Sunday, 29 November 2009

Winter Arrives on the Isle of Harris

Winter is here - its official! Got up this morning to the sight of snow on the Clisham and surrounding smaller hills. And its jolly cold too. Took the dogs for a run up on the peat road and had to turn back because my ears were hurting with the cold! Time to seek out the sheepskin Biggles hat again.

On a search through my photos I found one of the new linsey-woolsey I picked up from the mill a week ago tomorrow. Pictures of the making of this tweed are further back in the blog, so here is the finished result. It is just gorgeous - warm and tweedy but with the added linen touch to give it some body. I am going to save up and have some made into a jacket. Meantime, the first visitor to the loomshed who saw it snapped up a couple of metres, so that's good news! Anyone interested in buying some, just drop me an email .

So, the sun is shining, the hens are laying (well, sort of... we went down to one egg only on Tuesday, but on Wednesday it was up to ten again), the turkey is prancing around outside, the dogs are quiet and asleep in front of the fire just now. Blackberry and apple crumble in the oven along with a nice joint of venison. I love living on Scalpay - it's my favourite place.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Little Visitor

For the past few days we have been entranced to have a little visitor staying with us. Her name is Snowy - after the dog in "Tintin" and she is a baby West Highland Terrier. This is a piccie of Snowy relaxing with her new friends. See how big Pippin has got now - he's on the right - getting bigger than Bramble and built like a real heavyweight. He has been in his element playing with Snowy and they are all getting on so well together. Snowy is going home tomorrow and we're going to miss her tremendously. The house will be so quiet without her. Missing from the picture is Heather who was not a happy bunny when Snowy arrived and flounced off in a huff to stay with her daddy!
Another bit of news of the day - some of our Hebridean Tweed is going to be used by Nikki McAlinden of . If you haven't seen the humpties, then do visit her site. The humpties are lots of fun and I believe the Hebridean Chocolate Company is going to make chocolate humpties - can't wait for that! Hebridean Chocolates is a new business and are still developing their website. When it is up and running I'll be mentioning it again.
I'm also putting Nikki in touch with Gedgrave Wensleydales so she can use Wensleydale fleece as humpty hair. I think it is going to be sensational.
Yesterday afternoon, in amongst all the heavy rain and November wind, we had a visit from Mary Norton from Grimsay North Uist, who is part of a group who are carrying out a feasibility study to start a fibre processing mill on Uist. She happened to be passing and dropped in as she knew I was very interested in getting commercial short contract spinning available locally.
It's a fascinating project, and I do hope that things work out for them. It's an exciting time to be living here in the Outer Hebrides. So many new ideas are developing and this is making a difference to existing businesses - perking us up a bit and making us re-assess what we are doing. If only there were more hours in the day, or even days in the week!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

A Crofters Work is never done!

The weather today has been simply appalling. Constant very heavy rain, strong wind and really uncomfortable to be outside. Lots of people might say "Lovely weather for ducks" so, to prove the point, here is a photo of our ducks this morning wallowing in a mud pool!

At this time of year we are waiting for the lorry to come and pick up our wool clip which was sheared in June/July. As is usual, we are so well-organised that we have to do it the day before and, as usual, the weather was against us. We backed the pick-up close to the side of the house
and rolled fleeces on the tailgate. As registered sheep producers with more than five sheep we have to send our annual clip to the British Wool Board (the nearest depot to us is at Evanton near Dingwall). We are able to buy and sell our Hebridean fleeces as we please since, as rare or vulnerable breeds, they are exempt from the usual rules. The reason producers have to trade through the Wool Board is so that the wool can be traded in world markets in larger quantities than would be the case if individuals negotiated to sell their own clips. This results in a better price for raw wool for the producers and accurate statistics being collected to monitor
the industry.
Here is a potted version of how to roll a fleece to BWB standards- just in case you ever need to!

First of all you grab a fleece and shake it out to check its got no daggy (pooey) bits in it.

Then you spread out the fleece, cut side uppermost. This is for hill sheep like blackface, cheviot and swaledales. If you have lowland sheep like dorsets, romneys etc. then you lay it cut side down.

Fold the sides of the fleece to the middle....

... and roll it up, making a hole in the fleece and tucking in the tail wool to keep it tied together.

Finally the rolled fleece is packed into a large wool bag called a "sheet" which is supplied by the wool board. The top of the sheet is stitched shut, not forgetting to put your name and address on a label inside the bag, and a swing label on the outside to identify the producers group it belongs to.
Here on Scalpay our producers group is called "Scalpay Township" and though there are only three crofts putting away wool now, in the old days every croft would be sending away its wool each year. It is all collected together when the lorry from Hebrides Haulage in Stornoway comes to our part of Harris and transported to Stornoway where it goes across the ferry to Ullapool and ends up in Evanton.
This is the story of our wool clip. I hope you have enjoyed it.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

New Bags made by Calana Crafts, woven by me.

