A new blend that's heading your way at the start of the week... I felt that the range of fibres was missing something with a bit more tooth, the sort of thing you'd reach for to create things that are warm and durable rather than soft and cuddly.
So I has a mess around with some welsh wools, creating something with a natural grey undertone to give the rich tonal effects that I love whilst dyeing.
Black Welsh Mountain are most often kept as smaller scale flocks, often as more of a hobby, because the global wool market doesn't really value dark wool, so it's not priced very highly. They grow a fleece that's as close to true black as you get on a sheep, though the tips often end up sun bleached. It's nowhere near as coarse as white Welsh Mountain, and doesn't have any kemp. It's got a lovely open crimp and good staple length and is around 31 microns.
Radnor sheep come from central Wales, along the border with England. It's another mountain the breed, though more accurately for the area it comes from it's more of a hill sheep! It's another crisp wool with a disorganised crimp that's great for trapping air. Again, the micron count of around 31.
Then we have Lleyn, this is a longer staple length and a bit more open and wispy than then other two, with a more defined crimp. Possibly as a result of its probably parentage from crossing an extinct Irish long wool breed called the Roscommon with some native Welsh Mountain ewes. You only have to look at the position of the Lleyn peninsula, jutting out from north west Wales in to the the Irish sea to see how a connection with Ireland makes sense. To say Lleyn, btw imagine that you're saying the word "clean", but then don't quite make the hard "c" sound at the beginning, the "ll" letter sound is a bit different than that, but that's certainly closer than saying "Lin" which is the usual attempt people make!
Then to all of those, just to add a bit of something special is the addition of some kid mohair. This has a long staple length to match these wool breeds, and just increases the shine. Some also say that you can use mohair as a strengthener in yarns, so you might want to experiment with this durable blend to create a non-nylon, non-superwash sock yarn.
Here's some quick test skeins I spun. On the right is one that I chain plied, I was aiming for fingering weight but under estimated how much this yarn blooms when washed. On the right is a bulky 2-ply spun with a short forward draw which is nice, but in the middle is the one I spun from the fold with a supported long draw, and that's the real star of the show... so much loft and trapped air!
Anyway, as you can see it's a versatile blend, and one that I think you're going to like! There will be lots of colours heading to the shop on Monday.
A note on the name, Cymreig is the word used to describe anything from Wales, Cymru. If it's to do with the language it's Cymraeg, but for objects it's more correct to use Cymreig.... So welsh wool is gwlan cymreig.
It's been a while since there were some new colour in the Pigments collection... but but I've just added some new ones, and a couple of them are a bit more unusual so I thought a bit of an explanation about the colour might be fun.
This one is Cobalt Titanate, it mostly seems to pop up as a watercolour paint in various colours that are all in the Teal-Turquoise sort of area. The exact colour varies depending on the manufacturer, but if you watch this video you can maybe see why I chose to go with the grey hints in this one.
Manganese Violet was one of the colours that Monet used instead of black. He used it to create shadows in the extensive series of paintings he did of Rouen cathedral.
Here's how it's made-
And then after a couple of inorganic compounds we have Woad... which I don't know how it's taken me so long to add this to the palette!
This was the source of blue in Europe before Indigo. It's actually the same chemical compound within the leaves as it is in Indigo, but Woad plants produce much less of it. It was also supposedly the colour that the Picts covered themselves with before battling the Romans.
Julius Caesar write in Commentarii de Bello Gallico that the Britanni used to colour their bodies blue with vitrum, a word that means primarily 'glass', but was also used for woad. But modern translations and historians are questioning this, and that maybe the translation has been adapted to fit the idea....
It's unlikely it would have been used as a pigment for tattoos. People have tried it in modern times (of course they have!), and apparently it doesn't produce a good tattoo, is caustic, and tends to produce scarring. There were better tattoo pigments available. It also doesn't produce blue when used as body paint mixed with a binder. It's more likely they used iron or copper earth pigments.
All the Pigments are here-
I have fallen down a weaving rabbit hole... in part because someone contacted me about custom drying some warps and sent me a link to the work of Natalie Drummond. Now I only have a 4 shaft loom so some of the more complicated patterns aren't possible, but it's still a weave structure that's possible, and I love the peep hole effect and the way it works with hand dyed warps.
So in the spirit of jumping in at the deep end I grabbed some Tussah Silk I'd wound off to finish a cone of yarn, and chucked some dye on and set to work.
