Milarrochy Tweed: developing a palette

There are many things to think about when putting together a palette of shades for hand knitting. Some schools of thought tend toward the representative: that there should always be, for example, a red or yellow. Others, meanwhile, might urge the wisdom of considering particular colour trends and preferences, of including “the colour of the moment”, millennial pink, or perhaps selecting a palette that speaks to the now weirdly ubiquitous hues of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel (have you also noticed those salmons and violets everywhere?)

There are different things to be said for different approaches to colour, but the essential key for me in developing a palette of hand knitting shades (especially those that are likely to be used in colourwork designs) is tonal consonancy. When developing Buachaille, I aimed for a similar tone across all the different shades. This meant that any individual colour of like value might be swapped out and replaced with another, depending on knitterly preferences (so when a knitter like Helen picks up on the fact that all the shades in the Buachaille palette work well together it makes me very happy!).

With Milarrochy tweed, I wanted a similar tonal consonancy (but a different tone, as it were) and my other principal aim in developing the palette was to achieve an overall balance between deep, middling, and light shades.

Along the top row, are four deep shades, along the middle, four of middle value, and along the bottom, four light colours. You’ll also see some similar shades of different value (which might enable a knitter to develop their own tonal gradients across the range) and several high-contrasting shades — also important when working with several colours.

I’ve also selected three “true” neutrals, and several of what I think of as “really useful” shades that, when used in stranded colourwork, can have much the same effect as a true neutral (cooling down or warming up a pattern when used as a background shade) as well as fulfilling roles as bold, contrasting shades in their own right.

Another key issue for me to consider was the tweedy nature of the yarn, in particular, the colourful neps. There are several instances in this palette where the neps bring two shades, which might not necessarily seem natural companions together (such as the brown and mid blue which both contain orange and green neps of the same hue)

So what, then, are my twelve shades?

First up is Hirst. A creamy, warm, pale neutral with flecks of lighter hue, Hirst is a Scots word for the rough, white-ish shingle you often see at the summit of a rocky hill or mountain. Its a word associated with several local place names (Brocklehirst, Ferniehirst), and, having been at the top of countless shingly Scottish hills, is a very evocative term for me.

Next is Birkin which in Scots means birch, or birchy (as in, a birkin grove). If you are acquainted with what the bark of a birch tree looks like you’ll immediately see the associations with this shade. There are flecks of lighter and darker hue, and surprising yellowish pops, which to me are suggestive of lichen.

This is Smirr which in Scots means mist or drizzle. In these parts, smirr is often silvery-blue and hazy, just like this delicious shade, whose complexity is further highlighted by flecks of darker blue and cream.

I named this shade Stockiemuir after a well-known stretch of common land near our home, which, for those used to travelling out of Glasgow by road, may also be the name they associate with their journey to Loch Lomond or the Trossachs. Muir means moor, of course, and stockie points to the fact that the land was once used for common grazing. In spring, the Stockiemuir suddenly bursts into to life in just this shade of green: the vibrant colour of fresh, young, new growth.

This colour is Campion a word with obvious associations with soft pink flowers of both wild and garden varieties. But I was also going through a Margery Allingham phase at the same time that I was devising the palette, and like to think that this shade (one of my favourites) is also named for her detective, Albert Campion.

Garth is a word for a small area of cultivated ground, and this lovely comforting, mid-toned green, with its flecks of brighter green and blue, is the shade of summer growth to me, of vegetable patches and allotments.

This pleasing rusty shade, enlivened with scarlet and golden neps, is named Buckthorn after the vitamin-rich orange berries of the hardy, thorny plant that grows around many areas of the Scottish coastline.

Ardlui is a tiny hamlet at the head of Loch Lomond, and I named this shade after it because I find the light there, by the water, is quite frequently this weird, soft, complicated shade of blue.

This shade also has local Loch Lomond associations, and is named Horseback Brown, after the evocative lines that Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote at Inversnaid:

“This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.”

To me, this deep rich brown shade of tweed, its bright flecks like leaves in the water, is exactly the shade of Hopkins’ Inversnaid.

This dark, enveloping blue with its inviting paler flecks is named Lochan because it suggests a deep, small pool. . .

While this rich, complex, hazy purple is Gloamin‘, the colour of twilight. (If you can’t stand Harry Lauder look away now ).

Finally, this is Bruce:

Ahem, I mean this is Bruce:

Bruce (the dog) is black with white-ish fleck across his chest . . . and Bruce (the yarn shade) has similar but more numerous white-ish flecks.

So my Milarrochy Tweed shades are: Hirst, Birkin, Smirr, Stockiemuir, Campion, Garth, Buckthorn, Ardlui, Horseback Brown, Gloamin,’ Lochan . . . and Bruce!

Finally, a quick word about the blend of fibres we selected: 70% wool and 30% mohair. I wanted to include mohair for a few reasons: first, mohair fibres have a natural strength that militates against the fragility which can sometimes be a feature of single-ply woollen-spun yarns; second, mohair lends the finished fabric a characteristic halo that’s ideally suited to Fairisle knitting and which recalls the halo of Shetland and Icelandic yarns; and finally, mohair fibre has a really rich, luminous quality when dyed which, to my mind, significantly enhances the pleasing complexity of the tweed. Like all fibres supplied to Donegal Yarns, those that make up Milarrochy Tweed have been carefully ethically sourced (from non-mulesed sheep in the case of the wool) and you’ll find that, like other yarns produced in this mill, that when knitted up and blocked, Milarrochy Tweed blooms into a uniquely soft, warm fabric.

I can now also announce that all options of the yarn / pattern / book club associated with Milarrochy Tweed will go on sale, next Friday, November 17th – and will let you know more details of what that involves in the next post.