Introducing “Cochrane”

I wanted to do something special to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Ripples Crafts.  And I thought what better way to celebrate such a significant event than to create a new yarn.   I wanted to design a yarn that captured all the features that I love as well as creating something distinctively different from anything in my current range.  As someone who has difficulty with some animal fibres against my skin I wanted something that I could wear – selfish, I know, but it was important to me.

I contacted Sue Blacker of The Natural Fibre Company to discuss my ideas and options, and it was good to have her confirm my thoughts about the choices I was making for my yarn.  Sue has years of experience of working with different fibres, and once we agreed on exactly what I wanted I felt confident that the yarn was going to be just so.

That was six months ago.  In that time Sue has been sourcing the particular fibre needed for my yarn, and it has been carded, spun, washed, and hanked, and last weekend at Edinburgh Yarn Festival I was presented with the very first hank of my unique yarn – Cochrane.   I couldn’t wait to get it home, divide up into tiny little test hanks, and dye away to my heart’s content while I waited for the main shipment of yarn to arrive at the dye shed.

I only had 9 tiny hanks to test dye, but I was very happy that I’d achieved the “look” that I wanted with the yarn.  I wanted something that had a slightly heathered look to it once it had been dyed, and I have managed to get that.


So what are the fibres in this yarn?  Well, I won’t divulge the full and complete breakdown of fibre percentages as I want to preserve my intellectual property, but it is a mix of 2 fibres which offer the qualities I wanted.  First of all, Bluefaced Leicester.  This breed has long been a favourite of mine, as reflected in my current range of yarns.  The main reason for including this breed in Cochrane was because of its hardiness, but also the sheen which BFL presents.   Secondly I opted for a little known breed of sheep, although it is becoming better known thanks to the work done by mills such as The Natural Fibre Company and Uist Wool Mill.  It is the Bowmont, also known by some as Scottish Merino.   I grew up in a country where the Merino was the main breed of sheep, and it is a wool which I love, but it is not a breed which is suited to the wet UK climate.   The Bowmont was a breed developed and bred in the 1980’s by the Macauley Land Use Research Institute as a suitable breed for Scottish Hill farmers.  (You can read a bit about it here on the archived page).  It is a mix of Saxon Merino and Shetland, and was bred to be hardy enough for the damp climate, but with a good yield of meat and wool.  Sadly it wasn’t  the success that the Institute had hoped for in that the hill farmers did not take the breed to their hearts.  And now only a handful of flocks still exist.   But the fleece is beautiful.  The resulting yarn is slightly nuppy, but has that buttery softness that I was looking for due to the low micron count of the fibre.  For those interested in such things the micron count for the Bowmont fibre used in Cochrane  is approximately 18.  Mixed with the BFL to give it hardiness, I am over the moon with the resulting base.  All the fibre has been sourced from sustainable flocks in the UK, and the yarn has been woollen spun as opposed to all my other yarns in the range which are worsted spun – I did say I wanted something distinctively different.  The feel of the yarn is one of bounce and airiness, and the stitch definition on the test piece I’m working on is good.  The yarn has a stickiness to it that would make it suitable for steeking, for those of you who would want to take a pair of scissors to your knitting.

The Natural Fibre Company has spun it to a 4ply weight, and it comes in 100g hanks.

So!  There you have it.  A unique yarn to celebrate 10 years.  While I was sitting knitting with it last week it suddenly struck me that I’d designed a yarn and was working with a yarn that nobody had ever knitted with before.  And what is more – I’m so very pleased with the results.  The full stock has now arrived from the mill and dyeing has commenced.

Given the very special and rare nature of the yarn, availability will be limited – I only have 17.5kg of this base, and once it is gone then there will be no more until I can slot into the spinning schedule again for more.   I will be sending out a newsletter to subscribers as soon as the first batch is about to go into the shop, so if you’re not signed up for the newsletter here is how to do it, and so be among the first to know when it becomes available to buy.

And the name “Cochrane”?  That is in recognition of my amazing Mum.



Edinburgh Yarn Festival 2018

I have been trying hard to digest and mull over Edinburgh Yarn Festival 2018 for the last few days.   It is very difficult to put down in words just how much, from a vendor’s perspective, I enjoyed this event this year.  I am struggling to pin point exactly what it was that made it so enjoyable but I know that it has something to do with the way it is organised and, as a vendor, how well the communication channels are kept open between vendors and organisers.

