Life at The Little Grey Sheep

Holding onto the Summer by Jill

Holding onto the Summer by Jill

The fine weather, summer holiday visits and other projects have been distracting me from completing my coursework for module one of knit design online, although I did dedicate an entire toddler nap time to experimenting with casting on methods from Vogue Knitting.

There is still a wealth of work to do on all the other elements of the coursework. I'm hoping this will become easier as the nights draw in and I feel the need for a warm inside activity with a cat on my lap.

For the odd minutes I find during the day I have filled them with a minor social media habit of Instagram. It has proved to be an excellent way of keeping up with Emma's new colours at The Little Grey Sheep whilst I've been away visiting family. I also have a number of Scandi knits that pop up in my Instagram feed. A particular favourite is Knitting For Olive, and I scan the website regularly to check for the new patterns popping up as available in English.

But I have not been idle with my needles. My main project has been ensuring that a pair of toddler Frugi dungarees that I bought in the spring will last longer that just the summer, by making a cardigan and hat to take it through the winter (providing the toddler doesn't grow too much). Emma nudged these Stein DK beauties in my direction and we worked out a plan for a short sleeved cardigan and I developed a hat idea to complement it.

The Stein is a wonderful yarn for next to the skin. It's so soft and I don't get any complaints from my little one (except that I wanted it modelling it for the family when it was too warm for a woollen layer). With the remaining yarn I developed a hat to complement it, which you may have seen on the stand if you visited Wollfest and Yarndale.


I've written up the patterns that should work for aged 18-24 months if you want to try your hand, the yarn is Stein DK Little Miss Sunshine, Looking Out at the City and Polar, the buttons are from Textile Garden. The pattern can be found for free here.

I have found a couple of alternative colourways which may get you thinking:

 Looking Out at The City, That was a Little Curt, Just Ironing and Dreaming

Allegra's Ambition, Fuss and Nonsense, Last Night in Crete

Aphrodite, A Frosty Reception, Too Much Too Young

I will be adapting the hat pattern for an adult size in both Stein DK and Gotland DK which will be available soon.

My next project is a work in progress with Jessica's Story. This is a yarn that is somewhat overlooked when it's compared to Emma's soft bright Stein and luxurious complex Gotland. Jessica's Story knits up as an aran. It's springy, the colours are bold and fun, and it's machine washable. That's right, machine washable, and you can stick it in the tumble dryer. Emma is pretty sure that Jessica's Story is the only UK non-Superwash machine washable pure wool (but is happy to be corrected). 

Woolful has a great post on Superwash wool which you can find here: which explains that "Superwash wool is made by exposing the fibre to a chlorine gas that erodes the scales and then it is coated in a plastic called Hercosett 125. This doesn’t even include the toxic chemicals that are used in the overall process." Needless to say, The Little Grey Sheep will never stock Superwash yarn.

Look out for the pattern for the Jessica's Story project, which is a small tank top, inspired by The Little Grey Sheep's noisiest neighbours at Royal Air Force Odiham. I'm working out a two colour intarsia to showcase the yarn and hope to have the pattern available in a couple of months. Here are some two colour combinations I'm experimenting with to spark your imagination:


Back to School by Jill

I started knitting a few years ago aged 31. I had seen Kate Davies' Owl jumper and didn't knit so I asked my Mum to make it for me as a birthday gift. Then, having started to follow Kate's blog I wanted a fair isle hat she had designed. I decided it just wasn't sensible to ask my Mum again (and again) so instead I asked her to help me learn how, and she did. My next project was a hat for my partner, with a fair isle design of my own and the rest is history.

Although I'm slow and easily distracted, I find knitting very calming and therapeutic. I get frustrated, but then elated when I solve a problem, usually via youtube.

I quickly came to the conclusion that if young women with little education, toiling hard outdoors in the Scottish weather could knit spectacular items then really I ought to be able to attempt and complete anything, providing I had the wherewithal to stick at it. It would be fair to say I am an inexperienced, ambitious knitter.

When I recently left my job to look after my young child I never would have predicted my good fortune. I learned about Emma and The Little Grey Sheep, situated not 10 min away from my home, when my good (knitting) friend showed me an article feature in Country Living.

I pondered and planned how to approach Emma and wrote a letter explaining how much I would love to be involved in The Little Grey Sheep in any capacity. I now help Emma 2 days a week and I have learned so much since I began just a couple of months ago.

