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 .

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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.

 

 

Frances Herself

Back in August last year I attended In the Loop, a conference in Glasgow.  Besides enjoying the conference itself, it was also lovely to catch up with some friends of mine from the knitting world, including Karie Westermann, a Danish born designer now living in Glasgow.

We had, for a while, been talking around a collaborating on a design combining her talents as a designer, and my yarn.  At In the Loop she had a good chance to pick and choose some colours and decide on a base for her design.

And the result is Frances Herself which forms part of Karie’s “Authors and Artists” series of designs.

Photograph Copyright David Fraser

Photograph Copyright David Fraser

You can read all about Frances Herself on Karie’s website, so instead I’ll tell you a bit about the yarn Karie chose to use for her design.  The Quinag base is a 4ply (fingering) base which contains 100% Bluefaced Leicester wool.  We tried putting together many colour combinations, but the colours she eventually settled on were Assynt Peat (a bluish charcoal grey), Jewelled (a bright pink/purple combination) and Stormy Seas (a turqouise/blue combination).

But ….. as Stevan (aka Mr RC) is so fond of saying, the world is your mollusc when it comes to choosing colour combinations.  Here are a few I threw together today just to give you some ideas:

Perhaps you want monochrome (Assynt Peat and Moonshine) with just a splash of colour (Turquoise Delight)

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Or else perhaps you want to be very bold, and with spring just around the corner add loads of colour, using Assynt Peat as your base, A Slice of Lime to add zing, and Jewelled to add pizazz!

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Or …. thinking about spring again, perhaps you want to have softer, more subtle shades, this time in Canisp which is a suitable alternative to the Quinag base which Karie used.  Here we have Rose Quartz, Almost Cloudless Skies (not yet up on the website) and Silvery Moon:

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And also in Canisp a slightly bolder combination – Almost Cloudless Skies, Silvery Moon and Winter Flames.

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I’ve not quite decided myself which colours I’ll use for my version, but I need to get a wriggle on as I want to have it finished for Edinburgh Yarn Festival.

I hope to have a few colour combinations made up into kits for Edinburgh Yarn Festival next month, but I also hope to see some of you wearing your own version of the very lovely shawl which Karie has designed.    And please make sure you visit Karie’s blog to read more of the story behind the design and the name.

Many thanks, Karie, for such a lovely design, and David for allowing me to use his beautiful photographs of Karie wearing the design.

Photograph Copyright David Fraser

Photograph Copyright David Fraser

Introducing …. Burras

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Burras is the new yarn to join the Ripples Crafts family.  But first, let me explain the name.

 

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Burras (pronounced boo-ras) is Gaelic for caterpillar.   And what do caterpillars turn into?  Beautiful, multi-coloured butterflies!  (yes, and moths, but we won’t talk about those – just keep thinking about butterflies).  Butterflies in many, many lovely colours and shades.  And when you receive your hank-let you may agree with Stevan that it looks a little like a small caterpillar.

And with butterflies in mind (and a sweetie shop, if I’m honest) I have been dyeing this lovely new yarn for the shop.  Burras is a single ply, fingering weight (equivalent of 4ply) pure merino and will come in 20g hanks, so ideal for small stranded colour projects.

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There are 15 colours at the moment, with perhaps more to come.  I haven’t quite decided yet.  But above you will see all 15 shades currently available.  The nature of the single ply yarn combined with my dyeing techniques means that the resulting colour is very definitely variegated through the hank – there is almost a heathery effect to the finished hank.

I have been working on Sleeping Beauty Cowl (Ravelry link) over the past couple of days and I wanted to have it finished and washed before releasing the yarn, but some of you have been asking when it would be available, so here it is!

You will see from the close up of the reverse side of my cowl the nature of this yarn.

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It almost looks like the fibre of the yarn includes silk, but it doesn’t.  It really is a very pretty yarn, and incredibly soft.  It isn’t the sort of yarn you’ll use for items which will receive heavy wear, such as socks, but for cosy winter accessories such as shawls, cowls, hats – it will be ideal.

Some of my colour choices when knitting the cowl are not ideal.   It is so many years since I did fair isle knitting – I’d forgotten how to select colours which will “pop” when combined.  But it is a test piece – I’ll just have to knit another one.

Supplies of this yarn are currently limited, but once I know how popular it is, I can order more base yarn and get dyeing.   You’ll find all 15 shades in the shop now.

 

Happy New Year!

I’m not one for long posts about the year past and the year ahead at Hogmanay.  If I’m honest looking back over the year gone tends to make me maudlin, and I’ve always, by nature, been one that tends to look forwards rather than backwards.

So instead, let me simply wish you a happy new year, show you a photograph of some beautifully frosted heather we found this morning on our last walk for 2015,  and tell you that to celebrate the beginning of a new year there is a small sale on the website.  All Merino Sport Weight, Na Dannsairean Aran and Merino DK has been reduced by 25%.  The reduction is automatic – you don’t need a code.  The yarn will return to its normal price at midnight on Friday 8th January.  Enjoy!

