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!
Many of my interactions with Liz, known to any of us as Greensideknits were via Twitter. It therefore seems somewhat appropriate that via Twitter is how I heard of her unexpected death at the end of last week.
I'd known Liz for years, I have no idea where we first met... but it was probably online, and probably via Ravelry. We then met up at various other events over the next decade. We probably didn't talk regularly, but the joy of places like twitter is that people can pop up in conversations in the post unexpected moments. So it was with Liz. I'd probably have a moan about something, and she's either appear in my mentions, or send me a dm.
Like me she loved her cricket and her cycling, and we'd often share moments of triumph and disaster through our keyboards.
It was through her love of cycling that I think I best got to "know" Liz. Because one of the things that became apparent after her death is how many lives she quietly touched, and just how many interests she had. I don't think any of us realised just how many people she was in touch with regularly.
Liz loved France, and that love of cycling, France, fibre crafts and writing coincided every year with the Tour de Fleece.
For each stage of the race Liz would write beautiful summaries about the area of France the race passed through each day. These posts took weeks in the researching and writing, and she did it for the pleasure she knew it bought to others. They were often the highlight of my day. Initially the posts appeared in the Archers Lovers forums on Ravelry, but as time went on she very kindly popped in to the Hilltop Cloud group and wrote some for us to enjoy.
This summer she duplicated those posts in the temporary home we used for the Tour de Fleece after the Ravelry site redesign. I went back to read them yesterday morning and they seem like the perfect way to remember her.
So pour yourself a glass of something French. Here's to you Liz. You were taken from us to soon, but by golly we enjoyed having your company whilst you were here.
Stage 1- Saturday 27 June, – Nice Moyen Pays to Nice, 156km
So - here we go for our virtual Grand Départ 2020. This is the route, with the original dates…
It manages the great combination of all things issued by ASO (the race organisers) in being simultaneously huge and yet unreadable. But you get the idea. Anyone with a fondness for Normandy and Brittany is very much out of luck this year...
However, as we all know, Covid-19 has scuppered the original dates, as so much this year. So the inconsequential ramblings can be even more inconsequential... Let's talk about Nice...
In terms of the race, Nice got in quite early - they were part of the 4th *édition* in 1906, as a finish town for a 345km stage from Grenoble, before the riders started on a 308km stage to Marseille... Stages were longer then...
The last *Grand Départ* from Nice was in 1981 - so long ago that the Tour that year was won by a Frenchman, Bernard Hinault. (I remember watching some of that Tour with my French penfriend's dad, the pair of us in the darkened living room of their summer house in Provence while everyone else was taking their afternoon nap... that was the summer I properly learned to knit, too... After that there was a 30 year hiatus in the cycle-watching, not so much in the knitting...)
Nice is the second most visited city in France, but has only been officially French since 1860, when the city was handed to the French as thanks for their help in the second war of Italian independence (and the year before Italy became an actual state). Before that, it was conquered by France a few times. It has its own dialect, Niçard/Niçois/Nizzardo (reflecting its local/French/Italian history), and since 1912 its own anthem *Nissa la Bella*. Here's a version with a choir from 2017
and, in these lockdown times, here's a bloke with a uke in his house
Nice man playing the ukulele
The old town, particularly around the *Cours Saleya*, is beautiful and a maze of small streets.
There are also half a dozen excellent museums, and a Russian Orthodox cathedral. The *Promenade des Anglais* reflects the history of English people coming to Nice from the mid-18th century; it's named after the inexplicable tendency of the visitors to take an afternoon stroll (presumably when everyone else is taking a siesta)...
Nice has long been home to artists; in the 20th century it was simultaneously home to Matisse, Chagall and Picasso. They didn't get on, but there was a culture of mutal respect. They were all drawn to it both because of the climate, and because of the quality of the light in the area. Weirdly, Chagall (1887-1985) was still alive when the Tour last started in Nice. Timelines are a funny thing. Here's a picture of some people visiting the Musée National Marc Chagall. (Museums, remember those?)
Raoul Dufy also painted Nice (in this case the *Baie des Anges*) several times. This one is up for sale at Sotheby's - the auction starts in a couple of days if you've got the necessary $280K to start the bidding...
