Sunday, 14 August 2016

Autumn / Winter Workshops

 This autumn's workshops will be in Oban, Shetland, Birnam and Pavia, Italy - dates and details below.
I'm starting the autumn with three Open Studios days in Oban, then off to Shetland to teach six classes during Shetland Wool Week. In October there will be a workshop on drop spindle spinning, in Oban, ideal for beginners. Next up, also in Oban, knitting Scandi-style Christmas baubles, a good introduction to Fair Isle and knitting on double pointed needles. That is a popular workshop so I'm running it in plenty of time for you to have the baubles finished to decorate your tree - or give as hand made presents.
Also in November I've been invited to run a weekend workshop on natural dyeing at Birnam Arts. Over two busy days you will learn the important differences between dyeing protein fibres ( wool and silk) and cellulose (cotton and linen). We will use natural and mineral mordants and a range of  dye plants to create a library of samples for you to take home. You will also take away the skills and knowledge to continue experimenting with natural dyeing.
Then towards the end of the month I'll be teaching a weekend of spinning workshops in Pavia, Italy - one day for beginners and one day more advanced.
The second Christmas Baubles workshop is in Oban in December, you should still have time to get them finished!
In February there will be a workshop in Oban on spinning with a spinning wheel, suitable for beginners and improvers, and one on Book Origami, when you can learn to. Up cycle an unwanted hardback book into an unusual decorative item.
In March the Oban workshop is Fair Isle knitting techniques and tips, and later in the month a workshop called First Stitches for absolute beginner knitters. I've also been invited to run a workshop for the Edinburgh Guild of Spinners..

2nd, 3rd and 4th September - Open Studio Days - 10am - 5pm at 22A Alexandra Place, Corran Esplanade, Oban. Demonstrations and Displays. Free, no need to book, just drop in and see what's going on
26th September (am) Introduction to Magic Loop Knitting, Lerwick - SOLD OUT
26th September (evening) Woolly Words Book Origami, Lerwick - 2 PLACES LEFT
27th September Drop spindle spinning, Lerwick - SOLD OUT
28th September (am) Blending the colours of Shetland (fibre blending), Lerwick 4 PLACES LEFT
28th September (pm) drop spindle spinning, Lerwick - 4 PLACES LEFT
30th September Knitting Socks 2-at-a-time and Toe-up, Lerwick, SOLD OUT
(To book Shetland Wool Week classes go to
15th October Drop Spindle Spinning - 10am - 1pm at 22A Alexandra Place, Corran Esplanade, Oban £40
3rd November Knitting Christmas Baubles 10am - 1pm at 22A Alexandra Place, Corran Esplanade, Oban £35 including materials for 4 baubles
12& 13 November Natural Dyeing at Birnam Arts, Birnam, Perthshire ONLY 6 PLACES ( bookings via Birnam Arts)
19& 20th November Spinning workshops, Fattoria del Gelso, Pavia, Italy
4th December Knitting Christmas Baubles 10am - 1pm at 22A Alexandra Place, Corran Esplanade, Oban £35 including materials for 4 baubles
5th February Spinning with a spinning wheel 10am - 5pm £75 at 22A Alexandra Place, Corran Esplanade, Oban
18th February Book Origami 10am - 1pm £30 at 22A Alexandra Place, Corran Esplanade, Oban
4th March Fair Isle Knitting 10am - 1pm £30 at 22A Alexandra Place, Corran Esplanade, Oban includes materials for a phone cover - or bring your own project
18th March. Edinburgh Guild workshop - contact Guild secretary
25th March First Stitches - knitting for absolute beginners 10am - 1pm £30 at 22A Alexandra Place, Corran Esplanade, Oban includes materials

Except where stated otherwise, email me on to book or to arrange individual tuition on other dates/topics

Thursday, 14 July 2016

everything is turning blue

Well, not quite everything, but now that I have my very own indigo vat (see my last post), I do seem to be looking around for things to dye blue!

Yesterday afternoon it was nice and sunny so after work I got myself set up for an outdoors indigo session. I had spotted a traycloth and a small tablecloth which were not as white as they used to be. The tablecloth has a beautiful hand crocheted lace edging which must have taken someone hours and hours of work. So, into the indigo vat with them.
Two white linen tops were also lined up for a dip (or four), and I had prepared them for shibori.