So I will start by saying a very big thank you to Jo and Mica, the two incredible women behind this event.  I only had brief chats with them over the weekend, but the fact that they had time even for that was appreciated.   And then the team of volunteers which they have helping them.  If I were Craig Revel Horward I would be saying “A-MAZE-ING darlings”.   The atmosphere of cheerfulness and helpfulness pervaded the whole weekend.  Nothing was too much trouble.   And the same has to be said of the staff at the Corn Exchange who were also very helpful and friendly.

This year it was all change for the Ripples Crafts stand.  New location, new look, new helpers.  So it was with a bit of trepidation that we turned up on Wednesday afternoon last week, not having any idea just how long it would take to build our “new look” stand as, while I’d used the new stand components at smaller shows, this was by far the biggest one and there was quite a bit of construction to do.  It is always interesting to get the first sighting of your stand at a show.  Sometimes you can be instantly a bit “meh” about it, but in the case of EYF I was completely and utterly delighted.  An empty stand never looks that inspiring but it is filled with potential:


Even with just the boxes of yarn in and the stand looked different instantly.  Just out of interest, the black cubbies which formed my stand break down and we transported the whole stand in the 4 shopping bags you can see against the right hand wall of my stand.  We have to be canny with what/how I display my yarns as we transport everything in our Fiat Panda, a roof box and a trailer so space is always at a premium:


Slowly but surely the stand began to take shape:

By the time we left the Corn Exchange at about 7.30pm on Wednesday evening, the stand was more or less as I wanted it.  You’re never absolutely entirely 100% happy – I’m always left with feelings of “should I have displayed it this way or that way”.  It is inevitable, but eventually you have to stop fussing and just step away.  So when the doors opened at 9.00am on Thursday morning, this was the sight that greeted shoppers:

I think for me, one of the joys of EYF (as with many events that I do during the year) is the generous nature of those attending.  I was constantly spotting beautiful knits, and everyone I stopped to ask about their creation were happy to chat about it, tell me a little about the making and the name of the pattern.  Nobody was in too much of a hurry, wanting to get to the NEXT stand to see the NEXT thing.

This year EYF was held over 3 days.  I really liked this format.  I felt that Thursday (which was entry by pre-purchased ticket only) was much more relaxed than the first day last year.  It was busy but it didn’t have that harassed, crushed feel about it.   My own very unscientific observation was that there were many many nationalities  other than British on the Thursday.  It was as if the Corn Exchange had suddenly became the cosmopolitan yarn centre of the universe.  It was lovely!  On the stand I had folk from Taiwan, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, all over Europe, Canada and US, and of course from all over the UK too.   We had a large contingent from Iceland – apparently there was a full plane load from Iceland who headed to Edinburgh.  One pair were so mesmorised by all the colour they had to have a little sit down on the floor to have a wee think and choose just the right ones – I apologise for the blurry picture but I just snapped it to keep:


There was a new addition to the event this year in the shape of a huge marquee and this helped immensely with providing seating for folk.  I only ventured in a couple of times to eat my lunch, but on both occasions I managed to get a seat without any difficulty at all.  The space in the main hall had also been allocated to stands in a different way to previous years, and this seemed to make the space feel much more, ummmm, spacious!  There were still short periods of times when it felt very busy, but without the feeling that you were being pushed or jostled.

My two new helpers this year were just fab.  On Thursday I had my sort of sister in law 3 times removed Jacqui helping me.  Jacqui is a sewer/textile printer rather than a knitter, but she thoroughly enjoyed the day and meeting folk.   And on Friday and Saturday I had the lovely Gabi helping me, both with the yarn but also the myriad of languages that folk spoke on the stand as Gabi can speak one or two.

Gabi has been a customer for a few years now, and is always stretching me when it comes to colours which I have always appreciated.  I know she enjoyed herself, and it was lovely to have both her and Jacqui helping out this year.


And so it is over for another year.   As usual there is a bit of a post show slump that is inevitable when you’ve been working so hard towards something for about 7 or 8 months.  However I am already busy putting the finishing touches to another special project I’ve been working on to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Ripples Crafts, and there will be more about that in my next blog entry.

So thank you to all who came to EYF and to all the organisers.  It was, for me, a happy, festive event.  I loved it.


A Few More Questions (with photographs!)

My last blog entry led to a few more questions in my Ravelry group, so I thought I’d do a wee follow up here too.

One of the points I made in my last entry raised a lot of interest on Ravelry, and that was the point that the dye bath exhausts when dyeing, and all the colour goes into the yarn, leaving just slightly acidic water to throw away.  So I took a few photographs to illustrate what I mean.

Here I am dyeing Quickstep, a lovely teal shade which I only do on the Na Dannsairean 4ply base.  This is the start of the dyeing process.  The yarn has already been soaking in water for a while, and then goes into the dye/water solution.  The water is cold at this point.


