True to the rhyme, the Cuckoo came in April, he sung his song in May, and in June he has changed his tune. The cuckoo was the constant back ground noise to May, stepping outside in the glorious weather and pausing for minute was almost a guarantee that you'd hear the calling. We think we may have seen one flying up and down the valley a few times... but at a distance, and to our inexperienced eyes it's hard to work out what could be cuckoo and what could be pigeon!
The garden has enjoyed the sunshine, but the almost complete lack of rain in May has led to a lot of work trying to keep things watered, and we're starting to cast nervous glances at our water supply. A neighbour who relies on a small stream has already run dry, but thankfully our marsh and spring seem to be more reliable.
Our local walks have continued to show how much the beauty round here makes up for the inconveniences of a non-guaranteed water supply. The Bluebells are all over now, but for a brief while lit up the patches of ancient woodland that remain the steep valley bottoms.
There's been weekend crafting going on.... I'm working on a secret quilt project, so no photos of that. And, using my tried and tested method of buying/making things for summer I sewed a pair of shorts.
Well actually I sewed 2 pair of shorts. The first pair suffered from size delusion, so actually fit Mum, though this will mean checking outfits before we leave the house together.
Rubbish, non-modelled photo, but they have beautiful pockets, and an elasticated back waist, and the pattern also includes instructions for trousers. I added length to the legs, because I like more thigh coverage, which was simple enough, but you need to do it lower in the leg than shown on the pattern as the "add length" marking is to change the amount of rise. The pattern is Pietra Shorts & Pants from Closet Case Patterns.
On a side rant.... pattern designers, I get that you want to show off that your design has pockets, but please just give me one shot of the model without hands shoved in pockets. I typically don't wander round with my hands in my pockets all the time, so that means I want to see what things sit like without a hand shoved in to the pocket.
I also sewed a couple of these, and I like the end result, and it does what I want it to do, but the actual pattern is a car crash of questionable sewing choices. I made the one on the left first as a birthday present exactly as written, and then made the second one for myself with heavy modifications to the construction method. It still didn't go together perfectly, but was a much easier sew than the first one. Mine now hangs from my loom and holds my wound paper quills.
And finally at the every end of the month. A bit of brightness to distract me through the next month. Three new baby chickens, and their trusty Mum Ebony. They're few days old now, and looking really good. All 3 are currently black and fluffy, it will be a while until we know wether they're male or female, so fo now they remain nameless, until inspiration strikes, or I come up with some good gender neutral names, or inspiration strikes and that's how I ended up with a cockerel called Lilley...
The last week has felt tough. The constant feeling that your own government is actively working against the people of the country gets somewhat wearing. On top of the mess of Corona Virus, we're also less than a month away from the deadline to sign an extension to the negation for the extension period for Brexit. The Conservatives seem determined that it's all going to be just fine, and if they say it loudly enough then course it's going to happen. I have friends in the civil service, staff that were working on no-deal Brexit planning have needed to be redeployed to managed the Corona Virus response. If you think the food shortages this spring were bad then just wait until December and January. We are not ready to leave without a deal, and businesses are so busy battling to survive than any forward planning capabilities they had have been eaten up by virus response.
The website They Work for You is an excellent resource for checking up on your local MP, and providing contact details to urge them to push for an extension to the Brexit deal negotiations. The food and agriculture standards that are currently up for negotiation are horrifying, and this is just the start.
And then of course there have been the Black Lives Matter protests. If you're new here.... go read the archive. I've made my views on this known repeatedly over previous months.
If you're in the UK and looking on at the horrors in the US know that the UK is by no means a land free from racism. It's different, but people who are not white, are discriminated against on a daily basis. Here's a thread of concrete actions you can take that will have an impact in the UK. If you're in another country go away and do your research, don't be that person who posts a black square on social media and then goes back to your comfy quiet life.
On a business front it's going to be a case of making monad from lemons. I always hold a good stock of the bases I use, but many of them are custom made for me, and the mills aren't currently back to full time production. As a realist expect to see a few more unusual guest bases popping up over the coming months. I did enough advance planning at the beginning of March to ensure supplies of fibre for the Time Travellers Club up until June, and hopefully have already got plans in place for July. On 1st July the price for US postage will be rising dramatically, costs have risen to Royal Mail by 50%, and they have to pass these prices on to their customers, and I'm afraid I need to pass those prices on as well. I always charge as close to cost as possible. One thing that has changed is that the gap between standard postage and tracked postage has narrowed, so I have now turned on the option to pay extra and get international tracking (this option is now available for all international parcels, not just US ones).
