Autumn is without question my favourite season. As ever, for me, it is all about the colours. Have I ever mentioned that Mr Whistlebare and I got married at the end of October and that my wedding dress was deep red and gold? (Apologies for the terrible photo of a photo!)
Given the above it is not a great surprise that I am almost mystically drawn to elderberries in all their dark red livery, chock a block full of antioxidants and many other goodies. This year berries were gathered, by pony power of course, from local hedgerows and their juice was steam extracted by this fantastic piece of kit.
While the elderberries were steaming I was in the garden raiding this wonderful apple tree. I don’t know the variety but it is prolific every year and fills our freezer with apple goodness.
Once the elderberry juice had been extracted then the apples went into the steamer and very soon we had lashings of both juices.
The juices were mixed in equal amounts and boiled up with unfeasible quantities of sugar until setting point was reached. Now we have a pantry full of delicious elderberry and apple jelly, perfect with cheese or rice pudding or added to hot water for a steaming hot drink that will see off lurking colds.
Whistlebare is lucky enough to have a volunteer visiting who is quite a wordsmith and has written this great blog post for us.
When I think of ‘willow’, my thoughts go instantly to a grassy riverbank and willowfronds leaning into the water: a weeping willow, the classic imagery used by grieving and heartsick poets alike, the last boughs of which Ophelia clung to before she drowned, the willows that the wind goes through…
In fact, the weeping willow is only one of many willow trees that grow in Britain, either native or naturalized. They are all part of the genus Salix in the Salicaceae family of flowering plants (interestingly, Salicaceae also includes poplar and aspen, renowned for their trembliness): weeping willow’s Latin name is Salix . ‘Salix’ is the Latin word for willow, and products derived from willow often have a name derived from ‘salix’.
For example, if ‘Salicaceae’ seems a familiar term to you, you might be thinking of salicylic acid, often seen on the labels of skin products, aftersun creams or even wart treatments!
It is a compound which can be isolated from willow bark (although is most often made synthetically for commercial use). The form used most commonly in skin products has a drying effect, and also acts as an anti-inflammatory, which leads us to its even more common usage.
Salicylic acid is also the most important part of aspirin, which is itself also known as ‘acetylsalicylic acid’. When aspirin is metabolized by the body, it is salicylic acid that is produced, providing the anti-inflammatory effect.
Willow bark tea can in fact be used as a painkiller in a pinch, although doubtless it tastes quite disgustingly bitter…!
And so to the folk medicine. Willow has been in use as an anti-inflammatory and fever reducer long before modern medicine was even thought about. There are tablets from Ancient Sumeria dating back to 4000 BCE that record its usage! In Britain, because it grows so abundantly, it was used as an anti-inflammatory and fever reducer in poultices applied topically as well as in tonics and teas.
Some even argue that willow bark is more effective than aspirin, as willow bark also contains fibre, that slows the absorption of the acid, and lots of tannins (which are what makes tea, and presumably willow, bitter) – which is said stop the salicylic acid from damaging the stomach membranes.
It wasn’t until 1827, in fact, that the salicylic acid was isolated from willow bark, and not until 1890 that a German chemist produced the acetylsalicylic acid that I mentioned previously, which is less damaging to the stomach due to the salicylic acid compound being produced as part of aspirin’s metabolic process.
So what does this all have to do with goats? Well, for one thing, goats are traditionally ‘browsers’ – they like to eat higher-growing shoots and leaves on shrubs and small trees when given the opportunity (unlike sheep, which are ‘grazers’ – ie they feed along the ground), so willow is ideal, as it allows them to reach up and nibble on leaves growing higher up.
They also seem to really like the taste, but on account of not speaking Goat, I can’t confirm that. Willow leaves might not have the same properties as willow bark, but they certainly can be used as a natural painkiller, as well as being an engaging and tasty source of food.
We have a little goat kid on the farm at the moment who’s had a bit of a hard time of things in life – she didn’t bond with her mum or her twin brother, so she’s been bottlefed, which is reasonably common. However, she didn’t seem interested at all in switching from milk to grass or hay, as the other kids have been doing.
She’s getting there now, but it’s only through copious amounts of willow tied up to a little feeder that she’s starting to become interested in eating hay from the ground or grass growing outside. She also has a habit of grinding her teeth, which can be a sign that a goat’s in pain, but seems to be linked to anxiety in her case. However, the willow shoots definitely seem to be working their magic if she is in any pain, and she’s very happily growing and eating now – as you can see!
The species of willow we have here at Whistlebare is Salix viminalis, also known as osier or basket willow (the other basket willow is Salix purpurea, which is best known as purple willow). With the recent heatwave, we’ve been cutting, tying up and drying branches or twigs of willow in great bunches to make tree hay! Given that goats love willow so much, it’s excellent feed for the winter when stocks of grass hay are running low (or they’re getting fed up with it), and very easy to make. Willow also grows very quickly and abundantly, so there’s no risk of us damaging the trees.
So far, I have not attempted any basket-weaving with it, but I’ll keep you posted if any branches end up going spare…!
As you probably know by now we have extended our Studio at Whistlebare. We are very excited about our fabulous new space because we now have room to stock more products from the farm. Our whole ethos is to produce beautiful, environmentally kind products through regenerative farming practises.
In order to treat our soil as best we possibly can we need a mixture of livestock and growing plants. Our latest venture is with lavender. Lavender has so many wonderful qualities, it smells divine, it promotes restful sleep, it even has antibacterial properties. We think it will be perfect in our new range of goats’ milk soap.
From the farm’s point of view we hope to plant rows of lavender between our rows of trees where it will be a beautiful habitat for our honey bees. The perfume, which is so lovely to us, is actually a deterrent to lots of pesky insects like flies and mosquitoes so rows of lavender will provide a haven for our livestock to escape pests.
All round lavender seems like a good idea so we have began a growing test in our garden. We have long beds at the edge of the terrace in front of the house. Unfortunately these beds are very exposed to the wind and most plants do not survive the battering. Lavender though has been known to grow successfully. For my last Birthday Mr Whistlebare gave me lots of lavender plugs, in four varieties, sourced from Lavender World in Yorkshire. Tess and I duly planted them in the front beds and are excitedly watching them grow. Unfortunately it takes four years for lavender plants to mature so my naturally impatient nature is having to contain itself, but so far so good!
I have been dithering about whether this blog post should be part of our ‘Chronicles’ series as it is about the farm work we’ve been doing this week. Then I thought that the keyword is actually ‘life’ some of which is classically creative and some of which is more mundane but all of which is required to make the whole. This week has been a busy one, as well as keeping a careful eye on the maternity shed, we have built a sledge (or stone boat) for the ponies to transport stuff around the farm and have shorn all the sheep.
I wasn’t able to find suitable plans for a stone boat on the internet so after looking at as many pictures as I could find I launched in with my own design. I’m not sure who was less keen about the whole plan, the ponies or the Junior Goat Slave whom I roped in to help!
However, using mainly ‘found’ materials from around the farm we got cracking. We decided to make a reversible sledge as they have quite a wide turning circle that sometimes may be difficult to accommodate. The runners look old, they are at least 10 years and were previously a pig pen, but are larch and when we cut into them the internal wood was perfect. Notching was not something I had done before but proved reasonably simple via jigsaw and chisel. The finished frame was very sturdy indeed.
Audrey, of course, was keen to inspect progress and to supervise the sledge’s first outing. I was concerned that the whole structure was quite heavy but my sweet Splash of Rain rose to the occasion and pulled it along almost effortlessly!
Last Sunday was booked to be ‘sheep shearing day’ some weeks ago but the weather here was so wild we postponed until Tuesday evening. It is always a huge relief when a major welfare task is completed and the animals are comfortable and cared for. Shearing is also the culmination of our year’s farming as it is the source of our beautiful yarn without which none of the rest would be possible! The stakes are high so we were very grateful to Kieran and the gang for doing such an efficient and careful job.
All the sheep have now been turned out onto fresh pasture and are pretty happy with their lot. Meanwhile we will set too to sort the fleeces and send them off for washing and spinning.
Last time I was here I wrote about being a crafting butterfly and flitting from project to project. Since then I have managed to focus a little more and have narrowed down the projects to just two. The quilt I am sewing is making progress and is now nearly ready for the binding.
I had the help of one of my working from home office assistants earlier in the week, well apparently he was helping, although I am yet to determine the actual benefit….
Evenings are for knitting and my vine lace scarf is growing. I love how the pattern is so different in the 4ply, the texture is delicate and I can’t wait to see how it looks when it is blocked. The samples that I made were transformed by blocking and I know this will be too.
The lace pattern is perfect for knitting right now, the simple combination of yarn overs and decreases is enough to keep it interesting but not so hard that my easily distracted mind loses track and can’t cope. Although I must confess that one or two rows have been frogged back, but that could be to do with becoming engrossed in a movie and not paying attention at all!
Of course all crafting and working from home must be fuelled by cake and this weeks recipe is from a lovely friend who is an artist, writer and mental health advocate. This week is mental health week and Emma writes eloquently about the benefits of crafts and the natural world and her instagram account is a thing of beauty.
Emma’s Crumble Cake
250g plain flour
100g soft brown sugar
fruit – seasonal soft fruits, apples, or pears.
melt the butter and mix in the dried ingredients
press half the mixture firmly into a lined baking tin – mine is cm x cm
spread the fruit on
crumble the remaining mixture over the fruit layer
bake at 200C (180C fan) for 25-30mins
cool then cut into squares.
This recipe is perfect for using up whatever fruit you have, I used two apples that were a little soft and stewed them up gently first with a little sugar and cinnamon and put this mixture on one end of the tray and used some raspberries that were lurking in the freezer for the other end. I also just used white granulated sugar as due to lockdown shopping I’m making use of what there is instead of making a trip to the shops for speciality items.
Building has been occurring all over Whistlebare in the last few years. To begin with we extended the farmhouse as three bedrooms for a family of six was becoming very cramped. There were two unforeseen bonuses of this, firstly we acquired the fabulous ‘games room’ in which we can hold knitting events for masses of people, perfect timing as no-one can currently visit us! Also though, we now have room to accommodate wwoof volunteers. For those who haven’t heard of wwoof, it stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms or from a host’s perspective, Willing Workers On Organic Farms!
We have had several very nice and very helpful volunteers since Christmas. Most particularly Kai from Canada who was our first wwoofer and who returned to us for ‘lockdown’ when he found himself marooned. Kai is very interested in all traditional skills. Since being here, amongst other things, he has made candles from our beeswax, he has vegetable tanned some hides and yesterday saw him cooking up lye from ash to make soap! His biggest project however, has been constructing a wattle and daub round house, affectionately known as ‘The Hut’.
Our oldest and youngest junior goat slaves were keen to build a den. I’m not sure whether the motivation for this was a desire to fill their time or to have a place to hide when jobs are being issued! Either way their desire for a den and Kai’s interest in ancient building techniques came together perfectly.
A suitable site was chosen down in the orchard near the poly tunnel. Small fence posts were knocked in forming a 7′ diameter circle. Willow was harvested from around the farm and woven between the posts. When the willow started to run out we moved on to hazel. The top of the walls was finished with a wooden frame on which to build the roof.
Possibly a roof, possibly a witches hat! Again made from willow constructed like a teepee. There was much concern at the time as to whether their thatching skills and indeed available thatching materials would result in a waterproof roof. So here our builders did vary from tradition as they chose to cover their roof structure with a modern breathable but waterproof membrane scavenged from our Studio extension site.
Back to the walls. Various daub mixtures were trialled. Clay was extracted from the field with a pick axe, dried in the yard and crushed with the roller. A plentiful supply of sand was found at the entrance to various badger sets on the farm. Conveniently this came ready mixed with vegetable matter adding structure. Finally fibrous material in the form of dried horse manure was collected from the paddocks. Many variants were mixed and tested but the perfect recipe turned out to be 3 parts clay to 3 parts sand to 1 part manure!
Much messy fun was had ‘daubing’ the walls. The resulting surface, after drying in the sun, was remarkably hard and robust feeling. The walls needed to be sealed next and there was a bit of a rush on as rain was forecast! Our house extension was built out of eco friendly, natural building materials so inevitably involved lime. There was plenty of quick lime left over so this was mixed with water to form traditional lime wash and the walls were painted. Window and door frames were also constructed and nailed into place.
