The days are going past all too quickly at the moment. In contrast to bricks and mortar shops this time of year is my busiest, by mid-December the average online shopper knows that something might not arrive for Christmas so they tend to get their buying done early.
I've also been working on behind the scenes stuff. Rather scarily the postcards have arrived to promote my first show of 2014, Unravel down in Farnham. There are pesky things like hotels to book (the campervan is not the place to sleep in February!), and new display shelving, and other exciting things to arrange.
There are also new ideas in the pipeline for new fibres. The lovely Dawn who is the Chairman of my local guild is allergic to wool, as are quite a few of my other friends, for ages now they've been making requests for non-wool spinning fibres. There are plenty out there, but some are tricky to spin, others very expensive, and most tend to make very drapey yarns, not much use for things like hats where you need a fibre with a bit of bounce. I've always stoked a limited number of non-wool fibres, but they were usually off the peg blends, andI was never really 100% happy with them.
It seems slightly ironic to be discussing this in Wovember, but while I'm passionate about sheep and wool, I'm more passionate about spinning, and giving people the tools to spin the yarn they want to spin. For some wool isn't an option, and for others it's nice to have alternatives. Variety is the spice of life and all that.
So just like with my wool blends, I've had my own blends put together. Completely to my own specification, designed to give all non-wool spinners out there a range of options. I'm sure even spinners who can spin wool are going to like these particular blends as well. I've test spun them, as have a couple of other people, and so far they've been a big success. You can read a bit more about then over on the Ravelry group, and find out how to get your hands on some samples!
Here's a bit of a teaser...
I took a day off on Friday, the first I've managed for a while, and headed over to see my friend Katharine. While I live very much in Wales, she lives in the Borders (but still in Wales, just!). It's been part of Wales for a long time now, but in past centuries the strip of land between England and Wales was a dangerous place to live, and territory was regularly swapped between the English and Wales, usually at sword point.
The Welsh princes regularly raided in to England, and the Marcher lords used to do the same in to Welsh territory. At that time the Marches were ruled over by English aristocracy, they had great power, and kept large standing armies to try and help defend their lands. At times their raids crept too far in to Welsh territory and outright civil war broke out.
This part of the country is littered with small castles, essential bases for both sides.
They're usually found on small steep sided hills, giving great views of the surrounding countryside, and making them hard to attack. Of course back then this would all have been woodland, the trees were felled during the Napoleonic wars.
This is Dolforwyn castle, originally occupied by the Welsh. The final truly welsh Prince of Wales Llewelyn used it as base in the 13th century, but it was then captured by the English Mortimer family, and used by them for a short while. The castle itself was completely buried until the 1980's until Cadw (who look after and maintain many historical sites in Wales) excavated the remains of the castle.
They certainly knew how to build back then, the fact that there is still anything left after 700 years is pretty amazing, and it's a very visible reminder of a fascinating piece of history.
The last few days have been very busy, I've been meaning to announce the winner of the naming competition for a while, but the days keep running out of hours!
I revealed the new logo back at the start of November, and asked for your suggestions in this post. Choosing was so very hard as there were lots of great ideas, in the end though I've gone with Jill's suggestion of Floss (which will probably end up as Flossy). In our house you end up being called Flossy when you do something a bit daft, and sheep really are quite stupid creatures so it seemed to have added appropriateness.
Next time I bump in to Jill I'll be passing on a yummy prize of some sort for her to turn to in to a skein of loveliness. Maybe it will be one of the new luxury- wool free blends I'm in the process of putting together...
I think that Flossy might be making an appearance on some tote bags for the 2014 festival season, I'm sure she'll keep your purchases safe!
Right, back to work for me, Christmas is coming, and the spinning kits are flying out of the door already, they say there's no rest for the wicked...
First off a disclaimer...
I like to make my Christmas present, I am well aware that makes me slightly crazy, and if you choose not to make your presents that does not mean I think any less of you as a person, in fact if anything I admire your sanity and strength of character.
That being said, the present making has started.
I hate knitting scarves, it takes forever, is boring, and leaves me wanting to poke my own eyes out with the needles. Why they're a beginner project I'll never know...