Here's the new prices for the USA-
Up to 250g - £10.00 standard £13 tracked
Up to 500g - £15.00 standard £17 tracked
Up to 750g- £18.00 standard £20 tracked
Up to 1kg - £21.00 standard £23 tracked
1kg Plus- £25.00 standard £27 tracked
Club parcels, as ever, are particularly effected by postage price rises. I now need to add a £3 postage surcharge for all USA parcels. If you're a current Time Travellers Club member your subscription has already been edited, and I've emailed to let you know. If you're a Gradient Club member then I will be editing your subscriptions next week before your July payment is taken. If you're joining as a new member then there's now an extra question in the checkout process to allow me to collect this extra amount to cover postage.
We're gearing up for the Tour de Fleece in the Ravelry group. Our team fibre is now ready to be purchased, we've got a beautiful collection of colours of 14.5 micron Merino. As ever we'll be donating some money to Qhubeka from some of the proceeds from this fibre (25p per 50g between now and the end of the Tour). We've supported this charity, which aims to put people on bikes to allow them better access to education, work and healthcare, for a number of years now. Our donation in 2019 was used as part of their Learn to Earn work in Giyana High Schools.
There have been a lot of pre-wound warps going to new homes over the past few days, and lots of people will shortly be trying to put a pre-wound warp on to their rigid heddle loom for the first time.
Most of us who started out with rigid heddle looms have probably only ever used the direct method of warping, but it's just as simple to put a pre-wound warp on your loom. There are lots of resources on the internet, a few You Tube videos, but not very much by way of step-by-step photo tutorials, which is my favourite way to learn because it makes it very easy to follow the instructions as you work, without trying to pause a video, or wish it would get to the point, or go a bit more slowly.
This is my method, it's largely the same as the one in Inventive Weaving on a Little Loom (UK Book Depository link, they're a great alternative to Amazon for books, or see if your local independent bookshop can get you a copy).
First un-chain your warp. You need to identify which end has "the cross". This is a criss-cross pattern put in as the warps are wound which hold the threads the correct order and stops them getting tangled. In the photo above it's on the right hand side, the end also has more ties, including one around the cross itself, and one in the loop above the cross. Do not cut any ties until you have assembled all your equipment.
I recommend using lease sticks. These are sticks that you are going to insert either side of that cross to hold your threads. If you are only doing a narrow warp with bulky yarn you can get away with just using your hands (but you are then attached to your loom until you have completed the warping process.
You need 2 smooth sticks of some sort. I have some dowel, but you can use bamboo canes or flat pieces of wood (the slats from blinds work well).
The first step is to identify the 2 loops either side of your cross. Pull each of the ties in that loop in opposite directions and it should open up. (This is easier when you can do it with 2 hands and don't need one hand to hold the camera!)
Once you've opened up your loops slide in a stick, one on each side of the cross. Then attach your sticks together in some way. You can drill a hole through your sticks/dowel and thread through some string, but a loosely wrapped elastic band also works, though you do need to leave enough space between the sticks for the yarn to slide.
Only once you have done this can you remove the ties. Be careful... you only want to cut through the ties and not the strands on your warp.
Start to spread your warp out on your lease sticks, and work out where you need to start threading your heddle in order to wind your warp on in the centre of your loom. To do this check how many ends your warp has, and divide it by 4, we'll call this number X. Fid the centre of your heddle, and count along X slots. This is where you will start threading your warp through the heddle.
The exact method of the next step will now depend on the type of loom you own. If your loom has a removable apron rod (the piece of dowel held in place with texslov cord that you warp your yarn around when direct warping) the next step is simple.
If you have a loom with a fixed apron rod (eg Ashford looms), you can either modify your loom to make it removable, or will have to cut the loops open and tie your warp in place on the back beam just as you would normally do on the front beam. This last method will increase your loom waste, and will require care if you want to keep your colours in your warp aligned.
To modify your loom you'll need to remove the plastic rods holding the rod in place, and replace them with texsolv cord, this seems to be nigh on impossible to find online in the UK at the moment, but have a search, you may have more luck than me!
Slide your back apron rod out of the loops on the texsolv cord. If you can, leave the loops open, it will make it easier to slide the rod back in place once your warp is looped on.