Slowly, slowly the water is heated.  As it heats and as the yarn sucks up the colour, so the water solution becomes paler:


and paler

until eventually the yarn has captured all the colour, and the water is clear:

It then takes a while to dry the yarn, and once dried, and tidied, and labelled, it looks like this:


Another question on Ravelry was concerning how I got the different colours onto a single hank of yarn.

Well, this is more of a trade secret which I’m not really prepared to divulge.  All dyers have their own techniques which they develop with experience and testing.  I never had any formal dyeing lessons, and other than a very informal class on dyeing with Kool Aid, everything I know on the subject I’ve taught myself.  There are many books and websites out there offering advice, but ultimately nothing beats just doing it.  And usually doing it over and over and over again until you develop your own style and techniques.   Having a basic knowledge in colour theory helps, and consistency in how you mix your dyes is key, i.e. the ratio of dye to acid to water, and you will find lots of technical stuff online and in books about the best way to do this.  But ultimately, so long as you always do it in the same way and to the same ratio, you can achieve consistency of colour.

I hope you’ve found this mini series on how I do things interesting.

Questions, questions, questions …..

I was writing up notes for the 2 people who will be helping me at Edinburgh Yarn Festival this year, and it got me to thinking about questions I’ve been asked over the 10 years of doing events around the country about how/why I dye the way I do, along with some other queries.  So I thought I’d jot them down in a blog entry – perhaps you’ll find the information useful when you’re planning to use Ripples Crafts hand dyed yarn in a project.

I use a variety of techniques when I dye.  Some result in colours which are repeatable, and some result in colourways which are not.  Let us start with the ranges I call Hubble Bubble and Assynt Storms.  These 2 methods of dyeing are perhaps the most visibly spectacular in the Ripples Crafts range.


Reliable Sock Yarn dyed using the Assynt Storms technique

These 2 techniques are ones I use mainly on the Reliable Sock Yarn base, purely because who doesn’t love brightly coloured, wildly variegated socks?  Both methods (and these are 2 distinct methods) result in hanks of yarn which are unique and unrepeatable.  There will be differences even when hanks are dyed together in the same batch.  This is because the technique used results in what looks like random dyeing, but in fact there is thought given to the colours used and how they may mix and meld to form further colours in the dye pot.  The mixes of colours that I choose to use can result in complex colourways which can sometimes look like layer upon layer of colour on a hank.  It is my creative/fun side of dyeing, and while keeping recipes for this range of colourways could be interesting, they do not really help in recreating exact colours.   I dye between 2 and 5 hanks at a time using these techniques, and because I have done hundreds of versions of Assynt Storms and Hubble Bubble, the different batches and colours do not get given individual names, but rather are just called “Assynt Storms” or “Hubble Bubble” and then allocated a number.  I simply could not think up enough names to give the number of hanks that I dye.  I have also been known use these methods on the Quinag and Burras bases, and have recently been dyeing some of the laceweight yarn using these methods too.

Laceweight yarn dyed using the Assynt Storms technique

Next, I do a range of colours which fall into the “glazed” category of dyeing.   This is when one colour is glazed with another (and sometimes a third) to achieve a lovely depth of shades.  So, for example, a colour that I dye which would fall into this category would be The Dark Sea Storm:

The Dark Sea Storm – a glazed colourway

Again, every hank will be slightly different as when you glaze with the second colour it can strike very differently on each hank you’re glazing.   Generally speaking I can replicate them, but with the proviso that they’ll never be exactly the same as each other.  Other colours that would fall into the glazed category would be Copper Beech, Jewelled and Gabi’s Dream Green, to name but a few.  The resulting colours are deep, variegated, and complex.  Ideal for garter stitch patterns, of course, but can also be used for more complex lace knitting patterns without the fear of losing the stitch pattern visibility.  One of the advantages of buying and working with hand dyed yarn is that the dyer has a freedom to choose and mix colours – a freedom which, at times, may not be available to large scale commercial dyers.  For example, I can experiment on just a few hanks as my set up is small scale.  Sometimes the experiments work and I go on to repeat and repeat the colours, and other times the colours produced are not popular, and they quietly disappear off the shelf.

