The Tour is over for another year, and Team Hilltop Cloud had an even busier tour than ever before. We racked up nearly 1200 posts in our team thread, 760 of them contained posts of spinning in progress and spun yarn. It's amazing how much your can achieve even when you only do 10 minutes an evening. Some people experimented with new spinning techniques and fibres, others stuck to old favourites. Some wheels went on holiday, and we saw some beautiful spinning spots.
We also raised £118 for Qubeka, who put people in African communities on bikes to help them access education and employment, with sales of this years special Tour de Fleece fibre. I know many team members also made personal donations.
Here are a few of my personal favourite photos....
Over on the Tour de Fleece Ravelry team thread we've been having a bit of a chat about spinning for larger items. Sometimes it's very easy to end up only buying 100g braids, either because that's all there is in the budget, or because it's the only one left in a colour you just need to own...
I try to dye in 400g branches, and whilst that's not quite enough for a jumper all by itself (though in some cases it can be...) one of the things I wrote about in Spinning Hand Dyed Fibre were ways to combine fibre to get bigger quantities of yarn.
A relatively recent "thing", I hesitate to call it an invention because I've seen variations of this method discussed for years now, is a Combo Spin. There was an article in the Winter 2017 edition of Spin Off. Some versions just involve plying different braids together, but others get you to chunk up the fibre and spin it in a random order. Both are great ways to combine braids, and get bigger quantities of yarn.
My one note of caution.... if you're chunking your fibre then you do need to have a similar fibre type in all your braids.
So for example, putting together my Romney Silk & Linen blend with the BFL & Camel is going to produce a yarn that has patches that are very different in texture. You could ply them together, but small sections of one type of fibre, and then a section of another is going to produce an unusual fabric. The example I spun above used Superfine Merino, and Bond & Silk. Thos 2 fibre types are similar enough that I could have spun chunks at random, but in this case I just plyed them together.
If you want to spin for bigger projects then there are a few things you can do to make not much fibre go further...
- Spin finer, sweaters at a finer gauge use less yarn by weight.
- Pick a pattern that uses lace in some way, and is worked at a looser gauge.
Then of course there are option to combine handspun and commercially spun, or plainer handspun from a fleece or solid colour fibre. Yokes are a lovely place to use up a smaller amount of interesting yarn. They don't get as much wear as elbows so you can also get away with using a more delicate fibre than you might on the main body.
Garter Yoke Cardigan is great for this. My version using last years Tour de Fleece yarn still needs the buttons... just make sure you check the helpful notes in the other projects if you like a slightly narrower neckline. The same idea, but in reverse is this pattern, Anora uses bands of colour at the bottom, and a different yarn for the band and collar. Imagine each section worked in a slightly different handspun, but ones that co-ordinate together. A pattern like Breathing Space would also suit a combination of colourful handspun and plainer yarn. You could use alternate skeins for the stripes if you didn't have enough yardage in the contrast colour.
Finally there's this option. Taking 5 different colourways, and spinning them as separate skeins, but then knitting them in to one pattern using alternate skeins to gradually move from one colour way to another. So Faded is in essence a top down raglan jumper. It uses fingering weight yarn, so even for the largest size (54" bust) it only takes just over 500g, and just over 1800m of yarn. You could substitute for a basic raglan pattern of your choosing, but there are some helpful hints in changing the yarn colours in the original pattern. You could even work in a heavier weight yarn, but of course you'll the need more fibre.
The one really important thing. Be honest about the thickness of your spun yarn, otherwise the quantities required won't match... A WPI gauge and a control card helps, but make sure you check a sample of washed yarn. I also like to keep a sample of commercial yarn around, the yarn used for a jumper like So Faded is much thinner in reality than many spinners like to call Fingering (4-ply). The tips for sampling I wrote a while ago might be helpful. If you're in a hurry scroll down to the "Pattern then Yarn" section.
I think, in order for this concept to work well in handspun, it needs to be yarn that doesn't have broad stripes, so I'd look for variegated braids with unpredictable bands of colour, and subtle blending. Just as with the Combo Spin principal you realistically want to use similar fibre types. You'd get away with combing Rambouillet and Superfine Shetland, putting Superwash BFL & Ramie with BFL & Baby Camel will work less well!
So, shop your stash... look for 5 braids that will link together. Lay them out and look for a common colour between braids. You don't have to stick to one fibre dyer, though that might help. I have certain shades that I know I use in lots of braids!