We can't really leave the history part of Nice without remembering the Promenade des Anglais attacks on Bastille Day 2016 - 86 dead, almost 500 injured. That first version of the local anthem was recorded the following year and was simultaneously sung in Paris and Nice as part of the Bastille Day commemorations. (In the Tour, that was also the day Chris Froome ran up Mont Ventoux. The day after, there was a silence before the race.)
It wouldn't be a post about France without some local specialities. There's a huge amount of argument as to what goes into a true *salade niçoise* and I'm not a fan, so let's go for a couple of lesser known delicacies.
First, *Socca*, a naturally gluten-free, vegan chickpea pancake. You can add cumin seeds, chopped chilis and other things to the batter. This is the simplest recipe I could find - others involve using the grill in your oven, which seems a very hot thing to be doing at this time of year...
And then the rather extraordinary Tourte de Blettes, a Swiss chard and fruit pie which also incorporates Pernod, raisins and Parmesan... Here's a recipe - I've also seen versions with apple instead of pear...
Looks faffy - but if the Tour actually happens in August/September, we have 3 days in Nice, so I might be tempted to have a go...
Alors; à vos rouets, à vos broches (to your wheels, to your spindles), mes ami(e)s!
Saturday 11 July - A tale of two cities
I asked for today specially because the race should have been going between two of my favourite cities, Clermont-Ferrand and Lyon.
Clermont is an odd place, or at least it was in the late 80s when I spent three summers visiting it regularly, on our day off (usually a Sunday) from excavating in the area. I wasn't an archaeologist, just a teenage linguist who discovered a talent for classifying pottery finds, and has spent most of the rest of her life sifting, sorting and putting things into categories as a result. But it was France, and although the work was hard (8 until 7 with a 2 hour lunch break when the weather got hot), the living was easy. This is the house we were based in, with people washing finds outside in the evening...
... and this is the Bar des Sports in the neighbouring village, where we'd wait for the bus to come and pick us up in the evening. You could get a small Duralex glass of rosé for 1F20, which was the equivalence of about 10p at the time. The first time, I was paying for the privilege of learning - the following two summers, they offered to pay me the equivalent of jobseekers' allowance and provided me with a tent, if I'd go back and work on the pottery classification project. It was pretty idyllic.
This is the song that reminds me of those summers - "petit Christien" from the village used to bring his guitar down to our weekly barbecues/bonfires by the river, and he'd always sing this.
San Francisco, by Maxime le Forestier
Clermont the city was at the time quite run-down - the Michelin factory was shedding many employees although its headquarters are still there. Many of those employees were the children of the Algerian families who'd been courted by Michelin to come to France after WWII to work; France's Windrush generation, if you like; and at the time the best restaurants were couscous restaurants, which as impoverished students we loved.
The city view is pretty much dominated by the cathedral, which is built from the local black volcanic rock.
The most famous historical figure associated with the area is Vercingetorix, a familiar figure to anyone who's read an Asterix book. There's a great statue in the huge and beautiful Place Jaude, designed by Bartholdi (who also designed the Statue of Liberty). Vercingetorix, and ultimately the Gauls', last stand was at Gergovia/Gérgovie - which seems to have been a large hilltop settlement (an oppidum, in the language of the victors) but has not yet been found. (This was the aim of several of the digs in the area and a matter of hot competition every time a likely site got permission for digging...)
My favourite building in Clermont was the basilica of Notre-Dame-du-Port, built to commemorate returning Crusaders, and incorporating elements of North African design. Which is, in retrospect, interesting given the number of Algerians who were living in the area several hundred years later.
OK; so I seem to have had a lot to say about Clermont.
I'm not going to say much about Lyon in general (although the old town on the left of the Presqu'île is gorgeous; and the Fourvière basilica is a must if you love neo-Byzantine as done by the 19th century French). It has a superb museum of the history of printing, a great archaeological museum, and the new and incredibly French Musée des Confluences at the meeting of the Saône and the Rhone, which combines high-tech immersive experiences with good old-fashioned "here are 25 stuffed deer from all parts of the world" experiences.
And I love this: a "flower tree" made by a South Korean artist, on the banks of the river. Each flower is probably a metre or so across. (I have this as my desktop image at the moment... you can see much more sunny images of it on the web, but I love colours-against-grey... 14 Quai du Dr Gailleton, if you're ever in Lyon.)
