Category Archives: sense of place

Back to Papay again, July 2018

We’re back on our part-time Orkney island home of 15+ years, only able to spend 4 – 8 weeks per year given our work schedules, but it’s certainly home in a deeply relaxing and connected way.

Where the light changes by the minute, or the hour – always captivating with moody clouds, or misty fog, or sunlight glinting off the ocean. It’s a world of blues and greens. Grassy green fields turn to neon green when newly mown, then to pale green mixed with yellows and tans of wildflowers & old stems. The field left fallow can be covered with yellow buttercups and ragwort, pink fescue grass, and tall white hogweed, like Queen Anne’s Lace on steroids. Gray can be the other dominant color: with gray stone houses and dry-stone walls dividing fields; gray flagstone on shores and roofs, also used as walkways and floors; and gray clouds and seas in more shades of gray than you ever imagined.

Where the ocean changes in similar rhythm – deep blues striped with purple and turquoise over white sands; slate gray streaked with white-caps and the white gannets diving straight as torpedoes for the fish below; silvery glittering light bouncing off the surface and underlain with deep gray; bright sky blue in similar value to the bright green of newly mown hay fields; and smooth pale gray ocean switching colors with the solid line of clouds now turned from gray to deep blue as the light fades.

Where the birds greet us all day long with their cries and songs – the lapwings showing off in large flapping silent flocks – but I’m waiting for my favorite slide- trombone song of theirs (hear them here ); the skylark (the lav’rock in Burns’ poems) singing a crazy extended song of one drunken with love (or perhaps unrequited love) as it soars up 100s of feet before returning to ground (you can hear one here ; the curlew, the oyster catcher, and the red shank, often seen together, solo or in flocks, with songs instantly recognized; and the wee wren, with it’s new family in our bush of fuschia, the babies often flying over to alight on our windowsill right under our noses until a parent hurries it away; the more common starling and house sparrow also nest in our bushes, but the rarer snipe (only one heard this year) and even rarer corncrake (not heard for several years, but once we had 4 calling “crek-crek, crek-crek” in 4 directions around our house).

Our other neighbors are “the boys” (the yearly herd of new teenage cows), curious enough to come to our fence line when we talk to them, but easily frightened by a quick movement; the large white “rescue” ram (deaf and half-blind) with the two black lambs (ewe and ram) in the field over our garden wall; and on our daily walks – the herds of black angus, steers segregated from mothers with calves; mixed flocks of white sheep and Suffolk black-face with many twin lambs, grown fairly large since lambing is often in April.

Friends on the island freely open their doors to us for tea and biscuits and use of their wi-fi when it’s available. Chats range from poor puns and riddles, to the uncertainties of food arriving by ferry to the one co-op shop on our island; to how many bairns (children) are on the island this year to be able to keep the one nursery/primary school going; to difficult world politics. Wednesday Coffee Morning is always a treat for conversation and homebakes. Then there are the concerts, either on island in the school cafeteria during the annual Fun Weekend, or on the neighboring island when the small ferry between our islands is put on a special schedule so we can go over for dinner and the concert and be assured of getting back afterwards.

We love island life! Until next year, ….    [Photos by Liz Sorenson]

An excerpt of a Robert Burns’ poem (also sung):

…  The waken’d lav’rock warbling springs,
And climbs the early sky,
Winnowing blythe his dewy wings
In morning’s rosy eye; …”

Brioche Knitting

Thank you to our guest editor today – Jane Dunning.  A class in two-color brioche stitch with Linda Forget will be offered April 20-21 from 1:00 – 3:00 at Sheep and Shawl in South Deerfield, MA. Call 413-3979-3680 to register.