The draft was one originally designed to be wool cushion covers from a back edition of Handwoven, but I did some maths and sett the 2/20 Tussah at 24epi. The weft was some hand dyed BFL, Camel and Silk in the same thickness that I dyed in a co-ordinating green and blue. The information in Handwoven suggested to use a very light beat, but as I wove off the warp I found that I like a firmer beat better, and it produced a better looking cloth. In essence it's plain weave with alternating floats that then spread out, so the plain weave sections do actually need to be pretty firm or the whole thing opens up far too much.
Spurred on by that success I then used some of the Corriedale Singles from the shop and adapted this draft. I wanted to leave space for the yarn to close up during fulling so it was sett at 18epi. Below are before and after shots.
The finished fabric is light and fluffy, drapes really nicely, but is still firmed up enough to feel like cloth.
As I drove home a couple of evenings ago the swallows were perching on the phone lines... a sure sign that summer is on the way out, and after such a lovely start it's been wet, windy and cold. I feel I am entirely to blame because I bought a reflective sheet to go over my car to use during scentwork competitions.
Nellie has continued to be a sniffing superstar. Coming 3rd at her first trial in a new venue, and then wining another rosette for coming 3rd place in a Nosework Game set up in which we'd previously had a disaster. Then she only went and won her first ever Level 2 competion, and won all her badges at a National Nosework Competition. We are having such a lovely time playing our sniffing games, and are off out and about doing more competitions this autumn.
We've had our garden open to the public for the first time this summer as part of the National Garden Scheme and have raised over £300 for the good causes and charities supported by the scheme.
I went off to the Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers Summer School and spent a week learning how to make baskets out of all sorts of materials.
The trade fair at the end of the event was incredibly busy, so once back home I've been dyeing like mad, and re-ordering stock.
The next event I'm at is the All Wales Guild Gathering (which I'm also organising!), this is open to everyone, even if you're not a guild member. It's only £3 admission, there will be a small number of traders, displays of work by the guilds, and also a talk in the afternoon by Tereshina Roberts on The Story of Silk. As ever at these small events I won't be taking all the stock with me, so if you want anything in particular it's best to email in advance, or you can purchase for collection and remove the postage costs with the code ALLWALES.
Later this year, on November 26th I shall be back up at Tecstiliau in North Wales, I'm teaching a workshop called Spinning for the Festive Season. We'll be learning some new skills and using them to create decorations and gifts.
The final part of my planning for the next few months is to get things organised for this years 12 Days of Christmas. As a price guide it will be around the same as last year £40 (ex VAT), £48 (inc VAT). Content will be the same a 100g braid of hand dyed 60% 18.5 micron Merino, 20% Baby Camel, 20% Tussah Silk for Christmas Day, and then 11 co-ordinating colours of Superfine Merino & Silk, which will be available to purchase as 50g bumps afterwards until stocks run out at which point the colours are discontinued. Everyone who wanted to purchase one last year got one, but it's really helpful to get an idea of numbers so I can order supplies all in one go. I don't take advance payment on these, because doing pre-orders is something I've never chosen to do, so no need to leave a comment with your name. I just keep making parcels until no more are needed!
If you've already voted on The Fellowship of Yarn please don't vote again here.
So what are you planning on spinning for this years Tour de Fleece?
I have a bag of all the odds and ends from this years team fibre so I will work my way through as much of those as I can, I also would like to top up the ramie supplies to use in woven projects, so if I get time I'll add in some of that. I love the event as a chance to really spend time with my wheel, eve if it's 5 minutes on evenings when I'm busy, over in The Fellowship of Yarn there are lots of people commenting on how doing the event last year really helped them make big step forwards with their spinning skills and confidence!
For anyone new, the "rules" are very simple, we spin for every day the cyclists ride, for the entirety of the Tour de France cycle race which is 21 days (plus 2 rest days), and last year we extended the event to include the week long Tour de France Femmes, so we shall do the same again this year. We start on July 1st. Watching the race is entirely optional, but many of us do also enjoy the cycling along with the spinning.
The event for Hilltop Cloud is over in The Fellowship of Yarn, where there's a specific space devoted to all things Tour de Fleece. Each day at 7am UK time a post will pop up, in it will be lots of interesting things about the area the route passes through, plus some regional food to make you hungry!
There's special Team Hilltop Cloud fibre each year, and anything spare from making up the packs of fibre will go live in the shop at the start of each day, and to accompany the fibre the daily posts also have information about the sailing vessel that inspired the fibre.
