Wonderwool Wales 2014

Well I’m back! Wonderwool didn’t fail to disappoint as ever. I’m so lucky to have this fantastic fibre show just over an hour’s drive from my door. Although the fact it’s close means that I just go for the day and this makes for a very packed and exhausting day that leaves my brain whirling for several days after. This year having expanded the range of stock I was taking to put on my friend Katie’s stall HilltopCloud meant for an even earlier start than usual and a later finish because I stayed for part of the FLOCK gathering organised by my friend Dawn because it’s a great opportunity to catch up with friends – during the day it’s so busy that it’s hard to have a proper conversation.

The stallholders at a show normally travel and set up the show the day before. I wasn’t able to manage this for various reasons and was sad I wasn’t able to give Katie and her mum Elaine a hand to do this – it might not occur to shoppers just how much work even carting all the stock into the hall is let alone the work of setting it up. It can take a couple of hours minimum and often longer because unless you stick to the same format for every show, you can’t really plan the layout in it’s final detail until you get there and see how things work. My fleeces were a fairly small section of the display though so we knew that it wouldn’t take too long to fit them into the scheme and I planned to set off early in the morning after dealing with my animals and things here. Having woken an hour earlier than I needed too because of excitement (and nerves I have to confess – what if people didn’t like all the things I had prepared?) I still managed to run late thanks to an Unfortunate Overnight Incident involving mum’s sofa, my elderly dog and his failing digestive system… I bathed the dog and mum bathed the sofa and I finally set off half an hour later than planned after bolting a bowl of cereal.

We quickly slotted my stock into place in the stall and I moved my car up into the exhibitors carpark. Sadly because of being later the last spaces were at the far end on some fairly damp grass under a tree. I had no choice and the show was due to open in just over half an hour so I dubiously parked (our elderly Volvo does NOT like off road) and scarpered back down to the show where Katie was making some last minute adjustments and sorting out essentials like petty cash and business cards to divide between the three of us.

I love the moments before a show opens; there is a quiet expectant buzz amongst the stallholders as we’re all ready waiting for it to begin, the stalls all look so beautiful – the most beautiful they will look over the whole show because everything is in place, the stock is piled high and the amount of time, expertise, attention to detail and love – yes because so many of these good folk pour themselves into their craft – shimmers across every carefully laid out display.

I grabbed my camera at this point and took a few quick snaps of the stall. They aren’t the greatest pictures but you can get a little idea of what was there. 

Image

The whole stall, Katie to the left sorting out some last minute things

Image

 

 

A selection of handspun yarns by Katie and myself artfully arranged by colour by Elaine, HTC batts – a dream to spin from, the ever popular Learn to Spin kits and Katie’s dad’s fabulous wood turning. WW 2014 will go down as the year I was asked a million times what a niddy-noddy was. Well it felt like a million times. It might have only been 4 but it was in quick succession… ;0)

 

Image

 

Katie’s luxury blends (oh boy! Scrummy!) with my fleece corner

Image

Elaine’s (Quince Pie) wonderful bags, aprons and needle cases.

Image

An neat mix of all our products – Katie’s superfine shetland dyed braids, my dyed fleeces and Elaine’s Spindle cases and needle cases.

Image

Katie’s dress made from my Welshland and her silk displayed over the dyed and raw fleeces 

Outside it started to rain over the patient queue so they let them in a few minutes early and slowly the eager crowd seeped up the hall like a swarm of bees. Only a lot more welcome! We were at the top end of the first hall so it took a few minutes to see the shoppers but you can feel it, a show awakens all your senses. From that point on we were busy and it got more so as the morning wore on. I love being busy, I love working on stalls – I used to run a small business in our local market and the sense of providing a product that your customers appreciate and you care about never leaves so working on a fibre show is pure joy for me. I like people, I like helping people choose the colours and fibres they want or trying to find a different blend for those who want to experience something new, I love explaining how they can get the best out of them if they are unsure or coaxing them to try experiment and widen their enjoyment of this wonderful craft. And I LOVE seeing my friends!!!!! Some of my friends I’ve met through Ravelry I only get to see once or maybe twice a year and Wonderwool is usually the occasion. It’s fab… :0)

I stayed on the stall until early afternoon – once people had made their first urgent purchases and were more happy to wander and look or go off and find food and friends I escaped to do a little shopping of my own. First on my list was Nunoco – I’d been waiting to try these hand-carded fibres in stunning colours by a small business in North Wales (always happy to support local business!!) as several of my friends have shopped there. I whizzed over and met Candy and Lora and made a few purchases which I’m looking forward to spinning. As with all my WW photos, it’s not a great shot of their stall but it did look lovely.

Image

I needed to get some dyes and I bought a few other bits and bobs so mostly I was just browsing and catching up with a few stallholders I’ve met over time. 

Image

Image

The National Wool Museum of Wales – a place I’d be really interested to visit

Image

Some stunning felt making, this piece I think was Chrissie Menzies one of the organisers of WW

Image

And I’m a sucker for felt pictures after the felt making course I went on

Image

I love woven textiles, I’m not much of a weaver but one day I’d like to learn more about it and these wonderful textiles by Prickly Pear Interiors did catch my eye.