Weaving them however, now that's fun. In 2 evenings (probably around 3 hours each night), I can warp, and weave a full size scarf using fingering weight yarn. Perfect Christmas crafting. If you don't have a loom I can thoroughly recomend that a simple rigid heddle should be top of your Christmas list. It's great for using up odds and ends in one project in a way that doesn't look like you're using oddments. The next scarf that's on the loom currently has a warp using the leftover stripy yarn from this cardigan, and this hat, add in some of the mountains of mystery soft white wool I spun during last years Tour de Fleece and this years and it's another scarf.
Just to spice it up a bit there will be other presents going on. At Stitch Solihull at the end of October I sat down with a spool of wire, purchased from the handy garden centre where the shop is located, and made some corespun wire yarn.
Just so you know, this stuff is addictive, and leaves you feeling immensely proud of yourself. It's soft and fluffy, and you can bend it in to shapes... like pipe cleaners for grown ups!
However, I don't do yarns that look pretty for the sake of looking pretty, so I fiddled about with it trying to decide how I could use it to make something.
I tried knitting, but it was fiddly, and wasn't flowing, but when you pick up a crochet hook....
No pattern, just chain a few stitches then single crochet in a spiral adding increases when seemed like a good idea. And what's even better, you can change it's shape, don't want a flat bowl, and instead want something more vase like, just give the wore a squish and a pull and Bob's your uncle.
I'd still got half a skein left, so went and did a bit of a until around Ravelry to see what anyone else had done with this sort of yarn and came across a woven bracelet. After a quick hunt for a tutorial I came up with this.
It's light as a feather, and warm feeling in a way that metal never is.
And because spinning this stuff is addictive, there are a few skeins (though that's the wrong word as you can't skein this stuff) in the shop. I've also pinned a few different bracelet tutorials on to one of my Pinterest boards. Next up I'm going to try doing the same technique with silk... if it works it will be beautiful.
This time of year is one of my favourites, the colours are always changing, vibrant, and when the sun is shining it's hard to resist going out and enjoying them.
After a week of solid rain yesterday morning was bright and sunny, this was the view when I stepped outside to let the chickens out. No fancy editing, just how it looked, blue sky and swirling mist.
Do see what I mean about the colours, vibrant and subtle, all at the same time.
With views like that, and good weather I couldn't resist sneaking off walk to go out with Mum, Dad and the dogs.
We went on one of our regular routes as we needed to collect our weekly eggs from a neighbouring farm, my pet chickens look pretty but are lacking in egg production when we get to this time of year.
One part of the walk is one of my favourite spots.
Along a muddy track is a collection of tumble down buildings, and this glorious Y shaped tree. The cottage had some work done on it a few years ago, unfortunately without planning permission, and definitely not complying with building regulations, and work has now been abandoned. It's built in a similar style to our cottage, thick stone walls, 2 downstairs rooms and 2 upstairs, hopefully someone will rescue it before it falls down completely.
Heading home again we came across this seasonal decoration at a neighbouring cottage, I know how the poor witch must feel, the collection of isolated properties does mean we have rather a lot of phone and electric poles about the place.
Finally home again for coffee, cake and bones, feeling ready to get on with a days work.
The shop has been quiet recently, I spent the best part of a week in bed with flu, and have spent the past few days catching up. Next job on my list is to go through the stock I have leftover from shows, some will be going up as a pot luck sale, and some others in the shop with a discount so keep your eye out over the next couple of days.
The observant of you will notice that something has changed...
Hilltop Cloud has had the same look for over 2 years now, it was a logo I designed myself when I knew a lot less about computers than I do now, had no money, and had no idea if the business was going to work. At the time paying a graphic designer was not high on the list of priorities, tempus fugit and I decided it was time for a refresh. Even more importantly I decided it was time to pay someone to do the job. I do the vast majority of things to do with the business myself, I do the accounts, I design the adverts, but sometimes it's well worth paying for a professional.
So here we are, a new look, but that's all that's changing, I hope you like it.
Meanwhile, I think she needs a name, any suggestions...