(One of the strangest things I encountered was that I'd go into a restaurant or bar in France's Second City, and someone would say "oh, are you here on business" and I'd say "no, I'm here on holiday", and they'd look at me a bit oddly. But Lyon is still pretty industrial - aerospace and chemicals, mainly...)
My favourite things were the Textile Museum, which is *amazing*. I've been back three times, and a huge amount of the collection had rotated each time. But this, for example, is a piece of tapestry weaving from *2nd-4th century* Egypt.
When people think of Lyon, they generally think of silk. A whole section of Lyon, the *Croix Rousse*, was built around silk, to the extent that you can see the silkweavers' houses because they had three very tall floors, so that Jacquard looms could be accommodated in the rooms.
The second time I went, I went on a tour to the *Maison des Canuts* (Canut being the local word for a silkweaver). A young apprentice on a national scheme did us a demonstration of weaving the sort of silk Lyon became famous for before the French revolution.
Then we were walked through the streets to a bit of a miracle - a weaver's workshop which was active until the 1950s, and then just shut up and abandoned until the heirs came back in the 1990s and realised that everything - including some of the food in the cupboards - was intact. The conditions were heartbreaking - it was probably a room 5m by 5m, but with a huge loom in one area and room to store fabric and raw materials; and the family sleeping and eating in a tiny loft built into one wall, with nowhere to escape from the dust and fibres from the weaving...
This hand belongs to one of the volunteers staffing this living history workshop - this man worked as a weaver for 50 years before retiring; and then when the workshop was restored, he came back to demonstrate some simple weaving and maintain the Jacquard loom.
He started off weaving plain-weave fabric for shirts; then he moved to weaving Jacquard fabric for curtains and upholstery; and then towards the end of his career, he wove carbon fibre for use in Airbus nose-cones and for police batons. A whole industrial revolution in one career.
Going to finish off this post by showing you a combination of all this; this is a wedding dress in the Musée des Confluences; made partly of silk and partly of optical fibre; using an 18th century Jacquard loom.
Happy Spinning All...
Saturday 18 July - Time Trial
So today was meant to be a mountain Time Trial up to the Planche des Belles Filles; not really sure who this would suit but presumably the guys who've made it thus far.
Time Trials in the UK have a very particular history. Michael Hutchinson (AKA Doctor Hutch - aside from his career as a time-triallist, he also has a PhD in Constitutional Law and used to lecture in it at Cambridge) wrote about it at length in his book *Re:Cyclists: 200 years on two wheels*.
On 21 July 1894, a cyclist called Thomas Bidlake was being paced by two other riders in a road race on the Great North Road (now the A1) near Huntingdon, when they overtook a carriage being driven by a lady. There's some confusion as to what happened next, but in any case, some permutation of horse, carriage, cyclists and lady ended up in a nearby ditch, and the police were summoned. At this point, the budding National Cyclists' Union shot itself soundly in the foot by banning its members from any road racing activity, lest they be thought of as "scorchers"...
Bidlake staged a polite rebellion against this by arranging time trial races which were unannounced and held almost in secret. If the authorities didn't know they were happening, they would just see a lone cyclist "scorching" up the road every couple of minutes. Within a couple of decades, time-trialling became entrenched as the purest form of the sport, with no tactics, just a test of one person's strength.
Bidlake was killed in a road accident 40 years after his brush with the carriage; his ashes are scattered at the site of the accident near St Neots in Cambridgeshire, and there's a memorial sign to him.
The idea of massed-start road racing (as opposed to the occasional events on racing circuits or in parks) was further delayed in the UK by the fact that the Olympic road race (until quite recently the Olympics has been the only time British people remember there's such a thing as competitive cycling) was also a time-trial from 1906 to 1932. The (infamous) Berlin Games, however, re-introduced the idea of a bunch start and finish, and the Establishment registered its displeasure. Dr Hutch says:
The whole idea of a tactical road race went against what had become a deeply held principle that the strongest rider should always win, and if that irked those who were looking for entertainment, then those who were looking for entertainment were welcome to go and find another sport to watch.
Eventually, for the sake of the Olympics, road racing started again in the UK; but we weren't really in the habit of the thing...
