Iona: Wool & Art

“Warmed by the sun, blown by the wind…” are the opening words of an unfinished poem by F.C.B. Cadell, one of the four Scottish Colourists known for their bright, distinctive works. These early 20th Century Scottish artists which included S.J. Peploe, J.D. Ferguson & G.L. Hunter, though never an actual group at that time, individually visited and trained in France to continue learning their craft. Cadell returned to Scotland in 1908.

I have always admired Edinburgh-born Cadell’s work, visiting the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art whenever possible. So, when I came across the Iona Craft Shop wools at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival in March last year I knew that I wanted to use their very special single origin wool to interpret one of Cadell’s paintings, “Iona Sound and Ben More” as shown above. Their yarn comes in a range of natural and beautifully dyed colours, with thicknesses varying from weaving yarn to DK to Super Chunky.

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Cadell visited the Hebridean island of Iona, which lies off the southwest of Mull, almost every year from 1912 until 1933, except when he served as a private in the Royals Scots during WWI. During his annual summer trips, he would paint the land and seascapes of Iona and Mull. My first trip to Iona was during a geology field trip in the eighties. I subsequently visited with Neil, and then in 2008 with our sons and of course, Badger! It’s a very special place that I can’t wait to revisit.

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I first designed an interpretation of the background seascape and worked out the wool gauge. After machine knitting the base fabric using both the Iona DK dyed wool and natural-coloured weaving wools, I washed and blocked the material. Once dried and attached to a tapestry frame, I was able to hand embroider the bag using these same yarns to highlight specific details. Buttons were then added to depict the rocks in the painting. The clouds, handles and lining were made out of a beautiful linen fabric from Scottish Linen in Kirkcaldy, Fife.

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Once the front and a simple back had been completed, I took my sewing scissors to cut out the bag using my own template. Always an anxious moment! I then simply had to sew the various components together to make the finished article.

This shopper-sized bag will be for sale at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival at the Corn Exchange, Edinburgh in March 2018.

Bibliography

A. Strang, F.C.B.Cadell, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2011

National Galleries of Scotland, Scottish Colourists, Pomegranate, Warwick, 2008

A Working Holiday in Shetland

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Last week, Neil and I headed up to Shetland, travelling by Northlink Ferries from Aberdeen to Lerwick for a week’s working holiday. The overnight 12-hour crossing was rough as predicted though enjoyable as the cabin was comfortable, the staff were really friendly and helpful, and there was an onboard cinema! We were the only two people in there and they served Orkney Ice Cream. It was a fantastic start to our trip!

YDRBE8090Arriving on the Wednesday, the first stop was the Shetland Museum & Archives in Lerwick on the water front. The striking museum houses a permanent collection covering the local geology, the archeology, fishing industry and textile history. There’s also an amazing cafe, Hays Dock. The wool exhibits were fascinating, including an old knitting machine from the 1950s, woven textiles and fair isle garments from the 1920s. Both lunch at the Peerie Shop Cafe and then dinner at Fjara were excellent.

The following day, I drove out to Sandness in the west of mainland Shetland, to visit the Jamieson’s of Shetland mill and to collect an order of Spindrift to make my Heritage Orchard project bags. Louise kindly gave me a tour round the mill, explaining each of the various steps in producing their yarns, woven fabrics, and machine knit garments. They certainly have an interesting way to pack their dyeing vat!

As the weather was so good, I walked out to the restored Huxter watermills in the afternoon. These Norse or horizontal mills were once common in Shetland, and were used to grind oats or barley from the surrounding fields. Each mill was owned by a group or a single family. The simple design allowed a number of mills to be built along a single stretch of stream. It was such a treat to visit under windless, blues skies.

The scenery on the drive to and from Lerwick was stunning. Luckily, I came across a couple of friendly Shetland ponies who were quite happy to be photographed as they enjoyed the rare January sunshine! And, a very late lunch stop at the Bonhoga Gallery was excellent.

SLC_0176On Friday, I decided to head north to the island of Unst. This involved an early start and firstly a 40 minute drive northwards from Lerwick to Tolt, then taking a 25 minute ferry to Ulsta on the island of Yell. A 20 minute drive in convoy across Yell followed, to reach the ferry terminal of Gutcher.  After a short wait, the last 10 minute ferry took me to Belmont on the isle of Unst as the sun was rising.

Unst was fascinating even in January or maybe especially in January as I felt as though I was the only tourist visiting.  I first drove to the far north of the island, to visit the Norwich beach ophiolite.  The main photo below shows the continental zone on the left, the shear zone in the middle, and the oceanic zone on the right. The smaller photos show a selection of the exposed rocks, e.g. serpentinite, phyllite, and talc steatite.

The main reason for travelling to Britain’s most northerly inhabited island was to visit the Unst Heritage Centre and their lace collection. Sharon, one of the Centre’s volunteers, very kindly opened up the building to let me see their wonderful collection. What a treat! As visitors are requested not to photograph the exhibits, here are some photos of my purchases, the building and my travel info!

Before heading back to Lerwick, I just had time to visit Britain’s most northerly church, the most northerly post office and that famous bus stop near Baltasound which was still decked out in its Christmas finery.

