Advent: Stringing me along

Advent is around the corner and I for one am very excited about this. If Advent is a preparation for the Christmas season, then I’m not really sure what the preparation for Advent is called … but I’ve been hard at it throughout October and November with the initial planning in late September too. Yes, it’s time for the annual BarberBlackSheep Spinner’s Advent Calendar!

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By the end of November my work on this is done and I’m ready to sit back and let the spinners take over. Hopefully everybody has theirs now and has enjoyed putting them up or stowing them safely away to reduce the temptation to peek! I was asked for ideas as to how to hang the Calendar and I’d hoped to do a blog post about it. I’m really sorry but I’ve just run out of time to write up and photograph one and so I’ve turned to my lovely customers for their help. Each year it’s been fun to see how they choose to display theirs and there are some really great ideas. So the following are photos from my Ravelry group thread. I’ll include the link to their Ravelry name to credit them.

I do punch a hole in each packet to enable people to hang them up more easily with bits of yarn or ribbon or string. This year I’ve punched double holes in for different ways of threading them. It does take a little while to make the loops but then again, it’s a great way to use up scraps of pretty hand spun yarn that is too short for anything else (other than tying skeins of course!)

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This first photo is from Kokori and she has chosen to hang hers with pegs. It’s lovely and colourful because, like a few other Advent spinners, she’s also taken part in the Advent Calendar swap on the Ravelry UK spinners group too so she has a double dose of spinning fun this December. She’s already had some great ideas for using her Advent yarns in a project which I can’t wait to see in due course. You can see her swatch in the BarberBlackSheep thread here.

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Twit2woo has also chosen pegs along a line – as she says, she’s wisely left a gap directly above the woodburner though to avoid accidents! Although wool is naturally fire-retardant, the paper bags the fibres are wrapped are definitely flammable! Twit2woo is a seasoned Advent spinner and strung her 2016 calendar above a window.

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Ellaria‘s hanging choice from last year and the year before involved hanging 4 straight knitting needles from a door with twine and pegging the packets to the needles. I confess that Ellaria’s pegs have become something of a favourite Advent thing for me because how can you possibly resist sparkly dinosaurs?…

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Ellaria also reminded us that the first year we did this, someone (I’m sorry, I forget who) had theirs in a bowl on their desk. This mention has inspired gaynorgraves to come up with this beautiful arrangement in a basket complete with fairy lights and decorations.

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firetriniti is another double calendar spinner from the UK Spinners swap. I’m really looking forward to seeing the swap this year – was it last year or the year before that by complete co-incidence the first two days of fibres were the same colour as the ones I’d planned which was very spooky! Wonder if we’ll get any matching days this year! Firetriniti initially didn’t think she had space to hang out her calendars but got creative over the window with string and paperclips … and it’s lovely and festive!

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And mjm has created a “tree” to hang hers on – this is created from nails and handspun yarn which is a really innovative way of “hanging” the packets and Christmas decorations. I love the little colourwork mitten there too!

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Another lovely Christmas Tree shape from Jennie13

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Colourful lights adorning hissyspittykitty’s calendar.

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emmadayle has hers in the living room strung through the holes (I think!) and I also love that she has a TeaPig tea advent calendar in the kitchen too for sharing – might have to steal that idea for next year for myself!

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And I really love that our-nelly’s daughter got her hands on her mum’s calendar and made this beautiful arrangement using the laundry peg dryer. Tops marks for innovation!

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Hopefully these pictures have given anyone still wondering how to display theirs a few ideas. If you like to get your Christmas tree early you could hang them on the tree. When I was small, one of my friends had an advent calendar which was odd (clean!) socks with chocolates in for each child hung from a walking stick over the doorway, which was a tradition from the Norwegian side of her family. So I quite like the idea of hanging them over a doorway (as long as they don’t get in the way of course!).

And if you’re really short of space, or you have naughty kittens or puppies (like me at the moment!) or just don’t want to have them hanging about, I do pack them in day order in the festive outer bag with Day 1 ready at the top. So there’s nothing to stop you from having the bag by your spinning wheel or chair or sitting on a table somewhere and just dipping in each day to get your spinning fibre without too much hunting about!

Happy spinning and happy Advent.

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War and Peace

This weekend has been something of a contradiction – going forward into the future and travelling back in time. My local town has been celebrating the 750th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Montgomery; a pivotal point in the relations between Cymru/Wales and England. It heralded the start of a very short period of time when Wales – and its ruling Prince of Wales – was recognised by the English throne as an independent and self-governing country.

The Treaty of Montgomery of 1267 was contracted between Henry III of England and Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Gwynedd, Prince of Aberffraw, Lord of Snowdon. It recognised the latter’s right to rule and to be Prince of Wales. Wales in the 13th C consisted of various kingdoms and cantrefi – the Welsh mediaeval subdivision of principalities into areas – “cant” meaning 100 and tref the Welsh word for town or settlement. Cantrefi were further subdivided into cwymydau. Each cantref had its own court of the ruling landowners, a Welsh assembly called the uchelwyr – the nobility. The governing Welsh princes of each cantref did not necessarily get on well with their neighbouring kinsmen and Wales’s strength as a nation was sapped by internecine strife.

Llywelyn’s grandfather, Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn the Great), saw this – much like Alfred the Great of Anglo-Saxon England several centuries earlier in his attempts to unify those areas that he could and make treaty with those that were beyond unification. Llywelyn Fawr knew that Wales had a greater chance of peace and prosperity beside Norman England if they had but one Prince to lead them. He was married to the daughter of King John of England and the history of Wales and England was inextricably linked by marriage, land and treaty. The border area of the powerful Marcher Lords was a melting pot of disunity and grumblings that flared and threatened to spill over into both Wales and England in various skirmishes and crumbling agreements between monarchs and nobility.

Llywelyn ap Gruffudd had made several overtures of treaty towards Henry III which were turned down. Nevertheless in 1267 after a month-long period of talks in Shrewsbury, agreement was reached in the Treaty of Montgomery and was signed at the ford at the Afon Hafren/River Severn just outside of the town. This is considered the high point of Llywelyn’s reign. The terms of the Treaty were somewhat punitive in cost however; as well as homage to the English king, the amount Llywelyn was required to pay both upfront and annually was eye-watering. Henry’s son and successor Edward I had little patience for Llywelyn’s inability to pay his debts or the tardiness of his paying homage to the new king and before a decade was out, the Treaty was dead – as was Llywelyn the Last himself by the last weeks of 1282, slain in battle near Builth Wells in Mid-Wales.

Writing this blog post on the damp, windy first day of October, the achingly beautiful elegy by Gruffudd ab yr Ynad Coch for his fallen king seems even more poignant.

Do you not see the path of the wind and the rain?
Do you not see the oak trees in turmoil?
Cold my heart in a fearful breast
For the king, the oaken door of Aberffraw.