Of course I had barely got started dipping when the heavens opened and I had to clap a lid on the vat and bring everything inside! Once I had changed my clothes (I was soaked through in the time it took to rescue everything) I carried on in a rather more cramped, but dry, space.

Ori nui is the Japanese name for the pattern on the shirt - created by folding the fabric and then stitching a line of running stitch close to the fold. Once a series of folds have ben stitched the threads are pulled up as tightly as possible and tied off. Then it is ready for the vat.
Michel taught us that three short dips should be the minimum, with a couple of rinses in cold water between to oxidise the indigo. I gave the shirt and the tunic three short dips followed by one longer (3 or four minutes) dip in the vat.
Then I hung them up to drip overnight before taking out the shibori stitching to fully air the fabric.
Parts of this pattern look a bit like dental x-rays!

The tunic was patterned by clamping. The traditional Japanese technique called Itajime involves folding the fabric and clamping between boards. For my tunic, I folded the body and the two sleeves into accordion-style pleats and 'clamped' them with pairs of clothes pegs set on alternate sides of the folded fabric. It used a lot of pegs!
This one was quite tricky to dip and impossible to squeeze out between dips and rinses.
Removing the pegs is quick and reveals the pattern.

I now have a lot of blue clothes pegs, which I will not be using to peg out my laundry!

Thursday, 7 July 2016

A week with Michel Garcia

I've been dyeing for almost 40 years, mainly with natural dyes and almost always on wool or silk fibres. Those are the fibres I love to spin and knit, so I have rather neglected the cellulose fibres - linen, cotton etc.
But when the chance came to spend a week at Big Cat Studio in Newburgh, learning about Ecological Methods of Dyeing Cellulose Fibres with Michel Garcia, I jumped at it.
Fifteen eager students gathered on the Monday morning, and we worked together, learned and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves for five very full days. Each day we were fed a delicious and nutritious lunch by Alison and the Big Cat team. Some people stayed overnight in Newburgh but our days were so busy that I was glad to be at home at night.
On day 1 we learned about plants which accumulate aluminium in their leaves and can be used as mordants. We also learned how to properly scour and prepare cellulose fibres to get the v=best results in our dyeing. We used Symplocos, Camellia and Lycopodium as mordants, and tried them out with Weld, Madder, Cochineal, Cosmos and Logwood dyes.
Samples dyed using Symplocos leaves as mordant. Clockwise from top left: cochineal, Logwood 5%, Logwood 20%, madder, cosmos, weld+logwood, logwood 100%, weld
On Tuesday we learned ecological methods of using mineral mordants - Aluminium, Iron and Titanium - in ways that create no waste or pollution.
We prepared samples of fabric in nine different mordant concentrations and mixes, before dyeing one of each in the same five dyes we had used previously.
Nine mordants painted in stripes, dyed with weld
Already our sample collections were starting to grow, as we worked together to create small samples of each combination to mount on the pages Michel had prepared for us.
Samples dyed with fresh weld
That evening we went out foraging for additional dyestuffs to use the next day.
Front: white clover. Eucalyptus. Silver Birch. back: Sweet Cicely
Our third day expanded the range of dyes we tested with the nine mordants - Sweet Cicely, Silver Birch bark, Eucalyptus bark, white clover
Silver birch bark straight from the log

