Oh, not again!

Why do things happen in clumps? I mean, when one thing happens – say someone reversing into your car – why is it then followed by other things? And why do these things happen when you’re already busy?

(Warning: there is no, or very little, actual knitting content in this post. There aren’t even any sheep. Because when other things were going pear-shaped, at least the knitting held up. And nobody actually reveresed into my car. I reversed it into a fence post getting out of the way of a caravan – it’s December, people, FFS – but it was slow and nothing was damaged.)

All in all, I needed a bit of refreshment. So, dealing with Disaster 3, I decided to take the back way to the big city – that would be Bangor – and get a bit of a reminder that there were good things too.

Gwynant

This is Nant Gwynant, and it is so beautiful…

So, Thing 1. Just before work, I went into the bathroom. The sink was full of glass, broken glass. First thought? I’d broken a tooth glass. Second thought? I do not have a tooth glass.

Looked up. Inner layer of Velux window had failed.

Spend ages putting cardboard up so more glass does not descend, place hoover across door so don’t forget about glass, go to work. Come back, replace cardboard which has fallen down, hoover glass. Repeat three hours later. Repeat next morning, before ringing home insurance. Apparently there was a product recall for these windows manufactured at a certain time. Ring Velux. My window is one. Will be replaced. Fast forward a few days, man from Velux appears. Replaces bathroom window. Checks massive double Velux in kitchen roof – and they need doing too. It’s about 4 metres up, but he’s prepared though a little surprised. (I am trying to work, meanwhile, and there is some, er, disruption.)

Time for pretty pic.

img_3893

OK, Thing 2. Have heating engineer here trying to work out why one rad has stopped working. This is going smoothly, even though it involves a hosepipe through the front door and black gunk in the garden, when my MacBook Pro decides to have a kernel panic.

This is my first. Run around room shouting ‘someone’s taken over my computer!!!’ until I stop and see the giveaway screen box on top of the chaos. Restart MBP. All seems well, but am not fooling self – really need extra memory. Unfortunately I am the Queen of Static so this will need doing by someone who does not rule the electric realm. Think a female version of Thor, but without the cloak and the muscles. And the facial hair. Hammer, mind, I could do with a (}#%$!! hammer. Now.

Another calming shot.

Llanberis Pass

Thing 3: Sodding washing machine decides to have its annual near-Christmas collapse. I know how it feels, but I do not stop in mid cycle with a load of ringing wet bedding inside, with all my lights flashing, making a terrible noise, and then refuse to give up my prize of a partly washed duvet, sheet, and pillowcases to their rightful owner. However at least it did not do it on Boxing Day this year, and I did find a hammer and released my washing through the exercise of physical violence.

And this is why I found myself driving around the base of Yr Wyddfa / Snowdon, avoiding a strolling family of wild goats, even though I suspected I would actually get my new machine from my lovely local retailer. As I have. It arrives tomorrow.

Snowdon

And the craft fair went fine, thanks. But my takings are going on a new washing machine. Oh yes, and on top of all that I developed a lung infection that I thought was just my usual winter athsma until it was a bit late, so I’ve been on heavy-duty antibiotics. I have now finished the course so I can hit the GIN, and boy do I need the €$^#{\!!! gin.

Cracking on… (for Christmas. Shhh.)

It’s less than two weeks. No, not to Christmas, come down from the ceiling, it’s not that scary though it is nearly as bad. Nope, it’s less than two weeks until the big Harlech Craft Fair and I am picnicking.

PANICKING, thank you, WordPress autocorrect.

Wish I was picnicking, but there you go. In fact, here is Picnic Central, otherwise known as the kitchen table, complete with iPad, knitting and one of the 85,345,278 cups of tea I drink in the course of a day.

table

Ahem.

It’s a great Fair, the Harlech one – really more of a makers’ market, as the craftspeople are professionals who all earn at least part of their income doing what they do. But everyone is used to it being called Harlech Christmas Craft Fair, and so it stays as that. I’m one of the stallholders and this year, due to having had a crazy summer where I almost sold out of everything, I’m diversifying.

