As is now traditional here's my gift guide for spinners this year. If you have loved ones who are always a bit uncertain about what to buy, point them in this direction!
Some of these recommendations are repeats from previous years... there will always be new people reading this, and if my family are anything to go by, you sometimes need to ask for something a few times for it to sink in that this is really, really what you want!
I'm going to start off with books, books are such a great present, if you can, order via your local independent bookshop, if you can't then use bookshop.org, or a company like Wordery or Blackwells (they're often price matched to Amazon anyway, and have delivery times that are just as quick).
The Spinners Book of Yarn Design- A modern classic, filled with spinning essentials in addition to a complete reference on how to make just about every type of fancy yarn you can possible imagine.
Yarnitecture- A great book covering how to do just about everything in a really down to earth way.
The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook- An encyclopaedia of so many sheep breeds, worth having even if you only spin per-prepared fibre.
If dyeing and gardening is on the cards then this gift pack from Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft is delightful containing seeds, and a copy of Ethel Mairets book.
Or if synthetic dyes, and more instant gratification are preferred then D&T Crafts have some great kits.
What about useful tools and devices....
I would be remiss in not mentioning my own WPI tool, even things like oil bottles are something that might seem like an odd gift, but are very much needed by most spinners!
This is my favourite lazy kate, it's not cheap, but when I take it to workshops everyone falls in love with the simple elegance of how it works, ad how much easier plying becomes. Or your spinner may like a travel sized option, this one from Ashford seems pretty popular when I go out teaching.
On last nights video call with The Fellowship of Yarn, when we talked all things accessories, this tool came up as something to use to wind a plying bracelet. I find my hand works well, but I know plenty of people who use tools like this and find them really useful. This device for holding skeins so you can knit straight from them looks like a really clever thing (any of my relatives reading this, one in Magenta please).
Another thing that came up were breakdown bobbins, and how useful we found them, particularly if storage space is tight. I've recommended Akerworks ones for years, and they're still the Rolls Royce option, but there is now a UK based shop printing them. If you're reading this as a non-spinner double check the wheel manufacturer, model, and flyer type before ordering. These are also made to order, so don't leave it too long.
Beyond Measure is a shop I often turn to when I need a gift for a creative person. Grace stocks a shop full of beautiful, well made tools. Anyone who does anything with textiles will appreciate a pair of sharp well made scissors, you can't go wrong with something from this selection.
I'm friends and acquaintances with lots of small business owners, and the one common theme from most of them is how tough this year has been. 2020 was hard, but with so much time at home, and so little else to do lots of people were supporting indie shops, who were managing to adapt quicker than the big brands. This year has been just as challenging, even those of us who have manage to pay the IOSS EU VAT still spent over half the year with dramatically reduced orders from EU customers until that system went live, and for most of us, orders have never recovered back to what they were previously. Domestically it's been a horrible balancing act of deciding what events to commit to, and trying to predict the future.
In short, this has been a tough year to be a small business. If you can, try and buy local and or indie, it's one little thing, but to the business you buy from it means the world.
Some housekeeping to begin with...
Later this month I am going away (first time on holiday since December 2019!), so there will be no orders posted on Monday 22nd November, and Thursday 25th November. After that things will be back to normal until I stop for a break over the Christmas holidays. These are the Royal Mail Christmas posting dates. I always regard these as slightly optimistic, so if you are ordering anything as a gift sooner is always better and less likely to cause stress!
Because I am away at the end of November the Gradient Club will be posted earlier than usual on 18th November, so if you are a member, and usually order something to be sent with your parcel please bear that in mind.
Gifts for Spinners (and weavers and other yarn lovers) will be back again later this year. If you run a business, and you sell something that you think would be a great item for me to include in this post please leave a comment/send me a message. To get a feel for what sort of thing I often highlight here' the post from last year, and the year before.
October has been so unusually warm, the garden feels like it's in a waiting game, it feels wrong to tidy up plants that are still green and flowering, but there are things that need to be moved, and the winter's here are usually so wet that leaving things until later is often a case of not being able to do it until spring! I picked the last of the dahlias yesterday, and finally gave in and pulled out the summer bedding from the planters so I could put in some more pansies and violas. Though Nellie has been helping with digging things up... pity this wasn't actually a bush we wanted to move!