Extracting dye from eucalyptus bark

The white clover dyebath

and cherry tree leaves found their ways into our dyepots. All the time we were learning the chemistry that explains the magic. Michel also showed us ways to create patterns by painting or screen printing different mordants on to the fabric before dyeing, discharge printing
Discharge prints - logwood and cochineal on ferrous mordant discharged with a cut lemon
 and how to create a colour series using different proportions of different mordants and one dyebath.
In the evening Michel gave us a very informative slide presentation covering history, chemistry, botany and showing some of the fascinating projects he has undertaken.
Thursday and Friday were given over to Indigo. More chemistry!
We extracted indigo as a paste from dried indogifera leaves,
made fructose solution by boiling dried orange peels, and each of us set up our own organic indigo vat.
Beautiful bubbles are dark blue!
Michel demonstrated the dyeing process and we got the first blue samples to add to our pages.
On Friday we were let loose to dye our own samples - everyone had brought something special to dye:  handspun (and I think homegrown) linen yarn from Norway, silk fabric from Australia, bamboo cloth and other fine fabrics. I had prepared skeins of cotton yarn, which I dyed in my vat. One skein was already dyed with madder, and I dipped one end of it in the indigo to create a self-striping yarn.
To create a gradient I had knitted some wool yarn  into a sock blank, which I dipped at one end only making a gradient from natural through light blue to dark.
I will dye the natural end and the light blue area with another colour and then unravel it to knit socks or maybe a shawl.
 I also made and shibori-stitched two kimono-style jackets from vintage linen, which were too big for our individual vats so they were dipped in the large class vat.
One was previously dyed with madder
In the final afternoon we explored overdyeing - cloth or yarn that was first dyed with indigo, then mordanted and dyed with other natural dyes. This added even more colour variety to our bulging sample books.
Cotton yarn. From bottom: indigo, overdyed with weld+cochineal, overdyed with weld, overdyed with cochineal, overdyed with cosmos
At the end of the workshop I had learned much more than I expected, and now understand why some of my earlier efforts dyeing cellulose fibres were less successful. My pages of notes and samples will be a valuable resource and reminder, as my world becomes an even more colourful place!

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

New workshop dates

Knitting, spinning, dyeing and papercraft Workshops April – August 2016
Auchterarder workshops will take place at 204 or 206 High Street, PH3 1AF (depending on numbers)
Oban workshops will take place at 22A Alexandra Place, Corran Esplanade, PH34 5PU

Sat 30th April
2 – 5pm
Solar Dyeing - use natural dyes and solar energy to capture clear and delicate colours on wool and silk
Inc materials
Sat 7th May
2pm – 5pm
Fair Isle and stranded colourwork knitting
Techniques and design tips
Sat 14th May
2pm – 5pm
Inspired by Argyll
Blending fibres, creating new shades from
Primary colours, for spinners, felters, knitters, fibre artists
Inc materials
Sat 4th June
2 – 5pm
Introduction to Magic Loop Knitting – knit a seamless phone or mini-tablet cover, or start a circular shawl
Sat 18th June
2 – 5pm
Folded book origami – upcycle an unwanted hardback book into a unique decorative piece which can incorporate a special name or word
inc materials
Sat 25 June
2 – 5pm
Drop spindle spinning for beginners
Inc materials
Sat 2 July
2 – 5pm
Learn to knit – absolute beginners
Inc materials
Sat 16 July
2 – 5pm
Folded book origami - upcycle an unwanted hardback book into a unique decorative piece which can incorporate a special name or word
Inc materials
Sat 23 July
10am – 1pm
Fleece and fibre preparation
Inc materials
Sat 23 July
2 – 5pm
Drop spindle spinning for beginners
Inc materials
Sun 31 July
2 - 5
Folded book origami – upcycle an unwanted hardback book into a unique decorative piece which can incorporate a special name or word
Inc materials
Sat 6 Aug
2 – 5pm
Knitting socks two at a time and toe-up
Sun 14th Aug
10 - 4
Spinning with a spinning wheel
(beginners or intermediate)
Inc materials
Fri 26th Aug
10 - 5
Sat 27th Aug
10 – 5
Sun 28th Aug10 – 5


Small groups for individual attention. Booking essential – please email A 30% deposit is payable on booking, the balance payable at the workshop.

If materials are not included you will be told what to bring, some additional materials will be available to purchase

Monday, 18 January 2016

2015 - a look back at my projects

12 months, 12 finished objects – and much more

Looking back on 2015 I seem to have had a pretty productive year. My Ravelry projects page shows 12 finished objects, but there has been much more besides.

