Well, the snowdrops here are not quite as advanced as this - it's a photo from last year, but they ARE starting to show their heads above the surface; the bravest of the flowers.
January has been a time for several things: business planning for the year ahead; getting applications in to yarn festivals around Scotland and the North of England; and trying to be kind to myself. Years ago, at business school, I remember looking at marketing as being a mix of Product, Price, Promotion and Place - and it has been useful to force myself into applying that kind of structured thinking to my own work.
Lammermuir Wool has applied to several shows - and we should hear back from most of them over the next few weeks. The biggest news though has been being accepted for a place at Edinburgh Yarn Festival's Sunday event Make:Wool on 24th March. This is a development of last year's Meet The Shepherdess event which was the busiest event we have ever attended - a very busy four hours indeed. If you are coming to EYF, or are in Edinburgh on 24th then please do get tickets for the Sunday event as we'd love to see you!
We made a decision NOT to lamb this year - as last year was so difficult. Eleven years in and we thought we would take a spring off-duty. So, no lamb pics to come this spring.
Over the winter, there is less grass for the sheep as it won't grow again until the temperature picks up. They are fed hay each day and the quality of last year's hay has been superb - the sheep love it! Later on they will also get hard feeding, and they also have fodder supplement via a mineral lick bucket. They are certainly well provided for. Grass is their favourite though - and even in the snow, they will dig down to find grass.
Last year's fleeces are off to the Mill in Yorkshire and it will be a stressful few weeks trying to get it back in time for the EYF event! We have additional fleeces in the mix this time, too - following the success of last year's Shetland/Romney blend: Essy 4 ply. We have been lucky to purchase fleeces from a championship winning flock in Aberdeenshire, as well as from a neighbouring flock of Shetland sheep. Next year's clip will also be blended with local Cheviot fleeces: all to expand the range and amount of yarn that we have to offer. Looks like all the dreaming and planning is paying off...
I was never just going to be able to follow patterns. Years ago, i studied dance as my minor at degree level and it used to make me think about the merits or otherwise of learning a range of techniques before launching off into creating your own projects. There is also something to be said for recognising the strength and beauty of the traditions from which your creativity comes.
And so it was exciting to just get out a pair of needles and some left-over yarn and start to think about what I might like to wear myself. Wanting to stay close to the origins of my home grown Shetland wool.
All of the yarn in this sample shown above are undyed natural shades of sheep apart from the hand-dyed strip across the middle which is a shade called Gloaming.
Before I knew it, my hands had knitted up a wee pair of very warming cuffs and I have only just managed to deconstruct and reconstruct what I did so that i can write it up into a pattern.
This pattern will be included as part of some yarn kits that I'll have for sale at St Abbs and afterwards on the website. Scary and exciting times!
World Mental Health Day is held on 10th October each year and it's important to me for two reasons:
Firstly because for nearly ten years I worked for 'see me', Scotland's national and multi-award-winning campaign to end the stigma and discrimination of mental ill-health. Latterly as Director of the campaign. WMHD (and mental health week) provided a welcome focus for local and national campaign and lobbying work - , work which went on all year without always making the headlines.
Secondly because for the last twenty years or so I have come to a recognition and acceptance of my own mental health challenges and learned better how to be more resilient, and how to take care of myself when things become difficult. There is also now mere awareness in Scotland of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the impact that they have on us as adults. Not before time and very welcome.
My mental health is definitely better these days: finally finding a good GP, the right medication, and a different way of living have made all the difference. Being self-employed is not without its challenges for someone who is extremely diffident, but stepping away from the mental health charity which employed me is the best thing I ever did for my mental health.
Now my life is less structured (unless I'm working on a project for a client in which case I am mega-disciplined!) and more focused on the things I enjoy doing. These are:
- being with my sheep
- working with the wool that they produce (whether that is knitting, crochet, weaving and - more recently forays into hook-rugging and needlefelting)
- walking outside and foraging
- scouring charity shops and eBay for clothes (have decided that buying new is a mug's game)
- coming up with creative ideas for the business
- reading Scandi and Scottish crime
- painting in watercolurs
- pottery (a constant and felt absence in my life while I try to get on top of things woolly)
- talking to people about my wool and my sheep.
I am aware that I am incredibly lucky at present to be able to live life in this fashion: in a way that is good for me, good for my relationships and my mental health.
The sheep now produce a great range of wool ....I like to check out yarn shops, yarn producers and sheep.
The weeks away mostly consisted of wrapping up warm and dragging Hamish out on bracing walks along beaches and up glen paths but whilst staying in Kinlochmoidart recently (and hiding from Storm Ali) I was able to visit a flock of Shetlands with which we have a long-standing relationship. Over the years, we have swapped ewes and tups and supported each other in finding a way forward through the world of wool.
The sheep are based at Sanna, on Ardnamurchan and - we managed to combine a visit to the lighthouse which we hadn't visited since about 2004 with an afternoon's sheep-talk. The terrain is so different from that of East Lothian and the Borders, but the sheep that we have sold on to live here have adapted well and show what great value Shetland sheep are to the small holder and crafter where terrain and conditions can be harsh. The sheep produce a beautifully soft range of wool for West Highland Woollery - check them out on facebook.
The approach of autumn always has me in a frenzy of activity - perhaps it'a a hangover from old lives where September meant the start of the school or university year. This autumn we did our first ever Perth Festival of Yarn and I have to say, we were a bit nervous.
In thinking about how best to showcase our wool at this event I decided on two things:
- hat bunting (to illustrate our undyed and dyed shades working together)
- creating some new shades of dyed wool
The hat bunting was fun to do - although my hands suffered for it. My aim was ten brightly coloured hats but in the end I could only get eight done. And a swift web-based lesson in knitting iCord helped me to display them properly.
I had always been unsure that people would want to 'buy what they can see' but the display certainly helped to spark people's thinking.In picking two new dyed shades, in the end I went for Bramble and Bracken, with the bramble shown below. When not working (or , dyeing wool or knitting hats, I have mainly been bramble and sloe picking ...
Over all, Perth FoY was an incredible event for us: really helpful event team and lots of space so that the venue never felt crushed or crowded. Financially it was very successful and has re-booted our enthusiasm for woolly events. Big thanks to Eva and team!