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.

P1220070

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.

Version 2

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…

Version 2

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!

DSC_0054

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.

DSC_0090.jpg

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.

DSC_0049

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!

 

A River Runs Through It

The river theme for my yarns started with this yarn I blogged about yesterday. When I was planning it, the lustre of the wool once scoured really caught the light like sunlight playing off water and so I thought a watery theme would give a good yarn name as well as giving a sense of place. It helped with my decision to enhance that by adding 20% silk for a really shimmery lustre that is brought out strongly on the dyed shades.

I’m lucky enough to live in a really beautiful place. Wales is a very varied country and the scenery never fails to nourish me whether I’m at home or travelling elsewhere. At home we are on the top of a hill looking down into valleys – or cwm – whichever way we look.

p1200787

We catch quite a lot of weather here! The high level of rainfall drains off our wet clay soils and, along with the natural springs that rise all over the land, flows into the ditches we have to maintain. And at the bottom of our fields, this water run-off starts to form a very baby stream which almost dries up in summer. In the rare summers that it is scorching hot, it’s nice to go down under the trees and listen to this tiny waterway trickling its first “steps” to the sea.

It flows into the brook down to the village and from there into the first small river it turns into – the Afon Miwl. This joins up with the River Severn which is our local main river – or Afon Hafren in Welsh – and from there carries on to England and meanders its way south before heading out into the Irish Sea at Bristol. From small beginnings powerful things can grow and I liked the thought that the small batches of fleece my sheep were growing on our little fields were slowing gathering together before being turned into a proper grown up yarn.

dsc_0111-version-2

Late last Autumn I started to wind and dye a few skeins to test out my colour palette. When it came to photographing them, I knew I had to go down to the river and take the wool back to where its namesake flowed. This walk down the Captain’s Pitch is one that Marley and I enjoy occasionally – despite the fact it’s reputed to be haunted by the ghost of a local man murdered on his way back from chapel in the distant past!!

dsc_0181

The October light filtered through the trees for just half an hour or so as I tried to catch the colours (and not topple my basket of yarns off the bridge into the stream!)

dsc_0153

The colours played nicely against the moss of the bridge.

dsc_0088

dsc_0080

And the soft shaded light really brought out the lustre.

dsc_0127

There are remains of various mills around this area. The farmer who lived at our smallholding before us was very interested in local history. Before he died he tried hard to enthuse me in the same passion. Sadly in my late teens and early twenties I didn’t fully appreciate all he wanted me to understand, nor had I yet developed the love for my new home, something that takes time to root and flourish. I thought he’d told me that the mills along here were sawmills and that the oak they milled from this land base was felled to provide timbers for the ships for the Royal Navy fighting in the Napoleonic Wars.

I asked for help from someone who has long been associated with local history and textiles in this area and who was also a mutual friend of my farming mentor and she kindly corrected my hazily remembered misinformation, for which I was very grateful. She explained that although later they were converted to grain and sometimes sawmills, in the 19th C they were in the main fulling mills used for the local flannel cloth industry which was in its heyday in this area. As you might imagine, I was delighted to know that the mill was used for woollen textiles rather than wood!

She also directed me to the Cynefin project archives of the tithe maps for the area so I could see for myself the “flannel racks” or tentering frames where the wet woollen cloth was stretched and dried outside after fulling. They’re marked on land behind the trees opposite the bridge where I took the yarn photos above. This shows very clearly to what use the power of the river was being put – and in the 1840’s it was most definitely for wool! This screenshot detail of the overlaid map shows the racks as well as the Walk Mill woollen factory and river.

