Isle of Auskerry is a wonderful shop owned and founded by Teresa on a small Island in Orkney, Scotland.
Teresa lives a fascinating life and has created some brilliant products using the wool from her flock of seaweed eating sheep. The range goes from balls of pure natural wool, through to luxury wool blankets and sheepskins. All beautiful.
Teresa has also launched a range of knitting kits which contain a unique pattern, the wool and everything you need to create these brilliant Knit It! Kits. I love them.
To tell you more about her gorgeous shop, where she lives and how she has made the Isle of Auskerry her family home for over 35 years, here’s Teresa.
Hello and thank you for giving me the chance to tell you about Isle of Auskerry.
We founded the business back in 1983 and have been developing and adding to our range ever since. Everything we sell comes from our flock of native Orkney sheep, and most of it is made by us on the island.
We started with curing the sheepskins which are naturally coloured in every combination of greys and blacks and caramelly browns that you can imagine. The colours and symmetrical markings make them absolutely unique as we never have two the same.
We first started to develop the yarn side of the business by sending it to be spun at a historic Victorian mill in Lanarkshire before being hand woven at a little mill in Speyside into heritage blankets. These blankets are woven on a double warp in subtle grey design with a touch of colour in the stripes at the ends. We wanted them to wrap you up in soft warmth and last a lifetime.
Since then we have added knitting and crochet yarns to our range in four natural colours and 2 weights’ as well as the hand-dyed skeins that I dye in the colours that I see about me every day; the colours of the heath moorland, the seaweeds; the sea and the sunsets.
I have designed various patterns for knitting and crochet kits over the years. We also make felted mats and cafetiere covers.
When we started our flock of native Orkney sheep, there was only one flock left in Orkney in their natural habitat. We knew that the only way we could make the gene pool stronger was to make them commercially viable, so we had to find a way of making money from farming them. They are too slow maturing to be a breed kept for meat, although the meat is delicious! There was no market for their wool because it was not white, so we had to find a way to make a virtue of the beautiful colours.
I grew up wanting to see what it was like to live on a small island, but only intended to try it for part of my gap year! However, I met my partner Simon on a ferry shortly after I arrived in Orkney, and the rest, as they say, is history.
It has not been easy; I missed my family and friends very much at first, especially as there was no phone, and letters reached me once a month at best. Life became much easier when we had the mobile phone.
We have had to really do everything for ourselves, including cutting peat to heat the house and water, putting up wind and solar generators to make power and collecting our water from the roof .
The biggest challenge in the early days was to build our house, the one roomed bothy we first moved into was extremely basic. Now we have a four bedroomed house and several sheds for tractors, working on the sheepskins etc., but we had to build it all with no knowledge of building; in fact all we had was some old books! If only we had had the internet to ask all those questions from.
Then life got a little more complicated as we had 3 sons who needed educating and keeping out of trouble whilst being surrounded by crumbling cliffs and tidal sea and boggy holes.
Amazingly we survived it all, building the business as we went, and keeping the sheep healthy.
Sometimes I wonder how I did it all, but there was no time to be bored!
My mother made all our clothes and taught us all to love sewing and knitting. In addition, I was taught art at school by a wonderful tapestry weaver who basically inspired me to love wool in any form; she taught me to spin and to weave, and I just fell in love with textiles.
I have always loved to experiment with colour and texture, so the creation of knitting patterns and making my felt pieces is a huge pleasure on long winter evenings.
I used to be in Auskerry for most of the year, but as the boys got older I decided that the boys and I should spend the winter in town. As a result, I now spend six months, from April to October, on the island. Mostly outside, working with the sheep, lambing, and then hand clipping the sheep as their fleeces rise. In addition I make felt and dye a lot of the wool, as well as finishing the sheepskins that Simon cures over the winter, so it is always busy.
We have a lot of friends and family visiting so it is fun to share some of the jobs with them; everyone loves to round up sheep!
In the winter I am in Kirkwall, the largest town in Orkney, where I work on the office based side of the business, as well as sending out orders and working on new ideas.
I have a workshop there too so customers come by appointment to see our products and I sell direct at fairs etc. Simon spends a lot of the winter in Auskerry, so we do not see so much of each other in the winter, but I enjoy my own space as does he, so it works pretty well.
Such a brilliant mix of products. Do you create them all yourself?
All of our products are either made by us or designed by us from our hand clipped yarn. People often ask me if I spin the wool myself and I have to laugh because I think it would take me the rest of my life to spin one year’s clip let alone the same amount every year!
I am passionate about making sure that our products are all processed in Scotland and that we are supporting other small ethical businesses.
Our sheepskins are so beautiful and every one is so unique, I just love to see the next one emerging from the curing process and being revealed in all its glory.
Our customers are so fascinated by the seaweed eating sheep that produce such soft yarn, that they love to buy our natural yarns and the kits to go with them and know that they are supporting this wonderful breed.
I am currently designing 4 new kits. The first is a crocheted cushion cover. I have always found crocheted squares in garish colours to be too much, but this subtle blend of our 3 greys brings out the texture of crochet stitches and I love it.
I am also starting to design some patterns for our yarn that will not be part of kits but rather for experienced knitters to enjoy.
Freedom. I can choose when to get up, when to take time off, when to take advantage of the good weather and when I can hide indoors.
Best of all I was able to spend a lot of time with my children when they were small and share my life with them.
I love the feedback from customers who enjoy what we do, and I am extremely proud of our achievement in making this rare breed a little bit more secure for the future.
Thank you so much Teresa for sharing your inspiring and amazing life and how you have created a life from Isle of Auskerry and the Orkney sheep. You have kept them going and they have kept you going too. A wonderful trade off.
The products you have created are beautiful and has meant we can all enjoy the loveliness of Isle of Auskerry.
Happy browsing and shopping.
All opinions in this blog post are mine and Teresa’s. Isle of Auskerry is a member of my shopping directory.Tags: Craft & Hobby Shops, Independent Shops Online, Shops Behind the Scenes