October also became known as the month with the cold... It circulated the whole household, in fact Mum is still suffering. My fibre was at Bakewell Wool Gathering, but I was away at Lakes & Lancs Guild teaching. If you're in that area and aren't a guild member, then I can thoroughly recommend going along to a meeting to see what being a guild member is all about.
I also squeezed a couple of shop updates in, and have finally been able to get to grips with a sewing machine and some fabric I bought on my holiday in America last year.
I spent yesterday at Westhope College learning how to take patterns from existing garments without unpicking them... now I just need to get my sewing skills up to scratch so I can replicate a couple of my favourite garments!
We had some lovely warm summer days which have really helped to set the bees up for winter. They were buzzing all over the Mahonia bushes while I was at work in the dye studio, which is such a cheery sight.
My aunty was here for 2 weeks as well so we took her on a day out to see the Welsh Quilt Centre in Lampeter. sadly this is closing on November 17th, but if you can manage to get over before then I can really recommend it. I'm just sad that this piece of Welsh history is going to be lost from public display. My Aunty used to work in the garment factories in Stoke on Trent when she was younger, and while she was staying with us we showed her this BBC programme which features modern women going and working in a clothing factory through various decades.
The final part of the month has been focussed on getting the final details arranged for the 12 Days of Christmas parcels. The first batch are now ready, and will be going on sale soon. I'll be making the announcement on my email newsletter, so if you're not already subscribed then head over here. Once the first batch has sold I will be making up a second smaller batch, so keep your eyes peeled!
So what will November be bringing...
I've already got the first part of a shop update dyed, so it won't be too much longer until there's some fresh fibre in the shop. Next weekend is also my guild Open Day. If you're in the area then there's lots to see and do, it's free entry, and there will be quite a few stands selling goodies, I'll have fibre at reduced prices as I sell off all my show stock at the end of the year. I'm also doing a bit more teaching at Pembrokeshire Guild, and then I get to go on holiday at the end of the month. If you're in a guild and considering making a booking I'd urge you to get in touch sooner rather than later. My diary in 2019 is now full, and I only have a few vacancies left in 2020.
I also have a very special parcel that is waiting for me... 10kg of double sorted John Arbon BFL & Silk. I couldn't get any of this fibre last year, so am really pleased to have some available this year. I'm currently weighing up the possibilities of how to dye it...
September, as predicted was a little bit insane. The trip to teach at Bradford Guild was lovely, held in the Industrial Museum, which I am determined to make a trip back up north to visit, the bits I glimpsed as I took everything to the guild meeting room looked fascinating.
Then there was my brothers wedding, when we seemed determined to suck al the bad luck away from the bride and groom... an extra drive back to Wales for a lost bag, and a malfunctioning lock on the hotel room seemed to ensure the actual day went smoothly, and was a real delight. I have hardly any photos, there were 2 professionals circulating nearly the whole day, so I put my phone away, and enjoyed the only occasion when my extended family is likely to be in the same place at the same time.
Then to finish off the month we went to Yarndale, unfortunately not such a good weekend. Our spot by the open shutter meant the wind blew through the stand all day, and then the rain shower that arrived unexpectedly at 3pm meant a very quick dismantling of the table of yarn bowls because the rain was blowing in through the door. The other end of the stand was something of a stygian hole, so to be blunt, fibre sales were disappointing, despite 5 portable lights attempting to illuminate things. We love Yorkshire, and love visiting Skipton. Eating our fish and chips by the canal on Friday evening as become something of a tradition.
With all that in mind it seems like now is a good time to break the news about shows for next year. We are cutting back on the shows we attend. In the case of all the shows we're choosingn not to apply to exhibit it's for a variety of reasons, partly financial, and partly personal. It's in no way a reflection of the show itself, just a case of us wanting to switch things up a bit, and making the decision that is best for Hilltop Cloud. We are planning to be at Wonderwool Wales, and Bakewell Wool Gathering. At the moment it seems unlikely that I'll add any other shows to the mix, if you are in the north of the country then I will have a stand at the Association Summer School in York on Saturday August 10th, and you will be able to buy my fibres in person at the Trade Fair, and come to see what we've been doing in the class I've been teaching.
