A scouring, dyeing, Otley Courthouse medley…

Been a couple of weeks since I posted but it’s been all go. I was very proud to have been featured in UK Handmade and next week there’s a wee exhibition of my rugs at Otley Courthouse; I’ve been promised a pic or two and will share when I get them.

In the meantime I’ve been making merry in the odd minute of sunshine and have got some fleece washing done (a stunning Cotswold from a lovely Wiltshire breeder) and have been messing around with my dyes.

It’s amazing what kitchen appliances and equipment one is willing to sacrifice for the cause. I’m afraid the state of my hob is a bit terrifying. I’ve also been drying some of my handspun after I’ve fulled it. I’ve grown rather fond of thwacking it as hard as I can against the side of the house. I don’t know what my neighbours think of me but it’s great stress relief and the skeins appear super soft because of it.

I’m building up a bit of a stash and I think I am going to dye it that deep wine colour at the top and I am, after writing this, going to try to design some sort of stole. My rather poorly ma is going on a cruise to Norway at the end of August and I thought I’d make her something to keep her warm in the evening. I doubt she ever reads this so I haven’t given the game away!

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Fleece and Rugs at the Great Yorkshire Show

So, for the first time since World War II and the Foot and Mouth epidemic ten years ago, The Great Yorkshire Show has been cancelled. The apocalyptic rain we’ve been having since, well, forever, rendered the car parks useless.

How glad am I then, my friend took me yesterday, when it was still open. It was my first show and I looked over the itinerary the day before so I had some idea what I wanted to target, and yes, the sheep were number one! Goddamn they were cute. And as for the fleece tent, it was very hard to retain some dignity. I don’t know why they are all in cages, I think there was a mass escape attempt a few years ago.

The other event I wanted to see were the Ebor Ruggers; one of their members was kind enough to pop by and say hello during the arts trail, so when I saw they were going to be there, I wanted to return the favour. They could not have been any friendlier, and I would very much like to join one of their meetings sometime.

There were craft tents scattered all over the place and the most eye-catching stall for me belonged to the Braided Rug company. I must not, under any circumstances whatsoever even contemplate having a bash at this!

Anyways, it was all a bit of a recce really, and I’m looking forward to next year’s if the rain has lessened by then. In the meantime I can only extend my sympathies to everyone who has no doubt worked long and hard to prepare for this event.

I will just add this from the sheep pens, it did seem a little insensitive …..

My First Woolfest

5.45 am kick off; I walk into Shipley to  catch a train into Ilkley, conscious that  the man walking his dog with a mug of tea in his hand must think I’m doing the Walk of Shame. I hold my head up high, I’m going to Woolfest you berk.

At Shipley the man behind the counter tells me the trains have been cancelled; I wasn’t too surprised, it doesn’t take much rain/flooding to bring the trains on our line to a halt, but apparently there was a tree on the wire or the tracks, can’t remember which as I was already calling for a taxi expressing with some urgency that I had toi get to Ilkley PDQ. The taxi driver had started work at 7 the evening before, was about to go home, had not a single speck of white to be seen in his bloodshot eyeballs and seemed to take my sense of urgency rather too literally, and how I made it to Ilkley alive I do not know, but fought hard the urge to kiss the ground as I got out of the car. I was there picked up by my friend Heather who runs the Knit and Natter at Shipley College and we made our way to Headingly where we got on the coach organised by Baa Ram Ewe, a lovely shop I hadn’t heard of before but which now holds my unflinching fealty. It was a stunning journey through the hills up to Cockermouth, there was some concern over flood-induced delays, but obviously there is little in nature’s arsenal that would stop a coach load of middle-aged ladies getting to yarn.

The event was held at a livestock auction and the 277 were exhibitors set up in the pens. I made my way straight to the top corner where there was the fleece sale. Can I just say that moderation was always my intention and not least because I knew I would have to get the train back from Ilkley. When Heather picked me up (hereafter refered to as The Enabler), she said she wanted to be clear that she was driving me home and had emptied her boot. Hardly my fault then is it?  I couldn’t let her effort and generosity by swiped aside so ungratefully? I had an obligation really. And I didn’t break the record. But I was pretty damn close. So, ahem,  a Berrichon du Cher, Blue faced Leicester x Swaledale, Polled Dorset, Portland and a Texel later, I headed off – with some assistance – to the crèche run by the Air Ambulance to deposit my lovlies. I suppose it is rather bad when even they are shaking their heads.

