Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Shetland Wool Week 2018: Day 12 : Natural Dyeing

Thurs 20 Sept
It was quite stormy first thing, but we had had a quiet night. There had been quite a bit of damage in mainland Scotland and other parts of the country as a result of the storm, or rather end of the hurricane that had affected the USA badly.  We knew some ‘wool weekers’ who were planning on coming up on the ferry last night  but couldn’t get from Edinburgh to Aberdeen. At first is was obstacles on the line, not leaves as often affects trains in Norfolk, but bigger items such as a shed! I felt that not being on the ferry last night was a blessing in disguise. 

We were planning to have a quiet day as I was going to the Heritage Centre in the evening to show the ladies how I dye with madder. This will be interesting as the water will be very different from Norfolk. I believe our Norfolk water is the hardest, or some of the hardest in the country and partially the reason Norwich became famous for dyeing Norwich Red for the wonderful woven shawls in the 1700 - 1800 period.  Also I would frequently  use madder to modify a colour already obtained from a plant. However, the demonstration/ workshop will show my general method for using a powdered dye and also for modifying the colours after dyeing. I only had modifiers that I could get on the journey up too as we didn’t finalise the details until I was on the travelling north.  The weather for the evening was not looking promising so I wondered whether anyone would turn out. 
We had a morning doing housekeeping including the laundry. We would be travelling down to Mainland first thing Saturday morning and once Wool Week had started we wouldn’t want to be bothered with any more domestic chores than necessary. 
However, the thoughts of coffee at Victoria’s managed to prevent the housekeeping taking too long and once there we decided that lunch there too would be a great idea. 
I was well prepared for the evening and had  handouts so we were keen to go back to Norwick, although it seemed a little too rough to drive further up to Skaw today. 

 Norwick  beach was a real delight again.  The storm had brought in more seaweed and turning this over were groups of birds along the shore. It was great to be in the van, it was rather breezy outside and watch them being quite systematic. We had great views of Turnstones, Sanderling and Ringed Plover with what appeared to be a Rock Pipit.  In the background were Fulmars finding their spot on the cliffs with ease and gulls accompanied by the wonderful precision fishing show the gannets provide. On top of this the colours in the seaweed were spectacular and would provide inspiration for fair isle designs throughout the year. 

Seaweed full of rich pickings for the birds 

 After an early dinner we packed the car and set off for the Heritage Centre fully expecting, from the weather, it to be a small select group. As we got close we could see lots of lights and the car park was getting parked up. I didn’t get a chance to count the ladies during the evening but I know it was more than 12. We had a good evening as I demonstrated the best method I have got so far to get a good red  when dyeing with madder. Once we had the base colour the ladies were able to  take a more active part as we used the additives and by the end of the evening we had 4 tones from the original dye bath which in itself gave a good red. 

Our madder dyeing, the front yarn is with added iron which gave the most difference as expected. 

As always, refreshments followed and from people’s faces, the questions and conversations a good time was had by all. It was good to talk to others who had also done some natural dyeing previously, by comparing experiences more is learnt.
Thoughts also turned to ‘if we can do this next year’ and what we might do.  

As we got back to base the reflections in the Sound from the moon were stunning. It was not really dark. 

Across  the bay at 21.30 

Another great day in this beautiful place. 

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Shetland Wool Week 2018: Day 11: The storm

Stormy : Wed 19 Sept
This was the day THE storm was forecast. We decided we would not go too far from base. As we were having breakfast we had the most wonderfully short thunderstorm and this left us with a glorious rainbow. 

I had brought 8 mordanted skeins with me to use for a natural dyeing demonstration/ workshop at the Heritage Centre with the Knitting and Spinning ladies. I split each of these into 4 mini skeins so that we could get more colours from the one dye bath after breakfast. 

Late morning we had a tip off about a bird that was in the area. It was in a roundabout way. Stefan, the cyclist  from the Netherlands had got a lift up to Hermaness. This was not a day I would choose to go there but it would certainly be atmospheric. He set about walking back south down the island and got a lift with a group of birdwatchers. During the journey he heard the group discuss A bird they were going to look for   in a corner of a field not far from us! He thought M would be interested, but wasn’t exactly  sure where or what it was. 
We decided we would drive out following Stefan’s encouraging but vague  description of just where this bird was we would take a look. 
He was spot on, in a field of many birds we saw a Buff Breasted Sandpiper! These breed in Arctic North America but migrate to South America in the winter. This one must have been brought over with the westerly winds we had been having. This happens quite often so the bird is uncommon rather than a real rarity. 

