Wonderful Woolfest

Wow.  It’s Monday evening; I can hardly believe that I’ve been away since Friday lunchtime.  In some ways, it seems like forever since I was sitting on my own sofa – in others, the time has flown.

I don’t think I’ve ever driven as much in one weekend: up to Cumbria on Friday afternoon (five and a half hours travelling); over to my parents on the East coast side on Saturday evening (another two hours).  All of Sunday there, then back down to Cambridgeshire today (three and a half hours).  It may be small potatoes to some folks in America, who occasionally seem to drive thousands of miles in a weekend, but it’s a lot for me!

Anyway, I’m delighted to say it was very much worth it.  I’m so pleased that I decided to stay overnight, and on my own to boot.  It’s lovely to wander around a fair in company, but in some ways it was even nicer to just meander at my own pace, following my own whims, not worried about what anyone else wants to see, or if they think raw fleece is boring, or dealing with a group which inevitably includes one hungry person, one tired person, and someone who needs the loo.  (Misanthropic?  Moi??  Well, only sometimes!)

First order of the day, as soon as I was through the door, was the raw fleece stall.  This was the point at which I realised that I’d sorely miscalculated my ready cash requirements: I’d had to pay cash for quite a few things before I even got into the show, and there is no way to get cash near the site.  In addition, only some of the stallholders can accept card payments, so, after allocating a certain amount of money for fleece purchases, a strategic tour of the hall was necessary so that I could allocate my remaining readies appropriately!

Anyway: Fleece.  I bought two.  One, a Lincoln Longwool, with the most lovely, lustrous, white, curly locks:

The other a complete contrast: a mioget Shetland:

I’ve not had time to get either out of the bags for a really good look yet, but I’ll let you know all about it when I do!

Shopping was interrupted at around half 12 so that I could meet up for a good chat (and a bit more fleece fondling) with Cecilia from The Wool Clip, who I met in real life (instead of online) for the first time the night before, and who might just be my new best friend.  I By this time, I’d already acquired my star purchase for the event: a beautiful Russian spindle from IST Crafts:

Go on- click for bigger.  You won’t regret it!

My beautiful, wonderful, gorgeous spindle is made of sycamore, and has a brass tip (which I am hoping will help it not get damaged).  It is a beautiful object, as well as a wonderful tool, and the craftsmanship is impeccable.  I also have an adorable little ceramic bowl that it is designed to spin in; there is very little friction between the brass and the ceramic glaze.  I spent so long at their stall, admiring and playing with the spindles, that I think I probably made quite an impression.  And, I have to say, the feeling is mutual.  Both Ian and Jake were delightful to talk to, and really passionate about their products.  The customer service I received from them (on a seriously busy day) was second to none, and I’d buy again from them in a flash.

Cash wise, that pretty much wiped me out!  I had to reserve a certain amount of money for caffeine and food (to help fuel the shopping and the driving), but really – this Woolfest was all about the people for me.  Despite the fact that I went alone, the best parts of the show were the connections, the conversations, the shared enthusiasm and the mutual joy.  On my own schedule, obviously.

Until next year, Woolfest!

Widdershins scarf: dancing against the flow

I’m delighted to introduce the Widdershins scarf (formerly known as ‘Magrat’). This pattern was inspired by the Magrat colourway from the Twisted Disc yarn club – and by the character of Magrat Garlick herself (from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series).

The youngest of the Ramtops witches, Magrat believes in fairies, crystals, the healing power of colours and a lot of other things that the older witches do not have any truck with.  Despite her apparent simplicity, an almost permanent confidence crisis, and the cynicism of her older and more experienced colleagues, Magrat is much more effective than she may at first appear.  She is an eternal optimist, believing that bad things only ever really happen to bad people, yet when cornered, can pack a punch to stop others dead.

Widdershins is a scarf pattern that uses a biasing, openwork stitch to make a long scarf from a single skein of sock yarn.  Periodically, stitches are cast off from one edge, and cast on at the other, working against the flow of the bias fabric. (‘Widdershins’ originally meant a path or course opposite to that taken by the sun).  In the name of optimism, the scarf takes two steps backwards for every three steps forwards, producing a long, off-kilter rectangle (ok, a parallelogram if you’re going to be pedantic!) with serrated edges.  The two faces of the scarf are not identical – but both look great on display.

The pattern is available for $4 from my Ravelry store, or, you can simply…

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!

Day of Rest

….aaand I’m back from Norwich again.  And I needn’t have worried – of course!

Of course, I had prepared plenty.  The talk went well, and I think everyone had a great time on the workshop.  One lady has a passion for linen, and luckily I’d taken a dressed flax distaff with me.  We were able to get her spinning flax from the distaff, on her spindle.  It made my day – my entire week!

