A short while ago I spent a lovely morning exploring the mines in the hills above Machynlleth. People tend to look at where I live and think it's wild and untouched, but even up in the high hills man has had an impact.
Mining has happened in Dylife since Roman times, and only stopped in the early 1900's. It's a really exposed site, right up in the hills, but the lead seams were very rich. I grew up in the Peak District, and am used to the lead mines there, which have now been so visited by people going through the spoil heaps that you don't really find anything interesting.
That's definitely not an issue here!
Nearly every rock you pick up is heavy with lead, and if you break them open they shine with lead ore.
As well as lead there are lots of other interesting bits of geology, so many inclusions of quartz, and lots of fools gold.
The site was nearly completely abandoned and stripped. Even the dwellings are no longer there, The Star Inn pub remains, and two chapels have been converted to houses. The church was dismantled, only the headstones remain.
Most of the evidence of mining has gone as well. It was home to one of the largest waterwheels in the UK (Rhod Goch), which was 63 feet (20m) in diameter. Some evidence says that when the mine closed it was dismantled and shipped over to Canada. If you walk up the valley, following the stream you do find this...
It's a giant pumping mechanism to remove the water from the mine. Lower down the valley there's more water management.
A pipe to carry water, but it's made from a hollowed out log rather than planks. In winter during times of heavy rain this whole area ends up being flooded, so you can see why they needed to focus on water drainage.
Lots of people enter the world of spinning with the aim of spinning for socks...
Then they fall down the rabbit hole and discover just how many things go in to making a good sock yarn. Before you even get in to fibre choice, there's the issue of number of plies (more is better), wether to go classic 3-ply, or modern chain ply (tests seem to show there's very little difference), or even to use opposing plies.
A good sock yarn needs to have bounce and memory. Otherwise the ribbing at the top bags out, and your socks fall down. It needs to withstand lots of friction, and needs to be able to put up with getting warm and damp. Those are of course conditions for felting. Some people are ok with their socks felting, which is fine providing that doesn't make them shrink. It also removes some of that elasticity. So I prefer a fibre that resists felting.
If you want to go pure wool, then Southdown is a really good bet. It resists felting, and has great elasticity. However, it's not great at resisting abrasion. If you have rough feet, or rough patches in your footwear you will get holes.
As well as Southdown I always used to offer a Superwash BFL & Nylon blend. This was great, because the superwash treatment resists felting, and it was hardwearing from the nylon. However, it was actually very similar to the Superwash BFL & Ramie base that I adore. So last summer I started experimenting. I still wanted a really machine-washable option (you can put Southdown in the machine, but I wanted a superwash treated fibre, that people could also use for garments). It also needed to be resist to abrasion, and have more bounce than the Superwash BFL.
And the final result... Two swatches. One went through a machine wash pinned to my jeans pocket. The other was unwashed. The stitches still move, and the size remained un-changed. It's a delight to dye as well.
I'm still using British wool, which was important to me. But it's slightly more coarse than BFL (but for your feet that's really not an issue), and is lovely and bouncy. You could still use this fibre for jumpers, cardigans, gloves and hats, it's definitely not Herdwick!
The Cheviot Hills are in the border area between Scotland and England, and remind me so much of my own bit of Wales.
By Cheviot_ewe_with_lamb.jpg: Donald Macleod from Stornoway, Scotlandderivative work: Coycan (Cheviot_ewe_with_lamb.jpg) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The sheep that live in the area are hardy, living on the hills all year round. They have a lovely bulky fleece, with a 3D crimp that makes the fibre bouncey, and hard wearing. The staple length is 4-5 inches, which makes it excellent for worsted spinning, just what you want from a sock yarn.
To add to the strength I've kept the nylon component. It really does help stop holes developing. To help with the dyeing, because Cheviot is a chalky fibre that can be a bit of a pain to hand dye, and to allow me to dye the eye-socking colours some love in their socks I've added some tussah silk.
I did a small batch for the online shop a few weeks ago, and also had some for sale at Wonderwool. Thos braids flew off the shelves, so I've dyed another batch that will be in the shop at the start of next week.