The failed Treaties – the glorious but pricey Treaty of Montgomery and the later, even more stringent confines of the Treaty of Aberconwy – signify the approaching end of an independent Wales. But the loss of the visionary Princes of Gwynedd stretching from Owain Mawr (Owain the Great) to his great-great grandson Llywelyn, Ein Llyw Olaf (Llywelyn, Our Last Leader) also spelled the end of the grip of the North Wales kingdom’s power over the rest of Wales. The bard’s prescient fearfulness heralded true and Wales was inexorably folded in time to the iron will of Edward I.

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I’ve been mindful of the Treaty for some time – not just because I am a marcher born Celtic/Anglo-Saxon hybrid myself and not only because this significant point in history was enacted in my adopted home town (and also bargained for in my birth town!) but also because the anniversary falls on my birthday. Being someone who feels more connection to the past, as I trundle forward into another year myself, I like to look back into history too.

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Montgomery Castle – the building of which commenced 43 years before the Treaty – has long been one of my favourite places. I first visited around the age of 6 years on one of our many day trips to the area. It was the choice for many of our family celebrations, birthdays and visitors – we’d head to the Castle Kitchen for tasty vegetarian wholefood meals (and in my case, a large hunk of Hot Chocolate Fudge Cake if my memory and predilections serve me correctly!) and we’d burn off the feasting after with a short sharp climb up to the castle where my brothers and I would clamber around the ruins, I’d pick daisies or gather autumnal leaves depending on the season. It’s also where I encountered my first sheep up close in the form of a lamb that had separated from its mother and was bawling inconsolably and I got my clothes all sheepy-smelling by cradling it in my arms trying to reunite it with its mummy.

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Later when we moved here when I was 18, I’d hike up to the castle after working shifts at the local hotel and a few years later, in my lunch hour when I was working as a vet nurse at the veterinary practice that nestles at the foot of the castle cliff. I have photographs of me standing against the castle walls hugging my new puppy Guinness on a stormy November afternoon – my 21st birthday gift to myself. I’ve spent many memorable hours here, both with friends and family and also alone lost in thought. It’s a place that comforts me; the encircling walls hold you still and the huge views out over the town and stretching out across Wales and Shropshire give a sense of freedom and clarity.

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I’m fascinated by the thought of walking the same ground as so many figures from previous centuries; mindful of standing literally in the footsteps of key players who shaped not only the history of this country but also by definition, of the history of huge parts of the English-speaking world. It intrigues me that our local history – here on the Welsh Marches – is also the shared history of some other countries settled by British natives from previous centuries.

The town had arranged several events including a re-enactment of the Treaty signing at the ford with local school children taking part (and local councillor and occasional Mayor, Mike Mills acting a very stylish Henry III for the day!), a mediaeval banquet in the evening and, on Saturday, an encampment at the castle with re-enactment groups displaying some of what life was like in the 13th century. I didn’t attend the Friday celebrations but it looked like huge fun and you can view some of the festivities on the Visit Montgomery FaceBook page!

I did however nip up to the castle to see the re-enactment displays yesterday and it was so interesting. Although the weather threatened – and eventually delivered – typical Welsh drizzle, the spirits were cheerfully high as soldiers charged into carefully choreographed battle,

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gingerly swinging their weapons with a surprising equality in the body count…

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and a certain amount of confusion over whose side one was meant to be fighting for…

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So just like nowadays then!

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The military endeavours were wildly applauded by visitors and young recruits alike from both the 13th century and the 21st…

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I was impressed by the detail in the costumes and artefacts. There is a crossover between the world of textiles/ crafts and re-enactment; those historians who make their own authentic costumes and craftspeople who find an increasing interest in the history of their own skills. Their knowledge and passion was impressive and I’ll definitely make the effort to go to other re-enactments.

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It’s great how it can visually bring history to life, especially for school-children and reinforce that history is our story too just as one day we ourselves will become the past. I think it also brings into focus the cyclical rather than linear nature of history – that not everything we have achieved in the common era is necessarily progress and that progress itself can ebb as well as advance.

Although the celebrations centred around the male-dominated Treaty and masculine players in history, it’s perhaps no surprise that I was more intrigued by the few female characters on display. Of the several interesting people I talked with, I think this lady fascinated me the most.

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At first, drawn by the smoke of her brazier I assumed she was cooking.

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When I approached her I spotted several vials and a bowl of dried elderberries and realised that she was in fact making medicines.

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Our brief conversation was speedily catholic in its compass as she answered my questions – I could have talked with her for hours so interesting was her knowledge of science, archaeology and history and I wish I could remember half of what she told me. Nevertheless it piqued my interest and gave me new things to look into and for that I’m very grateful.

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I was particularly interested in the surgical instruments hanging in a roll beside her. Designed by the surgeon Al-Zahrawi of Córdoba in the 10th century, it’s fascinating that whilst surgical instruments have been refined over time, that they are still recognisable in their crude original form from a thousand years before. Whilst the instruments I’m used to seeing our veterinary surgeons use might be more delicate – and certainly more hygienic – there were some intriguingly familiar shapes there of forceps, probes, retractors, elevators and curettes.

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And, neatly linking one of my other main interests, this other lady also obligingly stopped for a moment and posed for me. As countless women have found throughout time and place, the constant need to clothe everyone meant the need also to spin, spin, spin, wherever you might go.

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Tour de Fleece 2017

And they’re off!

Well the spinners started yesterday but I was up in sunny Anglesey for a couple of days and so missed the first day of spinning as I was driving home again.

As usual we have a small but friendly team of cheerful spinners on Team BarberBlackSheep – the lovely members of the group have already kicked off in style and produced some beautiful singles yesterday from various BBS fibres as well as those from other dyers and fibre suppliers. It’s so nice to spin along in company and it’s always good to see pictures of what we’re all doing! If you think you’d like to join us this year, it’s not too late – hop over the Revelry group and pitch in! You can spin anything you want (but please note only BBS fibre is eligible for the randomly-drawn prize I award at the end of the tour).

For myself I’ve been caught up in lots of non-spinning stuff recently so I’ve only just got myself sorted out with my first TdF spinning fibre today. We discussed the popular “Combo-Spin” technique a few weeks back which involves spinning sections of fibre in a random order to make a variegated yarn which could have a certain amount of planning in its design or be completely down to chance and how your fibres turn out. It’s a good way of putting together those one-off skeins that somehow wheedle their way into our lives but stubbornly resist getting involved in a project because of being just 100g or 4 oz or so.

I decided to put a BBS “spin” (see what I did there?!) on it by spinning random chunks of my Haunui/Merino batt sets together to combine.

When I designed the forerunner of these multi-colour-packs aeons ago it seems – the SweaterBox batts and then the Three Of A Kind batts – I put in the listing that they could be spun in several ways including being spun in random sections. I’d always intended it as an option for you … but haven’t got around to doing it as a project myself.

