Just before Christmas I started stocking a really huge range of dyed Tussah Silk. I love dyeing silk, but in all honesty dyeing it in plain colours is really hard work for something that seems like it should be so simple. By getting the solid colours commercially dyed I can concentrate on hand dyeing the fun colourways, but still stock a beautiful range of colours.
Solid colours are really helpful in things like silk for a whole variety of reasons. Often you want to spin for lace, and a variegated colour way can work against the pattern. If you're going to use the silk for blending then solid colours are all you need. When I was doing a lot of carding I was often frustrated by the really limited palette of colours I could buy .
This silk is dyed in Italy to Okeo-Tex Standard 100 so you can be confident it's been dyed with environmental responsibility. The colours themselves are stunning, and so varied. I've got 39 that I will be stocking regularly (picking 40 would have been over-kill!)
So I wanted a sample to show them all off...
I took 10g of each colour, and then spun them in to a light fingering 2-ply yarn (approx 18wpi). From each colour I ended up with approximately 45m of yarn.
I direct warped my rigid heddle loom using 6 ends per colour with a 12dpi heddle. So during warping I filled 3 slots with a double end of each shade. I have a 25 inch Schact Flip, and this warp didn't fill the whole loom, but there's not quite enough space for 8 ends per colour. If you have a narrower loom you'll need to do the maths and check this warp will fit. You can always reduce the number of ends per colour and make it narrower, or if you have a larger loom you could do more ends per colour, you should have enough yarn spare if you spin it finely enough.
I used a soft-of spectrum to decide on the colour order... though with this many colours deciding on a "perfect order" is probably impossible! It's the same order as shown on the Tussah Silk page.
Warp length was approximately 2.8m to give a generous sized wrap once finished.
I wove in blocks of 8 picks per colour to give me rectangles rather than squares of colour. The edges were hem stitched on the loom, and then I twisted each colour separately to form the fringe.
Off the loom it had that stiff, new cloth feeling, but after a wash ( I didn't wash the yarn before weaving) it's softened up and the drape is lovely.
You have to feel to really appreciate it... but maybe this will help!
If you want to, you can make one of your very own!
The sample set contains all the fibre you'll need (and some to spare that you can use in other projects).
I am not immune to a craze... even though I am the most untrendy person you are likely to meet.
So I caught the Fade bug!
Back in July I wrote a blogpost about spinning for sweaters, and we've had a rolling thread over in the Ravelry group filled with lots of advice and encouragement. And after encouraging others, I acquired some fibre in a destash that was perfect for my own So Faded jumper.
Three braids are Rambouillet, dyed by me, and 3 are from other dyers, I like spinning stuff that other people have dyed on occasion... it feels like fun and not like work!
From left to right there was- HTC Rambouillet, Three Waters Farm 85-15 Polwarth & Silk, HTC Rambouillet, In To The Whirled 85-15 Polwarth & Silk, In To The Whirled Targhee and finally HTC Rambouillet.
This was my original colour order, but I actually did a bit of a shuffle when I looked at the finished skeins, and the middle HTC Rambouillet ended up moving to between the Targhee and the other Rambouillet braid.
First up came the sampling... because occasionally I do follow my own advice!
I found an oddment of commercial yarn in the right thickness, and spun to match that gauge. I kept back some of the singles to use as a reference, and a ply-back sample to check my plying twist. I spun enough for a swatch, washed the skein, and cast on.... and hated the fabric. I actually got a slight tighter gauge than the one in the pattern (7 stitches per inch instead of 6) but the swatch was far too open, and if I'm going to the effort of spinning for a jumper I want a fabric that will wash and wear well.
Now the joy of spinning for a project... I can ignore the recommended yarn, and just spin to produce a yarn that gives me a fabric I like, but one that still matches the gauge so that I don't have to do any maths.
On to version 2. A thicker yarn, so a denser fabric.
