Notes from Fibre East (things I enjoyed but did not buy)

  • Lovely yarn bowls at Emily Cross Ceramics. I have a yarn bowl that I never use (actually, it stores spindles), but these are beautiful. I particularly loved the glazes, and the bowls with feet; they look medieval to me.
  • Beautiful – really beautiful – yarns at Riverknits. Rich, dark, expressive solids/nearly-solids. Possibly my favourite eye-candy of the show.
  • Felted art from Beverly Neeves. I actually already have a postcard-sized picture of hers (and must hang it sometime), but there was a larger format work that I might yet contact her to see if I can purchase it.
  • A whole shelf of batts that looked like copper-laced nebulae from Spin City.
  • The blanket display at Janie Crow. Rarely does crochet look quite this awesome. There will be some of this in my future; there just has to be.

Stealth reboot

After multiple years of attempting to stash down, and condense storage, and be ‘good’, and (recently) a Tour de Fleece project with fleece that I should have had the good sense to throw out years ago, I decided it was time for a little stash enhancement.

Collected purchases from Fibre East. Mostly fibre, plus one cone of yarn
Stashing up!

Turns out that Fibre East is actually a pretty cool place to do that.

One fleece, 600+g of broken tops (John Arbon), 700+g of lovely stripy top (also John Arbon – their measures are generous), a cone of yarn for an ongoing weaving project, and (coming in the post someday soon), 5 skeins of Noro Kureyon.

Why in the post? Because there wasn’t any to buy at the show. And it was on the shopping list. (I’ve restarted my Lizard Ridge blanket project from 2008 (Ravelry link), and it’s feeling very fun right now)

More details of the new fibre stash on Ravelry, or additional pictures below.

Hobbies or habits?

Some bug got into my head this last weekend, and I’ve started moving stuff, organizing stuff, getting to the bottom of bags and boxes that have filled up with the detritus of life, or moving, or plain old boredom.  Throwing out pieces of mail that travelled to and from work with me for months “because I really ought to do something about that/ring that guy/cancel that subscription”.  I’ve been clearing the floor in my overstuffed studio, moving the desk out, making space to walk around in.  Trying to find a place for everything, and put everything in its place.

And it occurred to me that over say the last five years, I think I have spent more time buying fabric, moving fabric, organizing fabric and figuring out how to store it than I’ve spent sewing.  So is sewing a hobby for me?  Or do I just have a fabric habit?

I’m pretty sure I don’t need to spend any more time at the remnants bin in John Lewis.  That goes double for linen.  Triple for *green* linen.

And one other truth: If I’m going to start weaving more, I need to start sewing again.

Yarnscape’s Last Stand

In two weeks’ time I will be preparing for the second day of trading at Textiles in Focus – the first place Yarnscape ever had a trading stall, and quite possibly the last.

Yarnscape's first stand

Yarnscape’s first stand

(Five years ago!  Wow, how things have changed.  And how they have not, too)

At the end of last year, I started dyeing for sale again – and quickly stopped.  I’ve realised that it’s not something that’s compatible with having a full-time job and also pursuing fibre-y things for fun.  There are only so many hours in the day, after all!

I’m definitely looking forwards to my stall at TiF – it’s a local venue, and one of my favourites.  But I’m really, really nervous about getting ready.  I never had the sense to make a checklist for this stuff when I was doing it regularly, so I’m just going to have to hope I don’t forget anything! It’s been over 2.5 years since I had a stall, and though I know I’ll enjoy it when I’m there, I’m feeling slightly sick/anxious at the ‘preparation’ part.  I’ve moved house three times since that very wet weekend at Fibre East; what if I can’t find everything?  What if I forget some important stuff?!

Which is why I’m going to get as much as possible done today!  Wish me luck; local folks, I hope like anything to see you there.

 

A belated “Happy Hallowe’en”

In 2011, I started my first yarn and fibre club; the Wheel of the Year club. There were eight installments, corresponding to the solstices and equinoxes, plus the ‘cross-quarter’ festivals which sit between them, and I offered sock, lace or fibre options for subscribers.  The first installment was for Samhain (Hallowe’en):

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I kept yarn or fibre, sometimes both, for myself from every club installment, and I’ve been playing with the idea of ‘following’ my own club over the next 12 months or so, even if I am three years late!

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Nothing if not ambitious, I designed my first gradient colourway for this installment: “into the dark” – based on the seasonal slide from sunlight to darkness, and also the truly *amazing* berry colours that were around that year.

