Welcome to early autumn; a time of rich colours and harvesting. Farm harvesting now finished in the fields around the house, but plenty wild harvest or foraging in local hedgerows still to be done.
It has been a busy time with the sheep, too. We made the decision to downsize our breeding flock by about 50%, and have sold many of our best-loved sheep to new breeders looking for small starter-flocks of their own. It's a sad thing to do, but we are happy that they are all with loving new owners who will get as much joy from them as we have. The last of the tups was sent to the abbatoir in early October and the meat should be back with us soon.
As far as wool goes, we got the commercially dyed cones back from the dyer and discovered that they need further scouring before we can sell them, so they need to go back to the mill. We have managed to scour a limited amount of DK and 4ply by hand, and this will go up on our website tomorrow (24/10), in time for this year's Kendal Virtual Wool Gathering. The Gathering is being run via their Facebook Group and this is where all the vendors will be posting their wares, demonstrations and talks available and announcements made. Please click on the text link and join up to the group! We will also be running some special discount codes over the weekend (launched in the group and to our newsletter subscribers) and you will be able to watch the You Tube Video we made in the summer.
A year without face to face wool shows has been hard; partly because of the impact on income, but also because we love meeting new and returning customers in person, sharing knitting plans or photos of work completed and our love of our animals and their wool. It might be that 2021 brings much of the same as this year, and so virtual wool events (and perhaps even a more regular blog and newsletters) might become the new usual.
Of course, the Covid pandemic continues and we are currently in a state of semi-lockdown which is likely to be tightened over the coming weeks. Luckily at the moment I can still meet with one friend at a time for walks or to sit in a cafe and catch up. The sheep are a blessing, as is being surrounded by lovely wool all waiting to be made into nice things over the coming months.
Wherever you are, I hope you are keeping well.
The sheep are doing great despite the hot weather. We've a couple of batches due to go off to pastures new (new owners setting up their own flocks) as we need to downsize a bit. We tried to have a couple of picnics at the field while we were spending days there working, but they didn't always work out as planned as the sheep tried to mob us for our sandwiches. Prime offender was Tille (left). She's fearless.
The sheep are not yet sheared; we were tempted to start a couple but - despite recent good weather - the rise just isn't there in the fleece yet. The rise is a natural thinning of the fleece and when we handshear, we aim to cut along the rise and above any new growth. This makes the fleece much easier to process. Machine shearing tends to run along the skin of the sheep, removing both the older fleece and any post-rise growth, leaving a fleece with a weakness in the staple. As we have not lambed this year, our rise might be later - the ewes just haven't had the same demands on them physically as they would if supporting/feeding lambs.
We cannot treat the sheep with any anti-fly treatments until after shearing, so we have to be alert for flies laying their eggs in the rise of the fleece (a nice moist warm place for them to choose) and the risk of flystrike.
Regular checking is essential and it is always a relief to get the sheep sheared and treated.
We'll have fleeces - straight from the sheep - available for sale soon. Contact me if you are interested.
As far as wool dyeing goes, I've made a start on dyeing some of the new DK yarns we've had in. After trials, it's only really the Haar DK which is light enough to take a dye and I've managed to produce these stunning shades. I absolutely love them and need to dye some more for myself to knit with!
In terms of the yarn which is away at the dyers, progress has obviously been halted due to lockdown, but hoping to have some back ready for Woolfest in June. Really looking forward to it!
I'm not about to launch into lots of lockdown musings: there've been times when I've really struggled with the lack of freedom to be 'out' and seeing friends although the first few weeks were fairly calm and positive. What I had thought was a lockdown 'fuzzy head with tiredness', or perhaps the return of depression turned out to be the most common 'very common' side effect of some new tablets I'd been prescribed *face palm*. Like lots of others, I've been trying to rediscover pleasure in small things and stay connected. Stay well, all of you
This weekend we would have been at the first of our weekend wool festivals this year - and our first trip to WonderWool Wales in Builth Wells. But these times are unusual (or the unusual has become the new usual) and so we are at home, limited to sending out online orders. Big thanks to all those of you who are ordering yarn as it's been a real life-saver for us. We've changed the way we prepare and pack our parcels and info about this can be found here.