I don’t actually need a sweater quantity just now (a quick look in both fibre and yarn stash reveals enough sweater-possibilities to last me till Doomsday!) but I do want to try it so I’ve scaled it down for an amount that would work for a shawl or perhaps a hat/mitten set or something.

I found an image I liked that served as a starting point (I can’t copy it here without infringing copyright unfortunately but the general principle of using images to inspire colour combinations is very useful for a starting point that you can bend to your own tastes.

I’ve made up half-size batts picking out colours from both the Josie set and the Passiflora set pictures above. Which gives me a colour combination like this.

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My intention is to spin randomly for one ply and then to use another ply of undyed Black Haunui to create a random barber-pole yarn. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of barber-pole yarns as they are but they do usually knit up beautifully in plain knitting. I have the idea of how this works in my head – the proof will be in the making though! I’m literally nailing my colours to the mast by telling you before I start!

The possibilities for scaling this up into sweater quantities are pretty much limitless, either by combing more batt sets or by using multiples of the same colour way. I’d love to see if other people use this idea for Haunui / Merino batts too – if you do, please post pictures in my Revelry group so we can all see!

Welsh Patagonia

It’s been quite a long blog break! This spring has been very busy, probably even more so than usual. If I can snatch the time I’ll come and tell you about some of the things I’ve been working at but for now I just wanted to show a new spinning fibre blend I’ve created and which will be available from this weekend.

When something interests me I like to look around and read around the subject rather than just focusing on one aspect. The collateral research enriches both my appreciation of something, further embeds the knowledge I’ve gained and frequently sparks new areas of interest or creativity.

I’m always on the lookout for new seeds of inspiration and in the past six months or so I’ve deliberately turned away from seeking that inspiration from within the same areas I work in and towards other sources. As a visual person I find it easier to look at something creative and then translate it into dyeing or textiles or colour schemes. But sometimes I think I’m at risk of repeating the same things because they appeal to me and so getting into something of a rut. So this has been a personal challenge to whet the blunt edges in my mind and hopefully spark new areas of interest or ideas.

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One such small “spin-off” has been designing a new fibre blend. Whilst studying the work of two Welsh creatives, one a late artist and one a contemporary weaver, I found they had common ground in that they both travelled and studied in Welsh Patagonia. These travels informed their body of work and although I’d come across this Welsh colony in South America, coming across it again twice in quick succession intrigued me and made me look into this a little deeper.

The brief outline of this colony is that in the 19th century, a North Walian patriot, Michael D. Jones, proposed establishing a new Welsh colony overseas away from the influences of the English, to preserve “Welshness” and the Welsh language which he felt often disappeared in close proximity to other cultures and languages. The leaders of this movement considered several options around the globe. At that time, Argentina was offering incentives for peoples to emigrate and settle tracts of land and so the Welsh nationalists took up the offer and a colony settled there.

There’s a great deal more to the story; the misleading information given to the pioneers who struck out for a new world, the hostile environment they landed in, the hardships endured and losses encountered and the living they scratched and hacked from the harsh Argentine landbase that so very nearly conquered them. The co-operation of the native Tehuelche people (or Patagones as the Spanish called them) in assisting them to settle and the slightly dubious pay-offs from the Argentine government that induced them to “welcome” these benign Celtic invaders to their land. It’s not the purpose of this blog post to detail the whole story but it makes an intriguing, if rather baffling, tale for those who are interested in finding out more.

What struck me though was how very, very Welsh this story was. So gloriously and stubbornly Welsh…

In seeking to preserve a language and a culture, to give up homes and extended families, communities and comforts and transport ideology across an ocean to make more of a home in exile than the home you already live in. To chose separation from the thing you love best and to sacrifice that for a belief in a better version… I cannot really understand it. I admire it whilst at the same time feeling slightly … I don’t know… shocked? Perhaps that is too strong a word. Perhaps I am just too much of a British mongrel to understand the depth of Welshness. Perhaps I am too much of a home-bird to make sense of voluntary exile…

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The second thing that struck me however was how wonderfully balanced the current Welsh Patagonian community are between their Argentine land and their Welsh roots. Speaking Spanish and Patagonian Welsh, with their unique blend of Welsh chapels and Chapel Teas and asados and gauchos, it would seem at first glance that the founding fathers had lost the end game of retaining the Welsh “purity” they seemed to value above all else.

And yet I can’t help feeling that this shows the power of humanity at its greatest, being able to retain its cultural identity whilst adapting to those around it. Blending those things so that they lie comfortably together and make something new and strong that they would not have had without each other.

It made enough of an impression on me that I wanted to further explore this in fibre!

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So I’ve created “Patagonia” which is a rustic yet soft wool blend with subtle depths and textures.

Patagonia is created from Black Welsh Mountain and South American wools – Patagonia being a vast sheep farming area producing wool from mostly Merino, Corridale and similar breeds. (The pure Merino I already use is from either South America or South Africa from non-mulesed flocks). These very different wools are also blended with soft alpaca to represent other important fibre-producing animals from South America.

It spins up to a yarn with plenty of body and character which is great for those who find it harder to spin thicker yarns. I feel it would lend itself to great sweater – or poncho! – yarn (I fancy this is a project in my future!) and make garments that would be as equally at home on a Welsh mountain as on the pampas.

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I’ve gradient dyed this batch and it will be available for sale at Wonderwool Wales this coming weekend 22nd-23rd April 2017 at Triskelion Yarns (stand G8 – Hall 1).

A further selection of dyed, carded and blended spinning fibres will also be available there too and I really recommend that even if you aren’t a spinner or felt-maker that if you’re a knitter going to Wonderwool this year that you put Triskelion Yarns high on your shopping list; gloriously saturated colours on interesting yarn bases hand dyed in West Wales.

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That top quarter of Hall 1 is a pretty exciting place for hand-dyed colour-lovers altogether really as there are a cluster of amazing hand dyed fibre stalls up there including HilltopCloud and Oliver Twists the silk specialists, MandaCrafts (with amazing Qaria cashmere) Freyalyn’s Fibres and The Threshing Barn amongst others. If you’re ever stuck for inspiration as to how to spin indie-dyed fibre, Katie Weston of HilltopCloud is also launching her new Spinning Hand Dyed Fibre guide at the show. Written by a sought-after UK spinning teacher, this is sure to be packed with useful tips and information for getting the best out of your show purchases so don’t forget to go and get a copy!

Happy spinning!

 

Plying from a Centre-pull Ball

A small tutorial-type post squeezed in among the Advent pictures!

Well I say tutorial; it’s more pictures showing how I ply small samples from a centre-pull ball. This is my preferred method for plying small samples and it’s quite straightforward. I do know that for some it’s a bit frustrating though and I’ve tried to look slowly at what I do and see if there are any tips I can pass on for how I do it. I’m not an expert or saying this is the “correct way” – it’s simply what works for me. Perhaps you can try it and see if it helps or refine it better for you.

