Thursday, 22 December 2011

...can Spring be far behind?

As my Zoroastrian friend Shahin tells me each mid-winter:  “Spring is coming!”.  The famous last refrain of Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’: “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” also comes much to mind as I walk about my garden in the short daylight hours of northern winters.  Right now, the new solar year is just beginning. Winter’s flowers are already appearing, heralding spring to come, and inspiring a new dawn of colours in my anticipated new year spinning. 

Already I have Jasminum nudiflorum in bloom, bringing its yellow sunshine to winter's gloom, and Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’, the red-brown spotted winter evergreen Clematis. Even the wonderfully-scented Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’  has put in an early appearance.  But my horticultural pride and joy is the first flowering ever in my garden of Chimonanthus praecox, or Winter Sweet, with its pale watery yellow translucent flowers and its heady scent, flowering just by my front door. 

I was told these plants can take 20 years to flower from cuttings, but mine has had under 10 and it’s bursting with round expectant flower buds and blooms.  It's a cutting taken from a Chimonanthus planted through Gertrude Jekyll’s influence on Hestercombe gardens in the west country.   The colours of all these plants are subconsciously making their way into my fibre-filled baskets, awaiting my return to the spinning wheel after Christmas and the new year. 

I was reminded of my gardening heroine Gertrude when sitting in London’s Wigmore Hall the other evening for a concert of early 20th century English music, generously facilitated by my warm-hearted brother Christian,  listening to work by composers such as Peter Warlock.  Although looking back to Irish roots, his setting of ‘The Curlew’ was totally haunting. As an adopted East Anglian, it brought winter in the Fens right into my imagination.  Warlock and Jekyll were roughly contemporaneous, and shared a love of culture of the past which shaped the future of music (in his case) and garden design (in hers).  I’m fascinated by all such connections, and their relationship to the continuous thread of life. 

Looking to the future myself, I’ve just returned from a happy day passing on family recipes to my lovely daughter-in-law Susanna, and sharing a cup of Christmas cheer with my wonderful eldest son Rupert in London.  If the turn of the solar year and Christmas is a time for anything, it’s for sharing.  Sharing with family, and sharing with woolly-minded friends across the globe - namely all of you.  Here’s wishing you all a blessed, peaceful and Merry Christmas, and looking forward to your company again here in the new year.   

Friday, 16 December 2011

Fashion designers, philosophers and Christmas trees

I’ve often wondered if trees in their own way could get a bit philosophical about life on this planet.  “I grow, therefore I am”, to coin René Descartes’ thought, is probably all the tree wants, just to be getting along with the neighbours and bringing on the children.  But no, we humans have to come along and imbue them with meanings all of our own. 

Take Christmas trees: this one’s busy making its contribution to fashion, art, sculpture, knitting, and eventually to charity when it’s auctioned off in Paris along with the other ‘trees’ in the Collection Les Sapins de Noel des Créateurs.  It was designed by Stella McCartney, and created by Extreme Knitting inventor Rachel John, and has been part of the 15th season of creations by this amazing fund-raising organisation right at the heart of the Paris fashion world.  To some, this tree radiates ‘design’; to others it will resonate through its materials and craftsmanship, and to the person who buys it, it will represent their charity giving, or perhaps a part of it, for this year. 

Across Scandinavia, what we call ‘Christmas Trees’ are the basis for many industries, in countries where there are far more trees than people.  Trees represent renewable resources, to be grown sustainably for future generations, and whose wood locks in carbon dioxide for the life of the wood product made from it.  The self-same type of tree, to the people of the city of Oslo, represents a ‘thank you’ to the people of London for their support in World War II. One has been sent from Oslo to London as ambassador every year since 1947, and this year on 1st December its lights were switched on to herald the coming of Christmas.  In more ancient times, evergreen trees were respected for their ability to continue on unchanged through the seasons, and as symbols of life and re-birth in the dark days of the northern winters. 

Discussing with my mum today the energy of Christmas, we decided it was the aspects of hope, re-birth and the continued cycle of life that gives Christmas its enduring appeal.  The hope of continuing life was brought home to me recently by Stitch London’s choice of charity for their Christmas raffle:  the Andrea Giles Yes to Life campaign Like many other craftspeople I made a donation to the raffle - a skein of my Mega Yarn.  I hope Stitch London raised loads of money to enable Andrea to continue with her treatment.   The event was supported by Knit! Magazine. 