An as yet unnamed almost solid colourway


Then – I do a range of “almost solid” colours.  This category would include colours such as Poppy, A Slice of Lime or Ripe Rowan Berries, or the example above which I have yet to name.  I never describe them as “Solid” colours because they’re not absolutely solid.  Again part of the charm of buying hand dyed yarn is of course the range of colours available, but also the slight variations of colour and shades that you can find in one hank.  So while a hank may look like a solid colour, quite often once it is knitted up there will be variations of hues.  I always recommend that, if you’re planning to knit a larger garment using one of the colours from this range, you alternate hanks while you’re knitting.  So knit a few rows from one hank and then a few rows from another.  This way you won’t get a stark defining line when you change hanks if there is a difference between hanks.   I am a small scale dyer, and for the more solid shades I dye no more than 4 or 5 hanks at a time, depending on the base that I’m dyeing and the weight of the yarn.  Some bases take solid shades better than others.  For example the Quinag base, 100% Bluefaced Leicester, takes the more solid colours very well, whereas the Burras base, a single ply merino yarn, takes colour in a less solid way, and this results in a more semi solid shade across the hank.

The final technique I want to cover is one where I dye blocks of colour onto a hank.  Again this is done mainly on the Reliable Sock yarn base, but occasionally I added these colours to other bases.  So, for example, I recently dyed one of my most popular block colourways (which also includes a bit of the glazing technique) – Assynt Hill Tartan – on to the Na Dannsairean yarn base.


Depending on the garment you’re making the block dyed yarns can give you different results.  If you were to knit socks, for example, using 60 stitches and 2.5mm needles, then you’ll get approximately one row per colour.  But it depends on your tension and the number of stitches in your garment.  Currently I do not dye any long colour repeat colour combinations which some dyers do and which result in broader stripes, depending again on the number of stitches you have in your project.  It simply doesn’t suit my method of dyeing and there are other dyers who do an excellent job of this form of dyeing.  Another method of dyeing I do not commonly do is what some refer to as speckled dyeing.  When dyeing Assynt Storms or Hubble Bubble hanks, speckling may sometimes occur, but I don’t set out to produce speckled yarn per se.

Moving on to the yarn bases which I use, the question I am often asked is “is your yarn British”.   Well the question is not simple.  It depends what you define as “British”.   Some of the fibre used in the yarn is grown in the UK, i.e. it is sourced from small British flocks through the British Wool Marketing board.  Most of my yarn is not spun in the UK.  However my main yarn provider is based in the UK and provides employment to a number of people in the UK and abroad.  They also maintain an ethical stance which sits well with me, including providing education programmes for some of the farmers who provide fibre for the mill.   An important point to make is that none of the merino in my range comes from sources that practice mulesing.

The dyes that I use for my yarns are called Acid Dyes.  Using acid dyes means I can recreate colourways again and again and while they may not be identical they will be close to the original.  Acid dyes also have the reputation of being long lasting and do not fade easily.  There are always exceptions of course, and if you leave a piece of acid dyed textile lying in direct sunlight then there may well be deterioration to the colour.    I try very hard to make sure colours are fixed well, but again there are exceptions and certain shades are prone to some bleeding of colour more than others (looking at YOU turquoise) and for this reason I always recommend handwashing of garments made with hand dyed yarn to avoid any colour run disasters occurring.  The term “Acid Dye” can sound daunting, but the acid is what fixes the colour to the wool/fibre, and the acid which I use to achieve this is citric acid – the sort of compound used in Bath Bombs or home made lemonade.  The level of acidity is very low.   I could use vinegar if I preferred – but the lingering smell precludes that alternative for me!  On the subject of water, I should mention that I try to recycle as much as I can during the dyeing process.  Water is not something which is in short supply where we live.  It rains a lot in the Highlands!  And our water supply is about a mile from our house in a beautiful loch called Water Loch which we walk to often.  But there is no harm in being careful about your resources, and so soaking water becomes rinsing water or dyeing water rather than simply being discarded.

Another common question is “Can I come and see where my yarn is dyed” and the short answer is YES!  I am based in a part of Scotland which many consider remote, but which I consider the centre of the universe.  If you are touring or holidaying in the Scottish Highlands and plan to visit an area called Assynt, then I won’t be far away from where you will be staying.  Perhaps you’re planning to drive the North Coast 500 route – well that route goes past the bottom of my drive.  If I am at home then visitors are most welcome.  I have a small dye shed and I am a tiny operation, and it won’t take you long to look around the dye shed, but sometimes it is just really interesting to see where the hub of activity is based.  So many who visit leave the dye shed with comments such as “NOW I get why you dye the colours you do” or “You are so fortunate to have so much colour inspiration on your doorstep”.  And of course you’re welcome to come and have a look at the yarn I have in stock and you may want to go away with a memento of your visit to this part of the world.  It is always best to get in touch with me to make sure I’ll be here, but I also have a sign at the end of my road now, and generally speaking if the open sign is up I am in.  There are times I forget to take it down though!