One of the things that visitors to Wales always comment on is that if you blink the weather changes. Today was prime example! Waking up to a blizzard, and the hills being white over. Three hours later and the snow has melted, and it's back to being a chilly, sunny, spring day.
Our beehives have had a lovely start to the spring, all 5 hives survived the winter, and are starting to bring in lots of pollen and nectar.
They're very comfortable on their new stands, made from the bottom sections of display boards recycled from Newtown Textile Museum. We've swapped some of the hives in to polystyrene hives, and those colonies have done really well because they're so well insulated.
One of the things that people often comment when they come to Wonderwool is how much they love the drive through the scenery. Last year Meirionydd Beekeepers were at the Royal Welsh Show, and we had a lovely video playing on loop. I can't embed it here, but it's a lovely peaceful watch, really worth going to look at.
Despite being self employed there is still a rhythm to my days. A weekly rhythm of sending out parcels, a monthly rhythm of sending out fibre clubs, a yearly rhythm of yarn festivals.
It would appear I've added a biennial rhythm to that pattern... entering The Longest Thread competition.
Two years ago I sent in my first entry, and came 5th. The yarns have just come back from this year.
And yes, I upped my game! Two entries, one on my wheel, one on my Hansen. In terms of how I did... close but no cigar! My wheel entry was much better than last time, but only good enough for 4th. My e-spinner entry was second.
I swapped my fibre for some Falkland Merino this time, which was finer than the Bowmont I used before, but mostly I suspect I need to work on my patience... Looking at my thread it's easy to see where my mind wandered and the thickness increased.
So am I going to do it again... very likely. The lure of the thread is strong, and it's nice to spend part of my Christmas holidays focused on a technical challenge that increases my skill level. Still a very long way to go though, maybe next time I can break that 400m barrier!
Well that didn't go according to plan. First of all I took a break and went away on holiday. Then there was a break in our phone line which meant no internet for a month, then there's been a break from blogging because it takes a lot of screen time to catch up on no internet access, and blogging just wasn't top of the list.
However, the list is now a sensible size, and I can play catch up on the blog.
So, first things first, a holiday.
It's become something of an annual tradition for a group of us to hire a Youth Hostel in the spring. The past few years we've gone to Clun, but we've outgrown the space, and wanted to go away for longer. So we found a bigger hostel, with a bigger kitchen in Leominster.
It's a bit of an informal affair, we sit and spin, knit, weave, but there's no teaching. Cooking is courtesy of Wrigglefingers, with a bit of assistance. We eat well.... oh boy do we eat well. It's taken the past month to remove the after effects of the eating! A new highlight for this year was nightly themes, with different people taking in the responsibility to decorate the tables each night.
The nice part about being away for a week was that I got to go and have some adventures in a part of the country I'd not been to before.
I visited quite a few churches, I do love looking round them, and the graveyards. The snowdrops were spectacular this year, it almost makes me sad that 2018 will be later in the year so they won't be out.
There was a trip around the Black & White Villages of Herefordshire discovering geocaches, and a drive over to Hereford Cathedral to visit the Mappa Mundi.
In the cathedral I was utterly captivated by a modern stained glass window tucked in to an out-of-the-way side chapel. The level of detail was comely breathtaking, and the use of colour was wonderful.
Then there were the signs... Maruading savages, and of course Leominster town council still own a Ducking Stool.
Then there is actual crafting content... As ever the pile of projects outweighed the available time, but I did get a couple of hundred grams spun.
We always host a swap table. A particular highlight was this wonderful intarsia book. I'm pretty certain Liz Hurley would like all copies of this book to be burned!
It wasn't burned however, but instead went off to a very lovely shop in town where we all made purchases during the week. Clever Betsy is a project that gives opportunities to disabled people. They have a small shop in town, where they also run activities to make items that are sold in the shop. The whole place was a cornucopia of crafty delights, vintage patterns, buttons, yarn, notions, fabric scraps.
If you want to come and join us, then we're doing it all again next year at the end of March.