I suppose my biggest project for the year was the renovation and refurbishment of my flat in Oban, in the white building above, to create a weekend retreat and workspace. I’m so pleased with the result that I may well move there full time in a couple of years’ time, when other commitments no longer tie me to Perthshire. The large main room looks out over Oban Bay,  with boats of all types coming and going all day against a background of ever-changing weather and views of the islands of Kerrera and Mull. I have been delighted to host a monthly knitting group there since May on the first Saturday of each month, as well as workshops on folded book origami, drop-spindle spinning and sock knitting. It is a lovely place to knit or spin, bright in summer and cosy with a woodburning stove in winter. I’m looking forward to more knitting groups, workshops and creative adventures there.
What was I spinning  last year? As well as numerous small samples and test-blends, I spent a considerable amount of time early in the year on yarn which I called ‘Amethysts and Carnelians’. I had dyed a series of batches of wool, silk and kid mohair using a semi-exhausted mix of logwood and madder,  which I then blended. I spun it (lots of it!) into an aran-thickness two-ply yarn. Along with some silver-grey Gotland spun to the same thickness, I knitted a cardigan (Brynja)to be finished with some very special silver buttons which I made at Red Houss in Shetland.

My next big spinning project, started in October and likely to continue until this October if not longer, is to spin the three wonderful coloured Shetland fleeces which I bought at the Flock Book sale in Lerwick. They were the champion fleeces – one black, one grey and one moorit-  and deserve to be spun and knitted into really special projects.
I have several ideas in mind for them, first up a version of Kate Davies’ Puffin (in natural coloured yarns and with the addition of some very good white Shetland  it will be ‘More Penguin than Puffin’). So I am spinning my way through the black fleece, creating a fine semi-worsted 2-ply yarn which will enhance the almost silky texture of this superb fleece. Because the singles are so fine it is taking me many hours to fill each bobbin, I expect I will have lots of yarn for other projects as well.

I blended some rollags based on colours from a Bressay beach for the Colours of Shetland workshop I taught during Wool Week this year, they sit in a Perspex-lidded box waiting for inspiration to hit me so I can plan, spin and knit a small project from them. I have selected another image, from last year’s trip to Shetland, which I think will inspire even more creative blending of colours for the Colours of Shetland workshop in 2016.

Glancing through my Ravelry finished objects, I’ve knitted everything from a fine lacy shawl (Sea Nymph-alidea)
to a cosy Icelandic-style cardi in handspun yarns, (my Brynja, above). I knitted a little dress for a friend’s baby, using lovely Italian yarn given to me by another friend. Several pairs of socks feature -  a couple of straightforward pairs in self-striping yarn,
a knee length pair in all-over Fair Isle,
and (only half finished) a pair with colourwork inspired by the gold tooling on the spine of an antique book.
Slippers in felted Icelandic wool (Midnattsol) have kept my feet cosy as well as helping polish my wooden floorboards. Hamish likes them too!
I seem to have knitted a lot of Fair Isle this year – the Hairst yoked cardigan designed by Sandra Manson turned into a sweater on my needles, and has been worn loads since I finished it.
My version of Donna Smith’s now iconic Baa-ble hat (‘No-baa-ble’ or even ‘Snow-baa-ble’ as I replaced the sheep with snowflakes, and the pom-pom with a tassel) had its first outings in Shetland during Wool Week and has really come into its own recently in the snowy weather.
On Burra I developed a colourwork swatch based on bananas and fuelled by chilli-vodka-chocolate fudge, and knitted a jumper for a small monkey(as you do!).
You can see the result on Felicity Ford’s blog here :  I plan to knit a tablet-cover using the same colours and banana motifs (that’s a very Scottish pun – there is a type of fudge in Scotland called tablet).
While in Shetland I collected a palette of yarns for a new project, to design some colourwork inspired by a scrap of original wallpaper (1870's?) discovered during the renovation of my Oban workroom. A couple of knitted cushions would add to the hygge next winter...
Further knitting on my Water and Rock project (coloured fibres blended, spun and now knitted,  inspired by a picture of river water flowing past a rock) and three small Fair Isle projects got me up to Christmas – a Thrift Tam (designed by Outi Kater)
knitted on a trip to Florence in November, a pair of boot-toppers for the Jamieson & Smith Winter Woollies knit-along,
and a pair of fingerless mitts based on Donna Smith’s design Maggie’s Mittens, just finished in time for Christmas giving. Then on Christmas Eve I took a deep breath, put on my Shetland knitting belt and started on Peace, an all over Norwegian colourwork gansey, which is likely to take me a very long time to finish. It is in 2-ply jumper weight on 2.5mm needles, and my first big project using the knitting belt and long double pointed needles. After about three weeks I am getting quicker.....