Finally the roof. This was by far the most taxing as we really don’t have suitable materials on the farm. Whilst we have plenty of straw it is all chopped short by the combine harvester and so useless for thatching. We also have reeds which form part of our water purification system after the septic tank. The reed bed is not big enough though to supply the number of reeds needed for our roof. Eventually we settled for hand picking the long stems of coarse grasses growing in the lines of newly planted trees. It was a long and laborious process but eventually enough was collected to bundle and tie to batons on the roof.
Finishing touches included shutters and door along with a roughly woven, circular, grass mat for the earth floor. All rounded off with the most excellent pizza party to celebrate opening ‘The Hut’.
Since then the oldest junior goat slave has bet his friends that he can live in the hut for a week! He can just about lie down as he is only 6’3″ and he is cooking in our little pizza oven and over the fire. I’ll let you know how it goes!
Last week I shared a favourite recipe and wrote about finding a place to work at home. This week is all about crafting. Right now I’m flitting from project to project like a butterfly in a flower bed, I start one thing, then another. Old projects which had been long abandoned are rejuvenated and abandoned once more, and new projects dreamed up/planned/begun. I make excuses to myself but really there’s just a lack of focus, and for now I’ve decided that’s OK. Random and chaotic crafting is what is making me happy right now and therefore I’m going to celebrate it.
Crochet one minute, and knitting the next. Hurray. Baking and gardening. Yes indeedy. Sewing machine is in the spare room/home office for eldest child, no worries, it can have a new home on the kitchen table amongst the chaos.
And so I present to you the results of 6 weeks of lockdown crafting so far.
Crochet. Crochet flowers. Oh so many of them. Some have become a garland for the newly expanded studio. Others will become a cushion for the studio sofa. Yes there’s going to be a sofa. And cake. Cake is very important.
Sewing. A baby dress. My niece had her second baby at home just as we went into lockdown. I sewed her this little dress with some fabric I had left over from my Esme shirt, and lined it with some Liberty tana lawn which is possibly my favourite fabric in the whole world.
Knitting. Land girl –Cheviot Marsh Aran, in Hedgeberry and Glacial Breeze. Here and there a few rows are added each day, I’m not having as much fun now I’m passed the striped section and I’m wishing I’d planned it to be stripy all the way to the top as each stripe was a feeling of accomplishment but I do think it will be lovely. And I get to do stripes again once I get to the sleeves.
Gardening. My little greenhouse is full of seedlings which are happily growing away, and soon will be able to go outside and hopefully there’ll be salad and flowers by the summer.
Baking. Flapjacks still a winner, and crumble bars, and next week I’m going to make rhubarb cake and … did I mention that cake was very important.
More Sewing. A baby quilt for friends from run club. Random scrap quilt with strip piecing rainbow sections. I love sewing this way, taking a selection of strips and tiny scrap pieces, sewing them together, cutting them up, rearranging them, no planning, just a vague plan that no piece will be too big or too tiny.
Even More Sewing. Whilst hunting out the scraps for the quilts I found a lot of really bright rainbow coloured fabric that wasn’t right for the quilt and so I made super quick bunting to decorate the house, to celebrate both the work of key workers and for Friday’s VE day celebrations.
More Knitting. This was a “I wonder what would happen if” project. In this case I wonder what would happen if I knitted the Vine Lace scarf in 4ply and not DK. And then what if I made it wider. I’m loving the result. You can expect to see a lot more of this.
Right now the world is adjusting to a new way of life, here in the UK we are currently in week 5 under the coronavirus lockdown, and I find myself in a house where everyone is working from home.
We all spread out trying to find a space to work, there were several days of chaos where I think we moved three bookcases, two tables and created more mess than is humanely possible so each person has their own place.
I allocated myself the kitchen table. The kitchen is the heart of most homes and ours is no different. Constantly messy despite my best efforts, it is the place to congregate, where everyone wanders in and out to make endless cups of tea and to hunt out a snack or two…
These flapjacks are proving to be the perfect solution to the endless question “is there anything to eat?” Quick to make, without much washing up created, it can be modified to suit everyone’s tastes simply and easily. I don’t know where the original recipe came from, it’s scribbled in one of my many notebooks – the one where for years I have collected recipes from friends and family. Recipes become known not for who wrote the recipe but from who they came from, passed on like stories, to be shared and enjoyed, and they’re all titled accordingly; Nancy’s fruit and almond cake, Simon’s chocolate roulade, Bek’s muffins.
My sister Lottie gave me this recipe when the children were little and there was a children’s baking section at the local village flower show. We’ve been making it ever since, (and no it didn’t win a prize, but it should have done, it’s the best!)
12 oz / 350g oats
4 oz / 110g plain flour
8 oz / 225g butter or margarine
6 oz / 170g sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup.
Additions as desired. A small handful of raisins, glace cherries, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, anything you fancy.
Melt the butter, sugar and syrup – in a pan on a low heat, or in a microwave for 1-2 minutes.
Stir in the oats and flour until fully combined.
Line a tin with greaseproof or parchment paper
Press into the tin and bake at 180C for 20-25 minutes until golden.
It will still be a little soft, mark into squares in the tin whilst still hot and then leave to cool, turn out and cut into squares.
Everywhere we go at the moment we are seeing rainbows in appreciation of the NHS and all the associated care workers who are supporting us through this time of medical crisis.
We wanted to create something that showed our appreciation and also allowed a little bit of mindful relaxation and creativity, and all the mental health benefits that have been shown to come from crafting something with your hands.
There’s something very pleasing about creating small projects, and crochet flowers can be perfect for this. Completing each flower gives a sense of achievement and can be the perfect thing to make when time is short, or when the attention span that a larger project requires is in short supply. By creating an array of brightly coloured flowers and joining them together on a crochet chain we made a rainbow garland of spring flowers to brighten a window, hang across a mantelpiece or drape below a shelf.
We have written this blog post with all the flower patterns and instructions so that you can make a garland too. Ours are crocheted from 8 Yeavering Bell aran mini skeins, which (like all our yarn) are 20% offat the moment, but this is a perfect stash buster too 🙂
I chose a rainbow palette and Alice chose a pastel one, with the plan to create something that will eventually decorate the studio extension .
Yeavering bell Aran mini skeins. 5mm crochet hook.
Magic loop, ch 2, work 11 dc into the loop, join with sl st in 2nd st of chain. 12 sts
*ch 2, 1 tr 1 htr in first st, sl st*
Repeat between ** 5 more times.
Fasten off by pulling working yarn through. Cut yarn.
Magic loop, ch 2, work 4 dc in loop, join with sl st in 2nd st of chain. 5 sts
*sl st; ch 1; 2 tr; 1 dtr; 2 tr; ch 1; sl st* in first st.
Repeat between ** 4 more times to create 5 petals in total.
Fasten off by pulling working yarn through. Cut yarn.
ch 16, start in 2nd chain from hook, dc to end. Turn.
Starting in 2nd chain from hook
*tr, tr, dtr, dtr, tr, tr all in next st, sl st in next st*
Repeat between ** 6 more times.
Fasten off, leaving a long tail end for sewing up. Curl one end inwards and catching a few stitches underneath, continue to wrap round and sew the petals into a spiral shape. Finish off.
Magic loop, ch 3, work 11tr into loop, join with sl st in 2nd st of chain. 12sts.
*5tr in next st, 1 dc in next st*
Repeat between ** 5 more times.
Finish with sl st and fasten off by pulling working yarn through. Cut yarn leaving a tail.
Magic loop, ch3, work 11 tr into the loop, join with sl st in 2nd st of chain. 12 sts
2 dc in each stitch, join with sl st. 24 sts
ch4, 2dtr in next st, 2 dtr in next st, Ch3, 1 sl in next st.
*sl in next st, ch4, 2dtr in next st, 2dtr in next st, ch3, sl in next st*
repeat ** 4 more times.
Make one of each flower in each colour but not the greens. If you want to make multi coloured flowers then change colour before final round.
Finish off each flower by threading a darning needle and weaving in the ends.
Ch 6. Turn.
Start in 2nd ch from hook.
sl st in next, 1 dc in next st, 1 htr in next st, 1 tr, 4 tr in next st.
Turn back down foundation chain.
3tr in next st, 1 tr in next, 1 htr in next st, 1 dc in next st, sl in next st.
Fasten off, leaving one long thread.
Leaves make as many as you can, from one of the greens, and use long thread to attach the leaf to a flower with a few small stitches on the reverse as required.
If you have any additional yarn make extra of the smallest flowers, and combine into a cluster with a few leaves, one for each end of the garland.
To create garland chain 10, attach cluster of flowers to chain by inserting hook into a stitch on the edge of a flower, then make a slip stitch, chain 10, attach next flower and continue.
Arrange the flowers how you would like them. I went with the rainbow sequence and arranged the colours by size from large to small, but a random arrangement would be very pretty. Where I made two colour flowers I attached these in between the two colours, but again, you can decide.
When I reached the end of the chain I had some of the yarn left so plan to make a few extra leaves and attach them at random for extra leafiness.
We named the flowers after women who were hugely influential in medicine, there are of course many others, but we could only name a few. Marie Curie, Florence Nightingale, Gerty Cori, Frances Hoggan and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson.
UK Crochet Terms [US Crochet Terms]
sl st. (slip stitch) [ss] insert hook, yarn over, pull the loop back through the stitch, then through the loop on hook.
dc.(double crochet) [sc] insert hook, yarn over, pull the loop back through the stitch (2 loops on hook), yarn over and pull through both loops on hook.
htr.(half treble) [hdc] yarn over, insert hook, yarn over, pull the loop back through the stitch (3 loops on hook), yarn over and pull through all 3 loops on hook.
tr.(treble) [dc] yarn over, insert hook, yarn over, pull the loop back through the stitch (three loops on hook), yarn over and pull through two loops on hook (two loops left on hook), yarn over and pull through remaining two loops.
dtr (double treble) [tr] yarn over twice, insert hook, yarn over, pull loop back through stitch (four loops on hook). Yarn over and pull through two loops (three loops left on hook), yarn over and pull through two loops (2 loops left on hook), yarn over and pull through remaining two loops
Canny Lass is from the local dialect of Newcastle and the North East, and there is no bigger compliment than to be told you are a Canny Lass – bright, intelligent, pretty, hard working and witty. We designed our latest series of patterns to sum up everything this means to us, we wanted to create a range of designs that were easy to knit, practical, modern with a nod to a vintage style, and fun and easy to wear.
The flagship pattern in the collection is our Canny Lass Shawl which was designed for us by Karie Westermann. Canny Lass is a semi-circular shawl worked from the top down with small lace bands and a wide applied edge. It is the special touch of luxury to wrap yourself in at the end of a long working day and an heirloom piece to treasure.
Room to Breathe uses our Cheviot Marsh DK to create a slouchy, comfy boyfriend jersey with a casual relaxed fit. By changing the colours you can create a strong dramatic look or a subtle change in gradient depending on your style.
Land Girl is a relaxed cropped jersey with a deep roll neck and dropped shoulders knitted in Cheviot Marsh Aran. Loose and slouchy, warm and comfy it will take you everywhere.
The Fernietickles Hat and Mitts are named after the Northumbrian word for freckles! The slip stitch pattern creates an enchanting design and a double layer of warmth to keep you snug and cosy as you wander the moors, or run for the train on your daily commute.
Hedgerow Harvest’s colour work border is inspired by the diversity of wildlife on the farm. Designed in Cheviot Marsh DK with icord bind off at the arms and neckline this simple layering piece will take you from winter to summer with ease.
Bubble is a fun loving jersey knitted from Cheviot Marsh 4ply, that fits neatly to your waist with eyelet lace sleeves. The stocking stitch body and deep ribbed hem is complimented by a wide open neckline. The lace “bubble” sleeves make this a fun and unusual jersey to knit and to wear.
Last but not least our Over the Hills hat is a slip stitch pattern that is striped and easy to knit creating a double layer of warmth to keep you snug and cosy, with a deep ribbed hem to stop your hat blowing away and a pompom too, for fun!
We were recently asked if Whistlebare are on Ravelry and we’re really happy to say that the answer is YES!
All of our yarns that we produce at Whistlebare are listed on Ravelry. You can select the yarn and add them to your stash and link them to your projects.
We love to look and see what you’re making and what our yarns become!
As well as our yarns you can find Whistlebare’s own patterns listed on Ravelry and you can link them to your projects. Looking at projects on Ravelry is great way to look at a pattern, get inspiration, find tips on sizing and see what colour choices other knitters have made. It often surprises me when I see something knitted up in a colour I wouldn’t have picked but I love the result! We do also have some patterns which you will find on the designer’s Ravelry pages, these include ones by Karie Westermann, Francesca Hughes and Kirstie White.