It's shared rooms with bunk beds in them, so you have to not mind sleeping with strangers. The food is home cooked, but tasty, and plentiful, with some element of choice, though it's usually along the lines of a vegetarian dish, meat dish and side dishes. You also have to be willing to help out in the kitchen on occasion, and things like washing up are also communal jobs.
I love working with others that are involved in the fibrey world. It's a comparatively small group, but it stretches all around the world, and there are so many bright, passionate, clever, creative people in our community.
Occasionally, that means I get sneak previews of things, and when this sneak preview landed in my inbox I'll admit I did a little dance.
An exciting project that is perfect for spinners!
Heart on my Sleeve is a collaborative project, with some of the biggest names in knitting design all contributing patterns (Shannon Cook, Romi Hill, Bristol Ivy, Tanis Lavallée, Joji Locatelli, Alexa Ludeman, Jane Richmond, Ysolda Teague, and Emily Wessel)
The patterns are all written for DK weight yarn (hoorah, that's default yarn for many of us!) and are sized from 0-6 months all the way up to 4XXL (59inch chest measurement).
The body and sleeve instructions are the same for every pattern in the book, but each designer has contributed a different yoke element, and I want to knit so many of them.
The Yokes on Crazy Heart would be wonderful to use one of the Bach Packs (or oddments of handspun leftover from other projects), and you could always knit the rest of the body in commercial yarn.
The cabling on Hearthstone would really pop if you spun a 3 ply yarn (or even a 4ply if you were feeling energetic).
All the jumpers are knitted from the bottom up, so you can always start on the bottom... and make your mind up on the yoke later.
And the best part about this collaboration.
It's doing good.
All the proceeds (less PayPal, and Ravelry fees) are going to Against Malaria Foundation.
Malaria is the biggest cause of death in pregnant women. It kills at least half a million people a year. It's also completely preventable. Using bed nets that cost only a couple of pounds is incredible effective at stopping people from getting Malaria. So raising funds to buy bed nets is a very simple way of stopping the disease.
It also helps Sub-Saharn African countries become better off financially. 400 million people getting ill every year is a huge drain on the economy of a country. For every $1million spent on Malaria prevention, a country's GDP rises by $12million.
The Against Malaria Foundation uses all the ones raised from donations to buy nets, their administration costs are covered by separate donations from businesses. So the proceeds from the book go directly towards helping people.
The e-book goes live on Valentines Day... and I'd much rather get a copy of this than a card!
There are also going to be knitalongs centred around the project, and you can find more information here.
After a busy couple of weeks I decided it was time for a bit of a break. There's been lots of dyeing, lots of behind the scenes admin, and it was time to go and breath some fresh air.
It's tempting to say this landscape is wild, but its not. That funny lump in the middle of the grass is a conifer seedling that's escaped being eaten by the sheep. The conifer plantation is just over the hill, and is very much a man made addition to the landscape.
Then there are the sheep, the hillsides round here have been shaped by generations of grazing, and even at such low stocking densities they have an impact.
This is looking out at The Rhinogydd, and in the far distance we could just spot Snowdon. We were only out for the morning, and you can see the weather front we were aiming to avoid rolling in from the coast.
The air up here is incredibly clean, we're a long way away from any major cities and roads, so the lichen covers the walls and trees.
The dogs love these hilly walks, and enjoy bounding through the long grass, tussocks, and marsh far more than their humans. Gwen surveyed all she could see... and then spent the afternoon pinning me to the sofa while she slept off her exertions!
January is a month that requires a real rolling up of the sleeves, and a head down, ploughing onwards approach. It always feels like there's so much to do, and in order to get it done I have to get a bit selective. Blogging, however much I love it, is one of those things that tends to slip down the priority list.
One thing that never slips off the list however is spinning. It's an unusual evening when I don't spin for at least half an hour. When you add up all those little chunks of spinning time you end up with a pile of skeins quite quickly.
Recently I've been enjoying playing around with other dyers fibres... I know, shocking. But I think of it as a bit like being a professional chef, and still going out for a meal. It's not that you can't cook it for yourself, just that sometimes it's nice for someone else to do the heavy lifting, and the washing up!
