Sunday, 24 January 2016

Herdwick wool socks

Herdwick wool (left), unknown wool (right)
The Herdwick wool #swatchalong has rapidly resulted in a pair of socks, and not only that, two pairs of socks. The grey Herdwick wool knitted up nicely, and I now have a very warm pair for padding round the house in. They were quick to knit (in aran/worsted weight wool), so I thought 'why not knit a pair for Mr L?'. We are not given to sporting his and hers outfits, so this is a one-off.

I found some pure wool skeins, which I've had for a while, in the loft. I don't know if this is a particular breed of wool as I bought this from a charity shop - what a lucky find: I rarely find pure wool in charity shops. I'd not used it as, like the Herdwick, it seemed a little itchy for a woolly jumper or cardigan, but at any rate, it's a suitable manly colour and seemed to have the qualities I described in #Swatchalong: Herdwick swatch.

charity shop wool

The pattern is from Classic:15 timeless designs to knit and keep forever by Erica Knight, called 'Slouch Socks'. They are knitted as one flat piece and seamed together. As I've only previously knitted socks in the round, I thought I might end up with an ugly, ungainly seam rather than an invisible seam, but by using grafting, it turned out fine.

Invisible seam
Grafted seam
They are simple, functional socks, but they have a pleasing quality that is hard to find in regular shop bought socks. We have just come out of a brief cold snap, during which they were very welcome!


Sunday, 17 January 2016

#Swatchlong: Herdwick swatch

Herdwick swatch

I have some grey Herdwick wool top in my spinning supplies basket which I had started to use as 'practice fibre' when getting used to a new spinning wheel. I saw it as expendable, should the first efforts at spinning on the wheel result in uneven, badly spun yarn. Why expendable? Well, I already have copious quantities of grey fleece (so I don't need any more grey), but also because it's quite a coarse, hairy and slightly itchy wool, and I couldn't see what I would want to knit with it.

That the fleece is relatively coarse and hairy is not surprising as the sheep are mostly associated with the Lake District and have adapted to weathering the inclement weather on the high fells. They have a fair amount of kempy (hairy) fibre as you can see from the swatch, but it's not unattractive, and I think it gives the knitting character.

Herdwick yarn
Handspun Herdwick yarn

I was a little dismissive at first, but luckily a light bulb (metaphorically speaking) appeared above my head one day when I was mulling over knitting some slouch socks for pulling over thinner socks and padding around the house. I have already darned several holes in similar thick-knit socks and thought it would be a good idea to knit some new socks in a hard-wearing yarn. Cue the Herdwick yarn.

This wouldn't be the best yarn for a scarf as it is slightly itchy against the neck. I stretched the knitted swatch around my ankle to test for itchiness - and, no not a problem. So, there's itchiness, but not everywhere. Herdwick yarn is renowned for being hard wearing, so what more could I want? Oh warmth of course. Luckily, the swatch has a springy feel to it, and with the hairiness, I figure it will make for a warm knit.

I've started knitting and I'm looking forward to long-lived, warm cosy socks.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Fleece and Fibre Fun at the Small Breeds Farm

My obsession with fleece and fibre is growing. Not only do I now have a basket of some new types of wool top to spin (new to me) to add to a mountain of Ryeland fleece that I already possess, it seems like a good idea to connect the fleece/fibre to the animal. In the week before Christmas and New Year Mr L and I were starting to get cabin fever, so we took an afternoon out to the Small Breeds Farm and Owl Centre at Kington in Herefordshire. I did not grow up on a farm, unlike Mr L, so rare breed farms are part of my education these days, and luckily Mr L is happy to tow along.

I was just sorting out my photos and thought you might like a peek - to enjoy the softness, curliness and fluffiness.

'Uh Hullo......yes, can I help?
Who to start with? Perhaps the smallest. The shy little animals above are Quessant sheep. They are the smallest sheep breed in the world and originate from a small French island (Quessant) off the coast of Brittany. They looked beautifully soft, but unlike the goats, which were inquisitive little creatures, these guys kept their distance and didn't come up for a stroke and some fuss. The look like they would produce a yarn as soft of the Ryeland I'm now familiar with, but I've yet to try.  Diane AKA The Spinning Shepherd has written about these little 'uns at Wovember and on her Sheep to Sweater Sunday series.

The Angora goats, Abigail, Anita and Costello were also thick with curly soft, springy fleece and weren't averse to a little fuss.