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-16-13-48

I’m a bit clumsy with technology, although it is undeniably as useful to me as it is to others. In the main I prefer to do things by hand, it sits more comfortably with me and I find working things out by hand less frustrating. So when it came to making yarn labels for this yarn and for my other dyed yarns I wanted to draw – literally – on the landscape around my home. Whether looking west to the Cambrian Mountains as above or Snowdonia

p1200791

or behind us to the Kerry Ridgeway bordering England or to the soft undulations of the fields around my home…

p1200800

…wherever you look are hills, mountains and misty valleys; sheep, cattle and trees. They are connected to each other sustaining, shaping and evolving with the humans that tend them all. I started to sketch a stylised version because these are the things of my daily life.

dsc_0004

Which eventually turned into this label for the Hafren and Gwy yarns.

dsc_0014

And in the case of this Afon Miwl yarn, I’m able to bring the detail right down to the animals names!

dsc_0125

Afon Miwl is quite a sleek drapey yarn with little elasticity. Although it knits as a fingering weight / 4 ply yarn, its dense 80% longwool/ 20% silk worsted construction means its yardage is closer to sport weight yarn at around 290m / 100g (or 317yds / 3.53oz). It is in 100g hand-dyed skeins and is priced at £22.50 per skein. Colour batches are small, around 3 skeins in each colour batch.

It definitely lends itself to shawls and lace knitting. I think it would be amazing woven and hope there may be a few remnants after skeining that I can try this with myself.

I haven’t skeined all of the yarn yet but there will be around 150 skeins in total. And that’s it. I’m unlikely ever to make this yarn exactly like this again. The first batch of around 50 skeins will go on sale shortly once all the labelling is complete. Do feel free to sign up for my newsletter (subscribe button on my website www.barber-blacksheep.co.uk) to be informed of the planned update time.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my yarn project and will maybe want to knit with it too!

Rivers Know This…

“Rivers know this; there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”  (A.A.Milne)

January was pretty busy. For me it’s always a time to take stock and plan ahead. Last year was unsettling in so many ways, somewhere along the way I felt I lost heart – about so many things – and I’ve used the first month of 2017 to ground myself and focus on the things that are important to me and doing this has been really helpful.

This has helped me relaunch a project that has been years in the making and ran aground last year. Namely, my Afon Miwl yarn project. I thought I’d use this blog post to tell you a little more about it in detail before the yarns actually come on sale.

Some years ago I started crossing my Gotland sheep with other breeds. I wanted to see how the different sheep turned out and especially what their fleeces were like. One particularly lovely fleece type was from the Gotland x Bluefaced Leicester (BFL) sheep. Like pure BFL, this “Swedish Mule” as I called it, had fine silky, lustrous staples. I knew they would be a challenge for some spinners to process and were best suited to combing. So I made the decision then to set aside these fleeces and store them carefully with a view to saving them up and one day having them processed into commercially spun yarn.

p1190191

Having small batch yarn spun at a mill is a fiendishly expensive project – so at the time this was more an act of faith than clear judgement. At that point in time “BarberBlackSheep” the business did not exist – I didn’t even really sell my fleeces direct. It was just something I knew that I really wanted to do and like most of my crazy ideas it was equal parts inspired and madness.

I had only four of this particular crossbred in my tiny flock – Alfie (in the picture above) and his half-sister Siwan and the slightly older Graínne and her twin Boudicca (whom I no longer have). I hand shear all my sheep myself at the point of the year most suited to their fleece type. Gotlands are sheared in winter and housed, BFL sheared in summer. My Swedish Mules fall somewhere between and I generally shear them around April once the weather starts to warm up but before the fleeces start to “cot” with their Gotland genes. When I started to shear I used blades and because I have inflammatory arthritis and painful weak joints I don’t turn my sheep to shear, I’ve developed my own style of shearing them standing.

p1000435-2

I still shear my sheep standing but now I used a Lister machine instead of blades and have rigged up a sling for me to lean in to to help save my back. Either way, shearing my sheep is very much a labour of love – it’s painful and I dread it, especially as most of my sheep get sheared twice a year! But it’s also lovely to handle the fleeces slowly at such close quarters and helps me pick over them carefully as I do so.

