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.
....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.
Over all, Perth wase 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 out 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!
When I'm at woolly events, I always find myself thinking about the value of things which are have traditionally been classed as 'women's work'. Several encounters this summer have brought this closer to home. We spent a good chunk of Italy in Barga, in the north of Tuscany. Not the Tuscany of a million postcardss: the chianti-shire rolling hills and olive groves with roads flanked by rows of dark cypress trees, but instead a mountainous landscape cloaked in chestnut and pines, where the traditional foods are wild funghi, castagne, mirtilli, lepre and cinghiale. Barga badges itself as 'the most Scottish town in Italy, and is home to a fish and chip festival each summer.
My in-laws - particularly my late mother-in-law, Bianca, and sisters-in-law, Anna and Letizia and cousin-in-law Roberta are skilled in a number of textile-based crafts. I will never forget getting my hands slapped by Bianca before I was patiently shown how to both crochet and knit 'the right way' I think that Italians always have 'the right way' to do things. And they are, generally, right.
I spotted a leaflet for an exhibition subtitled 'Lavori di donne antiche e moderne in mostra' and persuaded Anna to come along with me for essential translation purposes - and also because I knew that she would be able to explain exactly what I was looking at:
Many of the items that I saw looked familiar. So Italian. We have a cottage full of bits and pieces of trimmings, wee cloths and so on all in this similar starched white fresh Italian white cotton or linen. Picked up at markets... It has just become part of how we live.
A lot of the pieces were designed for 'bottom drawers' and for special gifts.
Some of the items on show were made on a massive scale in tiny stitches - lovingly crafted by women working Without Electric Light. My eyes hurt just thinking about it.
And every time I asked a question - and people who know me will testify that I ask a LOT of questions - there was a women on hand to show me exactly how things had been made and stitched. Threading needles and showing me how to do it; explaining the Italian name for each technique.
The curator of the exhibition was a Australian Italian. and was passionate about two things: preserving and highlighting this highly skilled work; and trying to encourage a new generation. Young women who might want to learn these skills. There were local workshops and 'new hands' were able to learn from older ones.
A living tradition as it should be. Such a rich heritage to risk losing it.