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  • June 12, 2024 9:29 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    A Ewe, a Coo, and a Wee Dram Too: 

    A Fiber Journey through Northern Scotland

    By Kristi Bott

    I love to travel, love to dabble in all things yarn and fiber, and I love Scotland. When I came upon a booth for Rowan Tree Travel at the Estes Park Wool Market that offered all of these things in a group tour, it definitely sparked an interest. Being the introvert that I am, I wasn't sure about whether I could handle even a small group tour, but what they offered in their Signature Wool and Whisky tour was everything I was looking for, so I decided to suck it up. My daughter (a non-knitter, at least at the beginning of the trip) happily volunteered to join me, and we were able to tuck away into our room in the evening if we were on overload or join the eclectic group of travelers in the lobby of our luxurious and unique hotels for knitting, a dram, and conversation as the mood struck us. I think of myself as more of a weaver and spinner than a knitter, but I never felt like the tour was only for knitters. Even a couple of brave husbands joined the group, and I believe they found things to interest them in the variety of opportunities offered, which included a nice mix of fiber related stops, whisky distilleries (they spell whisky without an "e" in Scotland), historical and scenic areas, as well as time for shopping, hiking, or just relaxing. 

    Our tour started on Thursday April 11, 2024 in my favorite city, Edinburgh. We met up with our group of 22 for introductions and then went around the corner for dinner and dessert where I had my first, but not last, taste of sticky toffee pudding. The following morning was a group-guided tour of the Royal Mile before heading off to learn more about the woman-owned kiltmaking business, Kiltmakery. Nikki offered a unique insight into the struggles of producing and perpetuating this historically important garment. After the talk, we enjoyed an afternoon tea of sandwiches and treats at Mimi’s café.

    Saturday morning was spent exploring on our own before heading to a café for a catered deli lunch. There we had a talk by Susan Anderson, founder and editor of the Journal of Scottish Yarn, a journal dedicated to promoting all aspects of the Scottish textile industry. They produce a beautiful bi-annual journal which is half stories and half designs. It is available as a hefty hard-copy (I think a few yarn stores in the US carry this), or as a digital version. She generously brought us each a copy to take home, as well as a Farm to Yarn map of sheep and wool producers (available for free on their website). I couldn’t resist buying the hand-drawn postcards of sheep breeds she brought along. To our delight, we had an expert connoisseur next door walked us through a brief history of whisky in Scotland. He explained the 5 regions and why they offer different tastes from peaty to fruity, and the art of tasting. 

    Next, a yarn crawl to Edinburgh’s yarn shops the Ginger Twist Studio and Kathy’s Knits where we were able to pick up some yarn dyed by our own Fiber Ambassador, Helen from Ripples Craft Yarn, as well as many other selections.

    By Sunday we were all itching to get out of the city and see some sheep! On the way north we stopped at the Wemyss School of Needlework for a private tour of their needlework school, which has  been in operation since 1877, before heading to the coastal village of Pittenweem for lunch and a stop at the local yarn shop. We cruised on north to Pitlochry at the southern edge of the highlands and the Cairngorm mountains where we settled into our "palace" hotel for  2 nights, complete with gourmet meals, large lobby knitting areas, and acres of trails to explore.

    Monday morning we woke up to snow on the mountains and set out on our trusty coach to visit the newly rebuilt Scottish Crannog Centre on the banks of Loch Tay where a cold wind whipped over the water into the village.  We tried to keep warm as we explored the weaving, spinning, blacksmithing, and other demonstrations in the open thatched village highlighting early Scottish civilization. A tour of Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery in the afternoon may have changed some of our preferences for whisky, or at least gave us a better understanding of what to look for when choosing a wee dram. I learned that 70% of the flavor comes from the cask, and that it must be aged for at least 3 years and 1 day to be considered Scotch. 

    Tuesday took us to the Highland Folk Museum in Perthshire where we explored the open-air museum as well as their vast collection of textiles and weaving/spinning equipment. We headed north from there for a quick stop at the Tomatin distillery shop, and then on to our next hotel in Ross-shire, a quaint, family-run country house hotel.  

    We were all excited to have a pop-up shop put on that evening by Julie of Black Isle Yarns. Julie and knitwear designer Emily of Flutterby Knits gave us a fascinating talk about their individual businesses and the process of collaborating on their new book Perspectives (available on the Black Isle website). Julie’s naturally dyed yarns were luscious. I’m not much of a knitter, and I don’t usually buy more than “souvenir” yarn while I’m traveling, but Julie had some yarn that spoke to me and I’m going to try to knit a vest pattern from the book. I was lucky enough to sit across from Emily at dinner. She is a talented designer and gifted storyteller, and I appreciate that she designs and advocates for plus-sized models. She is also a hoot.  She was enthralling us with stories about how  she decided to get out of her comfort zone and try a kayak trip.  

    You can  follow her on Instagram @flutterbyknits to get the gist of the story. This was the first hotel with a bathtub, so after shopping and dinner I took a nice long soak while listening to the drizzle outside.

    On Wednesday, after a quick stop at a local weaving shop and Eileen Donan Castle, we were off for the Isle of Skye, part of the Inner Hebrides archipelago off the west coast of Scotland. We took the bridge and landed for a short stop in Portree before heading to our next hotel, about 10 minutes north. This was the longest we were staying anywhere so we took the opportunity to wash out a few things on the portable clothesline I brought.  I didn’t fully appreciate how much longer it takes clothes to dry in the humid, drizzly climate than it does in Colorado, so fortunately all of the hotels had heated towel racks which greatly speeds up the process.

