This morning at the Loch Ness Knit Fest, Alice Starmore talked us through her 'Hebridean Yarnscape'.
Born on the Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides, Alice was brought up surrounded by crafts; her parents were crofter fishermen, on a small farm. Her father then joined the Navy in wartime, and her mother was a nurse. After the war with the Harris Tweed industry booming her father went to work in the mill, and her mother became a dressmaker working from home, making everything from coats and suits to wedding dresses. She also had one of the first knitting machines.
In this creative environment, Alice absorbed the skills of knitting and sewing, and made lots of her own clothes growing up. Her aunts worked as herring girls and also knitted ganseys. Alice was fascinated, and from her aunts learnt how to calculate pattern repeats, without needing a written pattern.
Alice was insprired to write her book 'Fishermen's Sweaters' to share these patterns, using motifs inspired by patterns from the shore and the sea.
Alice's biggest source of inspiration is her childhood spent on the moors. With no sounds other than the sounds of nature, and birds migrating from Africa to nest, her jobs were to fetch water from the loch, and look after the cattle. The older ladies had great knowledge of natural dye stuffs: black crottle is a lichen that gives orange, and was mixed with ammonia (the pee of pre-puberscent boys was particularly effective!).
They also scraped bark from the roots of tormentil, which gives a fantastic bronze colour, but also prevents rotting so is used for nets and sails. Crowberries were squashed to give a magenta colour, while adding iron gives a grey tone.
As a knitwear designer Alice found it frustrating to work with flat commercially dyed yarns, and wanted to recreate the glowing colours from the Hebridean landscape. Dyeing fleeces rather than yarn, she wanted a palette of 35 colours in her own range. Storm petrel, Sheerwater, Kittywake, and Solen goose, for example, are based on birds and inspired by the ocean.
Alice's Donegal sweater is made with colours of the moorland, working with pattern and colour combined. She also subtly captures the essence of nature, such as the pointed wings of the Herald moth.
You can view Alice's full range of books, yarn and patterns on her website at www.virtualyarns.com
All photos © Jade Starmore
And if you enjoyed this, click here to read about Ruth Black's presentation at the Loch Ness Knit Fest, about her project recreating Celtic Knotwork in hand-felted pieces.