This is a short, modified excerpt from my book, A Guide to Spinning Hand Dyed Fibre.
If you browse the shop on a regular basis you'll notice that the hand dyed fibre braids have lots of information in the titles, and at the end of the titles are a few key words...
Repeating, Variegated, Semi-Solid and Gradient.
Those titles are telling you how I dyed the fibre, and are a big clue about how the braid will spin. Now, these are my classifications, rather than a recognised "industry" standard, but I do use them consistently, and most dyers will describe braids using a variation on these themes.
This technique at first glance isn’t that different to the commercially dyed solid shades you can buy. However the hand dyed version will contain far more subtle variations. These give life to your yarn. It’s a particularly effective dyeing technique for yarns you know you’ll use for textured fabric for example cables or lace, because the variation in the colour won’t be fighting with the pattern of the stitches.
Many times when I dye a semi-solid I'll actually mix up 4 different subtle variations of the same colour, and use those to dye the fibre.
This dyeing technique uses multiple colours, they are applied to the fibre in a regular pattern to create blocks of colour that appear in the same order, and are the same length all the way along the braid of fibre. These braids can occasionally be hard to tell apart from variegated fibre, particularly if the colour blocks are short. The best way to tell is to unbraid your fibre, and lay it out in the same way the dyer will have done while applying the dye. It soon becomes pretty clear when the colour blocks start lining up. If you spin this yarn with no further manipulation then you will get a yarn that forms stripes.
This is not a description you'll see many dyers use, but I find it helpful to distinguish between this style, and one where the colours are applied in a ore random fashion.
This technique produces a braid with a whole variety of shades, but crucially they’re not placed at regular intervals, and appear in blocks of different sizes in a random order. That means the yarn you spin will have a variety of colours in it, but you won’t get a regular pooling or striping pattern. Again, the best way to check if this is the dyeing technique that’s been used is to unbraid and lay out the fibre. You shouldn’t be able to find any sort of repeating pattern. The degree of variegation will depend on how contrasting the colours were in the original braid.
In braids that are gradient dyed each block of colour will only appear once. In comparison to repeating dyed fibre this dyeing technique should produce smooth transitions from one shade to another. You sometimes see braids of mirror gradient fibre. In these the fibre will have been doubled, and then dyed. This means you can use the 2 halves of the braid for a very easy matching 2-ply yarn, or can spin each half separately for matching skeins to make a pair of items such as socks or mittens.
Ombre Gradients are similar to regular gradients, but only use one colour. This shade becomes progressively paler along the length of the braid.
If you want to get more in control of the yarns you can make from these fibres then there's lots of information, and a huge number of swatches showing the techniques and manipulations, in the book.
Over on the Ravelry group we're getting ready for this years Tour de Fleece. It's always the highlight of my spinning year, and last year we had a really lovely atmosphere in the team thread, with lots of spinning and plenty of helpful advice.
This year we'll be doing it all again, with the added bonus of a Team swap. As ever the team fibre is completely optional, and your can spin from stars and still join in.
Now this isn't going to work like a traditional swap, I'm setting it up so that you are guaranteed to get your parcel, and in a way you'll know what it contains.... are you intrigued?
The bike wheel is filled with a collection of 12 colours. I've selected them off the Tour de France website to represent this years race.
Wether it's the bright red peppers found in the host town of Stage 21, the beautiful buildings in Saint-Paul-Trois Chateaux , the mountain lakes in the Alpe d'Huez, or just the general beauty of the French countryside in July.
These colours are all going to be available in the 70% Superfine Merino & 30% Tussah Silk.
Thos who decide to go for the swap option will buy 100g in 2 different colours.
However, those 2 colours won’t be the only colours you receive. When I pack the orders I will send you 50g of your 2 colours, and 50g of the 2 colours from the order of the team member before you.
In your parcel will be a little note saying who contributed your mystery colours (just containing the Ravelry username, it’s then up to you how much you choose to share)
I've spent a few days messing around with samples of the colours, and there are so many options that work together really nicely, so it should be a great way to expand your colour palette, but still end up with colours that you like.
