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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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.

Owls!

Having seen the wonderful Owls jumper by Kate Davies Designs, knitted up by the Ginger Twist Studio yarn shop in Edinburgh, I decided I had to knit it for myself.  So, when I spotted the Rainbow Heirloom stand at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival (EYF), I knew I had found the perfect yarn for my jumper: chunky alpaca in OOAK Golden.  There was one problem, though, there were only 4 skeins left!  So, on the spur of the moment, I bought them all and decided to knit a sleeveless jumper instead!

Using KDD’s Owl jumper pattern and Vedis Jonsdottir’s wonderful free vest pattern from the Istex website, I cast on with my 6.5mm needles.  The yarn knit up beautifully as my hybrid pattern evolved.  I substituted the rib bands with moss stitch rounds.  And, having attended Helene Magnusson‘s fantastic course in shaping Icelandic Lopi sweaters at the EYF, I added a number of extra rows to the back section after I had cast-off for the armholes and was knitting the front and back sections separately. At the top of the Owl cable pattern, I added a round of purl stitches between the Owls’ ears, and a complete round in purl to finish off the cable motif.  Finally, having increased the length of the back earlier in the knit, I could omit the short rows. 

The finished result took a while to block as the garment is really thick!  Deciding on the buttons for the eyes took ages.  But, I eventually selected small shiny shell buttons with just two holes for thread, and sewed them vertically to look more “eye-like”.  I’m delighted that the end result is a wearable, warm, yellow, sleeveless jumper!

      

Haps & Shawls 

Having been very tentative about trying to knit a shawl, I decided to attend Veera Valimaki’s class on “Shawls and Shapes” at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival in March.  She was amazing and during her class she broke down different shawl shapes into very simple 4-row patterns!

With newly found confidence, I decided to start a v-shaped shawl using her basic pattern; this shape being perfect to wear with yoked jumpers and cardigans, and as a cycling scarf to keep the back of my neck warm!  I added a mix of stocking stitch and garter stitch blocks to the basic pattern to create a slightly more interesting texture.  I decided to knit the shawl using a skein of 4-ply Titus Goddess in Filey.  The result has been well worn and is much needed with the unpredictable spring weather!  In fact, the result was so well used that I decided to knit a second v-shaped shawl in some leftover Blacker Yarns Gotland DK wool.  Not having enough of one colour for a whole shawl, I added a paler band to the edge.  Again, the shawl has been well worn!

So, now for the big challenge: a Shetland hap.  As I’d loved Veera’s class, I decided to knit her 3/4 Hap for the KnitBritish Hapalong that started on Friday 10th April.  Again, I decided to use 4-ply Titus, in Coal, Crucible and White Rose.  I’m ridiculously pleased with result, and cannot wait for the right occasion to wear it!

      

Cockatoo Brae Cardigan

I finally finished my Cockatoo Brae cardigan, just in time for the Edinburgh Yarn Festival. Kate Davies’ design was wonderful and Jamieson & Smith’s 2-ply jumper weight wool very easy to knit.

The most difficult thing in knitting the cardi was to decide on the colours.  Whilst I knew I didn’t want the main colour to be grey, I didn’t know what colours I did want!  Luckily, my tutor, Katy Birchall at the Edinburgh Contemporary Crafts machine knitting class at Abbeymount Techbase introduced me to keeping an art/design book at the beginning of the year.  

Taking inspiration from Scottish seascapes and from the annual January exhibition of JMW Turner’s watercolours at the National Galleries Scotland in Edinburgh, I decided upon a teal blue body, with a paler blue yoke background and graded grey to mustard yellow to lemon yellow to off white fair isle pattern.

Luckily, this time I remembered to knit the yoke in a larger needle size to the main body.  This has allowed the fair isle colour work to sit neatly beside the teal body.

Finally, I didn’t quite manage to knit the “short rows” as well as I would have liked. I tried to follow the pattern’s instructions but I failed!  Luckily, it’s barely noticeable though this is definitely an area to improve upon!  

 


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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Epistrophy Cardigan

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I have at last finished Kate Davies Designs wonderful Epistrophy cardigan.  The pattern can be found in her recent book of patterns, “Yokes”. The pattern suggested using Toft Ulysses DK, a luxurious British wool but I wanted to use a “stickier” i.e. a hairier, coarser wool which would be easier to steek.  So, I chose Blacker Yarns gorgeous Gotland DK.  It’s a beautiful, soft wool from the Gotland sheep but has enough coarseness to be easy to steek.

After knitting a tension swatch, I decided on 3.75mm needles for the body work, and 3.5mm for the ribs.  I’ve selected a few photos showing the steeking process.  The first photo shows me crocheting a leg of the middle stitch to its neighbouring leg. After a double chain up each side of the middle stitch, I cut up the centre to form a cardigan from a jumper.  Not for the faint hearted! Finally, the two front bands were knitted and buttons attached.

Reviewing the project, I would firstly say that I probably knitted too large a size: overestimated how much I’d eaten over Christmas!  Secondly, I should have increased a needle size when knitting the colourwork yoke section.  If I knitted the cardi again, I would increase my needles to a size 4mm for just the patterned section. But, otherwise, a very satisfying knit using a great pattern and beautiful Gotland wool.