There have also been trips to the beach... This photo is a bit like a version of spot the ball, except you're looking for a small black dog with a very independent streak!
And at the very end of the month a lovely day spent at Oriel Davies (Davies Gallery) in Newtown, demonstrating with Montgomeryshire Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers as part of their new exhibitions. Both Blanket Coverage, and the work by Steve Attwood Wright are well worth a visit if you can make it to Newtown before Christmas, they're beautiful example of contemporary, practical, handmade textiles. We're hoping to arrange another date in December, as it was so great to talk about the practicalities of making cloth surrounded by such stunning finished examples.
The eagle eyed amongst you will spot a new logo at the bottom of the screen, the Wales Ambassador scheme is a series of interactive learning modules designed to help people learn a bit more about certain areas of Wales, including the Snowdonia National Park. I love sharing the beautiful part of the world where I live and work with you all, and whilst I knew lots of things already, there have also been lots of new discoveries. The scheme is open to anyone, and you can sign up to have a got at the modules here. As well as Snowdonia there re options for other part of Wales, and more look to be coming online soon. If you are ever coming to this part of the world on holiday and want some recommendations about some off-the-beaten track places to visit I'm always happy to help.
Plans are being made for my first in-person show at Wonderwool Wales next spring, and theoretically I have a full diary of workshop bookings next year, I hope to be able to see some of you in-person for the first time in 2 years. However, if in-person still isn't happening for you there are still lots of online things happening in The Fellowship of Yarn. All my self-paced online courses are still live, and we're still running monthly Zoom sessions to chat with fellow spinners.
Following on from the great session we had looking at treadle wheels this month we had a session on e-spinners. There's now lots of choice available for this type of wheel, and at a really wide range of price points. So if you've ever wondered about what they're like, and want to hear the opinions of the people that actually use them, the recording is available to watch later.
These are completely free sessions that I host for members of The Fellowship of Yarn. We're currently picking a date for our session next month, which will focus on accessories. If you want to come and join us, then come and vote for the dates you can attend.
Looking at this photo reminds me of what a glorious month we had in September. October has arrived and delivered rain by the bucket load. The Rowan trees this year have been spectacular, absolutely covered with shiny red berries for the birds to feast upon.
Once the school holidays were over, and the roads were a little less insanely busy (living in a holiday destination means horrendous traffic for much of the summer, especially with were people travelling abroad), Mum and I took a trip over to Wildgoose Nursery This has been on my "to-visit" list since winter 2019, and it was such a lovely garden to walk around, with some beautiful plants that we'd not seen anywhere else, and glorious displays of early autumn colours.
We walked up to the metal mines above Furnace, if you've ever been in this area you may have seen the giant water wheel on the mill building right next to the main road that links Aberystwyth to Machynlleth, but if you head further up in to the hills you can still go up to the mine buildings themselves.
The beautiful weather has meant that most weekends have been spent out walking and then getting things done in the garden. So alas... creative projects at the loom and sewing machine have been much lacking this month, because with views like this being indoors is just not in my nature. This is in the hills above Dolgellau, on a walk where we earned our views! 300m (100ft) of vertical ascent (and descent) in a walk of around 6 miles (10km).
We've even managed to complete our set of geocache trails exploring the mining valleys above Corris.
Thankfully, after much teeth gnashing and head scratching it would seem that the hard work in setting up the IOSS intermediary for EU sales is paying off. It has been so nice to see the names of EU customers who have been buying from Hilltop Cloud for years popping back up in the order list. Massive thanks are due to Victoria at Eden Cottage Yarns for her help and advice. If you are in the EU it would seem that parcels are arriving with no issues and no additional fees.
I've also just sent in my application for Wonderwool Wales for next April, a few shows have restarted here in UK, but I didn't feel confident about the state of things particularly as they were based over in England that has no restrictions, so have been happy staying at home. However April 23rd-24th seems far enough in the future that it can be something I look forward to! This will probably be my only show in 2022, so if you want to top up the stash in person add the date to your diary. If you can't get to shows I am always happy to help with online purchases, if you're not sure about colour combinations or the feel/texture of a fibre then please ask.
