Indian Corn – weaving project

Sometimes I help my friend Katie out on her stall when she goes to fibre shows. If you’re already a customer of HilltopCloud and go to fibre shows then you might have seen me there trying to be helpful ;0) – waves! – and we moderate for each other’s Ravelry groups too. We go to the same guild and we get together to spin, knit and weave at other times too. It’s nice to be able to help each other with projects or work as we share similar textile interests and so my latest weaving project has been for Katie as a sample for her next show – Yarndale in Skipton, Yorkshire, UK this coming weekend. I was able to weave this up on my trusty Schacht Flip rigid heddle loom which I’ve had for a while now and really love but also using my new Schacht loom stand which was an awesome early birthday/Christmas present from Katie herself and has made my weaving life an awful lot easier! ;0)

When we were packing up the stall at Woolfest in June I asked Katie if she’d let me play around with some of the hand dyed BFL pencil roving. It was a new stock item for 2014 she first dyed up this year before Wonderwool Wales and can be used for spinning just like regular roving or even just knitted up as it is as super chunky yarn. I really wanted to try weaving with it though – I love texture in textiles as much as or more than I love colour and I felt the thick yarn/thin rovings were just begging to be woven. One of Katie’s signature dyeing techniques is using really short runs of colour in random effects, something that’s enhanced on the very thin rovings and I thought this would be really interesting to explore as a weft yarn. She kindly picked out a ball for me: hopefully the deal worked on both sides – I got to play with the yarn and if it went to plan, Katie got a sample to go on display!

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Here’s the original ball of dyed roving. It’s various shades of red with browns and a few peachy pink shades in really short sections but because the colours are tonal and analogous (next to each other in the colour wheel/spectrum) they blend in well together rather than shouting out.

Because I procrastinate for England and also because I wasn’t entirely sure what warp I wanted to use I didn’t get around to weaving this for quite some time. I did know that Katie needed it for this weekend – so I had a deadline – and we’d arranged to meet up for a spinning day this week so she needed it by then so I could give it to her as I’m not going to Yarndale myself. Recently I picked up some “vintage”100%  wool yarns from a local shop and some are a really rich walnut brown and are quite a heavy DK weight so I decided one of these skeins would work well and warped up the loom at 10epi.

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I would have preferred 8 epi but I don’t have a heddle that size just yet and I wanted more of a weft faced weave effect so I knew I was going to have to beat each pick down quite hard to get that given how close together my warp was.

However the thick warp and super chunky roving weft simply flew by; I was really happy with how it was turning out. In just a few minutes I had this.

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You can see how the weft is popping up between the warp threads. Lovely texture!

It really didn’t take very long to use up the warp on the loom – I hadn’t put a very long warp on. Being something really new to me, I wasn’t sure what yardage of fabric I was going to get even though I did have yardage on the yarns. It went a lot further than I expected though. I had a lovely morning weaving in the autumn sunshine with a cup of coffee and some music on.

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September is my favourite month (well OK so I was born in September!) – I love autumn best of all and the first few weeks of September are like coming home to me. I love peaceful methodic tasks where I can think freely whilst my hands are busy. Tabby weave with texture – it doesn’t really get much better than that! September is also a month that makes me think of corn – as in sweetcorn or corn on the cob. It’s a family favourite and I would often request it as my birthday meal. I’ve already had one meal of home grown corn on the cob this month although the sweetcorn didn’t do that well for me this year – there were high winds when the male flowers were ready to pollinate and at this altitude when the wind blows, things end up a mile away before you can blink. So the pollen didn’t really make it down onto the female flowers sadly. However we did get one meal of corn at least! I grilled it to bring out the sweetness – if you grill or barbecue it you don’t even need to add butter to it. Although as a treat, butter and salt on sweetcorn on the cob is just delicious! I thought that this weaving looked really similar to the texture of Indian Corn – the ornamental maize that is left to dry on the cob so the kernels are hard and shiny. It’s multi coloured in shades of red, green, brown as well as yellow. It’s really pretty and makes a great autumn ornament (don’t try smearing butter on and eating it though – you’ll break your teeth!!)

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What do you think – Indian Corn or what?