The colourways have all had special Tour names given to them, but the captions above tells you the regular names that they'll revert to after the Tour.
To co-ordinate with the Merino & Silk I'm also dyeing 2 special Tour colourways on Rambouillet. This French breed has a rather nice link to the tour, and is also soft enough to work with the Superfine Merino.
If you'd like to order some fibre, then head to the Ravelry group, and follow the instructions...
And of course, the Team fibre is completely optional, you're very welcome to join the Team in July and spin from stash!
Again this year I'll be making a charitable contribution for the Team fibre. For every bundle of swap fibre I'll be donating 50p, and for every 100g of the accompanying dyed Rambouillet.
The charity I've chosen to support is Qhubeka, an African based charity who provide bikes to people in rural communities. This lets children go to school more easily, people transport their goods to market, and allows healthcare workers to reach vulnerable communities. To provide a bike through the charity costs £160.
I love dyed fibre in it's raw form, I once had a lengthy twitter debate about dyeing and wether it counts as art (side point, I think it is, particularly in the style I use, if you're only dyeing solid shades to a recipe then maybe not...)
However, the nice thing about this form of art is that it really is a group project, and I love seeing what happens to fibre once it's turned in to yarn, and then turned in to a useful item.
Over in the Ravelry group I run a thread that's dedicated to the sharing of skeins of yarn and finished objects, and it's always stuffed full of inspiration. Wether it's the first skeins from a new spinner, or a wonderful huge project combining many braids, I love seeing them all.
As a bit of a thank you for the effort people make in sharing photos I offer a bit of an incentive, and every 3 months there are two £25 gift vouchers available, the winners are picked from the thread using a random number generator.
The new thread has just been started, so if you get some yarn spun, or something made in the next 3 months then head over and share it, this time you had a 1 in 50 chance of winning the gift voucher, and those odds are none-to-shabby!
Here's my favourite posts from the last 3 months, the images should all link to the original project pages if you want to know more details.
Probably my most favourite show of the year, it's Wonderwool time again.
There are many reasons I love going to Wonderwool, partly it's the close distance, there is something very nice about packing up on Sunday evening and being home before it gets dark! It's also an excellently organised show, all the behind the scenes things that you don't necessarily see as a festival attendee are done really well. I also love my big, light, airy stand, and that the aisles are huge making it by far the easiest show to walk around.
Getting ready for shows is a huge amount of work, but it's the one time I get to see my fibre en-masse, and to talk to people about using it in person. It's an even bigger task than many realise because I keep a completely separate stock of hand dyed fibre for shows, and everything that's sold online is kept at home.
Now I don't bring everything to shows, but I do try to have a really wide stock of bases, and dyeing styles. Here's what will be on the stand this year-
Corriedale, Yak & Rose
BFL & Baby Camel
Romney, Silk & Linen
Cambrian (BFL x Welsh Mountain, this is local wool)
Merino & Silk
Superwash Cheviot, Silk & Nylon
Camel, Seacell, Faux Cashmere
Silk & Kid Mohair
Silk, Yak Down & Royal Baby Alpaca
And then there are all the lovely little packs of goodies that are great for Drum carders, Blending boards and felt projects. I've just finished doing some small scale felting for a new product we're bringing this year, and they're great for transforming a very ordinary looking piece of wool in to something really pretty.
The base is made from wood supplied by our local timber merchant, Dad turns them on his lathe in the shed at the end of the garden, and polishes them using beeswax polish from our beehives. I made the felt that goes on the top, and then Mum fastens them all together. The stuffing inside is British wool.
Right, preparations are not complete, next up, going through the stocks of Tussah Silk, and making sure I have enough of all the different shades packed up.
If you're coming to Wonderwool I shall see you there... looks like being a chilly one.
My top clothing tip... A hat and pair of fingerless mitts help you feel considerably warmer, and are a lot easier to carry than a thick coat if the weather warms up.
Just before Christmas I started stocking a really huge range of dyed Tussah Silk. I love dyeing silk, but in all honesty dyeing it in plain colours is really hard work for something that seems like it should be so simple. By getting the solid colours commercially dyed I can concentrate on hand dyeing the fun colourways, but still stock a beautiful range of colours.