The first two days of the New Year saw my knitting machine getting a rare outing, as I made a dent in my stash of fine yarns on cone to knit a large poncho and the plain bodies and sleeves for three cardigans which will get hand-knitted yokes and welts. The welts will give me some uncomplicated knitting when I need a rest from the all-over colourwork of Peace. And Fair Isle yokes are such a joy to knit as you get quicker and quicker and the pattern develops while the number of stitches decreases!

A non-wool (gasps of amazement!) project that I am very pleased with is the refurbishment of my dining chairs.
I painted the dark oak frames pale grey, and re-covered the drop-in seats with the ‘seat’ area of old pairs of jeans, complete with the back pockets. The hardwearing covers should last a good long time, and I have another project in mind for the legs of all the jeans.
I also spent a couple of busy days on an Indigo and Shibori workshop with Molly Bullick, dyeing just about every natural fibre except wool.

Threaded through all of this I did a fair amount of teaching in 2015 – in Italy in March and May, in Auchterarder and Oban at various times, and in Shetland in September. Workshops in spinning, felt-making, solar dyeing, knitting and folded book origami, and taking part in Perthshire Open Studios, allowed me to meet a lot of interesting people and share some inspiring ideas. Which is really the best part.

Plans are already made for some workshops in 2016, events like Shetland Wool Week and trips abroad do require a lot of forward planning, but there is still room for unexpected opportunities and encounters. And lots of wool.....


Saturday, 24 October 2015

Shetland Wool Week 2015 - more woolly adventures

So much anticipation, and preparation, then it was time to set off for my third Shetland Wool Week.

I had only just got through security at Edinburgh Airport when I met the first Wool Week-ers Christine and Amore. It was nice to have them to chat to, especially as the plane was a bit late. On arrival at Sumburgh Felix was there to pick me up and whisk me off to our very luxurious rented house in Lerwick, found by our third housemate Jeni. Amid lots of chat and catching up we baked the first of our braided Nutella pastries, thus inaugurating the Shetland Nutella Festival. Despite rumours, I had not consumed a drop of Nutella since last year's Wool Week!
just out of the oven

take a quick photo

and then its gone.....
Saturday morning saw Felix and me out on a few errands, which inevitably took us in to Jamieson & Smith.
admiring the new sign on the back of the wool store
I had supplies to pick up for the classes I was teaching, and some yarn to buy on behalf of a friend who couldn't get to Wool Week. And for a couple of projects of my own, of course!
not (quite) all for me.....
A visit to the Shetland Times bookshop, the post office and a couple of the Lerwick charity shops completed the quest.
Our home-from-home was so comfortable it was tempting just to stay in and knit but we did venture just along the road to the Wool Week hub, in the Islesburgh Community Centre. The first thing we spotted on entering was a big pop-up banner featuring Felix' design, also used on the official Wool Week tote bags.
(There might still be a few of the bags available if you pop over to the Shetland Wool Week website). Upstairs in the Hub we met several woolly friends and caught up over knitting and tea. Moving the Hub to Islesburgh was a good decision, it was lovely to have Wool Week activities going on alongside other community activities, and the central space was well lit and comfortable for knitting, spinning and catching up with friends. Free tea and coffee much appreciated too!
On Sunday morning I made the second version of the Braided Nutella pastry (can you have a cake mascot? If so this is it for Wool Week 2015).
This one used croissant dough instead of puff pastry, judged to be an improvement although a bit tricky to roll out. 
Suitably fortified, I had the first of my classes as a learner - Pattern Writing taught by the lovely Outi Kater. Outi's advice on layout, phrasing and how much information to include, and many more aspects of converting a design into a written pattern will be very useful. Shame I didn't have time to convert my rather rambling instructions into a proper pattern before Outi attended my sock knitting class a couple of days later!