Image

I even saw Lady Gaga…

Image

….but I don’t think she saw me…

Image

There aren’t too many animals on display at WW but there are a few, these are Rob Harvey-Long’s award winning Cotswold sheep that he’s been selectively breeding for fine fibre over the past two decades. He came and gave an interesting talk to our guild last year.

Image

And Bigwig Angoras had some super cute and very placid bunnies on display. How could you not fall in love with a bundle of fluff like this?

Image

I hunted until I found my friend Jill aka Wrigglefingers (or our Wriggly to those who love her!) who was hard at it demonstrating drum carding for Paul Brittain of Classic Carders. It was hard to get a photo, there were so many people watching, I nabbed this one over and around somebody’s shoulder. She did a great job of selling the carders – I think lots of people will be enjoying this form of fibre prep in the coming months thanks to Jill’s infectious enthusiasm and teaching!

I made my way back to our stall and for the rest of the day divided my time between helping out and darting off as I remember yet something else I hadn’t bought/found yet. By the time the show closed we were ready for a sit down, my back was aching a little but I think it’s fair to say that we were happy with how the show had gone and were still smiling through the tiredness by the close of the show…

Image

 

Myself, Katie and Elaine at chucking out time! Taken by my friend Sarah and then I got Katie to take one of Sarah and myself. After a momentary confusion whilst I adjusted to where the camera was (brain meltdown) I remembered to gurn in the general direction of the camera with some gentle prodding from Sar… ;0)

Image

Katie treated Elaine and myself to tea from the show food vendors who kindly stay open for those who are hanging on after the show closes – a tasty platter of Indian samosas, pakoras etc and then a steaming takeout box of paella – scrumptious

Image

 

And then we made our way up to the building where FLOCK was taking place – a chance to sit down and catch up with friends in the warm, to spin and knit

Image

…or even just sit and recover with a bottle of beer if you’re Katie!! ;0)

It’s also a chance to gloat over purchases and try them out…

Image

my friend Fiona sitting pretty in her gorgeous hand knit cardigan and very happy with her new turkish spindle and cashmere!

I have other photos of friends too but have not asked permission to post them (won’t they be relieved!!) but I think in many ways this is the nicest part of the show – catching up with people I care about made all the more precious by the shortness of the time.

I tore myself away from them as I had a long drive back and it was getting late and driving along twisty roads at dusk when tired is never a good idea. i could have stayed all evening but I had to be sensible. Bah. When I got back to my car I found my worries of the morning about the dodgy soft ground were well founded. Despite using all my experience of driving this car on soft ground I came to rest in a rut just off the tarmac and no amount of gently coaxing was going to get me off. A few heads popped out of tents and stared at me from the stallholders who had made an early night of it but no one approached and with panic rising I got out of the car to go and test my friends love of me by getting them to push the tank out of the muddy grass. As I did so a lady walked towards me with a rope and pointed to a man who was moving his Range Rover ready to come and tow me out. I could have kissed them both for their kindness – she explained that she’d got stuck the evening before and was dreading the pack up the following day too. For the second time that day I hitched up my pale blue linen skirt to keep it clean and knelt in the mud to find the towing hook – with the gentleman’s help we located it (Volvo why oh why do you hide it in the most inconvenient place under a flap?!?) and I got towed out and back onto terra firma. I shook hands with my rescuer and thanked him and he shrugged pleasantly and said he hoped someone would do the same for his daughter in the same situation. Bless you and the lady who donated the rope – I don’t know who either of you are, I forgot to ask – but I hope you had a fabulous show in return for your kindness in helping me out. It’s not a fibre show unless something goes slightly off-plan I think!!!!!

Next year in Wonderwool Wales!

 

Advertisements

Further ideas for blending and spinning Gotland

So perhaps you’ve experimented with spinning Gotland as in this previous post and you’d like to experiment further. Or perhaps you’re already used to working with fleece but you’ve not used Gotland before or are looking for some fresh ideas of things you can do with it.

I love Gotland sheep; they have the funniest, friendliest, biggest personalities of the sheep world. I find their fibre intriguing to work with. But I have to confess that I am very sensitive to most British wools and find that quite a lot of Gotland wool is too strong a fibre for me to wear next to my skin on it’s own. So I like to blend Gotland with other fibres to change the way it works. Sometimes it changes the look, sometimes the hand (feel) of the finished yarn and combined with the way you spin it you can make a whole range of yarns for knitting, weaving or crocheting with. Or indeed felting with; Gotland felts superbly and makes a very hard wearing felt so you can full or felt the finished item to change it’s appearance and use yet further.

Gotland on it’s own is a silky fibre, long stapled, lustrous and smooth. It combines well with similar staple length fibres and my favourites include BlueFaced Leicester (BFL) wool, alpaca and silk. In the following examples I’ve used commercially dyed merino top instead of BFL as that is what I have to hand currently and that also works very well and like BFL it bulks out the yarn slightly and makes a softer yarn.

