Tag Archives: Wool

WiPs and WiWs

Busy, busy, busy. I love summer (actually I don’t, particularly; autumn’s my favourite) but round here summer means extra work, and lots of it. The work that gets me out if the house and away from the laptop’s titanium grip, that is. Knitting work. Helping-friends-who-have-interesting-shops work. But at least I’m down to only three works in progress, and one thing on the spinning wheel. Mind you, I have only the one wheel.

Here’s the first, a big jumper in Rowan Cocoon. Naturally I’m not knitting to the same gauge as the pattern, so adjustments have been made. We’ll see. Love the yarn, though, even if it sheds like the devil and all his angels.

Then there’s the Megaproject. This is an Orkney cardigan, also a Rowan pattern but knitted in Jamiesons shetland DK instead of Felted Tweed. This has also needed tweaking to get gauge. Naturally.

Happily the only ither thing on the needles (for the moment) does not need me to explore the realms of higher mathematics. It’s a shawlette, culled from Ravelry, and it’s being knitted in some really ancient Jaeger pure silk which I bought in a sale at Rowan in Holmfirth.

and I’m loving the yarn. It will look even better when it’s been blocked, of course, but it is de-lic-ious. Supposedly this is being knitted for the stall, but we will see.

Then on the wheel, in my lamentable attemot to join the Tour de Fleece this year, is some drum-carder blended fibre. There’s silk in here too, and heaven only knows what else.

Not enough to do much with, either, but I decided I would use the TdF to spin up some bits and then… well, who knows? One wristwarmer, perhaps. Which will add a fourth WiP, of course. And might be very useful for someone with one wrist.

A lesson learned?

Hm. A lesson learned is a a lesson which will probably be forgotten. But maybe not, who can tell?

I am now in the first period without a scary work deadline or three that I have had since, oh, September last year. I don’t want the Freelance Gods to think I’m complaining, because I’m not, but it has been a bit hairy in parts. To start the days off and to try and keep some sort of perspective, I decided to work on my spinning for a minimum of half an hour each day as well.

haunui spun

My hands are a whole lot better, but my spinning was not: too out of practice. So I settled down, spun a few small quantities of fluff I had in my stash and then, when I felt confident that things had indeed improved, I settled down to a big project. Replacing the giant sweater.

giant sweater detail

Anyone who knows me in the real, as opposed to the virtual, world also knows that during winters I am seldom seen without this huge, snuggly, comforting, impossible-to-photograph garment. I love it, and it loves me back. To such an extent that it has even been injured in the course of its duties (and let me just say that it’s a good job it’s reversible).

I know, I thought, I’ve got a shedload of Haunui fibre that I bought from Winghams a million years ago (2013); I’ll use that. It’s gorgeous, soft, soft, soft; lovely natural dark-chocolate colour, and the sheep – specific to one farm on New Zealand’s South Island – are bred and farmed to give a wonderful fibre for spinning. And, boy, is it wonderful; really, really special.

Went to spare room aka stash store, dug out fibre, smooshed it considerably, then spun up and plied 200g at roughly worsted weight (that’s it, above). Nice. Went back to stash, got out next 200g, realised only had about 500g left. Not enough.

Called Winghams. They’re not carrying it any more. Called friend. She is no friend at all and refused to give up her stash, for some reason. Huh. Asked on Ravelry if anyone much nicer had any they were willing to part with; they didn’t. Lots of helpful people did refer me to a UK importer who is even relatively local, but she imports finer fibre, and I needed to match what I’d got. Then, out of the Ravelry blue, I was contacted by the wonderful people on the farm. That’s right: all the way from a remote farm on one side of the world to a remote (no, it isn’t, except according to various couriers) village on the other. A few deliberations, some discussion of whether a complete match could be made (it could), whether the economics would work out, given carriage and duty (they would, especially after another friend who also failed to buy enough became involved), and we were on.

Soon a parcel arrived (after more discussions, this side of the world, about delivery times and exactly where they were going and no, they couldn’t rely on their sat nav and no, there wasn’t a house number and yes, they had been here before). It was surprisingly small, but bound about with lots of tape. I managed, very carefully, to cut the tape and it began to expand…

fibre

So I carried it to the bench and allowed it do do its thing:

woooooo

and finally revealed two kilos of the most wonderful fibre:

perfect!

I know what I’m going to be doing for the next few weeks!