Given the small number of sheep and the fact that their fleeces are fairly light in weight, it took me five years to amass the minimum amount I could send for processing. I got to this point last year – I then needed to save up enough money to do this! Last winter I was able to bag up the precious fleeces after sorting them many times and just scraping in with the minimum quantity and send them down to the Natural Fibre Company, a specialist mill in Cornwall. Marley of course had to help – he likes to lend a paw where he can, especially if it smells sheepy…

p1180621

There was a neat synchronicity about this being spun by Natural Fibre Company. It is owned by Sue Blacker who also owns Blacker Yarns and when I first wanted to keep Gotlands I very nearly bought some ewes from Sue as she’s a fellow Gotland owner. At that point in time, she had just purchased NFC which had been a Welsh company based in Lampeter and having moved the mill to Cornwall she was downsizing her own flock slightly. I dearly wanted to buy some of her lovely ewes she sent me pictures of but my father was becoming very ill at that point and the long trek to Cornwall proved impractical despite Sue doing everything she could to help me achieve this. I later found my foundation ewes much closer to home thanks to another fibre person, Janet Phillips of The Threshing Barn. I still regret not buying the lovely fine wool Gotlands Sue keeps – but I knew that sending my fleeces years later to her flourishing mill meant they’d be in good hands!

Exactly this time last year a much smaller but still very heavy sack arrived back and Mr Marley gave it his approval.

p1190053

As a handspinner, I knew exactly how I’d wanted this yarn to be spun which made discussing my requirements much simpler. Whilst hand-spun yarn doesn’t bear much resemblance to commercially spun yarn and the processes are somewhat different, nonetheless you can get a good feel for the finished yarn by extensive sampling. So I knew that I wanted this to be a worsted spun yarn to align the lustrous fibres and enhance their good points. I also knew that I wanted a fingering weight yarn – this would be a drapey sleek yarn more suited to shawls and lace knitting and I felt that a fingering weight will give a more versatile yarn for the kind of wool it was spun from. And because worsted spinning and finer yarns are both more expensive to create, I really wanted to push for a luxurious yarn to take it up a notch and so chose to blend in 20% tussah silk. There is something very special about the quality of tussah – or wild – silk. I vastly prefer it to mulberry silk and it has something very honest and raw in its beauty that makes it exceptionally suited to blending with wool.

And it really didn’t disappoint. I felt like I’d received a sack full of silver…

dsc_0025

I chose to have the yarn returned to me oiled and on cones. I really didn’t know how I wanted to put up or sell this precious yarn and washing and skeining it myself shaved off some of the cost. This however also made the project stop dead in its tracks as I worked out how the heck I was going to achieve this! And how exactly I wanted to market what amounted to a one-off yarn that I’d invested so much time, love, hopes and dreams into. It wasn’t just “yarn” to me. It was the yarn… It was the yarn I’d dreamed about making when I first handled those shearling fleeces years before.

I’m a slow worker. I like to weigh things up carefully before acting. Sometimes this can annoy those around me and sometimes it can be a drawback, but for me, taking my time (and thus probably tapping into the Welsh side of my character!) gives me security in knowing I’ve done the best I can. I rarely regret decisions made this way and having waited so long to get this far and invested so much, waiting a bit longer until I could do this properly wasn’t that big a deal. This was a project that was never about money or income for me. It has to pay its way of course – after all there are other artisan yarns I really want to make if this sells OK! – but it wasn’t the motive for doing it.

So whilst I pondered my options and created the colour palette I wanted to use, I came across the lovely Welsh Mule yarns that I now sell under my brands of Hafren and Gwy. They’re very different yarns to my own and act as a lovely compliment and extend the palette of the Island Song colours I’ve created for these Welsh grown and dyed yarns. They also gave me confidence as I started to dye up yarns – which after all was a new venture for me as up till now I’d been a fleece and fibre dyer only.

My lovely friend Sarah is brilliant at test knitting my sample yarns for me. She has been working with Afon Miwl on a two colour shawl. The pattern is Avant L’Orage which if you like watching The Great British Sewing Bee you may remember Charlotte, the 2016 winner, wearing! Sarah asked me to dye up the shades Anenome and Bramble for her version – although we discovered that you need a skein and a half of the main colour and one skein of the contrast using my yarn as it has a different yardage.

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-20-50-20

Inspired by Sarah’s beautiful shawl, I spent the latter part of last week putting the last touches to the project. Skeining the first batch of yarn by hand took over my kitchen, aided by my other trusty assistant Badger (this is too tedious a job for Marley to want to get involved!).

dsc_0005

And gradually a pile of oiled skeins appeared.

dsc_0014

They now look very different heaped up on my table after a days intense work in the dye studio…

dsc_0027

This post is long enough for now. Tomorrow I will come back and tell you a little more about the name behind the yarn before the yarns go on sale.