Image

 

Here I’ve taken the same Gotland fleece I overdyed in teal shades and blended with duck egg colour merino, silk I hand dyed in turquoise/green shades and white alpaca so show how you can vary the yarn both in terms of colour, texture and appearance. Alpaca makes for a more chalky looking finish and soft yarn, merino or BFL also bulk out the yarn and the gotland gives the other wools more of a lustre and makes for a very smooth spin. The silk not only softens the hand of the fibre but also ups the lustre and makes an almost luminescent sheen to it, a very grown up yarn indeed!

Image

 

 

Left: with “duck egg” merino top. Centre: with handdyed silk brick. Right: with white alpaca

 

With the next example dyed in shades of lavender and mauve I did something similar, again using merino, silk and alpaca only this time I used dark grey alpaca to show how a coloured fibre changes the look of it – white makes for pastel shades and grey or brown fibres make a more murky saddened tone. You can play around with different natural colour base fibres to see what works best with the colour you are working with.

Image

 

Image

Left: with hand dyed silk brick. Centre: with “heather” merino top. Right: with grey alpaca

I carded all these on a drumcarder because that’s my preferred tool for blending but of course you can blend these just as well on hand cards or combs/hackle.

Carding dyed fleece on a drumcarder will blend all the shades together. If you want a uniform colour then this is ideal but some of the colours are complimentary rather than different tones and shades of the same colour and you might want to keep them separate.

Image

Hand carding rolags enables you to pick out a few locks of colour at a time and make a series of rolags in different shades which you can spin in a colour gradient or randomly allowing for a variegated yarn. You can play with this further by choosing to ply it as a two-ply yarn which will create a more heather barber pole yarn or to Navajo ply/Chain ply which gives a 3-ply yarn which preserves the colours as they appear in the singles yarn.

Image

This the resulting woollen yarn from 100% Gotland fleece. The singles were spun longdraw from the rolags and then plied together creating a 2-ply heathered yarn.

Image

 

If you’re visiting Wonderwool Wales this weekend and fancy trying blending Gotland with some of the fibres mentioned there are plenty of fibre suppliers from large companies to small indie dyers providing a huge range of fibres for us spinners to choose from!

Katie who’s kindly letting me sell my fleece from her stall (HilltopCloud – stand N4) has both hand dyed silk brick and super fine alpaca amongst the gorgeous dyed braids she’s been creating ready for the show. Why not give it a go?! If you’re curious about drum carding then you should also pay a visit to our friend Jill who is demonstrating drumcarding for Paul Brittain of Classic Carders (stand D11) and will also be selling her hand dyed fibres there – she’s a wonderful teacher and you can see for yourself how fun it is to blend fibres together and come up with fantastic combinations of colour and texture. See you there hopefully!

Spinning from Gotland fleece

Sometimes I’m asked by customers “How do I spin Gotland?” or even “What can I make with it?”.

I can’t answer the second question; that’s entirely up to you! But in terms of working with fleece I thought it might be helpful to provide a few ideas for those spinners who might never have tried working with fleece because sometimes people also say “I don’t have any fibre prep equipment” or “I don’t know how to prep fleece”.

When you first encounter a raw fleece it can be a little daunting – it seems so terribly sheepy, how do you choose one, how do you skirt it (remove the bits you don’t want to spin because it’s not good enough/dirty), all that washing and prepping, time consuming, messy, needing specialist tools. I wanted to show that that actually it’s really not as daunting as it might seem and that actually you can make a start with some very simple tools indeed.

I’m not going to cover fleece washing of raw fleeces in this post – I might do that in a later one if people would find it helpful. What I’m concentrating on here is working with washed, dyed fleece such as the Bags of Colour Dyed Gotland I’m selling at Wonderwool this weekend and hope to have in my etsy shop afterwards. Here I’ve taken the first stages out of working with fleece for you; the fleeces were washed (scoured) before dyeing with acid dyes in various shades so they are nice and clean and ready to be prepped.

Image

Some spinners already have equipment such as hand carders, drumcarders and wool combs and know how to use them. This isn’t a blog post about that. I love my fibre prep equipment and use them all the time for all sorts of fibres. But you can make a start with nothing more expensive than a dog comb (left) or pet slicker (right) from your local pet shop and they generally don’t cost more than about £4 or £5.

Image

Starting with the pet slicker you can use it either to comb out the locks of clean fleece or as a “flick carder” where you flick at the ends of the staple – the butt and the tip – and it opens up the ends. You’ll want to do this on a protective piece of cloth on your knee as it will wreck your clothing otherwise or you can work on a piece of board on a table instead, an old chopping board is ideal for this. Take a staple or few staples in one hand and wrap it once around your forefinger to secure it.

Image

Tap or gently brush at the tips and they will open out. Turn the staple of wool around and wrap round your finger again to secure and tap/brush the other end to complete the staple.

Image

Alternatively you can comb out the staple tips and butts with a pet comb in the same way, holding the staples and wrapping to secure round your finger and working on one end and then turning it and working on the other.

Image

Image

 

Image

You can see the waste removed by the combing, any weak or felted tips from the outer end that’s been exposed to weather for longest and any short cuts or new growth from the butts leaving you with clean long fibres ready for spinning.

