Preparing for the Highland Wool Festival 2015

The second Highland Wool Festival takes place at Dingwall Auction Mart on Saturday 23rd May – not long to go now!  I have been working towards building up stock for this event, and I’m looking forward to showing off the new yarn base, Suilven, to those who come to the event.

It was a lovely event last year, and it was good to have Dorothy and Lizzi helping out on the stand.

The Glam Assistants - is Lizzi doing the Highland Fling?

The Glam Assistants – is Lizzi doing the Highland Fling?

I’m pleased to say they will be there again this year.   We’ve got knitting needles crossed that it will be a fine, WARM day.  Last year was a little on the nippy side.  I understand that all the vendor stalls will be in the Pens this year, rather than being split between the Auction room and the Pens as they were last year.    I know of quite a few folk who are coming, and I look forward to meeting you there.  There was a great mix of stalls last year, and you can see some of them in the photographs on the HWF website.  Pleased to say my friend, Lindsay, aka The Border Tart, will be back at Dingwall this year too.

As I mentioned, I’ll have the new yarn base, Suilven, at this event.  I’m building up the number of different colours on this base, and the latest one I have added to the website is “Sea Hare” which is a colourful slug like creature found in rock pools around Assynt’s coast.  It is a bit like a slug, but as long “hairs” on its back.  It is a bit of a chameleon beastie, as it changes colour depending on the colour of the rock or seaweed you see it on, but the one I have seen was a beautiful chestnutty orange shade, hence the name for this colour:


I am currently using this yarn base in “Slice of Lime” to knit some socks.  And I have to admit to loving every single stitch – the yarn is lovely to work with and has great stitch definition.


Thank you to all the newsletter subscribers who made use of the discount voucher when buying their hanks of Suilven.  This offer is now closed.  If you want to be the first to hear about special newsletter subscriber only offers, make sure your account details on the Ripples Crafts website show you wish to receive the newsletter.  If you’re not sure how to do this please get in touch with me and I’ll give you a hand.

I have also restocked the BFL/Silk 4ply shelf with Copper Beech and Assynt Peat

It may not be perfect ….

This past weekend I went and did a Basket Weaving workshop with Tim Palmer, from Inverness.  I have done a workshop with Tim in the past, and so was keen to return and do a workshop making square baskets rather than round ones which I made in the last workshop back in 2010.

The round basket I made back in 2010

The round basket I made back in 2010

The techniques used are quite different, and from a starting point of this:


you slowly build up and up, using various different techniques (and yes, the rocks are crucial!):


Tim had bought some of his own baskets to inspire us, and they were beautiful.  This particular one was made out of willow bark and was so delicate:


and the colour on this basket really caught my eye


While Tim’s baskets were inspiring, they were perhaps a little beyond some of our capabilities!  I could see the despair in Tim’s eyes each time he came to check on my progress.


Watching Tim weave smoothly and quickly was quite hypnotic at times.  And the eagle eyed knitters among you may well recognise his sweater as Colinette – colour Peacock!!


By the end of two days, I was rather chuffed to have a completed basket.  Not quite flat, not quite symmetrical,  and quite a bit larger than I’d planned, but hey, perfection is overrated.  And besides, it makes the perfect basket for storing our veggies.


And I love looking at the different shades of the different willows we used.


A good weekend’s work I think.




Monday Walks

I know I’ve said this before, but being self employed means that if the weather is absolutely glorious it is a crime not to take advantage of it, sneak off for a good walk, and then catch up with work when the weather isn’t too good.  And, with snow and cold weather forecast for next week, we decided to do precisely that yesterday.

We headed off to the path that leads up to the Bone Caves.  To reach the caves you have to climb to a height of about 210m, but initially the climb is a gradual one up alongside the river, the Allt nan Uamh (Burn of the Caves).  You walk alongside this beautifully clear burn and a few mini-waterfalls


until you reach the source – a spring which comes up out of the limestone.  It is hard to imagine that just half a mile or so away there is enough water to form such refreshing waterfalls, and it all comes from here:


Continuing up the path to the bone caves, the refreshing water disappears completely, leaving a dry, rock filled river bed which I assume only flows when there is very heavy rain or snow melt.


Eventually the steep climb begins, and it looks innocent enough with these tiny stone steps.


and the start of the steep incline is watched over by what looks like a rather stern lion


From this point on you need to gather your nerves and watch where you put your feet.  While we usually allow Peggy and Lexie to roam free in the hills, there are instances when they are kept very much on the lead!  And steep drops alongside the path is one of those instances.