And the next time I think I might be spinning for a garment, I’ll do some advance planning, honestly I will. Really. Oh yes, and I’m not buying any fibre at Wonderwool Wales tomorrow. Nothing. Dim (byd). Rud. Rien. Niente. Nowt. I have enough fibre now, and by next winter I might just have a new big sweater.

Massive thanks to Fiona and John at Taranui Farm; to their postman and to the delivery man at this end, who didn’t bat an eyelid when I came over all excited about receiving a parcel full of fleece. It’s been a real pleasure.

Oh Rowan, Rowan, wherefore art thou Rowan?

I help in a wool shop on Saturday afternoons, and when I turned up a couple of weeks ago I found my friend, the owner, in a state of shock. She’d just had an email from her Rowan rep with some devastating news: about 70% of the range was going. Either entire yarn ranges were being discontinued, or great swathes of colours were disappearing in many of those that were staying.

Rowan mill offices

This is not, perhaps, unexpected when you know that they’ve recently been taken over and perhaps it’s also not unexpected because there’s a certain feeling that they’ve taken their foot off the pedal a bit in recent years (perhaps rather like Colinette). But I’ve got one thing in Rowan yarn on the needles at the mo, and it made me think.

I’ve a bit of a love-hate relationship with Rowan. I’ve been to workshops Rowan have organised both at retailers and at the mill (above), and they’ve varied between extremely good and somewhat disappointing. Mind you, they were always interesting, if not always for the tutor, then for the other participants among whom I recognised some people who could only be described as Rowan groupies (I once heretically mentioned Noro, hsssssss…).

The same applies to the yarns, in my opinion. When they’re good, they’re very very good,

Cotton glace

like Cotton Glace (staying, but with colours reduced as far as I can recall), but when they are a bit gimmicky they can be horrid (and I’m not naming names, because this is just my opinion and just because X sheds or Y knits up like shite for me doesn’t mean they’ll misbehave for everyone). And they’re not cheap, either, though – generally – you do get good yardage for your money. But some are just exquisite: Lima, for instance, that delicious blend of baby alpaca and merino with a bit of nylon for strength. That’s going. So I bought three balls and am currently knitting it up into a shawl.

I think I know what’s happening. Of course I may be completely wrong or partly right, but with my business-management-before-being-a-full-time-freelance-hack head on – and I still write in the business area now – I think it’s a case of newbroomitis. New owner, complete overhaul.

Rowan mags

(The Rowan mag is changing, too. From this summer’s issue – the one already out – it’s going down to two stories, not three. Just as well I’ve got a stash of old ones, and am quite happy substituting yarns.)

As I said, Rowan had, I feel, lost its way a bit, with loads of novelty or seasonal yarns, however lovely – Panama, Cotton Lustre, both going. I had a slight feeling that they’d taken their corporate eyes off the ball somewhat. Oh, sorry about the creeping metaphors. I did say I’ve been working on business books, didn’t I?

Ahem. Back to Rowan, though I could run a few ideas up the pole and see who salutes them. Or, to borrow from the winner of Fast Company‘s most objectionable use of jargon in 2015 competition, ‘open the kimono’. Stop it. Now.

Anyway, I suspect that this meant heavy stockholding, and that where economic – i.e. wherever the stock was high but not so high that it absolutely must be kept on and pushed – there just had to be some culling. And I also think that some yarns, while worth keeping, had probably reached such a low stockholding that the expensive option of spinning more meant that, economically, they weren’t worth keeping on the list (possibly British Sheep Breeds – which seems counter-intuitive, given the rise in yarns with distinct provenance). And I also suspect that a lot of this has more to do with the American market than anything else.

But I’ll mourn some which will be no more (the Felted range, Pure Linen), and be relieved that others (Felted Tweed, Kid Classic – below) are staying. Above all, though, I’ll mourn the colour changes. It looks – and I’ve been through the catalogues, looking at the colours which are vanishing – as though the choices are becoming somewhat predictable. Not what Rowan is known for, at all.

Kid classic

And my friend with the wool shop? Well, she’s already expanding her range of British yarns. She’s seeing this as a splendid opportunity to get some lovely new things in (hello, West Yorkshire Spinners, Baa Ram Ewe, Jamiesons)…

 

Woolly Wales, part the first

A gap between deadlines – I’m not complaining about work, I like to eat, buy food, that sort of thing – saw me and a friend head off on a two-hour drive to get into Foreign Lands (well, deepest Ceredigion, so far south that you’re on the edge of Camarthenshire / Sir Gaerfyrddin, so it’s foreign when you live in North Wales*). In the fog. We only got lost once, mind. I know how to enjoy myself.