Since we store our patterns on our website and don’t sell them through Ravelry it’s not possible to add a Whistlebare pattern to your library, and download them from Ravelry. However once you’ve downloaded your patterns from Whistlebare you can access them whenever you want from the Whistlebare Flock on our website. We’re often asked if we sell our Whistlebare patterns separately (without the yarn) and unfortunately the answer is no, we are a yarn company not a pattern company and the patterns are there to support the yarns. We do give them to you for free though when you buy the yarn!
For those of you who love the community that knitting creates we also have a Whistlebare group on Ravelry which you can join and a forum where you can find out the latest news and ask any questions you might have.
Last summer I started an adult learning class entitled Dressmaking for Fun so that I might finally start sewing the Apron Dress by the Assembly Line, for which I’ve had the pattern far longer than I care to admit…
Alice made a version of it recently in a light coloured striped linen and it’s very lovely, I chose a dark navy soft denim for mine which I bought in a fabric shop in Harrogate. I found the instructions on the pattern clear and easy to follow, always a bonus when you’re a beginner and really like it when even the most basic steps are explained clearly!
I learnt so many new skills from top stitching to button holes and while it’s certainly by no means perfect I’m really pleased with it.
It took a ridiculously long time to finish because after trying it on I decided I needed to move the buttons at the back of the waist, and it’s quite impossible to do that on your own unless you’re an octopus with eyes in the back of your head! But now it’s done and I already have the next project cut out!
I’ll be brutally honest here, and say that there were times that I questioned the use of the word Fun in the class description, as I wrestled with large pieces of fabric, got frustrated by learning about button holes, and did the wobbliest top stitching you ever did see which took me forever to unpick and do again….. I have however signed up for another term so watch this space for more learning to sew exploits and dubious photo shoots balancing on log piles!
If you are thinking of planning a visit to Northumberland you are in for a treat.
Northumberland is a wild and rugged county filled with vast beaches, forests, hills and ancient history. You can explore castles or Roman Forts, walk amongst wild goats in the Cheviot hills, spot seals, arctic terns, puffins and dolphins on the coastline and gaze at the vast star filled skies in the Kielder Dark Sky zone.
Places to Visit
There are so many wonderful places to visit I can’t possible list them all but a few of my favourites include Cragside – a National Trust house and estate and the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity, Alnwick Castle – the setting for many films including most famously Harry Potter, where you can complete your broomstick training, or go on a knights quest as well as seeing spectacular interiors and artwork, Dunstanburgh Castle – desolate ruins near the lovely village of Craster, the Holy Island of Lindisfarne – take care to check the tide times carefully and lastly Barter Books – one of the largest second hand bookshops in Britain, complete with open fires, a fantastic cafe and sofas to sit and read and while away the hours. Oh and the beaches, the hills and the forests. Plus a rather lovely farm studio at Whistlebare near Berwick-upon-Tweed selling yarns, gifts and more!
Places to stay.
As by now I’m sure you’ve realised you may want to stay a while. Northumberland has plenty of differing options depending on your desire for adventure, luxury, quirky or something traditional.
Camping. There are plots for both tent and camper vans at the Barn at Beal with lovely views over the sea to Lindisfarne, and the option of a cooked breakfast in the cafe.
Bed and BreakfastsThe Birdcage at Cornhill was recommended to us by some guests on a retreat last year. It looks lovely. Hay Farm Bed and Breakfast is a lovely local base from which to explore, with delicious home cooked breakfasts, it’s currently offering 25% off in February, March and April – perfect for our spring retreat?
Hotels The Collingwood Arms is in the near by town of Cornhill upon Tweed. A little further away in the historic town of Alnwick is The Cookie Jar – this boutique hotel is within sight of the famous Alnwick Castle and offers a luxurious nights sleep.
Places to Eat
All this exploring is sure to be making you hungry, so here are a few places to refuel and get ready for more adventures.
Audela in Berwick serves contemporary British cuisine. For a real treat The Potted Lobster in Bamburgh – included in the 2018 and 2019 Michelin guide, has the ethos to bring fresh ingredients and relaxed dining to the picturesque village of Bamburgh. The Black Bull in Etal is a pub with restaurant that caters really well for all food intolerances and is one of our favourites places to eat.
For lighter bites try The Milk Bar in Wooler, it serves milkshakes, delicious baking and more! One for all the family to enjoy. Carnaby’s is just off the A1 north of Alnwick and uses fresh local produce to serve cooked breakfasts, artisan breads, salads, cakes, and more. Lastly for lunch with a view you can’t beat the Barn at Beal for views over towards Lindisfarne.
Visit Northumberland. You won’t ever want to leave.
We’d love to welcome you to join us on a Whistlebare Retreat – a relaxing day based around knitting or crochet held on our Northumberland farm.
Rather like an extended knit and natter group a retreat gives you a chance to come along to Whistlebare and knit with us, whilst also learning more about what we do here on the farm and why Yeavering Bell and our flock of Angora goats is so important to us.
We are very proud of our livestock husbandry and the environmental care we take of our land and we know that our customers care about this too. So we are offering to show you all around Whistlebare and introduce you to our Angora goats, the Wensleydale sheep, and our new small flock of Shetland x Merino sheep as well the pigs, chickens and our new draught ponies, Rain and Blue.
Whilst on the farm tour Alice will also explain about the production of the yarns we sell and the dyeing process and anything else you wish to ask about the farm and yarn!
Knitting can be a hungry business and there will be lashings of homemade cake, local produce for lunch and plenty of teas and coffees to keep you content.
There will of course also be lots of yarn!
Alice is wonderful at helping you choose the colours that will suit you and will be able to advise you on which patterns you might wish to cast on, and with the first skein of yarn included in the day you will be ready to start your project!
We will have a tutor here to help and support you throughout the day, and by the end of the day we hope you will be confident that you can finish at home.
You can see all of our patterns here if you want to look in advance. Several of our patterns are single skein and therefore your complementary skein will be enough to finish your project. If the pattern you choose requires more than one skein then the rest may be purchased on the day with a 10% discount.
INCLUDED IN THE DAY ARE
Whistlebare Pattern and skein of Whistlebare Yarn.
Tutor on hand to help with pattern.
Morning coffee/tea and cake.
Home cooked lunch of soup, bread and local cheese.
Afternoon coffee/tea with yes, more cake!
Meeting the livestock and easy farm walk.
10% discount on any purchase made on the day.
Lunch will be made from local produce, all diets can be catered for but please let us know in advance.
We have had a number of enquiries about getting to Whistlebare and it is true we are in a very rural area. We are however, close to the main East Coast Line, our local train station is Berwick-Upon-Tweed which is 40 minutes from both Newcastle and Edinburgh stations and we are going to provide a bus service from and to Berwick station. Please let us know if you are interested in travelling by Whistlebare Bus!
Whistlebare retreats are available to book now, and are next running on Saturday 14th March 2020, and Thursday 17th September 2020.
We’d love to see you at one and we hope you will leave feeling refreshed, inspired, looked after and having done some lovely knitting.
A little while ago I wrote a blog post about our plans to protect Whistlebare’s soil from compaction and nurture this farmer’s well being by parking our tractor and using draught ponies for field work instead. Having spent a fabulous week at ‘Hitch In Farm’ down in Devon learning the basics of draught horses I have been really keen to get into real horse power.
Traditionally in the North East agricultural work was not done by huge Clydesdales or Shire Horses but by smaller, compact but still powerful Dales Ponies. Not one to mess with tradition and anyway preferring smaller more accessible beasts I set out to find some suitable Dales ponies for Whistlebare. However, in modern times Dales Ponies have been prized in the show ring and so been bred for elegance and refinement which aren’t the foremost characteristics required of a work horse. A type of pony that is still bred for brawn and docility is a traditional gypsy cob of the type I so enjoyed working with at Hitch In Farm.
Even finding a little cob turned out to be more complicated than I anticipated. This time the problem was Mr Whistlebare who announced that large farm animals with black and white, or brown and white, patches are cows and as such would not be pulling my cart. Well most cobs are either piebald or skewbald (patchy)! Ironically when I mooted the idea of a ‘Blagdon Splash’ cob (still two colours but not so much patchy as smudgy in appearance) Mr Whistlebare pronounced them delightful as they closely resemble his favourite longhorn cattle!
Luckily I was able to find a charming little blagdon splash filly for sale locally. Her name is ‘A Splash of Rain’, she is two years old and now resides at Whistlebare. As she is still a baby Rain had had no further training than wearing a headcollar and being led about. Starting Rain’s education is an exciting adventure for me. Whilst I have bred mares in the past I have never schooled a horse from the beginning and so was/am slightly terrified of doing it wrong. I have read various highly recommended books and watched a great deal of YouTube.
So far my worries have been groundless. I think that Rain is one of those ponies who was born wanting to please. After six weeks of lessons she will now wear her harness happily, drag a tyre round the field, stop, start and turn on voice commands and even allow the second junior goat slave to ride her down the lane! I decided to stop on a high note and put her in the field to give her time to grow and mature over the winter. Meanwhile both I and Mr Whistlebare have been excitedly scheming about all the jobs Rain will help with.
I was warned at the outset of this little adventure that where there is one pony usually there is two. It turns out to be true. Enter ‘A Splash of Blue’ but her tale is for another day.
I have always been grateful to have been born post the requirement that ladies wear shoes that match their handbags. It is hard enough to find two matching shoes in the morning let alone a bag as well. That said I’ve always been a bit partial to shoes even if they are usually wellies! So it is a surprise to me that I seem to LOVE making bags.
A few months ago I decided to ditch the capacious bag that I had been using as a handbag as surely I did not need to be carrying so much junk around. In its place I made Merchant and Mills ‘Field Belt’ from a kit I bought at Liberty’s in London! (a whole other story). The Field Belt bag is small and is threaded onto a nice leather belt so can be worn entirely hands free. Sometimes though, I just put the belt over my shoulder and carry the bag in the usual way and still other times I wear it cross body, it is very versatile. The bag is small but easily carries my purse, all five of my fabric shopping bags and my phone. The materials are simple, smart and very good quality and the pattern was clear and accurate so all round my ‘Field Belt’ experience has been a very good one.
It wasn’t long before I began to hanker after making another bag so once again I investigated Merchant and Mills designs. ‘Jack Tar’ appealed at once. As it was the run up to Christmas I decided that I should share the joy and make Jack Tars for Christmas gifts as well as for myself. Again a beautifully presented pattern and excellent design. Before I knew where I was I had made one for my mother and another for Tess. I also ran up a few small but voluminous shopping bags to match the linings of the Jack Tars and slipped them inside. Then I paused and took on the rest of our Christmas preparations.
Now it is the new year and I have started to think about making a bag for myself. I have some very beautiful oilskin, that was made here in the UK, that I used to make a waterproof overskirt to wear on the farm – again another story. There is enough left for a bag and I was going to make another Jack Tar but now I’m not so sure. I am becoming tempted by both M&Ms ‘Costermonger’ and their ‘Right to Roam Rucksack.’ Clearly I shall I have to accept that I am becoming a bag lady after all!
If anyone has made either of these bags, or indeed any other bag, and can recommend it then I would love to hear from you!
Slipping stitches is a fantastic way to create texture and colour contrast in your knitting, whilst only handling one colour yarn at a time on each row. By changing how the stitches are slipped you can create a huge array of different patterns.
To slip a stitch (Sl) you slip yarn purl wise from left to right needle without knitting it.
The position of the working yarn as you slip the stitch creates a different effect.
WYIF – If the yarn is held in front of the slipped stitch WYIF (with yarn in front) it will create a small horizontal bar on the right side of your work.
WYIF – On knit rows, bring the yarn to the front, slip the stitch as if to purl then take the yarn to the back again and work the next stitch.
WYIF – On purl rows the yarn stays at the front.
WYIB – If the yarn is held behind the slipped stitch WYIB (with yarn in back) it will create a small horizontal bar on the wrong side of your work, and an elongated stitch on the right side.
WYIB – On knit rows the yarn remains at the back, slip the stitch as if to purl and then work the next stitch.
WYIB – On purl rows bring the yarn to the back, slip the stitch, then bring the yarn to the front again and work the next stitch.
Several of the designs in our Canny Lass collection use a slip stitch design, Fernietickles hat is worked in the the round and uses both WYIF and WYIB, and Fernietickles mitts and the Room to Breathe jersey are knitted flat and use only WYIF. Over the Hills Hat uses WYIB to create elongated stitches in the round.
