As I mentioned at the start of November (or Wovember as this month it’s all about celebrating wool) I’ve spent the last year knitting up swatches of undyed single breed yarn to help me learn about all the different and special qualities that the many breeds of British sheep have…. I always want to start singing “Getting to know you” from The King and I as soon as I start to hand squish a new yarn and cast on… and that’s what the swatching is all about really, saying “how do” and learning as much as you can about that yarn…..I started knitting the swatches from an idea by Louise of Knit British (there is a Ravelry group where you can read about how other people have found a particular yarn and compare notes)… and it’s been really interesting seeing how the yarn knits up, how tickly it is, how kitteny buttery soft or not it might be, how does it wear…
Now I’ll be quite honest and say before last year I’m not sure if I could actually name more than a couple of breeds of sheep apart from Shetland and Wensleydale (and that one I knew because I love Wensleydale cheese), and I’m now trying to learn as many as I can (ooohhh just thought to myself, what a great game could be made where you guess the name/identify the sheep breed, does it have horns, does it have black legs, face…. someone invent it please…Wovember ladies…perhaps one for next year?)….and the names of some of these lesser known breeds are wonderful sounding…. who wouldn’t want to knit with a Badger faced Welsh Mountain, or a Swaledale (I love the sound of saying that…. swaledale,swaledale,swaledale … feels like I’ve been at the wine) a Baldwen or a Teeswater….. one name that I heard mentioned a few times and which sounded lovely was the Castlemilk Moorit……
Velvety and chocolatey are two words that are used to describe it with good reason, it’s plump and mossy, smells divine, is a gorgeous chocolatey moussey pudding brown and has fair captured my heart like you wouldn’t believe…..this is definitely a yarn I’d like to use for a cardigan but I suspect I’d never want to take it off…. it is soft but not like a merino or Bluefaced Leicester, more like the softness underfoot as you step out walking on marashes or meadowland, there’s an ease to the yarn, which after a soak in warm waer becomes even more apparent…..unblocked the stitch definition is good but afterwards the yarn seems to want to felt slightly so the stitches snuggle up to each other, something with a very heavy or defined patttern would be great but as much as anything else, I think just plain stocking stitch for this “I can’t stop touching it” yarn suits it very nicely….this was a woollen spun blend by Blacker Yarns.
Llanwenog I knew pretty much nothing about, it’s very dry and crisp, not quite so soft as a Norfolk Horn and much more clean coloured, the stitches were really easy to see and so any stitch pattern was very clear, I think it would be a good yarn for anything with lots of twisting cables….. personally, I found it quite tickley, it’s a fat yarn and although I sort of became used to it pinned under my thermals I didn’t find it as comfortable as the Norfolk Horn, however worn on top of clothes it was warm and toasty and even after rubbing it furiously against itself and wearing it pinned against my side for a week there was no sign of pilling or haziness over the stitches….. so it’s certainly one to consider using for jumpers and cardigans. I don’t know if anyone is using this in a blend for dye work but it’s such a bright creamy white that I thnk it would be really good, a nice clean base to show off subtle shifts in hue especially with some of those softer plant dyes.
Probably one of the most interesting little sheep I’ve learnt about this year have been the North Ronaldsay sheep…they live on the island of Ronaldsay and eat seaweed….. they sound like something from a Joan Aiken story. I first read about them in “In the Footsteps of Sheep” by Debbie Zawinski and have been quite enchanted with them ever since….
The yarn I’ve been knitting with is a rather robust woollen spun blend by Blacker Yarns but a couple of knitters on Ravelry have said I should try this blend of North Ronaldsay from A Yarn from North Ronaldsay… because that seems a lot softer….it’s all to do with how the yarn is prepared, so I’ve got that on my list of yarns I’d like to try next year.
At the moment though my swatch is all ripped back as I’d thought knitting a seaweed stitch pattern would be fun but the yarn seems happier when the stitch pattern is bolder and better defined….however I thought that my stitches made were lovely and plump, very squishy and the fabric knitted was nice and sturdy, basically whatever you knit with this is going to keep you super toasty and snug….I can imagine it would be great for an outdoors jumper or cardigan if you want to wear something warm when you’re gardening but don’t want to wear a million layers, and actually this reminded me so much of my dad’s potting sheds, all those balls of twine slowly uncurling amongst seed potatoes and well oiled trowels and forks…..those fine almost wiry strands of kempy hair lifting and teasing upwards.
Another favourite I’ve discovered this year has been the Jacob. I’ve used this in my Nature’s shades shawl and the more times I wear it the softer it feels, also I’ve noticed after wearing it for half an hour or so, there is a soft and sheepy aroma around me which I like very much and it seems to encourage Bernard to jump up on my lap for a cuddle.
One of the lovely things about the Jacob sheep is that their fleece is made up of more than one colour so they are quite distinct looking, from a porridgey cream through a silver grey, a deeper slate grey and then the most chocolately dark brown/grey…..the lighter greys can look a bit cold indoors under artificial lighting, but outside they show up warm and beautiful.
I found the darkest shade a bit difficult to knit with as I found the stitches hard to see (I was trying to be a bit fancy with my choice in stitch pattern so totally my fault not the yarns) and there were a fair few kempy fibres lifting up through the stitches, but I loved how this felt after blocking and it’s definitely a favourite….the Jacob blend I’ve been using is by West Yorkshire Spinners.
Actually I noticed the lighter yarn had less kempiness about it, and suspect the porridgey one will have even less……the light grey certainly felt plumper and the knitted swatch seemed a bit more substantial, although this seemed to balance itself out a good deal with washing and blocking. This is such a nice feeling, warm to the touch yarn to use and the West Yorkshire Spinner’s range of this is really nicely priced if you need to watch what you spend but don’t want to use squeeky acrylic.
Like the Llanwenog I found this yarn has worn really well, (goodness knows what my postman thinks when I open the door and stand there with knitted swatches pinned all over….) no pilling and the knititng fabric just gets softer and nicer to wear…..a cardigan or jumper knitted from this would last for ages and be a first choice in comfort.
I used a lot of Jacob in my Nature’s shades shawl and it was a littel “hello, I’m woolly” when I first started wearing it, over s few weeks of wear it’s become a lot softer and is a pleasure to wrap around myself.
Another yarn I’ve bought but have yet to knit with is this wee ball of Shetland yarn from The Shetland Sheep Wool Company….. it smells nice and being yarn from Shetland fleece there is a nice little range of undyed all natural shades. The company is sort of local as it’s based over the Suffolk/Norfolk border in Bury St Edmunds, however and I only found this out after I’d bought the yarn and started playing about with it, the yarn itself comes from Shetland flocks that live all over the UK ….so the yarn itself is not actually local which is a shame as that is what I felt the packing/branding had implied….. anyway, not the end of the world by anymeans and it will be interesting to see how this Shetland yarn compares to yarn from Shetland based sheep.
It’s been quite a journey of discovery this year, slowly increasing my knitting skills but also gradually becoming aware of the different yarn qualities, which yarn blooms up nice, which wears well, which is tickly and lively, which yarn is quite and soft…. slow step by slow step I’m becoming more considerate in my yarn choices and even in which items I chose to knit.
Coming into knitting from this slightly different view point has really made me fall in love with what I’m able to create with a ball of yarn and a pair (or 3 or 4) pointy sticks, and has given me so many ways of feeling very connected with what it is I’m knitting and what I’m knitting it with.
As always, many many thanks go out to the wonderful team behind Wovember, for their inspiration and enthusiasm for all things truly sheepy and woolly…..and if you can also see what wovember means to other people just here…..