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On the Croft - March 2022

Hello! It's been a while and for that I owe you all an apology.

Is it too late to wish you all a happy 2022?!

Well, where to start? It has been a LONG winter here on Fair Isle and, when you hear the older generation say it's been the worst winter for many years, you know it's been pretty bad. We haven't had any particularly cold spells but the gales have been incessant, lasting day upon day upon day with no let-up. The rains quickly turned the fields to mud and then bog and for months the poor sheep have had precious little 'hard' ground on which to stand and sleep.

This last week or so has seen a real turn in the weather, however, and what a much needed and welcome turn it has been! Although there's still no grass growing (another few weeks before that comes through), there are signs of spring appearing, with daffodils blooming and frogspawn in the pond. We had a few days of sun last week which finally saw the ground start to dry out and meant I could finally start working through the long list of 'outdoor' jobs that has been building up over the last few months.

One of the most important jobs has been getting the lambing shed and byre stalls ready for the in-lamb ewes. Despite not planning on lambing any sheep this year as my land won't support any more, a visit from next-door's escaped ram to my ewes in November has resulted in a handful which are due to lamb around April 9th!

On the Bee Croft front, I have been absolutely blown away by your support and my sheep and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all your orders! I am now completely sold out of the Bee Croft Juniper and Barnacle shades of wool and have just some of the Busby and Butterscotch skeins left in stock. Living on a small island and having other community commitments alongside my croft, sheep and Bee Croft business means that my time isn't always my own and so this last year hasn't found me as far along with having more garments and accessories for sale in my online shop as I would have liked. However, although it's been quiet these last few months I have been busy working away behind the scenes and shall hopefully be updating the online shop soon!

And now, as they say, for something completely different! Last year I tentatively stepped outside my knitting comfort zone and submitted designs for a couple of projects. Firstly, I entered a competition organised by Barbour and British Vogue to design your 'dream' Barbour jacket. Mine featured a Fair Isle knitted lining and storm cuffs along with the outline of the island and its longitude and latitude co-ordinates embroidered on the back. I was absolutely astounded to be selected as one of the five finalists - out of 500 entrants - and got to visit the Barbour factory and then attend the final judging in London, where we got to present our designs to a team from Barbour, British Vogue and Selfridges. Although I didn't win it was such an amazing experience and really gave me a boost of confidence in what I'm doing!

My second entry was for the Northword Storytagging Project in which entrants could use any media through which to bring to life one of the 'stories' published on the Northword website. Despite having no connection to Brora personally, I picked 'The Brora Coalfield Story' as both my maternal grandfather and uncle worked in pits in Yorkshire between the 1950s-1980s and also because Shetland had a strong connection with Brora for over 100 years - in the early-1900s 80% of the wool clip from Shetland was sent to Hunters of Brora, the woollen mill, to be spun into wool which then came back to the crofters to be knitted into garments and accessories. Although Hunters of Brora closed in the early-2000s, I managed to source (from eBay and similar sites) a good variety of shades of Hunters of Brora wool which enabled me to knit this piece. I knitted a double-sided panel which is 42" in length, to represent the depth of the main coal seam at Brora. Other motifs include circular Fair Isle patterns which represent the winding gear, the horse gins, water wheels and miners' headlamps; fossils, pit ponies, wagons, the men who died working in the pit, the dressed stone of the winding shaft and flames representing the ever-present danger of fire. I also added motifs to represent some of the other things that Brora was known for - waves and fish for the shipping, herring and salmon industries; lightbulbs and lightning bolts representing Brora's title of 'the electric city' and Brora-stamped bricks for the brickworks which supplied the bricks with which the mine buildings were built. One of my favourite anecdotes from the reserch I did was that the miners used to grow mushrooms in one of the air shafts as the temperature was quite high; apparently they used to grow rhubarb but had become tired of it! The Northword Storytagging team is hoping to stage four live events throughout Scotland later in the year, at which all of the finished works will be displayed.

With the longer days the sun is now setting in the gap above the sea between Malcom's Head, the Raevas and Hoini, so I'll leave you with this photo of the setting sun looking like a candle flame in the sky.

Thank you again for your continued support and I promise not to leave it as long before the next update!

Keep Safe,

Rachel xx

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Thank you for the updates, Rachel! If your croft cannot support any more sheep, does that mean your income from the sheep this year will come only from the wool and associated sales, as you will presumably not have any lambs to sell?

Bee Croft
Bee Croft
Apr 20, 2022
Replying to

That's so kind of you, Paul, thank you!

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