I've had a few ideas floating around for new projects, so hopefully by removing the workload of a couple of shows, I might be able to bring some of them in to fruition!
My final show for October is Bakewell Wool Gathering. This is a lovely smaller scale event, held practically in the centre of Bakewell. Then to finish off the year, my own guild is hosting an open day on 10th November. As it's my final event of the year I will be offering reductions on the remaining show stock. It should be a really nice day to come along and chat to some fellow spinners and eat cake!
My work plans for the month didn't end up going to plan... the fibres I'd expected to dye ended up being shuffled down the dyeing list. So we shall see what this month brings! I've already got the first shop update of the month part dyed, so I'm hoping to be able to list lots of new fibres later this week.
I've also got something that I'm working on behind the scenes as a bit of a Christmas treat.... Watch this space!
Kate Davies wrote a fascinating post on her blog this morning all about the intricacies of making things locally, and what it means produce things locally. You should go and read it... then come back here, where I shall pontificate in a somewhat less elegant way abut what local means to me.
Hilltop Cloud is, and always has been an international business. I send parcels all over the world every single week, and without my international customers I would not have a business.
I have always stocked a lot of British wool, and am proud to do so. Growing fleece is one thing that we do really well in this country, and have done for centuries.
However, that doesn't mean that we have a monopoly on producing excellent fibres, and there are certain types of sheep that do not do well in the British climate. Equally what Kate says about some of the British suppliers in the wool trade rings very true with my experience. There are some British business who are a nightmare to work with, I would much rather do business with a company based outside the UK that can provide me with a high quality product, excellent traceability, who are straight forward, and honest to deal with.
I am happy to bang the drum about the excellence of certain British fibres. I genuinely believe that Cambrian Wool is amongst the best pure wool top for worsted spinning in the world. But being truthful, there are many British farmers for whom the quality of their fleeces is not a priority. They chose to emphasise a different aspect of their business, and I am not going to pretend that all British wool is excellent, when it quite simply isn't. I am also a firm believer in different fibres for different purposes. There are enough things in this world that make us upset in a daily basis, and sometimes I might just need the bit of extra comfort that wrapping some responsibly sourced Mongolian cashmere around my neck provides.
For me, dyeing in Wales using the water that comes off my hillside is part of my story. But it doesn't make me in anyway superior to a person dyeing in an urban environment using the water that's piped in to their house by Severn Trent. As a nation we seem to have got caught up in the mythology of Britain is Best, however no man is an island (!), and very often British is not best. It's not best for me as a producer, or you as a consumer. The spinning community is a large and varied one. I enjoy sending a piece of my story to faraway countries, and I enjoy bringing supplies from faraway countries so that I can share their story with you. When I buy my supplies I look for companies that are doing "the right thing", treating others how they would wish to be treated. Ones with fair pricing practises, and a commitment to environmental standards.
The legislation we have, thanks to our membership of the EU, means that I can be safe in the knowledge that what I source from companies based in other European countries is responsibly produced. My business is Welsh, British, European and Global, and not necessarily in that order. I have always believed that things are better when we know more about the world in which we live, and are willing to look beyond our own borders with open eyes, and a willingness to work in partnership.
Every company is "local", they all generate income that benefits a local community somewhere. In the case of fibre production that industry is often highly specialised, and has been perfected over many generations. In the same way that it's important to support British local crafts to ensure skills are passed down it's just as important to support international "local" crafts, and thanks to the wonders of the internet it's increasingly possible to do so. The farmer who is based in South America producing my 19 micron Merino needs sell his product in just the same way as the farmer at the bottom of the road. He raises his sheep with care (sheep who are not well cared for produce poor quality wool), and is reliant on the income he generates from his wool crop. As a country who gained much of it's wealth from exporting our wool several hundred years ago it seems somewhere disingenuous to turn around and say that other countries should not be doing the same now, and by saying that we should only be buying British wool that is exactly what we are saying.