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I kept the prototype sock yarn (Footsie!) and 100g of fibre (Corriedale wool; a lovely, easy spin).  I designed some long socks to show off the full length of the colour shift – but never wrote up the pattern:

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I do rather love them; the leg shaping is incorporated into the lace pattern, and I should probably work on getting it out there sometime.

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I also spun up the fibre pretty much straight away – roughly Aran-weight, chain plied to maintain the gradient.  But knitting myself a beanie somehow had to wait until this year.

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I increased too far the first time round, and ended up with more of a plate than a hat…

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But after a month or so in time-out, I pulled back and re-knit in just a couple of days.  Just long enough to cover my ears, and no binding or riding up.  If I can find a yarn that works well instead of my hand-spun, I’ll have to write this one up, too.

 

The upside of the fleece washing

I have more to say about my recent fleece-fermenting experiments, but for now, I’ll just say that having washed fleece on hand has proven to be a Good Thing(TM) and I want more of it.

A couple of weeks ago, I started obsessing over the Boardwalk sweater (and colourway), and (since I’m still trying not to buy stuff), I figured I had a chance of blending it from undyed fleece:

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I’ve been pecking away at the initial batt-building: a bit of this, a bit of that, in the mornings before work. My first-pass batts (not blended at all; just together’d) contain wool from three different fleeces (a mostly-white shetland with some grey, an almost-alpaca coloured Manx Loughtan, and Bolshy), plus some pale fawn alpaca (which seems to be way nicer than I expected – must investigate further):

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(The dark brown is over-represented in that photo). This morning, I divided, subdivided and recombined the batts and carded the first truly blended batt that has a bit of everything in it. The light was too poor to take a photograph, but I’m pretty enamoured with the result. Probably a bit cooler than the original target colour, but a fabulously interesting heathered oatmeal.

I’ve also enjoyed the batt-building/drum carding process way more than usual; probably because it’s been an experiment, and an adventure, and I’ve not been aiming to ‘finish’ a fleece or stick to a deadline.

In short: I want to do more carding and blending like this, so I’m going to need to get lots of fleeces washed so I have lots of fibre to choose from. (I also want to play with dyeing more of the fibre before blending, but that’s another story)

The very best in all that is stinky

It is well past time for me to tackle the fleece mountain.

I’ve actually lost track of how many fleeces I have, let alone what kind of sheep they’re from, or what state of processing they’re in, so I’m hoping to get to an audit before the cold weather truly comes back.

In the meantime, I’ve been experimenting with the fermented suint method of fleece cleaning.  “Fermented” may sound like a good start, but when you remember that ‘suint’ is sheep-sweat, and a raw fleece is full of all the other joys of the field as well as suint and lanolin, the fermentation starts to sound less tasty.

And indeed it is.  Here’s the theory:

Getting up and running
The basis of this method is that you take a nice, greasy, raw fleece and put it in a barrel of rainwater for a week or two, leaving it in a reasonably warm-for-outdoors place.  It should be a good and stinky fleece, as well as high grease.  (And the barrel should be light-proof, to ward off algal growth, and sealed against bugs to ward off infestations).

And then the fermentation will happen.  Think about it: you’re hardly going to be able to stop it, are you?

The salts in the suint and the lanolin saponify.  This means your fleece is actually making its own natural soap!

Now you have your fermentation bath up and running.  You’ll know if it’s working well, because there is likely to be a milky film on top, maybe some bubbles, and if you stir it up, bend over, and get your nose right in there …  it will just about fall off from the stink.

(I’ve heard the smell described as everything from ‘portapotty’ to ‘river sludge’, and honestly, somewhere in between is pretty accurate.  And not surprising, since you’re intentionally letting farmyard materials go stagnant).

That first fleece is the ‘starter’ fleece; it’s unlikely to be very well cleaned by the bath.  In any case, this method is best suited to fleeces that aren’t heavily greasy (after all, you’re not going to make *that* much soap!) – so you’ll likely want to wash it using your usual methods.  Believe it or not, that *distinctive* smell dissipates completely when the fleece dries (or so I have been assured…)

…and Go!
The magic starts now.  Each successive batch of fleece only needs to stay in your soapy fermentation bath for a couple of days.  And each fleece makes the bath stronger and better.  When you remove a batch, all (heh) you have to do is rinse it, and let it dry, and voila! it’s good to spin.  (Before rinsing, drain it as much as possible and return the liquid to the tub.  You want to keep it for next time!)

There are people who have gotten this working so well that their fleece comes up sparkling white, and actually makes soap suds as they rinse it out.