Tempus fugit (when you’re having fun)

The past week has involved a good deal of dove-tailing the different areas of my life. It’s been kind of busy – even more so than usual – and wow, hasn’t it gone quickly! Today has been a day to pause, reflect and hibernate just a little because it suddenly got rather chilly here with the wind blowing down off the first snows tipping the mountains to the NorthWest this morning…

It’s been a good week including lots of time with various friends from around the UK on trips out and celebrating gatherings closer to home. Making, writing, sketching, thinking, planning, walking, eating good food … and rather a lot of old fashioned grafting! Although this week we had help in for the major job of breaking up a large part of our farm yard and relaying the concrete which had become damaged over the past 10 years by frost and salt in the more bitter winters. It’s a job that needed doing for a while so although the new surface currently looks as stark as bleached bones, we’re rather pleased with it. We can work on “prettifying” the surrounds next spring!

I’m continually amazed at the glory of this Autumn though. One thing I’ve always thought I’d love to do is to go “leaf peeping” in another country renowned for Autumn/Fall colour. This past week though, I feel replete with all that arboreal Wales has offered during October. It couldn’t be better and it’s right here outside my door…

Here’s a few glimpses of the fun I’ve had both at work and play:

Baking butter cookies and roasted pumpkin soup this morning

dsc_0038

dsc_0028

Around home with my animals and daily life:

p1200550

p1200559

dsc_0096

p1200531

dsc_0008

p1200510

p1200519

A change of scene for a day, exploring somewhere new and catching up with old friends.

p1200484-version-2

p1200456-version-2

p1200381-version-2

p1200429-version-2

I didn’t have my camera last night for our neighbours’ awesome Bonfire Party they host each year but this is definitely something not to be missed, although sadly this year a few people weren’t able to be with us. As usual we finished off by roasting our faces and marshmallows sitting on the straw bales we loan for the occasion. There’s nothing quite like being huddled together round a fire with home made food and drinks, laughing with your neighbours to feel like you’re reinforcing bonds that will last through joy and adversity – and they do (marshmallows optional extra).

These times together are so cherished by us all that we were only halfway through the evening before our conversation turned to our next two usual gatherings – at Christmas and New Year and even projected onto the possibility of a new Midsummer madness!! Smokey smiles all round!

p1200452-version-2

What I can’t show you is the progress being made on the Spinner’s Advent Calendar – it’s top secret until December of course!

dsc_0010-version-2

I’m working my way through packing the pre-orders, they were so popular this year and I’m really grateful for that. There may possibly turn out to be a couple of spares at the end of this. My Ravelry group update thread is the best place to watch for the chance to snap one up…

What I can show you is the newest addition to my stitch marker range – Autumn Sheep! Now in stock.

dsc_0131-version-2

There are more things in the pipeline once the Advent Calendars have winged their way to their new homes. So many things to squeeze into the time. It’s all good!

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.

p1190896

p1190906

p1190909

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.

p1200331

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.

p1200329

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.

p1200335

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

p1200337

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

p1200338

p1200340

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 …

p1200341

…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.

p1200343-2

p1200344-2

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.

p1200346

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.

p1200350

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

p1200348

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.

p1200354

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!

p1200359

The finished yarn:

dsc_0017-version-2

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!

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!!

P1190922

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!!

P1190920

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.

DSC_0032

DSC_0054

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!

DSC_0005

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.

DSC_0030

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!

DSC_0056

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.

BBS_ravatar_with_words_pink_small_medium copy

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.

DSC_0083

DSC_0118

DSC_0009-2

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.

DSC_0018

DSC_0024

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.

WP_20160707_21_40_44_Pro

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.

DSC_0048

DSC_0042

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.

Colour in Symphony – trio and chorus

When I was photographing the skeins of Welsh Mule yarn for the shop listings a couple of days ago I quickly put together some colour combinations to help people making colour choices. These photographs are just snaps, not great quality (spot the skew-whiff ones!) and were just as I grabbed the skeins one after the other as the colours leapt out at me at the time not in planned colour ways.