This part of the walk really isn’t for the feint hearted, but if you do make it to the caves the views are rather special.


Winding down the narrow path again, you soon find yourself back alongside the clear burn where the dogs can have a welcome drink and dip.  And with the help of one’s boss, get the accidental peat bog incident washed away.


There is so much to spot and notice along this walk.  There are many birds (and bird watchers) to be seen and listen to, and the violets and primroses are just starting to make their appearance now, changing the somewhat brown landscape into something a bit more interesting.  And if the landscape isn’t colourful enough, then there are always the rocks to look at.


and lichen to admire


and there is nothing quite like a good walk (and a bit of fear!) to put things into perspective again.

Suilven – a new yarn


Ripe Rowan Berry

I’m very happy to introduce you to a new yarn that is joining the Ripples Crafts portfolio of yarns.  I have called this yarn Suilven (pronounced “Sool-vin”) after the iconic peak that dominates parts of Assynt.

Suilven is a blend of merino, silk and yak.  You can read about Yak fire here.  The yarn comes to me in a pale grey/brown shade, which is a wonderful base colour to dye as it adds a real richness to the resulting shades.


A Slice of Lime


The 20% silk content means the yarn has a lustrous sheen, but also strength.  This 4ply/fingering weight yarn also has a very distinctive twist to it – it isn’t a very tight twist, but it does give the a textured surface.

Each 100g hank gives you 366m (approx 400 yards) of yarn, and I can see it being used for a range of projects from beautifully luscious shawls to cardigans for everyday wear.



The yarn only arrived with me yesterday, so there are currently only 3 shades available in the shop, but I have plenty more for dyeing so expect to see further colours added to the range over the coming weeks.  In the meantime you’ll find this unashamedly luxurious yarn in colours Ripe Rowan Berry, A Slice of Lime and Dragonfly up in the shop.


Marking the Seasons


Perhaps living where we do makes it easier to spot the changing seasons.  The landscape has tell tale signs that sometimes you miss in a city, or which can be artificially speeded up when green patches are surrounded by high buildings.  Living somewhere where there is little to shield nature from the elements, things move a little more slowly.

At this time of year I love capturing on camera that spring really has arrived at last.  Winters can feel very long in Assynt, with short days and very long, sometimes stormy, nights.  And we’ve certainly had our fair share of storms this past winter.  Most barely registered on news sites, but we had a full hurricane at one point, although the usual radio and tv weather stations completely failed to warn us about it.  So, while we can have fierce storms outwith winter, it is always lovely to see the plants starting to green up and blossom beginning to appear.


There are signs that promise that there will be rhubarb crumble in the not too distant future – with custard, of course!


And my concerns that the mint, which grows wild in the grass around the house, may have failed to survive the winter have proved unfounded (which means cutting the grass in summer with be accompanied by a wonderful minty smell)


The pruned branches from the flowering current which Stevan just stuck into the ground to see if they would take are already flowering


and the Rowan we have outside the front door (originally put in to ward off evil spirits, but which is now used as a huge bird feeder) is starting to get its leaves


The garden is full of birds, and the song of the wren accompanies me in the dye shed each day now as it sits on the fence alongside the shed singing its heart out.

Yes, spring definitely is here.

Ripples Crafts / Glencanisp Lodge Retreat 2015

EDITED TO ADD:  All the rooms have now been reserved.  I am, however, opening a waiting list in case those who have reserved rooms need to drop out for any reason, so please still get in touch if you are interested.

Thank you for the magnificent (and quick!) response to this retreat.



There has been a lot of underwater paddling been going on over the last few weeks – spreadsheets have been involved, as well as a lot of discussion, agreement, and many, many emails.  All to get us to this point.  I am very happy to announce that the Ripples Crafts 2015 retreat is now in the planning.  If you want to know more about last year’s retreat, then you can read all about it here and here.


The 2015 Retreat will be held at Glencanisp Lodge, near Lochinver in October 2015.  As in past years this is a retreat, not a classes-based holiday.  No fibre classes or lessons are arranged during the week and the idea is that you take time out from your day to day life, bring any fibre based projects which you want to work on and simply learn from the experience of others while you are here.

Things will be organised a little differently this year in that instead of booking through Glencanisp Lodge, I will be handling all the booking admin.   Before I get to that, though, here are the important details:

Date:   Monday 5th October – Sunday 11th October

Where:  Glencanisp Lodge, Lochinver

What is included:  Your accommodation and all meals, teas and coffees.  There may even be cake ….