The weather was decidedly turning for the worse so we parked the van in more shelter and I took my knitting in to the hostel conservatory for the rest of the afternoon. 
It was quite a storm, one camper was aiming to leave his tent outside but Stefan had moved inside as he was not fancying a night out tonight. We had very heavy rain alternating with very high winds. We were relieved we were not on the ferry between Shetland and Aberdeen tonight. We had a very social afternoon and early evening. 

During the storm: Notice the gannet, the gannets seem to have loved the storm

At 21.00 we decided the worst of the storm was over and moved back by the shore. It was actually more sheltered and we both had a good night’s sleep. The storm did not seem as bad as it was forecast, perhaps we were on the edge and the worst was further south. 

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Shetland Wool Week 2018: Day 10: More about Knitting

More about knitting: Tues Sept 18

Tuesday, so Victoria’s Tea Room would be open, so we would visit. We drove round to some different birdwatching places, where hopefully I would be able
to have some more lace knitting time and make real progress with the shawl.
We fitted one in before the coffee and delicious cake break at Victoria’s. I sat by Balatasound post office and spent time taking in the view, it was misty and quite atmospheric and for the record took another photo, to me the view is just as beautiful if it is misty or even wet. 

The mist  mist rose and fell and it was all wonderfully atmospheric with some lovely reflections.

The first bird report of the day: 
"Having got Janet settled with her knitting in the van at Baltasound shop/PO I walked up to Halligarth Woodland.  It is the most Northerly wood in Britain and was planted in the 1840s by Dr Laurence Edmondson, a keen naturalist who wanted to study the birds that he knew would come as the wood grew.  It was very quiet on this particular morning but finally a warbler did appear in the canopy.  It seemed determined to keep out if view but I eventually decided it was a Wood Warbler."

I called at the Heritage Centre again and noticed a shawl, quite a large one for sale. It had been placed second in the Highland Show, so a very nice one. It was priced at £600. This made me think about pricing such exquisite pieces, to me it seemed not enough. How did I come to that decision- the Dunella shawl I am knitting, is not my design. I will not sell it but if I wanted to sell a shawl it would be my design, so add in the time of designing it and knitting a trial run. But let us do a calculation for the shawl I am doing. I complete 10 rows an hour, and that is without any time allowed for ‘taking out’ the shawl is 652 rows in total. If I divide that by  I0 get 65. Now even at £10 an hour and I would say this is not beginner knitting, more like advanced but this makes £650. The shawl I saw is as an estimate at least double that size. So to say these fine lace shawls are priceless is to me nearer the mark.. Would it ‘make more’ presented as a fine art piece of textile art, probably but the challenge is to tap into the right market. But us ‘lace addicts’ do it mainly because fine lace knitting is what we do.

We drove up to Norwick beach and Michael walked to Valyie, this is what he noted in the second bird report of the day: 

“Norwick beach and surroundings are wonderful places to be at almost any time of year.  The beach had Ringed Plover, Sanderling and Redshank on this morning.  A walk along to Valiye produced a Shetland Wren which was keen to make itself known and in the garden I spotted, Willow Warbler, Blackcap and possibly, a Spotted Flycatcher.  How wonderful was that!” 

I continued to knit and have managed 22 rows. I need to keep up this rate, or preferably increase it as I am beginning to visualise myself wearing the scarf! 

Friday, 19 October 2018

Shetland Wool Week 2018 : Day 9

Norwick Beach 

We love this beach and always try and go as soon as we can (and as often) when we are in Unst. Unfortunately we were not able to stop for coffee at Victoria’s Tea Rooms as it was Monday and they are quite correctly having a well deserved day off. So off to the beach it was, M went to look for birds and I pottered on the beach with my camera. Today I was intrigued by rock formations on the beach and the photos will inspired  some textile pieces in time. 

We met up and had lunch in the van, then M went back to checking for birds and I decided to focus on my lace knitting. Bliss to do this in such  a special place. This lace knitting is the beautiful Dunella Shawl, by Kathleen Anderson. It is worked in Jamieson and Smith’s Supreme yarn. 

I am taking a long time knitting it, it is the first serious  piece that I have attempted after undergoing eye procedures on each eye. I wondered if I could knit such fine lace again, but fortunately I can if I have good light and ‘know when to stop’. 

