Guest Column: Rachel Atkinson

In 2016, Rachel Atkinson launched her own yarn, spun from the fleeces of sheep her father shepherds. One year on, she picks up the story's thread

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By the time this article is published it will be almost a year since I received the first Daughter of a Shepherd yarn from the mill. Opening that box was such an incredible experience – I didn’t know what to expect or even if it would be possible to spin the fleece from the flock of Hebridean sheep my father shepherds, but in the right hands it became a truly beautiful hand-knitting yarn.

These past 12 months have sent me on a steep learning curve. Having only dabbled with a spindle in the past, before hiding it away for fear my stash would be taken over by fluff, I have had to learn a lot about different spinning processes and what makes a particular fibre a suitable candidate for each of those techniques. A visit to the British Wool Board headquarters in Bradford was a real eye-opener. Once the raw fleece lands at Wool House, it is sorted and graded before being auctioned. Batches are sent to Haworth Scouring, one of only two large scouring facilities remaining in the UK. A series of amazing machines gently wash, dry and comb the dirty fleece into light, bright and airy tops ready for spinning. The scourers also blend the different fleeces to specifications requested by various manufacturers to produce fibre with characteristics suitable for everything from carpets to yarn. It’s a fascinating process to see in action.

When I launched Daughter of a Shepherd at Edinburgh Yarn Festival last March, one of the things for which I was completely unprepared was that people would not only knit the yarn, but a few would also design with it. Things had been so chaotic and fraught in the run-up to Edinburgh that I hadn’t thought past the end of the festival, so this was an absolute revelation and it has been wonderful watching the yarn inspire people to create their own patterns.

Francesca Hughes is uniquely placed in the Daughter of a Shepherd story. Working part-time for Fibre Harvest, the mill where my yarn is spun, Frankie has watched the fibre being spun into yarn and she has been hands-on in the process, assisting at various stages right up to packing the twisted skeins into boxes ready for delivery. She is a talented knitwear designer, with a great eye for beautiful and unexpected details, and I am thrilled that Knitting is running her design in my yarn. Hebridean is a cabled sweater that shows off the textured patterns that really sing in Daughter of a Shepherd yarn – something a lot of people (myself included) didn’t expect, but it has become one of the great characteristics of the yarn.

Getting to know my yarn these past few months has been a joy. Given that I had no clue what to expect in that first delivery, it has been a case of testing out different stitch patterns and needle sizes to see what suits the yarn best. It is the type of “proper” woolly yarn I love working with – what I call a true knitters’ yarn. Having decided to continue with the yarn and take the company forward, I secured the 2016 clip from Escrick Park Estate, and the spinning schedule is booked for 2017. A glorious 4 ply yarn will be introduced alongside the DK, and the other large project I have been quietly working on is a book incorporating designs from a handful of international names using both weights of the yarn. We are hoping to publish in March 2017, so watch this space for news on this and a few other bits and bobs I have up my woolly sleeve!


Rachel Atkinson is a knitter, blogger, and knitting, crochet and craft editor. Find out more about Daughter of a Shepherd yarn at daughterofashepherd.com.


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Photography: Rachel Atkinson, Jeni Reid

 

Article Details

  • Date 14th March 2017
  • Tags Features
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