So, the stalls. My plan of attack was to do a sweep through the aisles and then a more detailed and targeted strike. At the last Knitting and Stitching show I did find a lot of the stalls quite commercial, a little bit samey, lots of kits and all that. Woolfest is entirely different, more makers rather than just shops, everything of amazing quality, sold by people who love everything to do with woolcraft as much as you do and who are more than happy to help and explain. I got a a wrap-per-inch guage from Woodland Turnery, and it was lovely to see them getting back on their feet since the fire that devastated their workshop. He had some very beautiful wheels and I do think I deserve some credit for not succumbing. Elsewhere I also picked up a swift and nostepinne, all essentials, obviously. I have wanted a peg loom for a couple of years, so when I saw one at Hedgehog Equipment I could not resist, nor a new Lazy Kate made of Welsh Oak and both very well priced. This was the joy of Woolfest, meeting the makers face to face, knowing you are supporting their business, livelihood and skills. There were some exhibitors I wanted to meet in particular, not least Daniella of FeltStudioUK who I think of as Morag’s godmother because she read I was after a Haldane Hebridean and got in touch to tell me a friend of hers was selling one. Her dyed batts and yarns were simply stunning, the whole place was visual overload. There were also a couple of big names in rag rug making there, Jenni Stuart-Anderson and Cilla Cameron. The latter I knew through a rag rug facebook group and it was great to finally meet her.

Dyeing is the next step for me really, and there were plenty of stalls selling acid dyes, but I am quite keen to use natural dyes (obviously; why do things the easy way?) and at DT Crafts and Design the lovely lady there talked me through it all and I cannot wait to explore my starter pack and the endless possibilities therein. There was a stall selling all things Shetland, and yes, I picked up another fleece. I was too embarrassed to go back to the crèche so  lugged this one round with me. Funny thing is, the lady who sold it to me looked rather familair and as it turned out I went to university with her twenty years ago. Jolly small world. I think that is it, oh apart from a wee bit of Wensleydale fleece, oh and a giant 25mm crochet hook; first saw these at Harrogate and always regretted not getting one. So there we go, nothing too naughty, it’s not as if I brought a loom or anything is it?

As well as stalls selling their wares, there were lots of different breeds on show; as the day progressed something strange happened, they morphed from being fleece machines who rather rudely hogged onto coats that rightly belonged in my basket, into, well, rather beautiful and rather cute creatures. I found myself looking at sheep earings, and sheep mugs, and sheep posters all in a new light. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the power of Woolfest. There were of course stalls and stalls of yarns and batts which I have to say I never got to see, there was also live music, a number of talks and demonstrations, but how I could have packed more into my day I simply do  not know.

There were also several guilds and societies represented. A couple of weeks ago much maniacal cackling emanated from my home when I suddenly found myself doing long draw spinning. This was a bit of a holy grail to me, and the technique used on the first Medieval spinning wheels. The world was now my Great Wheel oyster. One of the highlights for me was seeing the Guild of Long Draw Spinners in action. I had a few questions about my technique and they were more than happy to help me and I even got to have a go on their Great Wheel and I don’t mean to boast (and obviously I do) but I pretty much got the record and drew the thread at least twice the length of the grating in the photograph, ending up walking backwards into the crowds yelling at people to get out of the way. I was declared a natural, much to my beaming pride – BEAMING – I tell you!  I am now a member of the Guild and have a swanky badge to prove it. I want a Great Wheel. Which reminds me of a t-shirt I saw someone wearing in the cafe – ‘I saw, I wanted, I threw a tantrum, I got’.

At half-five we set off home, me slightly embarrassed that I was the only one who needed to use the luggage compartment under the coach. Everyone showed off what they had brought, The Enabler had got some lovely yarns and other bits and pieces. I got home after nine, knackered but thrilled, and had an early night.