A couple of evenings ago I got together with members of the Hilltop Cloud community group The Fellowship of Yarn. We met via Zoom, and had a lovely time discussing all things spinning wheel.
We discussed a huge range of wheels, some model, some antique, talked about their makers, and why certain wheels developed in the way they did.
It was a great evening being very geeky about the tools we loved, and I had a great time. If you couldn't make it then fear not, the whole session was recorded, and you can watch it back.
Warning, one participant does share images of her wheels which are hosted on Ravelry. If you can't access the site safely you may want to avoid the section from 54:35 to 1:01:10
We had such good time that we're going to do it again in October, this time taking a look at e-spinners. We're still choosing a date, but if you want to make sure you know when it's happening, and vote on the time and day please come join us in The Fellowship of Yarn.
After a very busy July, August has been a bit more of a sedate month. There's been chance to get out and about more, and to spend time on various hobbies and of course in the garden. There's been time in the kitchen turning garden gluts in to tasty food, and the gentle pleasures of a country garden at the height of summer. August is always marked by stunning heather, turning the hillsides these beautiful shades of purple. This photo is taken just above Aberllefenni, this was the last working slate mine in Wales south of Blaenau Ffestiniog, and there is still slate related work going on in the valley. A company is working through the vast spoil heaps turning it in to chipping and aggregate, and processing slate from other mines in to slabs and tiles. The slate on our drive came from this operation. These photos were taken just as the underground operations ceased.
One of the purposes of the walk was to go round checking the geocache circuit we've put out going along the valley. If you're in the area, and want to go and see more of the valley and don't mind a bit of mud and rough terrain, the Miners Trail is the series you are looking for.
Nellie remains a happy-go-lucky delight. So long as you are a human in her family... we're still working on the barking at random strangers, but we'll get there. She passed her Bronze Kennel Club Good Dog Citizen award this month, proving she can behave when she chooses to do so! There have been playdates with her friend Boudicca, which are an absolute riot, Meg is definitely an old dog at 13, and whilst she can be tempted in to playing for a short while, eventually grumpy Meg comes out and Nellie is told to get lost.
Most of her life is either spent digging holes or chasing anything that flies. The rest of the time is either spent being busy, or lying down. The common phrase in the house seems to have become "if you can't do it lying down it's not worth doing!"
I have very little spinning or knitting to show this month as most things are secrets for gifts, but I did get an enormous quilt finished off, this is Plaidish Scrap Quilt, but Kitchen Table Quilting, and it did indeed use up an awful lot of my scraps.
I also finally got to go along to an in-person, indoor guild meeting for the first time since January 2020, the last meeting they held was February, but I was away teaching that weekend, and apart from some meet-ups in the park, we've been online ever since. It was lovely to see everyone again, and we enjoyed messing around with some shibori and an indigo vat which I even managed to transport home with only minor blue staining to the back of the van! This weekend we're doing some stitching on the cloth, so I will be back to show those off next month.
After a quieter August things are beginning to ramp up as we go in to the cooler months in the norther hemisphere, the shop is pretty well stocked, and I'm now back in the studio regularly. There's been a brand new fibre collection launched, and there will be plenty of other tempting things on the way soon.
There will be spaces available in the Gradient Club in the next couple of month, the only place where I announce spaces is via the shop email newsletter, there's a link to sign up at the very bottom of this page.
EU orders are now shipped using the IOSS system, and that seems to be going smoothly, so if you are an EU customer but have been put off by uncertainties about fees and taxes please give ordering under this new system a try. I'm absorbing the extra fees to pay for the registration and the intermediary, so you'll be paying roughly the same amount as you were in 2020 (the VAT rate used is now the one applicable to your own country, not the UK 20% rate).
It's been busy, busy , busy here!
