I spent the weekend at Fibre East, last year I was there as a stall holder. This year I got to go just as me. It's a lot of work for me to do Fibre East so soon after Woolfest, and I also had 2 club parcels to dye in July. Last year the online shop was neglected for most of the summer, and by the end of the summer I was worn out. So this year, I'm pacing myself, there are fewer shows in my calendar, and I feel much better for it.
It was particularly nice to be able to go to a show as Katie, rather than Hilltop Cloud, just like I used to do before I started the business. I caught up with friends, went shopping, and also had time to take some classes. The tutors that Jan from Fibre East had collected in one place was utterly amazing, Deb Roson, Abby Franquemont, Sara Lamb, and Sarah Anderson, to name a few.
I spent most of my weekend in classes, I'm sure my wallet was grateful for that decision as well. The 2 classes I ended up doing really were the 2 extremes of spinning.
Sarah Anderson, who wrote The Spinners Book of Yarn Design taught me to do this. (This skein is unwashed, after a bath the corkscrews will all settle down)
Beehives, and Cocoons. What I partcularly loved was that we actually spent half the class focusing on spinning consistent thick yarn. It's such an over looked skill. As spinners we focus on getting thinner, and thinner, but for me the ultimate test of the spinner, and the fibre, is to be able to spin a thick chunky single. While learning that I also picked up a new way of spinning thick and thin that seemed much more natural to me.
Then it was on to the cocoons...
Lovely great big fat slubs in a contrasting colour.
And some beehives, lovely little sea shells that wrap around your yarn.
Of course, I then got a little enthusastic, forgot I was on my Bliss, and not a wheel with a delta orifice, and then had to mangle this example to squeeze it through the orifice and on to the bobbin.
The next day was a whole day spinning silk with Sara Lamb. I knew this class was going to be a challenge for me. I normally spin my silk with relatively low twist, I like to keep it soft, and floaty, and maximise the shine, and I tend to spin for knitting. In contrast Sara mostly spins for weaving, she believes you can't spin silk with too much twist, and that way you make better weaving fabrics that are more durable.
This is a close up of my handspun silk shawl, it was a brick, spun with low twist as both singles and plying (in fact in a few places it's underplyed even for me)
This yarn has real shine, and the 50g shawl feels lighter than air. It is starting to fluff a little, but it's also handled alot as I display it on my stall at shows. Eventually it will be worn out, and that's ok. I spin and knit quickly, and things will wear out, and I get to replace them.
I wanted to see how Sara spins her yarns, and also to feel how they felt. Her weaving is utterly beautiful, the cloth feels very non-handmade, she knows so much about silk. I really did enjoy the class, and learned lots, but I'm not a convert to super high twist silk. And that's ok, you can disagree, and still understand another persons point of view and reasoning. I'd still happily recomend her classes, because everytime you try out a new technique, or get exposed to a different idea you become a better spinner.
This is Tussah silk top, it was the first yarn we spun, and the one where I really tried to spin it as closely to Sara's method as possible. There's no point in taking a class if you're going to ignore the teacher in front of you and just carry on doing something the way you've always done it.
Sara gets you to spin the silk longdraw from the fold, or just from a jumble of fibres, and you put in as much twist as you possibly can. When you ply, you put in even more twist. When this 1 yard skein came off the bobbin it twisted round on itself 6 or 7 times it was that twisty, and that was with fresh singles. In a plyed yarn with stale singles the skein would really be doing corkscrews. Some of the twist did dissipate when I washed the skein, but it would still create a knitted fabric that biased an awful lot. To me, this feels like thread, not yarn. The woven fabrics out of it were beautiful, but even the slightly less twsited knitting samples felt heavy, and dense. Silk doesn't have crimp, so it can never be bouncey, but lower levels of twist it seems to have more air trapped in the yarn so you get a much more cushioned feel from the yarn.
From top left in the collage we have mulberry tops, top right, mulberry brick, then Eri silk bottom left, then a Silk Cashmere blend bottom right. Spun in that order as well
As you can see as time went on I backed off the twist a little bit, to modify the technique to suit the sort of yarn I prefer. 6 hours is also a long time to be spinning, and over time you get tired and start to drop in to your default. These are all still more twisted than I would ever have considered spinning before the workshop, and I do actually like most of these yarns.
The brick was a challenging brick to spin. As I've written before there are real issues with the quality of bricks coming in to the UK. They're being sold as A1, but are not of the high quality you would expect from that grading. I've worked really hard to find a supplier who does seem to get in bricks that do match the A1 grading, and only contain silk of even, long lengths. In this yarn the short sections of silk caused real issues. It's where Sara's technique of spinning long draw comes in to it's own as you can't normally spin fibre with this sort of mixture in length using a short forward draw. When you hit a short section your hands are too far apart and the yarn just disappears up the orifice!
