This post could turn in to something of a word salad.... but I want to type it here because it's a conversation prompted by Instagram, but firstly, Instagram is a dreadful place to have any sort of meaningful discussion. I can barely keep track of 20 Team Hilltop Cloud Tour de Fleece posts per day, let alone host any sort of nuanced discussion in the comments.
Secondly it's a conversation that needs to move beyond an Instagram bubble, if I really do believe in what I write there I shouldn't be afraid to write it somewhere that is accessible to those who don't use social media.
Over the past few days a well known male knitting designer and teacher called Sockmatician made a instagram post that basically called on everyone to "just be nice". He claimed to have invented the #diversknitty and was upset that other people were using it in a way he wasn't happy about. He wrote a bizarre poem that immediately set my teeth on edge. To me it smacked of misogyny, yet another man telling me how I should think and behave. As I've later discovered that reaction is partly my privilege showing, because of course he wrote his original post in reposes to the discussion that has been happening regarding racism in our community. So by telling everyone to just "play nice" he was actually trying to silence the voices of BIPOC, so he was also being racist.
People replied to his post, pointing out the issues with what he had just written, and instead of apologising, or stepping away to think about what they were saying, the original poster then became aggressive, and started victim blaming. His husband then chimed in, made everything worse, and in the end claimed that the hurt the commenters had caused had led to male knitting designer being admitted to hospital due to a mental health breakdown. As someone who has suffered with mental health issues I can completely appreciate how this situation may have led to him feeling very unwell. Just writing this makes me feel anxious, however, mental health is not an excuse for treating other people poorly.
This weekend, the knitting designer attended a yarn show in the West Midlands. He was there to teach and sell books. At a quiet point during the show, a vendor, who was also a woman of colour, went over to question him about his actions. He responded with aggression, and had to be removed from the show. Meanwhile his husband is carrying on being offensive over on his personal blog and on Facebook.
I've said this before, and I'll say it again. It is not ok to behave in this way. The knitting designer tried to claim that just because he was gay he knew what it was like to be in a minority group, and he wasn't being racist.
His words caused hurt and harm.
He has not apologised, or recognised that he was wrong to post in the manner he did.
I'm saying it in my own corner of the internet, because we need to be having this conversation outside the swirling mass of words currently floating around on instagram.
I know you all come here for pretty pictures of spinning, or interesting technical articles. I have a couple of them lined up. But those things only happen when we also have a space where everyone is welcome. Where we can have the tough discussions highlighting the lack of equality in our world, because then we can do the fun things and everyone benefits.
If you've read all this and are just thinking that you'd like to stick to your fibre crafts ask yourself "why do I think that, why am I not listening to the voices of those who are saying that they feel unwelcome or unsafe?" Just because you haven't experienced those things doesn't mean that others haven't. People are saying this is a problem. Those of us who are in a position of privilege need to stand up and say "ok, if you don't feel safe or welcome or represented we need to do something about this"
As ever, my inbox is open if you want to send me an email privately. I have tried, to the best of my ability, to make sure that what I have written is accurate, and respectful. If I have inadvertently caused hurt please tell me. I am open to fixing my mistakes and I apologise in advance. Comments here are open, but to be clear, I will not tolerate any defence of Sockmaticians actions. If you want to tell me to "just stick to the spinning", then I suggest you go and read the letters that go out with the Time Travellers Club each month. The ever educational Penelope Hemmingway wrote this last year (I am very much looking forward to her talk at Summer School in August). Textiles have always been political. They always will.
The July parcels for the Non-Wool Club have gone in the post, so don't carry on reading if you're a club member and don't want to see what's in your parcel.
The spare fibre from last month is now in the shop for anyone to purchase.
The first fibre for this month is Tussah Silk. If you've not spun silk before then this fibre is a great intriduction. Still shiny, still with a long staple length, but the fibres have slightly more texture so tend to draft more easily than Mulberry Silk.