Once upon a time the farmer had four little boys who loved to ride their fluffy ponies through the wild wilderness of Northumberland. Those little boys though grew into bigger boys and moved on from fluffy ponies to more mechanical diversions. The farmer was happy to see her boys grow but missed their ponies more than she realised.
Meanwhile the farm was developing too. The farmer was learning how important soil structure and microbial life is to fertility, productivity and carbon sequestration. Action was taken to reduce tillage and crop rotations and livestock plans were focused towards greatest soil health. The heavy tractor, whilst still essential, was spending more time in the shed to protect the soil from compaction.
Some of my earliest childhood memories are those of visits to my Gran and Grandad’s house. They lived far away from us in a tiny semi detached bungalow, with a huge garden that was five or six times the size of the house. In the summer when we visited hours would be spent in the garden with Grandad tending to his roses and dahlias that he grew in the front garden and would enter in the village show, or picking the array of fruits and vegetables that grew in the back garden or down at the village allotments. Gran was always to be found in the tiny galley kitchen from where she would produce a fabulous selection of home baked breads and cakes which would be served at tea time on an incredible selection of miss matched china, always with floral tea cups and saucers. These high teas were always delicious but the highlight of the day was always a reward for good behaviour (keeping out of the way!) and it meant being allowed to play with Gran’s buttons.
Housed in an old biscuit tin the button collection was an eclectic mix of everything from tiny pale mother of pearl buttons for a delicate cardigan, pastels in every shade for baby and toddler knits, to a huge array of brass and shiny buttons, buttons from men’s shirts and trousers and occasionally the odd toggle from a duffle jacket. Hours could be spent sorting them out, counting them and arranging them by colour, size or style. If you were very lucky occasionally you would be allowed to keep just one, a particular favourite, to be fondly cherished, stored away safely, like some magical button treasure.
I hadn’t thought about the biscuit tin full of buttons for years, until recently one day at work Alice came in with a huge box of buttons which she had bought from a local auction. Suddenly all those childhood memories of sorting buttons came flooding back, and I found myself lost in the button box. These ones were stored in cardboard trays and came in very colour and size you can imagine. Far too beautiful to be stored like this I’ve been collecting every shape and size of glass jar that I can, and little by little decanting the buttons into jars, where they sit in the window and catch the light, like jars of magical jewels.
Life on the farm at Whistlebare is never the same from day to day and so in an attempt to explain what it’s like here on a small family farm in Northumberland UK, and also to create a sort of online diary we’re going to start a new blog series, which we’ve called Chronicles of a Creative Life.
This first instalment is a tale of woe, and kale and piglets…..
Once upon a time Alice went to the farmers auction and came home with five little piglets. They were very small indeed and extremely difficult to photograph because they never kept still, and they lived in the shed on the farm driveway and were fed leftover milk from the goats and other tasty treats until one day they were big enough to be allowed out into the fields.
Meanwhile out in the orchard there were some very exciting developments. Firstly there was careful construction of some wooden raised beds by one of the junior goat slaves.
Then tiny vegetable and salad seedlings were planted out, and carefully tended. After several weeks they were big enough to start picking and delicious salads and tasty pans of kale were served from the farmhouse kitchen. We had visions of a summer of plenty, and meals so fresh and healthy that any cake baking would surely be balanced out.
But then the piglets got out of their field and into the orchard….
and so the naughty piglets were captured and in disgrace they were put in one of the stables, but something tells me they’ve got a taste for kale and they’re planning their escape…..
We think we have come up with the perfect day out and would love to share one with you. If you would like to visit our farm and meet our lovely animals as well as learn exciting new knitting skills with one of the best/nicest/maddest tutors around then read on……..
Karie Westermann. Karie is a well known international knitting tutor and designer whose influences from nature and literature are inspirational and we would happily knit everything she has ever designed. She loves bright colour palettes just like us, and we are very excited that she’s joining us at Whistlebare. We are thrilled that Karie has designed our beautiful ‘Canny Lass Shawl’ with our very own Yeavering Bell 4ply to produce a pattern that she will teach at our workshops.
Maddie Harvey. Maddie is a freelance designer and knitting teacher, living and working in Edinburgh, UK. We met at a Christmas party hosted by Edinburgh Yarn Festival last year and she was great company and lovely to sit and chat and knit with. She creates bold and simple knitwear designs inspired by colour and geometry. We’re passionate about colour at Whistlebare, we love it and it influences everything we create and so we’re really excited to have Maddie teaching a choose colour workshop, this is a playful class where we will experiment with colour and texture to create colourful working swatches. After the class, students can use these swatches as reference points for their next multi-coloured project. In the afternoon the workshop will be based on the pattern Maddie has designed for us using a combination of our Yeavering Bell 4ply and our Cheviot Marsh 4 ply.
Nathan Taylor. Nathan who is known in the knitting world as ‘Sockmatician’, travels all over the globe passing on his knitting skills. His podcast on YouTube includes chat about his travels and his teaching, and of course Double Knitting, a technique for creating a reversible, two-sided fabric in two or more colours. Nathan says “I’m passionate about Demystifying Double Knitting, and letting people know that it really isn’t frightening at all, and that if you can knit and you can purl, then you can do Double Knitting.” Nathan will be teaching a Demystifying Double Knitting workshop here at Whistlebare using our Cheviot Marsh yarns.
On arrival we meet in the Studio to choose yarn for the day, and enjoy tea/coffee and homemade cake from the farmhouse kitchen.
This will be followed by an easy farm stroll to meet the goats and the sheep and learn a little about their husbandry and care. Angora goats are wonderfully friendly and inquisitive. We often have a few hand reared kids / lambs that love nothing better than to give cuddles. You can also meet our small herd of dairy goats, our shetland sheep and our rare breed hens and pigs, and ask any questions you have about the farm.
Lunch will be homemade soup with bread and local cheese and more homemade cakes. Please let us know of any dietary requirements in advance.
In our studio, on the farm, you can see all of the yarns that we produce and choose the colours for your knitting project. Choosing colours is lots of fun and Alice has a reputation for being a “colour whisperer” and will help you choose the colours that will really suit you.
With expert tuition from our visiting tutors you will begin your knitting project, we’re really excited about the tutors who are coming and think they will help make this a truly special day.
The Whistlebare story.
We have been producing yarn since 2012 on our small family farm in north Northumberland where we keep pedigree flocks of Angora Goats, for their fine mohair fleece and Wensleydale Sheep for their high lustre longwool.We also have a new flock of Shetland Sheep which we are breeding with a Bowmont Merino to produce a yarn that will be soft and luscious. Our natural yarns from Whistlebare are produced with the utmost care for quality and beauty, and with concern for animal welfare and environmental impact, from using solar panels to produce electricity to heat the water used dyeing the yarn, to using recyclable materials to package our parcels. The newly built barn workshop space is built of hempcrete which is a mix of lime and hemp rather than concrete and is breathable and naturally super insulating, the timber frames and the floors have all been sourced from our local saw mill,and the outside of the building is Larch which doesn’t require any weather treatment. Our Angora goats are sheared by us here on the farm twice a year, their curly fleece is then combined with the fleece from our Wensleydales and goes from the farm to Yorkshire for scouring, combing and spinning into our Yeavering Bell yarn.Back on the farm the yarn is then hand dyed by Alice in small batches, to create our signature palette which includes both subtle delicate pastels and bold dramatic jewel tones. Our Cheviot Marsh yarn is a woollen spun lambswool yarn that is a blend of Cheviot and Romney, from the local Cheviot Hills, also hand dyed here on the farm in our palette of Whistlebare colours.
Whistlebare is located in North Northumberland which is the northern most county in England and is composed of miles and miles of beautiful beaches, wonderful wildlife, dramatic landscapes, forests, hills, dark skies, Roman walls and magical castles.
We are within sight of the glorious Cheviot Hills of the Northumberland National Park, and the some of the most dramatic beaches in England.Just 8 miles from the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, 25 miles north of Alnwick (home of Hogwarts Castle) and 10 miles south of Berwick upon Tweed.Why not make a weekend of it, we can recommend accommodation for you.
Getting to Whistlebare – Whistlebare is easily accessed by car or train.
By Car. Whistlebare is 10-15 minutes drive from the A1.Travel time by car: York 3 hours, Edinburgh 1.5 hours, Manchester 4 hours, London 6 hours.
By Train. The nearest station is Berwick upon Tweed on the East Coast Main Line which provides a fast and regular train service from London to Edinburgh and there are taxis available from the station. We can help arrange taxi sharing if you let us know. Travel time by train: Newcastle 45 minutes, York 2 hoursEdinburgh 45 minutes, Manchester 3.5 hours, London 4 hours.
We’d love to welcome you to Whistlebare for a Grand Day Out, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
Heliotrope is a dramatic shawl designed in Whistlebare’s Yeavering Bell 4ply by Sabine Engel for Jewels – a Making Stories publication. Jewels is the third book in Making Stories European nature book series which was created to share their passion for natural, local breed specific European yarns, beautiful knit wear designs and their stories. All of the patterns are inspired by deep strong tones of gemstones, and their geometric perfections and imperfections.
“elegance meets multi purpose – there’s no better way to describe the Heliotrope shawl. It’s wide diagonal stripes transition into a border with thinner lines that wraps around the entire square. You can cuddle up in it like a blanket, fold it up into a classic triangular shawl shape, and the best part? There’s no wrong side. If you want to highlight the contrasting instead of the main colour, you just flip the shawl to the other side and wear it “inside out” .”
Designer Sabine Engel says she knits and designs to relax her mind and recharge her batteries. Heliotrope was inspired by light, a scintillation created by the cut of diamonds, and of mirrored lines. A Heliotrope is an instrument used in geodetic surveying employing the sun’s rays reflected by a mirror as a signal for the sighting of stations over long distances, and thus the perfect name for this design.
This large and dramatic shawl is a real joy, the garter stitch gives it a gorgeous squish and the clever construction will make you want to knit just one more row! My biggest problem will be choosing what colours to knit it in, at the moment I’m tempted by a dramatic chainmail grey contrasting with a soft green, but I’m quite likely to change my mind!
Heliotrope was designed using Whistlebare’s Yeavering Bell 4ply, it uses 3 skeins of one colour and two skeins of the contrast colour. Yarn can be found here.
Each year Whistlebare travels to a number of yarn festivals around the country, and this year we’ve travelled internationally to Dublin as well. Our next festival though is delightfully local – less than 20 miles from Whistlebare and so of course it’s one of our favourites.
St Abbs Wool Festival started it’s life about 11 years ago in St Abb’s but moved to Eyemouth in the spring of 2017 when it outgrew the venue in St Abbs.Held twice yearly in April and November, and with vendors, demonstrations, workshops and coffee and cake provided by the local WI it’s a fantastic event.The focus of the festival is on local professional craftspeople and promoting their talents and strengthening relationships with crafters. More information can be found on their website and facebook page.
Many exhibitors at St Abbs are members of Sheep Tales who work together to raise the profile of individual members and promote awareness of theimportance of the wool industry in rural areas particularly in Northern England and Southern Scotland.
St Abbs wool festival is held at the Eyemouth Community Centre, Eyemouth, TD14 5DF on 3rd November 2018, 10am – 4pm.
Alice is away in Scotland and so I’ll be at this festival on my own – do come and say hello!
The autumn colours at Whistlebare are lovely this year, there are burnished bronzes and coppers of the falling leaves, and the grass is still vibrant and fresh from the recent rains. Temperatures are falling as well as the leaves, and I frequently find myself reaching for my latest knit, the Black Forest Cardigan from Woods, published by Making Stories. I wanted a thick and cosy cardigan that would cope well with the wilds of the Northumbrian winter to wear around the farm, so I chose our Cheviot Marsh Aran, our woollen spun lambswool . Unable to resist knitting with the lovely luxurious mohair of Yeavering Bell I added in a strand of 4ply, in combination they have created a fabric that is wonderfully soft and squidgy and warm.
Designed by Verena Cohrs – who as well as being the designer of the Black Forest Cardigan is also the editor of Making Stories, the Black Forest Cardigan is described : –
“Cosying up in front of a fire in a cabin in the woods – this is what we picture an evening with our Black Forest Cardigan to be like. All over Fisherman’s rib with a beautiful twisted element on the body makes sure that you’ll enjoy knitting the cardigan immensely and you you’ll never get cold while wearing it. ”
With its deep collar and deeply squidgy fabric this indeed the perfect cosy knit!