You can spin them as they are from end-to-end, either any-which-way or keeping them all pointing in the same direction and spinning only from the butt or only from the tip. This is similar to a worsted yarn such as you’d spin from combed top; the fibres are all aligned and smoothed down to make a hard wearing yarn great for weaving with. I like to spin these from the fold however as it makes a nice smooth yarn with a bit more bounce than a true worsted yarn and Gotland has a good staple length which lends itself well to this form of spinning along with other longwools, silk and alpaca. It’s not a worsted yarn because the folded fibres give more of an airy woollen yarn but without the fuzzy ends sticking out quite so much. It’s very easy to do, maybe give it a try if you’ve not done this before.

Simply fold your combed staple/s over your forefinger and hold the ends tucked down in your palm and hold gently – you’re aiming to keep the ends tidily out of the way but not hang on for grim death as they need to be able to slide out as they draft into yarn. Take the front edge of the fold and join onto your leader and spin and the rest of the fold will follow on as you draft. Your other hand can control the single yarn as the twist builds up.

Image

It’s easier to do than describe! And it makes a lovely yarn from longer fibres.

Image

Gotland opens up very readily (in fact it can be quite a static fibre once you’ve released it from it’s staple formation!!) so if you don’t even have access to pet combs like these you can simply tease the fibres apart with your fingers (known as “picking”) and spin from the open “cloud” of fibre like that. It will make a more rustic textured yarn but it’s definitely possible.

Image

So! There you have it. Three simple methods for starting off prepping fleece for spinning. So if you’ve always fancied having a play with fleece but worried about taking the plunge I hope this might have given you the incentive to have a play!! Get those wool fumes! :0)

Bags of colour

Further to the fleeces I’m taking to Wonderwool Wales, I’ve also been busy overdyeing grey Gotland fleeces for those who’d like to try a splash of colour in their Gotland. I wash the fleeces first to remove dirt and most of the grease and then they get dyed using Acid dyes which are generally non toxic despite their seemingly alarming name – this merely refers to the acid used to fix the dyes along with heat and in my case I use Citric acid which is a food stuff so not so very scary after all. In some cases the “acid dyes” I use are in fact food colouring so the whole thing is entirely edible – apart from the fleece itself of course!! ;0)

I drain the fleeces over wire racking and once cooled I rinse them off with our Spring water and put them to dry in on racks in the polytunnel – not everything in there is green and growing!

Image

A closer look at some of the colours I’ve dyed in the past week.

Image

Image

Image

Image

And once dry they are weighed and bagged up ready for sale. Not so easy to see the colours in the bag but they look so nice – fat little parcels of fluffy colour!

Image

More fleeces to dye today whilst the sun is out. I try to do dyeing when it’s sunny. Our water is heated by a wood stove but when it’s sunny it gets heated by our solar thermal panels on the roof of the house instead and then the dyed fleeces get fixed in pans the electric stove for which the sun also generates the electricity via our Photovoltaic (PV) panels. So it’s not only saving money but it’s also good for the environment to work with the sun – which makes me feel happier. And of course the sun speeds up the drying process in the polytunnel!

Have you any wool?

Yessir!! Yessir!!!

And considerably more than three bags full too.

The next 10 days sees fibre artists in various places in the UK doing final preparations for Wonderwool Wales in Builth Wells at the Royal Welsh Showground. I’ve been to every Wonderwool bar one since it’s first tiny beginnings as a section of the Royal Welsh Smallholders Show. I think this is my favourite show; apart from spinning, knitting and general woolliness being my favourite hobbies, the spinning/fibre community is largely made up of generous, kind, enthusiastic lovely people all fired up with great ideas and happy to pass their skills on and “enable” new spinners into what is joking referred to as “the dark side” or the “rabbit hole” as mostly once bitten by the spinning bug, it’s with you for life.

Wonderwool is one of the bigger fibre shows in the UK and goes from strength to strength each year. This year is no exception as it has apparently expanded into another building so I’m looking forward to seeing new stallholders. It covers spinning, knitting, dyeing, weaving, felting and crocheting. Other crafts are in evidence too such as woodturning because so many of our tools are made from wood. There is a great atmosphere as people who’ve never met before except perhaps online or friends who live far apart and don’t get to meet up very often bubble over with shared enthusiasm and with the glorious riot of colours and textures bursting from the stalls – well it’s hard to take in really. I think it’s fair to say that most of us start counting down to next year’s Wonderwool the minute we get back in our cars to drive home from this year’s…

Last year I was able to sell my sheep’s fleeces through my friend Katie’s kind offer of hosting them on her stall HilltopCloud. It worked well for both of us and she’s kindly offered to do the same again this year. Last year I worked on a few shows for her and I will be doing the same on the Saturday at Wonderwool – stand N4 if you’re visiting!!

So over the past few weeks I’ve been gradually shearing my sheep in readiness for selling the fleeces. Keeping Gotlands (a Swedish breed) means that they are sheared in Winter and housed in a barn. The best quality wool is gained this way and if it was left until May when most UK sheep are sheared, the silky fibre would have felted onto their backs and become useless. I’ve learned a huge amount about fibre growing and preparation in the 7 years I’ve been keeping this breed and take pains to produce the best quality fleece I can. Gotland is something of a niche wool, it’s not really a general purpose knitting wool in the way that say Bluefaced Leicester or Shetland is. It has quirks that make it slightly different to work with; it’s silky and has no crimp but instead has a “S” curl to the staple, it felts readily and has a slight prickle even when the fibre diameter is fine. It comes in the most glorious range of pure greys from almost black to silver white and over dyes beautifully. It makes great worsted spun yarn and is fabulous for weaving and felting. Spun with care not to overtwist it makes a reasonably hard wearing knitting yarn and it blends well with other fibres to give a range of spinning/knitting fibres.

