Thursday, October 31, 2013

The end of a long road

So, we were barely back home from Shetland, than we were off again.

I had been intending to wait until I had some photographs for this post, either borrowed from the DSM or taken of my shopping haul, but then I thought, no, get it done.

I took no photographs myself. Well, only one or two with the iPad. I actually find this really interesting. I think, in hindsight, that I just wanted to be right there in every moment. That worked well, too. I had a wonderful time.

The DSM and I did have some rest time whilst classes were going on, for a couple of days at least. We used the little pool - very nice and relaxing. Sat around with our knitting chatting to whoever walked by, got to meals early for long lunchtime chats, joined one or two groups for pre-dinner.......nibbles.

We did have a bit of a blip on Wednesday, when one of our compatriots was unwell, and we went with her to Urgent Care. We still got to knit and chat! We had some small experience of the system, which was a help.

Thursday, of course, we shopped. Not the best market ever, but the places I wanted most to see there were, so I have come home well-equipped with Fiber Optic and Abstract Fiber fluff. Both of these do fabulous rich saturated colours, and FO specialise in graduated colour preps. We also got Muga and Eri silk preps, not available in the YK as far as I know. And fresh supplies of Socks that Rock yarn.

And we bought a Hansen minispinner. We had not intended to do that, the thought had never crossed our minds, but somehow we ended up with one. The thinking went, probably, a bit like this: we are not getting any younger; one day one of us might need an electric spinner; buying it in the US had to be cheaper than having it shipped; it would fit easily in to our luggage. Done! I will report further at a later date.

Both of us really enjoyed our Retreat sessions. Finally someone got me to understand the threading and weaving paths of a weavette/ZoomLoom, by patient teaching and a really neat teaching aid. And the nuno felt scarf class was super. Nicely paced, just the right amount of instruction to actual felting time, and a great, useable product at the end.

Before that, though, on the Thursday evening, we had a lengthy session chaired by Anita Osterhaug, editor of Handwoven. A very, very brave thing for her to do, I must say. No one was aggressive, but there was not surprisingly a certain level if, shall we say, hostility. Fortunately not directed at her, but at F&W, the new owners.

It seems that the plan is not after all to end SOAR, but to reinvent it in a new and improved format (sounds like one of those old soap powder ads!) maybe hotel accommodation, no meal package, lots of classes with no preset number you have to take, and not in the Autumn. (Spot a small problem right there!). We were asked what we would like to see. Well, um, everything that SOAR already us, including time of year - duh. Lots of time spent on...well, I forget the buzzwords.

Call me an old cynic, do. I am not feeling sanguine about it. For a start, it is extremely unlikely that anything will be arranged for 2014, so impetus will be lost. For a second, diluting the spinning focus, as we are told will happen, will lessen to attraction to many. For a lot of us, spinning is the primary devotion - we know we need to actually do something with the yarn we create, but we love being with our spinny kind. Yes, I do quite accept that things change, things come to an end, there is a natural evolution. But I suspect that this is more of an execution...........we shall see.

Then on Saturday evening, we had the Fashion Show. Sometimes of late years, this has been a bit of a tame event, but this year, stops were pulled out. There was a feeling, I am sure, that tribute had to be paid to what we were likely losing, so many did retrospectives, included the event itself in their scripts, all sorts of things. It was lovely.

Followed by the not so. Warning, I am going to be negative, and I know that not all will agree with me. We had a talk and a slideshow given by Linda Ligon, the founder of Spin Off, and hence SOAR. And for that, we owe her a huge debt. But what she gave us that evening was essentially, her holiday photographs, with very little commentary. These were, to my mind - and this may be a cultural thing - slightly voyeuristic. Interesting in a way, but we learned little or nothing of the real lives of those depicted, or how the old textile traditions (which should be respected, cherished and supported) blend with everyday, more modern and changing lives. And she did not mention, even obliquely, the fact that SOAR, a textile tradition, even if only of thirty one years standing, was coming to an end. I found this....very strange, amongst other things. Ah, well.

Am I glad I went? You bet I am. It was a great week. It ended with sadnesses, of course it did. Some of those people I spent the last week with, I shall never meet again. But I have had the chance to add a few new memories as well as talking over old ones, and to make a few new plans for replacing something lost with something found.

And to replenish my stash a bit.........

Before I finish, there is one more, very sad, thing to say. The very first time I went to SOAR, I met a woman - and I can remember the moment now - who became one of my friends outside of SOAR. We visited one another, went to Convergence a couple of times together, talked on the phone. Whilst in St Charles, I learned that during that very week, she died. So, my blog commenter 'anon', or 'me', one last spooky coincidence, eh? Rest in peace, finally, lady. I shall miss you.

(Because she never wanted to be public on the internet, I shall respect that here. Some of you may know who I am talking about, or contact me if you wish. CarolL on Rav will find me, or info at

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

A moment of peace

Not everyone will understand this. After a few days of intense experiences - teaching, seeing wonderful new places, meeting and chatting with lists of lovely people, all compounded by a few nights of less than perfect sleep and some early mornings - I decided to take a day off. The other three have driven off for the best fish and chips evah! and a look around the more northerly parts of the Shetland mainland, but I have elected to stay behind, rest, read and maybe spin a bit. I will also cook them a version of my cauliflower casserole........