I'm going to cheat here, because although time trial is not my favourite discipline, there was one notable exception in 2019. But it was at the Giro. However, there's some lovely stuff here about how teams prepare for time trials. And it could not have been won by a nicer chap - Chad Haga. In 2016, he was very nearly killed by a driver in Spain (you can see the scars on his face and neck) and lost his Dad. In 2019, he won the final stage of the Giro and became a Dad. It feels as if you can see all of this in this video... It's also a lovely illustration of how important winning one single stage of a Grand Tour is for many of the *domestiques*...
Chad Haga wins the final Giro stage in 2019
Haga is also a talented pianist with a mechanical engineering degree. He writes very nicely for Cycling News.
Happy spinning, all!
It still feels somewhat surreal that these are the last posts that Liz will write for us... and I am so sad that I will never again need to roll my eyes at the obscure sounding recipes she used to find for us to enjoy, or to hear of her plans for navigating France by public transport for her summer holiday.
At times she could make me roll my eyes with frustration, but my life was infinitely the richer for having known her.
Cheers Liz, we'll be spinning and watching the Tour in your honour this summer.
At last venturing further afield than our own doorstep has become possible. For now travel is only meant to be within Wales, and people shouldn't be crossing over the border from England, so it's been peaceful.
Or as peaceful as it can be with one of these newly arrived in the house!
Nell arrived with us 2 weeks ago. We said goodbye to our oldest dog Gwen earlier this year, and the house felt too empty with just one dog, and in the manner of many other people, all the time at home seems like a good time to teach a puppy how to be a good dog, particularly as things start top open up again so we'll be able to go and do all the appropriate socialisations to make sure she's a happy reliable pet.
She's a border collie from working farm stock, her Mum was also called Gwen and her Dad was called Gilbert!
Meg is unimpressed with the new arrival, though is starting to mellow towards her!
Almost nothing in the house is safe from her desire to play with it... so knitting has bee rather slow. However I have done the swatch for my cashmere jumper, and cast on!
I'm not doing Virtual Wonderwool as a business this year. I don't have an excess of stock I need to sell, and I dislike using Facebook. However I am still taking part in a different form. As part of the Welsh Guilds of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers we've organised a series of talks taking place that weekend.
The speakers are all offering their time for free, and we're asking that you donate to either the Welsh Air Ambulance or Macmillan Cancer Support in exchange for attending.
The full details of all the talks, and links to book your ticket (which is essential) are on the All Wales Guilds website.
There's a huge variety of topics, some on historical textiles, natural dyeing, contemporary yarn production, hand carding...
They're being hosted on Zoom as seminars, and we hope to have an automated closed caption system in operation as speakers are talking.
In the last post I promised that I was working on my next Spinning with a Purpose Course focusing on Twist. It's now live and ready to go. Here's the full course outline so you can see what's covered in each lesson.
There's lots of technical information on twist, but there's also lots of practical advice to help you get better at judging twist as you spin. You're encouraged to experiment and sample to find the level of twist that works for you, rather than a prescriptive instruction.
It's available to buy in my Payhip store, once you purchase you'll be sent 2 pdf files. One is the course outline, the other contains your link to access the course in the Fellowship of Yarn Mighty Network group.
Lambs are starting to appear in the fields here, our upland sheep lamb later in spring and out in the fields. The daffodils have been looking stunning, and the tulips are growing their flower buds. The other sign of spring is one we can watch right through our window with a telescope. Whilst eating breakfast a few weeks ago we spotted a pair of Red Kites repeatedly landing in a tree. A closer look with the binoculars revealed a part built nest. She's now been sat on a clutch of eggs for about 10 days, so by the end of April we might have some Red Kite chicks to watch.
I'm not saying I have a problem....
But these things seem to be breeding.
I have done next to no large project knitting since Christmas, but instead have just been transforming scraps in to these freeform creatures. Cast on some stitches, knit some form of hat with very gradual decreases to make it pointy. Pick up body stitches, knit downwards adding some increases to give them fat bellies. Decrease rapidly to give them a flat bottom to sit on, stuff and add some lentils at the bottom to stop them falling over. Add in some i-cord arms, a variety of beard styles, and tiny little bits of stockinette for a nose and the potential for experimentation is endless.
I've not wanted to start anything new because my St Distaffs Day Challenge project is approaching the knitting phase. I've nearly spun all of my cashmere, and then it will be full speed with the knitting part to get it completed in time.
