Here are my region-specific guides to yarn producers, knitting designers, craft shops and museums of material culture so that readers can go on their own journeys of woolly discovery. Want to knit a stranded colourwork sweater in yarn from Shetland or socks inspired by the Solway? You’ve come to the right place to begin new journeys in knitting. I’ll be updating this page throughout September 2020 to celebrate the paperback publication of This Golden Fleece, working north to south across the UK.
- Ripples Crafts
Based in beautiful Assynt in the north-west Highlands, Helen Lockhart at Ripples Crafts hand-dyes yarn to reflect the colours of her surroundings. A perfect way to get a feel for the stunning landscape of northern Scotland from afar, you can buy lace, 4-ply, DK and aran-weight yarn direct from her website: https://www.ripplescrafts.com/. Helen also offers a rewinding service for anyone who needs their skeins rewound into balls; prices start from 75p.
- The Caledonian Wool Co.
The Caledonian Wool Co is a new arrival on the Highland yarn seen and this Fort William-based company specialises in the squishiest of Scottish yarns, hand-spun woollen yarn, handmade buttons, and traditional craft courses. Company owner Jam is also the inventor of Knitted Landscape Kits: lovely packages of handspun yarn that can be knitted up to make beautiful land- and sea-scaped inspired by the Hebrides, Highlands, and Scotland’s heather moorland. She even dyed one specially to match the knitted landscape on the front of This Golden Fleece (see above)! To get your hands on one of these or to buy any of the other Caledonian Wool Co. goodies visit https://www.caledonianwool.com/.
- Gairloch Museum https://www.gairlochmuseum.org/
Gairloch Museum in Wester Ross is home to a fabulous collection of Gairloch stockings, a particular type of stranded colourwork kilt sock developed to support local crofters in the lean years of the 1840s potato famine. Gairloch Heritage Museum opened in 1977 at Achtercairn Steading in Gairloch, but in 2020 reopened in a former Anti-Aircraft Operations Room thanks to huge fundraising efforts by local people and over 20 significant donations to raise the £2.4million needed to transform this Cold War-era nearly-ruin into a fantastic modern museum.
- Loch Ness Knitting
Located in Drumnadrochit on the shores of Loch Ness, Loch Ness Knitting is owned and run by Dwynwen Hopcroft, who is passionate about creating knitwear and yarn inspired by the landscape of the Highlands. Dwynwen has also produced a Highland Yarn Guide with detailed information about indie dyers, courses, yarn festivals and local yarn stores to guide you through your own Highland fibre journey. Loch Ness Knitting yarn colours are created in sustainable partnership with local kitchens and woodlands, and you can buy them, along with handknits, patterns, online courses, and books, from the LNK website: https://www.lochnessknitting.com/
- Shilasdair Yarns https://shilasdair-yarns.com/
Committed to producing gorgeous yarns using British wool and natural dyes, this family-run company was set up over forty years ago by Eva Lambert. Eva’s knowledge of botanical dyeing is exceptional and now Simon and Kirsty have taken over Eva’s world-renowned business. Though Shilasdair Yarns are based in Waternish on the Isle of Skye, you can buy yarn, socks, kits, notions and direct from their website: I’ve not made anything from Shiladair Yarn (yet), but would love some of their Coara (70% Blue faced Leicester/ 30% Shetland) to experiment in some colourwork using naturally dyed yarn.
- Birlinn Yarns
The Birlinn Yarn Company is run by artist and crofter Meg Rodger (pictured, centre). ‘Birlinn’ refers to the specially-adapted boats the Vikings used to sail in the waters of the Hebrides. It’s a well-chosen name: Meg’s Hebridean sheep are seafaring, as they graze on tiny islands and have be taken there by boat. I used Birlinn Yarns ‘Speckled Hen’ marled yarn, a mix of Cheviot and Hebridean wool, in the Gairloch stockings I knitted during my research for This Golden Fleece. You can buy 4-ply yarn in natural and dyed shades, patterns, and Harris Tweed tote bags made from Meg’s fleece via the Birlinn Yarns website: https://www.birlinnyarn.co.uk/
- Uist Wool https://www.uistwool.com/
Uist Wool on Grimsay is community mill that spins only undyed yarns from breeds including Hebridean, Bowmont, and Cheviot. Opened in 2016, Uist Wool has a strong social ethos, ensuring that the crofters who supply fleece to the mill receive a fair price for their yarn. They also aim to educate and inspire people to make things from Uist Wool. Their yarns have evocative Gaelic names, carefully chosen to reflect their particular qualities. I was there during a reothart or spring tide, the times of the month when there is the greatest distance between the waters at high and low tide. The obverse is conntraigh or neap tide, when there is little variance, and I left with a skein of this beautiful yarn, along with one of their 4ply Canach yarn in Corca (‘oat’), which became part of This Golden Fleece’s Gairloch Stockings.