Here is a sweater (pattern Blank Canvas by Ysolda Teague) I made last year from the lamb fleece of one of my sheep called William

Image

I blended his fleece with tussah silk and it’s made a lovely fabric which looks very different to how it looked on him….

Image

I also cross breed my sheep with various other breeds (William is in fact not one of my pure gotlands but crossed with other genes too), one of these being the handsome Black Welsh Mountain. I call this cross Welshland and last year Katie had some of this fleece off me which she blended with some of her own hand dyed silk brick and knitted an Icon Dress which is a pattern we both fell in love with at Woolfest when we saw the sample there. This gorgeous dress is a labour of love, the hours and hours of work going into blending and preparing the fibres, spinning the yarn and knitting the dress makes for a very special garment that turned out exactly as Katie hoped and I know she was really pleased with it. And I get huge pleasure from seeing my beloved sheep’s fleeces being turned into beautiful and useful clothing.

Image

So going back to Winter Shearing, all the Gotland fleeces have been stacked in boxes in the barn for a few weeks since they were sheared in January. Yesterday I sheared the Black Welsh Mountain and their crosses (Welshland) and those are also waiting for me to bag and price them ready for next weekend.

Image

Here they are waiting in the shed before shearing.

I have had to teach myself how to shear over the few years we’ve kept sheep purely for fibre. When we kept commercial meat sheep we got contractors in in May. Unfortunately when you have a small flock (and we never had more than 30 breeding ewes) it’s hard to get shearers in at the right time, the shearing gangs are horrendously busy getting round the big flocks shearing several hundred sheep in a day. A small bunch of smallholders sheep just aren’t that important to them so small flocks tend to get pushed to the end of the shearing season, either that or you have to find someone who has the skills necessary to shear a few sheep. So when I started keeping sheep that needed shearing in winter I decided to tackle this myself. Up until last year I sheared all my sheep with hand blades whilst they stand up, tied in a head stall. I have joint problems so I find it near impossibly to turn sheep (onto their backs which is the usual method of handling them) and so I’ve found my own way of getting round the problems I encounter (and probably set up a few more special ones of my own too no doubt!!) Shearing is a young persons game, it is hard work, skilled and puts strain on your back so to be a professional shearer you have to be fit and strong. I don’t pretend to come anywhere near a shearer’s skills but I am happy with the fibre I get from my sheep and it gives me time to check my sheep and work with them and the fleece is the priority not speed.

Last year I swapped from using hand blades to a shearing machine. I was forced to do this because my back is starting to play up and it is quicker using a machine although I prefer the fleece I get from hand blade shearing. I’ve encountered more learning curves here and at some point I will take myself off to one of the British Wool Marketing Board shearing courses to learn properly. Professional shearers use something called the Bowen Technique of shearing (not to be confused with the other Bowen Technique which is form of therapy!) which is fast and efficient unlike my method. I don’t think my sheep realise how lucky they are to be allowed the dignity of staying the right way up whilst they get their haircuts!!

Different breeds of sheep have different fibres, some are easier to shear than others. Of the eight BWMx sheep I sheared yesterday, they fell into three types although even those fleeces varied according to the individual sheep.

The last three to be sheared were one of each type and whilst I was trying to take photos of them to display some of the differences they obligingly lined up for me! It shows really well how they change with each new dose of genetics as I cross breed them.

Image

On the right is Quink. She is a pedigree Black Welsh Mountain and is small, muscly and compact with short ears and bluntish face. The fleece is short stapled and quite strong in character and the fleece comes off as a sheet and hangs together well. It doesn’t really have lock formation like some other breeds do and although BWM is a hill breed it is like the Down breeds in it’s fibre type. In the middle is Leila, a BWMx Gotland (my “welshland”- 50% of each in her breeding). The black gene in sheep is a recessive one so normally a black sheep crossed with a white on will result in a white sheep or a very pale grey although the black genes will be lurking hidden waiting to throw out a black lamb every so often. Black sheep crossed with coloured sheep can vary in the colour that results but here they end up looking like finer, larger BWM. You can see the larger frame, the longer finer face and ears, the longer staple in the fleece (from the longwool side of the Gotland) and the fleece is softer, more open, has a different crimp and falls apart more readily. It’s also incredibly bouncy fibre which makes for a wonderful springy knitting wool. And it retains the deep warm black that only the BWM really has – other black British breeds tend to be a very deep brown. On the left is Elvis. His mother was a Welshland and his father was a coloured Leicester Longwool, now a rare breed although once very important in the development of various UK breeds. You can see the much larger size (although under that fluff he has a rangy goatlike frame) and the really long staple, the very strong open locks and the paler colour as the black genes give way to other factors. Although the weathering on the outside of the fleece makes it look a caramel colour, under the sunbleached tips in fact he is a warm charcoal colour and the staples are shot through with silver threads which comes from the gotland genes.