Whether you’re a fashion designer or a charity knitter, if you’re putting up a Christmas tree soon for the festive season, take a moment out to consider its many positive contributions, to you, to the environment, maybe even to the economy.  But most of all consider the tree as an object of wonder in its own right, a work of art, science, sculpture and nature, worthy of marvel even before the decorations go on. 

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Church bells, crafts and community

An ancient site on a high and windy hillside, overlooking a vale throughout which Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans and more have all left their mark:  this is the village of Great Chishill.  It was a great privilege to take part in the village’s first ever ‘Crafts in the Barn’ event on Saturday last, in aid of the bell fund for St Swithun’s church, an already-established institution when it was gifted to the monastery of Walden by  Geoffrey de Mandeville in 1136.

Invited by a generous friend from our local spinning group, I joined all kinds of talented craftspeople from the village and surrounds.   Though it’s probably been true since time immemorial, it still amazes and pleases me to discover so many different and complimentary talents tucked away in villages and communities far and wide.  It opens a window on a past in which each skill had its role to play in the continuity of life, and each was valued for its contribution.   

It’s not until a community comes together for a cause like St Swithun’s that you realise just how deep the well of creativity runs in every human being, be they knitter or spinner, potter or baker, seamstress, or saddle-maker, jeweller or grower.  It felt very warming to be amongst fellow inadvertent craftspeople, whose hobbies have, like mine, taken them in interesting directions.  It also felt encompassing to be in the midst of their community of friends, all surprised and delighted to see what their neighbours can create and full of happy hopefulness that the event would set in motion a chain of good things, the church bell being just one of the beneficiaries. 

In the past, whole communities developed craft specialities, like Harris Tweed or Nottingham Lace.   Yet within each craft, the individual identities of the craftspeople could be discerned through their handling or choice  of materials, their use of colour, or the subtle differences in their techniques.  Celebrating and understanding these differences is the aim of the ‘Woven Identities’ exhibition, running through to April 2014 at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture in  Santa Fe, featuring the work of over 240 Native American basketmakers, some named and many unknown.  

Today, our modern lives are somewhat isolated from each other.  Like ghosts, we wave at each other through the ether of the internet, visiting perhaps less than we should, even though our transport is hugely more comfortable than that of our ancestors.  But real connection, with families and community,  only comes through engaging face to face, talking to others, or coming together in a common cause. 

Crafts, it seems, can re-awaken people’s shared creative genes.  Craftspeople, and those who appreciate craftwork, are open and willing  to learn from each other.  It should also be our joy to pass on our enthusiasm, and to hopefully do a little good along the way.  Here’s hoping St Swithun’s bell will be ringing again soon.   

Friday, 2 December 2011

Knitted Textile Designer of the Year: texture, colour or both?

Who'd be a competition judge? Especially when the competition is for Knitted Textile Designer of the Year at the Clothes Show Live?  What an impossible choice to make!  Will the judges go more for texture? Or for colour?  Or for a mix of both? The brief this year was to take sculptural knitting into 3D, so I for one can't wait to see what the designers come up with.  The competition is sponsored by Rowan, in association with Simply Knitting and The Knitter magazines. 

There are some wonderfully-talented young knitwear designers coming through universities such as Nottingham Trent.  You've only got to take a peek at their student gallery to be whisked off to the heights of creative inspiration. Nichola Evans, Gemma Lloyd and Michelle Legere's work would take my vote any day!  Each of these three innovative designers have combined colour and texture in their own special way, and it's that expression of the person through their creation which binds human spirits together and allows us to appreciate their work.

I'm particularly interested in texture, as I feel it's got something to say to us beyond the visual.  The tactile nature of wool in all its forms - rough Hebridean to springy South Down - takes mankind back to the dawn of our times, and its sustainable nature shows a path for our future.  I like texture in plants too, like Viburnum rhytidophyllum with its deeply-etched leaves. 