The silk worms that produce Tussah Silk are rather less fussy than the ones that produce mulberry silk. They can eat a wider variety of leaves, and as a result produce a fibre that is slightly coarser and with less lustre. The natural tannin from the oak leaves in their diet produces fibre that is naturally golden in colour. This type of silk can be very durable, but still comes with a fantastic shine. I like to spin it straight from the end of the combed top, keep a relaxed grip on the fibre to avoid pulling on both ends of the same staple, and to ensure you don't end up with a tangled mass of fibres.
If you find it tricky then switch to spinning it from the fold, you can either use a short forward draw, or switch to a point of twist draw. This makes the yarn slightly less lustrous. How much twist to use is a matter of personal preference. I like a lower twist yarn as it stays softer and drapes better. However if you're spinning for weaving you may want more twist to reduce the effect of abrasion on the heddles.
The second fibre for you to spin this month is Soyasilk. This is shiny like Silk, but has a much shorter staple length, more like spinning a fibre like Camel, Yak or Cashmere. You can spin it with a short forward draw, but you will have to concentrate hard to stop the fibre getting away from you. Try switching ti spinning from the sold with a point of twist draft and it all becomes much more relaxing!
You might also see this fibre referred to as Soybean, this fibre is manmade, but from a natural source. Soya protein is processed in to fine filaments to make this combed top. It was invented by Henry Ford in 1937, and was primarily used for car upholstery, because its anti-UV properties mean it fades far less quickly than silk or viscose. The rise of true synthetic fibres meant it disappeared from production, but was revived in 1998 when interest in non-oil based fibres was starting to increase.
Finally we have another short stapled fibre, but one that will be soft and fluffy. This fibre comes from goats, there’s no specific breed that produces cashmere fibre, instead any fibre that is graded at below 19 microns can be called cashmere. The name comes from Kashmir, which is the northernmost part of the Indian subcontinent. This fibre is graded at around 13 microns, unless you are lucky enough to ever spin Qiviut or Vicuna this is probably the finest fibre you will ever spin. Its short staple length can make this a challenging fibre, but it will handle having a large amount of twist and still remain soft. This cashmere is sourced from Mongolia.
You can spin this straight from the end of the combed top with a short forwards draw, but it's hard work, you can also spin with a point of twist draft straight from the end of the top, or you can spin it from the fold. Either way, this is a fibre that will handle higher levels of twist, and will still remain feeling soft. In fact if you don't use enough twist the short staple length will mean the yarn pills badly.
It's felt like a strange month. For the first time since 2013 we didn't pack up the van and head up the M6 to Woolfest. I know some of you were disappointed not to see me there, but from a personal point of view it's a decision I'm very glad I made. It's freed up my summer to do many of the things I love, and I finally feel like I have stopped chasing my tail and caught up with my to-do list.
I've nearly finished with my preparation for the Association Summer School in August, I am really looking forward to having the luxury of a whole week to explore the magic of hand dyed fibre. If you can make it to the Open Day on August 10th please come along. You'll be able to look round all the classrooms, and there are a few talks happening, and of course there's the Trade Fair. (For now the website is lacking a specific page for the Open Day, I have enquired about making one available, but for now you can find everything you need in the student handbook including directions and timings).
And speaking of learning, there's been a bit of chatter on my social media about retreats, workshops, and the community of making. I've been thinking about organising a retreat/residential workshop for a while now. There are lots of lovely venues in this part of the world that would be ideal, for now I'm putting the idea on hold, as I'm not sure that committing thousands of pounds to organise a retreat given the current political uncertainty is wise. However, watch this space... 2021 is the year Hilltop Cloud turns 10 so maybe, just maybe. Start saving your pennies!
June has been a month of cricket. I've been able to get down to Cardiff to see 2 of the matches they've hosted in the Cricket World Cup. I think this photo perfectly sums up British sport watching in summer. You will probably require a combination of sunglasses, wooly hat and umbrella....
We stayed in Cardiff for a few extra days, and I took Mum round the fabulous St Fagans, National Museum of History, which has just been named Museum of the Year. It's an amazing place, particularly now the new galleries are open. We spent the whole day there and still didn't manage to see everything.
