Inspired by Islay

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Over the past wee while, I’ve been working with Kate Davies and her team on their latest venture: Inspired by Islay. A quick scroll through old posts on this blog will show lots of content from Islay; I lived and worked there for a year in 2012-2013. My job involved Gaelic cultural-heritage with particular projects I initiated being about the connection between the landscape and language. It is on this topic that Kate asked me to contribute an essay to the book being produced as part of the project (sidenote: the book has gone to the printers!).

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Kate’s work has long impressed me, and I’m chuffed that she has come to me to contribute small bits of work to other projects over the years, where she has wanted to use Gaelic. Gaelic aside, as a knitter  and general culture/history-enthusiast I’m always impressed by the thought and consideration that goes into all she (and the wider KDD team) does and produces. Other folk contributing to Inspired by Islay include really astonishing artists, craftspeopleavian experts and photographers, so it is an honour to be included alongside them.

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Anyway, the photos here are some snaps from my archive of pictures from Islay. My time on the island wasn’t always a song and a dance so it’s been really lovely revisiting parts of the island I fell for, and exploring further the rich Gàidhealach culture I am part of.

For all of Kate’s blog posts to date on the project see here.
In other news, I started a facebook page for my work. Like, share, comment, etc.

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More local yarns

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In the twelve months since searching for the elusive perfect yarn to suit the tastes, needs and desires of my friend Claire (see my last post), as well as my own knitterly preferences, an abundance of producers have opened their doors selling yarns from the Highlands and Islands. This is fantastic news. The Highlands historically have suffered from an ageing population, poor infrastructure and resources unable to support small or start-up businesses and a brain-drain from population movement to the south and further beyond where there are greater job opportunities. So whenever a new business starts up that I’m able to support, in whatever capacity, I try my best to do so. In this case it’s local yarns, and as a result, local farmers, crofters, spinners, dyers and salespeople (and of course, the various people otherwise employed as a result of the process).

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A few years back, when I lived in Uist, I attended a course on wool processing – we graded fleece by hand, learning the individual qualities, and what is/is not desirable depending on intended use. We spun by hand (or at least others did, I sat watching with envy unable to master even the basics) and had a thorough introduction to the heritage mill machinery they use. Since then, Uist Wool has launched their yarns to the world, as well as having built a new wool store and employed dedicated staff to take the whole enterprise forward. It is a wonderful organisation for so many reasons, and I would thoroughly recommend a look at their site and gorgeous Gaelic yarn names. They are going to be at EYF this year and I forsee not being able to resist buying it all. I’m particularly excited by the Geòla 5-ply yarn and would love to make a geansaidh (gansey) out of it – a long-term knitting goal of mine.

Closer to (my) home, Black Isle Yarns started very recently, having just launched their online store in December 2016. I grew up in the Black Isle, so to see this name pop up in my twitter and instagram feeds was really exciting – for an area so fertile and full of active farms there hasn’t been much in the way of local yarns. I’ve heard word of the Black Isle Brewery also producing jerseys from local sheep yarn but haven’t yet visited to find out more.

I can’t wait to get my paws on some of these yarns to knit with. The closest I have at the moment is the yarn pictured in the first photo at the top of the post – yarn I received from an old colleague in Uist who was also part of the mill’s training programme. She gave me it as a leaving present and I treasure it. It is a bouncy, squisky DK cheviot with which I’m making a simple jersey at the moment. I think it’ll be lovely. Here’s to people making yarns from and of their surroundings.

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Local yarns

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Before the turn-off to Ardalanish, this is the view on the road south through Mull.

When my friend, Claire, asked me to knit her a shawl for her wedding (or did I offer? I can’t remember, doesn’t matter) I thought it would be important to use a yarn with some meaning behind it. She did too, so I took the interweb to find something. Claire and I became friends at school in the Highlands. As we both now live in the deep south (read: the Central Belt) I thought it fitting to use a yarn from the Highlands, an extra reminder of a part of her life and an area important to her.

In my head, I had ideas of locality, provenance and sustainability. I live close to multiple yarn shops, attended a fantastic yarn event focused on British yarns, consulted the excellent KnitBritish site, asked on Ravelry… But in the end I still couldn’t find anything that fitted my particular needs: yarn from the Highlands (and/or Islands), made in the area from local sheep. There were plenty of ‘almost’ options (namely Buachaille, Ripples Crafts , Alice Starmore and Shilasdair) but none of the combined right weight, texture, colour or origin for the task. In the end, it was a yarn from a place well-known to me that won out: Ardalanish, Mull. Their aran weight blue-faced leicester yarn had already been discontinued by the time I tried to order it (having originally spotted a few stray balls of it in a Glasgow yarn shop) but after a frantic online and in-person search I was able to source a solitary remaining cone from a local yarn shop. It is a beautiful yarn, and I was delighted with the finished result of the shawl. So was Claire, which ultimately was more important than anything. Plus, it helped keep her warm which is handy for a winter wedding.
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(P.s The photos here are of Claire’s shawl, in progress and finished, but before blocking. The photographers caught some snaps of her wearing her shawl on the big day, which you can see here.)