Solid colours are really helpful in things like silk for a whole variety of reasons. Often you want to spin for lace, and a variegated colour way can work against the pattern. If you're going to use the silk for blending then solid colours are all you need. When I was doing a lot of carding I was often frustrated by the really limited palette of colours I could buy .
This silk is dyed in Italy to Okeo-Tex Standard 100 so you can be confident it's been dyed with environmental responsibility. The colours themselves are stunning, and so varied. I've got 39 that I will be stocking regularly (picking 40 would have been over-kill!)
So I wanted a sample to show them all off...
I took 10g of each colour, and then spun them in to a light fingering 2-ply yarn (approx 18wpi). From each colour I ended up with approximately 45m of yarn.
I direct warped my rigid heddle loom using 6 ends per colour with a 12dpi heddle. So during warping I filled 3 slots with a double end of each shade. I have a 25 inch Schact Flip, and this warp didn't fill the whole loom, but there's not quite enough space for 8 ends per colour. If you have a narrower loom you'll need to do the maths and check this warp will fit. You can always reduce the number of ends per colour and make it narrower, or if you have a larger loom you could do more ends per colour, you should have enough yarn spare if you spin it finely enough.
I used a soft-of spectrum to decide on the colour order... though with this many colours deciding on a "perfect order" is probably impossible! It's the same order as shown on the Tussah Silk page.
Warp length was approximately 2.8m to give a generous sized wrap once finished.
I wove in blocks of 8 picks per colour to give me rectangles rather than squares of colour. The edges were hem stitched on the loom, and then I twisted each colour separately to form the fringe.
Off the loom it had that stiff, new cloth feeling, but after a wash ( I didn't wash the yarn before weaving) it's softened up and the drape is lovely.
You have to feel to really appreciate it... but maybe this will help!
If you want to, you can make one of your very own!
The sample set contains all the fibre you'll need (and some to spare that you can use in other projects).
It feels like the greyest time of year, but in a perverse sort of way I always look forward to January. While the weather is usually pretty dreadful, it''s the time when I get back to work after a break.
It's the time of year when I finish off the plans for the year, all my show applications for 2018 are now submitted, the last workshop slots are filled. It's also when I start making fibre plans. I come back to work with new ideas for different bases, and other new ideas to put in place.
It's also when I re-boot my knitting and spinning. I've usually spent the back end of the year making gifts for others, so often get the luxury of starting new projects.
During the holidays I balled up all the small skeins of Superfine Shetland I've spun over the past few years. These were leftover bits and pieces from Bach Packs, which have been discontinued, so it was time to turn them in to something!
Over the holidays I messed around with some stitch dictionaries, and did some swatching...
and am now turning those balls in to a slightly bonkers colourwork jumper.
It's not been done with any great amount of planning. I worked out the gauge from my swatch, measured from a jumper, and did the maths to get a stitch count. Some of the colour combinations are more successful than others, but I want this to be a fun, no worrying project, so I've decided to just embrace them.
I did a provisional cat on, because I can't even decide how I want to do the edgings. They might be ribbing, or I might do some sort of turned hem...
I normally work top down, but I'm going bottom up with this, delaying the decision about how to work the sleeves for as long as possible! I could go very traditional and work steeks, or I could stop at the armholes, work the sleeves, then put them all on one needle and work raglan decreases. At the moment I'm leaning towards the steek option, because I've never used that construction method before....
I may even go completely freestyle and not make the sleeves matching!
It's also the time of year when I look at the business samples. I like to work with my fibres, it means I can tell you about them with an informed viewpoint. I also like to have samples on display at shows (Did you know that there's a whole page devoted to the samples I make?)
The next big sampling task is the Tussah Silk... I'm lacking in woven samples at the moment, and weaving is a great project to show off the whole palette of colours. So I spent last night playing around with the sample cards, and constructed a huge gradient from the 38 colours that will be the permanent palette..