After a year of very little teaching this spring has seen me busy nearly every weekend with talks, lectures and workshops. It feels very nice to be talking to people about textiles again, even if it is only over a screen. I've had to do lots of fresh photographing, because when I do things in person I can just hand things round to touch, but I'm very please with the set of talks I've now put together.
Whilst we're on the topic of talks I have also put together this... which is for something coming up in the future that I am very excited about. It combines my love of colour theory, making practical items, and dyeing. For now the precise details are under wraps, but hopefully this wets your appetite.
I'm buys working on the next Online Course focusing on Twist. It is very nearly finished... except I keep coming up with interesting things I want to include, and the RAF jets have been flying incessantly in this area for most of February, and you really don't want to hear me trying to talk over the horrendous noise they make. As a result I've only been able to do some of the video filming.
We had some cold weather in February which put the garden on pause for a while, but I filmed this on a sunny afternoon at the end of the month. The spring flowering heather is always covered with insects at this time of year. If you have a garden it's well worth planting some, it starts looking great in February and is a really valuable early nectar source for butterflies, bumble bees and honey bees. The summer flowers get all the publicity, but actually the biggest difference you can make for pollinators with garden plants is to fill in the gaps in early spring and late autumn.
Speaking of the future....
I may have mentioned that Hilltop Cloud dis celebrating it's 10th anniversary this year.
As part of the celebrations I am asking you to go and vote for your favourite blends from the past 10 years. The full set of links are here, so please come and cast your votes.
This very much feels like the current mood.
Turns out that when you can't go anywhere, and when you have walked the muddy steep fields around the house, and practically nowhere else for the past year even the beautiful Welsh countryside stops filling you with joy. Particularly in this, the dullest time of year. There's hints that spring is on the way, but they're teasers, and only remind you of what you're looking forward to in March and April. It's bit like looking at posts in your social media feed from those living in Australia and New Zealand.
It's so wonderful to see older people and those who are more vulnerable being vaccinated, but for those of us who are low on the priority lists it all still feels very worrying. I suspect the pressure is going to mount for lockdowns to be lifted soon, and meanwhile the younger generations, those who are most likely to be working in low-paid, yet high risk jobs are still unprotected. Yes, the risk of fatal disease is lower for these groups (and that's why it's right that they are vaccinated later), but even "mild" versions can have some dreadful long-term consequences. I am very fortunate that I can carry on working from home, my social life has largely shifted online, but for many of my friends and family members that's not the case.
I've no plans to go back to doing in-person events until I'm vaccinated (which will basically be the completion of the vaccination programme). If you have been vaccinated, keep wearing your mask, keep abiding by the rules, and if in doubt about wether something is a good idea be more cautious rather than less.
Sadly Wonderwool Wales has been cancelled again this year. The past few weeks have been slightly nervous for me. I was quite willing to loose my stall fee, because I would not have been attending if it had gone ahead. The organisers made the decision to cancel last week (and will be refunding stall fees held over from last year). I'm sad not to be seeing you all in person, but a crowd event with people travelling from all over the country just isn't wise right now. There are plans to do another Virtual event, and unlike last year, when we were all still trying to work out what on earth we were doing, this year we've all had a year of practice!
Speaking of online, my diary is rapidly filling up with online talks, lectures and workshops with guilds all over the country. It's been great to get back to teaching, it makes up such a small part of my income, but the enjoyment I get from it more than makes up for that! I can probably squeeze a few more sessions in, so get in touch if your guild/group want know more (international inquiries welcome!)
Meanwhile, if you're not a member of a group I am continuing to build up the catalogue of online courses. These are self paced, available "forever", and still have the ability to ask questions and get feedback. In addition to Spinning with a Purpose: Thickness I've now added Corespinning and Beyond!
Spinning these techniques were just the sense of fun I needed this month. It was often a workshop that people were unsure about when I taught it in-person, but by the end of it so many were converts to this great method of creating usable yarn, and recognised the increase in skill that could be applied to their other yarns. If you fancy finding out more then there's a full course description on the Online Courses page.
Whilst the weather is cold and icy I'm going to be getting on with writing the next course, the water pipes are frozen solid, so I'm inside in the warmth.
I have finished off next to nothing this month, after clearing the loom and the sewing machine at Christmas. But I did manage to finish off the red and yellow warp from last month...
