As I prepared for my visit to Edinburgh Yarn Festival back in March, I knew that Rachel Atkinson was launching her Daughter of a Shepherd yarn and put it on my hit-list of Things I NEED To See. Spun from the fleeces of her father’s Hebridean flock in Yorkshire, this was undoubtedly going to be a very special yarn. When I arrived at EYF, Rachel’s stand was one of the first I came across and was easily identifiable from the lovely stacks of rustic looking brown wool, accompanied with photos of Rachel as a child, surrounded by sheep.
Like so many others, I absolutely fell head over heels in love with the yarn. I told Rachel that despite it being mill spun, the feel of the yarn definitely reminded me of a handspun; you can still feel a little bit of oil from the fleece, it definitely smells of sheep, and it’s just a lovely woolly yarn. I bought a single skein of the 100% Hebridean yarn at EYF, managed to snaffle another in the first online update and really wanted to find something special to knit given that this was a very special yarn.
In amongst the madness of creating and selling her own yarn, I managed to catch Rachel for a quick chat about Daughter of a Shepherd, and the updated version of the yarn which is 75% Hebridean and 25% Zwartbles.
So…tell me briefly how Daughter of a Shepherd came to be..?
Last Spring, my Dad, who is the ‘shepherd’ in Daughter of a Shepherd, received a cheque from the British Wool Marketing Board for 94p representing 10% of the total he would receive for fleeces clipped in 2014. This placed a final value of £9.40 on approximately 300 fleeces, or to break it down further, 3p per fleece. As a knitter I was shocked at the low value being placed on these glorious naturally dark fleeces which I myself would love to knit with. The 2015 clip was sitting in a building with odd fleeces being taken for use around the estate to protect trees and suchlike and I began to wonder if it might be possible to have them spun into yarn. The rest as they say is history!
The original batch was 100% Hebridean from your father’s flock, and the new batch is blended with Zwartbles. What made you decide to blend it with Zwartbles?
The Hebridean fibre in the 100% and the blend is all from the same 2015 clip. What happened was that I took a small raw fleece sample to show John at Yarndale last year and it got the thumbs up for spinning. The whole batch of fleece then went to the scourers and down to John who turned it into tops and then began spinning it.
We hadn’t done any sort of test run beforehand so the first 100% Hebridean batch (that which I had at Edinburgh and in the first shop update) was the initial spin and when John started spinning it he struggled to get it to run smoothly through the machines due to a shorter than expected staple length. He worked really hard to get the first 100% Hebridean batch done for me, and it’s glorious, but sadly took far more work than was anticipated so we needed to look for a way to make the remaining Hebridean viable as a yarn. John suggested the Zwartbles – it’s a very close match in colour but has the staple length needed to spin the yarn successfully and it comes from a farm very close to the mill.
How are you feeling about the new blend? It looks beautiful, and I’m impressed the colour has hardly changed!
I have fallen in love all over again! I honestly couldn’t be more thrilled with how the blend has turned out. The yarn is almost the exact same colour as the 100% Hebridean and knits into equally great textures, but the Zwartbles brings some bounce making it wonderful for garment knitting.
Do you think knitters, but British ones in particular, can do more to support the British wool industry? Particularly supporting rare breeds or small independent farmers?
Absolutely! I always suggest starting with your LYS and ask if they have any British yarns in stock. Likewise, ask about the provenance of the yarn you are buying. The more questions we ask, the greater awareness people will have of the product they are buying and the more publicity British wool will get.
The yarn has had brilliant reviews and feedback so far, so I expect you’re feeling hugely proud. Do you think we’re finally managing to shake off that ‘wool is itchy’ facade and embrace natural fibres for how beautiful they really are?
Thank you, I am really pleased with what I have achieved so far. It was a huge risk and I invested a lot of time and money in something I wasn’t sure would work but I had to give it a go. The support I have received from everyone along the way has been testament to the current and huge interest in British wool at the moment but it’s a momentum we need to keep up. There are some brilliant people fanfaring British wool; Louise Scollay’s swatchalong and events such as Wovember are doing so much to educate and encourage people to try wool from different breeds. Not all British wool is itchy as people are discovering!
What are your future plans for daughter of a shepherd? Will it be regular, small batches of the new blend? More sheep perhaps?!
At the moment we are still working our way through the 2015 clip and small batches will continue to be available over the coming months as the mill manage to spin them. Looking ahead, plans are afoot but until the new clip is done I can’t be certain about anything. However, let’s just say I don’t think this adventure is over just yet!
Rachel has been confirmed as a stallholders at Yarndale in September and will also be taking some of the beautiful Hebridean sheep along with her. In the meantime, there are shop updates on the Daughter of a Shepherd website when a new batch becomes available. Sign up to Rachel’s email list or keep an eye on her twitter for more news. The yarn is also available through Loop in London
I really wanted to find a beautiful shawl pattern to knit with the yarn and definitely felt it needed to be a Hap, so I was really excited to see that Louise Tilbrook was releasing a pattern created with Daughter of a Shepherd yarn in mind. It’s called Hebridean Hap, and so far it’s been a joy to knit.
Louise is running a KAL for the Hap over in her Ravelry group and it’s starting today so make sure you go and sign up.
I’d like to say a massive thank you to Rachel for taking the time out to answer my questions, I can’t wait to finish and wear my Hap!
All images copyright Rachel Atkinson and used here with permission.
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