In practice…
I took the starter fleece out of my bucket last Saturday.  It’s certainly cleaner than when it went in, but even with a detergent wash, it’s still greasy.  But that’s to be expected for the first one.

I took the next fleece (a Shetland) out yesterday after 5 days in the bath.  Definite suds, though not loads.  It still clearly had plenty of grease in the fleece, so I gave it a hot water and detergent wash, and it’s drying now.  The tips are still clearly discoloured, but then it wasn’t a pampered fleece to start with.

The third fleece is a coloured one – a Manx Loughtan.  Low grease, for sure.  It will be harder to tell, visually, whether this one is clean or not than with a white fleece!

So, thoughts so far:

  • I’m not sure whether this is actually helping the fleeces get cleaner, or whether it’s just an extra-smelly cold soak
  • Maybe some of those folks started out with fleece that is cleaner than mine
  • If I still need a hot detergent wash, is it really worth the stink?
  • Is this a good way of getting a lot of fleece washed quickly, even if the benefits are mostly motivational?
  • If the stink dissipates when the fleece dries, will it come back when it gets wet??

 

A twist of blue

As per usual, I have about five major projects on the go; I rotate through them: wet day projects, dry weather projects, physically demanding projects, slobbing-on-the-sofa projects, thinking hard projects, fibre projects, gardening projects, decorating projects, Really Important And Urgent projects (though that classification is liable to change on a whim).  And I think about blogging every single one of them, then am whisked off on a puff of distraction before I manage to whip out the laptop (or the camera).

Over the weekend, though, I was very, very focussed on the front panel of my current knitting project: the Square Necked cardigan from Rowan Studio 11 (Ravelry links).  The back is already complete, and I’ve been thoroughly charmed to finally make it onto the interesting bit(TM):

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The yarn is the stuff I bewailed hugely way back when.  (Auugh!  Where are all the photos from my old posts?! – never mind, another project…)  I was always quite pleased with the spinning, and it still stands up to scrutiny.  Heathered blue-purple with hints of green, it’s interesting enough to make stocking stitch fun and engaging, and calm enough not to overwhelm the cable details.

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The eagle-eyed may spot that this is a subtly different cable detail to the original pattern – more on that in another post.

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That’s a whole lotta ‘lottment

So, I signed up for an allotment earlier this year.

Thanks to delays getting it prepped, I didn’t get my hands on it until the weekend before Easter, when I was going to London to visit friends.  Then there was Easter itself, when I travelled North to visit family.  Then I got a stomach bug (apparently all the rage), which wiped me out.

So I’ve managed three visits to it since handing over a cheque – in the middle of what should be the planting season.

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A whole lotta ‘lottment

It’s big.  Around 120-feet-long big.  About a tenth of that wide.  And it’s been ‘fallow’ for three years, for which I think we can read ‘neglected’.  It was ploughed and rotivated before I got my hands on it, but that mostly means they’ve buried and broken up the weed mat and roots that were on the surface.  Still, I’ve found evidence of dandelion, bindweed, docken, nettle and some sort of really persistent grass with long, tough, wiry roots.

And parsnips.  I think we can say that the previous tenant really liked parsnips.

This thing is going to be a challenge.  Still, the potatoes are in.

Happy May Day! Joyous Beltaine!

How appropriate that my last post was about Me-Made May.  Let’s ignore the fact that I posted that in November, shall we?  And I have to admit that I’ve done not one thing towards it.

Still, I do have a May Day project to start.  This is the Beltaine colourway from my Wheel of the Year club, issued two full years ago now (wow!  Where does the time go??):

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Allow me to tell you the story of that floor sometime…

This is a rather more variegated colourway than I usually enjoy working with; brighter and more variegated than the colours I usually dye.  I wanted a bright, springy colour, based on the fabulous falls of wisteria blossoms that appear as if from nowhere around this time of year; a surprisingly cool blue-purple in the main, with pops of warmer colour, and the leaves playing a definite second fiddle to the glorious blossoms.

Christs College

The Master’s Lodge, at Christ’s College, has particularly awesome wisteria…

I will admit that I have difficulties matching high-contrast yarns to patterns that really show them off, but as soon as I saw the Spatterdash fingerless mitts pattern, I thought of this yarn.  I love the way Feather and Fan’s strong structure makes clear lines even in the busiest yarn, and for once I’m looking forward to finding a whole slew of pretty buttons to finish this project off…

(c) Ravelry user Blumenbunt, from the Ravelry pattern page linked above)

I plan to lengthen the cuffs of these mitts, so they warm my arms more, because I have issues with the circulation in my hands, and I’ve been told that keeping my forearms warm is actually key.

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