Domani, domani…

Time flies and the weeds grow. It’s now the longest day and full steam ahead in the plant world and the weeds and I are neck and neck. Although if I am being truthful it’s more that they have got me by the neck. I’ve been reduced to a slash and burn policy – I’ll do whatever it takes to kneecap them and get me back ahead before they flower, set seed and laugh in my face for years to come. I don’t use weedkillers – partly because I find them largely ineffectual for more than a temporary halt to proceedings, partly because I dislike them and most garden herbicides are indiscriminate about what they kill beyond monocotyledon and dicotyledons and I’m growing this stuff to eat after all. And also because I have lots of animals both pet and wild wandering around the garden so for me weed control is always going to involve a certain amount of elbow grease and sweat and turning a blind eye to some of it – it’s good to remember that some of the more thuggish weeds are also beneficial or vital for wildlife or the general ecosystems so a bit of mess in plant terms is good for everybody. I just need to be able to find my veggies in amongst it all though…

Various things are vying for my time and attention just now but the garden came back to the forefront this week as on Monday I completed my shearing for 2014 and the sheep were all primped and tidied and ready to go back out into the field to grow nice fleeces for next winter! So I’ve been hoeing, pulling, digging and cutting at the weeds and planting out and tying up the veggies to try and keep some semblance of order. Some of them had been a bit neglected but for a week or so I think we’re back on track.

It wouldn’t be mid summer without roses and these are some of my favourite flowers. I like flowers to smell nice so I stick my nose into these beauties every time I walk past because I know they won’t last as long as I want them to. 

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Compassion

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and Gertrude Jekyll which was a gift from a neighbour when I started gardening to encourage me. There are other lovely flowers around wafting out scent, the wisteria pushed out roughly 3 blooms this year – nice whilst it lasted, in your own time Wisteria… It’s parsimonious with the flowers this particular plant.

And we have mock orange blossom spouting out perfume behind the roses and the stocks mum grew from seed are behind the house. Lovely.

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The currants are starting to ripen which is attracting the attention of the blackbirds so they need netting

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as do the strawberries – only a few large ones but I also grew 120 alpine strawberries Mignonette from seed

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The celeriac are settling in nicely and are largely unmolested by pests. And by planting them in blocks it makes it easier to hoe between them

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The January King cabbages are doing Ok and not bolting yet which I’d half thought they’d do. And the butterflies aren’t around yet but it will be any day now and then it will be caterpillar patrol from then on!

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Carrots are always netted here otherwise the carrot fly trash the entire crop. These are mostly Autumn King and doing nicely in their own little netting tunnel. I have Paris Market and Nantes elsewhere too.

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Calabrese that got planted out on Wednesday – one of my favourites and also next door, another bed of Romanesco – a sort of cauliflower but it’s green like calabrese and like a pointed spiral. It tastes delicious – far nicer than cauliflower and also nicer than calabrese – and that’s nice enough!

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The leeks – hannibal I think this year or it could have been Bleu de Salais also got planted out – they looked good, I managed to get them nice and fat before planting out. On our clay they get lost if the seedlings are too grasslike so hopefully there should be some nice leeks in the winter. I love these! Especially with cheese sauce… ;0) There were only a few dwarf french beans as the seeds failed badly at germination so I’ve sown some more yesterday. I’ve also sown some radish and spring onions in this bed.

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The broad beans have gone mental and overtaken the spinach next door! No beans yet though..

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And the courgette got planted out by the runner beans and the onions….

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….which are doing really nicely this year.

This year I’ve also experimented with a sweet pea tunnel as described by Sarah Raven. So far it looks a little scruffy – I built it out of hazel trimmed from our field hedges in the winter 

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but the sweet peas are getting to grips with it

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and even throwing out the odd flower here and there already

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and hopefully it will look really pretty by the end of the summer

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The raspberries look a bit lost though – next job is to excavate them before they suffocate!!

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The next batch of seeds got sown – the french beans of course as well as various cabbage varieties

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I like to use Seeds of Italy, it’s a great London based company and the varieties are good and interesting, grow well and you get lots of seed for your money unlike with some other seed companies. I also like their philosophy and they are friendly and family run. So most of the vegetables I’m growing have Italian names which makes even the mundane like cabbage seem rather exotic.

