Saturday, June 27, 2015


Last evening I collapsed into bed before 8:00. Now it's 4:30 in the morning and I've been WIDE AWAKE for hours. I'll probably crash again mid-afternoon today. Jet lag can really be a bitch sometimes.

You may have gleaned from my most recent (and brief) post that in Scotland, sheep are everywhere. Particularly on the Isle of Skye, we noticed them roaming the hills and fields, grazing by the side of the road. We saw sheep along our hiking trails and tufts of wool caught in the heather on the hillsides and stuck in fences. It must be paradise to be a sheep on the Waternish peninsula on the Isle of Skye. The view! The grass! The freedom!

Despite the enormous number of sheep in Scotland (just under 7 million, according to this website), and despite the apparently thriving wool and textile industry, I came across surprisingly few yarn shops. Now, this was a family trip for us to hike and explore a new country. Shopping really wasn't a part of it at all. But after a quick online search, I came up with one yarn shop that I insisted we visit: the Skye Shilasdair Shop Dyehouse and Exhibition.

That's a long name for a little place, but it was charming and exquisite. To get there, we drove five or so miles on a single lane road, then down a long gravel driveway before arriving at this little stone hut by the sea.

When we walked inside, we saw this:

Hand knit products for sale.

And this:

Piles of beautifully hand-dyed yarn using natural dyes, many of them from plants and sources native to the island (yellows and oranges in particular). In fact, the name "Shilasdair" is Gaelic for the yellow iris flower, one of the plants used in her dye house. The yarn in the picture above isn't Scottish fiber; it's a luxury blend of alpaca, cashmere and angora. It feels divine and comes in a few different weights. She also had hand-dyed sock yarn, worsted weight merino and lace weight silk/merino. I spent a long time looking at the colors and petting the wonderful fibers and trying to decide what to buy. Decision fatigue.

Meanwhile, the "Exhibition" is really just a small room in the back of the shop with a few things on display and a video playing on loop about the sources and process of natural dyeing.

There was also a small garden outside with plants used in the dyes, but it didn't look like the owner has been keeping it up recently. The owner of the shop was away on vacation, so all of my questions were answered tentatively by the assistant working there that day.

I'm not sure what this little blue dugout is for. Storage, possibly. The dyeing all happens in that metal shed you can see in the background.

In the end, I decided I was most interested in wool from the region, not hand-dyed yarn. She had lots of Shetland soft spun aran yarn in about eight different natural colors, all of which were very tempting. In the end, I settled on a few skeins of wool from the basket below:

This is naturally colored wool from Hebridean sheep. In fact, the assistant working in the shop told me the very sheep this wool comes from graze just three miles down the road and we had passed them on our way there. It's not the softest yarn, but it feels warm and sturdy and perfect for a cardigan. I don't know what exactly I want to make with it yet, but I have a couple things in mind. I'll have to swatch and see how the fabric feels. I really want to make something with cables, but it's such a dark color I'm not sure how well they will show up.

Anya really wanted some souvenir yarn, which I find so endearing. She can knit and is eager to build on her skills, which at this point are still just at the basic level. We looked at lots and lots of yarn in different colors, and in the end she picked out two of the lace weight skeins, one in bright red and one in bright yellow. They were small and relatively inexpensive, but I hesitated because she is definitely not ready to knit when them yet. Lace weight yarn is not easy to work with, plus what is a 7yo girl going to do with lace? I offered to buy the same color yarn in a different weight, but that's not what she wanted. I even offered to make something for her out of it, but she just looked at me and said, "Mommmm what's the point of that? I want to knit with it." I suspect this yarn will sit in her own little stash for a long while until she has the skill to use it and figures out what she wants, and that's fine with me. I have little doubt she'll eventually get around to it. In fact, on the long flight to Chicago, when I asked Anya what she most looked forward to about getting home, she said, "Knitting."

Monday, June 22, 2015

Hello sheep! I can haz ur wul?

I mean really, there's not much point in having fences at all, is there?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Tartan Weaving Mill

After a day of walking to and around Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, on the way back to our rental, we took a little detour this afternoon back to the Castle area. There were a lot of steps leading up from the street, and we almost cried when we saw just how many there were to climb, but the view was pretty stunning.

Stuart took the kids for gelato at the Royal Mile Cafe...

...while I popped into the Tartan Weaving Mill & Exhibition to have a look around.

