In August last year I wrote a blogpost about some new packaging I was introducing. Since then I've also introduced using biodegradable clear grip seal bags. I much prefer to use these bags because they allow me to create a sturdier parcel, and they actually offer some protection to your order. You can carry on re-using these bags for a long time in the future. I can't see the point in wrapping up fibre in a piece of tissue paper. It serves no purpose, and in my experience of receiving orders it's often a tattered mess by the time the parcel has been squashed in the mail system. It's Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. In that order. The first step is to reduce, and for me, that means only using packaging that is useful.
I receive a lot of my supplies by mail order, which means lots of packaging coming in to the house. Nearly all of this is re-used to send out orders from Mum and Dad's Etsy shops. Clear plastic sacks provide protection for large knittingbags that are sent in re-used cardboard boxes. Even larger plastic bags are used instead of bubble wrap to provide protection to wooden yarn bowls. There's always a certain amount that is not reusable, which is where this box comes in.
I now pay a company called Terracycle for one of these big boxes. I stuff it full with all the plastic waste that our local council won't accept, and they turn it in to useful things. They even accept the clingfilm I use as part of my dyeing process.
Now this isn't cheap, this large box costs £230, and I am lucky in that my business is in a position where I can absorb that cost as part of my commitment to be more sustainable.
On a related note, I have a decision to make about my outer mail bags. I can now get an option that are made from potato starch, and are home compostable.
However, they are slightly translucent, so you can see the contents, and I have mixed feelings about using a food source for packaging. We have issues with food security on this planet, and there are issues with diverting food resources in to making packaging.
And then there's the cost.
1000 of the smallest size outer mailer (made from recycled plastic with a biodegradable additive) I currently use costs me £114
1000 of the home compostable ones will cost £192
If I swapped to just using ones made from recycled material, but don’t break down I could buy 2500 for £120
If I went for non-recycled ones I could have 1000 for £50
The home compostable ones also have to be used with in 6 months, and at the moment I wouldn't manage to use a batch of 1000 quickly enough, so I'd have to buy a smaller batch, which is again, more expensive.
We have to do something with all the plastic we send for recycling... and as it is there are issues with western countries currently not managing to recycle the plastics we produce.
I've been thinking about this for a couple of months now, I'm just about to do a re-order of mailing bags, and I don't think there's actually a right answer. I know some businesses have switched to using paper, but I've decided not to do that as it's significantly heavier (so uses more fuel to transport), and paper production uses a lot of energy. And just as with using food starch to make bags there are issues about where all this paper is coming from. At the moment I am leaning towards continuing with my current option, the largest size bags will always have to be made from plastic as the corn starch isn't strong enough for the heavier parcels.
All of which is to say, I am still working hard to keep my business as sustainable as possible. Even though at times it feels like a drop in the ocean. When I was at Summer School a couple of weeks ago the caterers were going to hand out bottled water with every evening meal. Thankfully we managed to persuade them to set up a water urn, and most people then used their own cup or mug, but they had no option to hold liquids other than disposable cups. In a week, 200 of us would have gone through a vast number of single use bits of plastic, and all because the college had removed it's dishwashing capabilities for anything that wasn't a plate or bowl.
I will start off by saying that this is the final parcel in this 3 month block of the club. Spaces are still available for the next round, and will be available until all the spaces are sold, or I ship the first parcel.
We're visiting Germany for the inspiration this time, with one parcel featuring a green, blue, purple and brown colour palette, and the other featuring orange, yellow, browns and aqua.
I do still have a few new fibres for the next round of the club... so even if you've been in the previous rounds you should still experience something new, and of course, the colours will be completely different!
The first fibre I recommend trying in the parcel this month is Alpaca. It's probably the most similar to wool, so should be a reasonably relaxing spin. Alpaca's are in the camelid family, and native to South America. The micron count of this fibre is 24-26 microns, and classed as Baby Alpaca, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the fibre comes from young animals. As with sheep, the fibre that's produced is variable, but generally older animals produce coarser fibre. A traditional use for this fibre is as suiting fabric, producing a fabric with beautiful shine and drape. I like to spin this with a short forward draw from the end of the top, without too much twist, otherwise you end up with a yarn that's like string.
The second fibre for the month is bamboo rayon. This is a synthesised plant fibre, and from a different source to the viscose fibre we spun in June. That viscose was from general plant sources, and processed in Germany. This fibre comes from bamboo, which is very ecologically friendly, but is processed in China. To me, the fibres do feel noticeably different, so I thought you might enjoy comparing them. You may also see this sort of fibre referred to as Viscose, but viscose is a specific type of rayon, only made from wood pulp.
I like to spin this fibre from end of the combed top with a short forward draw, as that gives maximum shine and smoothness. If you struggle with the slippy fibres then switch to spinning from the fold.