No, not into ‘innovative jam’ (copyright Teresa May) or pottery or pyrographing my name on my forehead or doing anything surprising in metal. Into a few simple woolly kits. It struck me, during the summer of eeeeeekkkkkk!!!!!!!, that I was missing some potential customers. Knitters came to chat about knitting, great, enjoyed it, loved it – can happily talk about knitting until the cows have come home, changed and gone out on the town partying – but they didn’t buy. Well, the chances are that I wouldn’t buy knitting either on a woolly stall, though I would always make a beeline for any such stalls at similar events.

This got me thinking, as did some of the things these knitters said, such as ‘what’s a three-needle bind off?’ and ‘Russian splicing? What’s that?’ When you knit and know things, you tend to assume that other knitters also know those things, and yet sometimes they don’t. Take me, f’r instance. I can’t do kitchener stitch (I know) or work on double-pointed needles without tying myself in knots: we all have things which aren’t our thing, if you get my drift.

So: basic kits for my own straightforward but effective patterns, each incorporating a technique or alternative approach – that is the idea. I’ve sourced some wool which is good quality but reasonable so it allows me to sell it on at an equally reasonable price, though not in huge quantities – this is just a test, after all. I’ve worked up some patterns, tested them, made silly mistakes, corrected them, retested them and now all I need to do is type them out. The most complicated one is my Woolwinding Shawl, and that’s not really complicated; the simplest one is an offset rib double cowl. But the one I am most absurdly pleased with is almost as easy, a pair of simple fingerless mitts / wrist warmers.

mitt

I spent ages fiddling around with the cables, after one silly mistake with the pattern I thought I was going to use made them look like varicose veins (definitely best discarded, mistake or no mistake, largely because I couldn’t stop laughing). They’re a variation on the classic claw Aran pattern, but without the long thread across the traditional 1/3 cable which can catch on things. There’s a right and a left mitt; the palms are plain because that’s more practical (and it helps the wool go further so you can get two mitts out of a single ball of loveliness; these test mitts are in Rowan Pure Wool DK, but I’ve got a few balls of delicious DK alpaca for the kits themselves). I’ve also got a fingerless glove pattern in 4 ply which is more complicated, but I’ll see how these go first.

This made me think about fingerless mitts. I’ve always used them – before I even knitted -because I was a photographer and needed my fingertips free. They were really difficult to find, once, too. Not so now; I’ve noticed them in the outdoor and mountaineering shops round here, often with a mitt bit (must trademark that) which fastens back, but I’ve also seen them in general shops, and whenever I have them for sale they always fly out. Maybe it’s something to do with all the tech we use nowadays, rather than the fact that we’re all rock climbing?

Anyway, let’s see how the kits go. If nothing else, it will take some of the pressure off me for finished objects (took some off by not doing commissions any more, and that helps), and they can go on etsy too, when I get my act together. And now I’m back in love with cables, too.

mitt2

And with warm radiators, even though they make a disconcerting background for photos. Doing a selfie of your hand is not as easy as you’d think (thank goodness for protective cases for tech). Hey ho!

Ooops!

KnittingI honestly hadn’t realised how long it had been since my last post – the longest gap ever, I think. But there’s been knitting, evidently.

I am all right, except for excessive ammounts of swearing – because I’ve been having one or two run-ins with WordPress. Write a lovely post, add a gallery, edit the gallery, try to write another line – and ZAP! The entire post vanishes. So I decided to give it a couple of weeks to see if the glitch got sorted, and before I knew it over a month has passed. And I’ve been to London, managed to visit a couple of yarn shops. More later.

But not much later, honest!

And in the meanwhile, here’s another look at that knitting, a sweater in Sublime’s lovely Luxurious Aran Tweed (now discontinued, hrrumph) and a neckwarmer on the needles in Malabrigo Merino Worsted. Love the colours… The bag? That’s what the striped thing is. Some handspun, dyed and felted in the washing machine a million years ago. Well, about six years ago.