I’m not going to go into huge amount of detail about winding the balls or how to do basic plying. I use a regular ball winder like this one. Other designs are available and you can also wind a centre-pull ball using a nostepinne. You can buy beautiful hand turned nostepinne from sellers of knitting and spinning tools or you can improvise and make one yourself. One spinner I knew wound beautiful balls of her handspun yarn using the handle of her dustpan and brush! The really important thing whichever method you use is ensure the beginning section of the single is well secured in the slots of the winder/visibly free if using a nostepinne before you wind the whole ball. You need both ends and if you lose the beginning section it will be very hard to find it inside the ball once wound and make a very stressful start to plying. You may even have to just pull a lump of tangled yarn out and discard it. MAKE SURE OF YOUR ENDS before winding.

For me, plying from a centre-pull ball is about control. In fact all plying is about control but in this case I’m focussing on keeping the ball itself and the singles coming off it tidy and measured. That’s pretty much all it’s about.

Freshly spun singles are full of twist energy and can get a bit unruly and “pigtail” by plying back on itself in small sections which is a right pain. The thinner the yarn and higher the spinning twist, the worse this is going to be. So for your first attempt it’s probably smarter to use a sample that is going to end up at around DK weight or thicker and not highly twisted. Use a nice bouncy wool not something tricky and slippy like silk. Leaving your singles on the bobbin for 24 hours will help calm it down too. I do ply straight after spinning, it really isn’t that terrifying once you’ve taught the ball to behave and play nicely. But it always helps to stack the odds in your favour the first time so be kind to yourself and start with plump stale singles!

You have the two loose ends on your ball – the one from the outside and the one from the centre. Join these to the leader on your wheel (or spindle) in the regular way and ply a small amount to wind it onto the bobbin.

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I use my left hand to hold the ball – this is because I also spin this way round. If you use your hands the other way around that’s fine, do what you would normally do and just reverse the hands for each task. I’ll refer to them as front and back hand to simplify it.

You need to keep the singles under the control of your fingers at all times. Normally the bobbins are keeping the singles under control and a small amount of tension. If you have a tensioned kate too this is even more applicable. The centre of the ball is going to collapse slightly when you slide it off the winder. This the bit that can get tangled into a lump so this is why  you need to MAKE SURE where the beginning section is before you slide the ball off (yes it is really important enough to repeat this!)

Keep your front hand holding the twist back and only allow it to run back when you are ready.

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If you hold the ball in your back hand like this picture below, it will start to go wrong after a while. The singles won’t be running off the ball under control and you won’t get even tension.

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The single from the middle is more direct, the outer single has to travel further around the ball so they aren’t equal like plied this. The middle one can also spit out a gobbit of kinky singles as the pressure loosens on the inner surface of the ball and that’s very much not fun to untangle.

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The outer one with it’s longer length can start to pigtail up on itself if left to its own devices – this is equally frustrating and makes for tangled plying and snarly yarns.

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So the way I hold the ball is to cradle it lightly in the palm of my hand and use my fingers as the means for tensioning the singles and keep them equal.

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To break this down into how the yarn feeds off like this, I’m using my thumb to lightly cover the outer single. My touch on the plying ball is very light at all times, I’m not really holding it back, just allowing the touch of my fingers to slow it down so it doesn’t kink up as it feeds. (my fingers are pinching off the twist here in this picture below purely because I’m using my right hand to take the photo! Normally that job would be done by my front hand – but it does at least show how you can still keep all the twist and singles under control at all times should you need your other hand to move flyer hooks, sort something out … or even pick up your mug of tea/ the phone/ pat the dog etc!)

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Treadle very slowly and allow the first wrap of singles to slide off the ball and hook your forefinger into the “X” that forms to hold it back. It’s something you’ll have to do to “get” what I mean so don’t worry if you’re thinking “eh?! What X?” at this moment.

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With the twisty singles safely held back lightly like this you can then allow your front hand to permit the twist to travel back into the length by sliding the forefinger and thumb of the front hand towards the plying ball. As you reach the end of the singles between your hands, straighten the hooked forefinger of your back hand slightly and slide/lift the “X” off it with your front hand. Your front hand can now allow the plied yarn to run onto the bobbin as you would normally do with plying and as it does so the next section slips from the plying ball and the back hand forefinger once again hooks into the next “X” formed and holds it back. You simply repeat this over and over smoothly.

Like all spinning skills, it’s one of those things that takes a little bit of doing to realise what goes where and at what time. Take it slowly. If necessary, treadle a little to build twist and then stop treadling whilst you concentrate on the hand motions whilst the wheel is stationary. Once you’ve done  a little bit you’ll soon settle into a steady routine that feels quite natural.

It’s best to use this for small amounts of yarn so the plying ball will be quite small. You can do it with larger amounts – and I do – but the benefits are fewer for the effort. With larger amounts of fibre you may as well split it in two and spin two singles on separate bobbins. However you may suddenly change your mind part way through spinning some fibre and have spun the whole amount on one bobbin or have some other reason that makes plying larger amounts like this logical or desirable.

In that case, you’ll find it hard to keep the ball in your hand until you’ve plied enough and when it’s smaller it will be looser and lacy and more inclined to tangle. I have mine in my lap or even on the floor beside me to start with. But be aware that there is greater scope for stretches of single to pigtail and tangle simply because it’s under less control than in your hand. You might also find with a larger ball that you want to use two fingers and spread them to change the angle at which the twist runs in.

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This works OK. I still prefer to hook my forefinger though for really even plying. You’ll soon get to feel the amount of tension required to make a nice snug plying twist!

It’s really not that different to regular plying; all you’re doing differently is using your back hand as an active kate to manipulate the singles, your front hand is doing all the usual things.

Try it and see!

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Spinning crepe yarn from pencil roving

I’ve posted very little spinning content on my blog in the past few months (bad BlackSheep!) but I’ve been doing odds and ends of spinning, test samples for various projects and people. I started spinning this BFL pencil roving I dyed back in the summer and it’s been sitting on my wheel taking up bobbin space whilst I do the oddments and the longer I leave things, the less I feel like finishing them. Which is a shame really because BFL is one of my favourite wools to work with and these are some of my favourite colours.

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I’ve got more sample spinning to do soon though and potentially quite a big spinning project to fit in with someone else’s schedule which needs me to clear all my bobbins. So although I have a brand new wool I dyed yesterday that’s begging me to start on it, I’m being good and finishing the BFL crepe first!