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Cavolo Nero, Cavolo rosso, Finocchio, Cavolo di Bruxelles, Basilico Italiano Genovese...

it sounds much more appealing than kale, red cabbage, fennel, brussels sprouts and basil.

This combined with the fact we’re watching Francesco da Mosto’s Mediterranean Voyage on a loop each evening at the moment whilst I spin and knit makes me wonder if I shouldn’t add learning Italian to my list of “things to do”. Never enough hours in the day! I’d better get on with some more gardening whilst we have maximum daylight hours. Happy MidSummer…

Ciao!

 

 

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Fibre to Dye For

A couple of days ago we had our Guild annual Dyeing Day. This is held at a members house rather than the community hall we usually meet at and this year it was hosted by Katie at her home and dyeing caravan on the edges of Snowdonia.

Katie probably lives the furthest away of all our guild members in a really stunning part of Wales so those of us who were able to go piled into car shares to head over to her home in the hills – as our friend Jill “Wrigglefingers” who was also able to join us for the day commented as I drove through some of the glorious scenery “Why does Mid Wales have to be so heart breakingly beautiful…”

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It was looking particularly lovely on Saturday because the weather was glorious and there were lots of flowers out in the garden – Katie’s mum Elaine is a green fingered wizard and I have serious garden envy whenever I visit!!

Katie, Jill and myself dye on a fairly regular basis and some other participants had done some dyeing before but the group also included eager newbie dyers so Katie ran through her method for measuring and using dye stocks, soaking fibre and explaining her set up whilst we all had a coffee (with a bit of heckling from Jill and myself) before everybody was let loose on the fibre and dyes.

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I disappeared into the little bathroom part of Katie’s caravan to soak everybody’s fibre with the hose as the tubs were passed to me through the door and Katie and Jill started to help everyone sort out what colours they were wanting to use and get their dyes ready and take them into the caravan to be painted on rovings, tops and in some cases knitted sock blanks laid out on the long worktops.

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I commandeered the stockpot and gas stove (although I left the lighting of it to Jill – euwww scary gas, uh oh, I am a chicken) to help those who’d brought fleeces dye them with the stove top method. Once everybody had got some fibre dyed and wrapped up ready for steaming/cooking or simmering it was almost lunchtime and we headed up to the BBQ to get it lit and the food everybody had brought to share laid out.

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We mostly managed to squeeze into the “bus stop” to have a really cracking lunch (our guild is a bit of a legend when it comes to bring and share lunches!!) and then it was back to see what marvels people had created on their fibre now it was ready to take out of the oven or steamer and also start on some more batches of dyeing.

I love this photo, I just popped out of the caravan and took it without really thinking so I’m not sure what going on – I can’t decide if there’s a mass break out of food poisoning after the sausages (not really lol!) or if a fleece had escaped and provoked a fibre hunt, presumably a little bit like a paper chase. Only fluffier…. ;0)

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The heat really started to crank up in the afternoon what with the caravan effectively being a metal box in the full sun, the oven and steamer on and quite a few hot sweaty and increasingly multi coloured ladies splashing dye around as inspiration struck. I somewhat rashly offered to dye some silk top my friend Dawn had soaked but didn’t think she had the energy left to dye – it seemed a shame not to get some dye on it as it had been soaking ready since the night before and I wasn’t planning on doing any dyeing for myself as I do quite a bit several times a week now. It turned out there was over 400g of top in the bucket though and wrangling it was a bit like juggling slippery sausage skins before stuffing them (I had a sausage business in a former life so I have a LOT of experience in wrangling sausage skins – the similarity between soaked pig guts and soaked silk top is alarming…) Silk top is more tricky to dye than brick, harder to get the dye to penetrate to the centre and I started to fret it wasn’t going to come out very well. Dawn liked my suggested colour palette but somehow it went a bit out of the window due to various factors and it all came out a lot lighter than I’d planned. I like it though – and thankfully she does too. Although if she decided she didn’t, at least two of us would have been happy to take the whole lot off her hands… ;0)

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Happily the other dyeing that people had done was just gorgeous and everybody was apparently thrilled with their dyeing – I think there was an awful lot more than I took pictures of but people had started to go home so I missed to take photos. here is what I did manage to snap – sometimes by barking at people to “put it back!!” because I hadn’t finished taking photos… ;0)

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It was a long and fun day – my shoulders got quite toasted in the sun and I was so tired driving home I just completely missed the turning to drop one of my friends off in her village so had to take the scenic route through Welshpool (sorry folks!) to get back on track.