What is not included: anything other than your room, food and tea and coffee!  Please bring your own alcohol if you wish.

What is the price:  The price for 6 nights full board is £465 for single occupancy and £405 per person if you share a room.  Rooms will be allocated on a strictly first come first served basis.

When do I have to pay?:  A non-refundable deposit of £100 will be due on booking, and the final amount will be due 10 weeks before the event (i.e. 27th July 2015).  Once final payment is made there are no refunds unless the room is re-let in which case you will receive your payment less the deposit paid.  All payments must be made by BACs transfer or by credit card over the phone on or before the due date.

What if I get sick and can’t come?: Please take out travel insurance to cover all eventualities

I have a special diet – can you cater for me?:  Lindsay and Lizzi, who are doing the catering, can try to accommodate a reasonable range of dietary requirements.  The best thing is to contact me directly about your requirements so that I can check if Lizzi and Lindsay can cater for your specific needs.  There will always be a vegetarian option.

How many spaces are available?  All bedrooms can either be double or twin rooms.  We need a minimum number to make the event feasible.  If you want to save a bit on the cost, buddy up with a friend and share a room to be more sociable, or bring a partner.  The bedrooms are spacious enough to accommodate 2 people.


As I said above, things are being organised a little differently this year.  I will be taking all the bookings, and payments will be made to me, not to Glencanisp Lodge.  This is simply because The Lodge don’t have the staff available to deal with all the enquiries.  Also, because of an increase in the cost of renting of the lodge this year, there is one change to the details above which you may have noticed.  There is no mention of a yarn bundle.  This is because the price would have had to increase significantly over last year’s cost if I included the bundle, and I wanted to keep the price of the event close to what it was last year.

So, the big question:

How do I book my place?:  At the moment I need to gauge interest to ensure that the minimum number to make the retreat viable will be met.  Once I know the retreat is likely to go ahead, then I will contact you to offer you a place, and I will do this in the order in which I received your initial response.  Once you have read all of the above carefully, if you think you’d like to come, then please email me on moc.stfarcselppirnull@staerter and please put “Retreat 2015″ as the subject.  Please include in your email whether you want single or double occupancy of a room.  It is up to you to find a friend to share with – I will not be allocating shared rooms between strangers!


Who wants to come?


Busy week!

It has been a bit of a busy week.  We had to take advantage of the good weather over the Easter weekend and get the old turbine down, and the new turbine up.  There was an anxious time while we waited for the wind to pick up again – had the wiring all been done correctly, were all the stays keeping the pole up safe, would the turbine work?  Along with the turbine Stevan put up two of our four new solar panels.  You can read all about Stevan’s work on his blog.  The process is not yet complete – Stevan is currently building the structures which will hold the solar panels permanently, and we’ve been fortunate to have such a good spell of weather.  But it is about to break, so we may have to take a break – which is no bad thing as Stevan’s body is showing its age this evening!

Because the weather was glorious again today, I took advantage of the weather and gave the dye shed a good spring clean.  I came across some old treasures, including this book from the Woolcraft series:


The patterns are fascinating, including this delicate lady’s vest pattern and a beautiful child’s coat:

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So with the shed tidied, and Stevan busy on stuff I really couldn’t help with, I went back to some weaving.  I began this project about a week ago, with a particular purpose in mind, and I’m really pleased with the way it has worked out.


I used my Na Dannsairean Aran yarn in Poppy and Assynt Rocks.   The whole project was so much neater and tidier than my first project, and I really was rather pleased to see the results as I wound it off the loom.



It still needs a really good wash and some final touches before it heads to its new home.

Tomorrow brings some dyeing and some plotting.  So a rather busy, but a productive, week.  There has been walking too, for a specific work purpose, but we were treated to lovely sea views while we worked:


Interactions and Community

My blog has been on the go since 2007.  Over the 8 years it has changed direction and focus many times, and when Ripples Crafts came into being I boldly stated that I would not really be including anything about the business on the blog.  Well I didn’t exactly nail that claim!  But there are times I wonder if anyone reads the blog any more at all.  I know my family do, of course (you do, don’t you family?!) but did anyone else read it?  Blogs seems to have been on the decline for the last little while and I have to admit that even my own interest in blogs had waned.

So my curiosity was piqued when I saw Kate, AKA A Playful Day, talk on Twitter about her Love your Blog Challenge.  I do love my blog and I enjoy writing it – most of the time.  But maybe I needed a fresh look at it.