So …. there you go. A long blog entry, but I wanted to cover some of the questions I get asked about my chosen profession.  If you have any burning questions feel free to ask.  I don’t promise to answer them as of course I protect my intellectual property vigorously, but if I can answer I will.

Just one final thing.  Well two really.  I am now up to my elbows in the dye pots preparing for Edinburgh Yarn Festival in March.  However I am still updating the shop from time to time.  I do not do weekly timed updates but rather add stock to the shop as and when I have it ready to add and when I’ve been able to get reasonable photographs taken.  So pop back from time to time to have a look.   And finally, I’m very excited to be taking Ripples Crafts to the international show stage this year.  My application for a stand at Woollinn in Dublin has been accepted, and so I’ll be heading across the Irish Sea to Ireland in May.    It seems appropriate that as Ripples Crafts celebrates its 10th birthday we spread our wings a little and head abroad.   To keep abreast of other shows which I will be doing it is always best to keep an eye on my Ravelry group where I add shows as they are confirmed.






Scenic Weather

Yesterday found us heading to Inverness, to the funeral of one of our community, Pauline.  She was a larger than life character whose laughter could be heard a long time before you actually saw her.  We were sad to say our goodbyes but it was a lovely service, with many memories of her laughter and kindness.  It often seems that cancer claims so many in our close knit community, but I suspect that it is just that one gets to hear about the causes of death of those who live in the area, whereas if we were in a souless area where you had no idea who your neighbour was, you simply wouldn’t get to hear about it.

We woke  to dire warnings on the internet about the road conditions, but we decided to try to get to Inverness nonetheless.  And what a beautiful drive it was.  Snow really changes the landscape and offers the most spectacular, magical scenes.


Loch Glascarnoch, which is the highest point on our way to and from Inverness, was completely white.


But the sky, snow and water ware thrown into stunning contrast closer to the dam wall.  And yes, that is ice on the loch.


We’ve had some great weather related scenes on our daily dog walk too recently.  This was a cell of snow which missed Clachtoll but, as Stevan found out when he was doing a post office run this morning, landed on Lochinver instead.


I’m really busy in the dye shed now, getting ready for Edinburgh Yarn Festival which seems to be rushing up to meet me,  I am doing a few new shows this year, more of which I’ll go into at a later date as more details about the events emerge, but one show which is new to me is Woollinn in Dublin, and this takes place in May.   This will be my first non-UK based show, so I’m filled with more than a little trepidation about it!  But I know it will be fun.  There are quite a few logistics which still need to be sorted out for this event, but with the recent passing of our friend, Pauline, at a very young age, I’m determined to seize any opportunity and adventure I can.  So, Dublin here we come!


That Moment of Stillness

I heard someone on the radio today describe the period between Christmas and New year as that “little moment of stillness”.  And so it is.  The mad rush of Christmas is over (did you really need all that food/last minute shopping/that extra packet of biscuits/the partridge?!) and the Hogmanay celebration is yet to come.  The week bridging the two can be a little haven of sanity to reflect on the year passed and the year to come.

I don’t like to navel gaze too much about the year which has just been.  For me, personally, therein can lie the road to melancholy.  And I think we’d all pretty much agree that 2017 wasn’t the most successful year politically – well not in the UK anyway, and on a personal level it had some difficult moments too, but 2017 did see some wonderful events in the life of Ripples Crafts – the purchase, arrival and building of The Dye Shed being just one.


It is not an understatement to say that this single event has revolutionised how I work.  It has given me such a lovely space in which to create and has freed up the part of the house which used to be used as the “parcel packing station” aka our living room.

So as Hogmanay approaches I’m pondering the year ahead rather than looking back.  Forward to 2018 which brings a celebration all of its own.  Ripples Crafts will be celebrating its 10th birthday.  I can hardly believe that it has been 10 years.  They have just flown by.  10 years since I tentatively began offering my hand dyed yarn for sale.  The past 10 years had brought me into contact with some amazing people in the industry, including wonderful designers who have used my yarn in their designs.  I will always be grateful for the world which opened up to me when I began this career.

The new year holds some challenges and some exciting events to look forward to.  I have 3 new shows in the diary (which I will tell you more about in the near future), and some very special product plans which I can’t divulge yet, but I am pretty upbeat about what is to come in new year.  And while the political landscape still looks bleak, I intend following Kate Davie’s example – her words in her most recent blog entry really chimed with me.  Kate said she intended to “focus on making good things that I believe in, and do what I can from my small corner to effect change”.  It really is all we can do.  And if I’m honest, it has always been my aim right from the early days of Ripples Crafts with regards my yarns –  I have always tried to make colours that give me pleasure and which reflect where we live, and which add something to the world rather than taking.   And if others like what I do enough to buy my yarn then my work is done.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary, I’ve revived the Totie Toe Sock Yarn Club – the very first yarn club I ever ran back in 2009.  You can find all the details here.  It isn’t too late to join in time for the January posting so if you feel like receiving a surprise once a month in a purple parcel, you know what to do.