Knitting

Book review: Yarnitecture

YarnitectureI’m often sent books to review, and I find myself thinking ‘nooooo’. Many don’t make it onto Woolwinding; they are either inappropriate or just uninspiring, or maybe they are reinventing a wheel which doesn’t need redevelopment – or maybe they are just dire. But sometimes I open a parcel and find myself doing a little dance round the room. This is one of the latter occasions.

Excuse me. Ahem.

What can I say about this gem by Jillian Moreno? it is a spinning book written, hooray, from a knitter’s perspective. It focuses on spinning ‘a yarn that fulfils a purpose’: one that works its best for whatever knitted project you have in mind.

Once upon a recent time, handspinning was almost an end in itself, and it still can be, of course. Once upon a recent time, it was assumed in books about spinning that the spinners were inevitably dealing exclusively with fleece. Raw fleece. Fleece possibly from their own sheep. And, also of course, some people do work exclusively with fleece (I love it myself, except on days like today when the wind suddenly gets up and blows most of my freshly washed Cheviot x BFL fleece away, possibly taking it as far as England). But many of us are not purists: we buy prepared fibre, maybe hand-dyed, delicious fibre; maybe undyed but fully processed and still delicious fibre. And some people – I know several – actively dislike working with anything else. Very many of us spin fibre in order to knit with it, to produce something unique, something we control from (almost) start to finish. This is our book.

It starts with a basic vision; goes through fibre breeds and the impact choice there can have; explores prep, drafting, plying, working with colour, finishing… and, ta dah, knitting with handspun. It’s beautifully illustrated. And it even has some patterns.

Ok, let’s have a look inside. Take this page: it illustrates the different effects you can get by blending colours at plying or blending those colours before spinning:

colour spinning

It is often good to do things intentionally, instead of accidentally. Intentional, and you can get the same effect again, should you want to do so. Accidental? You might be lucky…

Or take finishing a spun yarn. I almost always whack my finished yarn to set the twist (I find it helpful; I can imagine I am whacking the person at the Fibre Fair who said ‘I could do that, but I wouldn’t want to, it’s so boring’). But what about the alternatives? There’s snapping, swirling it around like a cowboy with a lasso, even fulling it. What difference would a different process make, and what impact would it have on a particular yarn?

finishing

Here four different yarns are compared – merino, corriedale, BFL and silk – after having undergone eight different approaches (menaced, incidentally, doesn’t mean you sitting in front of the yarn like Michael Corleone confronting the men who tried to kill his father; it means felting it deliberately).

And how about ply affecting what you want to knit?

plying

That’s covered at length; above focuses on singles, but there are equally detailed examinations of two- and three-ply yarns. It’s excellent, and the ‘knitting with your handspun’ section is invaluable, covering things like ensuring you will have enough yarn (been there), and simply planning a project from a pattern which specifies a commercial yarn.

Finally, there are twelve patterns. There are two cardigans, a moebius cowl / shawl, four more varied but normally constructed shawls (of which this, by Romi, is one),

pattern

socks, two sweaters, a necklace and a pair of mitts.

I have been waiting for a book like this – thank you, Jill Moreno!

 

Fulling cloth: stamping and stocks in Wales

We have a lot of water in Wales. I know it’s a cliché, but we do. Everywhere in the west of a northern continent does, whether it’s Seattle or Bangor; rainfall is a given. Mostly. It certainly is round here, and that means that there are lots of useful streams or small rivers:

IMG_1660

roaring down from the hills, just begging to be used.

It’s not surprising that fulling cloth was done away from the house while other textile processes stayed at home, given one of the easiest and cheapest raw materials to obtain for fulling was stale urine, but it’s the sheer number of fulling mills that leaps out at you in Wales, once you know what you’re looking for.