Then the end of the month was my birthday, and because I wasn't up to my eyeballs in Woolfest preparations I was able to spend a day walking round the show gardens at David Austin roses, and spend some birthday money on a new rose to grow in the bed by the dye studio.
Next month is going to be pretty quiet which should mean lots of lovely shop updates, though I will have to resist the siren call of these beautiful creatures.
I'd kept quiet about these clutches of eggs, because they had a dreadful start to their incubation, and I really thought they wouldn't viable, but there are now 3 baby chicks tucked up under Mummy Niddy. And of course, because I thought these eggs had got chilled, I put another batch of eggs under Tina, so in a weeks time we should have another small clutch hatching!
I am oh so very behind in writing this post... but I am finally in a position to work through my to-do list and get round to all the things that are on it that I wanted to do, but weren't urgent!
Over in the Hilltop Cloud Ravelry group we have a community thread for people to share photos of their spinning, and finished objects. It's called Spin It, Knit It, Win It, but of course you're not limited to just knitting. It's one of my favourite places to browse in the mornings with a mug of tea, and is a huge source of inspiration.
These are the highlights from the last round, but if you missed posting in that thread fear not, there's a new thread every 3 months and you can post in it at any time. If there's a Ravelry project/stash entry for the photo then clicking on the image will take you to the appropriate page.
And while I'm writing a post that feature Ravelry projects, I am going to repeat here what I have already said on my various social media accounts. I am in complete agreement with Ravelry's decision to ban support for Donald Trump on their site. I am tired of trying to express kindness and tolerance towards individuals who support him, when their views display a complete lack of tolerance and kindness towards the individuals who are harmed by his policies. I have tried having polite discussions, but to use a well used analogy, it's like trying to play chess with a pigeon. They're not interested in opening their minds, and I'm no longer willing to share my space with them.
If you've not received your parcel yet, then look away now!
Are are the videos and fibre information to go alongside the June round of the Non-Wool Club. The spare fibre from previous rounds is now live in the Non-Wool section of the shop if any of the previous videos have wetted your appetite to try these fibres.
We're on to a new 3 month block of this club, some fibres are ones we encountered last time, but others are brand new.
I've started off with Viscose. This is a shiny fibre, in many ways similar to silk, but it's a manufactured cellulose fibre. The plant material is turned in to a pulp, and then forced through fine jets producing the fine stapled fibre. You may also see this fibre described as Rayon. The smooth, shiny nature of the fibres produces a yarn with very little memory or bounce so I think it's best suited to being spun more finely. I prefer to spin it straight from the end of the length of top to produce maximum shine, but you may like to try spinning it from the fold if you're struggling with the fibres getting away from you. The amount of twist will depend on your intended use, knitting yarns can use much less twist, but if you plan on weaving with it them add more twist as it will suffer from abrasion from the heddles and reed.
The next fibre in this round of parcels is Ramie. This is another cellulose plant fibre, but not a manufactured fibre, this is a traditional base fibre like Linen (Flax) or Hemp. It comes from the nettle family; Boehmeria Nivea and Boehmeria Tenacissima. These plants grow incredibly quickly, they can reach a heigh of 2 or 3 metres and be harvested several times in a single year. When linen is processed you can remove the outer stem by hitting it, but this isn't possible with ramie. The inner stem is instead treated with lye (the same chemical used to make soap) and that dissolves the pulpy material, leaving behind the fibrous vascular bundles. The fibre is then combed to make the length of top we are spinning from. The fibre has a long staple length and develops a beautiful lustre when spun. Be sure to keep your hands well spaced, and don’t use too much twist or you’ll end up with string. This fibre blends beautifully and evenly and adds strength to your finished yarn. You can spin this one from the fold but it really does lead to a slightly hairy yarn, rather than one with beautiful smoothness and shine. It works better when spun more finely as it has no memory or bounce, but it does drape beautifully, and as with all bast fibres the more you handle and work it the softer it becomes.