Onwards to the spinning.... 600g later, and there were 6 full bobbins. The braids from other dyers were dyed in what I call a repeating style, and I didn't want broad stripes, so I took the colour sequence to pieces. First I unbraided everything, then broke it in to chunks of varying length (but always containing multiple colours), then stripped it in to thinner pieces. I then shoved them in a bag and spun them in a random order. These bobbins were still in my original order, but when I plied and looked at the skeins, that's when I decided to swap things around slightly.
Because I had a reference card I could stay consistent, and because I had a ply back sample, when I committed the heinous crime (!) of plying from both ends of a centre pull ball I could put enough plying twist in. I finished spinning the singles at the end of September, and had just finished the plying before I went to America in middle of October.
Then came Christmas knitting... and the skeins sat looking at me. This is often the fate of my handspun skeins, but not this time, I ended up finishing it just before Christmas. Then life got in the way, the rain fell, and the snow. and I didn't get any photos taken. Finally however, the sun shone, and I had a spare 10 minutes.
as predicted January has been a busy yet fun month. Knitting is progressing, and I’ve been reading up on various constructions so I can get the rainbow jumper finished. I’ve also been working my way through various planning stages for the coming year.
However, all work and no play makes life very dull, so earlier this week I ventured out to learn something new. This year my Christmas present was a course at Westhope College, rather than add stuff to my life I decided to add skills!
So I spent the day learning about Lino Printing. These were my first test cuts and prints, nothing special, but I wanted to share them because I think it’s important to share the messing around stages. When I’m teaching workshops I nearly always have to overcome the rlucatnace people have to be bad at things! We like to be able to succeed at things immediately, and working through the messing around, and experimenting stage is something that as adults we’re all pretty rubbish at.
So... after the messing around stage, came the chance to make a proper design. I’d done some homework, because the last time I went on a printing course I didn’t have a design in mind, and it was all a bit of a disaster. I started out with a vague idea to do something sea related... so ended up with a school of fish. Then came up with the idea of the fish being spun in to a beautiful silvery yarn. A few versions and layouts later, and I’d got a prototype.
After several hours I ended up with my Lino...
The first test print... nearly right, and revealed that a rash final decision to take out the middle section of the twisting fishes was an error...
A cup of tea, and a slice of cake later, a few more bits made lighter and it was time to do some final prints.
Is it perfect... no, but I am pleased with it... and I know how I want to make it better. I won’t give up the day job any time soon, but I think I need to go shopping for some Lino cutting tools, and I shall carry on making mistakes, and in a few months time I’ll probably head back to Westhope and experiment with something else.
It feels like the greyest time of year, but in a perverse sort of way I always look forward to January. While the weather is usually pretty dreadful, it''s the time when I get back to work after a break.
It's the time of year when I finish off the plans for the year, all my show applications for 2018 are now submitted, the last workshop slots are filled. It's also when I start making fibre plans. I come back to work with new ideas for different bases, and other new ideas to put in place.
It's also when I re-boot my knitting and spinning. I've usually spent the back end of the year making gifts for others, so often get the luxury of starting new projects.
During the holidays I balled up all the small skeins of Superfine Shetland I've spun over the past few years. These were leftover bits and pieces from Bach Packs, which have been discontinued, so it was time to turn them in to something!
Over the holidays I messed around with some stitch dictionaries, and did some swatching...
and am now turning those balls in to a slightly bonkers colourwork jumper.
It's not been done with any great amount of planning. I worked out the gauge from my swatch, measured from a jumper, and did the maths to get a stitch count. Some of the colour combinations are more successful than others, but I want this to be a fun, no worrying project, so I've decided to just embrace them.
I did a provisional cat on, because I can't even decide how I want to do the edgings. They might be ribbing, or I might do some sort of turned hem...
I normally work top down, but I'm going bottom up with this, delaying the decision about how to work the sleeves for as long as possible! I could go very traditional and work steeks, or I could stop at the armholes, work the sleeves, then put them all on one needle and work raglan decreases. At the moment I'm leaning towards the steek option, because I've never used that construction method before....