2018 also brings the 10th anniversary of our living in Assynt.  In some ways it feels like we have been living here for so much longer, and in other ways it has passed in a flash.   10 1/2 years ago when we came to the conclusion that we needed to escape our old corporate lives, I don’t think we could have foreseen how much our futures involved creativity, colour and community to the extent which it now does.  I take immense pride in the fact that we still live off grid, generating all our own electricity through a wind turbine and solar panels.  This brings its own unique challenges and sometimes feelings of vulnerability, especially when serious storms approach this corner of Assynt.  But it really is one aspect of our lives which really makes me stop and think “yes, that is good”.  I can’t take credit for any of it, mind you!  It is all Stevan’s hard work which keeps our power flowing, and our computers switched on!  Electricity is still a complete mystery to me.  I still marvel that you can put a plug into a socket and electrical items work.  I was looking for photographs for something or other the other day, and came across pictures which showed just how much impact we’d had on the “look” of where we now live.  Our house has gone from looking okay in 2008 (just the one shed hidden behind the house, a very young hedge, no hen house, and only a couple of solar panels):

To looking very much “lived in” in 2017 (where there are now 4 sheds hidden behind the house, a polytunnel, more solar panels, and a lovely large hedge which shelters apple trees that you can’t see, and provides cover for hens and hundreds of little house sparrows when the sparrowhawk is overhead.)

We’ve learned so much in the past 10 years about living in a small community, and we still have so much to learn.  We’ve had experiences we could only have imagined if we didn’t live here.  We’ve rescued and fed a wild otter cub, abandoned by its mother:


We’ve watched ewes give birth alongside our fence, and rescued lambs which have got themselves into trouble:

And we go to bed each night knowing that just outside our bedroom window our garden is being visited by badgers and wild deer:

So here’s to 2018 and all it holds for us.  I wish you all a very happy New Year, and let us all make 2018 a creative, happy one.

May it be the year where kindness to others is the norm.

How it has changed – Clachtoll Broch

Back in the summer, in July, work began on Clachtoll Broch.  The plan was to stabilise the broch as much as possible and clear the rubble that had been created during what was considered to be a catastrophic event not long after the broch was built and which had resulted in the inward collapse of some of the stone walls.  The work was carried out by AOC Archaeology, and they had a mere 3 months to complete their investigations.  We visited the broch often during the 3 months, and at the start of the work you can see that the archaeologists are standing on top of the rubble in the centre of the broch:


At times it must have felt like this was more a rock moving exercise rather than an archaeological dig.  Much of the day was spent in a human chain simply moving rubble.

Working so close to the sea has its ups and downs, but their enthusiasm for the project never wavered, and all those working on the site were always happy to have us visit to see how the work was progressing, and happy to spend time explaining the developments and items they had found.  Soon you could see changes in the look of the broch – the side walls began to appear and the “floor” began to move downards.:



An important part of the project was public engagement, and part of that engagement included “Finds” workshops where anything found in the broch was studied and cataloged.  This was the aspect I was most intrigued by.  Of course the actual broch construction was interesting, but I was fascinated by the idea that any objects found in the broch had not been seen or touched by anyone for thousands of years.   Fortunately the archaeologists always thought that the catastrophe that occurred was most likely a fire, and the feeling was that it was unlikely that they would find human remains in the broch.   They also thought that the collapse happened not too long after the broch was built, so they were uncertain as to how much they would find buried.  As it transpired, they found quite a lot.  And items of such delicacy, it was amazing they’d survived the weight of the rubble bearing down on them all those centuries.

The standard narrative is often that of  “the iron age was a time of savages”, but the finds defy this thinking.

A beautiful copper pin, carefully created to hold a shawl in place perhaps?  The copper shows that trade was happening with people outwith the immediate area as there is no copper here, perhaps even from as far away as Wales:

A decorative comb made out of antler or whale bone – it has yet to be examined in detail.   Someone made the suggestion that instead of a hair comb this may be a comb used for weaving?  You can see a hole in it, perhaps used to hang it up in a safe place.:

There was some pottery found, some of which was decorated and some of which was plain, which would indicate influence from both the western isles, where typically pottery of this period was decorated, and from the east coast where typically pottery was very plain.   Here is a small container:

This is thought to have perhaps been a lamp of some kind:

I was interested by the number of spindle whorls found inside the broch.  It is hard to imagine why so many would have been needed.  They were in a range of sizes, and I thought a few were very small to be spindle whorls.  One of the items that has been left in situ is this beautifully coloured stone vessel, perhaps used for grinding?  What struck me about this vessel is that it is a completely different stone to the walls.  Less porous perhaps?  My glove is there to give you an idea of scale:

After 3 months of visiting the broch once a week or so and watching the incredible work being done by the archaeologists and volunteers, it was over!  The safety fencing was packed away.  The sheds were deconstructed and taken off site, and all the workers disappeared.  But what they have left the community is an astonishing feature showing detail of the building that has not been seen in centuries.  Here’s a short video I took yesterday showing how the broch looks now.  Stevan is just over 6ft tall, so you can see the sheer scale of the work involved in removing the amount of rubble they did to expose that wall behind him which is now more than double his height.  You can also see a beautiful staircase which was exposed.  My apologies for the poor quality – it was just filmed on my little point and shoot camera:

If you’re ever in Assynt I urge you to visit the broch.  Besides the interest of the building itself, the situation of the broch is stunning.  One does wonder why they built it so close to the sea, but of course the coastline could have been different at the time it was built.

Scourie – When a Plan Comes Together

Photograph courtesy of Woollywormhead

When I knew that Woolly Wormhead had been asked to teach a few classes at Loch Ness Knit Fest in October I was so pleased.  I have long been a huge fan of Woolly’s designs.  We had a little chat and decided that a collaboration for the event would be a most excellent plan.  We talked about colours, hat styles and yarn bases and eventually settled on the Sport Weight Merino in my range.  As many of you know, this is one of my favourite yarns.  It is soft, and has a beautiful bounce and springy-ness to it.  I thought a colour that always proved popular with my customers would be a good idea, but I wanted it to develop a little, and so The Dark Sea Storm was born.  This is a darker version of Stormy Seas, a colour that came about as a fundraiser for the RNLI.   Because of the method used in dyeing this shade, each and every hank will be slightly different – some will have more turquoise showing through and some will have a more even dark blue effect, but whichever one you choose it will look fabulous with the Burnished Gold colour that Woollywormhead chose as the contrast for her sample of the pattern.

“Why the name Scourie?” I hear you ask.  Well, Scourie is a little village to the north of Clachtoll where I am based, and a while back while driving through Scourie, Stevan and I stopped off for a little wander around.  And I came across a beautiful graveyard wall covered in lichen.  Many of you will know my love of photographing lichen, and this was one of the photographs that I took on one of the gravestones.


As soon as I posted this photograph on Twitter, Woolly said “I think I have the name for the hat!”  And so the name Scourie was settled upon.

Woolly Wormhead has written a blog post about Scourie, and as she has explained this pattern will be an exclusive release for Loch Ness Knit Fest for the duration of the festival.  I will have a variety of colour combinations made up into kits for the event, and also a couple of knitted versions of the hat with different colours on display, but here are a few ideas to get your colour juices flowing:

A Cerise which Demands Attention and Assynt Peat:

Shepherd’s Delight and Moonshine:

or you may prefer the colours I’m using,

Turquoise Delight and Wild Violets:

The construction of the hat is similar to the patterns in Woolly Wormhead’s Elemental collection, so if you enjoyed knitting any of those you’ll love this pattern.  Ideally you’ll have a contrasting colour that will really “pop” and show off the fabulous design.

Loch Ness Knit Fest 2017 is only a couple of weeks away now, and I believe there are still a few valuable places left on Woolly’s classes, so if you want attend a masterclass on Knitting in the Round, or learn more about The Art of the Knitted Circle, then book your place soon.  I will have kits made up on the stand in various colour combinations which will include the printed pattern, or you will be able to buy the yarn and pattern separately, selecting your own colours.  Scourie will be released as a digital pattern later on in the year, so if you want to be alerted to when this happens make sure you sign up for Woolly Wormhead’s newsletter.  Once Loch Ness Knit Fest is over I will have any remaining kits up on the website for everyone who wasn’t able to make it to LNKF to buy.  But it will be lovely to see you in Inverness if you happen to be able to come.





What Show Preparation Looks Like

When one goes to a yarn show it is always wonderful to see how lovely and colourful the stands look.  I think this is especially so when stallholders have to make the best of an agricultural building such as we do when we go to the likes of Yarndale and Woolfest.  I know you won’t be surprised to know that besides all the dyeing that happens well in advance of an event,  a lot of thought and preparation goes into getting the stand look attractive and appealing.

Today I was packing stock and boxes to go to Yarndale towards the end of the week. Here is yarn, and lots of it, as you can glimpse in the grey boxes already safely packed into the trailer – you will also glimpse poles, signage, and bags that contain elements that make up my display stand.