You're now going to thread each loop through a slot in your heddle, and slide it on to the back apron rod. The cross will keep the threads in the right order, just make sure you are not pulling a loop from the next group pf threads as you work. If your warp is wool and has got slightly fuzzy as it's been dyed and rinse you may need to give the threads a good wiggle to work them free.
This is fiddly to start off with, the process is easier if your lease sticks are wide enough to rest on the frame of your loom, or you can come up with a way to tie them in place. Once you can slide your apron rod in to a second loop of texslov the whole process become much more stable. Keep going across the whole loom, threading loops in order, making sure not to miss out any slots.
Once you're done your loom should now look like it does when you use a direct method of warping.
Loops of yarn around your back apron rod, and 2 strands of yarn through every slot, and the remainder of the warp dangling off the loom. You are now safe to remove your lease sticks (the eager eyes will spot something odd going on with my sticks and that some threads aren't wrapped around them properly.... safe to say warping is a job that requires 2 hands and not 1 hand for your loom and the other for the camera. Bad things happened that required a little bit of resolving, fingers crossed it won't cause issues as the warp is wound on, make sure your lease sticks are attached together firmly!)
Using one hand to add tension to the warp, and the other to turn the back ratchet, slowly wind your warp on to the loom. Add packing paper or cardboard strips to stop the warp threads overlapping one another and causing uneven winding. Cut the figure of eight ties as you wind.
Eventually you'll have wound all your warp on to the back beam and be left with the loops that are attached together at the other end of the warp. Cut the ties holding these loops, and cut the loops themselves open. Now take one of the pair of ends that is going through each slot and transfer it to the next hole.
You're now ready to attach your warp on to the front apron rod. You can do this by tying directly on to it, but I prefer to lash it on, as that creates less loom waste, and I find it easier to adjust to get an even tension. To do this take a small bundle of warp yarn, fold the end back, then tie an overhand knot creating a loop. Repeat across all of the warp, then take a length of strong smooth, non-elastic thick thread or string (linen or crochet cotton is ideal) and pass it through the first loop of warp yarn, then take your lashing thread and pass it round the front apron rod, pass the thread through the next loop of warp yarn, and then back around the apron rod. Repeat until all the warp is attached, you'll need to keep pulling the yarn through the loops as you work.
Now ease the lashing thread through all the loops until you have a similar tension, and tie off both ends around your apron rod. Tighten the tension slightly and ease the lashing thread until all your loops feel like they have an even tension.
You're now ready to start weaving!
From the very beginning of my business I've always wanted to see what people make from the fibres they purchase. Every 3 months, in the Ravelry group, I host a prize thread where you can win gift certificates just by posting pictures of spun yarn, and the things you have made from your handspun yarn.
The thread is one that's just filled with pretty pictures, there's no extraneous chatter, which I hope takes the pressure off posting. No need to worry that someone will say anything negative, or or that your post will get ignored when everyone else's gets loads of reactions. It's not competitive, it's just a place to enjoy the beauty of things made by hand.
The next 3 month round is already up and running, and I'd love for you to come and join us.
Here are a few of my personal highlights from the last round. The photos should link to the appropriate Ravelry pages if you want to find out more about a project or a skein of yarn.
It's been a quiet month. A minor relapse of my Menieres disease has meant I've not been able to drive, which isn't really an issue when it's the holidays, but does start to become a little bit tiring when you want to get back in a normal routine. Things are looking better health wise though, so hopefully I'll be back to being independent soon. The quicker they can develop real-world safe driverless cars the better so far as I'm concerned!
So as a result there haven't been any exciting trips, or exploring of new places, I've been busy getting lots of work done, making plans, and enjoying the signs that winter will be coming to an end.
My sewing has been of the secret variety, which means it needs to stay under wraps for a few months. I have also transformed an Ikea table cloth in to a pair of dungarees, but alas there is no photo of me wearing them. I have managed to finish a shawl that I started during some mammoth train journeys back in November. This was a handspun skein of Yak, Alpaca and Silk, one of the very last braids that still used Royal Baby Alpaca, before I had to switch over to Baby Llama. There's still some of the Llama version of the blend in the shop, and it's lovely, but I'm very pleased that the next batch of this base will be able to go back to using the softer Royal Baby Alpaca, because it spins and knits up so beautifully. The Baby Llama is nice, but is a slightly higher micron count.