Sunday evening saw us at the Opening Ceremony in Clickimin Leisure Centre, having found an excellent Tarmac Tuesday photo Opp on the way (yes we are all about 7)!
The opening ceremony included fabulous Shetland fiddle music,
question and answer sessions about wool production and processing (Oliver Henry, Ronny Eunson and Gary Jamieson) and on knitting and design (Donna Smith, Hazel Tindall and Niela of NielaNell). Donna, as this year's Patron, welcomed everyone and cut the now traditional Wool Week cakes.
The evening was rounded off in hilarious form by Felix and Louise Scolley imagining what it would be like if knitting got the same media attention as football. They got everyone involved in creating the crowd noises, and their Knitting Pundits will be available as a podcast soon. (I was laughing too much to take any photos)
I had a really busy day on Monday, starting with a class on Designing Fair Isle Yokes with Hazel Tindall. What Hazel doesn't know about designing and knitting Fair Isle probably isn't worth knowing, and she very generously shared her wealth of experience as we carefully chose our colours and knitted yoke swatches. I just managed to get mine cast off as we ran out of time.
Hazel also shared some hints and tips on using a Shetland knitting belt, so now I know why I have not been getting on well when trying to use the vintage belt I got on my first trip to Shetland, and am determined to have another go.
In the afternoon I went to Spinning for Lace with Margaret Peterson. I've been spinning for over 35 years and have on occasion spun fine lace yarns, but not often and not recently. I first met Margaret four or five years ago when she showed me examples of her exquisite work, and I was intrigued to learn whether her methods were very different to my own. In fact they were not - we both prefer to spin the fine wool in the grease, after combing with a dog comb. Actually everyone in the class found it easier to spin a fine and consistent yarn from the unwashed wool than when we (at Margaret's insistence) tried spinning some industrially cleaned and combed tops. Margaret also showed us the traditional way of winding the 'wirsit' on to small squares of wood (I used folded up paper) so that's it doesn't knit or roll about when you are knitting.
I just about had time to catch my breath before heading to the Shetland Museum for the evening talk by Ella Gordon and Kate Davies on Collecting Vintage Knitwear. Ella and Kate have quite different approaches to their collections but share a passion for not only preserving and recording vintage knits, but also keeping them in regular use. Felix ably chaired the Q&A session and clearly relished her task of holding out each piece as either Kate or Ella spoke about it. It is amazing how much they have been able to find out about the history of each garment, sometimes even who knitted it.
On Tuesday morning it was time to start teaching. My first class Colours of Shetland: Blending Fibre was designed to complement Felix' Colours of Shetland: Stranded Colourwork class in the afternoon.
Using a photo taken on Bressay last year for inspiration, the learners in my class blended primary coloured wool fibre, plus natural black and white, on hand carders to create a palette of shades.
Everyone had the same photo, everyone had the same fibres, but everyone created a different palette of eight or more shades. Some people spun samples from their blends to see how the appearance of the colours changed. Three hours of carding produced an impressive amount of blended fibre ready to be spun or felted.
all this and more in just three hours

hard at work
Maggie's meticulously labelled and recorded colour experiments
I spent the afternoon in Felix's class, using the same image and the Knitsonik system to look at shapes and colours and come up with a stranded colourwork motif. Again it was fascinating to see the very varied interpretations that people came up with, based on a small selection of images and a carefully curated palette of Jamieson & Smith yarn.
My next teaching stint on Wednesday morning was Knitting Socks two-at-a-time and toe-up.
my socks with Fair Isle motifs, knitted two at a time and toe up before the class
using Jamieson & Smith Shetland Heritage yarn in traditional colours
This was a very popular class, although for a while the learners seemed to be struggling with the closed cast on, which is the trickiest part of this way of knitting socks. Those who were familiar with the magic loop technique had an advantage - next year I will offer an Introduction to Magic Loop class a couple of days before the Knitting Socks two-at-a-time class. Eventually everyone had the toes of both socks  started, and the atmosphere relaxed quite noticeably!
toe-caps of two socks on one needle, straight forward knitting from here on
From there, the knitting is quite straightforward, and  although no-one got to the heels during the class I was able to show how to turn the heel, which I think is easier on toe-up socks.
my Macmillan Pocket Kipling socks showing gusset and heel construction
During the rest of Wool Week I occasionally met people who showed me how much further their socks had progressed, and since the end of the week I have seen at least one pair from my class completed and posted on Facebook, which is nice. I'm repeating this class next weekend in Oban and sometime in the New Year in Dundee, before running it again during Shetland Wool Week 2016.
A bit of free time in the afternoon saw me making a third Braided Nutella pastry, to test a further variation. It looked and tasted just the same as the last one but was easier to roll out, as we had invested in a small bag of flour.
Lerwick Library hosted Stitches from the Stacks on Wednesday evening - all their knitting-related books on display, lovely knitted bunting decorating the library, and teas and wonderful home baking. Are you picking up on a non-wool theme yet?!! It was lovely to meet and knit with local knitters as well as those who were visiting for Wool Week.
We had a day off from wool (well, nearly - but not cake!) and went to visit Mike and Gill Finnie on Burra, where Mike helped us make lovely silver buttons etched with Fair Isle designs. Gill's home baking is legendary! I had knitted a cardigan specially for my buttons and sewed them on that evening.
three hand-made silver buttons in place on my naturally-dyed, hand-blended, hand-spun and hand-knitted cardigan
(Brynja designed by Helene Magnusson)

