Starting afresh

It’s the winter solstice today – and (just in case you hadn’t already heard), the day on which that famous Mayan calendar predicted that the world would end.

I love the solstices – all the points of the year, in fact, but the winter solstice is a real pausing-point for me.  We’re just a few days before Christmas: lots of people are seeing a slow-down at work as projects are wrapped up, either done or ready for a bit of hibernation, and some children are off school already. That, along with the festive atmosphere of the whole country, makes it feel like everyone really is taking a moment for a rest and a deep breath, before we set off into the new year.

Of course, most people think of the new year as starting on January 1 – so these few days, 11 of them, can be a sort of gap.  I think it was a Mary Poppins story that said the old year ends on the first stroke of midnight; the new year begins on the last.  In between, there was the Crack, I think: a very magical time.

Well, I’m going to use the time between the solstice and the calendar new year as my own magical time of ‘between’.  If I want to start the year with a clean slate, it is up to me to get it good and clean.  The last year has most definitely been one of upheaval: I have a new house (starting to feel like a home, even if I am renting), a new job, a new family situation.  I’m not going to say anythign crazy like, “All WIPs will be done by the first of Jan!”, but I really would like a plan by then.  A sense of foundations under me, ducks in a row, and a clear way forwards.

There will, of course, be lots of other stuff going on in this time: family, food, celebrations, gatherings, walks, and general joyfulness.  Good!  There’s nothing like a bit of sound and light to get the spiritual cobwebs blown away.  But there are some preparations to be made, too, and some inward-looking time to be spent, in more than a few areas:

  • Self-care.  How am I going to make sure I get the exercise, nutrition and rest I need to continue healing from this monstrous disease of CFS/ME and be the best person I can be?
  • Home life.  How long do I continue renting?  How do I make my place, wherever it is, feel as homely as possible, and as supportive as it can be?  And what about gardeing, particularly with reference to sustainability and a general wish to be as self-sufficient as I sensibly can?
  • Fibre stuff.  What about the state of the stash?  What do I want to achieve, and to learn in the coming months?
  • What about Yarnscape?  I’ve already cancelled (or just not booked) the shows that are early next year; what about the others?  Could I do them?  Do I want to??

Anyway, have a wonderful solstice, however you mark it, a fantastic festive season, and a joyous beginning to the new year!


This has not been a fun week at Yarnscape.  Last Friday, I got a note telling me my lovely site had been suspended for hosting a phishing scam.  Turns out, I’d been hacked, and various malicious scripts were making themselves at home on my servers…

I think we’re mostly sorted now.  Some comments are missing.  Some post metadata.  The logo.  Please let me know if you find any broken links, missing images or the like – this will, I think, be an ongoing process..


I’ve finally finished something!

This is the cowl I mentioned swatching for way back here, and the stitch pattern I talked about here.  Those playing along at home might like to know that it’s also the yarn I blogged here, which was spun from fibre I bought at Rampton’s Christmas Party, last December.  Slightly shamefully, these blocking photos were taken mid-March, which means it’s taken almost three weeks for me to graft the ends closed.

I have to say, I’m delighted with the way the stitch pattern has worked up; I love the contrast between the knit and purl shapes, and the fact that the fabric is *completely* reversible.  Want a close-up?

Also, the waving lines of eyelets provide fold lines so that the fabric collapses into warm folds around your neck.  Snuggly!

I don’t have any proper FO pics yet – but here’s a teaser:

(Oh- and the name of the post?  The cowl just seems to have named itself Wolfram.  Not sure why, but it seems to be sticking…)

Start of the spinning year

When I started writing this post – last Thursday – I had not yet spun one jot so far this year.  I know- I’m a lazy spinner.  Roc day was almost a week gone already…  That evening, I sat down to reacquaint myself with the project on the wheel (Shipwreck, part 2), and spin for the first time this year.

I managed to spin up a fair amount of corriedale roving (colour: Ominous, my own dyework), for the second ply of the second half of the Shipwreck Shawl (make sense? Suffice it to say that the singles spinning is more than 3/4 done, and the plying half done…


That’s not the only spinning related news I have for you, though.  Anyone who is already a reader of Knit! magazine (the one that used to be Yarn Forward) will know that the last few issues have featured spinning-related articles.  And the most recent issue (Issue 45) features spindle spinning – and ME!

There are two articles in there: one is about the history and background of spindle spinning, the other is about me and my spinning.  Both are written by Camilla Hair, who interviewed me for the articles back in November, I think.