One of the reasons I had been delayed is that I’d started spinning this with the general idea of blogging about it because this is outside my “default spinning” on two counts and I thought it might be interesting to look at it and why I chose to do this.  I’ve had hand dyed BFL pencil roving in the shop this summer and it’s fun to knit with as chunky yarn, I’ve woven it for a friend as a show sample for her lovely hand dyed pencil rovings but I’d not actually got around to spinning it myself. Having spun up the first two bobbins a while ago, I needed the time to photograph the final bobbin and samples for the blog and just couldn’t find the time. So I apologise for the poor lighting of the following photos, but it’s a very murky overcast October day here and I also really needed both hands to spin with which makes it tricky to take photos – you really need a helpful assistant. Or three hands!! 

Pencil roving is one of the stages of creating commercially spun yarn so, unlike the usual much fatter tops and rovings we spin from, it has a slight twist in it. This twist is in the clockwise direction, also known as “Z” twist. For anyone unfamiliar with the term Z (and S) twist in relation to spinning, it’s called this because if you look at it the angle of the twist is like the middle section of the letter Z – slanting to the right. Imagine a Z overlaid on the roving below.

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Twist in the opposite or anticlockwise direction is known as “S” twist because the angle is like the middle section of the letter S.

Spinners commonly default to spinning their singles in the Z / clockwise direction before plying two or more singles together in the anti-clockwise direction to balance and stabilise the yarn. An S-plied yarn works well for English style knitting where the yarn is carried in the right hand and “thrown” (as opposed to Continental style knitting where the yarn is held in the left hand and “picked”) because as you carry your yarn, a tiny amount of twist is added. For English knitting the twist can slightly unravel Z-plied yarns – some people feel this isn’t a problem but my first attempt at spinning a cable yarn was Z-plied and it was very irritating to knit with as the chunky handspun wasn’t that tightly plied and did indeed unravel as I knit – lesson learned!

To make pencil roving with its inbuilt Z twist easier to spin, it helps to unravel that twist slightly as you draft and makes it easier to handle. Spinning the singles in the Z direction as normal adds twist and means you can end up fighting what’s already in the roving and locking the fibres together – a frustrating spinning experience. So spinning it in the S direction helps to unlock the latent twist and is generally much smoother to draft.

However that does mean you end up with a finished yarn that will be Z-plied … my English-style knitting nemesis from before! So I thought it would be fun to use this for a crepe yarn which is a 3-ply yarn that has 3 stages to it and would allow me to spin 2 of the singles in the S direction and still end up with S-plied yarn at the end for me to knit with. Cunning?!

For detailed information on spinning crepe yarns – or any yarns in fact – I strongly recommend you borrow or preferably buy a copy of the Spinner’s Book of Yarn Design by Sarah Anderson. Sarah is a wonderful teacher both in person and in writing and this is my go-to book when working with yarns other than my standard repertoire. This blog post is more about spinning crepe yarn from pencil roving than a basic crepe yarn tutorial. Really well worth having “…Yarn Design” in your spinning library.

You can spin crepe yarns in either direction but for the sake of the pencil roving subject matter I’m using the following formula:     2 singles spun in S (anticlockwise) direction plied together with twice the amount of plying twist in the Z (clockwise). A third single is spun in the Z (clockwise direction) and then you ply the Z single and the Z 2-ply yarn together in the S (anticlockwise direction) to make a balanced crepe yarn. Got that? Yup, go buy the book – it’s worth it!

So you need your fibre divided up roughly into three sections. I did this by weighing the skein as I wound it into three balls to spin from. As you spin, the twist you release is going to back up in the roving closer to the ball of wool. You can see it twist the roving behind where I’m pinching it off.

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You need to release that twist somehow so I find it helps to break off a section of roving (around 60cm is workable for me but you can go longer or shorter) . You won’t be able to pull tightly twisted roving apart so where you want to break it off, hold the fibre between your hands and untwist it so that the fibres lie parallel instead.

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And then pull them apart, they should drift quite easily…

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The twist will be sitting there but you can then shake it out and let it unravel ready for drafting.

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Another tip for drafting pencil roving is to roll it between your fibre (back) hand as you draft to release the twist as well – this definitely applies to spinning in the Z direction but it helps in the S direction too. (I hold fibre in my left hand but more spinners use their right hand for the fibre supply, so don’t swap over if you do the opposite to me – just carry on as you are!)

As you spin you can control the fibre supply between the heel of your palm and pinkie/ring fingers …

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…which leaves your thumb and forefinger free to control the  draft action as usual – at this point you can add a sneaky little roll of your thumb to the right to untwist it and then draft.

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When you have your S-spun singles ready to ply, remember that you will need twice the amount of plying twist to a normal plied yarn. Italics because this is important!! You don’t want a balanced yarn at this stage because you need latent twist in it to cancel out the twist when you ply it with your final (third) single. This is trickier than you’d think to maintain over the length of the spinning so it might help you to allow a fresh single to twist back on itself for a few inches to create a wee sample to have by you.

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You will need twice the amount of twist to this in your plying – and yes it will feel very odd over-twisting your yarn!! This sample will be handy to check whether you have sufficient twist or if you’ve slipped back into making a lovely balanced yarn out of habit!

The twisty pigtail yarn pinched between my finger and thumb is about right. The balanced (but wrong!) sample is next to it on my hand for comparison.

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So you will fight your instincts and ply a bobbin-full of overtwisted yarn in the Z direction.

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Aargh. Keep going. You can check twist by allowing a little of the yarn to ply back on itself to see how it balances out. If it’s under plied, add more twist. If you end up spinning a whole bobbin without enough twist then you can run it back through your wheel in the same direction to add a bit more – but it’s better to get it in there the first time if you can.

Now you’ll need to spin your third single in the Z direction. This will be harder from pencil roving because of the twist in it but using the tips above – short lengths and rolling it – you’ll be fine. And it’s only one single…

Finally you get to see the results of your labour. Time to play … I mean ply!

You’ll need your Z singles on one bobbin and your Z plied yarn on another. If you’re spinning all this in one session then the yarns might be a bit springy so tensioning your bobbins may help. On the other hand, if your singes/yarn are stale, they may be easier to ply but you won’t see the crepe snapping into place which can help with judging the amount of plying twist. It’s up to you and how much time you have to spin in one session; both ways have bonuses and drawbacks.

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This is quite a poor photo of the sample yarn I’m afraid but it does show the characteristic bobbly effect of the finished crepe technique. Crepe yarns are great fun to spin and you can do different texture and colour variations with them to add to the fun!

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The finished yarn:

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You can use the above tips for spinning ordinary 2-ply yarns too or maybe you can think up some other ways of using pencil roving? Plying it with a glittery commercial thread or using it as a base for other art yarn techniques would be really good fun too!

I’ve just a few skeins of pencil roving left in the shop at BarberBlackSheep – which is why I spun this sample in the first place! – but it’s also occasionally available from other UK dyers too should I have sold out when you want to try some crepe yarn fun yourself!