Image

This is his fleece once sheared. It’s enormous…

For Wonderwool I split the fleeces up into smaller quantities. Even for garments, it’s rare that one will need a whole fleece for a project and I find that Gotland and it’s derivatives benefit most from being blended with other fibres which means that the fleece goes even further. So splitting down the fleeces means spinners don’t have to buy more than they need and those who fancy trying something new can also try out fibres without having a loft or shed full of leftover raw fleece. It also means that you can choose to buy several shades of grey if you want to try colourwork in natural colours (I’ve long wanted to weave a tartan throw out of the different shades of grey but still haven’t got around to this!!)

I also overdye the fleeces and I shall talk about this in a separate post as this one is getting longer and longer…

I’ll leave you with a couple more photos of the fleece growers out in the pasture, these were from last autumn.Image

Elvis with Esther and Snip (both pure Gotlands)

Image

Robbie – Gotland x Leicester Longwool. Note the lack of BWM black genes and how pale he is as a result!

Sweet Dreams

Whilst I’ve been beavering away in garden and greenhouse, watching seeds popping up through the earth, leaves on hedges breaking from their buds and generally watching Nature kick into life and stretch sleepy arms towards Spring and yawning the fresh dawn, friends in other places are still shaking off the blankets of a Winter that has been much harsher than the mild one we’ve just experienced here in the UK.

Recently I was fascinated to read about some friends’ story of making their own maple syrup. Laurie and I “met” via Ravelry over a jolly good recipe for Gluten Free Kanelbullar that she kindly gave me. She lives in Upstate New York, a place I hope to visit one day. Last Autumn/Fall, she and her husband John managed a trip to the UK and we had the pleasure of meeting them in person rather than just online as they were able to visit us briefly on their way back from staying in North Wales. I like hearing about the lives of my friends who live in other countries as much as they like hearing about living in Wales so when Laurie mentioned they were about to start boiling down the sap they collect from their sugar maples I asked her if she could take some photos and very kindly they did this and posted them in my Ravelry group for us to see. They’ve also very graciously allowed me to reproduce them here as I’m sure some others of you who aren’t on Ravelry would be interested in this process.

I ADORE maple syrup. I use it on porridge, I use it in cooking both sweet and also occasionally savoury to enhance and bring out other spicy flavours. I love the delicate, smokey, nutty, sweet nuances so different from other more overpowering sweetening foodstuffs. I once looked into why we aren’t able to produce maple syrup here – and resigned myself to the fact that wishes are not horses and this particular greedy beggar was never going to have oodles of home grown maple syrup so it remains a very special occasional treat for me. I just love the idea of it too, nestling in my mind with pumpkins and Fall/Autumn colours that seem to reach a whole other level for our friends in Canada and US. I loved seeing the process being carried out by people I know and seeing a different kind of “homemade, homegrown” item being produced, one I know I’ll never experience. I hope you enjoy seeing it too.

Image

Image

Image

Collecting the sap from the trees

Image

Preparing the cooker

Image

Image

The frozen maple sap thawing out

ImageImage

Heating it up on the outdoor cooker

Image

Full steam ahead!! (looks like a steam railway engine is about to hove into view!)

Here’s what Laurie has to say about the rest of the process;

We generally give it 2 days (and the night in between) to finish off two 32 gallon containers of sap. The ratio is roughly 40 gallons of sap/1 gallon syrup. Pics here show our first “batch” for this weekend. One big container is now down to the pot on the stove. I filtered it through the felted wool funnel when it was fairly thin, to remove the ash and twigs that occasionally fly in! Adds a nice hint of smoke 😉 Now we wait for it to boil down to syrup consistency. I just eye-ball it, but “real” producers use a hydrometer to measure the density of the liquid. I take a spoonful, spread it on a plate, let it cool, then spoon it up, pour back on the plate, if it holds at a steady stream, it’s ready. If anything, we under-boil as you risk overdoing it and then it crystallizes in the jars. I don’t mind a thinner syrup anyway, goes further. Pancakes for dinner tonight!

 Image

Image

Image

Image

Yum yum yum!!!

Huge thanks to Laurie, John and their daughter for sharing their hard work!

If all that gorgeous looking syrup has made you hungry then you’d best go find something to munch on! I quite fancy a maple and pecan pastry right now after writing this post out – but I think I shall be good and restrain myself… :0)

However, luckily there are lovely knitting projects that can distract from the maple cravings and direct them to a less sugary but equally sweet resolution. My friend Claire bought me this Maple Leaf Knit Shawl pattern recently so this should definitely keep me occupied for a while once I’ve cast on! And my friend Katie is planning on making this lovely hand knit t shirt Sugar Maple out of some BFL yarn she has dyed and spun. I can’t wait to see it.

Salad Days

In the greenhouse the seedlings are only just getting off to a start. Over in the polytunnel however some older plantlets are finding their feet in the soil thanks to the longer daylight hours and warm weather of the past week or so. They’ve really shot ahead and last night I was able to harvest the first crop for our evening meal.