I am so glad that I signed up for the class at the Sheep and Shawl yarn shop for “brioche”  knitting. I had tried to learn it from both a book and from an internet video, and it seemed to be very complicated. This class proved that it is not above my ability, and is actually a  very pleasant way of knitting, once you get into the rhythm. I was, however, glad that she  had us put in a lifeline after a few rows. I lost concentration, at one point, and I was glad to be able to use it. I had chosen a green heather yarn that I came to love, the more that I worked with it. The class was time well spent, a bit of time away, and a new skill to play  with. There are two types of brioche… the one color brioche, which I learned this week, is  relatively simple, especially if you have the advantage of a good teacher and a small class. The basics are here:

Cast on an even number of stitches.
We cast on 24, using a loose cast on.
Row 1: *Yarn over, (yarn in front) slip 1, knit 1.
Repeat from * across.
Row 2: *Yarn over (yarn in front), slip 1, knit 2 together.
Repeat from * across.
Repeat only row 2 for pattern. Note that with the preparation row you’ll be working on more stitches than you cast on, so plan for that when determining gauge. When ending a project or area of brioche, work the row by eliminating the yarn overs and simply purling 1 and knitting 2 together across, loosely.Brioche sample JD

You will notice that I have placed a marker on the right  side of the piece, so that If I choose to add another color at some point, I can add it on that side.

This makes a soft and “squishy” fabric that is warm and cozy. The two color brioche is a bit more complicated, but produces a fabric that is very dramatic in appearance. Sheep and Shawl in South Deerfield will be offering a course in April so that we can work on the two-color version.
brioche bread JD
Brioche stitch was named for a type of a light, sweet yeast bread typically in the form of fluffy buttery bun. The stitch was used in 18th century England to create a soft cushion.


2-color brioche JD

This is a dramatic example of two-color brioche stitch. To see more examples of two-color brioche, use this link:

Read Knitting Books for Enjoyment!

Do you ever read cookbooks for enjoyment, not just the recipes? You know the ones, they talk about where food comes from, who invented specialties in recipes, the sense of place that food evokes, and sometimes a travelogue of far-away places.

I look for that in knitting books too, and here are several I’m especially fond of – the newer ones I’m still reading, but I’ll point you in their direction anyway. You can find them on the shelves at Sheep & Shawl.

infootstepssheepIn the Footsteps of Sheep, by Debbie Zawinski, is a wonderful specialized tour of Scotland in search of different breeds of sheep and enough of their bits of shed wool (along fence lines, blowing across the grass) to spin yarn and design and knit socks. She found 10 different breeds and includes patterns for 11 different socks. But the sense of place and love for her travels, often by foot and solitary, in all kinds of weather, meeting unusual folks along the way are enchanting. You may never knit socks, but you’ll enjoy reading this book.

KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook, by Felicity Ford, aka Fknitsonikcoverelix, is all about color in the UK as seen through her eyes in finding ways to incorporate the landscapes around her, as well as the daily objects she is drawn to by color and design and pattern, into the mesmerizing patterns of Fair Isle, also known as stranded colorwork, knitting. The beautiful photos may make you want to immediately start swatching in multi-colors. But you can also get happily lost in her enthusiasm for the daily beauty around her. She gives you her step-by-step directions and practical exercises if you want to follow her method, but she really wants to inspire you to find what makes you happy in the colors around you, and that’s definitely worth exploring.

Buachaille, by Kate Davies, is about her journey in developing her own yarn line, sourced from Scottish sheep and spun in an historic Yorkshire mill. She reflectbuachaillecoverwebs on how the landscape influences the qualities of the fleece and named her yarn after one of her favorite West Highland mountains. The book is filled with evocative photos of that landscape, with Kate wearing her knitted creations (she is a designer of many knitting patterns). She is also an expert blogger, an academic and author in a former career. Her attention to detail, her inspired passion about the feel of the yarn, the quality of the light, the local food her husband cooks (here is a book where you get recipes as well as knitting patterns as well as a profound sense of place), are what make so many knitters follow her blog and her latest pattern release. The book is a treasure.

