Denise: I first started spinning in about 1982, when we lived in Kendal. What few others know is that Jonathan too has been spinning all that time. In fact, I seem to recall, as it was he that had assembled our first spinning wheel (an Ashford Traditional), it was him too that got to spin first! (We taught ourselves, from books.) Until 2003, when I started spinning wool for sale (in our own Hebridean Woolshed), we both spun wool about the same. Over the past ten years and more, though, I’ve spun more and more, but J has had to give his full attention to his professional work. But he’s certainly not forgotten how to spin – very far from it. What he’s lost through lack of practice is just speed and consistency. So he’s a bit slow and occasionally wobbly – but nothing that can’t be improved on with a bit more regular spinning! Even without that, though, he really does know what he’s talking about: he’s very knowledgeable about the craft. He’s also got long experience of tutoring beginners (albeit in engineering, not spinning!). Now, since he ‘retired’ from civil engineering and construction, late last summer, we’ve been looking for how he could relieve me of some of my workload. Over the winter we agreed he’d take on tutoring of spinning workshops (perhaps not all, but at least half of them). Well, today was his first workshop. And it looks like he managed to get through. And if this photo of Charlotte – his first pupil – is anything to go by, he must have managed quite well, because she’s not only smiling for the camera, but is managing to keep spinning at the same time!
Denise: It’s been a long and dreary day of cloud and light rain, so we’ve made best use of the day by getting on with a new ‘indoors’ project. Encouraged by the surprisingly instant success of our first kits and patterns, we’ve now put together another new design and kit. This is for a ladies’ Cheviot a Horseshoe Lace Cowl, using our Hebridean Woolshed’s own DK 2-ply wool.
I like doing these kits because it’s something Jonathan and I can work on together. I do the design, knitting and writing down the pattern (J insists on calling it ‘coding’ !). With me doing any modelling, J does photography and then puts together the pattern leaflet, website posts and pages. We then work together on doing all the packaging.
Anyway, if you’re interested, you’ll find all the details on our Hebridean Woolshed website.
Denise: Almost all our self-catering guests are from various European countries: mostly they’re from the UK, France, Netherlands and Germany – though it’s surprising how many of our Carrick guests come just from Perthshire or Cumbria! Every year, though, there’s just one or two from much further afield – Australia, New Zealand, Canada, or the US. Their journeys are long, of course; but they can also be complicated, not least because they are often making an extended holiday – taking in various destinations and perhaps including family visits. I think the record for both distance and complexity – and for that matter travelling stamina! – goes to Jacalyn and her friend Mary, who come from California. They’re both nuts (in the nicest possible sense!) about sheep and wool, but Jacalyn is also a serial island-hopper. This year her journey took her from California to Denmark, from there to Faeroe, and then to Scotland and the Outer Hebrides via airports at Edinburgh, Stornoway and finally Balivanich.
Now, if you need to look up Faeroe on Wikipedia, well that’s okay – we all need to, apparently, and not least Jacalyn. Faeroe has lots of sheep (more sheep than humans) and lots and lots of wool, and nice things made from sheep and wool, and that alone was good enough for her to include Faeroe in her tour. But then to discover that it is not just an island, but a whole archipelego of islands, out in the middle of the northern Atlantic, with spectacular scenery, their own language, and … Well, what’s not to like? as the saying goes! Exploring with a hired car, Jacalyn and Mary visited several of the inhabited islands, with scenery as dramatic as St Kilda, tunnels under the sea linking islands, the variegated Faeroe sheep everywhere, and small woollen mills and factories where beautiful garments (mostly outer-wear) are made with the wool. It’s a trip Jonathan and I would love to have made ourselves, partly because we are ourselves drawn to ‘woolly islands’, but also because the Faeroes and Hebrides having so much in common, the differences are all the more interesting.
Our guests are, if anything, more varied than the places they come from, and that goes too for what they do during their stay at Carrick or Askernish, and what we see of them – if anything at all. Alas it’s rare for guests to much if any interest in us or what we do – and that means we value and appreciate guests who do spend any time with us all the more. It’s perhaps as true of people as it is of islands: having so much in common, it’s the differences that are all the more interesting!