And have warped the loom for the next big project.. a somewhat ambitious plan involving my own handspun as the weft and the thought of turning the yardage in to a garment of some kind. I can even call myself a proper weaver now because I actually sampled!
The Mighty Networks group has had a bit of minor tinkering...
It's still where there is lots of Hilltop Cloud chatter, but the name has had a tweak to The Fellowship of Yarn.
I'd been missing rambling chats about anything and everything, and I just like seeing things that people have made, regardless of where the supplies have come from. I like hearing about recipes that are tasty, and books that are great. I want to see pets, and gardens...
So if you have something you want to share, if you're feeling lonely and just want to talk, if the world is getting too much then know that you are not alone.
One of the good things about the current group is that there are no algorithms, you get to choose what you see. If you have a topic that doesn't interest you then you can change your preferences so you don't follow those conversations. It's also easy to find people who speak your language, or who share you specific interests.
Over the past few week people have been developing their ideas for the St Distaff's Day Challenge, and it's great to see how such a small set of photos can develop such a wide range of ideas.
If you have friends who you think would like to join in then send them in an invite, or if you're not yet a member come and join us.
Lest anyone be worrying about me, it's not all disaster central around here.
I started making this with my friend Jill 2 years ago. We began sewing it on a holiday in Northumberland in 2018, and have been gradually working on it together ever since. Progress ground to a bit of a halt this year, because for most of the spring we weren't allowed to meet up, but as she lives by herself, once restrictions eased slightly, she's been able to come over when permitted and we've carried on working on it. (We both work from home, haven't been going shopping in person, and have only been meeting each other, so the slight risk of having a support bubble like this is very minimal, and an absolute godsend for our mental health). Just before Christmas we managed to get the entire top sewn together, so over the holidays I got the quilting completed.
As with many large, long time-scale projects I went through phases of really not liking it...
but I stuck with it, and now it's done I'm really pleased with it.
The back uses a piece of cotton lawn I had in stash, and a piece of hand dyed cotton, together with a piece from a Ruby Star Society panel.
It's got wool batting in middle, so is now on my bed as an extra layer in these colder months.
I've not really felt like starting any big knitting projects at the moment, but have been busily reducing the pile of yarns in my scrap box. The gnome obsession seems to show no signs of letting up, these 2 were the Advent Knit-Along, and were a charming distraction throughout December. I'm already plotting about which elements from these will pop up in my next freestyle versions.
Before we went in to Lockdown again we managed to get in a trip to the coast, a perfect combination of low tide and good weather made a much anticipated trip to see the Petrified Forest at Borth was a magical experience.
Whilst we over at the coast we also went to Aberystwyth in the hope of seeing some Starling murmurations, but although it was a beautiful sunset the Starlings weren't there in huge numbers. They roost under the pier, and previously we've watched them swooping over the sea as the sun was setting. However the sunset was still incredible. Normally I'd pick out a few photos to share, but looking back on these made me so happy that I've put all of them up as a gallery to scroll through.
We've escaped the snowy weather that many have had in the north, but we did get a slight dusting on New Years Eve. Mr Pheasant was up early looking for breakfast, and was most cross about being disturbed.
Weaving exploration continues, I'm finding the push of Jane Stafford online guild is giving me the incentive to try out new ideas, and keep on weaving. These are the samples from the Large Threadings gamp, and are the first I've done in wool.
these are from the twill meets colour & weave sampler. The rest of this warp is still on the loom, but I can now make some decisions about which patterns, and which colours to use to weave some tea towels from it (everybody got hand-woven tea towels this year!). I particularly enjoyed the colour sample, there are some really unexpected surprises in here, that I would never have thought to use if I hadn't just grabbed a pirn from every cone I have in the cupboard and woven a 2 inch section.
Lacking motivation seems a common theme right now, but the St Distaff's Day challenge is doing exactly what I intended, and giving people something fun to work on. I've loved reading the ideas that people are starting to think about it, so if you're feeling uninspired, please come and take a look.
I'm teaching a workshop for the first time in nearly a year tomorrow, and am really hoping I've not forgotten how to do it, and that the amount of stuff piled up in my living room still leaves room for my spinning wheel! Thankfully we've been having online guild meetings since April, so I've got the technology side of things pretty well sorted!