Autumn is without doubt my favourite season.Of course I love the colours but what really makes it special for me is the sense of hunkering down, preparing for the wilds of winter.Everythinghappens very quickly in the Autumn, the leaves turn and fall, the light becomes shadowed and brief and, particularly if you live at Whistlebare, the wind arrives.This year I made a discovery in our orchard.It turns out that the little tree that grows rather odd and disappointing pears each year is not a pear tree at all but actually a quince!How did I not know this when quince jelly is one of my most favourite things.It is of course delicious with cold meat but in our house we love it with cheese or melting into rice pudding made with our own goats’ milk.
As my mother was visiting at the end of September we set too to make jelly.We made simple quince, quince and rosemary and a mixed jelly into which we threw everything we could find – apples, quince, the odd medlar and even damsons!This mixed jelly has turned out to be delicious which I suppose shouldn’t be surprising given that all the fruits were picked straight from the trees where they grow entirely neglected and unmolested.The resulting jelly is rich and flavoursome and only slightly darker in colour than the quince.
We had fifteen jars of jelly two weeks ago and are already down to eleven so I think I’d better hide some for Christmas! If anyone has any tips or family jelly making secrets that they can share – please let me know as I have really enjoyed jelly season this year.
We’re trying very hard at Whistlebare to reduce our environmental impact in all aspects of the farm and the yarn business. We’ve recently sourced new packaging for our website orders – more on that another time, and we are using the electricity from the solar panels to run the equipment for the yarn dyeing. So the next step in the reduction of impact is to try and reduce the amount of packaging that comes into Whistlebare. Supermarkets are under a lot of pressure at the moment to reduce the amount of excess plastics on their produce and many of them are beginning to take note and make changes, but it’s still practically impossible to buy many fruits and vegetables without ending up with a rubbish bin full of plastic. We don’t have any farm shops nearby so the next solution was to try and grow our own. We are on a farm after all. However anyone who remembers last years incident with the sweet peas will know that growing things at Whistlebare doesn’t always run smoothly. For anyone who can’t remember the sweet pea incident, lets just say that there may have been some escapee goats involved, and what was once a very pretty wigwam of flowers was within minutes a tasty afternoon snack…… And then there’s the howling wind that always blows here, making growing conditions even harsher than you might expect in the wilds of Northumberland. And a puppy who is rather keen on digging. But I was undeterred. I decided to start small and out of the way, hidden from both the wind and the goats, and I planted up one of the metal planters next to the studio with spring onion, mixed lettuce and radish seeds. Weeks of patient waiting followed. The planter was guarded from marauding goats, and protected from the wind, and watered carefully during the baking heat of the summer. I had high hopes of a luscious crop of crisp lettuce, some crunchy radishes and slightly sweet onions. All gloriously produced without bringing a hint of plastic packaging though the door. Sadly it was not meant to be. The onions didn’t grow at all, the lettuce bravely showed it’s head and I think a snail ate it, and we managed to grow ONE whole radish. And very tasty it was too.
You have to start somewhere on a mission to save the world, even if we only do it one radish at a time.
This summer at Whistlebare Alice has been sewing dungarees and dresses and gorgeous jersey tops.
Whilst I can sew I’ve spent most of my sewing time focusing on sewing quilts, which whilst not easy don’t actually have to fit you, which is the big thing that puts me off sewing clothes. But I’m determined not be to defeated so I decided to try and learn and I bought a book by Tilly and the Buttons called Love at First Stitch.
This quote is from the Tilly and the Buttons website;
“Since the best way to learn is to get stuck in, Love at First Stitch starts you sewing straight away. Each chapter focuses on a project from one of the adorable garment patterns included with the book. You don’t need to plough through a bewildering manual to work out how to make them – new techniques are introduced as and when you need them, so you can build your skills and confidence one project at a time.”
I picked out the Margot pyjama bottoms as the first pattern to try. During the heat wave that Northumberland experienced this summer I altered this pattern to make a shorts length pair of pyjamabottoms, using up the very last of some liberty tawna lawn fabric I had bought for a special quilting project. With just under one metre of fabric I managed to sew something summery and pretty and more importantly comfortable.
I probably made them a size too big but as they have a drawstring waist band they fit just fine, and of course the joy of sewing pyjamas is that no one really sees you in them so they don’t have to be perfect!
Inspired by this small success I’ve got the pattern for my next sewing project which is going to be the Apron Dress from the Assembly Line. I’ve chosen some gorgeous dark navy cotton fabric to sew it from, I just need to be brave enough to cut it out.Wish me luck!
Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read our last blog about our new Kune Kune pigs and to enter our competition to win 2 skeins of Cheviot Blue 4ply and the pattern for our Bubble Jersey.If you missed this, don’t worry there is still time to enter, we won’t be choosing a winner until Friday 7th September, all the details are in our last blog post.
As well as our lovely piggies we made another very exciting purchase at the sale – a nucleus flock of Shetland Sheep! Those of you that have visited Whistlebare or knitted with our Yeavering Bell will know that we keep magnificent Wensleydale sheep for their soft, lustrous longwool that blends so perfectly with mohair. So why are we branching out into a different breed?
Well, that’s down to you our lovely customers!For the last two years we have been struggling to meet demand for Yeavering Bell which is produced entirely from fibre grown here at Whistlebare. In response webrought out our heritage cheviot yarns spun from wool grown in the Cheviot Hills that surround us, that too is selling really well now which puts us in the exciting position of being able to develop something new.
From the outset our yarn business was founded on principles of animal welfare and environmental awareness, both of which remain at the heart of everything we do.We have reached capacity when it comes to mohair production as our dainty Angora Goats have to be housed through the winter and our sheds are full.We do have field space however, and so can produce another really special yarn from animals that can live out all year round.Enter Shetland Sheep, after all Northumberland is positively balmy in comparison to the wild islands of the North Sea and Atlantic!Shetland sheep are not only hardy beasts but are also small and easy to handle.Most significantly of all though, they have some of the finest, softest fleece of any native UK breed.
At Whistlebare we like to produce special products that are unique to our label.So it won’t be a surprise to hear that we have exciting plans for our new Shetlands that we will be sharing with you very soon.
There is no day out that I love more than going to a rare breed sale at an auction mart.It is fortunate that there are no such sales less than 2 hours drive away as otherwise Whistlebare may have become more zoo than farm!Last Saturday, not only did we visit the rare breed sale in Lanark, but we went with the intention of buying sheep, pigs and chickens!
As I’m sure you know Whistlebare is a fibre farm where we grow and produce yarn. So what I hear you wondering were we buying pigs for?Well, pigs are wonderful animals, one of my favourite species in fact.So much so that my husband gave me two beautiful ‘Large Black’ (a pedigree breed) gilts as a present when we got married.Whilst those two girls were the beginning of several hundred pigs Whistlebare has been bereft of them for many years now.The reason that we are re-introducing pigs is all to do with managing our land and animal welfare in as environmentally sound manner that we can.
Large black piglets.
All animals are prone to intestinal parasites – worms!With particular species being prone to different groups of parasites.For example goats and sheep all suffer from the same worms which are different from those hosted by pigs.This is key because worms are contracted by an animal ingesting the worm eggs which are in the pasture having been excreted by another infected animal.There are several ways of controlling worms in livestock but the real key is to prevent / reduce infection in the first place.One of the ways of doing this is to turn livestock out onto ‘clean’ pasture, that is fields that are not infected with eggs.Pigs clean pastures for goats and sheep and vice versa simply by eating. The pigs that we bought are Kune Kunes, the smallest breed in the World, and crucially, they are largely grazers rather than diggers so will not destroy our herbal leys in the process of cleaning them.
new piglets on their way to Whistlebare!
One of our new pigs is a little girl who will be staying on the farm to be mama – she needs a name!So, this is our competition in which you could win 2 skeins of our Cheviot Blue 4ply, in the colour of your choice, and the pattern to knit ‘Bubble Jersey’.
name the piglet!
All you have to do is suggest a name for our new sow in the comments below.The winner will be announced on 7th September after the children are back to school and some semblance of normality has returned!
Bubble jersey and Cheviot Blue 4 ply. Bubble Jersey .
On any given weekend I can pretty much guarantee that we’ll visit Barter Books at least once.
Located in what was once Alnwick’s railway station it is one of the largest second hand bookshops in Britain. It’s the perfect place to take visitors, or you can while away a few hours by yourself on a wet afternoon by the fire, preferably with a pot of tea and stack of books, and your knitting of course. Amongst the rows upon rows of shelves you can find a book that you loved as a child and had forgotten all about till now, discover the love for a new author, obsessively collect every single book in a series or find movies, audio books or music. The cafe in the old waiting room serves a range of food including very impressive bacon sandwiches and my son is passionate about the macaroni and cheese. At the front of the shop a honesty box system allows you to have a cup of tea and coffee by the fire, accompanied by the ever so popular barter biccies.
This last weekend we took a family who were staying with us, and whilst they hunted for a copy of Frankenstien, and some crime fiction I found myself as always in the cookery book section. Browsing through the pages I found in print a recipe I’d been using for years, passed down through friends we never knew it’s name or where it was from, but I found it in a book by actress and Master Chef winner Lisa Faulkner where she cooks recipes passed down through her family in Recipes from my mother for my daughter.
Called sunshine shorties they’re a delicious biscuit and may be appearing at a Whistlebare workshop sometime soon!
Towards the beginning of May it is Mr Whistlebare’s birthday which is traditionally celebrated with cake and an enjoyable outing.This year however, cake was banned for health reasons (!) and the enjoyable outing was to be attending a ‘Sanfoin Experience’.For those of you that don’t know Sanfoin is a plant grown in herbal leys for feeding to livestock.Yes, we were going for a day watching grass grow!So it was at the end of May we set off to Cotswold Grass Seeds’ experimental farm near Stow on the Wold
Believe it or not we had a great time.Here at Whistlebare we are constantly striving to improve the health of our livestock and the productivity of the farm through natural biological processes.There are many ways in which Sanfoin can contribute to these aims.It is a leguminous plant (nodules on its roots fix nitrogen to the soil), it is rich in condensed tannins (helps control parasitic worms in livestock), it is drought resistant due to its very long tap root, it has a long flowering season so is good for bees and other pollinators, it has high nutritional value as a fodder crop.As if all this were not enough there is no question the goats and sheep LOVE IT!
Sanfoin can be tricky to grow and doesn’t yield as highly as some other fodder crops and so it’s popularity declined after WW2.However, for all the reasons listed above we are very keen to grow Sanfoin at Whistlebare and brought several sacks of seed home with us.Luckily our soil is very alkaline which is the one pre-requisite for success.I’ll keep you updated on progress….
My Birthday is in November and my outing is going to include the Isles of Harris and Lewis, accommodation in a wonderful, remote tower and many woolly/textile excursions – oh yes, and cake!
It could be because the pattern is very complicated. Or because the item is very large. Or because your life is very busy and things get in the way of your precious knitting time.
Or it could be that like me you are a procrastinator. First you can spend hours and hours deliberating over the pattern. Which one will it be? Days can be lost in the depths of Ravelry. Then once you’ve picked your project there is the small matter of what colour to choose. Any visitor to Whistlebare will soon find out that my favourite colour is grey, to the great despair of Alice. We make beautifully coloured yarns and I love grey…..
So I’m trying really hard to be more brave and choose other colours. Deep dark rich green won the pick. Morginn cardigan from Laine magazine 4 was the pattern of choice.
And off I went, needles in one hand, yarn in the other ready to cast on. Oh but what’s this? Fisherman’s Rib, I don’t know how to do that. Fortunately youtube to the rescue and away I went, knitting away, slowly but surely until….. A scary bit! Well not really, there weren’t actually any ghosts or terrible monsters in my pattern, just a section coming up that I didn’t understand. Suddenly the desire to knit fades. If I do a few more rows then I’ll get to that tricky bit and have to admit I don’t know what to do. I know I’ll cut the grass/do the ironing/bake a cake anything to detract from the issue. Meanwhile Alice is saying, “how’s your cardigan getting on, can I see the progress?” Soon I’ll have to admit there hasn’t been any.
So what do I do? The answer as always is make a large pot of tea. And then I read the pattern.
Nothing else. That’s all I had to do. And it wasn’t difficult after all. Read the pattern, follow the instructions, feel incredibly smug because you’re knitting POCKETS and suddenly all is well again.
Well until I get to the sleeves perhaps…. picking up stitches, maybe I’ll need a another pot of tea first.