Seriously, I do – because we ended up at the National Wool Museum, in Dre-fach Felindre. And it is FAB. I know I like mills – I’ve written about this inclination before, and not just the once – but it is genuinely fascinating.

loom

Now, I was with a non-woolly person, my mate S. But she is a) a blue badge tour guide, b) indisputably Welsh, c) fascinated by all social history, so it wasn’t going to be a hardship trip for her, plus the cafe have good cakes. And there was even a mini-loom set up so that I could demonstrate the over-and-under process of weaving (not that I’m any good at it, but I was – amazingly – taught to weave at school).

But one of the very best bits was that it was quite quiet, and that we therefore had a lot of attention from a volunteer guide, Glanmor, an ex-weaver, who was fascinating to talk to. We learned all about practicalities, like this hole in the floor.

wool museum 2

It was cut so that the spinners on the first floor could hand bobbins down to the looms below without walking the long way round and negotiating a tight staircase. I’d never have noticed it without our helpful guide, and it’s details like that which bring somewhere alive for me.

We also learned about nasty accidents, especially with the willower (which teases out the scoured / cleaned wool prior to carding),

wool museum 3

the carders and shirt sleeves. You don’t want to know, but ERGH.

But we also learned about the industry as a whole, about how central the wool industry was to large areas of Wales – and yet how limited it was by assorted factors, from the outdated machinery (Welsh mills would take machines that were being discarded – nearly a pun there, sorry – by the mills in Yorkshire) to the whole social structure. It really got me started on heaps of research on everything from nursing shawls to non-resident mill owners and the negative effects of their attitudes. You’ve been warned.

Trefriw

(This old photograph is of the mill at Trefriw, and is from the National Archives.)

*Seriously, it is foreign. The language is different in subtle but meaningful ways – even the words for something as basic as milk differ: llefrith around me, and llaeth further south – and there’s a genetic difference too: a native North Walian (a Gog) has more in common, genetically, with someone who is native to northern England / southern Scotland than with a native-born Hwntw (that’s a South Walian, in case you didn’t know it).

2015, a year in wool

I hope everyone had a great Christmas, and that 2016 proves to be a wonderful year. What more can I say, except for BAAAAA!

Baaaaaa

(Was tickled by this slightly louche Shetland matriarch, wearing her ear tag like a clubbing accessory)

Now the festivities – and other events – have settled down a bit, I’ve fired up my trusty MacBook Pro for the first time in a few days (never thought an iPad would change my life, but hey ho) and have taken a look through the year’s photographs. Two things struck me: a) that I’d actually fitted quite a bit in, despite being really busy on the work front, and b) that photographs don’t always reflect what’s really happening in your life. Not even if, like a friend of mine who is way too old to know better, you are the world’s most obsessive taker (and, yawn, yawn, sharer) of bad selfies. But I’m going to talk about the knitting which has marked this year out, and not the fact that it’s been bookended with funerals. Plus there’ve been deaths in between – mostly of the older generation, but still.* Back to wool!

I started the knitting year with turquoise, and I’m ending it in the same colour,

admittedly, turquoise with other colours but still unusual enough to be remarked upon.

The wooly highlight had to be another journey north: Shetland, and first stop Jamieson’s in Lerwick as I’d heard great things of the revamped shop. They were all, unfortunately, true. Rats. I just had to spend money. Plus there was the museum and the excellent taatit rugs exhibition, and the Bod of Gremista, from which I think these two shots come,

and what with one thing and another I came back with the makings of a Fair Isle cardigan. It’ll be done when I’ve finished the one currently on the needles (also in yarn bought in Shetland, cough, cough).

My hands have been so much better, and I’ve really enjoyed knitting for things like the Harlech Fibre and Fabric Fair in the summer, where I also got a chance to talk about natural dyes with people. Er, once the Fair was actually open, that is. Prior to that it was a frenzy of sorting out signage and bunting and pricing and labels and craftspeople and people doing the teas and, and, and thank heavens I wasn’t doing it alone. Many thanks to Julie. Many, many, many thanks!

woolwinding

I’m not the world’s most expert dyer – by a long stretch – but I still have the daft enthusiasm that allows me to be fascinated by the fact that rinsing a skein dyed with elderberry in water at a friend’s house – on the wool winder – could have a completely different result when I rinsed the next one at my own place (all the colour leeched out – it was most alarming, but did allow me to overdye the wool).