Need some ideas? Here's a few combinations I put together out of the show stock (nb. these don't stick to my rules about combing fibre types, I was more interested in the colour combos)
If your stash isn't very well endowed, or you're a bit nervous then I will be dyeing some fibre packs. Who's up for a post Tour de Fleece Spin-Along?
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...
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.
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!
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.
There is a thread in the Ravelry UK Spinners group dedicated to the slightly bizarre wheels that appear on Ebay. Many of them are affectionately known as SWSOs (Spinning Wheel Shaped Objects). They often made by an enthusiastic wood turner who likes the challenge of making a wheel, but doesn't appreciate the need for things like an orifice.
Some poor wheels have been converted in to lamps. Others are reduced to a pile of bits, that may, or may not all be there...
To the unwary these wheels can be a bit of a nightmare. Generally they're priced much lower than a modern spinning wheel, but too often they're a complete waste of money. If they do spin at all they spin poorly. Never trust a description that says "working" by the wheel. Too often that means the seller has rotated the wheel and it goes round. If you're a new spinner the general advice is to buy a known brand. It might be twice the price, but you'll have a wheel that works. Rather than a pretty ornament.
Once you get to know what to look for though...
I wasn't technically in the market for another spinning wheel... but someone had linked to a quirky wheel, and this popped up in the suggested items below it. This is very much not a SWSO. Due to the fact that I am a bit geeky about wheels I knew that this was a Scandinavian wheel. There's a basic format that many of these wheels tend to have, and this one had all the right things!
There were lots of photos so I could see that there was a flyer with an orifice, a bobbin that fitted, no loose joints in the drive wheel. A quick consultation with a friend to confirm that I wasn't being daft... and I placed a bid.
One week later, I was apparently the only person to want this beauty. A quick begging email to my younger brother to collect it for me, and here she is.
A 26 inch drive wheel means she adds twist very quickly. That big drive wheel rotates really effortlessly. In terms of outright ratios (12:1) I own "faster" wheels, but none that are so light and pleasant to treadle.
It's the little things about this wheel... it's pretty much all pine (or other similar softwood), and in places is incredibly plain and simple. But there are some lovely touches. These notches tell you which way round to put in piece that secures the drive wheel. The pieces on either side of the axle are different shapes, because the axle gets thinner towards the front of the wheel, and also shaped to fit exactly when they are the right way round. So the notches make it easier to get everything put together correctly.
For such a big wheel she's incredibly portable because she breaks down so easily. The flyer mechanism unscrews, the wheel lifts out, and you're left with several pieces that go back together again just as easily. An old version of a folding wheel!
I'm very happy she's found a new home with me, where she will be used to spin yarn. Just like she was designed to do so well. I don't normally name my wheels, but I feel like this grand old lady deserves it, so she's called Brunhilde.
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.
Back in March I set the members of the Hilltop Cloud Ravelry group a challenge. I called it In5pire.
The group has always been focused on sharing what we make, so I wanted to do something to celebrate the 5th anniversary of Hilltop Cloud that was all about sharing, making, and was something that anyone could join in with.
The challenge was to take one of the images I put together on a special Pinterest Board, and to use one of them as the start of a design process. They could create whatever they wanted, but they had to document their progress!
58 people took part, and an amazing 21 got their projects finished by the June deadline. There were art yarns, gradients, lace weight, cabled yarns. Some designed their own patterns, others ventured in to free form knitting and weaving, other used classic pattern drafts.
The one common thread were the set of inspiration images, na that they were all using Hilltop Cloud fibre.
If you have some spare time then it's worth browsing through the thread, or if you just want the shortened version this link just shows posts containing photos. It's well worth looking through.
After a short delay, while I travelled up and down the country teaching, I finally managed to sit down with Jill Shephered aka. wriggglefingers (who rather handily is also a spinning tutor, and used to teach Design in schools).
There were prizes on offer, not for the most technically difficult project, but for the one we felt showed the most evolution, the most problem solving skills, and the most thorough testing and documentation. It was really tough as so many of the entries had done an amazing job.
In the end our winner was this shawl.
It was designed by Anne-Lise. She had already spun her yarn before the challenge started, but the motifs used in the shawl went through a huge number of changes while she settled on the right combination.
From her project notes-
My inspiration is this one, which inspires me because it is both nature and culture, new and ancient, it is still here and at the same time lost to us. I will try to incorporate those thoughts into the design.