Last autumn Whistlebare went on it’s first international trip to the Oslostrikkefest in Norway – home of truly amazing colour work knitting.
My parents met in Norway and whilst there my mum learnt to knit all of the traditional designs and throughout my childhood would produce intricate and colourful jumpers and mittens for us to wear. I would watch as her fingers moved impossibly fast, and ask her to teach me, but I could never ever quite see what was going on and she seemed unable to go any slower so I could…..
Fast forward a “few” years and with the trip to Oslo booked I was determined I was going to finally master the art of knitting with more than one colour, and create for myself some Norwegian knitwear. And there came the first problem. Oh so much choice. Finally I decided that fingerless mittens would be the simplest place to start, and fell in love with a pattern by Skeindeer Knits called Yggdrasil which means Tree of Life in Norse Mythology.
I used our Cheviot Blue 4ply yarn, in the colours “All at Sea”, and “Gilded Stone”. (I forgot to take the third colour with me, and had to adapt the pattern. – First lesson in colourwork learnt – take all your colours!)As a first timer colour work knitter I held both colours in one hand and switched back and forth as required. I soon learnt the importance of yarn dominance which makes one colour stand out more than the other depending on whether the yarn is held above or below.Also critical in colour work is the tension of the floats – the strands of yarn running across the back of the knitting….. As with all knitting the more I did the better I got at it, so by the time I finished mitt two there was a significant improvement in my tension and one mitt is vastly better than the other, but I love them, and wear them ALL the time.
For this my first experience at colour work knitting there were both pros and cons to my choice of pattern. I loved watching the tree emerge on the back of the hands, but I found the repeating nature of the traditional pattern on the palm much easier to manage.Knitting on dpns on a small project and mastering holding two strands of yarn felt a bit clumsy to start with, but it got easier!
In March at Edinburgh Yarn Festival we launched our newest yarn Cheviot Marsh. Like Cheviot Blue, this yarn is woollen spun and perfect for colour work, and the blend of Cheviot and Romney Marsh lambswool creates a gorgeous bouncy and crisp feel. As in recent years, the latest Shetland Wool week hat pattern was also launched at Edinburgh, and it wasn’t long before I was planning colour work project number 2! Merrie Dancers Toorie was designed for Shetland Wool week by Elizabeth Johnston and the pattern depicts the Northern Lights against the dark night sky.
Seeing the Northern lights is one of my lifelong ambitions, so far living in Northumberland I’ve been lucky enough to have been treated to a faint green tinge to the horizon, a deep dramatic reddish colour seen from my back garden and a night of watching streaks of pale colours dance across the sky, whilst parked in a lay-by in the freezing cold! One day I hope I’ll make it further north – to Finland perhaps, to see them in all their glory.
Meanwhile I created my own, in Cheviot Marsh DK with a night sky of deep inky blue “All at Sea”, and bravely for me, I picked out some really bright colours to contrast against the navy of the sky, “Enchanted” “Fairy glen” “Spring tide” and “Gilded stone”.
For this project I was determined to learn to hold the different colours in different hands and with youtube tutorials on repeat soon I was whizzing round, changing colours and creating even floats. This pattern is fantastic for beginners, knitting a hat on a round needle is so simple, and the repeating pattern, and the frequent colour changes made it a really quick knit because I always had to knit just one more colour before stopping…..I’d love to knit another one, and I think the hardest part would be what colours to choose next time.
So now I’ve truly fallen down the colour work rabbit hole and my Ravelry favourites page is filled with sweaters with colourful yokes or decorative hems, and the only thing holding me back is choosing which one.Right now I’m struggling to choose between
Any of you lovely readers who follow us on social media will know that we are flat out at Whistlebare at the moment. Next week we are heading over to Ireland for the brand new wool festival – Woollinn. A new festival is always really exciting but we are particularly looking forward to this one as Dublin is such a fun city and I haven’t visited for nearly 20 years! All wool festivals involve huge amounts of preparation so all the slaves at Whistlebare have set to dyeing, skeining, labelling yarn.
At the same time, of course, all our does (female goats) and ewes (female sheep) are producing their off-spring. Last year we carefully held back introducing the bucks to the herd and tups to the flock until December, much later than our usual October, in order to delay kidding/lambing until after Edinburgh Yarn Festival. Previous years have shown that coinciding our biggest show with our busiest period on the farm is not a great plan. This delay was particularly fortuitous this year as otherwise we would have been mid-kidding when we were hit by ‘The Beast From The East’. Having babies in several feet of snow is never a good plan, even if you are in a barn!
So, once again we are preparing for an (hopefully) big show and kidding and lambing at the same time. During the week Tess and I spend our time trying to fit in the required ‘kid cuddles’ between bouts of skein winding and labelling. Weekends are punctuated by shouts of, “Mummy its coming!” while I am trying to catch up with dyeing. It is a good job that our ladies are busy producing more little fibre factories as stocks of Yeavering Bell are already dangerously low and we won’t be re-spinning until Christmas! One thing you can be sure of, if we say that a yarn is spun from fibre grown here at Whistlebare then that is exactly what it is. We never supplement our clips with bought in mohair or Wensleydale as we believe that provenance is paramount both to us and our customers.
A while ago I talked to you about my struggle with stuff and my aim to achieve William Morris’ target of “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.’ As you may expect our progress towards this goal is slow and comes in fits and starts but it has got me thinking. As a farmer, businesswoman and generally busy human being perhaps I focus on the useful rather more than on the beautiful? Worse than that I think that I may have unconsciously come to believe that practical and beautiful are mutually exclusive of one another. For example, most days will find me dressed in overalls which are very practical for farming. Of course livestock require care seven days a week, that is seven days of overall wearing a week. I am not hankering after designer clothes nor do I want to wear a new outfit every day, I find the current fashion for ‘disposable’ clothes nothing less than appalling. That said, are overalls the only practical solution? Surely there are many alternatives that are comfortable, washable and hard wearing? Warm, comfortable, (hand) washable and hard wearing we have already got covered. What better than beautiful, natural wool and mohair? So instead of wearing budget bought ‘fleeces’ with all their connected environmental issues I’m going to wear some simple jerseys knitted from our yarns. I believe that natural fibres are beautiful in themselves and are the most pleasant to wear. Our woollen yarn, Cheviot Marsh, is from very hardy breeds of sheep and so their wool, even their soft lambs’ wool, is robust enough to tackle daily wear. Mohair of course, has the highest rub test of any natural fibre and so is super hard wearing. For my new working wardrobe I am going to focus on our Cheviot yarns as they are born from the hills surrounding our farm and have been keeping the farmers therein warm for centuries.
I already have three very nice jerseys knitted out of our cheviot yarn. Kate Davies’ cropped, boxy ‘Carbeth’, Isabell Kraemer’s slouchy, unisex ‘Daelyn’ and our very own ‘Tweedy 1’ upscaled for adults – more on that another day. I’m thinking of knitting Jonna Hietala’s ‘Mon Manet’ as I very much enjoyed knitting her ‘Nuuk’ and a similar long sleeved version would be really useful here in Northumberland’s summer! If you have knitted Mon Manet I would love to hear your opinion of it or any other suggestions of patterns that would suit our cheviot yarn and a busy working lifestyle. I would also love to hear any suggestions about balancing practical considerations with your daily style.
It is April and we are still trying to have less stuff in our lives, the focus for the moment is on clothes. The buzz phrase is #wearitagain because if you do and keep on wearing it again then you need less. This is particularly pertinent just now as this week, 23rd-29th April, is ‘Fashion Revolution Week’ and marks the 5th anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh that resulted in the death of 1183 people.
We are Fashion Revolution. We are designers, producers, makers, workers and consumers. We are academics, writers, business leaders, brands, retailers, trade unions and policymakers. We are the industry and the public. We are world citizens. We are a movement and a community. We are you.
We love fashion. But we don’t want our clothes to exploit people or destroy our planet. We demand radical, revolutionary change.
Fashion Revolution is trying to bring about transparency in the manufacture and supply of clothes by encouraging us all to ask ‘Who Made My Clothes?’ Here at Whistlebare we entirely support this message and try hard to keep environmental, welfare and ethical principles at the centre of all our production and to be open about every stage in the process.
On a more personal level I have never been a big ‘shopper’ when it comes to clothes. I don’t enjoy crowds and I don’t enjoy trying things on in fitting rooms and so tend to buy most of my clothes on-line. Unfortunately I then often keep garments that I wouldn’t have bought in a shop on the basis that they ‘will do’. Well NO MORE! Going forward I am going to be much more conscientious about my clothes. For obvious reasons it is a very long time since I have bought any knitwear. I now have a great appreciation for quality yarn, different fibres and beautiful design. A jersey generally takes many weeks for me to knit and so I am inclined to take very good care of it. There is no reason that I can’t apply the same principles to the rest of my clothes and so I have decided to make at least some of them myself.
I am lucky enough to own a brilliant sewing machine and last week I went on an outing to Edinburgh to buy an overlocker. A very productive friend of mine had told me that an overlocker ‘is sewing life changing’ and so far I have to say I love mine! Last weekend I made a brilliant maxi skirt complete with voluminous pockets. The pattern (which I lengthened) was ‘Brumby’ by Megan Nielsen and the fabric was pretty Liberty needlecord that I had left over after making my, Tess’s and Kirstie’s EYF skirts. I am so pleased with this skirt. I may be a farmer who kicks about in overalls most of the time but wearing a skirt is generally my preference. I hope that this is the first of many to come!
If you are reading this I know you likely knit but do you sew too? Do you feel differently about your own makes than clothes that you buy?
Do you struggle with stuff? I really really struggle with stuff. There is stuff in my bedroom, clothes that were a bargain in the sale but never fitted properly; books long read and not necessarily enjoyed but you can’t throw them out because, well, they are books; generously given toiletries that I have no idea what are for let alone what to do with the list goes on and on. Other rooms are just the same. We are lucky enough to have a utility room complete with washing machine and tumble dryer unfortunately it is also my dye shed, animal medicines and equipment store, drying room and all round excellent place for others to put stuff they don’t know what to do with! It is made worse by our being a family of 6 living in quite a small house where there truly is not space for everything to have a place. Just when I think I am conquering the mountain there is always a setback, Christmas for example. Anyone who has visited Whistlebare in the last year will know that we are addressing our lack of space by building an extension that we are very excited about – mostly. The proviso is because I fear that more space may ultimately mean more STUFF!
Clearly it is time to take things in hand, William Morris’ great quote springs to mind:
‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.
We began our new resolution before Christmas by running away! We all travelled way up to the North of Scotland to spend Christmas week in an idyllic off-grid home surrounded by sea and mountains.
We took with us what we needed, mostly food, with two teenage boys and two tweenage boys it is always mostly food! There was no internet, no TV and no mobile signal, it was heavenly as there was no means by which the world could tell us all what we were missing out on.
There were presents but they were restrained and leaned heavily towards hand knits. Christmas morning was spent jumping off rocks into the sea. Christmas afternoon saw us all playing ‘Exploding Kittens’ (fear not it is a card game!) around the fire. We hiked, we knitted, we cooked, we played games and we squabbled, it was too ‘Famous Five’ for words but we had an amazing time. All without STUFF.
That brings me to the point, we all know that less is more, something that is becoming ever more true as we are swamped in consumerism and a throw away culture. Christmas has brought this home to me more than ever so I am really trying to slow down, buy less, appreciate more because that is the way I will become surrounded by the useful and the beautiful and not be drowned in STUFF!
I am going to try and share my progress in this with you all as a form of accountability. Please do join me in the comments below so that I know you are watching!
A lot of you will already know that I am a very proud mum of four boys and I am grateful that we live in a county that is spacious enough to contain their boundless energy! The countryside around our farm is open, sometimes bleak and always wild. For sometime now I have wanted to produce a yarn that reflects this landscape, pays homage to the woolly heritage of the North and is perfect for knitting the big snug, robust jumpers needed to enjoy our great outdoors.
After much thought and experimentation we decided on a blend of South Country Cheviot and Blue Faced Leicester wool.
As our lovely goats live inside through the winter we have quite a lot of available lowland grazing, so we welcomed 50 Cheviot lambs down from the hills for the winter. They were sheared for the first time in February and hence we had their very best and softest fleece.
The earliest records of Cheviot sheep as we know them today are from the 14th Century when large areas of the hills were owned by the church. In the 15th and 16th Centuries many merino sheep where imported from the continent through Berwick ports. It is believed that the monks improved the fleece of the cheviots by crossing them with merinos. Cheviot sheep today are a small hardy breed ideal for the harsh environments of the Cheviot hills with their dense fleece which is warm and surprisingly soft for a hill breed.