I cut the fabric from the loom and fulled it by hand. I was undecided whether to make a bag or a cushion or if I should just give the fabric to Katie as it was. I really wanted to see it made up into a cushion though so I zigzagged the edges and sewed it up ready to stuff. I also made some felt flowers in toning colours of merino to ornament it. I decided I’d better wait for Katie’s verdict before I got too carried away – luckily she liked it and so I sewed on the felt flowers but left it to her mum Elaine who is a talented needlewomen behind the etsy shop Quince Pie to finish off the cushion.

So I don’t have any photos of the finished cushion I’m sorry – but lucky me I got to keep what was rest of the ball of roving so I can make another cushion for my own living room. When I’ve done that I’ll post a picture for you to see. I’ve really enjoyed this mixed media project. If you’re going to Yarndale this weekend (I’m not – I’ve got a Macmillan Coffee Morning to host!) then why not head over to HilltopCloud’s stand to see Katie and Elaine’s wares and see if you can snag yourself some pencil rovings to play with too? And if not, I’m sure there’ll be some more in her etsy shop when they come back – well if I don’t snaffle it all first that is! ;0)

Here Be Dragons… (and owls)

The second Saturday of the month is when our local Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers meets. I’ve missed a few meetings this year one way or another – normally I’m there every month. So I felt a bit bad about not going to the September meeting either but every year it falls on the same day as our village fete and I’ve not been to that for some time so I decided this year I’d put in an appearance locally instead.

It’s called “DragonFest”. It’s a village fete/sports day with a difference! A few years ago when I was at a village coffee morning, one of my neighbours told me of a great idea he had – how about a themed fete centred around dragons? After all, it’s the emblem on the Welsh Flag – Y Ddraig Goch or “The Red Dragon”. He went on to explain how he thought it would be great if everybody made dragons out of whatever they wanted and displayed them in their gardens, there would be stalls and a Dragon Roast (hog roast) and so on. Dragon festivals happened in China he said but this would be the only one in Wales – how about it!? “Great idea” I said, “talk to Mike” and dragged him over to see Mike, one of our local movers and shakers who is great at getting things going. Mike also said “great idea!” but blanched at taking on any more organising and so the idea got passed around a few more people and in September that year the first DragonFest was born. Several of us in our Knit n Natter group got together one day to build dragons out of chicken wire and papier mache, muslin and egg boxes – we had great fun doing this. Predictably the dragons mostly ended up with Welsh names…

Each year the DragonFest commands stunningly good weather (so much so that people now plan to go on holiday that week!) and has grown with different people helping out – not me I’m ashamed to say. Everybody has a great time and it’s now held in it’s own community field known as “Dragon Field” and most of the village turns out to take part in the fun and games and decorate their houses and gardens with jokey dragons sitting by the stream fishing, clutching a pint of beer, hanging out of trees, hiding in bushes roaring scarily at the small children walking past (not sure that’s a good idea actually!!). One dragon disappears into the side of one house only for the other end to emerge out of the wall round the corner. Sometimes dragon footprints can be seen down paths, some people have clutches of dragon eggs mysteriously appear in their gardens and some even have baby dragons.

This year my friend Nick who is the owner/maker of the business Kirsten Berry Crafts on both Deviant arts and Etsy which sells handmade dragon sculptures was taking a stall there along with his brother whose business sells the polymer clay that the dragons are made from. I said I’d join them to keep them company and because I would have been spinning anyway, I took my spinning wheel along. Our guild often does demonstrations at shows and fairs locally to spread the fibre love and encourage people to try their hand at fibre crafts so it’s not so very different to what we normally do – even if I was going unofficially. I piled all my skeins of handspun into the car and added my spare wheel just in case I could tempt anyone to try spinning and headed down to the village with our friends and my mum.

I missed parts of the opening parade – local school children make dragons and parade around the field to open the fete. I was busy spinning and by the time I’d found my camera, the children had marched their crocodile/dragon past so I didn’t get very good photos of these. They put so much effort into them!