Jacalyn and Mary travelled here via Edinburgh, which must have been quite a contrast to Torshavn, the capital of Faeroe! In Edinburgh they stopped and shopped (can you guess what for?) and then a day of flights to Stornoway in Lewis, then Balivanich in Benbecula, and then driving south through South Uist to Eriskay.
So, another contrast, arriving in Uist! For one thing the weather. Cold, overcast and windy in Edinburgh. And in Uist? Well, last year’s May might have been the worst anyone could remember, but May 2016 was already on its way to be the sunniest and driest May in for many a year! Sunny, dry … but not warm: there was a brisk cold wind from the north throughout their stay. Sheltered from the wind, though, it was glorious, and Jacalyn and Mary saw the islands at their near-best, with blue skies, turquoise and azure seas, the white dash of waves on the rocks and beaches, cattle and ponies grazing the hills, wild flowers in bloom, and everywhere – just everywhere! – the call and cry of birds on the wing, curlew and cuckoo, lapwing and lark, buzzard and bunting, gull and gannet … ! And sheep of course. Lots of sheep. And above all our sheep!
Jacalyn and Mary were really interested in the progress of our bottle-babies Rhubarb and Primrose, and most days got the chance to bottle-feed at least Rhubarb, who during their stay progressed from complete dependency on Jonathan to spending his first night with the older boys – last year’s lambs, and the ram. Jacalyn and Mary got time to watch the sheep and the hens and the geese closely – and were soon knew more about what they get up to during the day, when neither J or I are about, than we ever knew!
We spent a few delightful mornings or lunches or afternoons with Jacalyn and Mary, learning about their adventures in Faeroe and exploring with them the various treasures (mostly woolly in nature!) they had acquired on their travels. One morning they were with Jonathan as he sheared Baghasdal the ram ; and a very sunny afternoon was spent with me at the walled garden sorting raw wool (in fact sorting Baghasdal’s fleece!) and in the dye-shed dyeing wools. One evening we had dinner together at the Polochar Inn. It was such a special treat for us to have guests staying we could share our interests with, and we hope they enjoyed their holiday in Uist as much as we enjoyed having them!
Jacalyn first stayed at Carrick last year, and managed without a car. But this year she had planned a short trip to Harris – or more particularly to ‘centres for woolliness’ – Tarbert, Urgha, and other places off the beaten track – and that requires a car. This was Mary’s first experience of roads where you either drove on the left – or straight down the middle, but after Faeroes sub-sea tunnels and cliff-edge roads, she was ready for the adventure, especially after getting a tutorial from us on passing-places and ferries!
Jacalyn and her husband have a small farm at the end of a long lane in the rolling countryside near Vacaville, California. Unsurprisingly, she keeps sheep, and a variety of sheep at that, including Herdwick and Jacob, and Evangeline and the other Llamas, too. And yes they have names! Jacalyn is fortunate to have nearby a network of others – including Mary – whose interests overlap, and who like to help eachother out. (You’d think there’d be something like that here in Uist, but no, not unless you were born and brought up here and have extended family.) Jacalyn spins and knits, of course, but above all she felts. In fact she has recently acquired a big machine for carding wool and producing long batts of wool perfect for felting. She does a lot of felting and a good deal of it is for one-off pieces specially commissioned. And pieces she’s made a few of, to sell at craft markets, or as gifts for friends. And on that subject, last year Jacalyn kindly gave us some coasters and place mats (though actually we use the place mats on our bed-side cabinets). This year, something really quite, well, out of the blue … a felt chess-set. A travelling chess set. Yes, that’s right! A travelling chess set, made of felt. The board is made of felt. The pieces are made of felt. And it all packs away – the pieces into two felt purses, both tucked into the folded felt ‘board’ and secured with two felt straps and press-studs. Okay, the press-studs aren’t of felt – nor the product leaflets. Look – see what I mean?! Gary Kasparov? He doesn’t have one of these!
Happy Woolly Adventures to all!
All mosaic photos in this post are by Jacalyn Post, with her kind permission. Other pictures are by himself, Jonathan Bridge