Not a very good photo, given it was taken at 9.30pm, but I hope it's going to look stunning. It's going to be a huge colour and weave project requiring some maths! There will be 6 ends of each colour running the length of the warp, and then I'm going to be weaving the weft in the same colour pattern.... Not sure how wide the weft stripes will be yet, maybe wider than the weft stripes. I probably won't know until I start weaving.
Best get spinning!
We're now at nearly 500 posts in the Big-Stuff SAL in the Ravelry group, and have had quite a few finished objects, and people starting on their second project. I've finished my jumper... but haven't managed to take a photo. Must do better! I think I need one made completely from my own fibre, so the next batch of Cambrian Wool Sweater Packs I dye... one is going to be mine!
I think that little lot should keep me busy for a while, particularly as there are some behind the scenes projects that I need to think about more before I can share them with you!
There are a few things that matter to me when it comes to how I run the business. I occasionally share bits and pieces on the blog.
One of the big things that matters to me in how I do things, is waste. Everything that I do is designed to minimise the amount of stuff that gets thrown away. To me it makes perfect sense, less waste reduces costs, and is better for the environment.
So what do I mean when I talk about reducing waste?
For starters running a business means lots of deliveries arriving with me. If I can, I re-use that packaging. If I can't reuse it then it will be recycled. I bulk order as much as possible to minimise the amount of packaging that arrives with me, and where possible will buy options that are re-fills.
When I dye I try to reduce the amount of plastic that I use. I've yet to develop a satisfactory no-plastic method, but I keep trying. The only paper kitchen roll I use is to test colours, anything that needs wiping up is done using washable towels and cloths. In terms of dyes, I make sure that the dye ends up on the fibre, and stays there. I use professional quality dyes responsibly, next-to-no dye ends up going in to the waste water system.
Our water come from a spring, so I'm also aware of trying to reduce the amount I use in summer. I try to strike a balance between enough to make sure fibre is rinsed well, and avoiding waste. Water for soaking fibre before dyeing is used to water the garden. I also use a biologically friendly, degradable, scentless, detergent.
When I send out orders I try to minimise the amount of packaging that you get. I don't do fancy tissue paper wrapping or pretty stickers. I know that it's probably more pleasurable to open a parcel that feels like a present, but that tissue paper has taken resources to make, and even if you recycle it I still feel it's an unnecessary "extra". Instead I send out fibre in a grip-seal plastic bag. And yes, plastic is less green than paper, but most wasteful of all is having to replace an order that has got damaged in transit due to water or scent damage. The bags I use are good quality and can be re-used for multiple tasks for years.
The mailer bags themselves are made from recycled plastic, and are bio-degradable.
For those same reasons the only "extra" you get in a parcel is a small sample of fibre. I could create lots of lovely branded "stuff" but in our house most of that "stuff" just ends up going straight to the recycling bin. I don't need a pretty postcard, or a bookmark. Minimising extras also reduces my costs, which means you pay less. Yes I can get things printed for minimal cost, but it's amazing how 10p here, and 5p there starts to add up when you work out prices for things. Fancy packaging also takes more time to do, I'd rather devote my limited hours to dyeing, which again means that I can charge less.
Cambrian, not to be confused with Cumbria (home to Woolfest, Herdwick sheep, and English), is an area in the central of Wales. Put bluntly, it's that bit in the middle. The bit that when you look at a map seems rather unpopulated, and doesn't have much by way of roads...
It's been described as the Green Desert of Wales (because of the lack of people and roads, not due to the rainfall!), and if you want to see the stars there's practically no light pollution. What we do have a lot of is sheep... one visitor from the US commented to me that she had no idea just how many sheep she'd see on an almost continual basis.
I've always found it a real shame that I couldn't get more local wool... We don't have a farm ourselves, and whilst I know of ways I could source fleece, and have it processed I could never manage to do it on a scale where it made economic sense.
