The shepherdess of the Baddinsgill flock talks about the arrival of Autumn and knitterly delights
Noticeably now the days are drawing in. I've had the fire on for a good while now in the evenings as the temperature begins to drop. The view from my windows look out over the Bothy field and at the bottom is a stretch of trees whose leaves are tinted orange, a beautiful reminder that autumn with its crisp frosty mornings is on its way. It's not unusual to hear the geese in the evenings as they make their way to the reservoir for the night, enjoying stunning Scotland on their winter migration vacation. After all, Scotland did just win most beautiful country in the world in the Rough Guide reader's poll, something us Scottish are feeling rather smug if completely unsurprised about. But anyway, knitting is quite possibly my favourite way to spend the evenings of autumn, sitting by the fire with a cup of cocoa after my son is asleep in bed, designing and creating an array of hats and jumpers for the winter months ahead.
Earlier in the week I discussed shearing. Once all the fleeces are carefully rolled and the bags are sown shut, the British Wool Marketing Board will come and collect them for sale through auction, along with all the other wool produced in Britain. This year, however, we carefully selected a dozen or so fleeces for a new project for a close friend of mine. She wanted to try to produce a Scottish Blackface yarn that was comfortable, durable, had good stitch definition, would stand up to the Scottish elements and in a range of highly attractive tweed colours.
The fleeces were driving over to the mill in Duns, a little town in a hollow surrounded by the most brilliantly heather clad hills you've ever seen. The Borders Mill is a family business, operating several incredibly technical and intricate machines. They talked us through how the wool is first washed to remove the lanolin which coats the fleece fibre to make it waterproof and weatherproof for our sheep. The fleece is then passed through a machine which uses agitation to seperate out any vegetation or longer courser guard hairs. What is left is the return, usually around 60%. This beautiful clean soft wool is then dyed, carded to align all the fibres, and spun into a single thin strand. This strand makes up the basis of the yarn wieght, with various combinations of these strands being twisted together to create the finished product. This yarn is then finished in a skein, which is a twisted knot of wool, and is ready to be knitted into garments for the colder months ahead.
Knitting is coming back into fashion, and I strongly recommend trying it as a way to relax. And besides, there are few things more satisfying than wearing a jumper you knitted. Likewise, there are unfortunately few things more soul destroying than watching your son wreck a jumper you knitted. But that's what's so brilliant about this new Scottish Blackface yarn. It stands up to the abuse my son gives his clothes. His little jumper has been in and out of the hen house to collect (and unintentionally smash) the eggs, it's been tested by little puppy teeth as Tigger and my son go exploring and playing at the bottom of the garden, it keeps him toasty warm out checking the sheep with me, it brushes clean after the sloppy mud pie ingredients he uses to make rather disgusting culinary creations for the chickens have dried, and it makes him really cosy to snuggle next to in the evenings when we read our bed time story together. I simply love that my son is walking around in a jumper made from fleece that kept my sheep warm last winter. If it's good enough for them, it's good enough for my son.
. Our own Blackface yarn can be bought from my friends wonderfully addictive website lifelongyarns.com - be prepared to empty your piggy bank, it's compulsive. The travellingbasket.co.uk stocks some undyed native breed yarn from a local flock, also processed by thebordermill.co.uk. And do get in touch directly with the mill if you have a few fleeces yourself that you don't know what to do with. They are very helpful and you won't regret it, I promise.