A lovely surprise when Joan from Calana Crafts ( called to say she had finished some bags for me.

So yesterday, on our way back from Stornoway I called in to see. They are gorgeous! Linsey Woolsey - linen warp and wool weft, some Harris Wool and the others our Hebridean wool from our black sheep. 6 x 6 herringbone and very nicely made. Magnetic popper at the top, co-ordinating lining and fully labelled with both the Scalpay Linen and Masters of Linen Min. 50% linen sew-in labels. I probably won't ever weave exactly this fabric again, so now is a good time to snap up a bargain for Christmas..... £40 each with free postage anywhere.

At some point these will end up on Etsy - but for now, if anyone is interested, just wack off an e-mail to me and we can complete by Paypal.

Purple Fuschia and red Harris wool weft with linen warp. 6 x 6 herringbone. Flat bag with magnetic popper closing and loop handles.

Grey and Brown Hebridean weft with white and natural linen warp. 6 X 6 Herringbone with the point in the centre of the colour. Magnetic popper closing. Flat bag with loop handles.

Yellow and red Harris Wool weft over a white linen warp. Flat bag, magnetic popper closing and loop handles.

Grey and Brown Hebridean wool spun from local fleeces together with a white and natural striped warp. You won't find this anywhere else! The point of the herringbone pattern is in the centre of the colour stripe which adds to its appeal. Magnetic popper closing, box bottom and loop handles.

Purple Fuschia and red Harris Wool weft with white linen warp. Matching purple fuschia lining. Box bottom, magnetic popper closing and loop handles.

Not great colour reproduction here - it's a lemon yellow and red Harris wool weft over a white linen warp. Box bottom and magnetic popper closing. The overall effect reminds me of macaroni cheese (with added tomatoes of course!). Yum yum.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

A bit of a Grizzle

I try not to moan about things - especially about things that are outwith our control, but today I am going to have a bit of a grizzle about our local electricity supplier - Scottish and Southern Electric, also incorporating Hydro-Electric.

We have been having a lot of refurbishment done on our light poles on the island - a great idea as it can be inconvenient when the lines fall down or break in the bad weather and we are without power. However, the SSE do think they have a divine right to go on our common grazings with diggers and an assortment of tracked vehicles - get stuck, dig themselves out, make large holes which fill with water, cut great swathes of devastation amongst our heather mooorland and, worst of all, knock down our gorgeous hand-built dry-stone dyke which has stood for generations dividing the moorland from the lighthouse precincts. Several years ago they took a digger through it and, under protest, piled the stones back up again in a very rough way. Now we see, they are at it again......

This used to be a track which could be followed through a small gate in the wall and onwards to the lighthouse......

Now, as you can see above, it looks like a pile of rubble. (Bramble the dog is standing beside the wall to show you that it is about five feet high).

And here, above, is the remains of our peat bank, where many generations of Fergusons laboriously dug their fuel for winter warmth. Next year we will be stocking it with fish and looking for a new peat bank!

Thank goodness the sheep are off grazings for the winter and aren't in danger of drowning in the ruts and new soft bits that have been created.
OK - rant over.
Today I've been stocking up the Etsy shop with lots more wool and also my new linen. Why not take a look and see......

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Linsey-Woolsey #2

After a couple of dreary days, it only rained a few times today. The croft is starting to dry out a bit thanks goodness.

Spent most of the day in the loomshed beaming, tyeing in, pulling through and starting off the new cloth.

This is the blue and white 10 lea linen warp going onto the beam. Looks like a football scarf!

And here is the warp tied onto the loom and with some weft added. Same as the last linsey-woolsey (2 shots Grey and 2 shots Brown Hebridean wool). Looks very distinctive. We like the white stripe and think we may stick to using white as the alternate stripe in the rest of the range. We still have the red, the purple and the lime green linen to use. At nearly 8kg of weft in each cloth, I'm hoping I'll have enough Hebridean wool to last out the whole caboodle!

Tomorrow we are going to the Shawbost Mill - Harris Tweed Hebrides - to pick up the last linen they finished for us and drop off Linsey Woolsey #1. Carloway Mill are having carder problems so we are still with our fingers crossed that the Hebridean/Cheviot fibre will become a yarn for us.
Ordered some more fine lurex thread off e-bay today for twisting up with the handspuns. Got a cone of iridescent lurex the other week and its gorgeous - not too in your face - gives a lovely sheen to the yarn rather than an explicit sparkle. Anyway, decided to get some chocolate brown and bronze to jazz up the Hebridean wool and some black just for fun!
I can thoroughly recommend: they have a range of lurex threads plus machine knitting yarns, wool dyes and lots of other nice things. Well worth having a browse.
Spinning tonight I think! Going to try spinning 2 of the Katre's Norwegian pre-spun together and then twisting it with something glittery again. Am going to try a tighter twist than usual so it will be good for socks.