I've also managed to get 2 skeins spun as part of the Hilltop cloud New Year Stash Clean I'm hosting in the Ravelry group. The aim was to take the oldest fibre in your stash and turn it in to yarn... no excuses allowed!
These 4 braids had been staring sadly at me every time I opened up my fibre storage box, so I'm very please that they're now yarn.
I've also been developing new ideas. I'm teaching a workshop at Oxford Guild later this year, and we'll be spending some time dyeing weaving warps. I've done bits and pieces of this before, but when I'm teaching I like to be pretty well practised at a skill so I know exactly why I'm recommending a particular method (the photo above is from a test that doesn't work!). One of my good friends is an experienced weaver and is testing the finer warp for me, and was bemoaning that this sort of hand dyed warp is really hard to get in the UK. So after she gave the test warp a glowing review I've taken the plunge.
There will be hand dyed gradient warps available on the stand at Wonderwool, and in the online shop shortly after that. I've started off with a 2/20NM Tussah Silk lace weight (1000m per 100g). This one will be for the weavers with multi-shaft looms as it's a bit fine to use successfully in a rigid heddle.
There's also a 2/8NM Tussah Silk fingering weight (400m per 100g). This will work on both multi-shaft looms and rigid heddle looms. And finally a 2/7NM BFL fingering weight (350m per 100g). Again, this will work on all loom types.
I'm going to do a consistent warp size for now, with each warp designed to produce a generous size scarf/small wrap.
This was a test of an ombre gradient dyed on the 2/7NM Tussah Silk, woven on my rigid heddle using a 10 dent heddle, the weft is some alpaca fingering weight that I unearthed from the deep stash!
I've also wound on a test of the BFL warp, this is dyed in repeating stripes, so there will be subtle bands of colour running across the scarf with slight feathery edges. This one is still on the loom, but it's looking very pretty.
I've never wanted to start selling yarn as well as fibre, because there are already many people who dye yarn very well, and even though both processes seem like they should be the same, the reality is that dyeing yarn and dyeing fibre are two different beasts. Warps however, behave very much like a length of combed top, so all my dyeing skills transfer really well to this.
Dyeing for wonderwool has already started, as there's only 80 days to go, but there still should be lots of new fibre popping up in the online shop over the next month.
It's very rare for me to dye my fibres using a recipe... I have a very small number of instructions written down, but generally I enjoy the creative problem solving of continually coming up with new colour combinations. However, doing that means I need to have a really good understanding of my own palette of dyes, and which colours to use, and how much to use of them. I generally dye with pure primaries (red, yellow, blue, turquoise, magenta), but also make use of pre-mixed browns, a black and a grey, and also use a violet, orange and green. My palette of dyes isn't as small as some dyers (who only use primaries and black), but pretty small compared to others who use a lot of pre-mixed colours.
Familiarity means I know my particular set of colours really well, and can usually nail the colour I am after on the first attempt. When I teach dyeing workshops I'm often asked how I know which colours to use, and in reality there is nothing that beats practise. You can do this by creating a recipe book or sample cards, but this can be time consuming and expensive in terms of materials.
I also recommend a couple of games to people who want to create a better idea of colour sense, because I do firmly believe that it's something you can teach yourself to be better at. Blendoku, and I Love Hue both use similar principles of arranging coloured tiles in to the correct order. They're really handy for developing ideas around colour combinations, contrasting colours and the effects of adding tints and shades.
Now my Mum knows that I have an interest in colour, and in textile history, so she bought me this for Christmas. It's a 1951 recipe card for the use of acid milling dyes on yarn, together with details of the lightfastness, wash fastness and any particular notes about the individual dye colours. There's a few instructions here that would definitely not be recommended for the home dyer, bichrome is another name for Potassium Bichromate, which is a known carcinogen.
This website doesn't render very well, and unfortunately the pictures and text have ended up overlaid, but there's plenty that still readable and it tells the story of ICI and the British Dyestuffs, who are sadly no longer producing dyes in the UK. I found copying and pasting the text in to a word document made it much more legible.
One of the many reasons I will be watching nervously over the next few months is to see how the British Government handles the integration of the chemical industry. EU legislation means we know that the chemicals we can buy, and that are used to make just about everything are safe. Whilst we were part of the EU any chemical registered for sale here could be sold throughout Europe and UK companies can buy chemicals from Europe on the same basis. All testing is in the public domain. The government has decided it no longer wants to align us to those standards, that means UK manufacturers will face added expense to sell their chemicals in the EU, and from a dyeing perspective means any EU suppliers will have to register their products with a UK agency in order to sell in the UK. In short... the whole thing is an absolute shambolic mess, and instead of cutting the red tape that was promised by Brexit it's going to lead to increased costs, lower safety standards, and shortages. This twitter thread from an expert in the chemical industry makes for chilling reading.