My most memorable encounter with this plant was in the garden of the man who designed the 'new town' of Harlow in Essex after World War II, Sir Frederick Gibberd.  The Gibberd Garden is a festival of texture. It's present on every surface, from paving to plants and water.  Your eye can't stray further than a few feet without seeing something new.  If a person expresses themselves through their creativity, then you have to wonder how fascinating a person Frederick Gibberd must have been - his hidden exuberance is utterly manifest in the garden he has left behind. 

We all have a hidden level of exuberance we don't let on to others, but for spinners, knitters and weavers, our natural verve tends to leak out here and there! We express our most private selves when we set to with new fibre, yarn or drafting plans, creating something which suits us well, in whatever colour or texture best resonates with our spirit.  How much more difficult then to design knitwear for the fashion catwalk - fashion that contains a part-essence of your personality yet can be replicated successfully to chime with the spirits and self-image of many others.

Good luck to all the finalists in Knitted Textile Designer of the Year 2011 when the Clothes Show Live opens in the morning:  we look forward to making a new journey of knitted discovery with you, through your creations.    


Thursday, 24 November 2011

Insulation, Natural Selection and Permaculture

It was a real ‘frosty cobweb morning’ out there when I went to feed the hens yesterday.  A proper frost – not the kind that glints at you briefly and is gone, but the sort that sticks like glue, giving every leaf a white lace edging.  On mornings like that I really appreciate what sheep can do for a girl. My ‘chicken jacket’ sports an eclectic mix of sheep breeds, the best that sheepdom can offer to keep me warm.  Apparently today marks 152 years since Charles Darwin published ‘On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection’.  It was thinking about ‘natural selection’ that led me to choose the mix of breeds for my chicken-visiting jacket.  

Here in the deserts of East Anglia, on light, dry soils that cool quickly, we get some pretty cold winters.  The scientists say that ‘global warming’ for Britain will in fact result in ‘cooling’ here; with more wet summers and bad winters. Getting out to feed hens when it’s -10 first thing in the morning takes more than just resolve, it takes wool - and lots of it.  I got to wondering which wool would be the warmest and how could I test for myself? 

Vikings who crossed the sea from Scandinavia in their shaggy-woven coats took inspiration from nature.  If water drips down and off locks of wool on a sheep, then making a coat shaggy with locks was likely to keep you as near waterproof as a non-sheepy-being could get.  But though I love spinning locks into my yarns, they’d get a bit messy in clearing out the hen house each winter morning.  I thought I’d try my own bit of ‘natural selection’, make some thick Cowichan-style yarn, and try as many different sheep as I could.

Gardeners work by the edict: “right plant, right place”. Applying that thought to sheep,  I reckoned if Herdwicks keep dry in almost perpetual rain in the Lake District their wool was worth trying, and if North Ronaldsays survive howling gales on Scottish islands, the wisdom of their own ‘natural selection’ would benefit me too.  I then got obsessed with trying any British breed I could get my hands on!  All spinners who’ve learned their craft from fleece to fibre will know what I mean. The unconscious learning of exploration is addictive.   

It’s certainly been worthwhile:  with at least a dozen different sheep present in my chicken jacket, kindly knitted by my mum Babs, I’m now pretty much waterproof and as warm as toast, no matter what the weather throws at me.  I can definitely see why the construction sector increasingly are substituting breathable, sustainable sheep wool insulation to replace resource-draining petro-chemical and mineral-based insulation.

For anyone who hasn’t yet tried all the woolly marvels that natural selection (and human interference) have wrought, read the Fleece & Fibre Sourcebook first  - it’s a wonderful bed-time wind-down read. Or simply see what rare breeds farms have to offer when they shear next summer.  I’ve tried fleeces from tiny Ouessants to huge Herdwicks and it’s endlessly fascinating.  By trying them, we’re making our own small contribution to Permaculture.  Re-discovering the right sheep wool for the right purpose will help us all to ‘live more lightly’ on the planet. 