The light at Norwick could not have been better and I pondered on whether another  of the reasons that  lace was knit in Unst, some of it is SO fine, is that the light is so wonderful. (The first reason being the fineness of the local fibre.) I continued to ponder as I knitted. Knitting was also a large part of the Norfolk economy in the past (mentioned by Celia Fiennes in 1698), and we also have good light, in fact Norfolk is  referred to as ‘Big Sky country’. The knitting was not fine by Unst terms but was mainly of socks for export and probably fine by local standards. 

Once back at base, another textile treat was in store. A  cyclist who knew I was ‘into’ knitting told me that there was a group of ladies chatting and knitting in the lounge. I remembered that the warden of the hostel had said a group met there on Monday evenings during the winter. Sure enough it was the group and some of them had only been knitting for a short time, but one would not have known. It was great to chat with them and share some knitting stories. As a bonus Cheryl from Glansin Glass (1) was there. She had used the group as guinea pigs for her Fair Isle Glass workshop and had brought their ‘makes’ to the group and these were really great. I was booked onto this workshop for the Monday afternoon of Wool Week and I was looking forward to it even more now. How great to have some of one of my Fair Isle Designs preserved in a glass wall 


(1) Glansin Glass can be seen here’s:

It is even better if you see it for real! 

Monday, 15 October 2018

Shetland Wool Week Day 2018: Day 8 Unst

Our first day in Unst: Sun 15 Sept 

We had designated this as a rest day after the week of travel, but we hadn’t reckoned with it being one of the real windy days that you get here. By a ‘real windy day’ I mean that when you are in motorhome you are aware of the wind before all else and it dominates the day. It seems to be too much for  some people who arrive from the ferry, take a look at it and then head south again. This was the day the news was full of hurricanes in America and serious weather damage in the Philippines. 
We were nicely distracted over breakfast by some little birds hopping about that turned out to be a rock pipit, which is not common in Norfolk and a beautifully coloured young pied wagtail which had a distinct yellow face. Other birds arrived including a sanderling and dunlin.  
The morning was taken up by carding some (local to me in Norfolk) fleece I had brought with me. I am knitting a hat, which will be referred to as the ‘secret hat project’ which is using a set of my naturally dyed yarns.  I now needed some white/natural of the same diameter yarn.... approximately J and S jumper weight yarn. By this time it was now a wet, and quite stormy morning so it seemed a good time to progress  that. This year I had my Joy spinning wheel with me as I needed it for a class. I couldn’t think of a better place to prepare wool. 

However, for some reason the yarn was trying to over twist before it went on the bobbin. I checked everything I could think of and was left with looking at the groove on the bobbin. The groove appeared to be very shiny and my hunch was that there was insufficient friction with the nylon thread. What did I have with me that would roughen this? I tired a fingernail sandpaper board which helped and some Cif which helped a bit more but what I really needed was fine sandpaper. After writing a note to add this to my emergency kit it was added to the shopping list, but to be honest I had little expectation of getting any until we were back on mainland. The temporary fix proved ‘sort of’ good enough. I managed to spin two 10g skeins. 

By this time the weather was improving and we decided to go to Victoria’s Tea Rooms and the Heritage Centre. I treated myself to a season ticket for this latter when we were up in the summer. We sat at a prized  window table at the tea rooms and watched gannets diving into the sea. This sight never fails to amaze me, the force with which they enter the water must be tremendous.
Sorry no image of this, they are thought to hit the water at up to 60mph… so you can see why I do not have a picture of that. 
But an image of these beautiful birds taken by M 

On to the Heritage Centre and a chat  with Frances ( who was today’s volunteer) I decided to go into the permanent  lace display room and concentrated on admiring the shawl by Anderina Thomson (1812-1863); it was the size, the complexity and arrangement of the lace motifs and the sheer fineness of the yarn that made it such a stunning piece to me. I have to sit in front  of a large picture window when at home to knit fine lace (fine by my standards) and have no interruptions and then only do an hour or so at a time….none of which I guess applied to Anderina. Coupled with this was the fact that her lace was finer than my hand spun lace too. (I will write more  about the finess of my  lace spinning on a later post)
Before closing time at the Heritage centre I had time to go into the ‘Knitters and Spinners’ room and had another look at this year’s display. On the right was a rectangular shoulder shawl that I imagine has been designed/charted by Hazel Laurenson called the Hinnywaar Pattern AND it was possible to buy this pattern in the shop. I would go home with a treat as I was pretty sure I did not already have this pattern.
This is one of a series of patterns for sale at the Heritage Centre.(I do not wish to infringe copyright by printing anymore of the pattern.) 