I've managed to take some photos of some spun skeins of my new Heather Silk.
As ever, with this style of blended fibres taking photos is rather tricky, because the multi-tonal effect really plays tricks with the camera sensors. Add in the high shine you get from mulberry silk, and you end up with a very large number of rejected photos!
For each colourway I spun 2 different samples. One was spun using my normal silk draft. Straight from the end , with a moderate degree of twist, and then plied to balance. It creates a smooth, very shiny yarn with excellent drape, and huge amounts of lustre. The other sample was spun using the style advocated by Sara Lamb (author of The Practical Spinners Guide- Silk). This sample was spun from the fold, using small chunks of fibre, with as much twist as I could bear to put it, and then plied with lots and lots of twist. This yarn will be harder wearing, more resistant to abrasion, but isn't quite so shiny, and doesn't drape quote as well.
If you'd like to know more about twist levels in silk then I wrote an article for the Fine edition of Ply magazine a few years ago, and also shared some close up photos on the blog.
If you prefer videos over words, then this video, filmed for last months Non-Wool Club should help.
In addition to effecting the structure of the yarn, the spinning technique also has an effect on the colour. The silk is made up of lots of very thin streaks of different colours .
When you draft straight from the end of the fibre you draft in fibres from multiple streaks of colour. When you draft from the fold you sometimes end up pulling in fibres from just one colour. Spinning from the end produces a yarn where the colours are more blended together, as the act of drafting carries on the blending process. Spinning from the fold produces a yarn where you get more flecks of yarn that are only a single colour.
In the photos below the yarn on the left was spun from the fold, the yarn on the right was spun from the end.
Hopefully if you've been wondering about how this fibre spins that might help answer some of your questions, and help with your design making process if you've already bought some of this fibre.
Firstly, Happy Third Not-Brexit Day!
And with it comes my only bit of public information, make sure you are registered to vote. You can do it online, and is something you need to do if you've recently moved home. If you are a student you can register at your home, and university address, but you should only cast your vote in one location. Being on the electoral register doesn't require you to have a permanent residential address, and you can also do so anonymously if you feel your safety is at risk due to being on the electoral register.
The weather in December can be grim... if you know you are likely to be put off heading out in the rain and cold, then register for a postal vote.
For anyone not in the UK, this is good news, as it means my parcels will carry on going to you in a seamless manner. It also means I can carry on importing fibres from Italy for the next few months and not need to increase prices due to import duties and increased courier costs.
I'm very pleased about this, because I have some new Italian fibres, and I can now carry on expanding the range. These are pure Mulberry Silk, created just like the blended wool tops that we are now all very familiar with. They draft beautifully, and turn in to yarn with really subtle variation, but not so much that they will swamp a lace pattern. The first 3 colours are now in the shop in 50g, 100g and 200g size options.
I've just finished spinning some samples, so keep an eye out for a blogpost in the next few days showing what happens to these fibres when they're turned in to yarn.
We had a lovely time at Bakewell Wool Gathering, with lots of people going home with some fibres they'd not tried before.
Apart from that I've had a very quiet month, there's been the usual autumn cold that wiped me out for a few days. I only managed to squeeze in one shop update due to getting the 12 Days of Christmas parcels ready. They've all gone in the post now, with just a couple of the Mulberry Silk option left if anyone is still wanting a Christmas and New Year treat.
If you're thinking about making your own version (maybe as a guild Christmas party activity?) then I do have some spare bags, and they're now available to purchase.
I do however have a shop update that is in the drying shed right now, and that should be going up in the shop tomorrow. It's not been all work though, I took myself off to Erddig whilst waiting for a sewing machine to be serviced, and had a lovely day. There were apples, spinning wheels, and gardens. I can recommend a visit, I'll be going back with Mum in the summer when the gardens will be in full glory, and all of the hall will be open.
On a personal creative note, this month has mostly been about getting a head start on my Christmas crafting. A few lucky people still get hand made gifts, which sadly means I don't have any photos to share.
There is a handspun jumper that is nearly off the needles though, so fingers crossed for next month.