beautiful patina on one of my silver buttons, against my wool/silk/mohair blend yarn
I love Mike's Red Houss jewellery so much that I have had to make a self-imposed rule to only wear two items at a time (over four years I have made quite a collection!) but I bought one of Mike's Gulls Egg necklaces which will be an exception to that rule as it is very different.
My last teaching duty was on Friday afternoon, so in the morning I was able to visit the Shetland Organics exhibition in Vaila Fine Art, and then browse in some of the shops before a quick bowl of chowder in the Peerie Shop café. After a brisk walk I was back at Jamieson and Smith in time to visit the inner sanctum of the wool store and stock up on fleeces for the next year, before starting to teach my drop-spindle spinning class. J&S had asked me to teach using their Shetland Wool combed tops, so I showed some more advanced spinners how to spin thicker woollen style yarns from tops instead of their 'default' fine worsted, and gave them a selection of silk, linen and other fibres to blend with the wool tops. The beginners in the meantime were also using the tops to spin woollen style, as it is easier to start that way than spinning worsted. They all did very well and most managed to produce a small skein of 2-ply yarn - although the smiling faces at the end of the class are the most important product to me.
After a day on my feet it was nice to put my feet up and have my dinner cooked for me (thank you Tom). Good company and a glass of wine soon made me forget my aching toes!
Saturday was Flock Book day at the mart, one of the highlights of Wool Week for me. Since the 1920s the Flock Book Society has ensured that only the best rams are used to keep up the standards of the Shetland sheep breed and the wool they produce.  Rams are carefully and thoroughly inspected for their wool, judged by Oliver Henry assisted by Jan Robertson.
Oliver and Jan judging the wool on a lively ram lamb

 Then other judges check their teeth, toes and testicles. When the best six in each category have been chosen they are taken in to the ring for the final judging.
judging rams
After lengthy deliberation rosettes are awarded, then the next category is judged. This all takes a considerable amount of time occasionally enlivened when a lively ram makes a bid for freedom by trying to jump out of the ring. Some of them nearly succeed.  After the judging was complete and a hearty lunch taken in the mart café there was a sale of rams. I was fascinated to sit through the sale with Jan, who was both selling and buying, but was not too busy to give me a commentary on the sheep as they came through the ring. There is also a competition for the best group of three coloured fleeces, won this year by Addie Doull of Islesburgh.
 These three superb fleeces scored 96 out of 100 and, after some negotiation, are now residing in my fleece shed - I cant wait to get started on them! I already have several projects in mind for them.
my Flock Book haul
The Flock Book marked the end of Shetland Wool Week 2015, and in fact many of the visitors had already headed back south, with many goodbyes and 'see you next year'. We had decided to stay on for a few more days so several friends donated their left over groceries to us - enough to feed far more than three people for a week! Thank you Ysolda and Becks, Tom, Anthony and Anna, and Team Holland! On Sunday morning we left our very comfortable and central house in Lerwick and moved to a fisherman's cottage on West Burra Isle. A more beautiful setting would be hard to find, with a view over East Burra to the Shetland mainland, and a beach at the bottom of a small sloping field beyond the modern-day planticrub (a small sheltered vegetable plot).
evening sun on East Burra, with Shetland mainland behind