I may even go completely freestyle and not make the sleeves matching!
It's also the time of year when I look at the business samples. I like to work with my fibres, it means I can tell you about them with an informed viewpoint. I also like to have samples on display at shows (Did you know that there's a whole page devoted to the samples I make?)
The next big sampling task is the Tussah Silk... I'm lacking in woven samples at the moment, and weaving is a great project to show off the whole palette of colours. So I spent last night playing around with the sample cards, and constructed a huge gradient from the 38 colours that will be the permanent palette..
Not a very good photo, given it was taken at 9.30pm, but I hope it's going to look stunning. It's going to be a huge colour and weave project requiring some maths! There will be 6 ends of each colour running the length of the warp, and then I'm going to be weaving the weft in the same colour pattern.... Not sure how wide the weft stripes will be yet, maybe wider than the weft stripes. I probably won't know until I start weaving.
Best get spinning!
We're now at nearly 500 posts in the Big-Stuff SAL in the Ravelry group, and have had quite a few finished objects, and people starting on their second project. I've finished my jumper... but haven't managed to take a photo. Must do better! I think I need one made completely from my own fibre, so the next batch of Cambrian Wool Sweater Packs I dye... one is going to be mine!
I think that little lot should keep me busy for a while, particularly as there are some behind the scenes projects that I need to think about more before I can share them with you!
This is a post written in advance, today I will be in the kitchen cooking up a storm. To me the food is a key part of Christmas, it's what gives structure to our whole day.
Christmas Eve is when I do all the preparation, there will be a few types of stuffing to make, pigs in blankets to wrap, bread sauce needs making, the giblets will be simmering to make stock, and there will be a couple of different deserts being made.
All that means that on the day itself it's mostly just a case of putting trays in and out of the oven in the correct order, and turning on the hobs under the pans of vegetables. For many years we've eaten goose at Christmas, it's a real seasonal splurge, and not a meat that we eat at any other time. However last year our family gathering trebled in size, so we needed a bigger bird, and went back to Turkey. The family businesses tend to have been quite busy during November and December, so we try to put that money back towards another small business. Our turkey comes from a small family farm specialising in rare breeds, as does our ham, bacon and sausages. We also go and spend some money with our excellent local butcher.
On Christmas Day itself we will usually go for a walk with the dogs. They don't care that it is Christmas, so up the hill we go! Whilst we're out the turkey will be cooking. We get back home, change out of muddy clothes, and then sit round to open our presents. Fwen the dog loves presents and new toys, she usually manages to find and open her present several times before December 25th. Meg finds the whole thing to be far too much, and goes to hide until the food reappears.
We usually sit down to eat at around 2pm, and the rest of the afternoon is spent in a self-indulgent style. Much drinking, squeezing in more food when possible, and much debate over what TV to watch together.
My brother and his girlfriend alternate Christmas days with us and her parents, we get them on Boxing Day this year, so we'll be repeating much of the day all over again the following day!
I'll be going silent on the blog now for a few days. I'm not back at work until the New Year, so will be enjoying some computer-free time. I have knitting planned... this is going to become a jumper!
First up, full disclaimer, I am not Welsh, I live here, it is my home by choice, I have no direct Welsh ancestry, and my Welsh language skills are not exactly stellar...
However, one of the parts I love about living in this part of Wales is the number of old traditions that have been kept alive. I live in that funny bit of Wales that's right in the middle, there are no large towns, and even the form of Welsh they speak round here gets described as archaic by certain Welsh language speakers who I know.
The idea of a Christmas Eve service at midnight is one that's pretty common in many parts of the Christian world. In this part of Wales they take it one step further. They hold their service between 3am and 6am, with the night before spent decorating the houses, and meeting up with friends. During the service the church is filled with candles.
This is a description of the service in Dolgellau during the middle of the last century.