I’ve had a day off since and today I’ve been shearing the last of my sheep for 2014 but I’ll be back in the saddle dyeing again tomorrow but for BarberBlackSheep this time – hopefully some more bags of dyed fleeces to go in the shop and for carding into batts.

A Brush with Hand Carding: the Rough Guide

Whew! Sorry for the radio silence! It’s been all go here getting to grips with my new Etsy shop and attempting to keep on top of the garden and shearing my sheep. Whilst my days have suddenly got even busier (were that possible) I am enjoying all the new challenges along with the old and the sun is shining and things thriving which always make life easier – even if it does give the weeds in the garden a very unfair advantage!!

I did want however to put up a post about hand carding wool as I’d promised a few people I would try to do this. I have a confession: hand carding is not my forte. I’ve been spinning and prepping fibre for spinning for 8 years now and right from the off, I struggled with hand carding and shortly after got myself a drumcarder which has been my favourite fibre prep tool ever since. But Hand carding is a good skill to master – it’s quick and simple to prepare fleece, blend up samples or colour changing fibres, it’s essential for true woollen spinning as the airy rolags produced by hand carding are the basic “bricks” of the woollen yarn which is basically a tube of wool with a core of air made by the springyness of carded wool fibres running everywhichway. It’s also embarrassing to be competent at spinning and rubbish at hand carding because truly, it’s almost the first thing you show a new spinner before they even touch their spindle or wheel so it doesn’t give a very confident start when teaching if you have to gloss over the making of rolags!

Last year the very lovely Amanda Hannaford from MandaCrafts taught a workshop at our guild on Longdraw Spinning which was thoroughly enjoyable. Amanda is a wonderful teacher, patient and clear and super person to talk with and be around – if you are looking for a workshop for your guild or spinning group then I highly recommend her workshops. She is in demand both in the UK and abroad so book early! Amanda preceeded her Longdraw workshop with a general quick workshop on hand carding for all of the guild not just the workshop participants and finally I was able to make sense of the actually very simple process with her calm, clear teaching and I wondered why I’d made such a fuss about it for so long! I still don’t generally hand card a lot but lately I’ve done quite a bit with the Hand Dyed Gotland I sell – I’ve found that Gotland cards into rolags beautifully which surprised me it’s classed as a long wool which you don’t normally card but comb. I’ve always approached Gotland in a worsted or semi worsted manner but woollen spinning it from rolags is now my favourite new way of prepping Gotland!

If you are new to hand carding, I strongly recommend you get someone competent to give you a lesson – it really does make the difference to picking it up. Failing that, there are some videos on YouTube, they do vary slightly but if you watch a few then you should get the general idea. I’ve done a series of photos to show how I do it which I hope might help as well and so the rest of this post is very picture heavy! (I also realised afterwards the I didn’t choose the best colour of wool for this as it’s similar to the backing cloth of the carders. Live and Learn….)

Hand cards come in different cloths – these ones are average 72points/teeth per inch (pip/tpi) and are good for most general carding and blending wool and other fibres. Finer cards can be used to card finer fibres and finest of all are cotton hand cards. It’s easier to card with a “broken in” set of carders where the teeth are more flexible but some makes of cards are nice and soft already. They range in price and if you intend to do a lot of carding then it pays to invest in a good pair but a sturdy set of second hand ones will probably be your best bet as the running in will already have been done. Choose wool that isn’t too long, 2-4 inches is manageable and gotland is a good wool to practice on providing the staple isn’t too long as it opens up easily and is also slightly “sticky” due to the nature of the fibre which helps to hold your rolag together whilst you get to grips with things.

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Start with washed wool, dyed or undyed doesn’t matter but you don’t want to card greasy wool. Tease out some locks and lay them on the carder in your left hand with the tips just dangling over the end and the butts about halfway up the carder.

