Caithness Yarns

Here at Caithness Yarns we are committed to farming properly, certainly as well as we possibly can. Then from the great fleece we get from happy healthy sheep you get great yarns. With our commitment to high ethical and welfare standards you can be sure that our yarns are as conscientiously made as possible. All sheep whose fleece goes into our yarns are well treated living happy and natural lives. We are signatories to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust pledge for the ethical treatment of animals. 

The fine principles stated bellow are just the starting point for us, we strive constantly to incorporate innovative Farm and Animal management practices always with a focus on raising the health and happiness of our lovely sheepies.  we also donate a small percentage of sales from Rare Breed breeds to that worthy group.

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst: by ready access to water and a diet to maintain health & vigour.
  2. Freedom from discomfort: by providing an appropriate environment.
  3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease: by prevention or rapid diagnosis & treatment.
  4. Freedom to express normal behaviour: by providing sufficient space, proper facilities & appropriate company of the animal’s own kind.
  5. Freedom from fear and distress: by ensuring conditions & treatment which avoid mental suffering.

Gansey Yarn from ethically sourced black sheep in several Highland flocks

100g, 5 ply naturally coloured

This is pure 100% wool 5ply Gansey type yarn sourced by me from several local flocks one fleece at a time.

I wanted a traditional Gansey yarn for many reasons, demand being one, but mostly because my family were involved in fishing for generations as well as crofting. I wanted undyed naturally coloured yarn for this because that was the “old” way, using fleece just as it came off the beasts, after all these were originally working garments. They later diversified with folks having “Best” jerseys for showing off their skills and demonstrating the evermore complex stitch forms folks were using. They did remain working items at their heart, I cannot think of my Grandad (father side) without one. That jersey is as central to my thoughts of him as the smell of pipe smoke and his gentleness. I should point out his jersey in my memory was out at the elbows a bit and worn at the cuffs, much to the affront of my auntie Hazel who he lived with in the Village. But then Grandad was still a working man until I think he was 86 being the chief of the inshore salmon fishing operation. he only stopped according to the story when on the day of the local Highland Games they went to work in the morning and caught a bumper catch, Grandad wanted to go for another trawl but the you lads who pulled the oars wanted to go to the games and buggerd off. Grandad took the huff and quit, spending years after complaining that they were doing it wrong. Memories all flooding into me all from thinking about that jersey and that great man who wore one as if it was his skin.

I wanted to start buying the “Black sheep” fleeces that exist in many flocks and are unwanted by the wool board. More fool them cos they are lovely. I had asked around for black Cheviot and got a good response, see my black Arran yarns, but I was also asked by other farmers about other various breeds. When I saw the quality I snapped them up. If the fleece was good I took them; Texel crosses from my cousin, Hebridean and Hebridean crosses from down at Lairg, mystery Black sheep from a 16y old scion of the Cogill farming dynasty, My neighbour Magnus’s many black sheep of hard to identify breed (he just likes the black ones)and others who just came up to me at events across the North last year. Everyone met my standards for animal welfare and I thank them all for their contributions.

So I have this amazing diverse fleece and its just demanding to be made into something great so a marriage made in heaven. Gansey Yarn.

There’s only 14kilos of this so very small batch. That total is the end product of nearly 50 kilos of raw fleece, once I sorted out the rough stuff I sent 28.5 kilos away but these were super greasy and lost 50% of their weight in washing and carding. But that selection process is essential to providing the best yarns for you.

And so to the yarn. As you can see its a fine definite grey-black, there are little if any discernible highlights of other colours. The yarn is fine and really quite soft, it would wear next to the skin, or at least next to mine. maybe I am optimistic but its finer than the Cheviot yarns. There is a serious bounce and spring to this fibre giving its ideal stretch and rebound to anything tightly fitting, I think with care this will not sag out and loose its shape quickly.

I often wonder just who is in charge here on Ballachly Farm, me or this girl in the picture next door, “Boss Ewe”. In the end it is a moot point, we both want the same things, peace and quiet while we eat well and have plenty to do and see around the place. Boss is the only named sheep I keep. She acquired that name as she rose through the ranks of sheepie matriarchy to be the lead sheep, first through any gate first to any new feed and the girl who noisily tells me whenever she sees me wandering around that “she would like some sugerbeet thank you. “Right now!”

Boss is a perfect example of both the quality of “True” North Country Cheviots and the relationship between sheep and Shepard I seek here on Ballachly. To this end I have her piebald fleece processed as a single unit producing just 15-17 100g double knitting skeins a year.

I look to keep up the tradition of “Hill” Cheviots that goes back 230ish years here in the far north. Some call this sub-type of the breed “Lairg” or “Hill” I call it “True” North . Whatever it is called the sheep type is several things that are important to Yarn quality. The “True” type is perfectly adapted to the weather and soil conditions here in Caithness and North Sutherland, after all its had long enough to settle in. The girls produce a strong wool of very high quality to stay warn and dry, it has a wonderful natural white that makes for excellent undyed yarns that were traditionally used for fisherman’s and farmers working jerseys like The Guansey. The white picks up dye accurately making a great base for subtle shading or for firm bold colours. 

Lastly I have an unusually relaxed relationship with my Cheviots, Boss is a great example. When I walk up to a gate the girls run towards me in anticipation, not away in fear. This makes me very happy. It, also means the sheepies are relaxed, unstressed, and thus happier and healthier lives. Being Happy and healthy I contend makes for better wool and thus better Yarn. 

When you buy and wear Caithness Yarns from Ballachly sheep remember these points every time you put on or see our Yarn. This is a Natural Sustainable product, produced with the welfare of the animals as the priority, traceable to specific years and flocks, even sometimes to individual sheep like The Great and Bold “Boss Ewe”.

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