The final fibre in the parcels this month is cotton. this plant fibre is fine and very short stapled, and comes from the fluffy fibres that surround cotton seeds on the cotton plant. This cotton is grown in South America, and dyed in Italy. You can add a lot of twist to this fibre, and most people generally struggle with adding too little twist, rather than too much. You generally make thicker cotton yarns by combining multiple thin plies, and it's not a fibre that works well as thicker singles, you will get a lot of pilling, and a fluffy, unstable yarn. I can really recommend the Cotton edition of Ply magazine to learn more about this fibre. If you're spinning it on a wheel 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.
Todays monthly blogpost comes to you from a hotel room just outside of York. I'm teaching at the Association of Guilds of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers this month, and have just finished setting up my classroom. The Trade Fair and Open Day is next Saturday, and if you're in the area do come along, for a look around all the classrooms.
The Baby Chicks of last month are now at the gawky teenager stage, and have been joined by a sole survivor from a second clutch of eggs. They are an utter delight and I am very sad to be missing them for a week. No names for this gang yet, I'm starting to get a feeling for which are cockerels and which are hens, but I've not picked the theme for this batch of names.
Speaking of the animals of the household... Quentin and Clarissa have been causing trouble again. There is a lengthy twitter thread sharing his latest exploits.
July is of course all about the Tour de Fleece, it's probably my favourite time of year, and seeing skein after skein of hands-on being produced over the 3 weeks is a real advocate for the power of just a little practise every day. One of the things I really enjoyed was this years Non-Wool Sample Pack. 19 different fibres ranging from silks, to cotton, to camelids, to baste fibres.
Back in June I posted a photo of some handspun yarn, and promised I would reveal all later on.
A couple of months later and I've finished the knitting and have caught up with myself for longe enough to sit at the computer and write a blogpost.
The yarn was actually spun for specific pattern, and I know it's something people struggle with, so I thought I'd document the process step by step.
The pattern I wanted to make was Belmont. It's a cropped lace cardigan, and was a garment that was missing from my summer wardrobe, I tend towards longer length jumpers because in winter in a Welsh cottage you don't want a draft round your back.
To start the process off I ordered a ball of the yarn that's used in the pattern. I don't always do this, but it's such a low cost yarn that it saved me a lot of sampling. If I can't get the yarn to go with the pattern then I'll just create more samples and swatches until I get to where I'm happy.
So step 1 was to swatch with the original yarn, see how it behaved as fabric, and roughly what needle size I needed to get gauge. Then I spun some yarn that was the same thickness as the commercial yarn. However, I made a minor tweak. I increased the twist I gave to my singles, and therefore increased the plying twist. I wanted a yarn that is slightly harder wearing, though in part this is helped by using Cambrian Wool with it's lovely long staple length. A more tightly spun yarn will wear better.
I washed my yarn in super hot water, and then knitted a swatch, my handspun in this swatch is at slightly fewer stitches per inch than that called for in the pattern, so I then did a further swatch with a smaller size needle. Again, more densely knit fabrics wear better, and the denseness of the fabric produced with the commercial yarn at the pattern gauge is slightly loose for my taste.
Now the most important part of the process is the samples you keep from this step. They will allow you to spin the whole project at the same thickness as your original swatched sample.
As you are spinning take some singles and wrap them round a sample card. You also need to keep a ply back sample to show how much plying twist you need and to monitor your spinning twist. As you spin you can go a quick glance to check the singles are roughly the same thickness, and on a regular basis do a ply back sample to check that the thickness is still correct, and that the plying twist of your payback sample matches the one on your reference piece.
I set mine up on my wpi tool, but a piece of card is low cost version that works just as well. All these samples are unwashed, because you are comparing them to unwashed singles as you spin.
Advert breaks are an excellent reminder to check your spinning, though setting a timer to go off every 15 minutes is also really helpful. Now if you've played around with the grist (this says how many grams of yarn you have per metre) the weight of yarn suggested in the pattern won't be accurate. However, the total yardage will still be the same.
The results should be several skeins of yarn, all of the same thickness, and ones that should match your sample. In an ideal world, do another small swatch to check, but if you skip this step it's not generally disastrous. I spun my fibre in the white and then dyed it as yarn, so I could create this lovely glazed effect with a deep red, just washed over with a init of black. (Note to self however, remember to use loose ties if you're dyeing handspun!).
In the photo below the main skein at the top is the dyed handspun, the single red strand is the Jamieson & Smith Shetland Heritage (the original pattern yarn), and the white skein is my original sample skein.
Then I could set to with the knitting. after what felt like miles of twisted rib I got to play start on the lace pattern. Now this is where I was quite pleased with my decision to make a bouncier 2-ply yarn. The slightly rounder nature of my yarn means that the twisted rib sits beautifully, with the knit twitches sitting really proud of the ribbing. But the 2-ply structure still gave me a more open lace pattern.
Want to know more about ply number and cables and lace... I wrote a blogpost a couple of years ago.
Once finished it had a really good block, and I sewed on some vintage buttons.
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.
Hilltop Cloud- Spin Different
Beautiful fibre you'll love to work with.
VAT Reg- 209 4066 19
Dugoed Bach, Mallwyd, Machynlleth,
Powys, SY20 9HR