High summer – we did have one, briefly, I have more photographic evidence – saw me spinning in public with some members of the Llyn Guild. It was a completely delightful day, even if we were all quite hoarse by the time we were winding down.

sip

In fact, it was so good that we’re not spinning in public on the official day – towards the end of September – any more. There are so many more people about in August, and the weather is more predictable, plus we can return here. Where there is also cake.

Along the way I’ve opened a twitter account for a cat,

Bramble

who thinks she runs a wool shop (thinks?) – she’s at @WoolShopCat, naturally – and saw her followers increase in both numbers and interaction in the first twenty-four hours way more than my own (it’s settled down now, which is more than can be said for Bramble, currently in Christmas-catnip mode). I’ve been in a pop-up craft shop during the summer, which was fab, and had a very successful time at the Harlech Craft Fair at the end of November. The problem has been keeping pace but, as I said, my hands are much better. I’ve even fitted in some knitting for me.

And now I need to go and lie down for a bit. But I just have this sleeve to finish, you see, and…
Best woolly wishes to everyone for 2016!

*why this year should have been particularly bad on the funerals front, I don’t know. Except, that is, for the fact that several people were either in their 90s or nearly there, so not entirely unexpected. But why do deaths come in flurries? My grandfather used to get quite wary if there’d been two until there was a third, and it’s not as though there was a geographical factor at work – they ranged from the highlands of Scotland to South Africa. Very odd.

Phew, double phew and cables

December. December, December – I’m just trying to remind myself that, in defiance of the weather which is more reminiscent of a rather gloomy September, Christmas is very close. I can’t quite believe it, because I’ve been knitting for various craft fairs / pop-up shops for ever, and now I’m knitting for me*. How appallingly selfish.

Oooooo:

cables 1

I decided it was about time that I knitted something that wasn’t either a) another ****** chunky ****** cowl (I don’t mind knitting them, but I’ve had people trying to buy them off the needles since late July, for feck’s sake, I mean, I know it’s been an uninspiring summer and all that, but chunky, woolly, thick cowls? In August? I mean, really?) AHEM, and b) plain vanilla, stocking stitch with nothing unusual happening type of knitting.

So I went through the stash, now divided into stuff for me and stuff for cowls / craft fairs / pop-up shops, and pulled out some which was remarkably recent – bought in Shetland this summer (when, in defiance of fashion, I was NOT wearing a chunky woolly cowl).

cables 2

It’s a fine Aran weight, tweedy, and possibly not in a base colour I’d normally pick but which I was assured would suit me. It’s possibly the very last – well, not the very last, because I bought two cones – that I’ll ever get from Hunters of Brora. (I wrote a lament for Hunters almost two years ago – it’s here – and never thought I’d see any more of their wool, and then there was this huge box full of big fat cones in Lawrence Odie of Hoswick, marked down.)

It’s been an age since I could make my hands do cables, but they are a lot better so I thought I’d give it a go. I do NOT like using charts with cables, no idea why, quite happy using charts for anything else, so I had to write out the pattern since there are three different cable patterns involved, plus increases and decreases for waist shaping. And I’m loving it!

cable 3

There is one problem, though. It’s a bit like knitting with Noro, where I can’t bring myself to stop because I want to see what the next colour is going to do. I can’t stop knitting this because I want to see what the next pattern repeat does to the whole, but I have to, because my hands won’t take too much. I was remarkably circumspect – for me, not for anyone else, anyone else would be sensible most of the time with silly hand injuries and a niggling rotator cuff problem – and picked a pattern which has plenty of plain knitting as well. From a design point of view, I’d love it if the sleeves had cables but they don’t, which is probably just as well from the not-injuring-myself-again point of view.

What is it? Wait and see… but it’s NOT a cowl. Of course it isn’t. Cowls don’t have sleeves. Yet.

(PS: I’m betting, as usual, that it doesn’t fit. Yes, I did a tension square; yes, I fiddled with the needle size and the garment size and everything else in order to make it work in a yarn for which it was not designed, and I did the maths properly for once. But I still think it won’t fit. It doesn’t look big enough. I never think things look big enough, mind, and then I end up in something which would go twice round the gasworks.)

*I haven’t just been knitting. I’ve written a book too. And delivered it on length, and on deadline.  Yo!