- Kildonan Museum https://kildonanmuseum.co.uk/ :
Though it is currently closed due to Covid, you can still enjoy treasures from this South Uist museum via their website: https://kildonanmuseum.co.uk/category/collections. Kildonan Museum is home to the knitted villages of Flora Macdonald, alongside displays about traditional dyeing techniques that demonstrate how black, white and yellow crotal (lichen), old man’s beard, bog myrtle, and bladderwrack were used historically in the Hebrides. Uist Craft Producers sell a variety of handmade items at the museum, and elsewhere across the islands, and you find out more about them here: http://www.uist-craft-producers.org.uk/
- The Hebridean Woolshed
The Hebridean Woolshed is at the tip of South Uist, run by Denise and Jonathan who spin and dye yarn from their flock of Hebridean and Cheviot sheep. Denise has her own dye shed, stuffed with boxes and bags full of things to use in dyeing, including shells from nuts at Christmas, onion skins, dried beetles, sawdust from the mantelpiece. Nothing is wasted and everything has the potential to add colour to their fleeces! Many of the plant dyes come from An Garradh Mhor, the big walled garden that surrounds their house. Denise also sells beautifully soft Hebridean lambswool yarn, the first inky-black clip of her shearlings. Some of it just had to make its way to Fife with me… and you can order yarn from them via their website: https://biggarden.scot/hebrideanwoolshed/
- Eriskay Shop
Eriskay Shop sells just about everything – including sample geansaidh: handknitted ganseys. The island of Eriskay developed its own style of gansey knitting during the twentieth cetury, and Eriskay ganseys are highly sought-after, with an eighteen-month waiting list. The most famous Eriskay gansey was knitted in 2015 by Uist’s Marybell MacIntyre for none other than the Pope!
North Ronaldsay or Orkney sheep
The Orkney islands are home to a unique breed of sheep – small, hardy and short-tailed, North Ronaldsay (also known as Orkney) sheep live off nothing but seaweed. Confined to the island’s shore by a six-foot stone wall or dyke since 1832, they have adapted well to a diet which is high in iodine but low in copper. When freshly shorn their fleece is very sandy, but once it has been processed at the mill on North Ronaldsay it is wonderfully soft and knits up into light and warm garments. You can order North Ronaldsay yarn here https://www.northronaldsayyarn.co.uk/index.asp.
There is another flock of Orkney sheep kept on the neighbouring island of Auskerry and you can buy sheepskins, blankets and yarn from their flock from their website http://isleofauskerry.com/.
To find out more about Orkney’s unique ovine heritage hop on over to the Orkney Sheep Foundation’s website: https://www.theorkneysheepfoundation.org.uk/
When I visited North Ronaldsay in 2017 I bought a pair of mittens which I love wearing in the winter, and also a skein of soft sand-coloured yarn which I made up into this cabled hat to match the mitts shown above.
Borerays are the UK’s rarest sheep breed, with around 500 breeding females. This short-tailed horned breed originated on the St Kildan island of Boreray, and shares most of its roots with now extinct Scottish Dunface, a type of sheep virtually unchanged since the Bronze Age. The ancestors of Jane Cooper’s flock at Burnside Farm on the Orkney West Mainland were taken from St Kilda as part of a research project by the Animal Breeds Research Organisation (now the Roslin Institute) in the 1970s, and Jane has carefully husbanded her flock to ensure that they can withstand all that the Orcadian weather can throw at them. Some fleeces are processed by the Natural Fibre Company, and the resulting fibres combined with Shetland and Soay wool to produce a soft, grippy yarn that is perfect for lace knitting: Blacker Yarn’s St Kilda Laceweight, which you can order here: https://www.blackeryarns.co.uk/yarn-ranges/st-kilda-laceweight, and you can find out more about Burnside Boreray flock and their fleece and mutton here: http://www.orkneyboreray.com/
The Firstborn Hap I knitted for my daughter uses St Kilda Laceweight yarn in Stac Lee and Isle of Dun – yarn given to me by generous Jane that was the last of the first ever batch spun from her Borerays (one of which I am cuddling in the above photo).