Abigail and Anita Angora Goats
Angora goat at the Small Breeds Farm and Owl Centre
Costello the Angora goat

They were just a little averse to staying still (hence the slightly blurred photos). Even more blurry was Costello....

Consulting my new book The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, it appears they are mohair goats, originating from Turkey. Quite how they were finding a cold, blustery day in Herefordshire, I don't know, as they're not known to be very hardy. I looked through the haze of Abigail (or Anita's?) soft hair. As the book says, 'they look like they just got out of the beauty parlour with a fresh perm'. Don't they just. They just forgot to brush off the straw.

Alpaca at the Small Breeds Farm and Owl Centre
Alpaca











How soft was the fleece of alpaca though? So soft. Who's the softest - who wins? I don't know. Perhaps it's a tie!



Hairy, not soft, are the Soay sheep but because they are an ancient breed, I'm curious to try Soay sometime.


I couldn't leave this post without including some photos of the other winsome inhabitants of the farm - the Pygmy goats.......

Pygmy goat

And the impressive owls.....

Casper and Numpty the Milky Eagle Owl






Saturday, 26 December 2015

Knitted Christmas

Tora Joenson tree decoration pattern
Knitted tree decorations: Tora Joenson pattern

Knitting tree ornaments was my 'unwind' before Christmas. I was reading The Knitter magazine on a train homewards after three days away for work. There were only a few days left to go before the maelstrom of Christmas Day and the 'To do' list was rattling around my head. I know the remedy should be to get on with the said to-do list - knock the items off the list one by one. Somehow, though, the lure of something pretty and quick to knit in the magazine kept catching my eye as I flicked through the pages.

The tree was already decorated. I had no need of more tree decorations, but that wasn't the point. I needed something to focus on, to unwind a little (in between getting on with everything else), and this hit the spot. Focussing on three stitches of red, one of white, five of red, one of white etc etc helped to steady the chattering of the mind. Even better, was the finishing of one item in a short space of time before switching the brain on to the 'onwards-and-upwards-no-slacking ' frame of mind.

Knitting with a small ball of plain white handspun yarn that had not yet found a project was also satisfying. So, how to remain serene in the face of the gathering speed of Christmas preparations (because one is never prepared despite the fact that Christmas happens at the same time every year): take up the knitting needles!

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Wovember: Remember Remember the 5th of Wovember

The 5th of November..... that's when I should have started Wovember. If you haven't been Wovemberised, it is a month to wear as much pure wool as possible to show your appreciation of the wonderful stuff; to come out in support of the sheep farmers who care for the woolly creatures that produce the wonderful stuff that we so need in order to knit, crochet, sew, spin and weave. They're often small farmers struggling to make ends meet, and can barely cover the costs of shearing because of the low demand.

Kim Hargreaves cardigan
Pure wool cardies to go
BUT it's been one of those months when I get almost through the month and think 'what month are we in, 'erm November, goodness me, where did it go?'. So I'm late turning my mind round to this.

Not that my mind is ever rarely away from the topic. Since I have learnt to spin I find myself drawn to pictures of sheep, in all their diversity, wondering about where they were raised (do the cold, wet winters on Welsh hills or the Pennines affect the fleeces differently?), how would the long staple wool of this sheep spin or take up plant dyes, and what nuances of texture will I see in a knitted up garment?

Ryeland lamb
I'm crocheting up his fleece right now
Even if you don't knit/crochet/weave or craft in any way you can still buy it and appreciate the qualities of wool (warm and cosy, breathable and quick drying) and, well, it just looks different to what we mostly see in the shops. . Probably because so little wool is now to be found in the shops - it's become a rarity. An age old industry and all the skills and traditions that go with it are slipping away for most, and kept up only by a few.

If you wear all your wool this month only, the chances are that it will probably make you realise how few pure wool items are in your wardrobe compared to anything else. If that makes you think 'next time I'll buy wool', you'll have to search for it. Unless we make things change: so Wovemberize away!

Pure wool collection
Pure wool accessories
Open the drawers and pull out your wool. I'm snuggling up under woollen blankets on the sofa this winter.

Heather Valley and TweedMill blankets



Sunday, 22 November 2015

Remnants and scraps: when are they too small to use?