 

I love salad. This hasn’t always been the case – as a child I regarded raw vegetables other than carrots with grave suspicion and, if given the choice, gave salad of any description a very wide berth. Some children I played with when I was growing up would ask if I could stay for tea on a fairly regular basis and I often joined them for their evening meal. I really enjoyed playing with them and their parents were lovely (and I suspect the fact that they had a TV and we didn’t possibly had a little to do with the regularity of my visits as well). The one sticking point to my mind was the super healthy meals. My own mother is an excellent cook and gave us proper wholesome food cooked from scratch but this family ate meals that were on a whole other level entirely to my young way of thinking.

 

In our house cauliflower was boiled, covered in a yummy cheesy sauce and baked in the oven till brown on top and then served up with a piece of crispy bacon and some sliced tomatoes. And I still really love Cauliflower Cheese although I can often be found sneaking in ad lib extras to this well-known British dish when I make it now. In their house however, cauliflower would be broken into tiny florets and mixed with grated carrot, seeds and nuts, raisins and a home made vinaigrette. Raw…. I’d been brought up to eat everything on my plate and being fussy over food was simply not an option (for which I am eternally grateful to my parents!!) But challenged by vegetables that I loved cooked but seemed so alien raw and in conjunction with flavours and textures previously not associated with them, it tried my good manners and I would take the smallest possible amount of salad without giving offence. Even then it was noted that I “didn’t really care for salad” when our respective mothers chatted over the fence.

 

Happily my tastes shifted when I became an adult and now I would choose salad in preference to cooked veg, I love mixing up flavours and textures and trying new combinations, I prefer all vegetables cooked as little as possible to retain as much of the bite, texture, flavour and nutrients as I can. Some things of course have to be cooked but generally I like the things I used to be afraid of. Even things I truly detested as a child such as aubergine, olives and lentils have become staples – and in fact aubergine sautéed with garlic, braised lentils and bowls of juicy olives are very high on my list of things I would chose as my last meal should that unfortunate choice ever be mine to make…

 

Some time in early January I start to feel especially strong cravings for salad despite it’s not really being salad sort of season at all. I think perhaps the short days, drear weather and hearty winter food (not to mention the rich overindulgence that Christmas often brings) coagulates into a stodginess of both mind and spirit. And in response, my body craves fresh flavours and crisp, clean tasting food to replenish the reserves of nutrients that are starting to ebb with the depths of this season that out here in the country seems to last for half the year and tries every sense to it’s utmost.

 

I like to start salad seedlings off indoors as soon in the New Year as I can but the truth is no matter how much cosseting they receive they are not as happy and vigorous as their younger siblings that are started off in March. The light levels conspire against them and with the gentle heat in the conservatory where I place them, they can quickly etiolate into pale sickly beanpoles and it takes a lot of tenderness and faffing to get them to an edible stage by about March.

 

I didn’t start that early this year but am still pleased to be picking salad at the very beginning of April – if I’d checked the tunnel a few days earlier I’m sure I could have taken this first wee harvest at the end of March. First in the beds were some old plantlets that didn’t get planted out last summer for various reasons. They’d sat outside over winter looking miserable and rather than chuck them on the compost, I decided to plant them in the tunnel to see if I could gain a few leaves before they bolted. They are starting to flower but have indeed thrown out a few leaves that will do for one meal so I’m glad I did this. There were also a couple of plants of Cavalo di Nero – black kale – which has a lovely flavour and is a handsome plant with it’s fleur de lys structure.

Image

 

I had several packets of old seed that I just chucked into pots of compost to see what grew so there are no particular culinary reasons for what is available now. The two staples I insist on though are Cilantro for my coriander fix

Image

and some kind of cos lettuce such as Little Gem or Romaine.

Image

We also had some cut and come again leaves from the supermarket and once I’d used them up I tore the compost bound roots and stubs of the stalks into strips and planted those out as well and they are starting to come back which is good – these look mostly to be oak leaf types.

 

The middle section is spinach at one end and mizuna, rocket, watercress and other mustard type leaves at the other. With the exception of the spinach, these being brassicas are quite peppery and get more piquant with age so it’s good to pick these young. I will eat them raw but I find the flavour somewhat “dirty” and so for these I decided to wilt them briefly in the steamer to tone them down a little. I served them with a dollop of yoghurt thinned with a splash of fresh lemon juice and some seasoning, lemon zest and finely chopped gherkin folded in as a relish. I’d also dug up a few beetroot so I peeled and grated one of these to go with the green wilted and raw leaves. They don’t half make a mess with the magenta stains the juice leaves everywhere but so sweet and tasty you have to forgive them this one fault. Beetroot is so much more versatile than the sad little vac packs of vinegar soaked balls on sale in supermarkets which taste of slimy-nothing-much.

 Image

In all it took less than 10 minutes to pick and prepare this plate of salad to go with some mini fishcakes and I enjoyed every mouthful – signifying as it does the promise of more good things from the soil this year. Green fingers crossed that is….