Northern Lace is run by Elizabeth Lovick, a designer of open-work or knitted lace patterns who lives just outside Kirkwall. She learned to knit at her grandmother’s side as a toddler and, after a career in teaching, now specialises in bringing the patterns of the Northern Isles – particularly ganseys, lace and Fair Isle colourwork – to new audiences. As well as designing her own pieces using traditional techniques, Liz also write and publishes books and articles about sheep, knitting and fibre history, and you can buy all of these from her website https://northernlace.co.uk/. Liz’s St Kilda Scarf was the first lace-work pattern I completed, using a single skein of Blacker’s St Kilda Laceweight https://www.blackeryarns.co.uk/yarn-ranges/st-kilda-laceweight yarn.
The Orkney islands have inspired many knitwear designers including Judith Glue https://www.judithglue.com/ and Quernstone Knitwear http://quernstone.co.uk/, both of which sell knitted garments handmade in Orkney. Other fibre artists inspired by Orkney include Marie Wallin, whose Orkney cardigan is available to download for free here https://knitrowan.com/en/free-patterns/orkney.
The Shetland archipelago is made up of 16 inhabited and over 100 uninhabited islands at the northern-most tip of Scotland. Both Fair Isle (stranded colourwork) and lace (open-work) knitting have long made up a large part of the economy of Shetland, and today there is a vibrant knitting and wool-working culture thriving in these islands. There’s such wealth of fibre riches in these islands, both historic and contemporary, that I struggled to restricted myself to a Top Ten – but here they are:
1) Shetland Wool Week: a world-renowned celebration of Britain’s most northerly native sheep, the Shetland textile industry, and the rural farming community on Britain’s northern-most islands. Since its conception in 2009, Shetland Wool Week has grown into an internationally acclaimed event. The week-long festival includes exhibitions, classes, tours and talks, covering subjects including weaving, spinning, dyeing, Fair Isle and lace knitting. Because of Covid-19, there’s no festival in 2020, but the team behind it have put together a lot of resources to help you enjoy Shetland’s woollen culture virtually, including a free Katie’s Kep hat pattern to get your knitting and copies of their Wool Week Annual, beautiful books full of patterns and interesting articles . You can download the Katie’s Kep pattern and find out more about SWW on their website https://www.shetlandwoolweek.com/
2) Jamieson & Smith
Jamieson & Smith, also known as Shetland Wool Brokers Ltd, buy around 80% of the wool produced in the Shetland, and sells a fantastic range of 100% wool yarns in a rainbow of colours. The company was founded in the 1930s and now has a cluster of buildings on the North Road in Lerwick which includes wool sheds for sorting fleece, a renovated church now used a yarn store, and a 1920s police station for its store and showroom. You can also order yarn, needles, knitting belts, books and patterns from their website shetlandwoolbrokers.co.uk
I’ve found that J&S yarn is soft, durable and perfect for both lace knitting and stranded colourwork, and here are a selection of the items I’ve made using their yarn (Firstborn Hap, Shetland Memories Scarf, Bousta Beanie and Tveir gloves).
3) Jamieson’s of Shetland
Founded in 1893, Jamieson’s of Shetland produce beautifully soft yarn spun in Shetland. They do a huge range of colours, particularly in their Spindrift (4-ply) and Double Knitting weights. They have a shop on Commercial Street in Lerwick, and you can also order from their website – they post worldwide: https://www.jamiesonsofshetland.co.uk/
I really enjoy working with the tremendous range of colours Jamieson’s produce, and I’ve used their yarn in both my Shetland Memories Scarf (along with J&S) and in my Hope Tree Yoke, the pattern for which was included in the 2018 Shetland Wool Week annual.