Friday, 18 November 2011

Monsters, Smiles and Sheep Support

"Mission accomplished," declare the intensely creative designers at London fashion house SIBLING.  What mission is that?  "Putting smiles of peoples faces," they say.  And you can easily see it in the sheer joy of innovation they've brought to what many would otherwise think a pretty staid arena:  men's knitwear.  Their brand of  joy and smiles is spreading as SIBLING's Knit Monster tours the globe as part of The Campaign for Wool's tour de force 'Wool Modern'.  This showcase for wool in the 21st century brings together artists and designers who, like all of us woolly-holics, want to make good use of natural fibres.

Using natural fibres is undoubtedly one good thing:  remembering where those natural fibres have come from is another.  It's not just we humans that like a hug every once in a while.  Thousands of people may have been queuing in London today to receive a beautiful, spiritually-connective hug from Amma, yet there are are many creatures out there that need a genuine hug too, and are just as capable of appreciating it.  Look at Spot Loggins the sheep here, rescued with his mother by The Farm Animal Sanctuary.  Now if that isn't a smile in response to a little affection then I don't know what is!  The Farm Animal Sanctuary has been bringing comfort to animals for many years but now finds itself in need of our care and support, as winter approaches and funds are stretched in a fight for survival.

Although times are tough all round the world, it shouldn't be a matter of whether humans or animals are first when it comes to hugs or funds. As Chief Seattle is reported to have said:  "All things are connected, like the blood that unites one family."  So giving the occasional hoof of support to the beings which provide the fluffy stuff we enjoy using should at least be somewhere on every one of our charitable priority lists.  Janet and her dedicated team of volunteers at the Sanctuary do a tremendous job in rehabilitating both animals and their trust in humans, and it shows in the excellent fleeces they produce each summer, which you can buy through Ravelry's Moonmoss.

In medieval Britain, growing a good fleece was more important than growing sheep as meat.  Perhaps we need to decide as a modern society what we really want from fleece-providing animals. Producing a good fleece isn't simply a matter of genetics, as Janet and her Sanctuary team seem to be able to demonstrate. I'm no decryer of progress: I just believe that progress should have some compassion built into its algorhythms.  For the further out of touch we get from the real animals - the actual owners of the super-flexible, breathable and carbon-storing material we covet - the further our own humanity ebbs into the distance.  Maybe that's something all spinners, weavers, knitters, fashion designers and users of natural fibres can play a part in halting.

So if you possibly can in these very tough times for everyone, do have a think about donating to The Farm Animal Sanctuary if you're here in the UK, or a to  a smiliar Sanctuary near you, wherever you are in the world.   Wishing you dreams of joyful Knit Monsters, smiles and sheepy hugs wherever you are tonight!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Fireworks inside and out

I'm a bit miffed:  I haven't been to any 5th November Fireworks displays this year.  I've enjoyed odd glimpses of other people's in the days surrounding Bonfire Night last Saturday, mostly from a distance while travelling about in the car.  But nothing beats a sparkler in the hand, and the smell of  logs on the bonfire and fizzled gunpowder in the dark-night mist. 

For anyone lucky enough to be in London this coming Saturday evening,12th November, there's a magnificent free fireworks display over the river Thames in central London - the closing display of the annual Lord Mayor's Show,  a 785-year-old tradition well worth the watching.  My Dad used to work for Reuters, which back then had its headquarters on Fleet Street, so as children we'd watch the parade from the office windows.  I walked past the building at 85 Fleet Stret just this afternoon, coming home after a meeting for 'the day job'. It's prompted happy memories of many Lord Mayor's Shows and fireworks displays gone by. 

This year I'll have to be content with the metaphorical fireworks going on inside and outside my abode.  Inside, I'm spinning new mega yarns to take to the Sandringham Christmas Craft Fair on 26th & 27th November.  Creator of 'Extreme Knitting', Rachel John,  has most kindly invited me to join her and her daughter Carmen on their stand at the show.  The fairs at Sandringham bring together an ecclectic but fascinating range of craftspeople from right across the disciplines. It's great to be amongst them and talk to people about spinning - and to watch Rachel's sheer artistry in action.  Come along and say hello if you're at Sandringham:  would be a pleasure to meet any Bobbin' Along readers!  The 'fireworks' in progress in the yarn department include these amazing red Teeswater Wools locks I'm incorporating into this red flecked batt of Merino and silk. 