The first topic that Kate suggested we think about was “Interactions and Community”.  Well this subject is one that, those of you who read my blog will know, is right up my street.  It is only a week or so ago that I wrote an entry about the name Ripples Crafts.

For most of my life I have lived in circumstances where the community was of paramount importance.  My early years were spent living in a remote location in Zimbabwe where one depended on the help and support of your neighbours – even if the nearest neighbour was a few miles away.

Alex on Tractor, Howard_v1

Dad on his Fergie

My parents were running a farm linked to a school, and many of the teachers were single women who had gone out to Zimbabwe from the UK and other parts of Europe into a world that was as different to their home as anything they could have imagined.

Women who influence

Looking back I always think about how brave my parents were to do what they did, but I can’t imagine, even in present times, going to such a remote and alien location as a single woman.  They all influenced the community they lived in and in some cases their influence spread worldwide.  The lady 4th from the left became the international leader of a world wide organisation, the Salvation Army, but we just knew her as Aunty Eve.   All brave women who were prepared to rely on, and contribute to, the community to which they ventured.

Thinking about it, both Stevan and I have always gravitated towards living in places where there is a sense of community.  I can’t imagine what it is like living in a place where you don’t know your neighbours.

But, and it is a big But, community doesn’t just happen.  It takes work.  In some cases hard work.  It takes interaction.  If you choose not to interact, be it in your physical location or in an online location such as Twitter or Ravelry, then you will never become part of a community.  (There are exceptions and I touch on this further down) Quite often I see people join Twitter, but they don’t “follow” anyone.  What this means is that they will see nothing in their Twitter feed except their own Tweets.  Which, to me, is a little bizarre.   Community interactions are happening all around them, yet they choose not to be involved.  To be part of a community you need to join in.  Talk to others.  Interact!  Join in the conversation – sometimes the most astonishing things happen when you do.

By being part of the “Yarny Community”, I have had the most wonderful experiences.  Things I never expected to happen, have.  For example, retreats on a tiny, tiny island off the west coast of Scotland, which have bought me into contact with some of the loveliest people I know.  I could not have imagined that would be an outcome of starting a hand dyed yarn business, and yet because of the community I have come to know through my business, it was.  I love this photo from a retreat a couple of years ago as it epitomises the range of interactions from hilarity through to what looks like an awfully serious conversation, all in a tiny community:


The fact that I have a hand dyeing business at all is largely down to the very first lesson I had in dyeing from Lindsay Roberts, aka The Border Tart,  (2nd from the left in the above picture).  She was so full of enthusiasm it spilt over and quickly influenced me – and there was no looking back after that.

Being part of a community also brings responsibility.  And that includes offering to help others on the periphery to engage with their new community.  Although it sometimes appears that folk are choosing not to interact or “join in”, it may simply be because they are nervous or don’t have the experience of interacting with others, usually strangers.  It may not necessarily mean they are aloof or standoffish.  So it is important to remember when you are inside a community make sure you don’t only look IN, but look OUT – see those on the outskirts looking in at you.   Because when you do that then exciting things can begin to happen.

Thank you Kate for setting up this challenge.  I can’t promise to participate every week, but thank you for beginning with a topic which is so dear to me.

Sunday Walks

As the problem Lexie had with her paws has been improving, so we’ve been getting a little more adventurous in our hill walks again.  It is such a delight to see her leaping over heather and bracken again.  This time last year she couldn’t put her paw on the ground without it spontaneously bleeding.  She has come along in actual leaps and bounds.

Today we set off on a well trodden route up past the Old Soldier’s (which was the focus of March’s Yarn Notes from Assynt Club Yarn – more of that below), and up the steep hill behind it to Water Loch which supplies all the water needs of this part of Assynt.


And yes, Stevan IS wearing shorts!  However once we reached the summit of the hill he began wondering about his clothing choice when we looked seaward to see an approaching storm:


It was lovely to see that the gorse is in bloom now, and the hills are starting to be covered in a yellow hue in parts.  We couldn’t smell it today, but on occasion you get an overwhelming smell of coconut from flowering broom:


Heading home again, trying to keep ahead of the storm, we had a wonderful view of Lexie’s Loch which was sparkling in the sunshine but the dark storm clouds were not far away:


Once we reach Lexie’s Loch, we have a bog which we have to cross.  We’ve named it the “Bog of Eternal Stench” (Labyrinth fans will get the name), and we have crossed it hundreds and hundreds of times.  But today I took the slightest detour and learned the hard way that bogs really can’t hold up a human.  For some reason Lexie followed my example, and had to be rescued by Stevan when she couldn’t lift up any of her legs.   My boots are now steaming lightly in front of the fire.  Lexie, on the other hand, got dipped in her eponymous loch.