For both the mulberry yarns the shine was much lower than I would expect for this sort of fibre. In the raw form the fibre feels like you can see your face in it. Because of the high twist, and the jumbled nature of the individual strands from spinning long draw I feel like I lost the lustre that I love in mulberry silk. Even when I spin silk using a short forward draw I do let some twist in to the drafting zone, which I think makes it easier to spin, but does keep the fibres aligned, so you get maximum shine. The matt silk yarns definitely have their own appeal though, and a project in silk spun using my normal style, and the high twist style from the workshop could be an interesting experiment...
The Eri silk was a really lovely spin, it had the tooth of Tussah, but with more shine, and felt like a finer micron count. I'm looking at trying to get hold of some of it to dye as I think it might make a nice addition to my fibre range.
We finished off with some cashmere/silk. This was lovely to spin using Sara's technique, which sort of makes sense as I'd want to pure cashmere long draw as well. The finished yarn is always going to be less shiny due to the cashmere, so I can cope with loosing the shine from the silk. Cashmere can also pill if not spun tightly so again, the high twist for me really works in this yarn. Someone also spun a 3-ply of this blend, and the round bounciness of that yarn construction was wonderful.
At that point we ran out of time, though I also have some Muga silk, and some dyed tussah to experiment with. I shall try to be good and continue to spin them in the style of the workshop so I can make some comparisons!
Am I convert to high twist silk, not really, but doing the workshop made me evaluate how I do like to spin silk, and has given me more techniques to try. The long draw technique will be particulary useful for silk fibre that has a mixture of lengths. I'm sure there will be some more high twist silk yarns in my future.
Of further note. My only wheel for the whole weekend was my Bliss, yet again proving you don't need an expensive wheel to spin all sorts of yarns with very little difficulty. Myself and another lady both were using Bliss wheels in the silk workshop, and I think both our wheels together cost less than every other wheel in that workshop, and for a great many of them they wouldn't have coped with the low twist, chunky art yarns.
I have been on a real weaving kick for the last few months, while my knitting activity has slowed dramatically I am turning lots of my yarn stash in to lengths of cloth. In reality it just changes where I store them, but it makes me feel better about buying more fluff!
However, in the last week I have actually turned some of the lengths of cloth in to actual items.
This was a piece of cloth I wove over the Christmas period. It was from a Smorgasbox by the lovely ladies at Nunoco. I loved the combination of colours but couldn't work out how to use them in a knitting project. Instead they went on the loom as a warp, and I used a plain brown as the weft. Originally I thought I might use it for a skirt, but it's a bit bright for me, and I also underestimated the felting power of merino. This halved in size when I fulled it...
There was a bit of fabric leftover so I turned it in to a case for my kindle. I made it up as I went along, so as a result you don't want to look too closely at the finishing! However, there's a layer of plastic between the outer and the liner so it should protect the screen nicely.
This bit of weaving was more recent. I'd turned some of the yarn (my Manx Loaghtan, Plums and Blackberries from the BoB club in October 2012, and Strata on Shetland from Manda crafts) in to a smaller set of cushions as a present for my friend Katharine. I'd still got some yarn left so I put a random warp on the loom using odds and ends of cones from other projects, and then just alternated the 2 yarns. This cushion is for Mum as it matches her red sofa very nicely.
I have something a bit more experimental planned for my next weaving project... we shall see how it turns out!
Baby Chicks are no longer babies...
We've gone through the awkward partially feathered stage, and now just look like mini adults, from now on it's all about getting bigger.
This is Big Bird. Sex unkown, but possibly a cockerel, mostly based on beahviour, Polish chickens don't have wattles, and of course he's a cross between a Polish and my Pekin cockerels. He's so like Cav, sometimes I have to do a second take, everything from the mannerisms, to the head movements.
There's even a few white patches on his plummage.
The bird in the foreground is most definitely a cockerel, he's even been caught trying out a few experimental (very pathetic) crows! We've called him Millar, partly as it keeps with my cycling name theme, but also because it goes very well with his sister Dusty.
She was being camera shy this morning, but as you can see, I have yet another ridiculous chicken on my hands. She's ended up being Dusty because she looks exactly like a feather duster with a head poking out of the top!
We are a creative family. We like to make things, we're good with our hands, we have grand plans and tend to follow them through. Our current house is testimony to that. From gently decaying wreck, in 5 years we've turned it in a beautiful family home, which is also where we work from.