I’d not realised it, but my house almost equidistant between two fulling mills, and that’s two even in my small area, two within three miles of my home. Well, they were fulling mills once; one is now a private house, and the other is a pub. The river in the shot above, the Ysgethin, is the one which flows (or roars, rather worryingly) close by the latter, and which provided power for the fulling stocks which were once there. The other was part of a smaller operation but was again situated next to a mountain stream – where cloth would once have been ‘walked’ – though there was evidence of two pits, possibly used for treading cloth, before the house was developed. The giveaway can be an element in a name: a pandy is a fulling mill (pl. pandai) – as in Tonypandy, for instance – but watch out for the mutation which changes the initial letter in some circumstances to a b, so you get ‘bandy‘ instead. In the case of the pub, the giveaway was some large information boards. I managed to walk past them several times without taking them in…

I shouldn’t have been surprised. There were hundreds of small fulling mills; every district had one, and many had several. In his magisterial book, The History of Wales / Hanes Cymru, John Davies notes that 111 were established in the country during the fourteenth century. They spread north and east from the south and, despite the upheaval of the rising of Owain Glyn Dwr, a further 62 were built before 1500. (Flemish weavers settling in Pembrokeshire have been credited with spearheading their development, but it’s not certain how significant their role actually was; moving fulling out of the house would have been a logical process.)

In my neck of the woods, Meirionydd, the first reference to a fulling mill is from 1545, when Maes y Pandy (note the name) near Dolgellau crops up in a legal document. Between then and 1700, there are records of a further 38 being established, and  another 30 between 1700 and 1810.

fulling mill

Many fullers, like that fuller from Pompeii in the previous post, were part-timers: in this case, they were part-time farmers, with the pandy one of the farm buildings. And sometimes fulling mills were developed with existing corn mills, and the same person looked after both processes (as at Coed Trewernau in Powys, where a fulling mill and corn mill are recorded together in the 1630s). The domestic cloth trade was particularly important in Meirionydd as, incidentally, was sock and stocking knitting: ‘Almost every little farmer makes webs, and few cottages in these parts are without a loom’ wrote Arthur Aikin in 1797.

It’s not surprising that fulling was the ‘first woollen process to be mechanised’. The introduction of fulling stocks must have been generally welcomed: fulling using the feet was time-consuming, unpleasant, exhausting and damaging to the health. But it wasn’t a process from the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century, oh no: this mechanisation goes back as far as 1135 in Britain, with records of water-powered mills in Cumbria. Stocks went on to be in use until the twentieth century, and there is a film of some rather basic ones in use which can be seen at the National Wool Museum in Dre-fach Felindre.

Fulling mill

They all work on the same basic principle. Cloth is put in the ‘box’ – you can just see it behind the stocks (D) in the picture above – and is pounded alternately by a pair of hammers, powered by the energy from water. The back of the hammers is shaped in such a way that the cloth is constantly turned, ensuring that it is completely fulled.

It’s not at all surprising that many fulling mills later developed into full-scale industrial enterprises. First fulling moved away from the home and into the mills, then prepping the fleece. This can be seen in the history of many. Take a mill at Cwmpengraig: carders, water-driven, were introduced into a building which had been in use as a fulling mill. In the 1820s, when it was known as Coedmor, a spinning jack of 40 spindles was added. It continued as a carding, spinning and fulling mill until 1878 when it was rebuilt as a ‘fully comprehensive mill’. It no longer exists as a mill, having been burnt down twice, most recently in 1951. (Fire was a constant threat; lots of grease from the wool and the machines; lots of timber in the buildings.) Trefriw, near Betws-y-Coed in North Wales, is another example – but one which is happily thriving.

And what of fulling stocks? Well, they were gradually replaced by rotary machines in which the cloth, ends sewn together to make an endless loop, passed between weighted rollers. The ‘rotary mill’ was patented in 1833, increased production and ensured more control over the process. But that didn’t necessarily mean that all fulling was a hugely industrial operation, as illustrated by this last image, from the county archives:

Fulling

Meirionnydd Archives, Gwynedd Archives Service

The box in the foreground is the rotary milling machine, and the man is William Edwards, who was the fuller at Pandy Gwylan in Maentwrog: another fulling mill just a hair’s breadth from where I live. And this one is recorded as also having a ‘dye house’. That’s a whole other story!