The final fibre is a new one for the club. Yak down is a very fine stapled fibre, at 17-19 microns this is nearly as soft as cashmere, and with many similar properties though is slightly shorter in staple length. The yak is collected when the animals moult, and is then commercially dehired to remove the diff guard hairs leaving behind the soft undercoat. The short staple length will be your biggest battle with this fibre, if you try to use a short forward draw you will continually feel as if you are having to grasp the fibres for grim death to stop them getting away from you. Switch to a point of twist draft and it will all become much easier. Don't panic if your yarn isn't super even, plying will make a huge difference to the final yarn. You can use lots of twist with this fibre, in fact lack of twist will produce a yarn that is likely to pill very quickly. If you over-ply your yarn slightly you will increase the bounce and memory, making this yarn ideal for things like hats and cowls. It will work well when spun more thickly, though thinner yarns are also beautiful in fibres of this type.
I finished this cardigan a couple of weeks ago and it's already got so much wear. The combination of an open front, but still with a Mohair fuzz has proved to be perfect in the Welsh spring.
I spun the yarn from some hand dyed BFL & Silk I bought from Mandacrafts a couple of years ago.
It's dyed in what I refer to as a repeating style, so the blocks of colour repeat at a regular interval. Fine if you want stripes, but I knew I wanted to use this in a garment, and didn't want broad stripes that I would want to match up on the arms and the body. So I stripped it in to thinner pieces of varying thicknesses, and broke those up in to chunks of varying lengths.
That gave me 1100m of heavy fingering/sport weight yarn....
I also had some Mohair singles that I'd intended to use as a carry-along yarn in a project, and thought it would work well with this BFL & Silk to allow e to work the yarn at a looser gauge and to knit something larger.
I swatched the 2 together to check I liked the fabric, and then dyed a small sample to bring out the orange shade in the BFL & Silk.
I really fancied an open fronted longer length cardigan, and found Mama Vertebrae, which is excellent for handspun because it gives you instructions that cover 4 different yarn weights (fingering, DK, light Worsted and Aran). The open front makes it very size flexible, and the top down construction means you can put the sleeve stitches on holders, knit until the body is long enough, and then go back o use up every last scrap on the sleeves.
We're getting in to my favourite time of year. The garden is starting to come alive, the weather is warming up, and the days are blissfully long. After a winter of dashing from house to dye studio it's blissful to be able to stand at the top of the garden and feel the sun on my face.
I've been out and about quite a lot over the last month, which has meant that the online shop hasn't had quite as many shop updates as is normal. However, I've nearly finished working on a commission project, and have got the first batch of Tour de Fleece team fibre sent out, so as we go in to June I should be able to ficus a bit more on the bread and butter work of dyeing lots of fibre in lots of colours!
On a personal spinning note I've just finished a big batch of spinning for a cardigan. I'm not going to go in to too much detail, because I think it's deserving of it's own post with the technical information on spinning to specific grists for certain projects. However, I was rather pleased with the colour I dyed it with once the fibre was spun. I used some undyed Cambrian, and then dyed the yarn because I wanted this lovely glazed effect with a deep red with a wash of black over the top. The colour is going to go perfectly with some of my summer dresses, here's hoping I get the project finished before the warm weather disappears!
This time last year we were just in the middle of sorting out leaking pipes that bring in our water supply, which eventually led to building our new rockery and pond...One year on, and we can see what survived the drought last summer, and the winter, so it was off to Aberconwy Nursery to fill in some gaps. If you're ever up on the north Wales coast this is a lovely little place, filled with some really unusual alpines. While we were up on the north coast we went to Plas Mawr in Conwy. This is a stunning Tudor town house, that is amazingly well preserved. I can't believe we've never been here before, but it's an absolute delight.
One of my 2019 resolutions was to make more of the opportunities I get when I travel round the country teaching at workshops, so when I was teaching at Oxford Guild I came home in a slightly circuitous way, and spent a couple of nights on the outskirts of Milton Keynes, and went to Bletchley Park.
I spent the whole day here, getting utterly immersed in the work of the World War II code breakers. By the end of it my brain hurt, I don't think I'd have been selected to work as a code breaker!