The two teaching days were great. Perfect students, who listened, and who threw themselves into whatever they were offered with gusto. Some comparative newbies to spindles who progressed in leaps and bounds, two of the least experienced at the outset ending up with spinning cotton, no less. We had some interesting conversations, and I do believe all learned a lot. I do so hope that they all enjoyed it as much as we did.

Yesterday, we went down to Hoswick in the morning to a drop in spinning and knitting clinic with Elizabeth Johnson, and, we knew, a visit due from a SOAR friend of ours. Deborah Robson, in fact, one time editor of Spin Off, now well-known and revered for her wonderful book The Fleece and Fiber Source Book. (I apologise for the lack of links, but I find these a little clunky to manage on the iPad and I am still somewhat tired!). Check out Deb's blog, The Independent Stitch for her island adventures.

The photograph below shows one of Elizabeth's spindles, which was found in a cottage or croft near her after the death of the elderly lady who lived there. Sometimes when you pick up a spinning tool, I get a strange but very good feeling from it, and I did with this. It felt smooth, satiny and warm, it also gave a sense of peace and calm. Very good. I also learned what the Shetlanders mean by driftwood - I had been told the day before of wheels made from driftwood, and my brain had put my usual southern interpretation on it, with so what bizarre results! But apparently, ships from Russia and Norway pass the islands laden with timber, which as it cannot be containerised, can sometimes be washed overboard. This fetches up on beaches, and is claimed for making all the usual things that would be made from wood that is not found in any other way here, as there are (very very few) trees!

Anyway, it was a splendid visit, with several other friends and acquaintances appearing, lots of terrific information from Elizabeth, and a warm welcome from the organiser of that event and the classes taking place there that day including an excellent homemade lunch.

We then set off back to Lerwick to pick up the bus for our trip to the Jameison factory up at Sandness, meeting another friend at the same time. Very interesting tour, with an excellent wee giftie at the end of it. But what impressed me most was that one of our friends had a bit if a diabetic wobble and had forgotten to pick up her emergency banana. Asked if there were any staff biscuits that could be raided, we were told, after a search, no, but someone had been dispatched to the shop in the adjacent village to buy some. And we were very firmly told that payment could not possibly be accepted.

All our interactions with people in Shetland have found them courteous and friendly, but this was extremely so, and we were all very impressed and touched. Such a good day all round! Finished off by a very nice meal in Lerwick before driving home.

I am including a photo of my sister, knitting. Even though you can't really see her face, she will kill me if she ever sees this. Fortunately, I am pretty certain she doesn't read this, or any blogs......

Wednesday, October 02, 2013


It has been a long time in the planning, but we are finally here!

We had an easy drive up to Aberdeen, staying overnight at the hotel in New Lanark. We didn't look around much - there was just time to settle in and have dinner when we arrived, and it was raining the next morning. Ah, well, another time.

First objective ticked off the next morning, by visiting a distillery very near to our route. Called Tulliebardine, it is apparently the youngest of them, and is making something of a resurgence by specialising in single malts with a 'finish'. We chose Burgundy and sherry, both lovely. Yes, they did let you taste! We are going to have to go to a specialist whisky shop in York to restock, or alternatively buy it from Amazon. The modern world, eh?

Our ferry trip was amazingly calm and uneventful. We had an unthreatening meal and a glass of wine, and I crawled in to my bunk just in case, whilst Pete went off and knitted somewhere. I even slept quite well. I am far, far less sanguine about prospects for the return trip though, unless the current gale blows itself out!

After being wet and foggy when we arrived, the weather turned positively brilliant. We have had three days of mostly sunshine during which we decided to see as much of Mainland as possible. And it is all all amazing as we had been lead to believe, quite stunning in fact. Of course, being stuffed to the gunnels with fibre on the hoof does help endear a place to you. I have seen some white fleeces that I could have leapt out of the car and snipped off with my scissors, the quality was so good.

Lots of coloured sheep, too. We did actually screech to a halt at one point when we drove past a pen full of all the colours that you could imagine. We spent so long gawping that the farmer came out, and I fully expected to be politely or otherwise asked to move along, but just the opposite! He described all the varieties there for us, told us who was related to who over several generations, explained the different numbers and types of horns depending on the breeding, and loads more stuff I sadly can't remember. So friendly and even better, he is happy to post fleece off to people who email him. A real treat!

So, sheep, Thelwell ponies that I wish I could take home in my suitcase with me they are so ridiculously cute, ravens and mergansers - nothing more exotic yet. Signs by the roadside saying, beware, otters crossing, but no otters. The DSM did spot a seal, but I didn't. Still, there is time yet. We did come across the caravanserai of the crew filming the next series of 'Shetland' but saw no action - maybe they will be including Wool Week? Who yarn bombed the Kirk? I think not........

We are going down to Sumburgh to pick up the other two tomorrow, and would like to have a look at Jarlshof. Somehow, I fear that it will be too windy for such an exposed site, but I might be wrong. There is so much to see, even without WW, I somehow don't think we shall be bored.

We have a reasonable internet connection, but it is taking the DSM ages to upload each days batch of his photos. I will wait to do mine till I get home, and make do for now with iPad ones. Which have been harder and harder to take as the wind has got stronger and stronger!