Breedswatches I – Manx Loaghtan, Shetland

I am participating at the Knitbritish Breedswatchalong, and it’s coming along great! Beautiful knitting, lots of learning, and possibly even a new craft at the horizon – what more could one want from a knitalong? A garment? Well, I have to admit that I am mostly a garment knitter. Even shawls are fairly new ground for me. Interestingly, I still hardly ever swatched properly for my sweaters – leading, of course, to surprises in the outcome. I KNOW! But still, a swatch? Something one keeps as small and unobtrusive as possible, right?

Now, in this knitalong the swatching is already the real thing. And what a difference that different mind set makes! Nothing can be as relaxing as swatch-knitting, and the prospect of nearly instant gratification is also not bad when you’re otherwise in the middle of finishing a sweater and a cardigan. But it wouldn’t be me, if I could leave the finished swatches alone – so I decided to join them in a breedspecific blanket. To highlight the specifics of the various yarns, I decided to not use any fancy stitch patterning but use plain ol’ garter stitch. Oh, that will be one beautiful blanket!

Anyway, back to the swatches! I am only giving an overview here, the details can be found on my Ravelry project pages.

Since I had two balls of Manx Loaghtan and Shetland already at home, I decided to start with these. I had brought them home with me from visiting beautiful Fibre East last year together with this cute little project bag.

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The most beautiful project bag.

The wool comes from The Nude Ewe, a company that spins wool from sheep in british nature conservation projects. The sale proceeds go back to the flock owners and that’s another great thing, given the difficulties many farmers have to gain reasonable prices for their fleece, as Rachel Atkinson has recently pointed out in a very intersting blog post. I also ordered their Norfolk Horn, Hebredian and North Ronaldsay wool, they’ll be subject of the next post.

So, the first yarn I tried was the Manx.

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A Manx Loaghtan living in Bedfordshire. (photography from the Nude Ewe)

The Manx Loaghtan originate from the Isle of Man, though “my” sheep live in the chalk grassland in Bedfordshire. The breed has reddish-brown fleece and both sexes have up to 6 horns! The yarn is very lofty and bouncy, and I could rather easily break it with my fingers. In the ball it felt a bit prickly at my neck, so I was associating rather slippers or outerwear. Knitting with it was quite a pleasure! I had feared that the wool would be hard on my left hand (I’m a continental knitter), but not at all – the wool is slightly lanoliny (if that’s a word…), so my fingers got rather smoother during the knitting 🙂 The finished swatch was already quite nice, but this one really gained a lot from bathing! There was some kemp hair sticking out from the swatch, but that settled nicely after the bath. I wore the swatch half a day at my hip and half a day tucked into my bra, and it seems to have gotten even softer with wear. The 2 times washed-and-worn swatch is lofty, very cozy and warm and has considerable drape. I could imagine this yarn knit up as a beautiful generous shawl, mittens, outerwear (though it might be not too wind-resistant, given its airiness). It would definitively be soft enough for a sweater, though I personally am no fan of 4,5mm-needle-sweaters. But I imagine it would be gorgeous for a kids’ coat or jacket.

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Manx swatch in garter stitch after its first bath.

 

The next yarn I tried was the “Shel” (I also love the Nude Ewe’s naming of the yarns!) from Shetland sheep that live in a lowland meadow in north Bedfordshire.

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Shetland sheep in the grasland in Bedfordshire. (photography from the Nude Ewe)

The yarn is very rounded and as soft and durable as one would Shetland wool expect to be. In the knitting it felt very smooth and malleable. After knitting with the Manx Loaghtan I was almost a little disappointed that there wasn’t more “character” – but of course that’s not true at all. The finished and washed swatch is really rather perfect – soft and smooth, but not in a floppy way: it has structure and holds it’s shape very well. After the bath the swatch still holds it’s shape, but it also falls nicely (though to say it has drape might be an overstatement). It has a perfect shade of grey and the garter ridges are just gorgeous – I could pat this swatch the whole time. I can imagine all kinds of garments from this yarn, from hats and mittens, to shawls and sweaters. Scarfs might be especially beautiful in this yarn, since it holds its structure quite well – as far as I can tell from the swatch. Footwear also would work great, since it seems to be rather durable.