And here’s to 2016.

 

The Off Grid Life

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I apologise in advance for the lack of pretty photographs in this blog entry, but there has been some interest in what it is like for us living off grid, so I decided to put down a few thoughts, and as photographs showing our system are few and far between, and unless you have a passion for photographs of batteries, then there isn’t much to show.

When we bought our home in the late 1990’s it was a bolt hole for us from what was a hectic life in the south of England.   We would escape here at the drop of a hat from the overcrowded, stressful south, and enjoyed living in a very different way to our normal way of life, and that included being off grid.  Our house was built approximately 160 years ago, when there was no domestic electricity, and for some reason our house was never connected to the grid when domestic electrification was introduced to the area.  We don’t know why – but when we bought it we had to decide whether or not to get connected to the grid.  We did make general enquiries, but once we received the quote from the electric company (approximately £8000 in 1998), we decided to opt for an alternative power source.  Stevan, my husband, had long been interested in alternative energy.  For almost as long as I had known him he had read and collected articles on different energy sources and systems, and had a bulging folder full of articles and ideas cut out of magazines.   We felt we could do quite a bit with the £8K that the electricity company was wanting to install mains power, and, after all, it was a “holiday house” – it wasn’t as if we would be living in it all the time!

Our initial needs were simple – we needed electricity for lighting, and perhaps a radio or small television.  That was all.  We were happy to do without computers for short periods while on holiday here – oh how quickly that changed!  (As Stevan’s IT roles grew and developed we soon realised that we would have to have internet access while we were here, even when on holiday)  We were even prepared to do without an electric ‘fridge for short holidays.

Our first system was a small 400w wind turbine (if you want technical details, have a look at this blog entry of Stevan’s), which ran a 12V system and gave us lighting and some entertainment (tv, radio).  Our power system has evolved over the years and we now have a set up which Stevan has described in fairly lengthy detail here and here, so I won’t repeat all he has said.

But what does living off grid mean on a day to day basis?  We moved to Assynt permanently in 2008.  One of my biggest concerns about moving was how I would have to “do without”.  Gone would be my automatic washing machine, my dishwasher, my Gaggia coffee maker (and those of you who know me well KNOW how I don’t operate without a morning coffee),  the electric water heating system, central heating, large fridge, freezer, electric cooker …… and so the list went on and on.  It is one thing doing without these luxuries (some would say “essentials”) when you are holidaying, but actually living without them?  I was pretty uncertain.

Cooking wasn’t really an issue – we had an LPG gas cooker which, while characterful (shall we say?), did the job adequately.  But regularly using my slow cooker was no longer an option.  A slow cooker draws about 240W, and while this may not seem much, it is the length of time that a slow cooker has to be on that is the issue.  Our battery bank (which stores the power generated by our turbine and solar panels) gives us about 300 amp hours before it needs to be replenished.  We run a 24V system, so 240w divided by 24v = 10 amps.  Which means if I run a slow cooker for 8 hours that uses approximately 80 amp hours which, when you remember our system only offers us 300 amp hours before more power is required (either by the sun, wind or generator), suddenly sounds like quite a lot.  Especially when it is for something that can be considered a convenience rather than an essential.  However, if we know there are bright sunny days forecast or, alternatively, stormy windy days, then I can use the slow cooker as we know there will be plenty of power coming into the batteries to top them up again.

The secret to adapting to an off grid way of life has been careful thought about how you do things, and seeking appliances and equipment that uses as few watts as possible.  So instead of the fully automatic washing machine we found a small twin tub, designed for use in caravans.  Yes it takes a lot longer to do the washing – you can’t just pile it in and walk away, but the washing gets done.  Of course ironing is out of the question (oh dear!!), so when buying clothes I always have an eye as to how an item will look un-ironed.  Actually that isn’t strictly true – we do have a small travel iron which we can use for short periods if we need to, but it is surprising how you manage to live without ironing.  Likewise a vacuum cleaner – we can run it for short spurts, or if we have the generator running.

LED light bulbs have been a great boost to reducing our electrical needs.  I think the most powerful bulb in the house only uses 7W.  To give you an idea of the significance of LED’s, running 15 lights now uses the same power as 1 light bulb did when we bought the house back in 1997.

We select our IT equipment very carefully, choosing laptops and tablets that require the bare minimum of power to keep them going.  Stevan wrote an article some time back for Tectonic magazine which you can find here, covering how we run our IT systems off grid for those of you who want more information on this aspect of off grid living.