I would now be terribly grateful if the rain would stop long enough so I can make a start cleaning these fleeces; it is a good job I have become rather fond of the smell of wool as my living room smells like a farmyard. Hopefully the pong will deter visitors so I can get on with some spinning and, ahem, my search for a Great Wheel.

Knit and Natter at Shipley College

One thing that has started to make Mondays bearable is the thought of a Knit and Natter group I’ve started going to. It was set up and run by Heather, a lady whose determination and enthusiasm to get people knitting is boundless and very infectious. They meet in the Costa Coffee at Shipley College on Victoria Road on a Monday evening during term time, 5-7pm. (There’s a Ravelry group here) It’s largely college staff that go but anyone can be guaranteed  a very warm welcome. Heather has lots of ideas and plans, especially in the build up to the Saltaire Festival and she the group were behind the yarn bombing of the lions in the village during the Arts Trail.

One fab outcome of this group for me is the rekindling of my love for spinning. To my shame Morag (my Haldane Hebridean) had been gathering a wee bit of dust but when a member expressed an interest in meeting her I was happy to take her along. It was great to get her going again and for other people to have a go.

My problem was the unmitigated wrist-slitting, tear inducing horror that is handcarding. I’ve been shying away from the obvious solution, a drum carder, because of the cost but with some loot earned from the rag rugs I finally took the plunge and got my mitts on a lovely David G Barnett drum carder. I only hope I have the discipline to keep it in as good a condition as it arrived!

So this is my first batt; there are a few noils in it but it looks like the fleece might have had some second cuts in it so not my fault guv. I do though need to be more careful in checking over the fleece in the  future. The UK spinners forum of Ravelry were a splendid source of advice but by far the best was to spin it anyway and call it rustic. Love that –  it’s not crap, its rustic! I’ve also been doing a great job in carding my knuckles.

But should the nation be fearful all this means I have been neglecting the rug frame, fear not. Here’s one I finished off yesterday. It’s destined for a fab new shop in Shipley called Junc, and I’ll post more about that once I’ve gone down there with my camera. Ta ta for now!

Washing my first fleece

I’ve been washing my first fleece today! I got a Jacobs fleece from Saxby Rare Breeds in Leicestershire and it is lovely, but very dirty! Now then, my spinning mentor is a firm believer in not washing fleeces and to spin ‘in the grease’ but having washed a wee bit just to see what would happen I was happy to wash the rest of it – there were plenty of oils left in it and spinning it was much more of a pleasure. I’m fortunate to have access to a couple of the country’s experts in archaeological textiles; except the advice of one was “Well, the Romans washed their fleeces, but they were anal about everything.”

I filled a bowl three-quarters full of hot water – as hot as the tap would go – and added a good squirt of washing up liquid (a co-op version – Lime and Ginger as it was at my sink! The bowls are the value ones from Tesco). I wore washing up gloves and not least because the water was so hot. I pulled off a quantity of the fleece – not enough to fill the bowl, but a good foot and a half or so. I pushed it under the surface and that was it – I did not touch it again. After 45 minutes I filled another bowl with more very hot tap water but this time no washing up liquid. I lifted the fleece out of one bowl holding the weight of the fleece as the liquid drained away and then transferred it into the other bowl, again pushing it under the surface and then not touching it again. After half an hour I transferred it to another bowl just the same as before. After another half hour I lifted the fleece into a pillow case and knotted the top and put it into the spin cycle of my washing machine. My scraggy lump of fleece ten minutes later was a soft pillow case full of fluffy white loveliness!

Before (right) After (left)

Whilst it wasn’t raining and not having a rack and the bench being covered with bowls, I laid the fleece on the plants around the yard, turning them over every now and then to dry off. Once the rain kicked in I let them dry in the house lying on a towel. There still seems to be a few bits and pieces of debris amongst the fibres but I have been reliably informed they will absent themselves during the carding process. I have no idea if what I have done is right but it has worked well for me and I’m very happy with the result and it seems a good compromise. And at least it didn’t turn into felt!