It was an exhausting weekend, though; I didn’t get back to my B&B (which was truly awesome – highly recommended!) until gone 10 on Friday night – at which point, I ate dinner.  Of course, I was way too hopped up on adrenaline to go to sleep for over an hour, so I was very late to bed (by my usual standards) – I’m no night owl.  And that was day one!

Oh – you remember how I blithely said, “…I know that J and the houndies will be just fine at home without me: I’m only away overnight, for heaven’s sake!”  Yeah.  talk about tempting fate.  Someone managed to slip over and fracture their elbow whilst I was away.  Which is a bit spooky, because the thing I learned this weekend was that an ell is the distance from a man’s shoulder to his wrist – so called because ell is the Old English word for arm – and the elbow is called the elbow because it is where the ell bows, or bends.  Weird, huh?

Anyway, today has been quiet beyond belief.  Both of us slept in, then had a very late fry-up breakfast at around half 10.  Lunch, at around two, consisted of the lazyman’s choice – leftover Chinese takeaway (you didn’t think either of us was up to cooking after yesterday, did you?!) – and then we retired for a nap which took most of the rest of the afternoon.

I have managed to fit in a bit more knitting, though: the mystery project (Working title:Magrat) is about one hour’s worth of knitting, and a good blocking, away from completion.  I’m looking forwards to blocking this so much – but I have to say I love the look of the fabric unblocked, too, both the right side:

And the wrong side:

Sorry about the weird yellow tint: The day of rest includes not messing around with lights or Lightroom.  It also includes an early night – so see you on the other side!

Affinity Yarns

(Just a quickie, cos I have to finish packing so I can go teach!)

Hey, guys, check it out!  I am featured today on the Affinity Yarns blog!

I’m delighted to announce that Affinity Yarns are the newest suppliers of Yarnscape hand-dyed yarns.  They currently have a good stock of Footsie, Footsie-HT, Dance, Lissom and all the remaining skeins of Bunnylace (currently in very short supply: grab it whilst you can!).  I’ve met up with Vandy and her husband Marc a couple of times now, and I have to say they are the most amazing people.  As well as running a delightful UK-based online yarn store, they have monthly charity open days with tea and homemade cake in their beautiful garden (which just happens to contain the yarn house!)

As if that weren’t enough, Vandy produces the most amazing watercolour paintings.  I am particularly fond of her strong use of colour (what a surprise!) and the remarkable sense of freedom that comes in a lot of her work.

Getting ready….

…for the weekend!

giant pile-o’-mawata-silk

It’s a working weekend for me: tomorrow I travel to Norwich, where I will spend Friday evening talking to the Norwich Embroiderers Guild about spinning – and on Saturday, I will be teaching a full-day drop spindle workshop for the guild!  I’m looking forwards to it enormously.  The spinning workshop will be an extended version of the introductory course I taught at Textiles In Focus, back in February, which was an absolute blast.

materials packs with spindles and handouts

On the other hand, I feel woefully under-prepared.  I’m not sure why: I know the workshop backwards, and my talk is well prepared.  My kit is packed, for both days, and all I need to do tomorrow is pack clothes, toiletries and personal items.  But no matter what I do, I have this horrible ‘forgotten something crucial’ sensation in the pit of my stomach.  It’s not stage fright: I know that one well and we are good friends from waaay back.  And I know that J and the houndies will be just fine at home without me: I’m only away overnight, for heaven’s sake!

distaff and spindle box

I wonder if it’s because I’m presenting two different sessions in one visit?  If I’m thinking about the talk, I’m not thinking about the workshop, and vice versa.  The two are complementary, but designed not to overlap all that much.  Maybe I need to go read through my notes for both, back-to-back, and see how I feel then.

Woody, asleep with his tongue poking out

That dog cracks me up.

Escape Velocity

I have totally lost my Monogamous Knitter status.  Recently, some of the design ideas that constantly orbit my brain have been making their way onto the needles.  And it turns out that you can’t just have one on the go; when one hits a roadblock, you need to be working on another whilst your brain figures a way around the first.

all scrunched up

Recently, one of the orbiting designs has achieved escape velocity. For the first time in ages, I am knitting like a fiend, itching to see how this turns out.  And you’ll have to wait, too!  With any luck, it will be finished in time for me to show it off at Knit Nation, in the middle of July.  Yeah – sure it will!  I might have another one done by then!

I *can* tell you that the yarn is ‘Magrat’, the first installation of the Shameless Twist ‘Twisted Disc’ yarn club. I’ve joined fibre clubs in the past, but it’s taken a Discworld-themed club (sanctioned by Sir Terry himself), to make me sign up for a yarn one.  I’m thinking it was worth the wait; this stuff is lovely, and I’m having a blast knitting with it!

Alpaca day

There came a day, lo, these many moons ago (about ten, to be precise), when I chanced to win a fine lot of alpaca fleece in that great lottery known as eBay.  Large and pricey was the lot, so I arranged to share it with a person that I did then know; and yet, she disappeared into the dark mists of cyberspace, and never did I hear from her again.