Outside, the're are plenty of plant-colour 'fireworks' around the garden.  I've chosen plants 'with attitude' that have special features at this dark time of year to to lift the spirits and encourage me out into the misty mornings.  Even more than summer flowers I love the colours of autumn, from the lipstick pinks of Euonymus alatus, which are followed by its corky feature bark in winter, to the reds of Cotoneaster horizontalis, and the real autumn golds of Chrysanthemums.  Reds and golds are to me the only proper colours for chrysanths - the manufactured greens and strained whites in the bunches you see at filling stations just don't do it for me! 

There's one special set of  woolly  'fireworks' I'm going to be missing out on this weekend, and that's the fashion show at Knit Expo in Exeter. The show is growing rapidly in stature and reputation and I hope to be a part of it one day in the future.  Good luck to everyone in the exhibition and on the catwalk:  I'm sure there will be many sparkling designs showing wool off to its very best.  Talking of which, the generous ladies at 'Knit!' magazine have just published their first pattern for my mega yarns in issue 43,  complete with interview. You can see the cover preview picture on their blog, at the top of the right hand picture column. It's certainly spurred me on: my Country Spinner now whizzing round as fast as a Catherine Wheel!  Here's wishing you all a week of equally rocket-propelled creativity! 

Friday, 4 November 2011

Homage to the Unknown Spinner

Watching 'Grayson Perry and the Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman' last night I really found myself in tune with his thoughts.  He hit the nail on the head when he crystallised people's trips to museums as 'pilgrimage':  essentially we go because we are fascinated by the hands that created things in the past.  His exhibition of the same name at the British Museum will definitely be on my schedule next time I'm in London. It's on until February so there's every chance I might actually get to it. 

As an exhibition of artefacts, it does include textile elements, but of course most textiles don't survive well in the archaeological record.  Loom weights, spindle whorls, even types of niddy-noddy have survived, along with wool combs and other solid items. Cloth itself is all too rare, though it's through the dedication of women like Elizabeth Crowfoot that we can get an insight into what to us seem invisible materials. 

I was infuriated not so long ago on an archaeology course to hear one of the tutors say to a student from Botswana that there was "no evidence of sophisticated culture" in her country before the 19th century.  Utterly ridiculous.  If an area is not rich in the types of long-lasting stone and bone we have in our part of the world it doesn't mean that "civilisation" is absent.  Cloth and basketwork, both ancient and necessary, are biodegradable. And both imply technical sophistication, high levels of skill - as all of us fibre-holics recognise -  and societal organisation of a level that allows these specialised activities to take place.  Cloth and baskets carry with them the stories of the people they represent, in the same way as fragments of braid, though they are even more rare. 

I studied the Basketmaker People of the southern USA for one of my archaeology essays. The most fascinating event was showing a picture of a 'Basketmaker II' period museum artefact to the chairperson of the UK's Basketmakers Association, who said the pattern of basket weaving would have taken an apprenticeship of approximately seven years to master.  Whilst it's important to see 'evidence' it's also exceptionally important to understand it, in the context of the life of its maker. 

Another example of biodegradable 'evidence' kept alive through a weaving tradition is Kente cloth from Ghana.  Each colour and pattern has significance and tells a story, as it has done over many generations back into history.  The skill of the archaeologist should be interpreting not just the past but possible links to the present.  All over the world, spinners and weavers are carrying on traditions going back to the dawn of time. 

Not so far from where I live, Anglo Saxon remains show that our area was inhabited by highly skilled fibre artists.  Fragments of rare braids, spindle whorls, and loom weihts have all been found, some in such quantity that there must have been considerable fibre-related industry here  around 1,500 years ago. 

In my own small way, by making my yarns I'm paying homage to a long line of  Unknown Spinners who've gone before me in this landscape.   Our work may not make it into Grayson Perry's exhibition, but spinnners and our fellow textile creators of all kinds, along with our basket-making cousins, are the backbone of  societies across the globe - and across time. 