So far it's been helping with the new website, stock taking and organisation. I would describe Emma as an 'idea firework' who achieves a truly remarkable amount in the 24 hours she has each day, but I have helped to provide some horse power behind the boring but important part of getting all her wonderful products online. Not that it has ever been boring. Being around Emma and her yarn is inspirational and we chat all day about what happens next.

One of our discoveries was that some knitwear designers do not actually write up the patterns they design themselves and that there are plenty of pattern writers who do not design, but only write up patterns. After incubating this idea I wondered if perhaps I should learn how to write up patterns - potentially a suitable skill for a full time mum?

An internet search later and I discovered that there are not many distance learning opportunities available, but I found Loraine McClean, who's course Knit Design Online (Knit Design Online: Loraine McClean - Hand Knit Design Course), could teach me pattern writing and design and of course all the things I've never tried with knitting, which appears to be about 98% of it.

My coursework for module one arrived last week, my Vogue Knitting book (recommended, but not essential reading) arrived yesterday and I'm ready to begin. 

When you visit the blog here at The Little Grey Sheep and I've posted, you can expect to see something of my experience of learning the ropes and also more of my story of a knitting mum of one. I'll be really interested to hear what you think and look forward to hearing about your knitting story too.

A Portuguese Adventure

A Portuguese Adventure

When Neil suggested a break in Portugal my mind didn’t immediately turn to thoughts of woolly things although, unsurprisingly,  it didn’t take me long to start investigating.

The history of Portuguese wool is rich with diverse breeds of sheep produced for meat, milk and fleece. However, as with the rest of Europe, the decline of wool production tracks the rise of alternative fibres, and the subsequent loss of it's financial value to the farmer. This has forced the diversification of fine wool flocks into mutton and milk production.

A view of the city from São Jorge Castle from its commanding position overlooking Lisbon. 

In 2010 a group of people passionate about revitalising the cultural heritage of Portuguese wool established a project to renovate the spinning and weaving machinery to produce Burel. The wool is locally gathered from Bordaleira sheep, a breed capable of growing resistant, but still soft to the touch, fibres. The result is a tight, wear-resistant, natural fabric that is also water-repellent and fire retardant, without losing its flexibility. Burel was traditionally a very hard wearing fabric which had been spun and woven from the local sheep and then either boiled and compressed into an attractive, touch pliable fabric, or used as blankets and clothing.

The project looked at ways of bringing a contemporary feel into this ancient art. Through innovative design they have produced a range of outerwear of the most beautiful bags. Burel also now provide the felted fabric to architects and designers looking to utilise it's fantastic acoustic dampening properties.

The Burel shop located in Lisbon is cool and stylish and although I could of taken home many of the goodies on offer I opted for a back pack, as a girl never has enough bags.

A few of the Burel blanket designs.

The other treat to be held was Retrosaria a small shop, easily passed by on the Rue do Loreto 61. Through a rather tired doorway and up a steep stairway to the second floor we discovered a room full of beautiful things. From interesting Japanese pattern books to ribbon manufactured for the shop in Portugal. A worn table displayed many skeins of Portuguese yarn. All rather rustic, but beautiful and representative of the different sheep. The owner Rosa Pomar spends her time between the shop, where she teaches, and her field research of Portuguese textiles. Rosa has been crusading to bring back yarns produced in Portugal and has written a book , El Mundo de Pica Pau, which will be on my Christmas list as it is out in English later this year.

 My goodies from Retrosaria.

Our next stop was the seaside town of Cascais, 40 minutes taxi ride further West than Lisbon it sits sheltered from the Atlantic. The streets are a mosaic of limestone and black basalt in beautifully intricate patterns, wide promenades play host to numerous cafes and small restaurants where fish is fresh from the local fishing boats.

Through one of my Instagram friends I was steered towards The Craft Company, away from the beach front it caught my eye immediately with a lovely shop front display. Inside the tiny shop was an array of haberdashery and knitting treats, covering the walls from floor to ceiling. Suffice to say I managed to buy some holiday goodies before departing.

For rest of the holiday, I ended up steering away from more fibre related retail therapy, giving me a chance to concentrate on my holiday knitting.

Portugal is a beautiful country with kind hospitable people and the most amazing food. Inspiration abounds due to the fantastic landscape and light and it will definitely be on the list for a return trip.