Denise: Here’s some of the colours I’ve been dyeing in the past few days. White sheeps wool – mostly Cheviot X – dyed with (clockwise from top left) Alkanet, Ragwort, Anatto, Cutch. Only the Ragwort required a mordant (alum in this case) to fix the colour. I shall soon start spinning these into yarn.
Denise: I dyed today – in fact I dyed twice; and in both case due to natural causes. First it was with Anatto and then Kutch,. I survived these strong doses, but there’s two batches of (formerly) white sheep’s wool now hung up to dry which are vibrantly coloured orange-red (Anatto – as photo) and mahogony brown (Kutch).
Denise: Here’s part of my firs Eriskay Gansey knitting project. You can see the band that goes across the chest: In Eriskay knitting the patterns above and below this line are completely different. The arms are different again, but I haven’t started them yet. This first gansey is meant to be for Jonathan, but at the moment I’m doubtful it will be big enough. Someone asked me if I would knit one for them: well I’m just learning myself, so I might well get quicker, but at my current rate I’d have to charge £400 to £600 (according to size) just for the labour to make it worthwhile, plus £50-£70 for the wool! This is by far the most intricate traditional style of gansey I’ve ever tried. Last Monday was supposed to be the last evening class, but we’ve all got so much more yet to do, and so much to learn, that the lessons have been extended until Christmas.
Jonathan: First off today was to deliver 32 skeins of our own Hebridean wool to Rona in Hacleit, Benbecula, as agreed payment for the Hebridean sheep we bought from her last year. She’s had to wait a year for her payment, but we’ve had to wait a year for the mill to process it! I also collected from Rona her fleeces from this year: there’s very little value in the raw fleeces, but Rona’s s happy first and foremost that the wool gets put to a good use: if the raw fleeces are of any particular value, then we pay her in vegetables, or preserves or something like that.
Next to the crofting township of Aird, also in Benbecula, for my first lesson on dry stane dyking. £30 for four 3-hour lessons. Learning from a recognised master – Neil MacPherson, hard-working crofter on the island of Benbecula, and also a talented dancer and teacher of (traditional) dancing. There were ten students, all very keen to learn, and believe it or not 4 of them were women, of ages from 20s to 60s. Most of my walling experience has been with repairing the high wall around our garden, but generally re-packing into the face of the wall stones that have fallen, and repointing with lime: very different to building up a dry wall from scratch! After registration and safety tips, we had a brief introduction to the types of stone we’d be working with (essentially square rock from the ground and round rock from the beaches!) and then got on with stripping turf from the line of the wall, setting-up A-frames, and then building up the wall. Three hours passed very quickly indeed! Thankfully it was, if cold, sunny bright and dry.
After that it was round to the croft next door to collect three lovely Hebridean ewe lambs I’d agreed to buy last time I was home. (I already have two from Catherine MacLennan. They have good pedigree sheep, have lovely fleeces, and have been very well looked after.) They were all ready and waiting for me, and I just needed to transfer them to my trailer, do the paperwork and pay up, and then we were away home. Oh, and with a bag of fleeces as well!
45 mins or so later, at the croft in Eriskay, I had to gently persuade the sheep out of the trailer: they are very used to people and were very easy to handle: I needed to get the details off their ear tags for my own records. The other sheep were the other side of the house, out of view, so I’ll be back tomorrow to see how they are integrating.
And finally back home to find the last batch of parcels I sent from Welwyn Garden City have arrived, and to unpack and find a home for all the contents. The oil-filled radiator I bought in Comet, Hatfield, is now here in my office, keeping my fingers warm as I type this.
Denise: I’ve now got more details on the wool yarn and needles required for the Eriskay knitting. Needles are very fine – 2 25 and made of rosewood at £18 a pair; and the yarn is an extremely fine multi-ply. However this is an important investment in a potentially high-value new area of work, and it is good to be learning something new.