The Blue Faced Leicester is a white sheep with spectacularly fine soft fleece and a distinctive blue skinned head which shows through. Blue Faced Leicesters are used for crossing with hill breeds to produce the famous mule. The Blue Faced Leicester was developed in the 17th Century by Robert Bakewell and were at one time time called the Hexham Leicester due to their concentration in Northumberland. It was a very famous Blue Faced Leicester called Blue Cap who was the original sire of the breed now known as Wensleydales that we love so much at Whistlebare. With our flock of Wensleydales and our visiting Cheviots we don’t have space to keep Blue Faced Leicesters as well, so were delighted to learn that friends of ours who farm locally have a pedigree flock whose fleece we have blended into our Cheviot Blue yarn.
Cheviot Blue is a blend of 60% Cheviot and 40% Blue Faced Leicester woollen spun to produce a yarn that is bouncy and crisp with a lovely loftiness.
This type of wool is perfect for colour work, cables and lace as it has excellent stitch definition and stays where you put it. The loftiness created by the air trapped in the fibres makes it surprisingly warm and the resulting garment will be snug and airy and long lasting.
We are very proud of Cheviot Blue as it is the embodiment of all our principles at Whistlebare. The wool is from either our own sheep or sheep kept by people we know whose management of their flocks and standards of welfare we respect. The breeds of sheep are traditional to the UK and thrive in their natural environment. The greasy fleeces have been scoured, carded and spun in Yorkshire supporting the great woollen tradition of the county and minimising miles travelled and so carbon footprint. The yarn is dyed by hand at Whistlebare with the love and respect that a beautiful natural product deserves.
I do like a good story about a dragon, especially when there is a castle, a prince and a wicked witch involved! This month’s Yarns Around Northumberland tells the tale of Princess Margaret of Bamburgh and our featured pattern is a pretty, sleeveless jumper incorporating the flower stitch of our much loved Daisy Scarf. This month’s pattern is, of course, called Marguerite Daisy.
Marguerite Daisy is knitted from two skeins of our Yeavering Bell 4ply and this month’s pretty pretty colour is called Dreaming of Peonies.
The Legend of the Laidly Worm
Bamburgh castle has stood guard over the Northumberland coastline for over 1,400 years, dominating the landscape from it’s position 150ft above the sea. The name Bamburgh originates from when the castle was the Royal seat of the Kings of Northumbria. Aethelfrith, the first King of Northumbria named the fortress or ‘burgh’ after his Queen Bebba, which over the years was simplified to Bamburgh.
Over the centuries the castle has been built and rebuit; by the Saxons, the Normans and through to the Victorians, and the final restoration by the Armstrong family who now own it.
It is from the Anglo Saxon times that one of the great legends of the area arises, the legend of the Laidly Worm.
King Ida the Flame-bearer rules the kingdom of Northumbria with his queen. Together, they have a daughter Margaret famed for her great beauty and a son, Childewynd.
But Ida’s wife dies and he becomes besotted with an evil witch Behoc and marries her. Whilst the King’s son Childewynd is travelling overseas Behoc becomes deeply jealous of her beautiful step-daughter. She casts a spell on Margaret turning her into a ferocious fire-breathing dragon known as the Laidly Wyrme.
“I weird ye to be a Laidly Worm, And borrowed shall ye never be, Until Childe Wynd, the King’s own son Come to the Heugh and thrice kiss thee; Until the world comes to an end, Borrowed shall ye never be.”
The dragon terrified the people of the kingdom, to appease her they left tributes of cattle and milk by the heugh at Spindlestone where the dragon often lingered. The King offered rewards to slay the dragon but none could defeat it. Eventually news of this terrifying dragon reaches Childewynd, along with troubling tales of the new queen Behoc. When he learnt of her cruelty towards the people and the power she held over King Ida he had a new ship built, with its keel made of the rowan tree; a sure protection against dark magic.
As Childewynd lands on the beach near the castle he finds the dragon raging, but as raises his sword to kill it when he hears it speak in his sisters voice, begging him to kiss her.
“O, quit thy sword, unbend thy bow, and give me kisses three; For though I am a laidly worm, no harm I’ll do to thee!”
Childewynd kisses the dragon three times and it vanishes, leaving his sister in it’s place. Returning to the castle their father is over joyed too see them, and they confront the wicked stepmother. Chidlewynd touches her with a sprig of the rowan tree and she turns into a ugly toad, doomed to live at the bottom of the well in the castle keep.
Maidens beware. According to legend Behoc crawls out of the well every seven years to seek revenge on any innocent young lady who falls within her reach.
Welcome to the fith instalment of our ‘Yarns Around Northumberland’
This month our Yarns around Northumberland is based in the stunning College Valley, named for the College Burn that wends through it. Our pretty Starlight Snug is a reflection of the huge, star littered skies you will find after dark.
Starlight Snug is a light and pretty summer jumper. It is knitted from two skeins of our Yeavering Bell 4ply (named after the distant peak in the photo above) and is a perfect light layer for warmer days or more chill evenings. As ever, the pattern is free with the yarn.
Our brand new colour this month is a beauty! ‘Beneath the Bridge’ is a rich, multi-toned blue perfect with your jeans or a pretty summer frock!
The College Valley in North Northumberland is on the northern edge of the Cheviot Hills. It is a haven for wildlife and vegetation, and also the location of Cheviot, the highest hill in Northern England at 2,672 ft. The area is rich with the remains of hill forts and ramparts, as well as round houses, all evidence of past communities who lived in the area. On a fine day there are astonishing views and breathtaking panoramas but when the weather is bad the hilltops can be inhospitable places.
Nowadays the hills are a tranquil place, frequented by walkers and home to sheep and wild goats. During the second World War however they were much less quiet as the skies were often filled with the sounds of aircraft.
The RAF ran training courses from RAF Eshott near Alnwick which flew over the Cheviot hillsides and often planes returning from Europe would be diverted for emergency landing to small regional airports such as the one at Millfileld on the northern edge of the Cheviot hills. The combination of inexperienced airmen, primitive navigation systems and often atrocious weather conditions led to a large number of crashes on the hills, many of which were sadly fatal. Amongst the hills it is still possible to find wreckages of these many planes, a sad reminder of where airmen lost their lives.
Thanks to the amazing bravery and courage of local shepherds not all of these crashes ended in tragedy. Many airmen were saved and one rescue in particular has become legendary.
On December 16, 1944. a B17 Flying Fortress with a nine man American crew was on it’s way to bomb the railroad yards at Ulm in Germany when the mission was aborted due to bad weather conditions. The planes were ordered to disperse and fly home and to jettison their bombs in the North Sea. The pilot Lt. George Kyle was unable to do this and the crew found themselves off course and about 20 miles north of Cheviot, where they crashed on West Hill in blizzard conditions.
Local shepherd John Dagg of Dunsdale and his black and white collie bitch Sheila heard the crash and made their way to site of the accident, with Frank Moscrop a young shepherd from Southernknowe.
They found that two of the Allied aircrew on-board, including Sgt Frank R Turner, were killed in the tragic incident, and discovered four airmen huddled together for shelter. Two of them were injured and two had no boots, so the shepherds used parachute silk to wrap around the airmen’s feet and and helped carry them down the hillside to safety. Hours later the bombs on the plane exploded and shattered the windows of the farmhouse far down the hillside.
The other three crewmen had believed they were the only survivors and had made their way off the hillside to Mounthooly, where they were taken in by Mr Cowens and his wife, who were relieved they weren’t Germans and took them in and looked after them.
After the crash John Dagg and Frank Mosrop were presented with the British Empire Medal in honour of their bravery. Sheila the sheepdog was the first ever civilian dog awarded the Dickin Medal for Gallantry, which was presented at a ceremony at Southernknowe in July 1945 and came with a trio coloured ribbon, her name and inscribed with the motto “They Also Serve”.
In 1946 one of Sheila’s puppies, named Tibbie went to America to the family of Sgt Roderick Frank Turner who had died in the B17 crash.
Welcome to the fourth instalment of our ‘Yarns Around Northumberland’
This month our Yarns around Northumberland tells the story of St Cuthbert and introduces our Celtic cable sock pattern – Meandering Monk inspired by Cuthbert’s journeys through Northumberland.
Meandering Monk is a special cable sock pattern designed for Whistlebare using our very own Cuthbert’s sock yarn, which is a high twist #nonylon sock blend of 80% Mohair and 20% Wensleydale. The Celtic style cables represent St Cuthbert’s journeys around Northumberland, both as he travelled from Melrose Abbey to Lindisfarne, a walk now known as Cuthbert’s Way, and the journey to his final resting site, which took him to Cuthbert’s Cave and through many parts of Northumberland.
This beautiful tranquil colour “Moorland Mist” is a soft purplish grey evocative of the early morning mist rising up from the moorland hills and is our limited edition colour for this month.
Cuthbert was born in Northumberland in 635 and was inspired to join the Christian church after seeing what he believed was the light of a human soul descend to heaven. He was admitted to monastery at Melrose, and spent the next 13 years there with the monks.
Cuthbert became the Prior of Lindisfarne when he was about 30, and lived there for the next 10 years. He ran the monastery, and as an active missionary, developed the gift of spiritual healing.
At around 40 he believed he was being called to the life of a hermit, and moved to the Island of Inner Farne, where he built a hermitage and lived for 10 years. Visitors often came to the island to consult him or ask for healing but he was cut off by the tides for several hours a day, or longer in rough seas, and so was often left in peace.
After 10 years of living as a hermit he was persuaded by the church and the King to become a bishop and for two years he travelled. Then, feeling the approach of death he retired and moved back to the hermitage on Inner Farne, where he died in the company of Lindisfarne monks in 687AD.
He was brought back to Lindisfarne to be buried and as people came to pray at his grave miracles of healing were claimed. This was a sign to the monks that Cuthbert was now a saint in heaven, and they determined to make his relics available as a declaration of sainthood. Eleven years were allowed for his body to become a skeleton, and during these years it is believed that the manuscript known as the Lindisfarne Gospels were made. When his coffin was opened it was found not to contain a skeleton but a complete undecayed body. So the cult of St Cuthbert began…….
Welcome to the sixth instalment of our ‘Yarns Around Northumberland’
There has been salmon fishing on the River Tweed since the time of the Scottish Chief Calgacus, who was defeated by the Romans in about AD85. The first fisheries are recorded in the 12th Century when the Bishop of Durham gave the fishery of Haliwarstelle (Hallowstell or holy mans fishery at Spittal) to the monks of Holy Island.
The traditional method of netting wild Atlantic salmon still used on the Tweed at Berwick is by means of net and coble.
The coble is a small 1 or 2 man flat-bottomed rowing boat with a high pointed bow which is rowed out from the bank of the river in a semi-circle, while the net is “shot” from the stern, the boat is the rowed back to the shore and net immediately drawn in by the rest of the crew standing on the shore.
Two centuries ago, before ice became easily available, most of the salmon was pickled, salted and packed in barrels by the Berwick coopers to be taken by sea to London. At one time catches were so abundant, it is said that servants complained of having to it too often!
As well as the legal fishing of salmon on the Tweed there has always been poaching. It is said that James Ist of Scotland (1406-1437) imposed severe penalties for the illegal ‘slauchter of Salmonde’ and if convicted a third time, the wrong doer ‘sall tyne (forfeit) his life or then bye it’.
The tools of a salmon poacher were a semi-circular pout net with which to sweep the water and a leister. A leister could be a spear with a fork or trident of barbed prongs, or a throwing leister which had five prongs and a rope attached, fastened to the thrower’s arm to bring his speared catch to the bank.
Night poaching from boats, using leisters, was called “burning the water”, metal baskets on the boats were filled with fragment of tar barrel and rags steeped in pitch and were set alight, and the bright blaze attracted the fish to the surface of the water.
Shindig Shawl from pompom quarterly 5th Anniversary edition. Designed by Sachiko Burgin, Shindig is knitted from the bottom edge upwards, beginning with the lace section before working a striped pattern with decreases to the top edge. The curve of this crescent shawl is perfect for wrapping and layering and we love the juxtaposition of the stripes with the elegant fancy lace motif.
We knitted this in 4ply using Beneath the Bridge for the lace section and a gradient of blues for the stripes.