No sooner did the Tour de Fleece finish, than Fiberworld start. One week on and I'm finally starting to draw breath. This month has been really hot and dry, to the point where no amount of watering was keeping the plants alive, and we started having to be cautious with our house water supply. When it's that hot dyeing tends to be pretty impossible anyway, working in a metal box with various heat sources all making it hotter inside than out, when the outside is 30C is just impossible unless I want to end up with heat stroke.
Earlier this month we drove to Welsh Lavender just south of Builth Wells for a day out. If you are in the area I can recommend their lovely brownies, and remember to take your swimming things because the pond is lovely for a dip. Closer to home walks were mostly done based on their proximity to water, often walking up the streams themselves for the ultimate in cooling exercise!
And of course trips to the quiet beaches where the tourists rarely visit.
The Tour de Fleece has filled my crafting time this month, along with enjoying cool evenings getting jobs down in the garden. As ever I always find it amazing how much yarn can be spun just by doing a little bit every day for 21 stages! These are all pre-washed skeins, and now I just need to find the time to turn them in to fabric of some kind!
At the end of last month I said I hoped to have good news about EU VAT. I'm pleased to say that I've now set up registration with the IOSS system, and have an arrangement with a firm to act as an intermediary to do the reporting and payment. This means that all EU orders will now be charged VAT at your countries rate. I will then ship them marked with my IOSS number showing that the VAT has already been collected. If your postal system does it's job properly that should mean that your parcel is delivered straight to you, with no extra fees or taxes. Unfortunately this means it's not going to be possible for me to combine any club orders with your shop parcels as I have no easy way of correcting the VAT collected amount once it has been reported to the intermediary. This may change in the future, but for now it's how I need to run things.
Nellie is now firmly in to the mini-adult dog and not really a puppy stage! She burst out of her puppy harness mid-walk a few weeks ago, and is now sporting a matching turquoise outfit when she ventures out in public.
She adores anything that flies. Birds, butterflies and moths, bees, flies.... All are met with an exuberant jump and an ambition that you can only applaud. She graduated her Puppy class during which she was either the model pupil, or bottom of the class depending on how the mood took her. The week where she just lay there barking at everything was a particular highlight!
As restrictions have eased slightly we've cautiously been meeting up with friends and family who we haven't seen in far too long. Thankfully nearly everyone in my immediate circle is now double vaccinated, I'm just waiting impatiently for my second dose, along with a couple of my younger cousins. Luckily our favourite things to do is often to get out and about exploring the Welsh countryside. We thought we were pretty savvy at knowing quite a lot of our local flora, but have really been enjoying using the Seek app as we walk. It's surprisingly good at working out what it is you're looking at, and definitely makes you stop and look down as well as out at the beautiful views.
My Spinning guild meetings have been carrying on online... we're hoping to be outside in-person in July, and maybe back in our hall in August. In June we did an online eco-printing day, using the contents of our gardens, onion skins, and an indigo vat. I dyed lots of small pieces of silk noil, then sewed them together in to a wall hanging.
At the end of the month I also headed over to Claire Austin Hardy Plants for her Open Garden for the National Garden Scheme. Walking through the Peony trial fields was stunning.
I did get my St Distaff's Day project finished, it's now sat waiting for the colder weather as a pure cashmere stranded jumper is very snuggly! All the photos I have of it are dreadful... fluffy cashmere is very hard to photograph.
In just a couple of weeks time I'm hoping to spend some time with all of you at Fiberworld. The demonstration and lectures schedule for the stages has just been announced, and there are so many things I want to listen to and watch. Even for those os us in the UK there's still plenty happening at times when we'll be awake!
Tickets are US$25, which gets you full access to all the stages, events, lounges, and vendor booths.
This is what they have to say about the show
"Fiberworld is a completely virtual fiber show that brings the fullness of the experiences and camaraderie of a traditional, in-person show, while also harnessing new technologies to enrich experiences and expand the community. Fiberworld represents a breadth of talent and knowledge from across the globe coming together to share and celebrate the fibercrafts we love, as well as our whole selves: touching on the themes of education, wellness, justice, environment, and family that affect us every day. In this way Fiberworld explores a redefinition of what used to be thought of as "domestic" interests to a more expansive view of craft’s circles of influence."