The last month has felt very different to the previous years. For the first time in 6 years we didn't head towards Yorkshire to trade at Yarndale. I've already had a few disappointed comments from people who were sad not to see me there, but it's been such a good decision for me to do fewer in-person shows this year.
It's meant I've been able to teach more (which I love doing), experiment more, and take more time off.
On a work front, the first batch of 12 Days of Christmas parcels are very nearly ready to be sent out. I'm just doing the dyeing today, will be collecting the surprise extra tonight, and should have the first set of parcels packed and ready to be posted on Monday. After that I will put the next (and final) batch of parcels up for sale. The spectre of Brexit continues to linger over my shoulder. For the past year not a day has gone by when I've not thought about how to ensure my business will survive. One of my Italian suppliers has just contacted me about some really exciting new products, and I'd love to start stocking them. But it's just such bad timing. I could probably have the first batch delivered before we crash out, but then the any re-stock would face an immediate price rise as I'd have to pay customs fees, and admin fees to import those goods.
If you're a customer in the EU I will try to make sure that you get your orders quickly, particularly the club orders, over the next month. Going forward, should we leave it's likely that your higher value parcels will be subject to some sort of charges as they enter your country. However, this will be outweighed by the fact that you will no longer be charged VAT when you make your purchase. Overall you shouldn't end up paying any more to receive your order as any admin fee charged will probably be balanced out by your reduced postage costs.
On a more cheery note I have been doing more experimenting with dyeing outside my professional sphere.
More cotton fabric, destined for pyjama bottoms, but this time using Procion dyes, and a technique called ice dyeing. This is a method that really caught me eye when I looked round the classrooms at Summer School , and was taught by Fiona Moir in her class Let's Dye It!. The dress featured below was hung outside to dry, and I know that many of us were coveting it during the coffee break, my photo completely fails to do it justice.
I have also finished off my sample blanket from Summer School. For the class I taught I wanted to students to appreciate how the dye effect looked as fabric, and not just as a skein of yarn, so I encouraged them all to pick a simple pattern they could work on in the evenings. I gave them a short list of suggestions, and chose to do a Ten Stitch Blanket for my own class sampler.
The centre uses all my sample skeins from the week-long class, and I then carried on using up all my oddments until it was large enough. It's now a very lovely reminder of a wonderful week.
The photo below is the work completed by the students during Summer School... as you can see there are a few more Ten Stitch Blankets in progress!
On the chicken front all the babies are no longer really looking like babies... Though it turns out that my cockerel breeding success continues. Vita, is definitely not a girl. However the name has now stuck, and given we have a Lillee, he's not the only cockerel in the flock with a non-traditional name.
Over the years we've hatched 13 baby chicks, a grand total of 3 have been girls! Some one once asked me what I do with all my cockerels, and the answer is that I keep them all. They're more pets than livestock, and are kept because they make us happy, rather than for any consideration of producing food. the eggs we get are a lovely bonus. Generally the chickens live to old age and die peacefully in the garden. Occasionally one goes missing, usually one of the girls who has laid a clutch of eggs in a hidden spot, and then is never seen again. I've been very lucky to have boy cockerels who usually all get along. I usually have a group of 3 or 4 girls wandering round with 3 or 4 cockerels. The boys have a pecking order, just like the girls, but it's rare for it to ever go beyond a quick scuffle. In the spring I occasionally have to separate the cockerel who's at the bottom of the pecking order until hormone levels subside a little, but after a couple of days they soon go back to being a pretty harmonious group.
Last weekend I was in London, for a meeting of the committee who runs The Journal for the Association of Guilds of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers. I've just taken over The Journal Twitter account, and will be using to to share all sorts of lovely textile things. Please come and follow if you feel you need more textiles in your life. I've really enjoying looking at a feed filled with beautiful objects, and news from people who make them. You can find it as @journalwsd
Trains from my part of Wales make it impossible to arrive in London in time for a Saturday morning meeting, so I travelled down the day before, and spent a lovely afternoon going round the British Museum playing hunt the textiles. I found a few...
Though I did get distracted by this stunning Grayson Perry Vase, particularly the vase on the vase "Craftsman. Hero in the Digital Age"
I also found a bit of Welsh Gold. This cape was found in a grave in Mould, and dates from 1900-1600BC
And finally some cloth! This is some of the oldest wool cloth found in Britain. It dates to the Roman occupation, late 4th century AD, and was woven in a 2-over-2 twill pattern.