Driving back was challenging, the wind had got up and it was blowing a gale, which was accompanied by heavy rain. But it had been good to get to some favourite haunts. 

The wind dropped considerably by 21.00 although it was forecast to be windy again on Wednesday.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Shetland Wool Week 2018: Day 7

Arriving in Shetland Sat 15 Sept

The boat journey went well, although there was some swell during the latter part of the journey and for the first time ever the shower water  completely flooded the  whole shower room in the cabin. We had a nice breakfast and then collected the van and made for Tesco to fill up on provisions for the week ahead. 

This is made easier by having ‘the list’ which is little modified from visit to visit. Next we parked on the quay and after visiting Tourist Information - just because we always do - and the Shetland Times bookshop just because there is always a Christmas Present to buy and give to DH to give back to me at Christmas. (This works  well as I usually forget which books I am going to receive by then, as long as he remembers where he puts them!)

We were introduced to the Dowry when we were up in the summer and loved it and it was a real treat to get one of the prize seats at the window. We knew this was unlikely when wool Week was in full flow. 

From a window seat in the Dowry

Normally at this point we would be ready to drive up to Unst, however we had some rather unusual things on our shopping list today. During the journey up I had arranged with one of the ladies from the Heritage Centre  in Unst that I would do an interactive demonstration of madder dyeing as I do it, whilst we were staying. I had brought the madder with me, a thermometer and some mordanted wool just in case it might go ahead. I realised that I did not have my ‘dyeing clothes’ with me and so after visiting a couple of ‘charity shops’ I had a rather tasteful shirt that only needed the buttons moved to tighten up the cuffs. I had managed to buy soda and white vinegar in Tesco. I was now searching for copper sulphate... as I had failed to get this at a garden centre on the journey. They would normally have had some but the Christmas Decorations were destined for that space..... Well I failed to get the copper sulphate but I did manage iron sulphate from the pharmacist.  The only uncertainty was the lactose coating and the still to be mastered method of crushing them. Fortunately I always carry a small balance accurate to 2 decimal places, useful for weighting rice but actually brought to measure the weight of my fine spun yarn. 

We drove up to Toft and made lunch while waiting for the ferry. It was a glorious day and just two short journeys away from our favourite island, Unst. It felt as if we had not been home as it was only two and a bit months since we last waited so impatiently.  

I had set myself a challenge, today was National  Spin in Public Day and I decided I would try and spin on the three ferries I would be on. I spun early on the North  Link Ferry, this is in the cabin before 5.45. I intended spinning in the lounge  having breakfast but that didn’t happen.... too much eating to do. 

spinning on the ferry to Shetland  

We had an uneventful crossing to Yell, enjoyed the scenery on the drive through and then there was the short hop and we would be in Unst again. We were here for a full week in which we hoped to relax, walk, look for birds, take photos, knit a bit, eat a bit, enjoy the Heritage Centre lace again and meet with the lovely knitting and spinning ladies there. 

I did manage to spin on all three ferries but did not leave the comfort of the Van on the two inter island ones so it is debatable as to whether this was in public but the thought was there. If you look very carefully you can see a slightly different background on each ferry. I am spinning Norfolk Horn very fine, I worked out that it is at least 19m per g, J and S Supreme is 15m per g. 

 spinning on Toft to Unst ferry

and Gutcher to Belmont 

I fell into conversation with a couple of American ladies on the beach when we drinking tea, they were not going to be able to stay for Wool Week as they were off to the Hebrides. However, they had hand knitted their Mirrie Dancer hats and had naturally dyed the colours, so it was great to talk to them about natural dyeing. 

We also had a redshank and heron on the beach which was going to be our view for the week. 

So it felt we had finally arrived at the place we love. 

Tomorrow was going to be a rest, admire the view and knit lace day. 

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Shetland Wool Week 2018: Days 1-6

The journey to Aberdeen
This is our fourth trip to Wool Week in Shetland out of a possible 9. We missed earlier ones for health reasons and then did not go the summer after we moved house in the winter of 2014. Each year of these four appeared at the time to be the best ever and this year certainly surpassed my high expectations. It has been a truly wonderful experience again. Here I will document some of what we did while in Shetland in the  following posts, concentrating on textile matters. 
(Previous  journals of our Wool Week trips can be found on posts from 8 Oct  16 - 3 Dec 16 and 21 Sept 17-11 Feb 18). 