Any of you who come along to shows will have seen evidence of my Mum's work. As a child, many of my clothes were handmade, often from Cloth Kits patterns in the sale. My pride and joy was a burgundy corduroy dress with matching victorian style floral blouse. A good chunk of my stand at shows is usually filled with her sewing. She designs and makes aprons, and bags and needle cases. Except to call them just aprons is to do them a disservice. Most of what she's designed we've come up with because it's an item we wanted. Her craft aprons are ones we designed to wear at shows. Big wide straps that cross over your shoulders so they don't dig in round your neck, nice and wide to cover your sides and not just your lap, a big zip pocket with internal pockets to hold all your bits and pieces. Some features like the adjustable strap length came later as a way of making them one-size-fits-all.
Her interchangeable needle case was also as a result of me moaning that I couldn't find the case I wanted. The plastic zip case that came with the needles was huge and bulky, and I still had to find my needle gauge to check the tip size. Later that same day a prototype appeared, we tweaked it, made a new version, which is still the one I have hanging up by my armchair.
Just in case you're now feeling enabled her very own Etsy shop is here.
Any shop regulars will have no doubt lusted over the hand turned spinning tools. My Dad makes all my niddy noddy's, orifice hooks, nostepinnes, and darning mushrooms. Keeps Mum happy as he can go off to his man shed for hours at a time, and at the end of the day he comes out waving something he's made. Much like with spinning, wood turning is a craft that takes time to learn, and some days you end up with something that's only good for throwing away (at least with turning we ned up with kindling at the end!). However, at the end of the experience you usually come out a better spinner/turner than you were several hours ago. After lots of practise Dad is now starting to get rather good at this wood turning.
For my birthday 2 weeks ago he gave me my very own beautiful oak bowl.
It's a quiet time my own shop at the moment. There's always slightly less spinning in the summer, it's either too hot, or quite rightly people are enjoying the great outdoors. Of course it's also prime UK festival season right now so everyone is saving their pennies. So I've had a bit more free time than I often have. Rather than relax, Mum and I spent the past 2 days setting up Dad his very own Etsy shop for his wood turning, because there are only so many surfaces in our household where we can fit bowls, and he's developing a timber stash to rival my fibre stash!
My dad has been one of my biggest silent, background supporters. You might not get to see him at shows, but he stays at home with the chickens and the dogs. It's him who does the heavy lifting with the van packing, and over the past 4 years he has drilled and assembled thousands of drop spindles.
If you want to take a look, his Etsy shop is here
I think this has to be the most unusual use of Hilltop Cloud fibre I've seen so far.
A wagtail nest, we'd been keeping an eye on it in our log store for a while, and this weekend the nest was empty. Here's hoping the babies fledged rather than being eaten.
I'm particularly taken by the subtle sparkle the birds chose!
Wagtails aren't the only birds who are fledging. The Birds Collection is slowly disappearing from the shop, it's been around for 2 years, and I'm ready to have something new.
The something new is going to be rather lovely. It's called Hiraeth, which is a Welsh word, and has no real translation in English. The University of Wales, Lampeter attempts to define it as homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed. It is a mix of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness, or an earnest desire for the Wales of the past. So this is my homage to the Welsh landscape, and to it's history.
I've set up a Pinterest board showing the images that have inspired the collection here. I've already created test blends, and spun up some prototypes and I'm really pleased. The whole collection works really well together, and there's a nice variety of colours.
Another June, another Woolfest. I love Woolfest, it was the first of the UK wool shows, and I've been nearly ever year since 2008 as a visitor, and more reccently a stall holder. This year they celebrated their 10th anniversary, and put on a show that was one of the best ever, much helped by some generous weather!
As ever I completely failed at taking photos at a show. This is the best I could manage, taken using my phone first thing on Friday morning before the "hordes" arrived!
And lots of lovely fluff.
Setting up at Woolfest always brings it's own challenges. For the rest of the year the building is a working cattle market, so when we arrive on Thursday the pens have been freshly hosed down, the stall spaces are not compltely square as there are gatesfolded back against walls, and there's a post to work around. However, with a bit of immagination, and some creative thinking it's incredible to see the concrete and metal rails being transformed in to a colourful extravaganza of wool.
I did make it off the stand for short periods, mostly to chat to people with whom I've been working for a while. It's a great chance to make plans for the future, and to discuss new things they're working on. All being well there might be some very exciting new fibres from UK flocks heading my way in the coming months.
I get to take a couple of months off from show preperation over the summer, then it's time to think about Yarndale, as I'll be back up in the north of England before too much longer.
Hilltop Cloud- Spin Different
Beautiful fibre you'll love to work with.
VAT Reg- 209 4066 19
Dugoed Bach, Mallwyd, Machynlleth,
Powys, SY20 9HR