Hyggeligt

I’ve always been fascinated by words; individually, their etymology, their use and construction in sentences as a means to convey information or emotion. I don’t converse in other languages (a sad failure on my part) but I am intrigued by words from other languages also, especially those that don’t translate well and remain unique to their own tongue.

Hygge – a Danish concept and  Norwegian word – is one of those words that has percolated into my consciousness over the past couple of years, especially in the cooler seasons when hygge comes into its own and more people talk about it.

As I am not Scandinavian, hygge is something I have to really think about to try and understand. If indeed I can. Its loosest association in English appears to be “cosiness” – surely a universal concept. But as with other words that don’t translate into other languages, reading more about it, hygge seems to be so very much more intriguing than just being cosy.

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Cosiness is something intrinsic to fibre artists the world over, especially those of us who work with wool. Knitters, spinners, dyers, knitwear designers; however much we enjoy summer, lots of us secretly long for the crisper days that allow us to dig out treasured woollen hand knit items, lovingly crafted and carefully stored.

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Grey rainy days pen us up inside and beg us to light the woodstove or a candle, find a mug of something warm and comforting and pick up needles and yarn.

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Autumn and Winter turn us more inwards to search for inspiration within. The darker days and longer nights perhaps allow for more hours to devote to crafts. And the chilly evenings and crisp mornings give us the excuse to cast on exciting new projects, peruse patterns and buy fibre, yarn and books…

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To a non-Scandinavian fibre-loving person, hygge would seem to be present in pretty well all of the tactile enjoyment of our craft – from inception to finished item – and the pure pleasure that creativity brings. Days off for me invariably involve time to sit and spin with a mug of good coffee and something tasty to nibble on. It will always be drunk from a hand thrown chunky mug and appreciated slowly to fully invest in the enjoyment “making” brings me.

I feel hygge when I carefully lay out ingredients in readiness to bake, when I enjoy the pure aroma of handmade soap whilst washing my hands, in the cool earth crumbling beneath my fingers as I plant out tender seedlings or harvest home grown food. In the kneading of bread, the line of a poem, the shape of a letter being laid down in ink on fresh paper…

Hygge however seems to be much more than the cosiness of our surroundings or simple enjoyment of the things we do alone. More than material possessions. We hygge when we meet with family or friends, enjoy a moment or a meal together. Whilst reading about hygge and the Danish way of life recently I found the following thought very interesting:

Hygge stems from a society that is focused on people rather than things. It is linked to the language of love and to the idea that real wealth is not what we can accumulate but what we have to share

So hygge seems to mean a kind of happiness and generosity of spirit. But so often happiness of a kind has been linked to a striving for something, a nebulous something that is perhaps achieved only occasionally and has to be chased down like a rare butterfly eluding our net or purchased in an experience. In my early twenties I felt trapped by my work and by illness, happiness was something I’d felt I had long since lost and in the words of my doctor when I sobbed in his surgery I could no longer “see the light at the end of the tunnel”. Giving up my job was the terrifying non-choice I took but I’d reached the bottom of the hell-hole I’d somehow fallen into and there was no place else to go. Hurrying through the days without living them mindfully, I’d suddenly been brought up short. Slowly I returned to the light. Family, nature, faith, whole foods, and being outdoors in natural daylight all played a part in nourishing mind, spirit and body. I had no income, no future plans, saw few people and had very little in the way of material possessions and no money to buy new ones or to go out socialising. Despite the apparent lack of trappings of the modern world I did discover something I’d not had for many years. Peace…

In between the new activities that filled my days; learning to grow vegetables, reading and study, spending more time making and building, finding alternatives to owning, buying and having things, I discovered a truth I had overlooked in my race to achieve something, anything, je ne sais quoi. Happiness was not ecstasy. It was contentment. Having less, doing less but accepting those limitations with simple gratitude gave me a peace I’d not experienced since childhood. I felt like I’d come out into a whole new world. I learned to invest in each moment and live in the present. I felt that the past and the future were linked by a trail of “nows” and that living each moment fully would build a better life. In the frugality I felt like I’d learned the secret of happiness and for a season nothing could shake that.

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In everything of course though there are good and bad moments. In time dark days returned and with them a level of pain previously unknown. The newly learned lessons of contentment were rattled and shaken by storms which often threatened at times to snuff them out altogether. But again family, faith, nature, the love of friends and now spinning and knitting gave me threads to hold onto and weave into the chaotic fabric of my life. And dotted in and amongst the turmoil I tried to find small oases of what I think were hygge or at least hyggeligt (hygge-like); moments to shut the door and sit and spin for a while, perhaps lighting a candle and sit with the window open listening to the night sounds or taking a few moments to properly savour a mug or plate of something thoughtfully prepared. Love pulled our family through the dark canyon to the other side, albeit each of us to our different shores.

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Since then there have been times when I’ve managed to live each moment fully and times when I have utterly lost sight of this. Pondering on the word hygge in recent weeks it reminded me of this need I feel to live each moment mindfully and find contentment that is in the here-and-now rather than always thinking ahead to what the future might bring. Perhaps. One day. Maybe.

I know there are busy times ahead and uncertainty. Winter is always our longest season here; we spend the short summer months preparing for the longer colder darker times, storing, mending, preparing. As we move into Autumn with the prospect of greyer light and fewer hours to pack things into, it increases my feeling that I need to savour each moment for what it really is and be thankful. This season to try make my life a little more hyggeligt. Piece by piece. Moment by moment. It will be good.

I’m almost tempted to say I can’t wait!

 

 

Fresh Starts

I’ve had a little time to catch up with myself in the couple of weeks the shop has been shut. A little time to spend with family and the rest of the time to dye up some things for the next shop update which will be tomorrow – Monday 15th August – in the evening UK time … because I still have an awful lot of things still to do to get it ready!!

Just a hint of what will be coming; I’ve now washed and dyed all the 2016 clip fleeces from my purebred Gotland sheep. Tomorrow will see me editing the product photos I took yesterday – there are 36 colour batches to choose from, there’s a lot of shiny colourful fleece in my house just now!!

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I don’t know what other people grow in their polytunnels – for me it’s a really useful place to dry batches of wool when the weather outside is either to windy or too rainy for it to dry there!! This summer has been patchy, some gloriously sunny days interspersed with a few damp drizzly ones. I’ve changed my dyeing studio set-up slightly this summer so that I can dye whenever I want or need too now which is fabulous and the polytunnel extends that “all weather” dyeing capability. Makes life a lot easier!!

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I’ve also got Haunui New Zealand Halfbred back in stock – I love this wool so much, it’s hard to describe all the things I like about it. Anyway, this time around I have not only got my regular mid micron Haunui tops that I dye and use for blending into my batts but something really special.