Fulling cloth: smells and stamping in Rome

I’ve had an astonishingly ‘crafty’ summer. Plus, there’s work (bechod) and, what with one thing and another, blogging has taken a bit of a back seat. But I’ve still been brooding on fulling. I realise lots of people will know all about this, but I didn’t. Well, I knew bits, but only bits. I didn’t realise, for instance, that urine had ever been taxed and, quite apart from why, how? I have to admit that I still don’t understand the fiscal process. How on earth do you tax pee?

Ahem. Fulling cloth – kneading the woven cloth until the fabric thickens as the threads felt and close together, while also cleaning it – was one of the earliest cloth-making processes to be mechanised, but that wasn’t until the early middle ages. Before that it was largely down to feet.

fullingRoman fulleries had their slaves treading away in booth-like structures, and similar processes – often called ‘walking’ (Ireland and Wales) and ‘waulking’ (particularly in the Hebrides) – have persisted as part of a commercial process almost into the present.

There can seem to have been an excess of fullers in some Roman towns, but that’s probably down to a form of sampling bias. A fuller’s workroom / shop is one of the easiest places to recognise, which may make them seem more prominent than they might have been at the time. Maybe. Probably not, though: Romans did not wash their clothes (or anything else made of cloth) at home. Fulleries are completely distinctive, with their booths, vats and large sinks.

Few trades leave clearer traces behind them:

fullery in Pompeii

Fullers (preparing cloth before it went into use) and laundries (not just cleaning cloth but often refurbishing it too) generally seem to have been the same place. Fullers, with common Roman snobbery towards the ‘working classes’, were a source of amusement to the elite, and Cicero’s detractors often teased him with being the son of a laundry owner. Fullers might also have been part-timers; one piece of Pompeiian construction graffiti states that ‘Mustius the fuller did the whitewashing’ – so he clearly had a sideline, or maybe he was moonlighting to make ends meet. Also in Pompeii is a house with an ‘oversized’ dining room which had a lot of graffiti celebrating fullers; Mary Beard has suggested (in Pompeii) that it might have been where they went for after-work drinks, and why not?

It was a smelly trade, though, which makes the fact that fulleries could be next to elegant houses rather surprising, to us. It was pongy because of the importance of pee in the cleansing process, and that is why the emperor Vespasian taxed human urine – it was a levy on the textile industry, and specifically on the fullers; nicely stale urine was a source of ammonium salts which helped to whiten the cloth. It was collected in large clay pots which were placed in strategic locations – outside shops, public urinals, road intersections (!) – though the fullers deliberately avoided some, notably the pots outside inns. That’s because post-piss-up pee is lower in nitrogen and not so effective. The things you learn.

First, the fabric was soaked in a heated mixture of old urine and water in a fulling stall, and then the fullers – or more likely the slaves – would go into the stall, rest their hands on the sides and start stamping. Once the fulling process was complete the fabric was thoroughly rinsed (thank heavens), wrung out (took at least two people; a toga could be nearly 7 metres long) and then spread out over frames to dry. Once dry, the nap was raised by using thistle heads, and then trimmed to a constant height using ‘cropping shears’, which are often represented on gravestones.

Fullonica of Veranius Hypsaeus, Pompeii

Incidentally, there is evidence that any dyeing often took place before weaving the cloth, which is probably not surprising given how throughly the finished fabric was worked afterwards. The effectiveness of the fulling process can be seen in reports of the spotless white togas of senators; they were woollen, and – naturally – subject to this process for cleaning as well as finishing the cloth in the first place.