It doesn't matter what you spin, or for how long you spin, just that each day you make a little time for making yarn. If you use Hilltop Cloud fibre you might win a prize, but you are still welcome to share your days work no mater what fibre you use. Some people set ambitious goals, others just gather a pile of fibre, start spinning and see how far they get, I do hope you'll come and join us.
Speaking of winning prizes, Nellie and I won our first rosette in a scentwork competition this weekend. We took part in a Nosework Games, and whilst we didn't win any of the individual challenges she was so consistent that we amassed enough points to come 4th overall out of a field of 13. We're off to another competition on Saturday, so fingers crossed she can perform just as well.
The garden has just about clung on through our most recent hot and dry spell, and is now coming to life after some much needed rain. There's been lots of nesting birds, including this new arrival, which is a Redstart, they're not a common bird, and we've definitely had a pair flying about feeding young for the past couple of week.
One of the things I've been really enjoying doing in the new studio is some dyeing livestreams. Each month I dye a fresh Seasonal Change pack, and I've been setting up my elderly laptop so I can do a running commentary of the process. It's good fun, and is a chance for you all to see behind the scenes, about how I dye this kind of fibre.
Wonderwool Wales has now been and gone so I finally feel like I'm catching up with myself, though in comparison to last year when I was still in the middle of rebuilding the studio things are definitely calmer! Nellie and I have been trying our hand at various scentwork competitions, which have been getting me out and about pretty regularly this spring.
She loves her sniffing classes and practising at home is a great way to burn off some collie brain energy without using too much human effort!
The next big event on the horizon is of course the Tour de Fleece, which helpfully this year starts on July 1st. The team fibre isn't yet available for you to buy, but will be ready very very soon. Spinning team fibre is of course optional, you're welcome to join us and spin anything you like. There's going to be two different options this year. Our theme is Sheep of the Line, and we're going to be exploring sea-going vessels from all over the world, and of many different ages.
Version 1- 20g of fibre to spin every day. A surprise colour hidden in little parcels, 16 are brand new Superfine Merino & Silk colours, and 5 are going to be new Pigments colours representing the cargo carried by the vessels.
This will be £55 inc VAT (less if you're not in the UK and pay the VAT exclusive price)
Version 2- This will be just the Pigments colours, spread out to open throughout the race, 20g of each colour, you'll have numbered parcels to open on the same days as the people who are opening a parcel on every day of the race. I wanted to do an option that was cheaper, and involved less fibre for people who also want spin other things.
This will be the usual price of a mixed pigment pack, £9 inc VAT.
Both will also have some little surprises to open on the rest days...
I'm just back from another week-long stained glass course at West Dean college. I had such a good experience last time, and felt I had a few more ideas I wanted to experiment with more, so went back for a second week with the same tutor.
The panel above is the one I'd drawn out in advance, though colour choices are always something that have to wait and see what glass is available. It uses the iron oxides which are heat fired on top the glass to give a permanent design, plus a few bits of plain glass coloured with glass enamel, and silver stain (making this proper stained glass rather than leaded glass!).
This is the second panel I made using leftover pieces, and some painted plain glass. The college has a sandblaster available to use, which is very helpful to make clear silhouettes like these birds using a masked out shape to remove the oxides and silver stain. The rest of the assembly was very similar to making a quilt, with lots of pieces cut to a set width and then shuffled around to find a pleasing colour arrangement!
On my way home I called in at Packwood House, which happened to have a fabulous collection of stained and painted glass in the windows of nearly every room. I particularly love the mixed-up reassembled pieces, the original design has been completely lost, but the glass itself was too precious to simply discard.
The gardens at West Dean were looking stunning, and it was so interesting to see the structure after my visit in the lushness of summer. The chalk stream was flowing again, rather than being a muddy ditch, and the spring bulbs were putting on a real show.
Speaking of gardens, this summer we're opening our garden as part of The National Garden Scheme. This is by appointment only, and the Hilltop Cloud studio will unfortunately not be open due to insurance limitations, but our 3/4 of acre will be open to explore, along with a chance to discover how we transformed it from a wilderness.
A while ago I started hand dyeing some ramie, just to add to the range of solid commercially dyed fibres in stock. Dyeing plant fibres is a very different process to dyeing animal fibres, but it's possible to create versions of the same variegated effects I normally create on wool, and I thought the finished yarn could be very interesting to weave with.
So the fibre went from this, to a yarn that looked like this.