I’ve got some of the finest micron Haunui (that’s 23micons) that has been gilled with Grade A mulberry silk – the resulting tops, well it’s like sticking your hands into warm soft clouds! As you can imagine it’s a dream to spin and the dyed tops shimmer with the colours on the silk. It really represents the immense care that goes into producing Haunui wool from the breeding and care of the sheep right through to the processing of the finished fibre – I think this is the nicest fibre I’ve ever dyed.

I really hope you’ll have fun trying out these new luxury spinning fibres! The first batch is going into the shop update tomorrow. It’s impossible to truly capture the shimmering beauty of the silk and wool in photographs but here is a tiny taste.

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I’ve also got a small batch of regular mid micron Haunui that I’ve dyed in mirror gradients. The narrower length of Haunui tops and its versatility as a finished yarn just lends itself to the ever popular gradient fashion – you have the choice of spinning it as a gradient or mixing it up for barber-pole yarns or random 2-ply or fractal spinning with a little extra processing. I love dyeing these and they never quite turn out exactly like another I’ve done previously!

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I really enjoy listening to podcasts when I’m working and there are some excellent knitting and woolly ones out there to choose from. So I was very grateful that Louise Scollay of the KnitBritish podcast agreed to road test my new yarns and the first part of her knit sampling (on the Hafren yarn base) is included on the latest episode 64. I just need to add the info that the Hafren yarn isn’t actually from my own sheep flock, it’s spun from Welsh Mule sheep farmed in Mid Wales which is where I’m also based of course so it’s a yarn local to me. One of the other yarns Louise is hopefully going to review in due course is the one that’s from my own flock.

If you’re new to podcasts generally then maybe you could try them out and KnitBritish is a great place to start, Louise has her knitterly finger right on the pulse of the yarny world and along with some of my other favourite podcasters has a beautiful speaking voice that’s wonderful to listen to. Lots of people listen whilst they knit or spin but podcasts are also a brilliant way of learning about new things and interesting goings on in the fibre/yarny world whilst you get on with (quiet!) household chores or routine work or even whilst you’re out and about if you listen on a mobile device.

Not in shop news but a commission I was given lately was to dye some beautiful handspun for a friend of mine. I wouldn’t normally accept a challenge for business like this because there’s too much room for mishap. Yarn dyeing and fibre dyeing both have their different challenges and with dyeing yarn as semi-solids in repeatable small batches you have to be meticulous about weights, measurements and note-taking to reduce the variables. (all that beautiful hard work someone else has put in combined with bulk dyeing and permanent dyes – yikes, it’s scary!). However this is a good friend and we’d discussed it carefully and with a bit of lateral thinking I was able to work around my limitations and it’s good to push yourself every now and then.

I love the colour she chose from some new shades I’m hoping to introduce to the range soon – a soft sky blue I’ve called Halcyon. I thought you might like to see it drying on the line. In this photo it looks similar to Squill but it’s a slightly more smokey shade. We’re both very pleased how it turned out and I can’t wait to see her finished sweater.

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Over in my Ravelry group I’ve done a little tweaking of threads. We’ve a brand new chat thread – the old one was very long! It’s always interesting to hear what people are getting up to in their spare time and see photos of their crafting or travels or pets. With members from all around the globe it gives a window into another person’s world which is one of the nicest things about online communities I think.

Sadly I had to say goodbye to my most loved sheep last week. She was the very first Gotland I bought in 2006 and gave so much love and fun over her life as well as a few stressful times to keep me on my toes! I’m going to miss her so much. But in the vein of fresh starts and being positive, having said goodbye to a few older faces in my funny mixed fibre flock this year it’s giving me ideas about who we could invite to join us and increase the variety of fleeces… Who knows!

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Raggedy Yarn

It’s a while since I blogged here … I have been busy I promise!

Over in my Ravelry group we’ve kicked off on the Tour de Fleece – the annual friendly challenge in the spinning calendar where we spin along during the Tour de France, usually setting ourselves some personal spinning challenge be it spinning every day, spinning a set amount or learning a new technique.

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On Team BarberBlackSheep we’re generally very laid back and relaxed. This is our fifth year of toddling along gently behind the more determined teams and we’re loosely involved in spinning down stash this year. So often I hear people say they’ve reached SABLE (stash acquired beyond life expectancy) or that they’re on a fibre diet. So I thought it might be a good idea to dig around and bring out some of those long-lost beauties we’ve acquired and spin them up. To that end I dubbed us Indie Dyer Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Stash. There are already some lovely yarns being produced – if you’re taking part and on social media do let me know so I can share or regram your pictures.

My personal challenge is to spin up some of my Tea Garden braids to weave into a blanket. So far I’ve spun almost half of them – let’s hope I finish it by the end of the Tour!

I’ve also been playing with some new fibres and blends though and this is one of them. I have an abiding love of texture in things and although we often aim for smooth fine yarns as spinners, I have a secret love for arty lumpy bumpy yarns too. I also have a love of silk; it was my first dyeing business when I was still in my teens and I made hand painted silk scarves and I’ve always loved how silk enhances colour in the way it’s fibres reflect light and the intensity of the resulting colours.

It’s also rather fun to spin and I had an idea for upping the fun quotient! I’ve dyed some silk lap – this is the waste silk left on the drum after carding and is cut off in a large glorious sheet of textured silk fibres like a silk duvet.

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My first skein is spun silk plied on itself. The idea is to spin this retaining the raggedy textured appeal so I spin it long draw, supported so as to attenuate the fibres and distribute the twist evenly. Just because it’s deliberately fluffy doesn’t mean the yarn is unstable – you want to trap the fibre securely within the yarn and being silk it needs a reasonable amount of twist. It has a soft hand, feels slightly like a chenille and is drapey. This isn’t a yarn that will stand up to a huge amount of abrasion but for small luxury items is soft and almost woolly feeling with all the beauty of silk.

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To mix things up a bit I decided to play around a bit more with the texture idea for my second skein. I carded up a batt from hand dyed wool and silk fibres – I used shetland and merino, tussah silk and a dollop of silk noil with a touch of sparkle and just gave it two passes aiming to keep variation in colour and texture.

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I spun the silk lap supported long draw as before to make the textured fuzzy single and then plied with a slightly slubby single spun from the batt. The resulting yarn still has subtle texture but has slightly more body and bounce and less drape than the pure silk yarn and so has a wider range of applications.

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So if you’ve fancied spinning some textured yarns but are slightly worried about new techniques for art yarns this might be a nice way to ease yourself into them with a simple 2-ply yarn where the fibres themselves do the texture.

The silk lap are dyed in small amounts and should be available in the hand dyed fibre section of the shop this coming weekend.

A Welsh Yarn

This is a story about Wales, about sheep, about wool – a Welsh yarn. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we shall begin…

I’ve been dropping hints about yarns for a long time now. Creating and selling proper Welsh grown yarns from my own sheep is something I’ve desperately wanted to do since before I started selling my fleeces as BarberBlackSheep.

