ve not often seen at other shows in recent years.  The range of teachers and classes were excellent, and the variety and diversity of stands amazing.  Needless to say I was a hopeless failure when it came to taking photographs, but you only have to search the likes of Instagram to come up with some crackers!

I met some wonderful folk – too many to mention, but I’d like to say a heartfelt “thank you” to all the customers who came out to buy yarn over the 2 days.  The trailer was significantly lighter on the way home!

Not only did I get to meet customers old and new, but I also had the opportunity to talk to other dyers about aspects of the indie dyeing life which is so good.  Having time to chat to Skein Queen about such mundane (but essential) things as indie insurance was so helpful, and also having time to chat to Claudia aka Wollmeise about our approaches and techniques in dyeing when she came onto my stand on Saturday with her husband, Andreas – it was just lovely.   My stand was next to the lovely Maggie from Textile Garden again this year, and yet I failed to go and buy any buttons!   Also close by was Kate Davies and it was lovely to be able to say a very quick hello and squish her new yarn in real life, as well as to catch up with Jen Arnall-Culliford who was helping Kate.  In the closing minutes of the show it was lovely to sit and chat to  Åsa Tricosa and while sharing juicy grapes and delicious chocolate muffin/brownies left with me by a kind customer (Thank you Hreow!) we discussed the non yarny delights of sourdough and I finally learned how to pronounce Åsa’s name (think “AWESOme Åsa).

More thank you’s …..  and I know that as soon as I hit the publish button on this blog entry I will remember someone else I should have thanked!

Firstly to our friends, Ian and Jacqui, with whom we stay when we’re in Edinburgh and who look after us so well.  They understand that at the end of a day on the stand I’m not much use for anything other than to sit quietly in a corner and wibble away to myself.  Jacqui kept us fed and watered splendidly, and they both coped quietly and admirably with Lexie’s pacing and senility foibles.  Kipper the cat took everything in her stride too, although I believe she did make it clear who is boss in the house at one point!  Thank you both.  You are true friends.

Thank you to Karie Westermann who took time out to spend half an hour on my stand, chatting to those wanting to know about, and knit, her shawl Frances Herself.

Thank you to all the volunteers who helped so ably over the weekend.  You all did your job with good grace and humour, and I know that without you Edinburgh Yarn Festival simply wouldn’t happen.  Thank you.

And the final thank you goes to Jo and Mica – the 2 incredible organisers behind Edinburgh Yarn Festival.  Their patience, attention to detail, obvious enthusiasm for the vendors and teachers and their thoughtfulness is all very much appreciated by me, and I’m sure by all of the vendors.  So thank you both.

In case you’re wondering, the dates for Edinburgh Yarn Festival 2017 are already in the diary!

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It’s SHOW TIME!

Well, almost!  This time next week I’ll be sitting quietly in a corner of our friends house having travelled down to Edinburgh and set up for Edinburgh Yarn Festival 2016 wondering what it is I’ve forgotten to dye/pack/bring/do/knit/label.  The hard work of setting up the stand will have been done, and everything will be under wraps, ready for an early start to this lovely event on Friday next week, bright and early at 9.00am.

To say that Lockhart Towers has been a hive of activity over the last couple of months would be a gross understatement!  There have been lists – lists of yarn dyed, lists of yarn yet to dye, lists of yarn packed:

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There has been selection, buying and packing into of new storage boxes which fit into Tatiana, the trailer, perfectly:

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There is knitting blocking (in the bathroom!)

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and there is knitting still on the needles and yet to be blocked:

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and between all of that there has been dyeing, a LOT of dyeing.   Including a new range of colours called “Hubble Bubble”.  This range is fun to dye, but time consuming, as each and every hank of yarn goes through 4 dye baths to achieve layer upon layer of colour, and as a result each and every hank will be unique and most definitely cannot be replicated.   The new base, Burras, takes this method of dyeing particularly well, so the Hubble Bubble colours will be available on both this base and the Reliable Sock yarn base.  Here is a wee taster of some of the colours coming with me to Edinburgh:

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I think this one with burnt orange and grey is one of my favourites so far:

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But then there is this one:

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The bases I will have with me will range in weight from fine laceweight through to DK, but my main focus is on 4 ply, and I currently have 6 different 4ply bases for you to choose from.  There will be multi coloured hanks as well as almost solid colours, many of which will be available on garment quantities.

On the stand I will have the 2 glamorous assistants helping me again, aka Dorothy and Lizzi.  So please do come and say hello.  Ripples Crafts will be in the same place as we were last year – Stand H4.

In amongst all the preparation, I had a little relaxing breather to spend time chatting to Jo Milmine aka Shinybees, and you can hear our chat on her award willing podcast.

A small thorn in my side the past few days, though, has been the parcels of club yarn which went to the post office last week on Monday, and were meant to have been well on their way before the end of the week.  Sadly, due to circumstances entirely beyond my control, this did not happen, and I can only apologise.  I have been assured by the post office that the parcels are on their way and should reach you, hopefully very soon if you are in the UK.   Because our post office is so small, the way we have dispatched parcels in the past is all the parcels go to the post office and they are franked and sent out as quickly as they can cope with them.  Up to this month this has worked well, but we will have to revisit the situation for next month’s parcels – but that is something to look into once Edinburgh Yarn Festival is but a distant memory.   I always try and get ALL parcels in the post as speedily as possible, and having this delay with the club yarn parcels this month makes me feel very uncomfortable – those of you who know me will understand!  So my apologies, again, if you are a yarn club member.  Other orders have not been affected by the delay.

 

 

 

 

 

Dunedin

Introducing ………..

Photography by Katie Blair Matthews

Dunedin, designed by Lucy Hague                                                                                                        Photography by Katie Blair Matthews

Dunedin – a beautiful crescent shaped shawl, designed by Lucy Hague.  Lucy was asked to design a pattern exclusively for Wool Tribe, the magazine companion to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival which will be on sale from 7.00pm tonight (GMT) here .

Wool+Tribe+Cover

For Dunedin, Lucy has used the Quinag base which is 100% Bluefaced Leicester wool, and the colour she has used is Stormy Seas which is dyed using a glazing technique i.e. it is one colour glazed over another, so each and every hank of this colourway is different, and the resulting colour is a mix of turquoise and blue.   The pattern delicately features cables – a theme which is strong throughout many of Lucy’s designs.

Photography by Katie Blair Matthews

Photography by Katie Blair Matthews

I have plenty of stock of Stormy Seas in the Quinag base, but if you want an alternative it is also available in the Canisp base (merino/silk/cashmere) and the Reliable Sock Yarn base.  And of course if blue isn’t your shade, there are many more shades to choose from.

Many thanks to Lucy for such a beautiful design which shows off the yarn so well, and to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival team (Jo and Mica) for choosing this design for the magazine.