We’re now all dry, and warming by the fire.  Hot Cross Buns have been consumed, and knitting is about to commence.  Not a bad way to spend a Sunday.

I alluded to March’s “Yarn Notes from Assynt” yarn and subject.  Stevan wrote extensive notes about The Old Soldiers, a ruin which isn’t too far from our home.  It is an extremely restful place, and must have been a wonderful place to live.  I wanted to create a colour which reflected the colours found around the ruin.  And one picture which I had in my mind when dyeing the yarn was this one which I took a while back of the window sill, and alongside it is the yarn colour I created using a technique called “glazing” and which results in no two hanks being identical:

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One of the Yarn Club members, Anne, has already begun knitting up her hank:47781276

Thank you for the loan of the photograph Anne.

The majority of yarn club members took out a 3 month membership in January, and I was very gratified that all but one renewed their membership for the second quarter.  I am currently putting together the yarn for the April parcels, and I’ve dyed a few extra hanks this month, so if you’re wanting to join in the fun you can do so here.



The “Ripples” in Ripples Crafts


Sometimes I idly wonder if I chose the right name for my business – Ripples Crafts.  I mean, it doesn’t really say “hand dyed yarn” does it?  But then someone said something to me at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival which bought back exactly why I’d chosen the name, and I searched back through my blog archives to when I announced the name to the world.  Here is what I had to say in 2008:

“Many of you know that I have been working towards setting up an online shop to sell my hand dyed yarns.  Ripples will be appearing on a computer screen near you in the not too distant future.  The name, Ripples, came about after thinking about my associations with the woolly world.  Stevan often comments on the connections that I’ve formed through various online forums and knit and knatter groups, and he came up with the byline “Connections through kindness and craft”.  I have been shown great kindnesses through my woolly connections and those kind acts have rippled into all corners of my life.  Another ripple effect has been that over the years I have become inspired to expand my knowledge of knitting techniques and also to move into other woolly areas, such as spinning, and now hand dyeing.  If I had room for a huge loom that would be my next development area!”

I had been experimenting with dyeing yarn for a while by the time I wrote this, but the business only started in earnest once we moved to the Highlands, and just prior to our move we’d been shown great kindness by a number of people during a family crisis which unfolded in Italy.   Many of those who helped us during this time only knew me through the old Rowan knitting forum – that was our only connection – yet they were kind and thoughtful enough to call me and email me with helpful contacts in Rome, and I couldn’t help but be touched by their concern and help.   Some contacts were made through friends of friends of acquaintances – ripples which reached me during a time they were most needed.

As I said, I’ve been wondering recently if the name was still appropriate.  Should I change it to something which was more descriptive of what I actually did.  And then I ran into Pat at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival last weekend.   Pat is a friend I met through the business when she began buying my yarns.  Prior to the event a number of members of my Ripples Crafts Ravelry Group had been planning to get together for a meal on the Saturday evening of the festival.  I’d made my excuses for not going as I knew I’d not be in any fit state to be sociable at the end of a long day on my feet, but it was good to know that so many of them were meeting up in Edinburgh.  And the following day Pat came to see me on the stand to say how I’d been missed (which was kind!) but also that many had commented on how nice it would have been if I had been there just to see what I’d started – the friendships that had been made both through the Ravelry group, but also through the retreats which I’d arranged over the past 3 years, and the connection they all had was my yarn, and Ripples Crafts.   I was so touched, and I had to work hard not to completely well up.  Those of you who know me know that I well up at the drop of a hank of yarn! (As my friend Lizzi says “Aye – you’re like a Christmas card – ‘aye greetin’.”)   But it struck me at that moment that the name, Ripples Crafts was still very much appropriate, and that the ripple effect was still happening, despite the business evolving over the past 7 years (goodness is it really 7 years?!).

I mentioned it on my Ravelry group, and Sheena (another friend/customer) dropped in a lovely comment.  She said “Your yarn is great but the friendship and support is better” and that sits very well with me.

So, don’t expect the name to change any time soon.  Ripples are here to stay!


Oh, and by the way, a loom made its way home with me from Edinburgh Yarn Festival.   I am still working on my first project, so the pictures are a little vague, but a loom!  I have a loom.


PS Expect many more loomy type photographs!