I started off the post talking about shows, which brings me round to my final show of 2019, I will be back at Bakewell Wool Gathering next weekend, we're in the side room as usual.
After I got back from Summer School I had a hectic few days getting caught up, sending out club parcels, and restoring everything to its usual place.
Before I went I'd built myself a new storage shed to hold all the undyed bases I hold in stock, but hadn't got any further in executing the grand reorganisation! After a period of time when it looked like it was never all going to fit, I've finally achieved the end goal. All the fibres associated with the business are now out of my house, and in to their own dedicated stock room. It's very nice to get some of my own space back, and I can tell already that it's making me better about splitting time between work and play, and taking time off.
And once I was caught up, that's what I did. I've just had to go round taking bad photos, because when part of your job involves taking lots of photos, and part of your job is doing the social media stuff it's also really important that the down time doesn't carry on feeling like work.
Of course the idea of sitting around for a few days doing nothing isn't my bag. So I did some sewing.
Full confession time.... I did just pull these out of the washing basket for this photo, so they are looking somewhat crumpled. The fabric used an eco printing technique, I took this photo when we did a guild workshop in July, and it probably shows the technique more clearly than words. I learned how to do this at an association Sumer School in 2017. The pattern is Ultimate Pyjamas from Sew Over It, and I will definitely be using it again.
You take various leaves, lay them out on a piece of fabric, wrap it up in to a bundle, and boil it for a while. The natural colours in the leaves leach out and leave a print behind. For my pyjama bottoms I gave the fabric a boil in rhubarb leaf mordant first, though I note that in a recent blogpost Jenny Dean (from whom I got the information), no longer really uses this method, however, it shifted the baby blue of my fabric in to a more please eau de nil shade. I also soaked my leaves in an iron solution, which acts as a mordant, and indeed will make a print by itself, so even if the rhubarb doesn't act as a mordant, my leaf prints should stick around for a while.
There isn't really a definitive guide book to eco printing... but if you have a basic understanding of natural dyeing, then it's great fun to try. I really would recommend reading a reputable natural dyeing book first, natural doesn't always mean safe. The India Flint book on Eco Dyeing is a little wordy for my taste, not that helpful if you're trying to pick up what to do from scratch, and but is an interesting thing if you want to start experimenting further. The Jenny Dean book Wild Colour is a great book to use as a resource, and if you know it will dye then it's a reasonably safe bet that it will also make a print. I do what we did at Summer School which is to boil my bundle of cloth and leaves, but others use a steamer.
I also did some fancier sewing.... not that you'd believe it from this photos, but I am just not in the mood to start trying to take selfie's today. So trust me when I say that this is the French Dart Shift Dress, and is made from some Liberty Linen I bought myself for my birthday present last year. It feels lovely to wear... and it has pockets! Again, I am definitely going to be making other visions of this.
oMeanwhile on Planet Chicken. We have 2 boys and a girl from the first clutch. The boys are going to be Monty and Don, and are both gingery brown. (Only 1 of them is in the photo, the other was busy stuffing himself with mealworms.) Their sister is going to be called Gertie after Gertrude Jekyll. She's the blonde one in the photo above, and is being continually left behind by her big brothers. Their Mum (Niddy) has now left them to their own devices, and for a few days all you could hear was poor Gertie plaintively cheeping because she didn't understand why she had to look after herself.
The other chick is also probably a girl, though it's always harder to tell when you don't have any other chicks of the same age for comparisons. Her Mum is looking after her much better, but hopefully all 4 youngsters will get along when Ebony decides she's had enough of parenthood. In keeping with our gardener theme for this years youngsters she's probably going to be Vita, after Vita Sackville-West.
I am busy in planning mode at the moment. I am just starting to reveal the details for this years 12 Days of Christmas parcels. These will go on sale very shortly as I need to order the fibre to arrive before crashing out of the EU will cause the price of the fibre to rise, and also so I can send EU customers their parcels before October 31st so they don't end up paying tax twice. I still doing everything I can to make sure that I have a functional business over the coming months, but I am dealing with complete unknowns at the moment.
On a more cheery note, my final in-person event of the year will be Bakewell Wool Gathering on October 12th and 13th. This is a lovely smaller scale show, nearly in the middle of Bakewell itself, entrance is only £5, or £8 for a weekend ticket.
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.
Hilltop Cloud- Spin Different
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