After a quick turnaround when I got back to Lerwick on Friday evening, we headed west for the Scalloway Fire Festival. The event though smaller than Up Helly Aa in Lerwick was an incredible spectacle and everyone participating or watching was very friendly and welcoming. It was also amazing being able to walk at the back of the procession and then watch the viking ship be set alight and launched into the harbour. The bar at the Scalloway Hotel beckoned afterwards!

The weather started to deteriorate over the weekend. I did however manage a quick trip to the southern tip of Shetland to see the Sumburgh Lighthouse, driving over Sumburgh’s Airport runway to get there!

The rest of the weekend and Monday was taken up with shopping in Lerwick for knitwear, wool, chocolate and Shetland Reel gin; visiting the Up Helly Aa exhibition at the Shetland Museum with a friend, James; and also a fantastic dinner at the Scalloway Hotel. By 5pm on Monday, it was time to board the ferry to head home. Despite the very rough crossing on the way back, Neil and I managed to visit the cinema again, this time for two films. With Orkney Ice Cream of course!

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Dovecot Gallery & Tapestry Studios

The Dovecot Gallery & Tapestry Studios is one of my favourite places in Edinburgh.  It is an amazing centre for art, craft and design. The Edinburgh Tapestry Company, as it was first known, was founded in 1912 and originally based in the west of Edinburgh.  It has been housed in the restored Infimary Street Baths in the centre of the city since 2008, producing hand-woven tapestries and gun-tufted rugs.

The Gallery holds a number of exhibitions throughout the year. Last year, it held the wonderful exhibition on the paintings of Bernat Klein.  This year has seen “The Scottish Endarkenment” exhibition and on Saturday 5th November, “Colour and Light” opens.


One of the amazing features of the building is the old balcony that originally overlooked the swimming pool. The balcony was restored and now at certain times during the week can be used to view the weavers and rug tufters below! If you’re ever in the city centre of Edinburgh, pop in and have a look round.  They also have a very good cafe. 

It subsequently gives me huge pleasure that the Dovecot Shop is stocking my bags. These items for crafters, knitters, crocheters and artists to use are made using wools woven at Knit Rennie in Aberdeenshire and lined in linen or cotton fabric from Scottish Linen in Fife. My design below is “Bandit Brioche” named after the hand knitter’s brioche or tuck stitch. 

Waterlily Knitting

I love the Waterlily pattern by Meghan Fernandes which was published in the Spring 2014 issue of PomPom magazine.  The combination of knitting in the round, Latvian braids and lacework are so appealing.

I knit my first Waterlily in 2015, starting on 11th June and finishing on 28th Aug, using beautiful Splendor 4-ply yarn in Little Cat Feet from GingerTwistStudio. Initially apprehensive about the Latvian braid, Meghan’s wonderful tutorial walked me through the construction. I generally struggle with lacework, but the simple repeat pattern soon clicked into my memory.  I was happy with the result, and for its debut, wore it to the Edinburgh International Festival for my birthday treat.

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A second Waterlily followed. Again I used a wonderful yarn from GTS, Luscious 4-ply in Gorblimey.  Both braid and lacework flew off my needles this time, and once again I was pleased with how easy the pattern was to knit.  And, this version debuted on a recent wonderful weekend away!

 

Bandit Brioche!

In February, I went on a wonderful course run by McAree Brothers knitting shop and taught by Carol Meldrum, known as Beatknit. The course was on hand knitter’s tuck stitch also known as brioche.  It was amazing, and a great start to learning this technique.

I next encountered brioche knitting at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival in March when I attended a workshop run by Stephen West of Westknits.  His shawls, his enthusiasm for brioche, and his amazing sense of colour were all so inspiring!


So, I started thinking about a new design for my machine knitted fabric.  Colour choices in brioche are so important.  Stephen West makes it look very easy!  After a number of attempts, I came up with a design.

As its not proper brioche, I needed to find a new name for it.  These are some of the rejected names: bogus brioche (sounds like a hybrid monster); bad-ass brioche (son raised eyebrows and said No); pseudo brioche (too serious); artful brioche (maybe)! I eventually settled on Bandit Brioche: it’s not real brioche; and it’s a wee bit of a chancer!

Hope you like the new design which I will be selling at the Boggs Community Market on Saturday 7th May.

Navia Jumper

I have finished my Navia jumper!  The beautiful Faroese wool that can be purchased from The Island Wool Company is wonderful: soft, warm and easy to knit. I used a pattern by Malan Steinholm published in Navia Book No. 17.  The sleeves needed adapting slightly to shorten them, and the length of the body also required altering. I made a few modifications to the zigzag pattern too, to ensure it “matched up” on the sleeves.  I just need to wait for the weather to cool to wear, which probably won’t be long, knowing our Scottish summers! 

   
     

Year of the Sheep

To celebrate the start of the Year of the Sheep, I visited JC Rennie’s in Mintlaw, north Aberdeenshire.  The rural site at Mintlaw is a working mill, producing hand and machine knitting yarns.  Visiting the mill in person was a fantastic experience, as not only was I able to select a number of 2/11 supersoft lambswool yarns for the project for my machine knitting course, but I was taken on a very interesting tour around the mill by Laura at Rennies.  It was fascinating to see how the mill takes different coloured wools, then blends them together to produce a “melange” or “heather” yarn.  This method of producing yarns, which is more environmentally friendly than injecting a single dye into a spun yarn, gives an amazing depth of colour.  It was a great day out and I came away, not only wiser about the milling process, but also with more than four kilos of machine knitting lambswool!

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