(P.p.s It was early 2016 that I started searching for the yarn, before a plethora of businesses opened producing precisely what I was after. Brill! More on them next post.)

Dreaming of the warmth

Deep in the depths of Winter it seems interminable: the grey skies that Edinburgh is so fond of aren’t going anywhere soon. There is a dampness in the air that seeps into every bone of your body. I’m fairly certain the sun hasn’t risen in about a month, and I’m not sure it will for another month yet. Late last summer we took a trip to Provence – a holiday I’d dreamed of for years – and not only saw some sun, but felt the warmth on our faces and toes. It was glorious. In these cold, dark days of January it’s a soothing thought to think back to the holiday.

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We visited villages full of beautiful craftsmanship, both old and contemporary. Markets in abundance with local produce, fruit, veg, cheese, charcuterie, all from within a stones throw of our accommodation.  Thank you forever to the man who gave us a melon for nothing and the person who helped us translate what ‘spicy’ was to old stallholder and the man who gave us the most expensive cheese I’d ever bought but also the absolute best. At every turn there were glorious colours in the landscapes, from the lushest verdant greens to deepest red ochres.

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Despite the guidebooks saying how popular the region is for British and continental visitors, we hardly herd another non-French voice. Locals assumed we too were local (surely a great compliment?), though it quickly came apparent that wasn’t the case as my rusty Higher French was all we had to see us through.

I spent so long in anticipation of this holiday that I was worried I’d made a bed for myself. How highly can you hype a holiday before you get sick of it yourself? But there was nothing to worry about. I’m off to look at my photos again and remember what it feels like to be warm in the sun.

Things I am knitting and things I have knitted

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It’s cold outside and in. My evenings are more free than they have been for a while. I have no great urge to be outside in the dark nights. This can only mean one thing: knitting.

When I’m busy working daytime and evening it’s hard to switch off for what little free time there is. In an effort to make the most of the restless energy I have at those times, I like to knit. It’s a productive act, but also one which takes me away from the computer screen. The same could be said of washing the dishes, but that’s much less fun. Here’s some things I’ve been working on for the past while.

Up-top is the pattern Grizzly by the Brown Stitch. My mum gave me some balls of lopi wool a while back (thanks, mum!) and I’ve had them waiting for a pattern to find them. And there it is! I love it already and am really enjoying knitting it. I’ve been pleased with the last few things I’ve finished, though haven’t loved the process so I’m extra-enjoying this one.

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Hermaness Worsted by Gudrun Johnston. This I knitted with New Lanark aran yarn, leftovers which I’ve had in my stash for years. A nice pattern, though I felted it every-so-slightly as I blocked it, so it’s not shown off to its best.

Picture1Take Heart by Fiona Alice. This pattern was the only thing I bought at Edinburgh Yarn Festival, after seeing a lovely version of it at the designers’ stall. It’s probably my most favourite hat I’ve ever knitted. The cables represent a major knitting achievement for me – I neither enjoy knitting cables nor am I very good at them – so those with the pompom = joy. The first attempt at a pompom for this – my first pompom since I was wee – resulted in one virtually the size of my noggin so it’s hanging up on the wall instead. The one pictured is slightly more manageable.

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After in excess of a year knitting it, I finally finished this hap. The pattern is A Hap for Harriet by Kate Davies. I really, really love the finished result of this, though I found the knitting a slog. I bought the yarn in Harris on a family holiday a few years ago. It’s lovely.

All projects ravelled here.

Cianalas

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Being back in the city grind and with a few weeks of no escape, I can’t help but think of the landscape and open stretches of the Highlands and Islands. The word cianalas about sums up how I’m feeling at the moment. A combination of homesickness, melancholy, and general longing for a place or, as in my case just now, places and culture. Day-to-day life in Edinburgh doesn’t afford me the opportunity to be as immediately absorbed in Gaelic culture and heritage as I was in the islands so I need to be making more of an effort. It seems fitting that on a dreich day in the city the only word that sums up how I’m feeling is a Gaelic one.