We left home on Sun 9 Sept and decided to take several days over the journey. We had three special things to do that we hoped would help us enjoy our trip. 

As before we were taking our motorhome which is great as I know everything I need is with me. This does demand many lists prior to leaving and careful packing but it is so lovely to have with me some ongoing textile projects of which there will be more later. 

We left Norfolk when it was still summer weather and couldn’t really visualise wearing some of the clothes we packed, needless to say we did wear them! On the first day, which happened to be a Sunday,  we travelled as far as Knaesborough  and the only travel problem was the treat we had of driving through some of the new suburbs of Peterborough as the A1 was closed. However, this did not delay us much and I was quite impressed by the spaces provided  within the  housing developments in an attempt to improve  the environment. 

Some of the journey was spent making progress on my Mirrie Dancers hat. I did manage to post about designing and making these in the previous two posts (1)
The following day we drove up to Barnard Castle and very much enjoyed the wonderful Catwalking (2) exhibition at Bowes Museum where photos from Chris Moore’s life as a fashion photographer are arranged along with some of the actual garments by designers such as Dior, Chanel etc. 
A good leaflet accompanied the exhibition

Being able to see the actual garments was great but being able to get up close and see the detail of the finish was a real treat. I had previously enjoyed the Yves Saint Laurent exhibition here (post of 28 Sept 15) where I had been aware of the attention to detail in the finish. In this exhibition there were several different designers and all but one stood out in terms of finish. If you are able to get to the exhibition it is on until 6 Jan 2019 and well worth the visit. 

This dress had beading around the edge and the net (embroidered) overlay had a lining of a pale green to show up the embroidery. So much work had gone into this. I think it was by Chloe. (I thought I had taken good notes but they are never good enough!) 

If this wasn’t enough Michael noticed that there was a Jacquard Loom set up in a room downstairs at the Museum and it had obviously been used recently. It was such a treat to see this. 
The ‘card’ for the pattern of the loom. 

The following day we had decided to stop at New Lanark Woollen Mill which is a World Heritage Site and were lucky to be able to take a tour with a very knowledgable and enthusiastic guide. Arriving at the car park and looking down to the Mill  site very much reminded me of Quarry Bank Mill In Cheshire which is now owned by the National  Trust. 

This was interesting as the principles of Greg (who built Quarry Bank Mill) and Robert Owen who developed this mill were similar. Both buildings had started life as cotton mills but New Lanark now processes wool. It was lovely to hear and see so much about the social history of the process, again echoing much of Quarry Bank’s history.  Both owners believed  that treating workers fairly would get the best from them and both established a structured community basing  their industrial site on country village principles. I took a photo of the spinning which tries to show the twisting of the yarn onto the cones as the cones move into and away from the back beam. 

If I, personally, have a disappointment in New Lanark it is in lack of the story of the wool being used now and the small place this had in a large ‘gift’ shop. I guess I am spoilt being such a lover of Shetland Wool from Shetland and how this is valued and sought after and as a spinner myself I know the provenance of the wool I spin.

However, that apart Lanark Woollen Mill is worth more than one visit and we are hoping to put it on the itinerary for another trip north. We then planned to spend a couple of nights in Edinburgh as we wished to visit the Royal Yacht which is in Leith. However, I became ill and had to spend 36 hours in main focus being solely on being able to get the Aberdeen to Lerwick ferry on the Friday evening. However we had another stop at Perth arranged and on the way there veered off to go to the RSPB Loch Leven site. It had a nice cafe with simple but lovely food. While there we saw a Ferruginous Duck, a rare vagrant from Eastern Europe which  we managed pick out from the thousands of ducks present. 

We were booked on the Friday ferry to Lerwick and as I arrived in the lounge on the boat I spotted two Wool Week attendees from previous years. As we got talking and the knitting came out, another group made themselves known really began to feel like Wool Week was about to happen. 

1. This year, I have tried to raise the profile of machine knitting when I have chatted to people during Wool Week. In fact some of us wondered if we could identify other machine knitters somehow. Many of us hand and machine knit, they are different skills and I personally do not believe one is  better than another. Both are equally skilled, machine knitting, in my opinion is not ‘cheating’ particularly if it is done on a domestic machine. 
2. ‘Catwalking Fashion through the lens of Chris Moore’ is the name of the Exhibition