April 20, 2016Have been swatching.
Barbara Abbey tells us in her book “Knitting Lace” that she has collected old, as in 1850’es old, knitted lace patterns for a long time, and in this book presents the ones she likes the best. She says many are very old, but she never once mentions her sources. I have found a very nice edge pattern in the book, which is presumably from a very old source. I have no way of finding out. It might be from Weldon’s Practical knitter, or from Miss Lambert’s “Knitting Book”, or it might not. I found a similar, but also quite different edge in Barbara Walker’s treasuries, where it’s called a Portuguese edging.
I swatched both edgings to see if the yarn liked them. They are both garter stitch, and I tried that, and then I tried st st, and the pattern definitely wants to be garter stitch.
None of the patterns were really completely as I wanted them (odd holes and weird beginnings), so I have been spending the day trying to cook up my own version.
I found a nice way that fit the number of rows I needed, but I want to let it rest over night to see if I really like it…
May 10, 2016Swatching the body stitches, I was thinking about other historical evidence in Wales, going further back.
Romans, certainly. Roads and forts. I swatched the “Roman stripe” pattern from Barbara Walker, the yarn liked that a lot. I also swatched two other patterns that looked promising, a brioche stitch and something I thought might look like stone walls, but they didn’t work at all.
Vikings, certainly. Raids and stories… We could let some cablework symbolise the Vikings, and as they would have been using arrows to defend themselves, it fits well with an arrow-and-cable combination. I swatched and found that it would be nicer with a 3-braid than a 2-braid, and I will probably add some purled sts on either side of it to make it stand out better. But the yarn liked it a lot.
So, there we have all the elements, now I can begin knitting!
Of course, things never go smoothly, and it was lovely to see how the design evolved. The finished shawl just spoke to me of Wales, in a way that I can't really put in to words.
I know Anne-Lise is currently working on writing up the design, and I think I will need a version of my own.
I knew it was going to be hard to pick just one winner, so also said that there would be a runner-up prize.
This Rose Quartz inspired a lot of people, but Carrie's interpretation in to weaving was stunning.
Her pattern draft, the manipulation of the silk & kid mohair skeins she spun to match the colouring, the use of a sparkly fibre at the edges, it all makes for a beautiful project.
A few other projects also caught our eye...
There was also a random prize, and it was won by Kate. Her free-form weaving was a really strong contender in the judging, and has definitely inspired me to actually do something with those old pictures frames I'd been saving for just this purpose!
I can't think of a better way to bring the end of my 5th anniversary celebrations to a close. I love what I get to do on a daily basis because I love seeing how my fibres get transformed. Fibre can be beautiful to look at, but until you turn it in to yarn, and then turn that yarn in to stunning, useful objects it's not reached its full potential.
If you joined in the challenge, thank you so much. Even if you didn't finish, thank you for sharing your knowledge. If you didn't join in, do go and read the thread, click through to the project pages, favourite the ones you like, and leave some comments.
Oh, and watch this space... apparently they'd like to do it again in a little while!
Each and every single fleece is graded by a specialist. It takes 5 years to train how to sort wool to the standard required. Once the wool sheets have been unpacked and graded the fleeces are stacked in to these blue bins. When a bin is full it's loaded up in to the red machines in the background, and they compress the wool in to the giant green bales in the background. It's these that are sold in the global auctions, each containing a huge number of fleeces.
We're a hill farming area, so unsurprisingly there were a lot of coarser fleeces, but mixed in were some real treasures. Our fleeces were donations, so we were quickly ushered past the BFL bins, they're too valuable to give away. I don't think we did too badly though...
This was a bit full of beautiful Welsh Mule Hogg fleeces (i.e. the first shearing of last years lambs). A mule is a sheep from crossing a BFL Ram with a Hill Breed Ewe, and if you can get a fleece from a young sheep like these then the fibre is really stunning.
We also collected a few more breeds that are typical of the area. These are now all washed, and displayed so that people can handle real wool, and see what it feels like.
The depots are open to the general public, and if you go for a visit explaining you're a hand spinner you're in for a real treat. Probably best to ring first and check it's a convenient time, and if you get a group together you can often get a guided tour.
In the Newtown depot there was even a bin of coloured Shetland pulled to one side specifically to sell to hand spinners who call in, as the depot manager knows he can get a better price that way, because coloured wool isn't generally wanted by the large scale commercial buyers at auction.