Cianalas – kʲiənəLəs – ke-en-alas.

Photos from misc. places in Uist, about this time last year.

Elsewhere, mostly unrelated:

Edinburgh Yarn Festival is coming up; I’m really looking forward to it.
The Danish Diaspora exhibition in Haddington looks very much worth a visit (Nikolai and Beka Globe’s Mission House Studio in Harris is wonderful).
Ernest journal is a relatively new find for me but I’m enjoying it very much.

Distractions

BA3As the pile of job applications keeps growing and as my annual Winter cold takes an ever stronger grip on my sinuses, I thought I’d take a minute or two to round up some things I’ve been enjoying recently. There surely is no soul on this earth who enjoys filling in job applications with or without a cold.

It’s just a few days ’til the launch of Celtic Connections in Glasgow. It’s always a feast of interesting, challenging and inspiring music and with some of the best horo-gheallaidh you could ask for in the Festival Club. I can’t wait!

BA2I recently read The Silent Weaver by Roger Hutchinson and was reminded of the beautiful and enigmatic works of Angus MacPhee. Some of these are on display in Kildonan Museum in South Uist; I’ve spent a lot of time entirely transfixed by them. The Silent Weaver does justice to the man and his work as well as setting it within the wider context of mental health care in the 20th century.

A winter walk to see in the New Year. We took a trip north, enjoying the snow, trees and frosty landscapes of the uplands around Blair Atholl. I love Perthshire at this time of year. Photos in this post from that walk.BABA4

Yesterday heralded the old new year (interesting article by Angus Peter Campbell in the link) so with that I wish you all bliadhna mhath ùr.

Snàth at Uist Wool

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I mentioned Uist Wool a while back and some of the impressive work they’re doing. Recently, as part of the Hebtember season of events they had on show Snàth. The exhibition is a celebration of where they’ve reached so far in their wool production, and drawing upon the skills of creative folk from across the Outer Hebrides. The items on show – ranging from practical outerwear to upholstery – are a perfect blend of environment, landscape and substance.

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It’s an excellent showcase for the wonderful skills of craftspeople in the islands. Testament to the quality of the product being produced, the tweed woven by Rebecca Hutton Taobh Tuath Tweeds, using the Uist Wool yarn, was given the Orb. I continue to be full of admiration for those working here and what they’re achieving. I cannot wait until their yarns come on sale next year.

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Of all that was on show perhaps my most favourite was the exquisite Eriskay geansaidh. It had just arrived on the day we visited and it made me squeal with delight seeing it. A thing of beauty perfectly encapsulating tradition, heritage and, ultimately, practicality. I’m rapidly becoming more obsessed with these geansaidhean. I *must* knit one. One day.

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Ursula

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This is the first bit of knitting I’ve done in a while from beginning to end, and not abandoned half-way through. These have been a joy to make, as well as pleasingly using up leftovers of other yarn. I bought this yarn in Oban years ago, after an amazing holiday to Mull and Ardnamurchan. I chose the colours then as they reminded me of the colours on the hillsides that had surrounded me. Happily, those same colours are surrounding me here on Uist at the moment.

Pattern: Ursula Mittens by Kate Davies

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Storyville & arctic terns

Just a few quick links for a rainy, windy Wednesday evening.

The Storyville series on the BBC is rarely less than excellent and two episodes recently have been particularly good. The Queen of Versaille was remarkable – a rags-to-riches-to-rags story of wealth, greed, delusion, corruption and ultimately family life. The most recent Storyville on was Expedition to the End of the World – a group of scientists and artists travelling into areas of Greenland thought to be unexplored. It, too, was wonderful with interesting musings on the relationship between art and archaeology (a favourite topic of mine). The landscapes were like something from a dream, but shattered often by the reality of the dangers of the area, with polars never far away.

Last year I was pleased to contribute an arctic tern to the Bird Yarns project. I was lucky enough to see them exhibited at the Dovecot studios in Edinburgh (and, by a stroke of luck, actually found my own). Reading more about the project and the flock as it moves across the country I’ve come across Air Falbh Leis na h-Eòin; another fascinating multi-disciplinary arts project in English and Gaelic that I really hope I’ll get a chance to see in person. I love the combination of environment, language, and music. It encapsulates something that I find so important about Gaelic: that it, as a language, evolved as a result and reaction to its surrounding environment and landscape. It’s a topic I’ve been researching for my work recently and it just keeps demonstrating to me how important it is to reconnect language with environment. It’s a project worth a nosey, anyway.

Happy wednesday.

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