Cambrian, not to be confused with Cumbria (home to Woolfest, Herdwick sheep, and English), is an area in the central of Wales. Put bluntly, it's that bit in the middle. The bit that when you look at a map seems rather unpopulated, and doesn't have much by way of roads...
It's been described as the Green Desert of Wales (because of the lack of people and roads, not due to the rainfall!), and if you want to see the stars there's practically no light pollution. What we do have a lot of is sheep... one visitor from the US commented to me that she had no idea just how many sheep she'd see on an almost continual basis.
I've always found it a real shame that I couldn't get more local wool... We don't have a farm ourselves, and whilst I know of ways I could source fleece, and have it processed I could never manage to do it on a scale where it made economic sense.
However, there is now a CIC (Community Interest Company) who are doing just that. They're buying up the fine wool clip from farms in the Cambrian Mountains, and getting it processed in to yarn and combed top. The sheep they're using are known as Mules, a mule in this context is a crossbreed sheep. The upland sheep around here are Welsh Mountains, they're small, hardy, excellent mothers, and do well on the upland areas. However their fleece isn't very fine, and the lambs aren't quick growing, or large enough for the modern meat market. So many farmers use a BFL Ram, and create a cross-breed. This gives the best of both worlds. For our purposes as spinners that means the fleece is much finer, longer, and far more useful for clothing. If you're careful about the fleeces you select, you can easily find fibre that looks like this. I've been in the Newtown Wool Marketing Board sorting depot a couple of times, and this sort of fleece is not unusual.
And the really good part... I now stock the wool top. And it's beautiful.
I will of course be dyeing it in all my usual dyeing styles, but I also wanted to do something that linked the wool back to the landscape. So I've developed 5 colourway packs, called Colours of Cambria. For me, these are the accent colours of home, there's a Pinterest Board with some inspiration images, and the packs.
I need to get some more dyed up for the online shop, but hope to do that this week, when they're available you'll be able to find them here.
We've had a bit of a chat in the Ravelry group recently about using up 100g chunks of fibre, but the nice thing about this wool is that you can also buy it as commercially spun yarn, in lots of colours and in DK and Fingering weight. If you fancy getting some hand dyed yarn then my neighbours Wrigglefingers and Barber Black Sheep stock the base.
I did some speed spinning and knitting to get a sample ready for Woolfest using one of the Colours of Cambria packs, together with 100g of the undyed fibre.
and then turned it in to a Punctuated cowl. It's soft, but has good structure, it won't end up looking pilled and fluffy where it rubs against your coat. It certainly passed the Mum prickle test.
I hope you're going to enjoy working with something that comes from the place I call home...
This summer I was approached by a local felting group who wanted me to run a drum carding workshop for them.
I've taught drum carding workshops so many times now that I can pretty much do them standing on my head, but they'd always been for spinning groups, so taught with a view to making batts that are great for spinning.
I'm a dabbler in felting, rather than an expert. I know just enough to realise how little I actually know! So out came the drum carder, and it was time to put some ideas in to practise.
I knew I wanted to get them experimenting with texture, and colours, and that we were definitely going to be using more wools than just merino.
The bunting above is the result of all my sampling, and I learned loads from doing it...
When I card to spin I like my fibres to be well blending, but with felting doing 1 less pass on the drum carder gives a better effect. I also found I needed far more of the textural fibre than I would include for spinning blends.
I also really love the feel of the felt made with some added fleece, it made the piece feel much more bouncey. Even the ones where I included some Shetland or BFL tops in with the merino really helped the feel of the finished piece.
I think I might stick to my spinning though... one thing a day of making samples brings home is just how energetic felt making is!
Sometimes I have projects that I dream up and complete almost instantly. Other times the idea has to stagnate for a while, real life seems to get in the way of crafting dreams!
Kate Davies Yokes book has been out for a long time now, but when it was first released it was a similar point in time to when I was developing the Hiaeth range of tops. I saw Cockatoo Brae and immediately wanted to do one in handspun, using Hiraeth as the colour work. Two years later and I've finally done it.
The main body uses a BFL part-fleece I've had for years, plyed with some coloured Romney that I picked up at Proper Woolly 2 years ago.
The coloured parts of the yoke are Hiraeth (Pendragon, Ynys Mon, Rhos, Sheep, Blue Lagoon, Pembroke and Dinorwic) with plain white BFL as the back ground. I've not checked yardages, but I suspect a sample pack would give you plenty of yarn for this part.
Mine is a more rustic, less fitted version than the pattern original, but I have plenty of fitted cardigans, and wanted something a little more boxy. The button band is backed with grosgrain ribbon, and then has snaps for closing it, I'm never happy with the finish of knitted button holes, they're always a little sloppy for my taste, and this solves that problem nicely. Copper buttons from Textile Garden complete the illusion of a normal cardigan.