When I first started keeping Gotlands and crossing them for different coloured fibres I had this idea I’d somehow handspin everything. Hmmm… maybe not!

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Having yarn spun commercially from individual fleeces or from breed specific flocks is actually quite tricky. Within the UK there are now very few commercial mills that can cater to the small market and of the mills that can spin the kind of worsted yarn that benefits the kinds of fleeces I grow there are only two. And only one of these can deal with the tiny quantities of fleece I have.

When I switched from keeping commercial meat sheep to Gotlands I did so with the aim of looking for the “perfect” sheep. Over 10 years later I think I’ve now realised that this doesn’t exist within the parameters I was looking for; an animal is always going to lean towards one characteristic or other.
I was going through a rather zealous eco-friendly stage after a prolonged period of ill-health that forced me to give up my job in my mid-20s. Having ignored and even scorned the knit-your-own-yoghurt / wholemeal-socks brigade as we thought of them I was forced to think differently – but there’s nothing like chronic illness to burst an arrogant bubble.

My long and uncomfortable quest to find my health again involved facing a few home truths I’d chosen to ignore and realised that what we eat, wear and live in has a major impact on what we are. Having gratefully clawed my way out of debilitating pain over 18 months I threw myself 110% into natural food, clothing, toiletries and even housing in that way that converts do! I was interested in permaculture concepts and became somewhat obsessed about sustainability, often setting the bar impossibly high. No aspect of my life was spared the scrutiny of sustainability and that included the animals we were keeping.

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The meat sheep we’d kept till then were bred purely for the European export market. The fleeces went to the BWMB for not very much money and the sheepskins from the fat lambs would have been a waste product, I believe most likely going to China for making trainers (although I’m not certain!). I don’t have a problem with animals being farmed for meat or eaten as a moral principle I do however feel very strongly that nothing should be wasted, that we should never take lives unthinkingly and few things make me as angry as meat or animal products that gets thrown away. I wanted a sheep that’s fleece was as valuable as its meat but unfortunately we consumers dictate demands that often require a specialist breed rather than a dual purpose one.

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Wool growing sheep are usually rangy rather than meaty but we like juicy plump joints of meat; those sturdy, well muscled breeds that provide the kind of cuts the butchers require don’t have soft, snuggly fleeces for fine spinning.
I considered several traditional breeds for some time and narrowed it down to either Wensleydales or Shetlands for different reasons.

In 2006 I went to the Royal Welsh Smallholders Show which also included the Green Building Exhibition and the very first WonderwoolWales – fraction of the fabulous show so many of us went to last month. I had recently taken up knitting again and was learning to spin but I’ve always been a bit obsessed with textiles so I was blown away by the idea of an exhibition about textiles and wool.
I got chatting to a lady on a felt making stand and said I was hunting for “the perfect sheep” and she said “Gotlands!” and I said “whats?!”. She pointed me in the direction of Sue Blacker who had just bought Natural Fibre Company and was moving it from Wales to Cornwall (Oh how I wish it were still in Wales though!) and also had a flock of Gotlands and was manning the Gotland breed stand with another Gotland breeder. Gotlands in the UK are marketed as “the three crop sheep” for wool, meat and pelts (back in Sweden they are generally used for pelts).
There weren’t any Gotlands on show but she had photographs and Sue told me what massive personalities Gotlands have and then I saw some of the handspun overdyed yarns the other lady had spun and I was sold from that second.

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Over the next few years I fiddled around trying to breed from my two foundation ewes I acquired and crossing a Gotland ram onto another couple of different breed ewes we already owned. I quickly discovered I liked crossing for fleeces types more than I liked breeding pedigrees!

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I also realised that creating a “perfect” sheep is not a question of putting one breed onto another and hoping for the best. Genes will play the lottery, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes the results are predictable, other times not. First crosses can vary wildly, new breeds are created by selectively breeding those first crosses back to each other to reinforce the desirable characteristics whilst culling any that don’t meet the grade and I quickly realised also that a 15 acre smallholding combined with a shepherd with a complete inability to part with anything as adorable as a Gotland sheep is not cut out for creating a new sheep breed!

However I did get some interesting sheep and fleece types out of my experiments. One of the most special is what I refer to as Swedish Mule (neither a slipper nor a cocktail – a sheep!). A straight Gotland/BFL cross, it’s like the best of both breeds with none of the downsides. I bred 4 of these before I sold my ram. I’ve only ever sold a couple of their fleeces, I’ve carefully stored them over the past 4 years and last year I had enough to reach the minimum quantity for processing.

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Artisan yarn like this is really expensive to produce; having discussed the yarn a year ago I had to save up the capital to do this project and so it was late autumn before I could afford to ship the fleeces to Natural Fibre Company with my heart in my mouth for the next stage of a project I’d wanted to do for so long.

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The yarn came back a couple of months ago – it’s truly beautiful and I’m very happy with it. The yarn I designed is a worsted spun 4-ply/fingering weight yarn blended with tussah silk to enhance the wool’s characteristics – specifically created for a drapey, lustrous luxurious yarn perfect for lace shawls or other items where lustre and drape is an advantage. It’s limited edition, it will be costly and there isn’t actually a huge amount of it. It will also probably never be repeated exactly like this because I now have only 3 of the sheep whose fleeces it’s made from, having lost Boudicca to pneumonia last year. So I wanted to be sure exactly how I was going to sell it, skein size, colours etc.

If this project works well then there are other kinds of yarn I’d like to create from other fleeces I have stored once I’m able to afford to do so. I’m aware that my tagline “made in Wales” that originated from starting with my own fleeces is drifting further away from it’s roots in my products although everything I dye or card myself is made here in Wales and strongly influenced by the Welsh landscape and everything I stock has been carefully chosen for a reason such as the stunningly beautiful Haunui New Zealand Halfbred which has such great provenance behind the sheep and the business.

A couple of months back I realised that the Cambrian Wool project (part of the Cambrian Mountain Initiative) which had been in discussion for some years was getting close to launching so I started making enquiries about stocking their yarns to dye myself to compliment my own homegrown ones.

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It’s beautiful and I’ve spent some times in recent weeks finalising the palette of twelve shades I will be offering these lovely Welsh grown yarns in … as well as future yarns I hope. I’ve chosen initially to stock the DK weight to compliment the 4ply/fingering weight of my own yarn and it’s created from Welsh Mule, soft but robust and springing, perfect for garment knitting.

So there you have it – two contrasting Welsh yarns, spun in England and dyed in Wales. Coming to a shop near you soon!! ;0)

In my next few blog posts I’m going to tell you about the new colour palette I’ve been creating; it’s inspired by Wales and by my childhood memories so each of the colours has meaning for me and make my heart sing when I look at them. I can’t wait to share them with you now it’s done!