For those of us based in the UK buying wool from British sheep that is processed in the UK can mean that we have a smaller environmental impact. But as with some many things, it's not necessarily as simple as this being better for the environment, there are so many factors to consider that as a single individual it's often hard to weigh up all the issues, and often there's no single right solution. One thing that is very apparent to me, as it was to Kate in the original post that sparked off this discussion, I have much in common with a spinner over in Australia who cares passionately about these things, you are my local community.
Over the summer I've gradually built up a larger supply of felting supplies. I've always sold fibre to felters, but felt making isn't something I have much of a background in, so hadn't ever focussed too strongly on that usage of fibre.
However, I've now done a few workshops on felt making, and done more experimenting at home, so am now a bit more confident about sounding like I know what I'm talking about!
One of the new products is bias cut silk chiffon. This is 10cm wide, and because it's cut on the bias it doesn't need to be hemmed to stop it fraying. There's also 19 micron Superfine Merino pre-felt, that's also 10cm wide.
Combined together they make a really lovely nuno felted scarf, that's very easy to make even for a non-felter.
Because felt is slightly stiff the narrower width means it sits around your neck without feeling like you're wearing a mask. The low micron count means even the most sensitive skinned people can happily put this next to skin and not get prickled. I added some embellishments using some Tussah Silk and some hand dyed Silk Laps.
If you're an experienced felted then you won't need much more information on how this scarf is made, but if you're not, it's still a perfectly achievable first felting project.
I started off by putting the scarf on a strip of bubble wrap, but then I remembered one of the things I learned on a felting workshop this summer, and that I discovered I can felt things much better just using plain plastic sheeting, and no bubbles to cushion the rolling. I used the plastic sacks that my fibre is supplied in, but any plastic would work.
Lay out the pre-felt, then add a sprinkling of water. This holds the silk chiffon and the wisps of silk in place. The more you overlap the chiffon and pre-felt the narrower the scarf will be. Your embellishments need to be very fine wisps, big clumps won't stick down properly!
I use a plastic drinks bottle with a sports cap, and just a slight squirt of washing up liquid. Don't use too much soap... or you will be battling a suds mountain when you start rolling!
Once you have a rolled up parcel just push up and down on it for a couple of minutes. You don't want to start rolling until the whole thing is evenly wet, otherwise you'll rub the silk off the surface of the wool.
After this nothing will be stuck in place yet, but the water will be holding it in position.
You can now roll the whole thing up more tightly and start to roll the whole bundle backwards and forwards under your hands. Do this roughly 100 times, then unroll, and roll in the other direction. Occasionally I used a scrunched up plastic bag and rubbed along the length of the scarf on the back, focusing on the part of the merino that overlapped the chiffon. I particularly focussed on the middle of the scarf, because that's always the bit that is most cushioned in the bundle. Normally when felting you'd turn the project 90 degrees to roll in the other direction, but that's not really possible on a long thin piece.
After a while you'll start to see the merino changing structure, and the silk will begin to stick in place.
Keep going until the chiffon has meshed in to the surface of the merino, and the silk embellishment is thoroughly stuck down.
Rinse out the soap, roll up in a towel to squash out most of the water and leave to dry. I gave mind a quick press with an iron just to smooth down the silk.
Cough, Christmas is coming.... these would make excellent gifts, certainly quicker than knitting! If you know someone crafty why not hand over the components, and let them make their own present.
Autumn feels like it's in the air. When I wake up to let the chickens out there's often been dew. After a stressful summer it also feel like the trees are starting to turn early this year. Fingers crossed for some crisp cold nights so we get some stunning colours.
Speaking of chickens, there have been additions to the menagerie. Three new Pekins, as we've said goodbye to quite a few in the past 6 months. Noddy was taken by rats, probably whilst sitting on a clutch of eggs. Kate has simply disappeared, we suspect a feral cat who lives in the barn behind the house. Wiggo was as outrageous death as she was in live, she walked up to my brother whilst he was digging our new pond, sqwarked, and fell over dead. Both Big Bird and Dusty went in to a bit of a decline, had a day in a cardboard box in the house, and then just fell asleep and didn't wakeup. Finally Froome spent the summer pottering around the place, occasionally falling over but still enjoying life, when the day came that he could no longer walk he was taken down to the vets and put to sleep.