The Non-Wool section of the shop has continued to expand, and there are now lots of unusual fibres that are not commonly available in the UK. In particular one that I've not seen before is Wild Giant Himalayan Stinging Nettle. This fibre comes from Nepal, growing in the foothills of the Himalaya at heights of 1800-3000m. It can grow up to 3m in 1 yer, and the harvesting process actually encouraged the plant to put on better root growth which stabilises the soil structure. This reduced land slides and soil erosion. Local people do all the harvesting and scrutching, providing vital employment in this area in a way that encourages the protection of the local forests, as the plant will only grow when there is a tree canopy above it. It spins in a very similar way to Ramie, making a beautiful smooth, strong yarn that would be great for lace or summer tops.
And so to the final parcel of this round of the Non-Wool Club. The next 3 month round still has a few spaces, you can subscribe here. I still have a few new fibres to introduce to you, so this next round will hopefully be interesting for everyone, and of course the colour palettes are completely different.
The May round features 2 different plant fibres, and a different form of silk.
I've recommended you start off with the silk first, as it will be the most familiar to you. Muga Silk is an Indian form of silk, produced in Assam. It has a shimmering golden colour, with slight green undertone. It very much reminds me of the colour of the 9 carat wedding band that was my Grandmas. This silk will increase with lustre with every washing, the staple length is longer than Tussah Silk, and it really has a beautiful sheen and fineness. the staple length is longer than Tussah Silk, closer to the length of Mulberry Silk.
The next fibre we have is cotton. Cotton is a plant fibre, but very different to any we've spun so far. It's very fine, and very short stapled. It's hard to over twist cotton, and to will still feel soft even when you add a lot of twist. Cotton work best when spun as a fine single, if you want a thicker yarn you usually combine multiple strands. I can really recommend the Cotton edition of Ply magazine to learn more about this fibre. Use the fastest ratio you have, and you are looking to draft using a modified form of long draw straight from the end of the combed sliver. Keep adding twist and pulling your hands apart until the lumps even out and you can't draft any further, this is the point at which your yarn has enough twist to hold it together. You can add lots of plying twist as well, this fibre can handle it! If you own any lightweight spindles this might be the ideal fibre to spindle spin, and if you own a quill for your wheel this is the perfect fibre to spin from the point.
Our final fibre is flax. When spun this become linen thread. We're going to treat this exactly as we did the Hemp last month, so traditionally this is spun in the opposite direction to normal with an S twist (is your wheel going anticlockwise). You will find it helpful to wet you front hand as you go along, this really does help to smooth the fibres and to hold the yarn together. We are spinning flax tow, these are shorter fibres that will naturally spin in to a more textured yarn that you would get if you were spinning from flax strick. Just as with the Hemp I recommend a gentle boil in a mild washing soda solution to soften the hand of this yarn once it is plied.
Of course you can't mention April without talking about Wonderwool Wales. It's the high point of my spring, and this year it was my only big show. Friday night and Saturday were wet and wild, but still nowhere near as bad as the year it snowed... 2012 was my first show, and in hindsight it's a miracle I decided to carry on with shows! Woolfest the same year was biblically wet as well!
If you couldn't make it to Wonderwool here's a quick peek at what we had with us....
Earlier in the month I got chance to have a go at something new. Our guild hosted Lucy from Tidekettle Paper for a paper making weekend workshop.
I failed completely at taking photos, but I did have a lot of fun putting all sorts of fibre inclusions in with the more traditional paper pulps. The one above uses some pieces of hand dyed silk laps. I also got let loose with the dyes on the Sunday afternoon, and got in far too much of a mess turning paper pulp all sorts of pretty colours!
I've also been carrying on with my sewing, and turned a piece of Liberty lawn in to a new top. My selfie skills haven't improved, though my ability with the sewing machine is getting better! The pattern is the Rochester by Maven Patterns, and it was a real delight to sew, though next time I might modify it to have long sleeves.
I've also been doing more tapestry weaving, with another couple of traditional hangings, one using the new Naturally Dyed Superfine Merino, and also using up the leftovers from the silk sampler pack I used to weave the rainbow silk scarf.