Papil sunset
The good weather we had enjoyed so far continued on Monday and Felix and I had a lovely walk over the tombolo at Bannamin to Minn and and around Kettla Ness.

the tombolo at Bannaminn

clear clear water and nosy (but camera shy) seals
We wandered among deserted and ruined croft houses

last year's shwook hat in colours that blend with the landscape

so that's where the sheep that escaped from my baa-ble hat went
and then over to the far side of the island, with its dramatic cliffs and seabirds - and of course, sheep.

We spotted two sheep on an isolated stack and wondered how they had got there.
completely cut off and surrounded by the sea
On the way back I was fascinated by a hut roofed with an upturned boat.
view towards Papil

Some of these photos may be the images for my Colours of Shetland: Fibre Blending class next year! Heading back across the tombolo we gathered sea spaghetti, dulse and sea lettuce and made a foraged seaweed salad, with walnuts, for lunch. We all survived. Actually it was delicious.
free lunch (except the walnuts)
By Monday evening the wind and rain had set in, for the next two days we had gales and horizontal rain. Time for some serious knitting inspired by bananas,

and aided by some seriously good chilli vodka chocolate fudge from the Shetland Fudge company.

bad weather is also conducive to baking - as there was a can of stout in the fridge, left by previous occupants of the cottage, we made a chocolate stout cake with peanut butter icing, and stout and oatmeal bread. We really should rename it Shetland Cake Week!
On Tuesday evening we braved the weather and went in to Lerwick to knit with the Islesburgh Spinners and Knitters. They were very welcoming and we had a jolly evening, but I was very glad I wasn't driving home. Wednesday saw us back in Lerwick for some errands including posting my many purchases home.
plus three more parcels sent earlier...... all wool!
Our errands also took us to Jamieson & Smith. We didn't get any further than the wool store as Oliver and Jan wanted to know all about the sheep we had seen on the stack.
Jan having a well-earned cuppa and telling stories
Oliver thought the likely explanation was that a pregnant ewe had fallen off the cliff into the sea, and had managed to scramble up onto the stack. There was plenty of grass up there for her and her lamb to survive on. Oliver knew who crofted the land and would let him know about the sheep. He also showed us a very special and beautifully photographed book, In Search of the Precious Wools of the World, in which he is featured - as are some of Jan's sheep.

Oliver in the wool store - twice
We spent the afternoon with Donna Smith and her young son, knitting, drinking tea and eating lovely home-made bannocks.
Our last full day in Shetland was spent with Hazel Tindall. The weather had changed again, sunny and mild with no wind. We went out west to Sandness and visited Jamieson's spinning mill, where we had a good look round.
weaving Shetland tweed

washed wool


carded sliver

 I bought some of their tweed - wool grown in Shetland, dyed, spun and woven in the mill. It feels like a piece of the land.  After the mill we went to Melby beach, where the water is a rich deep brown because of the run-off from the peat.

Felix recording the sound of the water

the end of the road?
Hazel fed us home made soup for lunch before we headed back to Lerwick in search of knitting belts for Felix and Jeni. I got two more sets of the long double-pointed needles to use with my vintage knitting belt, now that I have a better idea of how to use it.
A sunset walk on Bannaminn beach seemed like the perfect way to end our stay

but, as a special treat for our final night in Shetland, later on there was a display of the Mirrie Dancers (Northern lights). Thanks to the internet I knew that they were predicted, so once it was dark I went out every ten minutes or so. It was a remarkably clear night, with the Milky Way bright overhead, and out at Papil virtually no light pollution. On my third or fourth trip outside I could see a glow arching over the horizon to the north. I walked up the hill a bit and was rewarded by green fingers of light and shimmering curtains reaching up towards the Milky Way.
proof that a phone camera is not good enough to capture the Northern Lights!
Shetland never fails to make an impression, but it certainly pulled out all of the stops this year! I will be back for Shetland Wool Week 2016, if not before.