If you feel like you've got enough on your plate, just scroll right on by this post. Some of it isn't pretty reading, it's possibly a bit moany, and if you're already feeling like crap then it's probably not the thing to read.
However, I think it's a good idea to keep you all in the loop about changes that are happening. Changes, for many of us, are unsettling, and left to my own devices these are not changes I would be making. But they need to happen, and in order to allay the cries of "but I like the old system", or "it worked fine for me", "or why isn't x product back in stock yet" here's an explanation of what's happening.
One things I'm seeing a lot of from people in this (waves hands vaguely in the air) industry, is how much fire fighting they feel like they're doing at the moment. Even those of us who are normally really efficient, and highly organised are getting stuff dropped in our laps that just make planning impossible.
Tina at Blue Moon Fiber Arts expresses it pretty well, and I've seen similar from other people on social media. For example, the last postage day before Christmas and the New Year, when I was sending out the last of the EU orders where I collected VAT, later that same afternoon most European countries closed their borders, and no post was due to leave the UK. In the opposite direction a large box of fibre from Italy was unable to get in to the UK, and actually ended crossing the border post-Brexit. Thankfully it looks like it was just waved through customs, because it had no import paperwork, because at the time it left Italy, it wasn't going to need it. It would seem, exactly as predicted, and warned by al the major logistics firms, that getting goods from the EU, and getting goods in to the EU is currently a disaster zone. Working out what paperwork was needed in advance was impossible, even if you get your paperwork in order, if your goods are on a lorry with items whose paperwork is incorrect means the whole lorry gets turned back. All non-UK traders selling goods to UK customers are now meant to be registering for UK VAT, and collecting VAT at the point of sale, and then passing that tax on to HMRC. Many are deciding it's just not worth it, as the minor profits from their sales to UK customers will be eaten up in extra admin and filing costs.
International postage is a mess, particularly in the USA where there are backlogs of unimaginable scales. Things posted with in the USA at the end of November are only just being delivered. People are being very patient, but it's a constant dilemma of how long to leave a missing parcel before trying to replace it, or issue a refund. I always try to put myself in the customers shoes, and I know I would be uncomfortable about not having goods that I'd ordered in November, but at the same time I know exactly where they are. They're sat in a mountain of parcels in various USPS depots over the country.
Suppliers have been working with reduced capacity, or shutting down aspects of production at very short notice, leaving me rushing to put in orders for stock that I think I'll need in 3 months time. Running the Time Travellers Club has been particularly nightmarish. Previously I operated the club in a lean manner, taking payments a month ahead of the fibre being shipped so I could order exactly the right amount of fibre (with a small amount spare to replace anything that got lost in the post). That all changed in April with lead times at the manufacturing companies stretching from weeks to months. I've been getting round it by ordering far more fibre than I think I need, and then in December disaster struck, and instead of having a huge surplus, I actually ended up being short of fibre, and with no way to order more because of planned shut-downs over the holidays. However, that all got handled, hopefully to the satisfaction of those affected, who were very kind and gracious about the whole thing.
Yesterday I discovered that the service I use to handle subscription payments for both fibre clubs is completely unprepared for the changes that have happened with VAT due to Brexit. I am only registered for VAT in the UK, prior to Brexit this meant I had to charge EU customers VAT on their purchases. Post-Brexit, EU customers become the same as customers in any other part of the world, and I should not be charging them VAT, because I am not VAT registered in all the different EU countries. That changes in July with the introduction of a scheme similar to the one for digital payments. I'd checked this with the company who run the service beforehand, who assured me they had everything in hand, but when an EU subscription payment went through the system, they were still charged VAT. The company are still insisting they're doing things correctly (they're not), so I spent my week researching alternatives and working out if they will meet my needs. At the moment I am heading towards all the automated payments will being done through the online shop, rather than being a separate system. This removes some features, but actually helps with many others. For starters, no more confusion about having 2 accounts on 2 systems, and I'll be able to charge accurate amounts for postage (the current system only lets me use a flat rate for every country outside the UK). It also gives me better integration with my accounting software, and connects directly to Royal Mail for postage labels. More importantly, because the payments will go through Shopify it means that I will only have to make alternations for future tax changes once, and Shopify are such a large e-commerce provider that they tend to be very on the ball with legislation for selling online.