Duck fans will be pleased to know that Clarissa has managed to lay another egg following her egg bound drama. Though at the moment if she's laying anymore she's hiding them somewhere in the garden, which is now fenced the entire way round to stop them escaping... there were a couple of scary mornings when Quentin got out on to the main road, requiring humans to flag down lorries whilst still in their pyjamas.
It's starting to feel like summer is on the way, and whilst my useless House Martins have yet to return, we did spend a lovely morning on the beach watching the Sand Martins. The House Martins now have an artificial nest to use, and did eventually arrive last year at the beginning of July.
I'm away at a couple of events over the next month.
By now the UK parcels for the April Non-Wool Club have arrived, so I sat down and filmed some short video clips showing me spinning them. I am aware that these are probably not the most professionally shot videos in the world, but do hope you find them helpful.
If you aren't a member of this club and are thinking about joining then I plan on opening up the next round of 3 month subscriptions at the start of May. The cost will be similar to the current prices for the club, though may alter slightly depending on the exact fibres I use. There will be some repeated fibres, but will be some new ones as well.
These are the colours that are going to inspire the next round, if you're interested in joining then select the option on the poll below, I pre-order all the fibre required for this club before putting it on sale to make sure I have adequate supplies. So voting helps make sure I can meet demand.
The colour options last time were inspired by the Italian landscape, and this time we're going to Spain.
So with the admin out of the way, on to the videos and spinning hints.
The first fibre that I recommend you start with this month is the mulberry silk. We spun 2 fibres last month that were similar, the tussah silk , and the viscose. If you still have your tussah silk, compare and contrast the 2 types, you may also find this old blogpost on types of silk useful.
The main thing is to remember the staple length. Mulberry Silk is more like spinning a long wool, so a relaxed grip with you hand holding the fibre supply is crucial. I favour a short forward draw for my mulberry silk, without using too much twist, it maximises the shine and makes the yarn feel very soft and luxurious next to your skin.
The next fibre I recommend you spin is the Ramie. Ramie is a bast plant fibre like linen, so hasn't needed the same level of chemical processing as that required for viscose of rayon. Ramie is processed from plants belonging to the nettle family; Boehmeria Nivea and Boehmeria Tenacissima. These plants grow incredibly quickly, they can reach a heigh of 2 or 3 metres and be harvested several times in a single year. When linen is processed you can remove the outer stem by hitting it, but this isn't possible with ramie, which is one of the things that contributes to the price. The inner stem is then treated with lye (the same chemical used to make soap) and that dissolves the pulpy material, leaving behind the fibrous vascular bundles. The fibre is then combed to make the length of top we're spinning from.
The final fibre to spin this month is Hemp. This is a very ancient textile plant, one of the first to be spun in to yarn as long ago as 10,000 years. Unfortunately the familial connection with the plant that produces cannabis meant that this very useful, very ecologically sound textile was largely abandoned. The Hemp plant that is used for textile production is completely different to the plant that produces the THC chemical which is needed to produce a high or be useful on a medical basis. Hemp was commonly grown until the 1900's, but is now experiencing a revival particularly as it is one of the fastest growing plants, producing a crop very quickly, and requiring half the amount of water and yielding twice as much usable fibre as cotton grown in the same field.
In the video I recommend reading the Flax edition of Ply magazine, this is available as a digital download and is well worth the money to get a sense of how to work with this bast fibre, as in essence you can treat flax (linen) the same way as the hemp.
Finally some advice on finishing this yarn. I treated it as I would linen thread, and gave it a gentle boil in a washing soda solution, the yarn came out much softer and more flexible. I wanted to test it because this normally something that's done with undid thread, and I was a little concerned that the colour might leach out from the fibre. However, the water was slightly lilac, but not really enough for me to not recommend this method.
Hilltop Cloud- Spin Different
Beautiful fibre you'll love to work with.
VAT Reg- 209 4066 19
Dugoed Bach, Mallwyd, Machynlleth,
Powys, SY20 9HR