It's a working mill where they weave tartan plaids out of wool. You can see why I was interested.

Cones of wool.

Unfortunately, we got there after the mill workers had stopped, so the machines weren't running, but I got a good look at them anyway.

They were selling 100% Scottish milled wool fabric by the meter. I didn't buy any (Stash Less, yo, plus I didn't bring my wallet in and there isn't room in the suitcase for stuff like impulse purchase fabric) but I certainly ogled it.

These machines don't look new, but they clearly work since there was party-finished fabric on many of them.


I've noticed that where we have walked around in Edinburgh, there are wool scarves and throws and blankets in many souvenir shops (some blasting obnoxious bagpipe renditions of pop music and softies of the Loch Ness monster wearing a kilt...). Clearly, there is a lot of pride for Scottish wool and textiles. I have yet to encounter a yarn shop, though I know there are some here. We'll be traveling around the Middle Highlands the next several days, so I'll be sure to keep my eyes open! There has got to be some small batch Scottish yarn available somewhere...

Monday, June 15, 2015

across the pond

So I'm in Scotland with my family and it's lovely so far! Read a little more about our first real day here.

Friday, June 12, 2015

booth bay FO and a big trip on the horizon

I recently finished a sweater! I've hinted around this project for the last couple of months, but kept the final thing under wraps until I knew it got to its intended recipient. This is the Boothbay cardigan, pattern by the fabulous Hannah Fettig of Knitbot fame. Her latest book, Home and Away, was just released and despite my frugality concerning yarn and patterns lately, I had to have a copy and preordered it pretty much as soon as it was available. I don't regret it, either. Every pattern in there is classic and wearable. Every single one. And, as you can see below, I knitted up one of the designs right away!

Home and Away is a beautiful book. It's worth the price for the photos alone, but there is so much more! Less experienced knitters will appreciate the essays and interviews about swatching, gauge and other knitting basics. Also, one of the more useful qualities of this particular book is that every design includes instructions for seamless and seamed versions so the knitter can choose whatever works best for him or her. For this cardigan, I chose the seamless top-down version.

Hannah didn't include any graphics or color work in the original design. I added the cat motif to the sleeves because all the plain gray was getting a little...meh.

The cat motif, by the way, is from the Temple Cats hat, a pattern I found on Ravelry ages ago and kept in my cart because I liked the stranded design so much. Kittehs!! And they're not overly precious!!

Alas, the cardigan is no longer in my possession. As much as I loved the finished project, it was never intended for me. Last month my dear cousin celebrated her birthday (I won't reveal which one, but she's still under 40!) and her graduation with a PhD all in the same week.

I've made socks for Steph's birthday the last several years in a row, but the whole PhD thing is such a big deal I thought I'd do something a little bigger. She may have gotten a little suspicious when I texted her to ask about her high bust measurement.

I got a little too excited about the graduated filter in the editing software on this one, as you can see. I like the composition of the photo, though, so I'm leaving it.

In other news, I am leaving tomorrow with my family for a trip to Scotland! It's the first time we've traveled internationally since having kids and is of course a super duper really big deal. I'm a little anxious, but mostly excited. I don't know if I'll post here before we get back or not, but be sure to keep an eye on my IG (madtown_mama), where I'm sure to keep you updated!

Saturday, June 06, 2015


I made a quilt! This doesn't happen often, I know. It helps to have external motivation. In this case, the quilt is a retirement gift for a special, beloved teacher who happens to really, really love the color purple.

My kids are holding it up in the picture below. Finished size is about 48"x60" or so.

 As is common with me, I didn't use a pattern. I just made large 9-patch blocks (12"x12" finished size) with 2" sashing in between and a simple, narrow border with mitered corners.

The whole thing went together in about 2 days - cutting, piecing, sewing on a soft backing - until I tried finishing the binding by machine. That looked terrible, so I spent a week picking it out and then tacking it down by hand. 

I'm trying to improve my mitered corners. Out of the four corners, one I absolutely butchered. I'm not sure what went wrong. The other three look pretty good.

I so admire quilts with intricate piecing and strong style. One of these days, I'll make a quilt like that. For now, I seem to be able only to manage quilting projects that I can get done really quickly without following instructions. When it comes to knitting, I can handle all kinds of complexity, but not with quilting. Ah, well. One thing at a time.