"Now the church is in a blaze, now crammed, body, aisles, gallery, now Shon Robert, the club-footed shoemaker, and his wife, descending from the singing seat to the lower and front part of the gallery, strike up alternately, and without artificial aid of pitch pipe, the long, long carol and old favourite describing the Worship of Kings and of the Wise Men, and the Flight into Egypt, and the terrible wickedness of Herod. The crowds are wholly silent and rapt in admiration. Then the good Rector, and his curate, David Pugh, stand up, and read the Morning Service abbreviated, finishing with the prayer for All Conditions of Men, and the benediction restless and somewhat surging is the congregation during prayers the Rector obliged sometimes to stop short in his office and look direct at some part or persons, but no verbal admonishment. Prayers over, the singers begin again more carols, new singers, old carols in solos, duets, trios, choruses, then silence in the audience, broken at appropriate pauses by the suppressed hum, of delight and approval, till between eight and nine, hunger telling on the singers, the Plygain is over and the Bells strike out a round peal."
The carols are sung without musical backing, and there is a certain competitive nature to the singing. Small groups stand, sing a carol, and then another group will stand and present their carol. Within a service there will be several groups taking part, and they will each sing in turn. There is no set programme of songs, and it's a point of pride that no carol is repeated.
Plygain is no longer just a Christmas Eve tradition. Throughout the winter local churches will host their own plygain, and groups from other churches will visit and sing. The Say Something in Welsh site has a list of various Plygain services (though there will be many more happening). There is even one in London on 6th January.
The other mid-winter event that still takes place here is the Mari Lwyd.
This is a New Year tradition, involving a man under a white sheet, holding a horses skull. Traditionally it would go around the houses in the village, and a door-to door challenge in Welsh verse would take place. That's mutated in to a trip around the pubs in our villages...
One of my favourite parts of this whole series of blogposts has been reading about what people knit and sew for others.. I do like a homemade gift, though only certain people are deemed to be knit-worthy!
Throughout the year I'll usually have a pair of plain socks on the go. The men of my family are rather partial to a hand knit wool sock, my brother ensured his place on the knit worthy list by presenting a pair from a previous Christmas and asking for them to be mended! I tend to use commercial yarn for my socks, I like a good plain, super sturdy 75% Superwash wool, 25% nylon blend, something like Regia or Opal. They wash and wear so well, I finally admitted that my very first socks had become worn out this year, I made them in 2008, so they'd had a good innings!
Very occasionally this homemade plan does catch me out, though I've never handed over a half knitted pair! This pair for my Dad were the closest... Finished on the 23rd December
These were made 9 years ago, and the last time we were away as a family for Christmas. Mum booked us a cottage on the Isle of Mull, I arrived home from my first teaching job full of cold, that turned in to full blown flu the following morning. I was bundled in to the front of the car, wrapped in blanket, and didn't move until we arrived at the ferry... Turns out I was also carrying Noro virus that had been sweeping through the school just before Christmas, and one by one the whole family succumbed. The cottage had a delightful view over the strait to Iona, but was a, mostly unheated, pre-fab, with no TV reception... not the ideal spot to be confined to a sofa!
The following year Mum and Dad moved to Wales, which was an equally cold Christmas!
The cottage was lacking in insulation, and was rather damp as it hadn't been lived in. The wood burner that provided the heating and hot water wasn't working well. We did a lot of work out in the garden cleaning trees that year, mostly because it was the only time we got warm!
The most last minute present I've ever made was this hat for Mum...
It was the Woolly Wormhead Mystery Hat Pattern that year, but had been put aside whilst I made socks and other gifts. The day before Christmas we'd been out walking, and Mum forgot to take a hat....
Which then led to me pulling this out, realising it could be finished with a few more hours work. I cast of at around 10pm. Gave it a quick wash, then dried it over the top of the woodburner overnight. I then snuck it away and wrapped it the same morning. all without anyone realising what I was up to!