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Because it’s 100 years since the start of the First World War this year, the theme was apparently WWI. But it was quite hard for people to stick to the theme I think so it seemed to drift into WWII instead and thus Vera Lynn serenaded us from the speaker system along with other music from the 1940’s and after the children had taken part in some sports this Landrover entered the field…

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The music being played was a bit of a giveaway as to what was about to happen next…

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Although I have to say I was a bit surprised when the members of Dad’s Army started Line Dancing…

Even more surprising is that several of them are our builders!! ;0) They all looked great though and Pikey, Corporal Jones, Mr Mainwaring, Sergeant Wilson etc were all quite recognisable – even if they go by other names on weekdays!!!

Because I was spinning all afternoon with our friend Sue joining me on my spare wheel (knew it was a good idea to bring it along!) and talking to people who wanted to know what we were doing, how to make yarn and so on, I didn’t get a chance to look around much. My mum and Sue fed me bits of roasted dragon (tasted like pork) and ice cream (didn’t know dragons made ice cream) at various intervals. But I did snatch a few minutes at the end and went to have a look at these rescue owls sitting very quietly on their perches.

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It was really interesting chatting to the man in charge – I didn’t realise you could buy birds of prey from licensed breeders – as long as they’re bred in captivity then it’s quite legal. Unfortunately as with any other pet, these birds can get abandoned when people find they’re harder to look after than they thought, didn’t realise the diet or housing requirements they need, stop being cute fluffy chicks or just get bored. Years of working for vets means I have very negative feelings about both those who breed animals for pets for sale and caged/captive animals – you see the results of too much cruelty and neglect and more unloved animals to ever want to actually buy an animal purely as a pet. There are just so many abandoned animals out there that need loving homes – rescued animals are very much a subject dear to my heart and all my animals have been acquired this way, sometimes missing body parts or with other life changing injuries. I call them my “recycled animals” and I’ve had tons of love over the years from these little furry persons ;0) So I’m glad there’s a charity able to take on specialised care for animals that couldn’t exist in the wild – nearly all these owls are non-native breeds I’d never even heard of, let alone seen. Some of these owls can live for decades so it’s really important they have appropriate care and safe homes for their entire lifespan and it’s quite a commitment for the charity.

I’m not sure I’m going to get these names right but let’s have a go! ;0)

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Brown Wood Owl

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This chap was my favourite! White Faced Scops Owl

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I think this is the Indian Scops Owl…

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African Barn Owl

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British Tawny Owl – these are the ones that sit outside my bedroom window at night hooting like crazy. I like to hear them – but they are very noisy at times!!

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Chaco Owl

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I’d wondered how they felt about being awake during the day, they all looked very sleepy. This little chap was making no effort to be on his best behaviour, I think he wanted to go home for a proper snooze…

I think he was the Sundra Scops Owl – but then I didn’t really get a proper look! ;0)

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African Spotted Eagle Owl – with his/her ear tufts flattened. Also looking a bit cheesed off…

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And this was a British Kestrel. Not sure if the heat was getting to it or if they sit like this for some other reason. It was quite a muggy day. Perhaps it was just trying to vary the posture to jazz things up a bit. There’s only so long you can sit still on a post after all…

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They were fund raising by allowing people to pay to hold an owl (with the appropriate help and a falconry glove to protect hands and arms). This little girl had a nice time holding “Casper” whilst I was there. I left a donation but didn’t hold an owl – I would have liked to but I felt a bit sorry for them after a day there being admired by everyone. Although they were content and well looked after and it’s great that they tour round raising awareness about owls generally and the owl sanctuary also helps to preserve our native breeds of owl which are sadly on the decline thanks to us humans :0(

So that was my day out with dragons and owls!!

For now to continue the dragon theme, I’m spinning up some red batts made from merino/shetland/bamboo and gold sparkly firestar to knit some Smaug socks by Claire Ellen to join in a fun Knitalong on Ravlery. They look a bit more tricky than my normal sock knitting so wish me luck!!

Build a Batt Box – September – Kaffee und Kuchen

September’s Build a Batt box is all about tasty things!

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Once upon a time, many years ago – well about 9 years ago – my mum hit on the idea of starting a Knit n Natter group for us and some of our neighbours. This was an interesting idea because at the time although mum and I could both technically knit, neither of us really enjoyed it. nevertheless she invited a couple of our neighbours, Glenys and Jo, and we baked cake, made coffee and had a lovely time.