So these are just to give an idea of possibilities, they’re not recommended colour combinations per se.

These are trios of colour. In some cases I’ve just swapped out one skein each time to show the subtle change from a lighter to darker version of a colour can make to a combination. I’ve put them in mosaic format to reduce the picture heavy nature of the post.

These are larger groups of 5 shades – a chorus of yarns perhaps…

DSC_0069DSC_0070DSC_0073DSC_0074DSC_0075DSC_0076DSC_0077DSC_0078

And finally 6 shades – mostly warmer shades and mostly cooler.

DSC_0086

DSC_0085.jpg

Remember that these are for different ideas; if you’re looking for stranded colour work you’ll ideally need colours with high contrast in colour depth. If for stripes and edgings, contrast sleeves choosing subtle analogous colours (ones similar in shade) is fine.

When I’m working with colour and I don’t have the actual yarns to hand or if I’m designing colour schemes I’ve not yet dyed up samples to work with, I find it useful to have different materials in the kinds of shades I need just to help me see how they work together.

You can do the same – be inventive! I often use tufts of dyed merino tops as I have a lot in stock but I also use the paint chips that decorating merchants have for you to decide on colour test pots. I also colour in pieces of card with colour pencils or paints or lay them next to each other on white paper. But in a pinch you can use almost anything to give an idea of colour.

 

Colour in Symphony

Having introduced you to the colours of the Island Song collection last week and their inspirations, I’m now going to show you the colours all together and then in another post I’ll do a series of just pictures showing the colours in different combinations to help give ideas for putting them together.

DSC_0038

DSC_0068

DSC_0090

DSC_0091

These images are all displaying the colours on North Ronaldsay heavy lace weight yarn – it was the one yarn I had in 100g skeins in stock to test the colours one last time and I needed all of them together to take colour photos. This is a really lovely yarn, it’s crisp and not especially soft at first but softens with handling. I’ve yet to knit it up myself (too many projects on!) but it’s begging to be made into a lace shawl or perhaps a vest or cardigan, the 2-ply structure will show off the lace stitches beautifully and snap cleanly round the edges of yarnovers. At this time I have only one of each skein which will go in the shop shortly after the Welsh Yarn but I’m hoping to get more of this “island” yarn back in stock at some point in the future.

I’ll be offering the colours first on two weights of the Welsh Mule yarn – one is a heavy DK/worsted 3 ply yarn perfect for squishy warm garments and the other a fingering/sport weight 2 ply which would work equally well as finer gauge garments or for lace shawls or small items like hats, mittens and children’s clothes; it’s a very soft yet robust yarn so will be perfect for items worn next to the skin.

Because of these attributes I’m offering the different weights in different skein sizes. The DK/worsted yarn will be available for now in 50g skeins and the fingering/sport weight in 100g skeins and a mini skein I’ve yet to finalise but most likely 25g. This will allow versatility in buying quantities for colour work or stripes, small items and still have larger skeins in the finer yarn for lace shawls where it’s good to avoid weaving in ends where possible.

For those who are interesting in colour-work I’ve turned some of the yarn photos into grayscale so you can see the colour intensity. This isn’t a subject for this blog post but colour work aficionados will know that for successful colour contrast in stranded knitting, you need a contrast in colour intensity as well as colour to make the shades pop out and work together rather than being lost in amongst shades of similar depth. This is a subject that has been addressed by many other far more knowledgeable knitters than myself so I suggest you google for more information.

Here’s the colours of Island Song.

DSC_0050

And the same photograph turned into grayscale.

DSC_0050 - Version 2

You can see that the shades range from almost white to almost black once the hues have been cancelled out. Picking out my favourite range of aqua blues and greens (to the left) for colourwork would leave me with quite an insipid pattern, I would need to mix it up with some of the other shades to give it some muscle.

However for stripes and some other kinds of knitting colour design you can choose whatever you like. You could go for a contrasting selection on a harlequin sweater with contrast sleeves or blocks of colour in the construction or intarsia. Or you might choose gentle shading and gradients or perhaps a delicate edging on a shawl or collar, hem and cuffs.

The choice is yours and the possibilities really wide!

DSC_0058

DSC_0141