And yet, the alpaca did remain, in the depths of the garden shed.  And I left it there, for the sight (and even the thought) of it did make me angry.  “I bet it will all be rubbish,” did I think.  “I would never have spent that much just for me.  And there is so much of it!  What am I to do now?!”.

Until a day came, upon which I had no plans.  And I thought, “Shearing time will be upon us again soon.  If I wish to buy fleece, I really should free up some space in the shed”.

So I unpacked the giant double-bagged lot, and pulled out the bags.  Within, were several separate bags.  I poked a hole in each bag to see what I had, and snagged a shot or two.  The two bags top right contain ‘seconds’ labels.  The other bags include:

  • One bag of long, straight, ‘black’ locks (actually very dark brown; top of shot);
  • Three bags of fawn locks, two of which also turned out to be seconds, or otherwise low quality;
  • Two bags of cinnamon locks, with distinctly different textures;
  • Two bags of chocolate coloured locks, one of which also turned out to be seconds.

After the last couple of years, I’m starting to feel I know my way around a sheep’s fleece, to skirt and sort it, at least, but I’ve never worked with any raw alpaca fleece before.  I had a bit of a google around, but I didn’t find anything particularly useful, so I figured I’d just go about the whole thing in the same way as I would for a sheep’s fleece, bearing in mind the things I already know about alpaca fleece:

  • Alpaca fibre is technically all ‘hair’ (as opposed to fur or wool), and many qualities of hair will be present in the same fleece, including longer, coarser guard hairs;
  • Alpaca fleece are (or should be) removed in two main sections: the blanket, which covers the back and sides of the animal’s body, from the base of the neck to the tail, and down to the tops of the legs, contains the best fibre.  The neck and leg fibre is a lot coarser.
  • There is no lanolin in alpaca fleece, though it can be very dusty.

I tried to unroll the blankets as you would a sheep’s fleece, and came across two problems.  The first is that, probably because of hte lack of nice, sticky lanolin, and the slippery nature of alpaca fibre, the blanket does not hold together in quite the same way as a sheep’s fleece.  The second is probably due to the fact that these had been stored, tightly compressed, for such a long time.  After shearing, the blankets were obviously folded cut sides together, and then rolled.  The cut faces have sort of stuck to each other, with the butt ends of the sheared locks interpenetrating the ones on the opposite face.


Cut ends, chocolate blanket

The third thing I learned is that it is difficult to deal with alpaca fibre in even moderately windy weather.  A nice, heavy, sticky wool fleece would stay on the ground in one piece, when alpaca pretty much defines ‘flyaway’.

Anyway, some of the fleece here seems lovely.  The chocolate one, above, is one of my favourites.  Some of the nicest fibre seems to come from this cinnamon blanket:

Cinnamon locks

It is very light, silky and crimpy.  Sadly (and probably heretically), I’m not really all that fond of this most typical of alpaca colours, so I’ll probably be selling it on Etsy.  In fact, I will probably sell quite a lot of this stuff: there really is way more than one person needs, kilos and kilos of it!


Fresh off the loom

I got down to some serious weaving last weekend.

The warp that I photographed for this post finally got some serious attention, and I managed to weave off the whole scarf in two days.  The push was partly in honour of doing Something Different for the long weekend, and also because I really want this scarf finished by June 16th (more on that later).

These photos show the scarf straight off the loom.  In some of them, you can see a softly corrugated effect, which is due to the weave structure I used.  I used the cord weave treadling on a straight draw, taken directly from the top left quadrant on Cally’s (old) blog.

The corrugation occurs because some warp threads spend most of their time on one face of the fabric, whereas others spend most time on the other.  When I wet finish the scarf, it’s possible that the effect will become more pronounced.  Unfortunately I have to finish twisting the fringe before I to see what happens – and that’s a lot of fringe!

Finding my feet

The astute (or terminally bored) may have noticed that there haven’t been many updates around here recently – about as many in the last month as I usually manage in a week or so.  This has to change.

I’m having a blast.  An absolute whale of a time, let me tell you!  But it turns out that sitting at a desk for eight or so hours a day automatically provides time for blog posts to be written in, even if that’s not your primary paid work.  Dyeing wool doesn’t.  So I need to make time to write the posts in, and be clear that writing a post is what I’m supposed to be doing in that time – it’s not goofing off, it’s Very Important.  (But then, so is everything else)

I’m not going to set a schedule – at least, not publically.  Experience has taught me that that is a good way to fail.  And I intentionally posted about spinning yesterday because I didn’t want to come back yet again with another “sorry I haven’t been around” post – I have written my share of those already.

So, with any luck, you can expect to see updates here in the near future about knitting (there has been some!), spinning (will I ever stop?!), weaving (the scarf is off the loom!), gardening (strawberries are ripe!!) and dogs.

Oh, how could we forget the dogs.

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