Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Blog in the time of coronavirus...

I'm sure most people have seen the announcement that Wonderwool is cancelled for this year. I'm sure it's been a horrific few weeks for the organisers, as they saw the coronovirus thing bearing down from us, getting bigger all the time, and wondering what to do, and when. Having no real guidance or help from government hasn't made it better.

There was the option to move it to later in the year, but that clashed with Perth Yarn Festival. So no Wonderwool.

I was both vending and teaching there this year. I have already been asked if I'm quite happy to allow my teaching to carry over to 2021, and of course I am. I hope every who's booked into my course on both days (spindle spinning) will be happy to do this too.

I have several guilds lined up this year for workshops. One is is April - I haven't heard back from them but I'm confident they will be cancelling their workshop. Those later in the year are still in place, but we will see what the situation is like nearer the time. Please get in touch if you would like to book something with me, this year or next.

Leeds Wool Festival, at Armley Museum in early June, has not yet been cancelled. That's my only other show this year. It might be very quiet.

I don't have an online shop as such. Given the present situation, and lack of selling opportunities, I'm planning to start photographing all my hand-dyed fibre and yarns and post them up in blog posts. If anyone likes the look of something, they can email me and we can arrange purchase and postage.

Luckily for me (and yes, I realise how lucky this makes me in this community) my day job will continue. I work for a company that makes and sells online training courses, and they're sending us all home this week. Some people have company laptops - I don't, so I have boxes to take my tower, keyboard and one of my monitors home this afternoon. I've cleared a table in my workroom and will be WFH from tomorrow morning. It's chilly up there (no heating) so huge amounts of shawls and wraps and socks and hats (all hand knitted) will be worn. Not to mention cats draped appropriately.

When we get a decent bit of bright light, I shall start photographing. Organisation will happen soon - I think I'll probably group by wool type first, then colour. I have lots of postage bags, and we have a local post office that I can rush in and rush out of, keeping my distance!

Baking will happen, I'm sure. Probably a bit of dyeing, especially if someone wants a particular colourway or fibre. And knitting - lots of knitting. A cat broke my rigid heddle loom the other week and I'm awaiting a spare part.

In the meantime, let's all look after ourselves and others. Be kind, we're all in the same boat.

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Weaving a rainbow....

I've been planning a blog post on this when it's finished, but it's taken rather longer than I thought to actually finish it. It's not the first large piece of weaving I've done - that was a large piece of completely handspun black Shetland yardage that became a Bronze Age tunic for a friend, who finished and made a scabbard for the bronze rapier I'd cast but not had the tools to finish. But that was years and years ago, on a floor loom that had pieces missing and has since gone.

The previous post is the first thing I made - that blanket which I love. Lots of mistakes, lots of learning, but it's on my bed and is warm and beautifully woolly. You know I love wool, don't you?

This is my first 'planned' project, and I bought the next heddle up (or down? the next finer one anyway). The warp is one of my Full Circle sets, 300g of fibre dyed in a full rainbow. This one is on white BFL (I had a commission for a knitted shawl in 2018 from a Full Circle, so I spun up both a white and an oatmeal one. The recipient preferred the oatmeal). It's a two ply yarn equivalent to commercial fingering or 4ply. The weft is a cone of very fine grey cashmere-like yarn, very breakable but very soft. The finished fabric feels wonderful.

The Full Circle sets come in 3 x 100g, and each third goes from one primary to the next. Handily, the width of the loom nicely fits each third. I had to measure where I set up the table on which the loom was clamped to make sure I wound the same length each time.

This is what it looked like yesterday - all the strips mattress-stitched together but not washed. I know I need to work on the selvedges; I was working so hard to make them not pull in at all I have let them a little slack. Some of this vanished in the machine wash.

And this is the finished cloth. Much irregularity has been evened out, though not completely as ideally I should have used a thicker weft. But I didn't want the grey to dull the brilliant warp threads too much.

I love how the fringing came out. I could get addicted to twisting fringes, especially when they're made of such nice yarn.

Not perfect, distinctly 'rustic', but I love it. 

I love how the fringes glow against the muted cloth itself. It would have been much duller if I'd used the oatmeal BLF.