Mum asked Glenys one day to bring her spinning wheel as she quite liked the idea of learning to spin. We all had a go – not very successfully – and it bugged me that I couldn’t do it. So before too long, mum and I found our way to our local guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers where I had another go, loved it, hired a wheel, made new friends, bought my first spinning wheel and the rest is history. Several more people learned to spin and spinning wheels popped up in houses all around our area. We carried on with our Knit n Natter’s every couple of weeks, a few more people joined, some moved away. I even learned to love knitting…

After a few years our friend Jo was given the sad news that she had secondary cancer. She underwent gruelling chemotherapy about the same time as various other things upset the routine of the lives of some of the rest of us so we met far less frequently. We still had a great time when we did find time to meet and found that we forged new, even stronger bonds over knitting, spinning and our coffee and cake sessions as we all rallied round to support each other as life got more shadowy…

During that time Jo found much support in the visits of her MacMillan Nurse. She moved heaven and earth to support Jo and her husband through the dark times, the treatments with practical help and moral support. I’d never really had any contact with MacMillan Cancer Support but I started to realise what vital work they do for people living with cancer and their loved ones. Each September I joined in with The World’s Biggest Coffee Morning to help raise money for MacMillan so people like Jo could have the support they so needed. Sometimes I organised an event, sometimes it was just our friends and neighbours but each penny counts to helping someone living with cancer.

In 2012 Jo passed away. She was so strong, she fought hard to stay here with the people she loved and her precious animals and we were graced with her presence for longer than any of us could have hoped. I miss her so much. She left all of us with special memories and I think of her often. Her brother and sister told me that she’d often spoken of Knit n Natter and how much meeting together and crafting together had helped her and made things easier to bear.

Since then we’ve held a MacMillan coffee morning in her memory. This September it will probably be just a small group of us, I’ve not had time to do anything bigger. We’ll still gather to have what Jo used to call “cup of coffee and a sticky bun” and chat and laugh and craft together and donate to help others.

So the September Build a Batt Box is called “Kaffee und Kuchen” – don’t coffee and cake go together with knitting and spinning like a horse and carriage?! It’s made up of rich coffee and chocolate shades with hints of cappuccino and latte. To compliment it, I’ve chosen to pair it with deep berry shades of damson, plum, cherry. I thought of a scrumptious Black Forest Gateaux (only this isn’t the time of year for cherries :0)

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All around in the hedgerows at the moment juicy fruits are peeping out from the leaves.

Blackberries…

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Damsons…

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Sloes…

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And in the garden autumn varieties of soft fruits are bursting with flavour and sweetness in the last of the sunshine like these Autumn Bliss raspberries…

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Alpine strawberries ‘Mignonette”…

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And although the wasps are starting to make inroads into them, there are plums high up out of reach in the trees behind our house…

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This month I chose to over dye brown BFL tops – Jo’s favourite fibre to spin – with damson and cherry shades of dye leaving some of the natural fibre to show through.

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Instead of dyed alpaca I thought it would be nice to have the rich natural shades of coffee, chocolate and fawn. The carded batt “Cappucino” is made up from alpaca, merino and soy silk and instead of dyed Gotland curls I’ve included some soft bouncy Welshland (one of my crossbred Gotland x Black Welsh Mountain) and I’ve over dyed the black staples with deep plum shades so it’s created a warm black a bit like ripening blackberries.

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The merino pack is plummy and fruity with a hint of bitter chocolate

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and the add ins of firestar, silk noil, silk are dyed in similar shades teamed up with milky soysilk and chocolatey bamboo. There isn’t any textured silk waste this month but the alpaca trio is 30g instead of the usual 25g which hopefully makes up for that :0)

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Hopefully you can make something tasty out of these fibres – maybe you should put the kettle on before you start diving in!

As an extra, for each “Kaffee und Kuchen” box sold, I will donate £1 of the profit to my MacMillan fundraising this year. Even small amounts of money count – just £25 helps to pay for a MacMillan Nurse for one hour. An hour that could make a real difference to someone who is frightened or suffering.

The boxes will go on sale at coffee time tomorrow – 11am 9th September – in my etsy shop