My favourite part of this time of year is the chance to cook. I spent most of yesterday afternoon in the kitchen cooking for friends that were visiting, and it was lovely.
The main thing that I start cooking at the start of December are Mince Pies. These are little mouthfuls of Christmas, and so much better than the commercially made ones.
I start by making a huge batch of mincemeat, and then store it in the fridge and just scoop out what I need every 4 or 5 days to make another batch.
The recipe, like so many of the seasonal things we cook comes from Delia Smith's Christmas cookbook. A second hand copy can be yours for the princely sum of 1p on Amazon... If you don't own a copy, then you should!
450g Bramley Apples chopped in to small chunks (no need to peel)
225g Shredded Suet (you can get vegetarian suet)
225g Chopped, candied mixed peel
350g Soft Dark Brown Sugar
Zest and juice of 2 oranges
Zest and juice of 2 lemons
4 teaspoons ground mixed spice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
The original includes 50g of almonds cut in to slivers, but I leave them out and don't miss them. It also has Brandy added at the end, but I'd rather drink it, and again, I don't notice it's not there!
Stir everything together in a large bowl, and leave overnight for the fruit to absorb the liquid.
I the put the whole thing in our large slow cooker on low for several hours. You know it's cooked when the apple is no longer visible as definite chunks, and the whole thing has gone an even colour.
Delia gets you to out it in the oven on very low (Gas Mark 1/4, 225F, 120C) for 3 hours, but one year the oven thermostat failed, overheated, and turned the whole thing in a carbonised lump welded on to a pyrex bowl.
It will look like there is far too much fat... there isn't. Give it a stir now and again as it cools, and it will all be fine.
For the mince pies...
You need Shortcrust pastry. I make mine with half lard, half butter, but you can buy it.
Roll out thinly, and put in to shallow cupcake tins. Add a teaspoon of mincemeat (don't get too enthusiastic, or it will flow everywhere and then it sets like concrete, making it impossible to remove from the tins). I like to put a pastry star on top, rather than a complete lid. Bake in the oven at 180C until they are done... roughly 15 minutes, but watch them, they go from not cooked, too carbon at great speed!
The perfect pie size is 2 small mouthfuls, or down in 1 if you are feeling uncouth!
Mine never look very pretty, but they are tasty!
We're in to the final stretch, and after some wonderful contributions from so many spinners we're now going closer to home, and I've got a few days to share some of my Christmas traditions.
For me, December starts properly with my final guild meeting of the year. We spend the morning having our AGM and sorting out all the official business, and then spend the afternoon sharing our favourite projects from the year and eating a wonderful communal buffet. Everyone brings along a plate of something, and somehow we always end up with a wonderful mixture of very stays foods.
Every couple of years we're also asked to decorate a Christmas tree for the Christmas tree festival held in a local church. Lots of community groups are invited to decorate a tree, and they're all on display in the church for a weekend at the start of December.
Two years ago we used some toy wheel drop spindles, and made some simple fairies. You can find the instructions for making them in last years advent blogposts.
This year we still used wool, but turned them in to some beautiful birds.
The instructions for these are a little bit haphazard...
This is the version we mostly followed, though I think it's a translation, so the instructions don't always make complete sense. This version uses leftover yarn, and makes more sense, and is basically translatable in to wool top.
Once you get the hang of them they're incredibly simple and quick to make.
Once our tree is decorated I love walking around and looking at the trees that other groups and local businesses have created.
Decorating the house is one of my favourite parts of Christmas. I own too many spinning wheels to have space for a Christmas tree, but every year I decorate a branch with a huge collection of sparkly birds. I try to buy a couple more for the collection each year.
Welcome to day 18 of our Spinners of the World December blogposts.
We're counting down the darkest days by exploring and learning more about the world we live in, but I'm not the one writing the posts!