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Turning the clocks back

It's one of those wet and windy autumn nights a few days from Halloween.  The clocks go back by an hour here in England this weekend, marking the start of the darkest third of the year.  But poems bring the darkness to light, in our minds at least.  This time of year puts me in mind of Robert Louis Stevenson's poem 'Windy Nights' about the ghostly rider.  It starts: "Whenever the moon and stars are set, whenever the wind is high, all night long in the dark and wet, a man goes riding by..."  A wonderfully evocative entry into the season of dark nights for a child, especially if, like me, as soon as you were put to bed you'd get out of it again and stare at the stars in the autumn night sky.

Watching the moon and stars became even more real as my sons grew and I took them to Cambridge Young Astronomers, with their Star Parties and telescope viewing evenings open to all.  Some of the most amazing sites we saw were in the silent pitch black of a farmer's yard in the countryside where the Cambridge Astronomical Association had a telescope in a barn and offered tours of the universe to enthusiastic amateurs like us.  Even now if I go outside of an autumn evening the first thing I look at is the sky, to see what's up, as if it somehow confirms my humble place in the cosmos.

All this star-gazing has emerged in my great woolliness too, first in a felt piece I made a few years back, trying unwisely to capture clouds running across the moon on a windy night.  Some exciting moonshine-looking fibre then came my way via a sale at Rampton Spinners, which I stashed until I'd accumulated a selection of other moonlit might colours to spin together into a skein I called 'Midnight Skies'.  I can't resist all those mysterious blues, greys and silvers.  'Silver' of course is the title of a picture-filled poem about  moon-watching by Walter de la Mare - some of you may remember it from school. It begins: "Slowly, silently, now the moon walks the night in her silver shoon ..."

The return of any rain at all to the deserts of East Anglia is certainly welcome - we desperately need it - but the flip side of course is having to bring yarns inside for drying instead of using the greenhouse.  It's just too damp in there overnight.  And finding space for a big yarn clock dripping with wet Teeswater locks is no mean feat in a busy house.   

It's soon going to be time to start secreting handfuls of needing-to-dry fleece on the radiators too, and that'll make me doubly unpopular.  I don't find anything perturbing about the calming scent of slightly damp sheep wafting about .....but then I am, if you'll pardon the pun, a "dyed in the wool" yarnie.  Others in the house however make it plain that they're not, so autumn does bring its limits!

Autumn is a thoughtful but promising time of year, full of colour.  Even the wet pavements (sidewalks) can become "...streets of shining jet..." as Irene Thompson's poem 'Rainy Nights' says. So if you're turning back the clocks this weekend, mentally or physically,  remember beauty comes in many forms and is out there somewhere, even on dark wet rainy nights, if we make the effort to find it. 

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Turner Prize - for yarn?

"It's all about the materials," said Baltic Gallery curator Laurence Sillars on Radio 4's 'Today'  this morning, talking about the Turner Prize shortlisted artists' exhibition which opened there today.  Well I thoroughly agree with you, sir. 

Life wouldn't be worth living without contrasting textures, structures and rhythms. That's what inspires me to experiment with the yarns I make.  Not that skeins of highly textured, richly-coloured yarns would win me the Turner Prize - I'm just past their prize-awaring age anyway!  But given into the hands of shortlisted candidate Karla Black they might stand a chance...  Maybe I should ask if she'd consider collaboration! 

Cross-fertilisation is a wonderful thing.  When I was little, sewing machines were for making clothes and furnishings.  Now, by combining their technology with the artistic mind of the embroiderer, they've become broad brushes being weilded by deeply creative textile artists like Pauline Verrinder, and by groups like Out of the Fold, whose stitched and dyed textiles exhibition starts this Saturday at Cavern 4 in Bury St Edmunds. 

Machine embroidery, fabric embellishment and the like have liberated the sewing machine from pure functionality and allowed it to soar to new creative heights.  There's a similar flow afoot in the spinning world with growing numbers of small-scale art yarn producers like me, each putting our individual twist into what we do.  And like the Turner Prize shortlisted artists, for us too it's "all about the materials". 

We spinners live in an intensly tactile world.  The varying textures of fleece from different sheep,  the fluffy bits, hairy bits and curly bits each has to offer, let alone all the extras you can add, from sparkles and beads to silk, shells and driftwood, give the same limitless possibilities as artist's collage.  There's no big sponsored prize for us, but we get by in our own way, with an appreciative pat on the back from fellow spinners, knitters, and the textile community.  And I for one am satisfied with that.   