My hand-woven, spindle spun silk shawl gets a mention – and a rather pretty photograph – too!  It’s an amazing buzz to see yourself – and your projects! – in print in this way.  I’m not sure I’ve come down from cloud 9 yet…

Saturday Giveaway: 6 months free in the Wheel of the Year club


OK!  Entries are now closed for this week.  Thanks for the absolutely storming response: 54 entries!  Please come back tomorrow night for the announcement of the winner.


OK…  You might have guessed that I’m just a wee bit excited about my upcoming club.  That’s the official ad banner up there, by the way – my first ever Ravelry advert!  You might see it on the forums over there, if you hang around in the right places…  I’m so ridiculously proud of it: J and I collaborated over cider the other evening, and this is what we came up with.

Anyway! This week’s Saturday Giveaway is extra-special.  I’m giving away six month’s membership to the club to one extremely lucky person.  The winner will get to choose whether they want to receive sock yarn, lace yarn or spinning fibre.  If you’ve already purchased a place, I will refund you the six month membership amount – or you can belong to two club options, if you prefer.  If you want to extend your six months to a full year, I will send you a specially amended PayPal invoice for the difference.

As per usual, entries for this competition will close on Tuesday (September 27th) at noon, GMT.  The winner will be announced on Wednesday evening.

The year turns on…

…and I’m running a brand-new club!

Today, at 09:04 UTC marks the autumn equinox (in the Northern hemisphere) – the point where the earth’s axis leans neither towards nor away from the sun, and the day when day and night are the same length.  I love the ‘changing’ seasons – spring and autumn – perhaps the best, with their promise of new things to come.  And at no time are our days changing faster than around the equinoxes.

In the northern hemisphere, our days are rapidly shortening as we slide further and further towards winter again.  We feel the promise of crisp mornings, chilly fingers soothed by a mug of coffee, apples, baking and – joy! – woolly sweaters.

In the southern hemisphere, the earth will be wakening, sap will be rising, the planting itch will have gardeners barely able to sit still.  After months of layering up clothes and always knowing where your gloves are, thousands of people will be tempted to take off a layer just a little too soon, to feel the sun on their backs even though the air is still fresh with the last breath of winter.

It has been a year of change for me already.  I’ve left my safe, predictable desk job to dye yarns and fibres full-time.  And now, I’m launching my first club – the Wheel of the Year club, celebrating the magic and excitement of our shifting seasons in fibre-y form.  I’m offering it in three flavours – spinning fibre, sock yarn or lace yarn.  It will run for a full year (a six-month option is available, too), starting at the end of October, and will include eight (or four) wonderful, seasonally inspired, hand-dyed deliveries.  The deliveries will be sent out around the equinoxes, the solstices, and the dates in between: more details are on the FAQ page.

It probably goes without saying that I am very, very excited about this new adventure, and I hope to see a few of my bloggy friends there, making the journey with me.

For now – enjoy these equinoctical days!


I am up in beautiful North Yorkshire for the village show (*my* village show!) this weekend, but I thought you’d like a quick peek at something I’ve been playing with in the meantime…

Knitting for Joy

Years ago -years and years ago- I bought a couple of job lots of Debbie Bliss Maya (now discontinued).  It’s a fun yarn: variegated, slightly thick-and-thin singles.  One lot ten skeins worth – is this wonderful, winey mix of reds and purples:

For ages and ages, I’ve known I want to use it for Myrtle from Jane Ellison’s ‘Noro Knits’:


This is going to be such a different kind of knit to anything I’ve done recently: it’s not my handspun.  It’s not my dye job.  It’s not my pattern.  The needles feel like broomsticks: 5.5mm is gigantic compared to the 2.5mm sock needles!  It’s stockinette, and moss stitch.  It’s a large garment, but it should still be a quick knit.  This will be a fun knit; an easy knit; a knit for the pure joy of knitting (and the excitement of a new garment, and quite a large dent in the stash, too).

Of course, it’s not going toing to be quite as easy as that.  The Maya knits to a different gauge than any of the suggested Noro yarns.  And I don’t, technically, have quite enough yarn to knit the pattern as written.  So I will have to do some maths (though there is little shaping to worry about), and I plan to make a provisional cast-on, knit the body up from about hip level, and, when I’m done with the rest of the knitting, knit the the body down from the provisional cast on, to be as long as possible.  I’ll probably omit the side-seams from the garment to help with yarn management – or maybe not.

How to find me at Woolfest

Yes!  I’m going!  For real and for true!