Refrigeration has been one of the most difficult aspects to get right.  Initially we had a tiny caravan gas ‘fridge, which basically held some milk, some butter, and a bit of meat for a meal.  You couldn’t store veg in it – it was too small.  Maybe a small lettuce, but that was your lot.   When you’re on holiday you can make do with beans on toast if you’ve not got anything else, but when you’re living and working in a place you need proper sustenance, and living on beans on toast isn’t really an option.  So after a lot of research, we found a fridge that draws about 85W.  That is not constant as it cycles, but when we did some tests we found it used about 1Kwh per week.  The joy of the ‘fridge is that it also has a small freezer section, so while our waistlines probably didn’t thank us, it did mean we could enjoy ice cream from time to time!  On a more practical level, though, it also meant that a daily shop (and for some things, a weekly shop) was no longer necessary.  Vegetables could be stored in the ‘fridge, but more importantly we could bulk buy (on a small scale!) and meals could be frozen.  However there is never any standing in front of the fridge with the door open wondering what will be for tea – that uses up too much power as it causes the ‘fridge to cycle!

The biggest change though?  Probably the change in mindset.  One becomes far more aware of how and when you use the electricity available to you.  And having a bright digital meter on the kitchen wall showing you the state of charge of the batteries really does keep you on your toes.  So, unless there is a gale blowing, lights always get switched off when you leave a room, nothing gets left on charge overnight, we don’t use any electrical gadgets which require over 200w, and, to a certain extent, life revolves around the weather conditions.

But before you start thinking we must be the greenest of green households, well, we’re not.   We have a solid fuel stove either end of our house,  and in them we burn coal.  One of the stoves also heats our water, so that stove runs all the year around.  In the summer we try and burn wood, but sometimes the heat given off by wood simply isn’t sufficient to warm a whole house without any central heating, so we revert to coal in the winter.

After a turbulent, stormy and worrying winter over the 2014/2015 winter period, we once again made enquiries with the electricity company regarding getting electricity put to the house.  The turbine had been tied up for most of the winter, and we were relying on the petrol generator to top up the batteries.  We were ready to throw in the towel.  However, when the quote came in and we’d picked ourselves up off the floor where we had fallen in both laughter and shock, we once again decided we had better things to do with £20K (for that was what it would have cost), and invested in new solar panels and a new turbine – one which can withstand much stronger winds than our previous turbine.   Here is Stevan sorting out the stays for the tower:

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And looking back at what I’ve had to “do without”?  Well, not much!  We just do things differently now.  Except, perhaps, ironing ……

Anyone coming into the house wouldn’t necessarily know that we were off grid, unless they’d spied the turbine and panels.  The battery bank is 24V but because of the inverter we have the internal system that is a 230V.  Lights switch on and off as normal, and the TV operates as normal.

Oh, and while I don’t have my Gaggia coffee maker any more, we have discovered the delight of the Bialetti stove top coffee maker.  Always an up side.

Introducing ………

Canisp – a visiting yarn in the Ripples Crafts fold.

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Fresh Grass

Canisp is a 4ply yarn, and the fibre content is 70% Merino, 20% Silk and 10% Cashmere and comes in a 100g hank.  Each hank contains approximatel 400m of yarn.

Hubble Quest

Hubble Quest

It is a luxurious yarn, ideal for something you want to wear close to your skin – a hat, or a shawl, or even a larger garment.

Pink Blue Sapphire

Pink Blue Sapphire

Canisp can be found in the “New Lines” section of the shop, and because it will be a “visiting” yarn there will be a limited supply of this yarn for the foreseeable future, so if you see a colour you want – grab it!

Winter Flames

Winter Flames

 

The “Notes” in Yarn Notes from Assynt

After my previous post about the yarn club for next year – Yarn Notes from Assynt 2016 – I thought I would give you a flavour of the kind of notes that you would receive with your package each month.  It was hard to select one month to show you,  but after looking through Stevan’s notes for the year I eventually settled on the notes that accompanied the August 2015 yarn and greetings card.  The subject was Clachtoll and the Split Rock, a site which influences so much of my dyeing because it is where we live.

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The photograph above is the one that appeared on the greetings card.  It was taken from Stac Fada, a cliff above Stoer beach from where, if you look in a south easterly direction, you will have a wonderful view of the Split Rocks that dominate Clachtoll beach, and the mountains beyond.  My initial trials at yarn colours for August tried to include almost every shade and colour in the photograph, but it was just too busy, so eventually I settled for a few key colours.

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The colour for the monthly yarn isn’t necessarily a direct interpretation of the photograph used for the card, but more often than not the theme provides inspiration.  Here’s a couple of close up images showing some more detail of the shades:

 

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Now onto the notes which, as I’ve said, Stevan writes each month.  I wanted to give you a flavour of the sort of aspects and perspectives the notes cover, and so here you can download a PDF of the notes which accompanied the yarn package in August.  Besides the written/printed notes which members receive in their parcel each month, they also have access to a web page where they will find references, additional information and photographs enabling them to explore the subject in more detail, should they wish.

If you’d like to join those who have already signed up for Yarn Notes from Assynt 2016, you can do so by joining here.  It would be lovely to have you along.  Maybe point a loved one in the direction of the link if they ask what you’d like for Christmas?