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Nowhere to hide .....

Oops! My fleece is showing - all round the house in fact, and in the greenhouse!  It's no good, I can't hide it any longer.  I fully admit to  fleece addiction.  There are just so many sheep out there to try!  I don't know how Lydia at Shearer's Girl Yarns restrains herself with all the fleece that passes through her hands each year.  I have about as much resistance as I have to dark chocolate when offered!

This summer's fleece finds started with a Leicester Longwool - a chocolate one, which I'd desired since I saw the breed at WonderWool Wales in 2010. It's currently resident in the greenhouse, waiting for washing.  At Fibre-East, the lovely ladies from The Farm Animal Sanctuary who care so much about animals had brought loads of fleece with them for spinners to buy.  I picked up two Gotland cross fleeces and a light Hill Radnor, all of which are taking natural dyes nicely. 

I've picked some elderberries to try on the Gorland's soft greys. I also like the sound of the blues created by turtle beans, as recommended on The Ways of the Whorl - they look very much worth trying. That's why the dyeing equipment is still in the kitchen ...along with the fleece!  The Farm Animal Sanctuary's fleeces have been meticulously skirted by Ravelry's MoonMoss, herself a spinner, so she knows how we like to find a fleece when buying.
I have to admit to picking up two more fleeces for £2 each from a friend at a Thursday spinning group in Hadstock - uncertain breeds but possibly Suffolk crosses.  Last but not least another friend's cousin with an organic smallholding in Herefordshire (alas not on the web yet)  has interesting fleeces so I bought the  a Jacob's cross fleece from a sheep called Greyling.  The wool really reminds me of the reds in the soils in that part of the world - and it's not just in the dirt when you wash it!  You can truly see a pink tinge to it:  can't wait to try that one.

Mind you, it will have to get in the queue behind the remnants of last year's fleece bonanza - namely a gorgeous white Shetlad from Jamieson & Smith which was ridiculously inexpensive considering the quality.  They really know what they're doing in sorting fleece for spinners too, as an article in Yarnmaker magazine highlighted during last year.  The Shetland is not very well hidden in the bedroom, sitting on a few other boxes tucked away containing ... well, you've guessed it:  fleece! 

So with all this fluffy stuff to look forward to, there's no time to mourn the passing of summer.  It's spinning and sampling season girls - so roll on the dark nights and get those wheels turning!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Hurrah for Thumbs!

Well' they've had their summer rest after Fibre-East and now they're back in action again:  my thumbs that is.  Must admit I really could have treated them better through life:  shutting both of them in different car doors at busy or stressful times hasn't made them particularly user friendly in their middle years, but we stillget along, after a fashion. 

Thumbs were back in action today helping me demo-spin my extreme knitting yarn on the All Craft Media stand at the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace.  Kerrie and her team very kindly hosted me and also Sue Blacker of the Natural Fibre Company, who manned a Stuffing Station for Olympic British Wool Cushions as part of the Woolsack Project, along with volunteers Kat and Sarah.  The stand was packed virtually all day with a forest of folk and it was great to talk spinning with so many visitors, especially little people, who were just as fascinated at the size of my Country Spinner as their mums and grans!  

Technically, I shouldn't be using my thumbs like that of course when spinning:  I should be doing long-draw, which would save their integrity for other things.  I have had one go at very long-draw - namely on the Guild of Longdraw Spinners' replica medieval Great Wheel which they brought to Fibre-East in July.  But I really must get with it more usefully as I'm sure it will make twinge-reminders of painful car-door-shutting incidents fizzle away into the ether. 

A very fine pair of working thumbs is possessed by friend and fellow spinner  Eleanor, who makes baskets occasionally in between looking after her family.  I was watching her admiringly at the Ashdon Craft Fair last weekend, making willow bend to her will with ease!  My baskets always turn out wonky because of - you've guessed it - the 'thumbs' issue.  I can't control willow or dogwood as I'd like to, so my baskets go a little 'off piste' in terms of direction. 

So if you possess a good, sound pair of working thumbs, give them some praise when you go to sleep tonight.  Thank them for their continual hard work - and promise, as much as you can, never to shut them in car doors!