However, there is now a CIC (Community Interest Company) who are doing just that. They're buying up the fine wool clip from farms in the Cambrian Mountains, and getting it processed in to yarn and combed top. The sheep they're using are known as Mules, a mule in this context is a crossbreed sheep. The upland sheep around here are Welsh Mountains, they're small, hardy, excellent mothers, and do well on the upland areas. However their fleece isn't very fine, and the lambs aren't quick growing, or large enough for the modern meat market. So many farmers use a BFL Ram, and create a cross-breed. This gives the best of both worlds. For our purposes as spinners that means the fleece is much finer, longer, and far more useful for clothing. If you're careful about the fleeces you select, you can easily find fibre that looks like this. I've been in the Newtown Wool Marketing Board sorting depot a couple of times, and this sort of fleece is not unusual.
And the really good part... I now stock the wool top. And it's beautiful.
I will of course be dyeing it in all my usual dyeing styles, but I also wanted to do something that linked the wool back to the landscape. So I've developed 5 colourway packs, called Colours of Cambria. For me, these are the accent colours of home, there's a Pinterest Board with some inspiration images, and the packs.
I need to get some more dyed up for the online shop, but hope to do that this week, when they're available you'll be able to find them here.
We've had a bit of a chat in the Ravelry group recently about using up 100g chunks of fibre, but the nice thing about this wool is that you can also buy it as commercially spun yarn, in lots of colours and in DK and Fingering weight. If you fancy getting some hand dyed yarn then my neighbours Wrigglefingers and Barber Black Sheep stock the base.
I did some speed spinning and knitting to get a sample ready for Woolfest using one of the Colours of Cambria packs, together with 100g of the undyed fibre.
and then turned it in to a Punctuated cowl. It's soft, but has good structure, it won't end up looking pilled and fluffy where it rubs against your coat. It certainly passed the Mum prickle test.
I hope you're going to enjoy working with something that comes from the place I call home...
Yes, you read that right! There will be a Team Hilltop Cloud in this years Spinzilla.
I was talked in to it by the Handspinning News UK team who were pretty keen to get another team based in the UK.
Spinzilla is a global event, similar in many ways to the Tour de Fleece, but where as the Tour is a chilled out, just try to spin every day challenge, Spinzilla is a little more hardcore! This time you do have to record the yardage you spin, and there is an element of friendly competition. It runs from October 3rd- October 9th.
The team itself is made up of 25 spinners, and the only way to sign up is via the Spinzilla website from September 1st. Registration opens at 10am EDT, which I am assured is 3pm UK time. Once the spaces have been filled then that's it, and it's not a process I have any control over, so please don't send me any messages asking to be on the team. The link to register will be here when registration goes live. It costs $10 and all money raised goes to the Needle Arts Mentoring Programme.
I'm not going to be competing directly myself, but I will be cheering you all along, and am being aided by an assistant who is going to be spinning along with you. The team thread on Ravelry can be found here, you're welcome to come and start chatting with us before registration starts. Officially we're based in the UK, but spinners from anywhere in the world are welcome to join us.
As a special Spinzilla celebration I've created a special Bach Pack colour way that I'm calling Shetland. It's roughly based around the colours of the islands, crystal clear sea, stormy skies, moorland grasses, and the red of agricultural buildings.
It's not available yet as I only dyed the first batch today, but here's a little clip of me working through the colour creation. Many Spinzilla spinners choose to use fleece (though not all), so I wanted to create something that was a bit of a break from miles of natural coloured singles. It will be available on the Superfine Shetland base only. This will be a limited edition colour way, but will be available for anyone to buy, you don't have to be a Team Hilltop Cloud team member to get your hands on one. I'll be announcing when they're available via the shop mailing list.
Back in March I set the members of the Hilltop Cloud Ravelry group a challenge. I called it In5pire.
The group has always been focused on sharing what we make, so I wanted to do something to celebrate the 5th anniversary of Hilltop Cloud that was all about sharing, making, and was something that anyone could join in with.
The challenge was to take one of the images I put together on a special Pinterest Board, and to use one of them as the start of a design process. They could create whatever they wanted, but they had to document their progress!
58 people took part, and an amazing 21 got their projects finished by the June deadline. There were art yarns, gradients, lace weight, cabled yarns. Some designed their own patterns, others ventured in to free form knitting and weaving, other used classic pattern drafts.