Spuds u like

It’s still early in the growing season here being so high up. We have a very short growing season as we’re situated around 1000ft above sea level, our hillside holding faces North and our soil is heavy clay over a limestone substrate which means with our high annual rainfall the soil is cold and claggy for a good part of the spring and autumn comes swiftly and cool to stop plants in their tracks. So for me, having a polytunnel and greenhouse is an essential part of growing the things I like to eat. The outdoor plants take advantage from being started off under cover and sown in plugs and pots where their root structure allows as mice and slugs are quick to pick off anything sown outside. And the tender vegetable that I love so much – tomatoes, aubergine, peppers, chillies, cucumbers and some squash – have to be grown under plastic or glass if I’m to get any chance at a harvest at all.

So in the greenhouse I have various trays of seedlings coming up and growing on where I’ve pricked them out.

P1090896

These include spinach and salad leaves,

P1090894

tomatoes, peppers and one measly aubergine seedling (I’ll have to purchase some plantlets later – the seed was evidently a bit old!) and rather a lot of celeriac and Alpine strawberry seedlings because they took so long to come up that I sowed more thinking it was a dead loss. Ha…. I think friends will be getting celeriac and strawberry plants if they all come good!

I also have Flat Leaf Parsley (one of my brother’s favourite herbs) and Coriander (without doubt my favourite herb, I could live on the stuff!)

P1090891

 

P1090889

Outside in trays on the racking I have some sweet peas in Rootrainers,

P1090885

P1090883

cabbage seedlings (too early but I was given these – more on this another day)

P1090874

and some peas coming up in gutters. I really can’t direct sow peas and beans as the local mice think it’s manna from heaven and not one will make it through to shoot above the soil!

Out in the veg plot itself though all is still damp and chilly – the beds have been weeded and in some cases mucked with FYM courtesy of the digestive systems of our varied animals. This year they have mostly been covered with black plastic – partly to give myself a head start on weeds but also to help warm the soil up before planting. Today I dug up the last of the carrots – we’ve been eating them since last August so this is probably the best harvest of carrots I’ve had and they taste so much better than shop bought ones. I’ve also dug up the last of the parsnips and put them in the Root Store. There are still some beetroot in the ground and they will come up soon as well. The Chard is hanging around looking quite sorry for itself after a severe trimming by rogue chickens but now it’s netted I hope ot have a few more meals off it before it starts bolting uncontrollably.

Last week I started planting out the seed potatoes. I don’t usually chit potatoes – the ones that inevitably get left behind after harvest the crop seem to manage to grow perfectly well just where you don’t want them! No chitting, no cosseting, no planting them carefully with the eyes upwards. Nope, these spuds that have been hanging around all winter (“Moochers” as Phil calls them, because they mooch around waiting to come up) grow very well when it’s just right for them. So I tend to fuss less and plant more now.

The past few years I’ve only grown main crop varieties but this year I decided for no special reason to grow some earlies as well. So for First Earlies I’ve got Home Guard, Second Earlies are Charlotte 

Image

and for Main Crop Cara which are the best I’ve found to grow here and for taste. So many varieties of potato are deadly dull and mushy when cooked and I don’t really see the point of growing them. I like to grow Anya as a salad potato but they really do succumb to the blight badly here so this year I probably shan’t bother. They are a variant of Pink Fir Apple – delicious but with all the knobbles a bit of a faff to deal with when cooking. Anya have the same fabulous taste and are much better behaved in the kitchen. My favourite main crop potato is Desiree but these don’t grow very well here at all. They grew very well in the garden of our childhood home which was dryer and sheltered and they cropped well. Here the crops are poor and scabby and the blight razes them to the ground before they can grow to a decent size. I have put in 6 seed potatoes of Desiree just for old times sake but I’m not expecting much of them. One or two tasty meals will be fine. I’ve planted a few Home Guard and Charlotte in the greenhouse bed too to try and force a slightly earlier crop – hopefully in around 10 weeks time. Can’t wait!

So now they’re all safely tucked up underground – hope the mice don’t find them before they grow!

Image

Bits and bobs…

Internet connections have gone from poor to non-existant lately – not much help with blogging! But it does mean there’s more time and less distractions to get on with things in the real world.

Apart from building a bathroom (ongoing project – will be so glad when it’s finished!) I’ve been making chocolate seashells filled with hazelnut chocolate spread for a Mothering Sunday gift…

Image

Image

Image

…inventing my own version of Rum Baba after a friend brought us one back from a visit to family in the Cayman Islands…

Image

Image

….which was soaked in honey from our own bees and rum. A bit dry due to the 100% wholemeal flour I used but at some point I’m going to do a gluten free version which I think will work better. Mmmmm…

And in spinning terms I’ve been carding up batts for a cardigan to take part in the Spinalong in my friend Katie’s Ravelry group HilltopCloud. It might only be edging into Spring here in Wales but like all good fashionistas (ha! As if!) I’m looking two seasons ahead… Actually it’s just that Autumn is my favourite season and I want to knit myself a snuggly autumn cardigan in this burnt orange colour. So I’ve turned these fibres – ginger commercially dyed merino, corriedale lambs fleece and dyed red silk

Image

…into 22 neat little batts like this…

Image

It’s spinning up beautifully and I’m looking forward to knitting myself something with it later in the year.

I’ve been dyeing fleece and knitting more socks amongst other things but those will have to wait for another day.