To make a striped version similar to ours you would need one full sized skein of Yeavering Bell 4 ply and four mini skeins, or alternatively as the pattern suggests, it looks beautiful with two contrasting skeins. Rockpools Edge and Natural would recreate the original design perfectly.
This month’s Yarns Around Northumberland brings us home to Whistlebare. It’s a very wonderful time of the year here as all the kids are arriving, so why would we go anywhere else!
In order to show them to you in an extra special way we’ve made our first ever vlog (video blog) episode, which is all about our adorable baby goats, a little bit of chat about what we’ve been knitting recently and what we’re planning to knit next, and of course a special Yarns Around Northumberland yarn.
This month we’ve knitted a hat pattern designed by Jared Flood of Brooklyn Tweed (pattern available from Brooklyntweed.com) and we think it would look fabulous in our limited edition colour I see Spring.
Yeavering Bell DK in limited edition ‘I See Spring’.
Spring is coming to Whistlebare! Make sure you watch our vlog to see some more signs of spring!
Would you like to spend the day at Whistlebare? There are two new workshop dates available on our website, 28th September 2017 or 3rd of October 2017. These dates are especially for individuals – you don’t have to bring a group! All details can be found HERE, if you would like to visit then please book very soon as our workshops fill fast!
Welcome to the second instalment of our ‘Yarns Around Northumberland’
In this, February’s Yarns Around Northumberland, we thought we would focus on a strong and beautiful heroine in the lead up to Mothers’ Day next month. Our featured pattern is Stella Ackroyd’s pretty lace ‘Waterford Shawl’ knitted from our very own Yeavering Bell 4ply.
Louisa Anne Beresford was born in 1818, daughter of Charles Stuart, 1st Baron of Rothesay and Lady Elizabeth Margaret Yorke, and she was destined to have great talent, wealth, beauty and independence of mind.
As a child Louisa was taught to draw by Rossetti and attended life drawing classes by John Ruskin. She is believed to have modelled for Sir john Everett Millais and it is suggested that her beauty was one of the inspirations for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
Louisa Stuart first met her husband, Henry, the 3rd Marquis of Waterford, in 1839 at the Eglinton Tournament where she was greatly impressed by his courage and skill at jousting. Henry had inherited great wealth at the age of fifteen and had grown up to be rather wild. The phrase ‘to paint the town red’ refers to his painting a pub’s porch red and being fined £100 for his efforts!
Despite his reputation for drunken carousing Henry was actually very shy. So shy that he proposed to Louisa via a letter to her mother written by his sister! Lady Stuart was appalled by the idea of a union between her younger daughter and the wild Marquis of Waterford and was set to refuse. Louisa however, prevailed and she and Henry were married in 1842.
The marriage was successful but tragically Henry was killed in a riding accident in 1859 and childless Louisa had to leave Curraghmore House in County Waterford, Ireland. Louisa took up residence in Ford Castle, inherited by Henry from his Grandmother, and set about making improvements. She showed great concern for the welfare of the tenants of the estate and in 1860 commissioned the building of a school. She also provided housing for her tenants, a nurse for Ford Village and founded a temperance society.
In 1862 she began to cover the walls of the school room with scenes from the bible. The characters in the murals were modelled by children from the school and their parents from the village and estate. The murals, which took 21 years to complete, were influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement, and were painted in life-sized watercolour on paper stretched onto wooden frames and then mounted on the walls.
The hall was used as the village school until 1957, and is now known as the Waterford Gallery, or Lady Waterford Hall.
Louisa died at Ford on 12th May 1891. Her grave lies next to the Church of St Michael in Ford village. Her Gravestone and slab, designed by George Frederic Watts and his wife Mary Seton Watts is now designated a Grade II listed building. The wording on the slab tells how she was ‘honoured and beloved by all’.
A gifted watercolourist she didn’t exhibit in galleries until the 1870’s. After she died there were two large exhibitions of her work with over 300 pieces of art at each, she is now recognised as one of the the most interesting and gifted artists of her time.
We have dyed three pretty, limited edition colours in Yeavering Bell 4ply to knit Waterford Shawl (although you can of course, knit with any colour in our range). Gentle variegated ‘Louisa Anne’s Bouquet’, ‘Pre-Raphaelite’ a dusty rose and ‘Waterford Crystal’ a smoky blue. Two skeins are needed to knit the shawl and the pattern is FREE with the yarn – perfect for Mothers’ Day!
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Welcome to the first instalment of our ‘Yarns Around Northumberland’
The plan was a good one, or at least a possible one. Lovely Stella Ackroyd had knitted our sample of her beautiful Border Ballad Scarf in our very own Yeavering Bell Aran, we had dyed it to our new ‘Centurian Red’ and we (Whistlebare’s family) were off to ‘Homesteads Fort’ on Hadrian’s Wall for a photo shoot.
Unfortunately, on the day in question, Mr Whistlebare and two Whistlebare boys were struck down with the lurgy. Despite this, I and No. 2 boy set off in freezing temperatures and rapidly diminishing light to get what pictures we could! As you can imagine the results were mixed so I would like to take this opportunity to thank Cleeve Langdon (IG cleeve_04_) for generously allowing us to use his amazing photos. Do have a look at his Instagram feed for lots of cracking images of Northumberland and Cumbria.
I would also like to thank No.2 boy (12 years) for being a chirpy star and taking lots of great photos despite his numb fingers. All photos of me were taken by Boris 🙂
So on with the story, or is it a yarn?
“Just when you think you are at the world’s end, you see smoke rising
from East to West as far as the eye can turn, and then under it, also
as far as the eye can stretch, houses, temples, shops and
theatres, barracks and granaries, trickling along like dice behind….
one, long, low, rising and falling, and hiding and showing line of towers…
that is the wall. “
Rudyard Kipling From `Puck of Pook’s Hill’
On becoming Roman Emperor in 117AD, Hadrian set about making the Empire more secure. Built to defend the north-west frontier and to separate the Roman and Barbarian territories, Hadrian’s Wall stretches 73 miles from Wallsend in the east to the Solway Firth in the west. The mighty Roman Army had conquered the Picts, to the North of the wall, but the wild Caledonian terrain made for difficult fighting and yielded little of value and so Hadrian decided his empire would not include Caledonia.
Hadrian’s Wall still sits well in Northumberland’s wild and rugged landscape, both can be bleak and are certainly imposing. It is still possible to walk the wall’s entire length and hear the echoes of the Roman Soldiers long past. Below is a poem from an unsent letter written by a soldier posted on Hadrian’s Wall.
I’m lonely here the places I didn’t go to defend this place have given me a headache for twenty years or so.
The underpinnings in gorse tiny flowers of thyme grow through it, these stones have bled more blood than men and yet I’m full of hope.
Its willow weaving time, at Christmas we will decorate: celebrate Saturnalia, drink toasts to spill into the new year hope for a changing of the guard.
The men it posted here from Syria to Africa who stood as sentry through winter’s outnumbered days wish you were here, and here, and here.
Thousands of men were garrisoned along the length of the wall in Turrets, Milecastles and the 16 huge Forts in which 500 – 1000 men were stationed. Some of these men were recruited locally but most came from the far flung reaches of the Roman Empire – Spain, Switzerland, Hungary, Germania, Romania and even North Africa. Hence Hadrian’s Wall society was the beginnings of truly multi-cultural Britain. Of course, civilian towns grew up to support the garrisons bringing women, children, craftsmen and traders to the wall.
Hadrian’s Wall was occupied for almost three centuries. Today, at eighteen hundred years old, the wall may be a mere relic of its magnificent past, but it is still the most impressive monument to the Roman occupation of Britain and is well worth visiting when you come to Northumberland!
Our pattern for this month is the beautiful ‘Border Ballad’ designed by Stella Ackroydwith a pretty lace border and cosy warm garter stitch interior. Border Ballad is an unusual bow shaped scarf with a very clever wrapped top edge giving structure. Perfect for keeping out the cold winds of the border region Border Ballad is knitted from 3 skeins of our own Yeavering Bell Aran and the pattern is FREE with the yarn.
Last week we went to ‘Unravel’ at Farnham Maltings and we had a great time! Thank you if you were one of the hundreds of people who kindly visited our stall and were so positive about everything. Flora and I came home on a real high. Unfortunately we were far too busy to be able to take many photos but here is one of set-up and another of some of our yarn to give you an idea!
Going to Unravel meant being away for 4 days leaving D with 4 boys and 4 dogs (Flora’s little ‘Stitch’ included) not to mention all the other 4 legged creatures at Whistlebare. Whilst the 1000 mile trip was exhausting I think Flora and I probably had the easy end of it!
Sorry for the ‘radio silence’ recently but it turns out that in order to make my voice heard I need the assistance of Female Goat Slave and she’s been far too busy dyeing and skeining to pay me any attention! Then she disappears, just like that, no warning, no discussion, first we goats know of it we are being fed by Junior Goat Slave 2. I feel I should complain at such cavalier treatment but we do rather enjoy the Junior Goat Slaves. Best is when all 4 come out together, they often spend so much time baiting each other they don’t notice what we girls are up to at all! Now if we could just work out how to get the lid off the feed bin…..
It turns out that naughty behaviour was not confined to the Angora Goats. This is what I found on my return to the dairy shed:
Introducing Cherry our Pure Toggenburg Yearling, otherwise known as ‘Sneaky Houdini’. Despite the extensions added to her 5 foot pen walls as you can see she is still investigating all escape options. It is hard to be cross though as her primary escape objective is a cuddle!
The other excitement over the weekend was a delivery. We have been waiting many months for this machine and are delighted that it brings us one step closer to being entirely self sufficient in our forage management.
That’s what I like to see, proper progress on the nosh front! Apparently that baler has come from France. Bring on the Autumn, I’m sure to be irresistible to the ladies when I can offer them French cuisine!
A few seasons ago, by popular demand, we released a couple of children’s jersey patterns. They were immediately loved and followed with requests for matching patterns for Mummy! Never let it be said that we don’t listen to our lovely customers. These last few weeks Flora has been working away to produce an adult version of ‘Tweedy One’. Here is a little of her progress
Together we decided that this jersey should be from Yeavering Bell Aran.
Then we had to choose three colours, this is Chainmail, Pure Soul and Willow the Wisp – hope you like them!
The really big question though was whether to literally scale up Tweedy 1 into adult sizes or whether to ‘grow it up’ a bit as well. We chose the latter and I couldn’t be more delighted with the design Flora has produced.
First the trim was wider and also longer at the back…….
Then some waist shaping was followed by a v neck…….
Graft it all together……..
This pattern will be making its debut at Unravel Farnham in a fortnight’s time. Of course it needs a name……….all suggestions greatly appreciated!
Welcome to MY new blog. It is about time that our female goat slave recognised that we ladies are the main attraction round here and gave us the platform we deserve! So, welcome to Whistlebare, the farm where we beasts are in charge.
I am pleased to say that female goat slave has been out in our shed since early this morning. Breakfast was delivered in good time and may have even had a few extra beans! The question is what is she up to?
Blossom is quite right to be suspicious. Harvest comes to Whistlebare twice a year, in January and in August, so this morning (Saturday) I am preparing for the arrival of Kevin the shearer. It may seem a bit harsh to cut off all the goats’ lovely warm mohair in January but it must be done before kidding in March.
We have mucked out one of the individual pens and laid down the black shearing floor.
Then we sorted out another individual pen where each fleece will be carefully weighed, recorded and graded before being packed for storage. Here are a couple of ‘before’ shots, this is Blossom, as matriarch she will lead the way.
This group of ‘in kid’ does are patiently waiting their turns.
Once Kevin arrives it all happens briskly.
Shearing Angora Goats is complicated as they have fleece on their heads and legs as well as their bodies. Their skin too is thin and loose so must be handled with great care. Not to mention the fact that these goats are pregnant. We are very fortunate that Kevin has taken the time to master the different techniques required for shearing goats as well as sheep.
Here’s Bronte, fresh out of the shearing pen, saying a quick ‘hello’ to her Papa. While Bea is more interested in seeing whether there is any more breakfast in the buckets!
You see I knew it, a special breakfast always means something is up! I do like a visit from Kevin though, it may be a bit undignified but he is such a nice slave and knows just how to make a girl look her best.
Shearing is always a long day and hard work for everyone but as the sacks of beautiful mohair pile up it is hard not to get excited about the fabulous yarn that will follow.
My next blog will show you what Flora and I are up to, both knitting and crochet, and you’ll get a sneak preview of the new pattern we are bringing to Unravel next month. Remember, you will always see it here first!