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It’s better not to put too much wool on your carder, far easier to card and makes for a better carder. Less is always more with carding.

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Take your loaded carder in your left hand like this… Mine is propped on my left knee (under the cloth!)

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And grasp the other empty carder in your right hand thus…

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and spread your forefinger and thumb on the back like this to help stablise the card and control it more easily

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Just catch the tips of the wool with your right carder.

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You are aiming to gently “stroke” the fibre drawing the right carder from left to right across you as it were. Once you’ve opened up the tips on the first stroke it will look like this…

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Now continue gently stroking the fibre with your right carder moving further up the staples with each stroke to loosen the locks and transfer the fibre from the left to the right carder. Use slow, sweeping strokes – take your time. Make sure the fibres separate fully and watch when you bring your carder back down for the next stroke that the loose tips don’t waft forward and get caught under the carder as you bring it down because it will make a mess of your embryo rolag and so far it’s looking good. Not a race, just take it bit by bit and you can crank up the speed once you can make rolags in your sleep and you’ve entered a Sheep to Shawl contest…

In a few strokes time most of the fibre will have moved from the left carder to the right and it will look something like this.

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Not all the fibre will have moved and that’s fine. Now you want to transfer the fibre back off the right carder on to the left one so we pick up the right card and place the tip of the right card against the heel of the left carder (that’s by the handle) with the teeth facing each other at an angle of 45 degrees and brush the right carder down and across the left carder. This will transfer the fibres cleanly in one move and leave them on the top of the teeth of the left carder.

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In this photo I’ve got the carder on the right but it was the left carder I promise!!

Now begin the stroking again, right carder working on the loaded left carder and repeat the process until about half of the fibre is on each carder. This time, put the tip of the left carder carder against the heel of the right at 45 degrees and push to remove the fibre as you did the first time the opposite way around. Card the fibre again.

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(Ignore what my hands are doing here, I was just holding the cards with my left hand whilst taking the photo showing how the fibre peels off the carder as you strip it with this action.)

Have a look at the fibres. If they look carded well enough, no lumps of fibre and nice and evenly spread across the surface of the cards it’s time to remove it. If you think it could do with a bit more carding then repeat the carding sequence another time or two.

To remove the fibres from the teeth of the card, place the tip of the right carder against the heel of the left and remove the fibre as before

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and then without carding do the same with the left carder tip to the right carder heel

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(sounds complicated but basically you are just removing the fibres from each card without carding in between and the small “batt” of all the fibres will now sit on the top of the teeth of the right carder.

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Park your carder in your lap with the handle pointing away from your tummy and begin rolling the fibres up from nearest end of the carder to you. Use both hands, again I’ve only got one hand here because the other hand is holding the camera…

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You will form a sausage of fibres as you go and when you get to the top, pick up your “sausage” – now called a rolag – and bring it back down to the tip of the carder (nearest you)…

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…and roll it back up again over the teeth away from you which will firm it up as the teeth “tuck” the fibres into the rolag more and neatens the rolag up and makes it easier to handle.

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Voila!! You have a rolag! Repeat until you have a nice pile of fat little rolags to spin from – either you can lots and then just sit and spin or you can break up your actions but carding some and then spinning and then going back to carding. It might take longer but sometimes it’s a good thing to vary your actions so as not to put repetitive strain on your joints and muscles.

You can also easily blend fibres on your carder and here I will show an abbreviated version as you’re basically carding the same way as above, just adding more fibres at the beginning.

So, load you carder with the first fibre, remember, not too much otherwise it will be hard to card and blend and get a smooth result.

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I’ve started with the same fleece and I’m adding some commercially dyed merino tops here

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Place the tops on the carder over the other fibres and holding it down lightly with your left hand, pull on the tops with your right to leave a thin layer on top.

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Repeat over the surface of the carder so a thin layer of merino covers it.

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Here I’ve decided to add some bling with a bit of sparkly fibres – Firestar also known as Trilobal Nylon. A little goes a long way so go steady with applying this!

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Go through the carding process until you end up with the fibres blended to your satisfaction, you might need to do a couple more passes than with the plain fleece if you want it completely mixed together as I’ve done here.

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Roll up your rolag as before and admire your beautiful fibres!

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Hope this helps! ;0)