The Never Ending Gradient Club has been running for a whole year!
When I took the decision to end my Best of British Club it was a bit of a sad moment, I loved dyeing the club, and exploring the different British breeds, but I was ready for a change, and the gradient club certainly provides that.
It's an interesting club to plan, as I want to keep the colour palette shifting, but at the same time not move colours and shades too quickly or it makes it hard for people to use the fibres in larger projects.
I always dye some spares of club fibres, sometimes the dyeing goes wrong and a broad won't be a good match for the rest of the batch, and I like to have spares in case parcels go missing (though this happened extremely rarely). When the club first started Mum very nicely asked if she could spin up one of the spare braids once it became apparent they wouldn't be needed. Since then she's made up 2 whole garments using the club fibre.
She's horrendous to pin down for modelled shots, so I'm afraid a hanger is the best I could manage. This one is Sugar Maple, and uses the first 4 months.
Then she got a bit more inventive. This isMoore with a few modifications, such as a folded hem to neaten the front edge. It uses the Gradient braids along the bottom, paired with some Jamiesons and Smith 2-ply jumper weight
The majority of the skeins were more jewel toned, so Braid 5 (August) was left out completely, as was the first half of braid 6 (September). They're wound up in a giant 150g ball and will work for another smaller project.
After that it uses all of October, but then sections out of November and the start of December so that the colours progressed more quickly.
The leftover sections will be put to good use at some point... and of course, the magic braid fairy keeps delivering more wool!
I wonder what she'll make next...
If you'd like some ideas for patterns that work really well with gradients then I've been collating a bundle of favourites on Ravelry.
The club has a limited number of spaces, I can only dye so much fibre in any given time, and dyeing 100 braids of the same colour way would be too much like working in a production line. Therefore this club is comparatively small, and I don't operate a waiting list. Spaces are offered on a first come, first served basis, and are advertised using my shop mailing list, if you don't already get my emails then you can sign up below.
Last year for the Tour de Fleece I created special colour way for Team Flossy (Hilltop Cloud). It was a Gradient Pack called Cobblestones, inspired by the minted colours you get on set stones when they're used as a road surface.
The general look of the colour way was muted grey, but with a bit of a rainbow lurking underneath.
I had 3 packs, and spun the yarn in to a 2 ply fingering weight. Two packs I plyed with each other to make one large gradient skein (actually 2 skiens as 280g is too large to wind on a niddy noddy). The 3rd pack I split in to quarters, and spun it in to 2 matching shorter skeins, each containing half a pack.
The big skeins were for the body of a jumper, and the shorter skeins were for matching sleeves.
The end result is a gradient jumper, with matching long sleeves. Isn't being a hand spinner useful at times!
The original pattern (Sugar Maple) uses cap sleeves so that you don't have to worry about matching sleeves when using hand dyed yarn. It's a top down pattern so I put the stitches on holders instead of casting off, and then joined in my sleeve skeins. I used up every last bit of the yarn for the sleeves, but I didn't use all of the body yarn as it was getting a bit long.
My Ravelry project page can be found here- http://www.ravelry.com/projects/hilltopkatie/sugar-maple-2
I'm going to get all metaphorical, but this month has felt a little like working a piece of stranded colour work. Everything looks nice and lovely and pretty patterned on the front, but at the back it requires good, even tension, and a lot of hidden strands.
It's been a month where I'm not entirely sure where the days have gone, there's been a couple of workshops teaching at other guilds, some dyeing for the online shop, but earlier than ever, I've made a start on the dyeing for Wonderwool Wales. I've always been an organised sort when it comes to shows, but being ill over the past 6 months has made me even more organised. I never quite know when work isn't going to be possible, so I'm trying to get ahead while I still can.
Blogging is one of the things that got neglected this month, mostly because everything has been very mundane, and just not worth sharing. Today however, I do have something to share!
Just like my metaphor, they're stranded colour work. Made from a single Bach Pack in the Shale Colourway. I made the cuffs/headband and the first colour repeat to match, but then after that just played around with colours swapping and changing them for the background, leaves, and flowers. In the end I had 26g of yarn leftover!
I've had Back Packs on my mind recently as I also came up with 3 new colourways to expand the palette a little.
Moroccan Tiles contrasts rich ultramarine blue with terracotta reds.
Firebird features jade green and turquoise together with hot oranges.
Wildflower is a more natural palette, heavy on the green, with floral accents.
To celebrate getting through February I thought a little contest would be just the ticket.