4) Uradale Yarns
Shetland’s only organic yarn producer, Uradale, specialised in yarns from native Shetland sheep and all aspects of its livestock management are carried out under certification by the Scottish Organic Producers Association. Their sheep are bred moorit (brown), grey, black and white, and Uradale Organic knitting yarns reflect the natural colours of this flock. These fleece colours remain unbleached through the scouring process, and all ‘non-sheepy’ colours are organically dyed to reflect the flowers and mosses of Uradale Farm. Spun by Alan Barraclough of New Lanark, Uradale offers jumper weight, double knit, aran and chunky yarns which you can order through their website. I’ve not yet had the pleasure of knitting a garment from Uradale Yarn, but hope to change that soon… – https://www.uradale.com/
5) Foula Wool
The island of Foula (‘bird isle) lies to the south-west of the Shetland mainlaind, and is the most isolated inhabited island in Britain. Its sheep have also been kept separate from the rest of the world, resulting in a unique strain of the Shetland breed with exceptionally fine wool. The annual wool clip from Foula is small but beautiful, and you can order some of it through the Foula Wool website: https://foulawool.co.uk/
When I was last in Shetland I bought two soft skeins of Foula Wool, in Fawn and Light Grey. I think these might become a pair of mittens, perfect for warming cold hands on winter days…
6) Donna Smith Designs
I attended one of Donna’s lace-knitting classes as part of Shetland Wool Week 2017, and learned so much about the construction and design of Shetland’s traditional open-work haps and shawls. Donna is not only a designer who combines knitting heritage with contemporary style, but she is also from a farming family who use the fleece from their croft to make their own beautiful yarn. You can order yarn, patterns and gorgeous knitting accessories from her website. The Firstborn Hap I made for my daughter is based on the techniques I learned from Donna: https://www.donnasmithdesigns.co.uk/
7) Wilma Malcolmson, Shetland Designer – https://www.shetlanddesigner.co.uk/
Wilma is known for the skill she brings to stranded colourwork design, and her studio – 10 miles south of Shetland’s main town, Lerwick – is usually open for visitors to see how she works in capturing the natural hues and rich contrasting colours of Shetland, and to buy original knitwear in all-natural fibres. Fortunately you can also buy her work online, and sweaters, cushions, patterns and yarn kits are all available to buy from her website. She is also the 2020 Shetland Wool Week patron, so whilst the evnt itself is not able to take place, you can still enjoy her design work by knitting the hat she designed for it: Katie’s Kep. And her grand-daughter Terri (pictured, right) is also a fantastic designer of Fair Isle knitting patterns!https://terrilaura.co.uk/
8) Hazel Tindall
One of the world’s fastest knitters, able to knit an impressive 240 stitches in just three minutes, Hazel combines pattern design, commission knitting, teaching and research in her work to make Shetland’s knitting culture available and accessible to people from around the world. I am in awe of Hazel’s speed and skill when it comes to knitting, and her generosity to other knitters in so readily sharing what she has learned and mastered. You can order videos of her techniques via her website, as well as downloading patterns for gloves, hats, jumpers, cushion covers, headbands – and more… https://www.hazeltindall.com/
9) Shetland Museum and Archives
This amazing resource, housed in a beautiful modern building on Lerwick’s harbourfront, was somewhere I spent a lot of time during my research. As well as being home to a fascinating museum, full of not just knitting treasures but also a wealth of other items relating to Shetland’s history, there is also a fantastic archive, lovely café, and plenty of exhibition space – all of which gets totally taken over during Shetland Wool Week, which the museum and its staff manage. You can loose yourself in their online photo archive, order some of their gorgeous publications (including the now-iconic Shetland Wool Week annual), and find out more about their important work in preserving Shetland’s unique heritage, all via their website https://www.shetlandmuseumandarchives.org.uk/
10) Shetland Textile Museum
Along the waterfront from the Aberdeen-Lerwick ferry terminal is the historic Böd of Gremista, which was once a fishing station but, following a campaign to save the then-derelict building in the 1980s, is now home to the Shetland Textile Museum. The museum’s collection goes back to the 1870s and includes Fair Isle knitting, Shetland lace, Shetland taatit rugs and woven tweed, alongside textile tools, papers, and knitting patterns. They also have a great shop selling the best of Shetland knitwear from today’s designers – take a look online at https://www.shetlandtextilemuseum.com/