Each day the post has been written by a volunteer spinner, they're be telling us about their mid-winter holiday traditions, and a little bit about the place they live. I still need volunteers, so if you enjoy this post please head over to the form here. This is open to everyone, please don't worry about your language skills, or even if you think your holiday traditions aren't very interesting, I want to hear from you!
Todays Spinner is Amanda from North Wales.
My husband is usually away or at work on Christmas Day so we choose a day when he's at home and celebrate then. It's usually just the four of us 9me, the other half and the Demonic Daughters). The only year we were brave enough to invite my parents was the unforgettable year that Granny inhaled far too many sherry fumes and announced very loudly at the dinner table that she was not drunk and proceeded to recite the well known rhyme "I'm not a phesant plucker, I'm a phesant plucker's son and I'm happy plucking pheasants till the pheasant plucker comes." She didn't get very far before we'd erupted into laughter at her faux pas.
One of us is firmly agnostic, the other a rebellious lapsed Catholic with unbelievably religious parents so we rebel by celebrating the winter solstice with the emphasis firmly on family time.
After that rather interesting attempt at an extended family Christmas, our festive day tends to go like this:
The day before we venture to the shops and select whatever looks most unusual for dinner. This is a family tradition which started the year we got married when we finally got home from an overseas contract in the middle of a horrendous storm which had delayed our arrival by almost half a day and meant in the hour and a half before the stores closed for Christmas we had to do a weeks worth of shopping and buy a fridge. The only things left on the shelf were the obscure things that no one else wanted to eat. It became a family joke and now the Demonic Daughters attempt to come up with the most outlandish dishes possible. Kudu, crocodile and shark have all featured in previous menus. We usually get up in the dark (not that this is unusual our alarms routinely go off at 4am) and open stocking gifts in bed, they always contain a clementine or a satsuma and a book. Once it's daylight we'll take the dog to the country park for a long walk. We come home prepare dinner together or rather we all watch DD1 prepare dinner as she's training to be a chef and is at the stage where she knows it all which is fine by me, I'm quite happy to delegate cooking duties. Whilst dinner is cooking we'll play board games, Coppit is one of our favourites. We'll sit at the table to eat dinner in front of the log burner, once dinner is eaten we'll play more games, open gifts from family and watch cheesy Christmas movies, The Muppet Christmas Carol is a firm favourite.
Outside of the more unusual foods I love to eat mince pies, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding with flaming brandy, pfeffernusse and stollen.
We use Nigella's Christmas ultimate pudding recipe but usually substitute the Pedro Ximénez with brandy.
I knit hats and socks as gifts, once in a while I'll sew a project bag but I haven't knitted anyone a garment since I knitted DD1 a sweater in colours carefully chosen by her which she put on and announced was too hot and refused to wear ever again. DD2 eventually grew into it but refused to wear it because it was too pink. It became a cushion.
I have four consecutive days off work which is unheard of, I plan to spin up some of the long forgotten fibres which lurk at the back of the cupboards in the hopes that 2018 becomes the year that I use more fibre than I buy because 2017 certainly wasn't.
I shop by colour rather than fibre, it means I unintentionally get to try a vast range of things simply because I liked the way the dyed fibre looked. I'm never organised enough to spin for a purpose so I tend to spin whatever I feel like spinning at the time and then shove it in a box in the hopes the finished yarn will come in handy eventually. Last winter I splurged on a second hand loom. It's still in the box it arrived in. I'm hopeful that this winter I'll get the time and space to warp it up and teach myself to weave. When I get time to myself I dye yarn and fibre, sew and have grandiose ideas about making all my own clothes. I love to cook, I read voraciously and I've recently discovered I love to run, preferably up mountains and in deep mud, the dirtier I get the happier I am .
A big thank you to Amanda for sharing her Christmas.
Tomorrow there will hopefully be another spinner... but this is where I really do need your help! If you've enjoyed these posts please take 10 minutes to contribute your own. Otherwise I will be spinning my own Christmas celebrations out for 5 days... and nobody needs to read that!