It would be interesting to compare this yarn to shetland wool of a similar weight from sheep that actually live in Shetland!

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Shel swatch in garter stitch after its first bath.

Slow Fashion October and BreedSwatchalong

So, my first blogpost… and it got rather long, sorry for this! I started the blog to have a place to try writing about my knitting, to see if that is fun and if it brings some structure into my wooly endeavours. The plan was to start really slow, perhaps with some FOs, freshly bought yarn, or similar simple things. But then two very exciting things were announced in the interweb – Karen Templer’s clever Slow Fashion October at Fringeassociation and Louise Scollay’s BreedSwatchalong at KnitBritish. Two undertakings that are at the core of the route my knitting journey has been taken lately. So I knew I had to dive right into knitting, thinking, and talking.

I have been knitting for all my adult life (and most of my teenage life as well – though thank heavens all my 80s-styled knits have somehow vanished, like that pink cabled pullover in aran weight acrylic yarn without any waist shaping, or the bright baby-blue hood-scarf with fake fur edgings. Urgh.) Parallel to becoming more conscious about where my food comes from, where it is produced by whom and under what conditions, I started to think about my yarn and my clothes in a similar way. I care about the impact my actions have on people and animals that provide me with food and clothing, and on the environment as a whole. I don’t want to wear clothes that were produced by someone who can’t make a living by their work and/or risk their health or life in this work. And I don’t want to knit with wool that comes from the other end of the planet, from sheep who have been mishandled as a price of producing ever more fleece, the wool then being shipped around several times to be washed, processed, dyed and packed at places where wages, working laws and environmental standards for each of these are as low as possible to produce yarn that is as soft and cheap as possible.

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WIP: Garment knitting for small people with Merino wool from sheep that live in Arles, France. (Gramps, knit with Pur Mérinos Français)

Slow Fashion October

Reflection number one means that I have been thinking about how to change my buying and making habits. Slow Fashion October is a wonderful opportunity to lend some structure to my otherwise rather erratic thoughts about this topic. And hopefully it will also inspire not only thoughts, but starting some action around here! Usually that’s the hard bit for me – put an end to the process of thinking and musing and start DOING something. So I will stick to Karen’s suggestions for the topics of the next weeks and see what comes out. Given my tendency to over-think things, I am just now thinking it might be a good idea to commit to MAKING (or to start making) one concrete item during this month. This might be sewing a garment, mending an old cardigan or anything else that comes up. I am so exited to focus on this and to read what everyone else will be coming up with!

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Plans for my handmade wordrobe: I need more socks!

BreedSwatchalong

Reflection number two plays right into Louise’s plans for the BreedSwatchalong. Trying out local wool is a great starting point to actually use these yarns for future garments, and the fact that a whole bunch of people is joining in will provide us with great insights into various sheep breeds. Since I am living in central Europe where it is waaayy harder to get locally produced wool (let alone breed specific!), I am planning to do both KnitBritish and  KnitLocal swatching – the KnitBritish will be easy to start with and will give me something to actually KNIT. I have some balls of Nude Ewe Manx and Shel that I bought last year at Fibre East, and I have ordered some more, so there is something to start right away. For the KnitLocal I have started with some very basic research. I have indeed found a handful of Austrian wool producers, now I have to find out where their wool is actually coming from. I am rather certain that it won’t be breed specific, but I might try it out anyway. It’s all about exploring our local wool, isn’t it? Anyway, I will not post these in the BreedSwatchalong threads on Ravelry but simply write about them here on the blog and on my Ravelry project pages. But I plan to still test drive them according to Louise’s suggestions to keep them comparable. Like some of the participants I am thinking of sewing my swatches into a blanket in the end; this will be a lovely and warm representative of different sheep breeds. I am SO glad this swatchalong doesn’t have a deadline, otherwise I would start to feel slightly overwhelmed by my plans!

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Slippers from Shel for me.

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Slippers from Manx for my boyfriend.

So, thank you so much, Karen and Louise, for starting these two great initiatives! I am looking very much forward to a month full of mindful knitting and conversation. I hope to blog regularly about my progress, though October will be quite busy at work as well. But there will always be weekends 🙂