But it isn’t just yarn that has to find a storage corner, no no no! Here are some of the piles that were found around the garden and workshop today:

Boxes which contain parts of my stand, bags stuffed with clean table covers and bags containing signage:

(We have a new stand format for Yarndale this year, so there is always the added concern that we’ve not measured properly, or we leave some essential piece of kit behind.)

Dust sheets to cover the yarn overnight to protect it from the birds that sometimes find their way into the auction marts, as well as the bag which contains one single long piece of calico fabric to go all the way around the stand in order to have a “clean” background:

The much needed “Admin” box, which contains all kinds of things including hooks, note books, pens, hand cleaner, sample hangers, business cards, spare card machine rolls etc etc etc:

But perhaps the most difficult part of packing for a show is what has to get left behind.  Yarn that hasn’t dried enough to label and pack:

or because there are multiples or singles of colours that I simply just can’t squeeze in:

Tomorrow will be a day of making sure nothing has been forgotten, packing of personal stuff, and of course knitting for the journey.  Thursday and part of Friday will be spent on the road travelling south.  Friday afternoon is spent setting up the stand, and then it is back to our accommodation for a quiet evening so that we look bright and chirpy for 10.00am on Saturday morning when the doors open to the public  And I love it.  Every aspect of it.  And I’m looking forward to seeing many of you there.

I’ll try and remember to put pictures up on Twitter and Instagram as the event unfolds, so you will find live updates there if you want to see how the stand looks once I’ve finished frou frou-ing it!

Helloooooooo (anybody here?)

My poor blog – it has been very neglected.  Will anybody even read this, I wonder.  Summer has been very busy with a mix of shows and events and my focus for social media has been Twitter and Instagram – quick to leave a quick comment, and the 2 platforms seem to be well used.  The new workshop has been a hive of activity with dyeing, and preparation for shows, and visits from folk passing by on the North Coast 500 driving route, or staying locally and looking for yarn to use on a rainy day.  There have been visitors from all over the world, and it has been lovely to meet them one and all.

At the moment I’m in the middle of a run of big shows which means I’m either packing boxes to head off to the next event or dyeing yarn!  Last weekend was my first showing at Perth Festival of Yarn. It was a lovely event.  The venue, although busy, had a very relaxed layout and feel, and visitors to the event really enjoyed themselves.  Stevan and I took the opportunity to have a couple of days off and do some really touristy things which we don’t often get the opportunity to do.  Going to shows tend to entail getting there, doing the show, and getting home again, with little time to explore the area we’re visiting.  But last Monday I finally got to see the Kelpies – I’ve been wanting to see them ever since they were erected, and they did not disappoint!

Despite being a Monday, there were a lot of folk around, and it was good to see so many enjoying this wonderful piece of art work.  You can take a tour inside the Keplies, but we preferred rather to sit and admire them, while enjoying a coffee and a bite to eat.

We also had another “first” while we were in the south – we crossed the new bridge which spans the Firth of Forth – The Queensferry Crossing.  None of the photographs I took of the bridge, as a whole, do it any justice, but I did like this one that I snapped while driving over the bridge:

We also took the opportunity to visit Dundee – I wanted to see the new V&A building that is being built alongside the river in Dundee, and again, it did not disappoint.  I look forward to the day when it is open to visitors.

I’m off to Yarndale later this week, but we took advantage of the good weather this morning and headed to Little Assynt to have a good walk.  Autumn is definitely showing itself now, with the days getting shorter, and chillier.  There were so many mushrooms out – I only wish we were slightly more knowledgeable about which to pick and eat and which are safer to leave behind.

Peggy, now 14 years old, has had a few health issues lately, but with the care of her wonderful vet, Lucy, she is almost back to her old self, and this morning’s walk didn’t seem to daunt her at all.  A few months back we would have had to carry her around parts of this walk (see previous blog entry), and we were considering getting a doggy sling to help us do that.  But now she’s doing the whole walk on her own, albeit slightly slower at times.

The colours are definitely autumnal now

and I suspect we are seeing the final flourish of flowering heather for the year

One of the best things that a walk around Little Assynt offers you is the best view of our favourite mountain, Quinag.

So now it is back to work getting ready for Yarndale next weekend.  I hope to see a few of you there.  Then I’m home for a couple of weeks before it is time to pack up again and head to Loch Ness Knit Fest in Inverness for a few days.

If you’ve read this, leave a comment and say hello – it may encourage me to try harder at keeping it up to date!  Twitter and Instagram are all very well, but I do miss blogs.