This is exactly what I wanted to make with the RH loom - plain cloth using handspun yarn. I could get all excited about using two heddles at once and making twill, but not just yet. I have a large bag of more 'random handspun' that I've trawled out of various boxes and bags, and intend to make more strips for blankets, throws or shawls. And I have really interesting ideas about using my own handdyed fibres to get different effects. 

Now, what shall I do next. 
(Keep equipment out of the way of the dogs. I've lost one shuttle to their teeth, and the new heddle is slightly munched on one corner. From their point of view, these are just sticks - and why would I have sticks indoors if not for them?

Sunday, 19 January 2020

New Year

Two thirds into the first month of the New Year before I manage to get around to a post. I had over a fortnight off over Christmas, surely the longest I've had since I've been working, but managed almost nothing creative as I managed to get the vile lurgy that's been going around, so I coughed and sneezed and ached my way along. As did Mark, in a slightly different way.

But I seem to have been inspired since the first full weekend of the year!

This is the spinning for a Sarah-Dippitty skirt, which I have been thinking about it ever since Sarah Swett has been blogging about it. I shall probably do a quick short one with commercial yarn first, but this stuff is on the go for a long one. It's a fleece I bought at Wonderwool 2017 from Olga Veever's flock of Corriedales. It's a fairly short and very soft fleece in a beautiful warm dark brown. I drumcarded it, leaving in the bleached tips which have left rather nice neps in the finished two ply yarn. Combing it would no doubt have made a darker smoother yarn, but I wanted a very light open yarn with lots of yardage, so a woollen prep spun long draw gave me exactly what I needed. There is a lot of twist here, both in the single and even more in the ply. Once I've spun it all up (apart from a double handful of fleece which I've left to comb and spin for the sewing up) I shall sample. Sampling is fun!

And this is my new toy. I treated myself to a narrow rigid heddle loom (the Ashford one) from The Threshing Barn at Yarndale last year. (I had one years ago, but it was the wide one and was just too big to get out and use easily in my somewhat full and cramped flat, so I sold it on.)  This is a narrow one, and it was finally pulled out and played with.

I dug into the various boxes of handspun stash and hauled out a random assortment, and wove five narrow strips. These aren't the full width of the heddle (I left about 10 slots each side) but it was enough to play with. The length is from the small table in front of my chair to the dresser on the other side of the living room. 

My selvedges improved dramatically as I carried on. The two shorter strips on the outside were the first two, the green in the middle was the other night. And I stitched them together with mattress stitch this morning. 

The fringes were great fun to do.

And I have more yarn. Lots more yarn. This could get addictive. (I'm currently sitting with this round my shoulders as I'm about to cast on a hat* (having taken the boyz out for a walk in the cold and frost this morning, I had a shower (brrr!) and am currently in my dressing gown. It's ceilidh night tonight so no point getting dressed until we go out).

*The hat is Liz Lovick's Australia Ablaze. Really, lots of us should be buying the pattern and making it.

Saturday, 21 December 2019


As seems to have become a tradition over the last few years, I have come down with a cold just after finishing work for the year. For the last year I've been working four days a week only, and because I don't work Fridays I don't have to take Fridays as a holiday when I do wool shows. So I have had far more holiday this year than I've had for years - I'm not due back at work until Monday 6th January. Plenty of time of languish with a cold instead of running, sewing and knitting.

The main knitting as of late has been my Carousel Caps. I've now done six of them: three with carousel horses and three with unicorns. All commissions, they've gone out into the wide world and I haven't got one for myself. I really think I ought to make myself a unicorn cap! 

Unicorn caps have a star on the top, the carousels have a lines spirally inwards.

The colours in these hats are from my Away Wi' The Fairies colourway on white BFL/silk, which has worked so well. The black/grey background started off at J&S Supreme, but the latter few have been Kauni Effetgarn. Once it's had a good wash and block the fabric is gorgeously soft and squishy.

I've developed a tradition of knitting tiny little socks for people in my team at work. This year I'm in a completely different team, so four new socks were needed this year.

I am intending to cast on something big and complicated over my days off, and sew a pea jacket for Mark, and do lots of creative things. Nothing has happened yet.

A few days ago we went up to Grasmere for a talk at the Wordsworth Trust. There was snow on them there tops, and it was very windy, driving ribbons of hail across the valleys. So beautiful, but Hector was convinced we were torturing him with the cold and damp. Arthur couldn't wait to jump in the mere again.