I want you to share the pattern you'd love to make most out of a Bach Pack. Remember they contain 140g, and 7 shades. You don't have to find a pattern that uses all 7 colours, but if the pattern uses more than 20g of any 1 colour you need to explain how you'd swap the colours around to make it work!
The winner will be drawn at random a week today, and will get a Back Pack in the colour way of their choice, plus the Peerie Flooers Mitten and Hat Pattern.
Entries are now closed, the random number generator picked comment number 3, which was OrganisedKnots.
Thanks for all your suggestions everyone!
Nordic is a pure wool, blended combed top.
Each colour is made of a combination of other colours creating shades that have a wonderfully deep, intense appearance, that work brilliantly together.
Nordic is inspired by the lands across the North Sea and the ancient mythology of the Norse Gods and Goddesses.
In total there are 7 permanent colours in the collection, a mix of warm, cool and neutrals. The pure wool content is perfect for creating warm bouncy accessories and cozy garments. The blend of Merino and Corriedale will be soft enough to wear next to skin, but by using the Corriedale wool the blend has a bit more tooth to it. This fibre has a more open crimp so you can spin a loftier yarn with more life to it than a pure merino blend. As a bonus you'll get less pilling, and items won't wear out as quickly.
I've been developing the colours since the summer, but when I was out taking the photos I couldn't help but spot the similarities in the palette to the ones I was seeing all around me.
The fibres are on order, so will be available to buy very soon, and there will be close-up's of all the colours for you to take a closer look at shortly.
The pattern, is Aranami Shawl. My Ravelry project, together with my notes, and the chart showing how I arranged the colours is here.
One finished sample!
I've been feeling much better so once I'd got my co-ordination back it was a pretty speedy knit.
The pattern is Hap for Harriet by Kate Davies, and is a perfect companion for handspun yarn. I always love the look of garter stitch when knitted in a 2-ply yarn and this pattern is no exception. There's also the bonus that you can use up every scrap of your yarn as you work from one end to the other.
In this case I used nearly all of 200g of the new Merino & Silk base. The yarn was roughly fingering weight, and all I did to compensate for the thicker yarn was use a bigger needle, (4mm but I am a loose knitter).
Kate's instructions give you percentages to make a shawl in the same shape as the original pattern but I just increased until the width seemed right, then worked straight until I ran out of yarn from my first 100g ball. I did exactly the same in reverse which meant I used up pretty much all of my yarn.
Now what a shame that I don't get to wear it, this one is sadly destined for the sample box...
Not many butterflies in the garden just yet, though the bees are doing well. May was very cold for the entire month and it's really knocked everything back by a few weeks. We still don't have any roses out in the garden which is most unusual.
I've made my own butterfly to compensate
It's made from some hand dyed alpaca tops from John Arbon
I dyed them in one of my random rainbow colourways. The sort that look like an explosion happened on the dyeing table. I wanted to make a sample that showed a way to use that sort of fibre in a way that didn't make the yarn look like sludge, and didn't fight with the pattern.
I don't have a picture of the original braid, but it wasn't a million miles away from this one.
Why yes, an aran weight jumper, it's perfect for the British summer!
Sad truth is that most of the time I spend summer well wrapped up in my wooly jumpers. When Britain is hot it's lovely, but we're in a windy spot, and at times it can be no warmer in our valley than it is during mild winters.
This is my second version of Stilwell by Jared Flood, this one uses handspun for the main body and a small amount of commercial yarn as the colour work. The last one I made was the other way round and has been worn nearly constantly ever since.
It's not a complicated pattern to follow, but does seem to produce very good results, from looking through the Ravelry project pages it seems that nearly everyone who's made it is happy with the result. There's a small amount of waist shaping to keep the fit a bit smarter, and you also work some short rows to lengthen the back. I also love the collar as it really keeps the drafts off the back of your neck. I always make longer sleeves as I hate having my wrists poking out, but that was the only part I changed.
The handspun I used was nothing special. I picked up a grey mule fleece for the princely sum of £5 at a fibre show a couple of years ago. It went through a friends picker to open the fleece then got put through my electric drum carder with 50g of Angora fibre. I spun the yarn just as a plain 2-ply and didn't get too precious about it.
As you can see it's not a spectacularly even yarn, but I was ok with that, it reminds me of the original fleece, and has it's own rustic charm.
The unwashed jumper doesn't look too promising, the colourwork is pulling slightly and the stitches look a bit uneven.
Once it had a trip through the washing machine on the cold handwash cycle, and had been dried flat with a bit of gentle shaping to get everything lying flat it's amazing how it all evens out.
In total I spun 988g of yarn, and I only used 623g to knit this. The finished jumper is a 38inch chest measurement... and I don't think you'll be able to peel it from my back for the rest of the summer.