It's been a while, but I'm back to reuse of materials - fabric remnants and wool scraps. The sewing machine has been busy lately. All other tools have had to be put away so that curtains can grace a bay window at the front of the house in time for the onset of winter. I've been grappling with metres of fabric, interlining and lining, crawling around on my hands and knees with pins and tape measure, smoothing out fabric on the largest area of floor I can find, pinning then hauling the results to the sewing machine. Yes, hauling. It's a workout for the arms: who needs to go to a gym?

It certainly didn't seem like a warm weather project, which is why it has taken some time to get round to it. But, Mr L and I can definitely feel the insulating benefits - the woodburner has been roaring away this week and the heat in the living room stays... in.

Just at the point when I wondered whether the amount of work involved made this a mad project to take on, Mr L informed me that he's read that thick curtains can reduce heat loss by 60% for single-glazed windows. I'm glad he's imparted those words of wisdom.

Window insulation aside, the remnants from another pair of patchwork curtains made a few months ago have now found a useful home as a border to a large area of plain oatmeal colour fabric in the new curtains. They are remnants of remnants, so to speak. The patchwork curtains were made from shop-bought curtain fabric remnants. Some of these also ended up in a patchwork quilt (still part-finished).

Thrown into the new mix are pieces taken from an ugly fabric - a curtain left behind at the house when I first moved in. I didn't like it, so it ended up in the loft. Now, I've dragged it into the daylight because I realised that cutting it into smaller strips neutralised its ugliness. Mix an ugly fabric with others and its potential emerges.



Cut into bias strips it covered cord to make the piping.

fabric scraps
So from large remnants....










fabric scraps
to remnants in strips which made the curtain border.....


and smaller, or possibly 'unfeasibly_small_never_going_
to_use_these' remnants.....







How far along this road can I go? Perhaps the waste from the latest project (thinner strips) would make a good log cabin patchwork quilt? Once started on this road it gets hard to throw anything away. Every scrap becomes loaded with possibility.


Even tiny scraps of wool left over from sewing in ends in a granny square throw have evaded the bin. I love tweedy wool, and it occurred to me that shredded down further they could be spun with a plain colour fleece to make my own version of a tweedy yarn.

Now don't get me wrong; I'm not that much of a hoarder. After all I can clear out, edit and de-clutter with the rest of you. It's just that where textiles and arts and craft materials are concerned, I probably need counselling. Will I ever end up in re-hab?

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Ashford Traveller spinning wheel: Big '0' birthday present

Ashford Traveller
Ashford Traveller spinning wheel
I am now the happy owner of an Ashford Traveller spinning wheel. Recently, on the run up to a big '0' birthday, Mr 'L' asked me 'Could you think of something that you would like my family to buy for your birthday - they'd like club together to buy you something'. I replied 'I don't know, I'm not sure that I need things, I need time and lots of it'. I then proceeded with a long list of what I wanted to do with my time. Mr 'L', ever the sensible one, said 'No really, you need to think of a thing, it would more helpful - a significant, could be, big-ticket item'.

So, I had a think back to other significant birthdays and landmarks in time, and what came to mind was a present bought for my 18th birthday. A sewing machine. I still have it and it still does the job for me after all these years. It's been worth every penny. It has done some hours chugging along making these curtains. I realise I have not yet posted a picture of the finished item mentioned in A crafter's hallowed ground.

patchwork curtains
Kaffe Fasset style patchwork curtains


So what else might I need? Well, of course, it's in the picture. I have deliberated for some time on this. I already have an antique flax wheel, but it's hard work to spin wool on this, and I've been spinning well on drop spindles.

What I needed was something set up well for the spinning wool. There are many reasons why I like drop spindles, mentioned in Spinning and watching the water levels fall  and they still stand, but I wanted to try a wheel too. I wanted something fairly compact that would fit in a car for occasional journeys away from home without too much trouble, and most of all has some flexibility to spin fine yarn, thick yarn and long staple or thin staple wool or fibres. For that (I eventually realised) more than one 'drive ratio' is helpful. So here I am with my new wheel - 4 drive ratios, lightweight - only 7 kg or 15 lbs, oh, and it's a reasonable price too.

My drop spindles will still do the work of being my portable spinning tool, for when I'm very 'in the zone' and want to make use of time away from home, and no doubt because sometimes I like to switch tools.

Here's my stash of raw materials, ready to go - much of it a welcome birthday present to go with the wheel.


I've been practising with regular grey before trying adventurous colour combinations - uneven and with not very balanced twist, but production has started.

grey ryeland yarn


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