The continuing story of a sweater…

Way, way back in the early days of this blog (it’s nearly five), I wrote a post about a much-beloved sweater. Days are getting gradually colder – and so is my neck – and  thoughts turn to big, cuddly, and above all warm, knitwear. Actually, I don’t think mine ever really turn away. I like big sweaters. What am I saying? I love big sweaters.

The sweater in question has long since joined the big woolly cloud in the sky – or rather been transformed into the stuffing for a draught excluder. It developed holes. Some holes can be mended, and this one had already been reknitted from the wrists up,

sweater repair

but other repairs are impossible. One friend suggested patches, but withdrew the suggestion after I pointed out that if I added tassels to the patches I’d be able to pass as a somewhat unusual form of exotic dancer. One in a big sweater. With patches as well as tassels. Myself, I couldn’t see the sweater working with towering platform soles, big hair and a g-string, but I guess there are all sorts of – um, points of view – out there.

That perfect sweater had been knitted in wool from – sob – the defunct Hunters mill in Brora, bought in 1998 but not knitted up until 2005. It was incredibly warm (there’d been a lot of lanolin in the wool when I washed it out in the croft kitchen, which caused a bit of an, er, argument, and I think some of it remained, though given the state of the sink I cannot think how). It was a great substitute for a coat. The colours in the tweedy yarn allowed me to accessorise it with almost anything, though generally that meant walking boots – when it didn’t mean wellies.

I knew I wanted to replace it, so my first attempt was in wool from New Lanark, bought at Wonderwool Wales. Lovely colour – red – but made me look like a corpse. I guess the red had too much blue in it, really. And I wasn’t that impressed by the wool either; it tended to go a bit thick and thin and I actually felted it slightly to correct that. So it’s been sold.

Still needed a replacement.

Life moved on, and I found myself standing in Jamieson’s Lerwick shop on my trip to Shetland four years ago. Wool was calling to me, delicious wool, green wool. Bought it, knitted it up into a replacement for the Sweater.

green

And it’s lovely. But it’s not for me. Not quite sure why, mind: it’s warm, the colour suits me, it reminds me of Shetland. But it may be the design; there’s just something about it that doesn’t really suit me any more, and I’ve not changed that much. Or maybe it’s the combination of colour and design, or maybe it’s just the fact that it means I’d be wearing a whole garment in – shhhh – colour.

Still needed a replacement.

I turned to some more Jamieson’s wool, this time bought at Jamieson’s Mill in Sandness from a giant cardboard box with ‘£2 a ball’ written on it (well, you just HAVE to). Chunky, though, and in black. Well, in Mirrie Dancers:

Mirrie Dancers

But I was radical – I chose another design. By now I was messing with designs instead of following patterns obediently, and I messed with Erika Knight’s Felted Sweater, adjusting the sleeves so they had at least some shaping, and reworking it so I could use my wool at the best tension.

I love it. I live in it, and it’s just come out again – it’s like seeing an old friend. Again, it’s so warm, it’s so wonderful, and I wear it constantly. But this time I’m doing some scenario planning (sorry; I’m writing a business book at the moment). Or maybe – shudder – that should be succession planning?

In yet another move charting my changing history with wool, I’ve seen the sheep. I’ve chosen the fleece. I’ve washed the fleece:

gotland

and it’s ready to spin (Gotland x Black Welsh Mountain – great colour, great lustre, quite a short staple, for all you spinners out there). I’m not quite ready to spin it, mind – I’ve got the the end of a Manx Loaghtan and a Teeswater (spinning up beautifully) to get through. But I think my big sweater will do another couple of winters. Fingers crossed!

I find the whole thing fascinating – how one garment can chart seventeen years. From skeins drying outside a croft in Sutherland, to my very first visit to Wonderwool Wales, to Shetland, to a farm in North Wales with Gotland sheep running around the place being pointed at by a couple of spinners – ‘Can I have that one? And that one? How about that one? When are you shearing?’. And it charts skills too: from following a pattern (and having to borrow my first ever circular needle from a neighbour so I could pick up the neck bands) to adapting patterns and then spinning the wool. And I’d not realised, either, that all the wool was British, or – to come over all Nicola Sturgeon – largely Scottish. Oh, I know that the New Lanark red was probably from the Falklands, but at lest it was New Lanark.

If I wanted to come over all anthropological, I could talk about signifiers and objects carrying meaning, but let’s not go there. It’s bad enough that I talked about succession planning…