In addition there are also classes, with world renowned instructors, you get $15 off your first class with your entrance ticket, and until midnight tonight you can get $10 off any 2 classes with the code FWFLASH.
In other business news the shop is being kept steadily stocked up, so you can hopefully find something to catch your eye whenever you choose to take a visit. I have at last managed to get some more Cambrian Wool, so will be back to dyeing that gorgeous base regularly, the mixed colour packs have already been restocked (and I will be dyeing another restock of the sold out colours tomorrow). As ever, if there's something in particular you want for a specific project just send me a message and I'll try to help!
EU customers, as of July 1st there's no longer a threshold below which you won't have to pay VAT. I had hoped to have a solution ready for you that means I could collect the VAT, and send it through the IOSS system so you wouldn't pay any extra charges to receive your parcel, but all the current systems are overwhelmed with businesses trying to set up via intermediaries. It's complicated, and expensive for a micro business like me, but I do hope to have good news in a few weeks time. I've been trying to do this for months, but it's just been impossible as nothing was ready. When I do have a system in place it should make ordering much simpler, and you will know exactly how much an order will cost at the time you place the order. I know this particular affects club members, under the new system it is possible to pause your subscriptions, and then restart them once I'm set up with the IOSS system. If you need any help with that, just send me an email.
Can I join you Nellie?
The past month has been bit of a whirlwind.
And at times I wish I had the energy of a 4 month old puppy. I'm currently working away like mad to get my St Distaffs Day challenge finished. Luckily the sleeves have lots of plain knitting and the end is in sight. Over in The Fellowship of Yarn we're busy getting ready for the Tour de Fleece, one of my favourite times of year. Lots of daily posts have been researched to share some information about the route the race passes through each day, and thi year as part of the 10th anniversary celebrations I'll be releasing limited stock of lots of different fibre from the past 10 years. Blends from The Birds, Queens, Ceilidh and Hiraeth all make appearances, as well as favourites from the Time Travellers Club.
If you've never done the Tour de Fleece before it's great fun, and very simple. We spin for every day that the riders race. You can spin as much or as little as you like, set targets, or just see how much you can achieve. We all cheer each other on, and generally have a lovely time.
I did manage to get another warp off the loom though. This is the shadow weave draft from Jane Stafford School of Weaving. Looks really fancy, but definitely isn't that hard.
Nellie has been having a great time exploring the Welsh countryside. She is a proper farm dog by nature and loves being outside, even when the rest of the household are sat indoors out of the rain!
Mum and I took a trip to Bodnant Garden to see the Rhododendrons and Azaleas, it's such a beautiful place to walk around, we've been before in high summer, and it was just as lovely in late spring.
The shop is thankfully looking a bit more full... the first post-brexit order from my suppliers in Italy has arrived. Not without complications, but it is here! Another is on the way very shortly.
I'm also busy getting ready for Fiberworld the online fibre show that's happening from July 21st-25th. I'll be having an interactive booth at the show... I have a few exciting things planned, and will be hosting a lounge slot. I'm also going to be back on the stages with talks and demonstrations, and this year I'm teaching classes to. Two are spinning based to help you get better at controlling yarn thickness and twist levels, and the 3rd is focused on dyeing cotton fabric using procion dyes. There are so many great looking classes that I only wish I had time to take some of them!
I am in denial about it being May... I have written April on multiple occasions so far.
You can't really blame me, the weather also seems to be in denial about the present season. April was incredibly dry... so much so that we had to water the garden to stop all the newly planted summer flowers from dying. It was also much colder than usual. So much so that we got a sprinkling of snow!
I have been very quite on the crafting front. Turns out being required to spend 90 minutes a night acting as puppy amusement severely eats in to your creative output!
I did get this finished however. Begun sometime in January and then worked on in fits and starts ever since. It's a smaller style so I experimented with lots of different blocks, and tried out English paper piecing for the first time. Plenty about it that's not perfect, but a lot of fun, used a lot of scraps and protects a sofa from grotbag dogs, and humans!