I also view it as a bit like professional development. I'll try fibres that I don't stock, and also get to play around with colour combinations that I wouldn't normally dye.
I purchased a few braids in a de-stash recently. All from American dyers, and all had been stored for probably longer than was advisable. The fibre wasn't unspinnable, but just starting to get "tight" around the edges. Fibre, particularly Merino, starts to compact once it's been processed. It's not the same as felting, because with a little helping hand you can start to fluff things back up and get everything sliding again, but it does make the spinning experience less pleasurable than spinning fresh fibre.
Going back to the food analogy, you can eat mussels the day before their Use By date, but they will have tasted better when they came fresh out of the sea.
When I get a braid of new fibre out, particularly one from a dyer I've not spun before, I nearly always completely un-braid it. I want to see how much of the colours are present, and in what order. I try and work out how it's been dyed, because that helps me decide on what sort of yarn to spin.
This braid had been dyed with blocks of colour, in a repeating style. That means if I just spun from one end to the other, and chain plyed it I'd end up with a yarn that striped. If you completely un-braid the fibre and lay it out in a zig-zag you can usually find the repeat points. This is a rough sketch, but gives you an idea about how dyers usually lay out fibre before applying dye.
This Three Waters Farm braid had been dyed with really long colour repeats, the pattern only repeated itself 3 times along the 4oz length of combed top.
The colours were pretty pale, so I decided I don't want to mix them up, and the nature of the long, triple repeat meant it was begging to become a proper 3 ply yarn. I split the fibre in to 3 pieces, and spun 3 bobbins where the colours repeated in the same order on each one. So that should mean that as I ply, the colours from all 3 bobbins should line up...
One 3 ply yarn, with bands of colour.
Something that beginner spinners seem to get in a pickle with is this lining up business. Look closely... there are sections where there are strands of different colours that meet. That's ok, it will soften the transitions, and I was fine with that. This is not perfect yarn, because I am not a perfect spinner. I spin for pleasure, and that means I spin while relaxing, and occasionally that means I'm not really concentrating. I'm ok with that, and the consequences that leads to in my yarns. I knit a lot with my handspun, and those fractional variations have very little impact on the finished fabric.
It's also worth noting that commercial processing is not perfect. I know from handling a lot of combed top that sometimes the thickness varies along the length, it might have been a minor issue with the machine as the combing was done. Or the dyer might not have been exactly even as the fibre was laid out, and the dye applied. So uneven sections of colour is not something to feel embarrassed about, you've not necessarily done anything "wrong".
So, when plying, what to do when the colours stop lining up...
Break the single that's lagging behind, pull it off from the bobbin until it catches up, and rejoin. It might seem wasteful, but those little balls weigh only 4g (from a 113g braid), and mean I got the yarn I wanted. If I'm feeling frugal I sometimes keep them to one side until I've knitted the yarn, just in case I run short on a bind off.
To re-join you over lap your 2 ends by a three or four inches, trapping them with the other singles. You end up with a small section of yarn that is 1 ply thicker, but it's not noticeable, and produces a nice string join.
One final wool craft, something that hopefully you can do with supplies you already have at home...
You can make this sort of fairy in any colour, and style. Christmas ones look lovely, and I've even made some very simple, all white versions when I needed some quick decorations for a Christmas tree our guild were asked to decorate.
The tutorial here is really easy to follow. This pinterest board is filled with lovely inspiration.
This post is part of my advent calendar 2016. Every day in December we're saying so long to 2016 by embracing learning, knowledge and creativity. Each day there will be a new post with a new skill or craft. You can read all the past posts here.
And that brings our calendar to an end. Hopefully it's bought you a small piece of joy, and a few ideas.
May your holiday period be filled with wool, creativity, and the opportunity to learn new things.
Another request, this time for a very ancient fibre art. Naalbinding, sometimes seen as nalbinding, predates knitting and crochet as a way of making fabric.
Instead of using a continuous length, you use shorter pieces and a needle, and form the stitches by making loops, a little like sewing, but not...