For the first time in quite few years, I've got all of my long-collected Yule decorations out and up. I've cleared the creel off everything that usually hangs off it, and fastened up rows of reindeer, bears, trees and stars, with the odd robin, dog, and various woodland creatures.

This little chap was new last year. Many of these come from Salts Mill Christmas shop, but I keep my eyes open and find all sorts of things in odd places. Museums are good sources.

This tree was bought two years ago from a charity shop in Ilkley. It stays up all year, but is particularly appropriate at this time of year. Mum found me the five green glass drops.

I took the boyz into Buck Wood this lunchtime to gather holly and ivy, which I tuck behind the big mirror and thread through with lights. It's something I really enjoy seeing; greenery in the house is a good thing at this time of year. I thanked each tree or plant as I clipped a branch, and I'll take it all back to the woods early next year. This was Arthur, demonstrating that he actually knows what 'Stay!' means.It was horribly muddy underfoot, and the river was high.

Sunrise was supposedly 8.23 this morning, but as we're so low down in the Aire valley, with a hill to the east, from late October to February the time sunlight reaches us it's an hour later. And we have Baildon Moor to our west, so we lose direct sunlight quite some time before official sunset at 15.47. One of these days I'd really like to live somewhere that's open to the west.

Solstice blessings to all; let's hope we all do better than expected before the next one.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Leiden, the Textile Research Centre, Historic textiles...

A month after the event, some assorted photos of my visit to Leiden for the Knitting History Forum's event on the Texel Stocking, several trips to the Textile Research Centre, and a wander around Leiden.

There was a fascinating exhibition on socks at the Centre, tying in to the conference which was mainly about the Texel Silk Stocking project, which I got a good wander around on the Friday afternoon on our day of arrival. On the Monday afternoon (nearlyeverything in Leiden is closed on Monday) I spend several hours sewing labels on new arrivals for the collection, and gawping in wonder at the Leiden Hat and a tiny fragment of carbonised textile from Catal Huyuk.

I also spent the entirity of my Sunday in Leiden at the main museum there. Excellent collection of Egyptian stuff, a good cross section of European stuff, lots of Roman things (as you'd expect given Leiden's geographical position), and a really good timeline of the area from the Ice Age to early Modern. A special exhibition about prehistoric Cyprus too.

I was perhaps a little too tired to make the most of it. In October I'd had something on or been away for nearly every weekend, and it all got away from me somewhat. A November catching up with myself was rather necessary (and probably why this post didn't even get done until December).

I am currently in the throes of churning out a handful of hats with either carousel horses or unicorns on them - fun, but time-consuming. We were at a wonderful and touching gig in Halifax's Square Chapel last night, O'Hooley & Tidow, and this evening we're off to the very different Peatbog Fairies in Settle Victoria Hall. I'm knitting and spinning quietly this morning, enjoying the morning when I get the sun in our living room.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Carousel cap, Edinburgh and archaeology.

So this is the Carousel Cap I was working on the other week. I'm really pleased with how this has come out, especially fabric-wise. The J&S Supreme blooms beautifully with a bath in very hot water and a good rub on itself. The BFL/silk shines against the matte of the Shetland. This one is being traded with a friend; I've already got an offer of a bottle of nice gin in exchange for another one but with unicorns instead. (I think I want one with unicorns too).

Last weekend we had a furiously fast visit to Edinburgh, staying in our usual flat on Easter Road, and wishing we'd brought the dogs too this time. The flat is dog friendly, albeit on the third floor, which is why we chose it originally. (We've been going to it since EYF in 2016).

The main reason for going was the Late Prehistoric Group's conference on Crafting Identities on Saturday, but I also really wanted to see the National Museum's Wild and Romantic exhibition. We scorched up the motorway and the A7, getting there for not long after 11, and after dumping stuff in the flat (uncleaned, but we get leeway as we've been going so long) charged up the hill.

Excellent exhibition. As you'd expect really. A wonderful overview of how Scotland's become regarded as the wild and romantic country par excellence since the 18C.

There was clothing, in good enough light and in a small enough case that you could get a really close look.

There was a very old suit of tartan that is supposed to have been booty from Culloden (very small, and different tartan/fabric for the hose and jacket), that wonderful 18C wedding dress that's been worn by every bride in the family since it was made, and I subscribed to the crowdfunder when it was replicated in a day at the museum earlier in the year), and various jackets and costumes right up to the 'classic Victorian Scottiana'.