If you were of more humble status your clothes were more likely to be dull and brownish rather than white, largely because they would not be so expensively produced or laundered. Harriet Fowler (in Women of the Roman Republic) thinks they may have been produced / cleaned separately, probably in different establishments, which seems highly likely to me – you’d probably be using less of the taxed constituents, maybe watering them down more, if you were doing it for people who couldn’t afford much. There were different types of fulleries: broadly, small local ones, often near market places, and huge imposing ones which clearly had many more workers / slaves. Bigger, smarter places for those who could afford them? Also highly likely, I think. (The parallels between the Roman world and our own just get stronger and stronger – for instance, they had their celebrity chefs and obscure equivalents of things like birch-sap reductions too). And, just as a final note, the slaves who did the treadling did so in bare feet.

stained glass franceMoving on, rather hastily, to Wales, though the stained glass with a fuller treading away at top left comes from France. The other panels are the next stages of cloth finishing, too.

It may seem that Ancient Rome and Mediaeval Wales have not got that much in common (apart from some vocabulary the Romans left behind, now preserved in the Welsh language), but fulling, as elsewhere, is one thing: the fact that it was almost the only part of the textile production process which not done at home. Prepping fibre, spinning, weaving: yes, all done in your home (or in the home in which you worked as a domestic servant). Fulling: nah. Not surprising, really, even when Fuller’s Earth was being more frequently used. Fulling still involved a lot of stamping about in – well – stale piss. Or it did, for a considerable time. And then came fulling stocks, which must have been a relief….

Main source for Rome: Miko Flohr, The World of the Fullo, OUP, 2013. Wales next (and this time without a gap of several weeks!)

Spin it!

There’s this thing, you see. It’s this big cycling race thing. This insane thing called the Tour de France, to which I am slightly addicted. And then there’s this other insane thing: the Tour de Fleece. Really.

It’s a Ravelry thing, and I joined it last year but got swept up by the spinny equivalent of the voiture balai, the broom wagon, and had to give up as my hands didn’t let me carry on. Not this year. This year I may not be wearing a spotty jersey, a green jersey or a yellow one (I am, in fact, wearing a black polo-neck as the weather is pretending it’s October), but I am spinning or plying every day:

on the bobbin

I’m doing at least 30 minutes every morning, before work, while my porridge is cooking and cooling (yup, it’s porridge weather; should be croissants or a tartine but I need something warming).

Right, so what is the Tour de Fleece?

Apologies if you already know, or indeed if you are already participating… essentially it’s a challenge for spinners. You spin every day the Tour riders ride; you can have rest days as the Tour does – there are two – and you can also do something especially demanding on the challenge days, if you wish. You can join one of the main Rav teams, or you can join what’s known as a ‘wildcard’ team, and some of them are pretty wild. You share what you’ve done, either just with your team or on the various stage posts in the Tour de Fleece group. It can be really inspiring, and really motivating, and if you’re stuck with your spinning, it’s a great way to get going again.

I needed, for instance, to press on with the lovely Haunui I’ve got. Judging by the current weather – my heating has clicked on; this is JULY, for heaven’s sake – my need for the big sweater replacement will hit sooner rather than later, so I need to stop being distracted by colour. I’ve got about 900g which needs spinning up now, and though I know it won’t all get done before the Tour ends, I will be able to make a serious dent in it. First two bobbins of my Tour:

bobbins and mag

which, after taking things carefully for once (I swear I can feel the voiture balai behind me after last year), turned into these:

skeins

Spinning a consistent yarn for a garment is interesting – I think I’m getting there; I’ve got my little sample tied to the wheel, and keep stopping to pull the thread back on itself to see what it will look like when plied. Of course, if I’d taken better notes in a Guild workshop on ‘spinning to the crimp’ I’d probably have a better, more methodical way of doing it – but then again, maybe I wouldn’t: the workshop presumed you’d know the fleece in its unwashed state. Anyway, it is a thickish DK or a fine Aran, in most places – sport weight, in fact. Yup, I’m sharing the passion, as the poster says. Only not the unpleasant habits (really – my last year TdF, with details, ergh).

TdF route

And the Tour rides on. In glorious weather. Hrrumpf. Wouldn’t mind sharing a bit of that.