Now because this has all been dropped in my lap suddenly this means that nothing is in place for the January Time Travellers Club payments. The current system doesn't work, the new system isn't ready... So I'm taking the pressure off, and for the first time in 5 years there will be a months break for the Time Travellers Club. The January fibre is here, people paid for that in December, and that will be shipped as normal. But I won't take any payments in January, so won't ship any fibre in February. This gives me the time I need to remove the old systems and get the new one ready to take payments in February, for fibre that will be shipped in March.
In many ways I am incredibly lucky. I have a job that I can carry on doing in a completely safe environment. I see nobody outside my household, and have no offspring that I'm trying to home educate while carrying on working. However, running a small business this year has been tough, a constant feeling that you're never quite on top of everything.
This year Hilltop Cloud turns 10. Together we've come a long way from the Etsy shop filled with hand blended fibre that was made in the corner of the spare bedroom in my parents cottage.
I'm still in the converted barn next to the cottage, working from the corner of a bedroom, but did get a space upgrade by moving in to the caravan as a work room, and my shoulder is now very thankful that I acquired dyeing skills. Things have changed, but really not a lot, and I like it that way. I still aim to supply beautiful fibre that you love working with. I treat my customers how I expect to be treated myself, and I passionately believe that sharing knowledge and creativity makes the world a better place.
I like to see people using fibre, so I encourage them to do so!
Five years ago we celebrated Hilltop Cloud 5th birthday with a challenge called In5pire (Ravelry link). I have no witty play on numbers and letter this time, but January 7th is St Distaff's Day, when the spinners traditionally went back to work, so to celebrate turning 10 we shall have a St Distaff's Day Challenge.
It runs for the next 6 months, and encourages you to get creative, learn new things, make mistakes, use your supplies, and will let us share all those things with each other.
Come along and take a look, I do hope you'll join in. There are prizes on offer, a £100 Gift Voucher for the Hilltop Cloud shop, and a £100 Gift Voucher for Weft Blown who supply all sorts of spinning and weaving equipment and supplies. Angie, the owner, is also joining me as a guest judge.
We'll be judging based on your process and documentation, not based on who can make the "best" thing, and there's also a £50 Gift Voucher prize picked at random from everyone who completes their project.
I have gained so much by being part of this community, so I want this year to be a celebration of that. I had grand plans for several things, but Covid and Brexit meant they aren't possible, but I do still want to get out and about virtually. Do you have a podcast or vlog and would like to chat to me? Are you a graphic designer/illustrator who would like to work together to create some really cool anniversary graphics? If you have an idea on how you can collaborate then send me a message!
This years 12 Days of Christmas parcels started with a hand dyed braid on 25th December, but then the following days all contain brand new colours of Superfine Merino & Silk.
This is the exact same fibre composition as all the rest of the stock currently in the shop, so can be used interchangeably in the same projects. This was specially commissioned for the 12 Days of Christmas parcels, which meant I had to order lots of each colour. As a result the spare fibre is going online at midnight (GMT) on the day featuring each individual colour. Anyone can buy this spare fibre... it's really rather pretty! You can find it in the Superfine Merino & Silk section of the shop, and the usual Buy 2, Get a 3rd Half price offer applies to this fibre as well.
I've given them seasonal names, picking out traditions from all around the world.
Todays colour is Pavuchky. This fresh shade of minty blue features streaks of gold and turquoise.
Christmas Spiders or Pavuchky, come from Ukraine.
The story goes that a widow woman and her children go to bed on Christmas Eve, with nothing but a bare tree in the house as they have no money for decorations, and nothing to make them out of. The spiders in the house take pity on the family and overnight decorate the tree with beautiful webs that glisten gold and silver. Ukrainian Christmas trees often feature decorations of spiders and spiders webs as a reminder of this story.
Today is the last of the 12 Days of Christmas parcels. We started with a 100g dyed braid on Christmas Day, and over the past 11 days have opened small parcels that are designed to co-ordinate with that colours.
2021 is the year that Hilltop Cloud turns 10, so on December 7th, St Distaffs Day, when spinners traditionally went back to work after the holiday season, we'll be beginning our 10th birthday celebrations with our St Distaffs Day Challenge. Check back on the 7th, to see what we're getting up to.
For now though, why not prepare by giving your spinning wheels some love.