In readiness for WonderWool Wales, we have three new yarns in our shop - fresh from the 2019 wool clip - all washed and skeined and ready to go - which are natural undyed DK weight yarns. All are worsted spun rather than our previous wool spun yarns.
REE: is a dark grey DK/worsted at 200m per 100g (10 WPI) and is a combination of black and grey fleeces. It's a lovely ark stormy grey which willl look fantastic next to all of our hand-dyed peerie-skeins.
HAAR: is close to the Haar shade we used to sell but is a slighter lighter weight, coming in at 260m per 100g and 12 WPI. It's a flecky pale grey made from the grey and katmoget fleeces we have, with some white to lighten the shade a little.
MOORIT: is a warm brown DK/worsted weight, similar to the REE, at 200m per 100g and 10 WPI.
All three shades can be seen next to each other below.
Getting the fleeces worsted spun has been a new departure for us. We hope you like the wool, and please tell us what you think! Happy knitting.
In addition, WonderWool Wales asked us to prepare three short video clips and so - despite having no experience at all at it - we threw ourselves into pulling together film clips, photos and music to create three short pieces. They're a bit rustic, but we've put the first of them onto our website home page and we hope you enjoy it!
While I enjoy hand-dyeing our Shetland wool, I can't keep up with demand, even though I've doubled my production from one saucepan at a time to two. I made the decision (after a lot of thought) to seek to get some of last year's yarn commercially dyed in the colours which are most popular.
Things I wanted to think about were:
- getting the yarn dyed as locally as possible
- working with a team who would understand the ethos of what I am trying to do
- working with a company which had a sound environmental policy and record
- working with a team who could work with small quantities (in order to maximise the range of shades I could sell at any time)
- working with a team who would look at the colours I currently provide and seek to recreate them on both grey (DK and 4 ply) and white (laceweight) yarns
After a bit of trial and error, I think I've found such a company and - on top of that - the team is friendly, collaborative and didn't laugh me out of the building when I explained what I wanted.
The photos above show the Hillfoots Blend 4 ply (inner four samples) and new (as yet not on sale) Haar DK dyed in four shades which some of you will recognise as new interpretations of (from left): Cranachan; Lammerloch; Aikeyside (it's lighter and brighter than it looks here), and Bracken. I'm so happy with these and have given the go ahead for larger quantities of these shades. These look amazing next to their parent un-dyed shades. They just sing!
These will - like all my yarns - be limited edition - for this last clip. I can't ever tell how next year's clip will turn out! Once they are back from the dyer, I will list these - and the undyed 'parent yarn' on the website.
One of the benefits of getting these commercially dyed is that it will give me more time to hand-dye the tonals, and the complementary shades to these.
I was hoping to get these yarns ready to launch at Wonderwool Wales at the end of April, but - as you will know - most yarn festivals have been cancelled in 2020 in the interests of public safety.
In the meantime, we have a discount available on all the yarns currently in our online store until further notice. Use the code SPRING20 at checkout for 10% off the cost of your yarn.
After a mild winter so far, with only brief spells of snow, snow and ice has arrived on the tails of Storm Chiara last weekend.
Shetland sheep are a hardy primitive breed but that doesn't mean that they can be completely left to fend for themselves all winter.
We are down to about 8 tups now, as the field will shortly be sold off, with the current plan to get the boys slaughtered for meat once the grass starts growing again. In the meantime, they are overwintered in a sheltered field with a permanent supply of hay and some mineral buckets. They all received a pre-winter vitamin drench which helps them get the most out of any fodder over the winter. The tups we loaned out across the country are all safely home looking none the worse for some solid 'work' to service other people's flocks.
The ewes are a few miles away from the tups. Their fields are more exposed to the prevailing weather, but they have plenty of shelter, ad-lib hay, mineral buckets and helpings of hard feed if they need it. We have been working our way through the flock, checking teeth, body condition and feet, and find it easier to group the sheep by colour for these tasks so we can keep track of who has been 'done'.
The flock had a good annual health check from the vet prior to the winter, and preparation for the visit prompted us to revisit the Flock Health Plan given that we have gained one field but are about to lose another.
Prolonged harsh weather can show as a weak area in the fleeces of the sheep, but good spells of cold weather are also good for keeping down pests in the fields and the garden.