10 Reasons Why I Love to Knit with Wool

  1. Wool is warm and toasty to wear Fall through Spring. In fact, it can keep you cool in Summer as well (surprising, I know, but read about the thermal properties of wool).
  2. Wool connects me to sheep, an animal that has provided fiber for clothing for thousands of years worldwide.
  3. Wool is nearly waterproof, is still warm when wet, and can be made waterproof by felting. It reminds me that some ancient and modern people have used large mats of wool felt to create nomadic housing (yurts). At one time I considered building a yurt in my back yard as a weaving studio!
  4. Wool is a renewable resource – fleeces must be shorn from sheep every year to keep them healthy, and we benefit from the yarn spun from the fleece.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  5. Wool yarn comes in a variety of sizes, from lace weight to bulky, so there is never a shortage of accessories I can knit.
  6. Knitting with wool is good for the hands. Some wool yarns are minimally processed and still contain lanolin (the sheep’s natural “oil” in the fleece), providing a nice waxy smell, and smoothing the hands that are gently exercised by knitting.
  7. Knitting with wool connects me to my ancestors who also knit with wool. Browsing through vintage knitting magazines and reading articles about historic and traditional knitting patterns offers me more connection.
  8. Buying wool yarn from local farmers in my area helps to protect the local economy, buying as close to the source as I can (as I am not a shepherdess). Sometimes I even know the name of the sheep whose wool I use.
  9. Buying wool yarn that is locally and regionally produced in other parts of the country and the world helps to protect those local economies and to create and maintain community supported agricultural efforts.
  10. I like to share my knitted wool accessories by wearing them, displaying them at my yarn shop, teaching knitting classes, designing knitting patterns to sell, and spreading the word about my love for wool. I like the community that wool helps to create.   See more  Yarn * Crafts * Community  at or come by the shop and chat a while.

covered button tutorial

Look how beautiful these buttons are! Thank you Kate Davies!


Enjoying the world

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world.  This makes it hard to plan the day.”  – E.B. White

I am sitting on one of the most northerly islands of Orkney off the north coast of Scotland – my second home of Papa Westray (locally called “Papay” and all of 4 miles square).  There is no way that I cannot enjoy the world when I am here – a community of 75 who “play well together” surrounded by the beauty of sea, sky, and farm fields.  (We just finished 3 days of the eighth annual Papay Fun Weekend, with children’s and adult’s games, contests, and creativity, sharing of food, music, and dance.)

In the field to my south I see three “fat” sheep (looking like they could fall over because their coats are so full).   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI heard a shearer is due to fly in within the week, but the fog is delaying the 8-seater plane that services the island.  The sheep remind me of a strange advertisement I saw at the top of the extra-long Heathrow escalator last year.  3sheepadvert

Having worked in the environmental conservation field for 20 years, I now look forward to improving the world in my own small way by opening my yarn and crafts shop next month, sharing my passion for using natural yarns, knitting, and weaving, and hoping to help keep sustainable fiber farms alive and well.  In Orkney I like to knit with the local rare breed sheep’s wool (from North Ronaldsay sheep – shown on this website’s Home page – and Papay’s “Holmie Sheep”) and will work on designing a new knitting pattern for the shop.

Why “Shepherd’s Sky?”

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

– Goethe


Welcome to my blog!  I’ll be telling the tale of creating a new career for myself late in life as yarn shop owner, fiber artist, and promoter of fiber farmers, fiber artists, and regional and fair trade natural fiber yarns.  I’ll also relate some of my travels and connections to places that nurture me.

Why “Shepherd’s Sky?”  Besides a connection to wool (or other fiber) and the fiber farmer (or shepherd), in Scotland (and the UK) there is a well-known weather saying:

Red sky at night; shepherd’s delight,
Red sky in the morning; shepherd’s warning.

In the US it is most often used with “sailor’s” replacing “shepherd’s.”  (You can check Wikipedia for more discussion on why it is often true that weather is fine the day following a red sunset.)  There is a nice reference to shepherd’s sky in the song by the Scottish folk singer Emily Smith called “Sunset Hymn” on her CD Too Long Away.  (You can search on you tube if you’d like to listen.)

The photo above is one of the red sky nights we had visiting Scotland last summer.