And some of the random stuff was interesting too. More than one of the cartoons satirising Scotland from the mid 18C to the early 19C showed Scotsmen like this - tartan or checked jackets but a plain plaid/kilt, yet now we think of the jacket/top being a plain wool and the kilt always tartan. 

I could have spent far longer at the exhibition, but we had to meet someone off a train. And then we were tired, so went back to the flat for lots of tea. And a yummy meal at the Mash Tun just downstairs - local, good value, excellent food, lots of gin and whisky.

After the conference on Saturday, which was all day and such a pity to be inside on such a gloriously clear and chilly Autumn day, I met Mark at the Deacon Brodie's. It was furiously cold and breezy (Mark had bought me a beautiful Black Watch blanket as a late birthday present, so I wrapped myself in tartan wool and was happy) and this was the view back down the Royal Mile, all the way to the Firth, the last of the orange sunlight just catching the top of St Giles.

Autumn is firmly upon us. Some trees are nearly bare and I've hardly noticed the leaves changing on some. I could really do with a weekend at home, as before Edinburgh we were charging around to Durham and Grasmere. But this weekend (in fact, ridiculously early tomorrow morning) I'm off with a friend to Leiden for the Historic Knitting Group's conference. Which is going to be vastly interesting, and I should manage to get visits in to the Textile Research Centre (normally closed on Friday, but we have contacts!), plus the Weavers' House on Sunday afternoon, and hopefully the Archaeology Museum in Leiden on Sunday morning. Our flight home is late on Monday, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed we can manage the Rijksmuseum on Monday.

Phew. And then I'm teaching at York Guild in a fortnight and need to knit up a beaded yarn I spun weeks ago before that. 

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Knitting at the Wordsworth Trust, teaching at Durham Guild.

It has been a very long weekend. We had a desperately early start on Saturday morning, got up to Durham in plenty of time for me to teach a colour blending/drumcarding workshop at the Guild, then whizzing down to Settle for a concert at Settle Victoria Hall with Kris Drever, and home at midnight. 

Then we were off early on Sunday morning, up to Grasmere where I had a lovely few hours in the library at the Jerwood Institute, Wordsworth Trust at Dove Cottage, in a talk and workshop by Esther Rutter. Esther has recently published This Golden Fleece, and has been giving talks and workshops around the country. This one was looking at the magnificent 19C gloves, typical of Westmoreland and the Yorkshire Dales, in the Wordsworth collection. There were about twenty of us in the group, and we got to look at wonderful things.

These were on the shelf immediately behind my chair. I nearly fell off it! 

These are a few pages, with sewn in samples, from Wordworth's niece's commonplace book.

The Wordsworth Trust is rightly proud of having nearly all the papers and the family documents in the area where they were written, and around the places they were written about (instead of tucked away in the British Library in London).

There is a selection of knitting sheaths/sticks in the collection too. 

And the gloves! Beautifully detailed gloves. I've seen photographs, but it was amazing to see them 

A hand-knitted rug/blanket, dyed with natural dyes, made for William himself. Much brighter on the back, it was on display until the 80s and has been rather light-faded. One particular square looked like it was knitted in stripes of browns from the right side - on the reverse it was much darker and in shades of purple, so probably various yarns dyed with logwood that looked much the same when new. 
And after this we were provided with yarn and needles and handouts, and we all started knitting a version of these gloves ourselves. Esther had not only brought all the samples that she knitted as she wrote her book, she'd done an excellent handout for the gloves. I got most of my ribbing done, but I have to finish the Carousel Cap first.

And then I met up with Mark (who had been pottering round the village while I was busy, and we walked around the lake with the boyz. Arthur was utterly delighted at being able to play in the waves (it was windy) and launched himself into water with gay abandon.


Posing. (There is a stick just out of shot.)

There were supposed to be photographs of me teaching at Durham on the Saturday, but Mark hasn't sent them to me yet. The workshop went really well, and I've already been booked for next year. It was very strange actually teaching there - I must have walked past St Oswald's Church Institute dozens of times on my way up to the library from my college, back in the 80s, but I can't say I'd noticed it. (They didn't buy much fibre though.)