The one common thread were the set of inspiration images, na that they were all using Hilltop Cloud fibre.
If you have some spare time then it's worth browsing through the thread, or if you just want the shortened version this link just shows posts containing photos. It's well worth looking through.
After a short delay, while I travelled up and down the country teaching, I finally managed to sit down with Jill Shephered aka. wriggglefingers (who rather handily is also a spinning tutor, and used to teach Design in schools).
There were prizes on offer, not for the most technically difficult project, but for the one we felt showed the most evolution, the most problem solving skills, and the most thorough testing and documentation. It was really tough as so many of the entries had done an amazing job.
In the end our winner was this shawl.
It was designed by Anne-Lise. She had already spun her yarn before the challenge started, but the motifs used in the shawl went through a huge number of changes while she settled on the right combination.
From her project notes-
My inspiration is this one, which inspires me because it is both nature and culture, new and ancient, it is still here and at the same time lost to us. I will try to incorporate those thoughts into the design.
April 20, 2016Have been swatching.
Barbara Abbey tells us in her book “Knitting Lace” that she has collected old, as in 1850’es old, knitted lace patterns for a long time, and in this book presents the ones she likes the best. She says many are very old, but she never once mentions her sources. I have found a very nice edge pattern in the book, which is presumably from a very old source. I have no way of finding out. It might be from Weldon’s Practical knitter, or from Miss Lambert’s “Knitting Book”, or it might not. I found a similar, but also quite different edge in Barbara Walker’s treasuries, where it’s called a Portuguese edging.
I swatched both edgings to see if the yarn liked them. They are both garter stitch, and I tried that, and then I tried st st, and the pattern definitely wants to be garter stitch.
None of the patterns were really completely as I wanted them (odd holes and weird beginnings), so I have been spending the day trying to cook up my own version.
I found a nice way that fit the number of rows I needed, but I want to let it rest over night to see if I really like it…
May 10, 2016Swatching the body stitches, I was thinking about other historical evidence in Wales, going further back.
Romans, certainly. Roads and forts. I swatched the “Roman stripe” pattern from Barbara Walker, the yarn liked that a lot. I also swatched two other patterns that looked promising, a brioche stitch and something I thought might look like stone walls, but they didn’t work at all.
Vikings, certainly. Raids and stories… We could let some cablework symbolise the Vikings, and as they would have been using arrows to defend themselves, it fits well with an arrow-and-cable combination. I swatched and found that it would be nicer with a 3-braid than a 2-braid, and I will probably add some purled sts on either side of it to make it stand out better. But the yarn liked it a lot.
So, there we have all the elements, now I can begin knitting!
Of course, things never go smoothly, and it was lovely to see how the design evolved. The finished shawl just spoke to me of Wales, in a way that I can't really put in to words.
I know Anne-Lise is currently working on writing up the design, and I think I will need a version of my own.
I knew it was going to be hard to pick just one winner, so also said that there would be a runner-up prize.
This Rose Quartz inspired a lot of people, but Carrie's interpretation in to weaving was stunning.
Her pattern draft, the manipulation of the silk & kid mohair skeins she spun to match the colouring, the use of a sparkly fibre at the edges, it all makes for a beautiful project.
A few other projects also caught our eye...
There was also a random prize, and it was won by Kate. Her free-form weaving was a really strong contender in the judging, and has definitely inspired me to actually do something with those old pictures frames I'd been saving for just this purpose!
I can't think of a better way to bring the end of my 5th anniversary celebrations to a close. I love what I get to do on a daily basis because I love seeing how my fibres get transformed. Fibre can be beautiful to look at, but until you turn it in to yarn, and then turn that yarn in to stunning, useful objects it's not reached its full potential.
If you joined in the challenge, thank you so much. Even if you didn't finish, thank you for sharing your knowledge. If you didn't join in, do go and read the thread, click through to the project pages, favourite the ones you like, and leave some comments.
Oh, and watch this space... apparently they'd like to do it again in a little while!
Hilltop Cloud- Spin Different
Beautiful fibre you'll love to work with.
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