I chose to leave the yarn as singles, plant fibres are much more stable with unbalanced twist than animal fibres, and it means it's much quicker to spin the yarn to the required thickness. These ended up in the same ball park as the 2/8 cotton yarn I normally use as warp. Some bits are thicker, others thinner, I don't spin enough plant fibres to have effortless control of the the yarn thickness... but it's only for tea towels, and in the finished piece it's really not an issue.
I put a full width warp on my Louet Erica, that was wound using various colours of 2/8 cotton (I use Yeoman Yarns Organic Cotton, or sometimes their Brittany 2-ply cotton, it's sold as machine knitting yarn, not quite as high quality as Venne Cotton, but it's a fraction of the price, and I mostly only make tea towels, not heirloom pieces). I wound with 5 ends in my hand at once, and then picked ends at random as I threaded. The draft was a basic M and W threading, and because I was in a hurry to get the warp on I made a bit of a mess of it... I can see the mistakes, so will fellow weavers, the gift recipients will have no idea!
I wound the bobbins straight from the skein, which didn't cause any issues, I made sure to break the yarn in the middle of a blue section so I could create a piece that didn't have any obvious colour jumps.
Once I'd done my test towel I then used up the rest of the warp with odds and ends.
And here's the finished set, all very different, despite having the same warp.. Here's a close up of the ramie once its been washed, you can see how the singles sit quite happily in the cloth, as it's washed and used it will get more flexible and even more absorbent. The ramie towel I've woven before is incredible at soaking up liquid.
The purple towel used the same treadling sequence, but was using some some leftover lithuanian linen from Midwinter yarns that had been used in a knitting project. This is going to be another super absorbent towel.
The final 2 were just to empty some bobbins, and to see how different colours played on the warp. that's the nice thing about towels, they're fun to play with and at the end you still have a useful object even if it turns out to be not pleasing to look at!
IF you fancy playing with some of your own Ramie, the selection in the shop can be found here.
I have a pair of ravens who visit each morning having worked out when I get up to feed the chickens... if I am late it's not unknown for them to let me know by tapping on the door or sitting on the edge of the vellum window banging the glass with their beaks. They are incredibly intelligent charming birds.
In our tale of The Dream of Rhonabwy as retold in The Mab Rhonabwy uses the call of the raven as a way of signalling to the prince's men to come and arrest some bandits. Rhonabwy uses the original tale as a story that he uses to distract the bandits, and within that tale the caw of the raven acts as a signal. In the original version, slightly less pleasantly King Arthurs squires torment Rhonabwy's ravens.
You can read a summary of the original story here.
If you'd prefer a full text you can find one here on Project Gutenberg, scroll down for this particular tale.
If you'd like to listen to the story, this is an audio version.
In the story King Arthus plays chess with Owain, the Lewis chessmen are the most well known chess set from the 12th century, around the time when we think these tales were becoming well known. Chess arrived in Britain sometime in the 11th century, and was generally only played by people of a high social status and level of knowledge
Todays fibre is called Raven, and there's lots of this lovely purple in the shop together with all of the other 12 Days of Christmas fibres, and all the colours that aren't special editions.
And this concludes our 12 Days of Christmas. Tomorrow is St Distaff's Day when spinners would get back to work following the midwinter celebrations. I hope you've enjoyed these posts revealing a little bit behind the inspiration for this years theme.
Todays folktale is probably the oldest of the Arthurian legends, it dates to the 11th-12th century.
In The Mab it's retold as the story of The Amazing Eight, placing the characters of our questing knights very much in the roles of comic book superheroes. Super Ted was one of my favourite cartoon shows as a child, and I never realised that the original version was actually Welsh Language and originally aired on Welsh Language channel S4C.
In Culhwch and Olwen our protagonists have to complete a series of tasks to free the daughter of the giant Ysbaddaden, Olwen. Unlike her father Olwen is beautiful, and Culhwch wants her to be his bride. In total there are forty tasks to be completed, though our tale only narrates the completion of some of them (this is a long, long story in it's original form)
This is a long story so this site breaks it up in to 4 sections.
This video explains the story, and narrates the tale. Purely co-incidentally I've just found this live (but with a recording to watch later) lecture on this tale by Dr Mark Williams, Fellow and Tutor in English at St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford, a specialist in the medieval languages and literatures of Wales and Ireland later this month. Tickets are available here.
Sadly another day with very limited amounts of this colour, but what is available is now in the online shop, or if you need an alternate Soft Fruits if very similar in tone and colour.