    We had been blessed with beautiful weather and only passing showers up to this point, but Thursday woke us up with wind, sleet and unrelenting rain.  Of course, this was the day we were going to spend a good part of the day outside with Yasmin and Trevor at Island at the Edge croft, a farm specializing in raising rare breed sheep, including Black Cheviot, Hebridean and the North Ronaldsay (a seaweed eating sheep), and Highland coos (cows). Fortunately, we had all brought warm and waterproof gear so we were able to get out and see the animals, although we probably cut it shorter than we would have on a nice day.  However, it gave me a real respect and appreciation for the conditions these farmers work in for much of the year.  In the winter, they only have sun for about 6 hours of the day and the animals get trained to move about and get fed by flashlight. We squeezed into Yasmin’s shop to hear about the traditional gansey sweater she made for her husband, and took a little time to shop, as you can imagine! She then took us down to her home by the waterfront and fed us hot fish soup, homemade bread, desserts,and hot drinks.  I got the “naughty” mug (think Jamie Fraser, a kilt, and a windy day). We tried our hand at her spinning wheels, and thoroughly enjoyed their company.  I didn’t want to leave.  We had planned to explore some of the dramatic scenery on the north of the island, but given the blustery weather, we decided to head back to the hotel.  


    We were fortunate that Lindsay, our Fiber Ambassador, was prepared with stitchery kits just in case this kind of thing happened along the way.  She runs a business called The Border Tart which specializes in all things stitchery.  She gave us some tips on piecing in the Japanese Boro style, gave us fabric and needles, and let us spend an enjoyable cozy afternoon stitching and drinking tea. 

    We woke up to blue skies on Friday and headed to explore Dunvegan Castle on the northwest side of the island, stopped for a quick lunch before heading back east and north past the iconic Old Man of Storr on the Trotternish Peninsula, to visit Shilasdair Natural Dye Studio. Simon took us to his studio in back of the yarn shop and introduced us to the process they use to dye yarns from a multitude of plants they collect locally and from other sources. They are committed to promoting yarns from british breeds, and have a beautiful selection in their shop. Many bags were filled with squishy goodness when we got back on the bus (even my non-knitter daughter had a full tote!).  We headed back to a delicious dinner overlooking LochPortree.

    It was a little sad to leave Skye on Saturday.  The island has a bit of wildness to it that I really loved. We headed south and took the ferry across to Ft William.  Marcus, our coach driver, had never driven on a ferry so it was a new experience for all of us.  Fortunately, it was smooth, but that didn’t stop a few car alarms going off from a jiggle here and there.  We drove past Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the country, which still had snow on the top and through the windy, lush countryside of the highlands. Our next stop was a quick photo opportunity at the Glenfinnich Viaduct, also known as the Harry Potter train, before heading to our next stop,The Caledonian Wool Co. in Ft. William. Jam led us in a needle felting workshop in the afternoon.  It was interesting to see how we could all start with the same materials and instructions but end up with such different end results. Right next door was a lovely restaurant where I had monkfish scampi, my best meal so far.  We headed down the road to our Scandinavian style cabins that we shared with 2 others from our group.

    Sunday, our final day. Whew, it went so fast.  I was glad I brought a notebook to keep track of what we did every day as it all blended together after a while.  I also took a photo of each room when we checked in (before we got it all messed up) which has helped me remember which room belonged to which hotel! We drove through historic Glencoe on our way back to Edinburgh.  Oh, and more sheep.  We ended up seeing plenty of sheep! Most of the group was staying until Monday, but my daughter and I were headed to Ireland for a few days and had a flight out that night, and so we did some last-minute shopping and then gathered as a group to say our goodbyes in the evening. 

    I was tired, but also sad to have it end.  I had signed up for this trip 9 months before and loved having it to plan and look forward to.  I was a little worried that I had built it up too much in my mind and that it could never live up to my expectations, but I’m happy to report that it exceeded my expectations in many ways. I was able to see things and meet people that I never would have had access to traveling on my own.  I was impressed with the quality of hotels, meals, activities and organization provided on the tour. The Fiber Ambassadors did a great job of mixing activities with free time, and throwing in surprises along the way.  Of course, you can always nit-pick and find things that weren’t perfect, but I truly believe that a lot of what you get out of life is what you make it. The best advice I received before the trip was: keep an open mind, and bring an extra bag for yarn! In addition to all of the wonderful Scots I met, there were talented and interesting people on the tour from all over the US, and even New Zealand.  They inspired both me and my daughter with their talent and gave us the encouragement to step out of our comfort zone and try some more advanced knitting projects. Several people had been on other Rowan Tree Travel or other fiber related trips in different countries, and I hope I have the opportunity to do more as well.

     Photo courtesy of Jack Garrett

    Photo courtesy of Jack Garrett

  • October 14, 2023 3:59 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Each year, the Guild offers fiber arts workshops which are open exclusively to members of the Northern Colorado Weavers Guild. Workshop offerings are one of the many benefits of becoming a member of the guild. Click here to learn more about becoming a member!

    One of the workshops offered in 2023 was Botanical Dyeing Basics with local instructor TeDi Jansen. In this class, participants learned how to use a variety different natural dye materials to dye yarn samples. The natural dye stuffs used included Hopi Black Sunflower which can be grown in your garden, Cochineal which is only available in certain parts of the world, Rabbit Brush which grows abundantly here in Northern Colorado, and Red Onion skins which you can find at your local grocery store!

    Class participants went home with new knowledge, experiences, yarn samples, and a silk scarf dyed with fresh indigo!

    TeDi offers workshops at her farm in North Fort Collins, sells project kits, fiber tools, and homemade soaps! To learn more about her classes and other offerings, visit her website

Are you looking for a community in Northern Colorado that shares your interest in fiber arts? Want to gain access to equipment and media libraries, fiber arts education, and more? 

Join today!

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