It’s been an insanely busy week – not only did J manage to fracture his elbow whilst I was away last week, he also came down with some sort of 24 hour bug.  Whilst it wasn’t the full-on stomach bug that some poor folks have been battling (you know who you are!), he felt distinctly queasy, had a headache and a stiff neck, couldn’t stand bright lights, and slept for almost 24 hours straight.  After checking he didn’t hit his head when he fell, my main worry was meningitis, so I spent 24 hours keeping a surreptitious eye out for any nasty rashes.  Fortunately, though, he’s now as right as rain (barring the broken bone, anyway), and has cleared me to go play with the sheepies in Cumbria.

So!  I hope to arrive early to mid afternoon (2pm or later) tomorrow.  I will be staying for the evening spin-in, and will be back on Saturday for at least the morning.  You will be able to recognise me because I will be carrying this bag:


Also, I look like this:

Errm, except for the camera stuck to my eye.  Also, I’m six feet tall, so I tend to stand out from – or above – the crowd!  And my glasses are the ones in the photo on the banner for my blog.

So!  If you see me, come and say hi!  I’m really keen to meet anyone else who’s around.  I’m not going to give out my mobile number here, but you can find me on Twitter as  @yarnscape.  I’ll keep checking in through the day, I promise!

69) My First Flax

I mentioned back in this post that I'd dressed my Traveller with a strick of flax for the Tudor demo.  With the costume taking right up to the last minute to finish, I didn't get time to practise much on the flax spinning before the demo, though I had made sure I could basically make it 'go', just so I wouldn't embarass myself too badly.  Here's what my newly-dressed distaff looked like, in case you've forgotten:

  Flaxwheel (Geodyne is right, by the way.  It looks huge because it is huge.  Actually, the cone for holding the flax could have done with being a bit bigger still; it was a bit short for the lovely, long, line flax I had.)

The day after the demo I sat down to have a proper play with the flax, and within half an hour I had improved so much that I could spin it from the distaff one-handed, with either hand.  This isn't *quite* such a difficult feat as it sounds, because the fibre is held and, to a certain extent, controlled by the distaff and the binding, and all your other hand has to do is draw fibre down at the appropriate rate and thickness.  I wish I'd figured this out before the demo, because it looks very impressive!  I'm not sure I could manage the trick of spinning on a 'gossip wheel', though.  A gossip wheel (or double-flyer wheel), has two flyers, which allows you to spin two threads at once, one hand each.  Very cool:

Anyway, flax is traditionally spun wet.  That is, you dampen your fingers (rather than the fibre) as you spin, which allows you to smooth down the fibre and produce a better thread.  I had decided to spin at least some of this first strick dry, because of the logistical difficulties of adding a water-pot into the demo, and also because I didn't want to have to keep wetting and drying my hands as I demonstrated various other things.

About halfway through spinning the strick, my first bobbin was full.  It was also very, very hairy looking:


…which was the point at which I started to add some water into the equation.

I never really got the hang of spinning one-handed with wet fingers, though I think a better-prepared distaff would have helped.  I needed one hand to draft (dry), and another to do the smoothing.  It seems that flax is sort of sticky when damp, and trying to draft with wet fingers was mostly messy.

The second bobbin, spun damp, was much less hairy looking:

IMG_5279 Hardly perfect, but a definite improvement.

I rewound each bobbin into two sections, and plied them against themselves (i.e. wet with wet; dry with dry).  Interestingly, the flax spun dry seemed much more brittle; I lost count of the number of breakages I had when rewinding and plying.  I don't think I had a single one with the wet-spun.  That alone is probably more than enough to make up for the inconvenience of spinning with wet fingers!

After plying, I compared the two methods:

Picture 001
(The dry spun yarn is in the top part of the photo; the wet spun yarn is below)

Both yarns seemed much less hairy than I'd expected when looking at the singles, and they were remarkably similar.  There is a definite difference though; more evident in person, but reasonably clear when looking at separate strands against a dark background (my jeans).  First, the dry spun:

Picture 003

Next, the wet spun:

Picture 002 So, what's next?  Well, the yarns should be scoured before they're really considered 'done', to remove the waxes and other stuff still left in the fibre.  I'll probably weave these samples into a cloth of some sort; teatowels or breadcloths, perhaps.  Given the way the yarns behaved in plying, and the fact that it's so much hairier and will catch on the reed, I'll probably use the dry-spun as weft.

I could also knit the wet-spun into a top similar to Gretel, from cocoknits.  The texture of the yarn would be perfect for this sort of semi-sculptural cloth.  But then, I have several more stricks, so there's no need to fret; I can always spin more.

Yes, this has been my first flax, but I don't think it will be my last.


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