This year of 2018 will be the 11th year of our Big Knit initiative and the story is now rather a lengthy one! We hope you will enjoy reading it...
The idea for "The Perthshire Amber Big Knit" came some time during 2007. During the year following the sad death of Dougie's father we realised that his mother, Dolly MacLean with her huge range of skills had a little more time on her hands than previously. We co-opted her into this new way of raising some awareness of, and funds for, our Perthshire Amber charity projects. The first "Harvest Blanket" was made up of coloured squares knitted by festival-goers during the 10 days of the festival, which were then sorted, sewn together and edged by Dolly. The "Big Knit" was born and has proved a great success since ..and lots of fun for all!
In 2007 the blanket was auctioned for over £300 which was donated to the Cyrenians.
In 2008 we expanded the idea and created a sitting area in the foyer of the Pitlochry Festival Theatre where 'knitters' gathered (often with Dolly) to collect their wool and needles and exchange ideas and tips. We decided that the festival would support a second charity and Shelter Scotland was chosen. The blanket while being knitted began to be referred to as the Shelter Blanket...which seemed a great thing to be involved in contributing to! The wonderful blanket that resulted from everyones efforts was auctioned at the Dougie MacLean and Friends Concert on the final night and raised over £800. Andrew and Annette Symington from Edradour Distillery are now the proud owners of the blanket
In August 2009 we got a lovely surprise here in our Butterstone Office. A gentleman, Tom Coomber from Artesano Yarns phoned to offer beautiful shades of superfine alpaca wool for the blanket free of charge! A colleague who has a company called Brittany making wonderful wooden knitting needles had been in touch with Tom... having seen the festival website and the efforts we're making to creatively raise funds for (and awareness of) Shelter Scotland. She suggested that she would supply the knitting needles if Tom contacted us and supplied the wool.
In 2009 we raised over £2,000 for Shelter Scotland... through the Shelter Blanket auction and a 'silent' auction of beautiful articles knitted by Dolly MacLean as well as a batik and an original painting donated for the cause!
Shortly before the 2010 festival Dolly MacLean announced that this would be the last time she would be able to knit the hundreds of squares together for the blanket, even though she would still be involved with the organising of The Big Knit effort. This meant that the 2010 blanket was extra special. Once again an auction took place during the final concert of the festival. The winning bid came from a couple from the Netherlands, Lenny and Teun van de Wardt, who have been great supporters of the festival over the years. In a twist to the story they kindly chose to gift the blanket to Dougie and his Family (so that it could be a permanent reminder of Dolly's incredible efforts!). With the addition of the money raised through "Hats For The Homeless" sales, as well as the winning bid being matched by Andrew Symington of Edradour Distillery, the total raised for Shelter Scotland came to over £1,500… It was really heartwarming that even in these tough financial time people are making the effort to help those less fortunate!
In 2011 Linda Neve and Anna Williams officially joined the Big Knit team for the whole 10 days of the festival and with Dolly Maclean set up the Big Knit lounge upstairs in "Amber Central" - the new festival home base in the Royal Hotel, Dunkeld. There was a great atmosphere in the lounge and sales of hats skyrocketed to over £1,000. Knitting groups from Perthshire and individuals from all over the world contributed to the effort. The Shelter Blanket was auctioned during the Dougie with Friends concert at Perth Concert Hall, but the price achieved (around £450) though appreciated didn't seem to reflect the amount of time, effort and materials involved. Time for a re-think of the best way to sell the blanket.
2012 was another amazing year for the "Hats for the Homeless" project at the Perthshire Amber Festival. Besides the hats and mitts which Linda and Anna knitted, we had many super knitted hat donations from Jess and the Blairgowrie knitting group and the Maldon Knitters Circle which meant we had a great selection for sale. We also had several "knitted" contributions to our cause. Mary donated some lovely long legged cats in "autumnal cat" colours which proved very popular. Sabrina from the Dunkeld Tourist Office knitted lots of very wee socks on keyrings, very useful for carrying doggie poo bags I have been reliably informed! The Danish ladies, Lena and Dorthe, who are very avid square knitters brought a selection of brightly coloured childrens socks. Jackie from the Blue Magpie in Dunkeld gave us loads of yarn and some cowls and scarves to sell. Many thanks to our yarn sponsors, to Artesano for the alpaca to make the squares for the blanket project and to James Brett for several balls of Marble Chunky yarn for hat knitting. Finally not forgetting those of you who helped Anna and I "man" the stall, Rob McDougal's mum, Nurit and last but not least Dolly Maclean our star knitter and winder of the yarn to knit the squares. We could not have done it without all your help and we are pleased to say that the grand sum of £1400 was raised for Shelter Scotland.
The Big Knit for 2013 hit the ground running in late August when we featured our first every raffle for the blanket on the Justgiving website. Guide Dogs, Scotland became our Big Knit charity and the successful transition from auction to raffle exceeded all of our expectations. People bought raffle tickets online (from all over the world) and then in person at the festival - and this enabled everyone to have a chance to win. In 2014 Guide Dogs, Scotland was our Big Knit charity for a second year and during the two years we raised over £5000… the funds to name a guide dog puppy! We will be able to follow our pup for it’s first year and post photos and report on its progress on its way to becoming a qualified guide dog. On any given day during the festival in 2013 and 2014 you couldn’t walk in the front door of the Royal Hotel without hearing the clicking of knitting needles, seeing the smiles of knitters, and seeing knitting… lots and lots of knitting. The table was always laid out with wonderful “Hats for Hounds” in new colours and designs. Also new were headbands, wristlets and more knitted animals. And Dolly made some gorgeous dog jackets – in honour of our charity partner. And thank you again, to Artesano, who supplied the gorgeous alpaca yarn that makes the charity blanket turn out to be of such high quality. The yarn is as much a pleasure to work with as it is delightful to wrap up in!
The Big Knit has certainly lived up to its name over the years and 2015 was no exception. With over 400 hats and other assorted knitted goods piled high in the Big Knit Lounge waiting patiently to be displayed and bought up by supportive festival goers, the excitement of the upcoming festival was apparent. As a result of generous donations before the fact, passionate knitters throughout the 10 days, and patrons who happily walked out of the lounge with a hat or two, a knitted cushion, gloves, and perhaps a wee knitted creature – the 2015 Big Knit fundraising for Guide Dogs and our Name a Puppy “Dolly” campaign raised an incredible £3,250.00!! We were thrilled that this included the £500 raised from this year’s raffle to win the Big Knit blanket and matching cushions. A really fabulouseffirt... all in aide of Guide Dogs and our future puppy, “Dolly”! A big thanks to those on our festival team (Dolly, Becca, Linda and Anna) and to Jess Maclean and all the wonderful knitters in Blairgowrie as well as those who kindly sent in knitted items from near and far. In fact, many thanks to everyone who helped in the 2015 campaign for the Big Knit and Name a Puppy. Your support and generosity will result in helping to fund another life changing guide dog. Our second puppy! Well done to all!!
Having supported Guide Dogs for three years we decided that in 2016, as well as our Amber Harvest food collection, we would donate any funds raised from The Big Knit to The Cyrenians. This is our plan again in 2018. We are so impressed by the wonderful work they do ...the lives (young and old) that they turn around through their really thoughtful and practical schemes and initiatives.