So with all those departures it's been nice to have some fresh blood in the garden.
They were meant to be 3 new ladies... however I had my doubts about one, and then whilst feeding them breakfast there was a crow. So it's actually 2 new ladies, and a new Pekin cockerel. It was my turn to pick names this time, so they're all cyclists. The black and white boy is called Tommy after Geraint Thomas, the fetching brown bird behind him is called Pippa after Phillippa York, and there's also a pretty blonde girl called Trotty after Laura Kenny ( nee Trott).
As an aside, the Seramas I adopted last summer are slowly acquiring cricket commentator names. So far we have Tuffers, Aggers, Blowers and Ebony. If I can ever get to the point where I can tell apart the white chickens, and the brown and white ones I might be able to add to that! We named the boys Percy and Bob but given how much a pain they are I'm starting to wish we'd gone with Geoffrey.
We've also added these pair to the menagerie. Quentin and Clarissa are Miniature Appleyard Ducks. They're still not quite fully grown, Quentin will get more colourful and get the more typical mallard colours as he grows up.
They've cause much hilarity over the past month, mostly around bedtime, and their lack of belief in the need for one.
On the bee front it's been an ok summer for the bees, despite the hot sunny weather it's been a good honey harvest, but not an outstanding one. The cold spring meant the colonies were slow to build up numbers. However, we have 4 healthy hives to take in to winter, and may be able to take a few more frames off before leaving the hives alone to make their winter stores.
On the work front September is going to be busy!
I've just added the first shop update of the month to the online shop but am not sure how many more updates I'll be able to fit in. Next weekend I am up at Bradford Guild of Weaver Spinners and Dyers teaching an art yarn workshop.
The following weekend in September I'll be heading out of Wales again, because my little brother is getting married. Then the following weekend we'll be back up at Yarndale.
All that means that time in the dye studio might get a bit tight, particularly as there are 2 fibre clubs to send out. However, as a rough plan I am hoping to dye some more Romney, Silk & Linen, and there will be some Rambouillet and I also have a stock of BFL, Cashmere & Silk to dye. There probably won't be any special edition, non-standard base fibre this month, but I have finally managed to get some more of the double sorted, very special BFL & Silk out of John Arbon! It's not with me yet, but I have been promised it will be ready at some point in September, so I should be able to dye it in October. I need to have a think about how I want to dye it as there will only be 10kg....
On the workshop front the AGWSD Summer School brochure has just been released, which means I can now properly tell everyone that I will be teaching!
It will be a full week based around spinning hand dyed fibre. If you're not a guild member you can still apply to attend.
Around a year ago I wrote a blogpost about the packaging that use.
I've always tried to use packaging responsibly, from the very first day when I set up the business, and have always tried to make sure that you receive fibre in the best possible condition. If I put fibre in a piece of packaging it's because I think it needs to be there. Tissue paper might be more recyclable, but it's fundamentally useless at doing anything other than looking pretty.
As a small business I've always been limited by what packaging products I can buy. I might buy in relatively large amounts, but I'm no where near large enough to be commissioning custom designed packaging.. Finally however the packaging industry seems to be catching up and there's now a huge amount of biodegradable items on the market! Of course newness of products, and limited availability means that nearly all these items are more expensive, but for the most part it's not by a vast amount. One thing that's become very clear when I compare my accounts, everything I buy is costing more than it was 2 years ago. I didn't pass on the postage price rises in April this year,so I suspect that I will need to charge slightly more for postage once I swap to using all the new packaging.
I've used biodegradable mailers for a long time, but I'm now using ones that are biodegradable, and made from recycled material. The first orders using these mail bags went out this morning, and as I run out of stock of the other sizes I will gradually switch over to using them.
If you get one of the new bags the biodegradable additive means that they are not recyclable, they need to go in with your normal waste. If you have a compost heap you can also add them to that.
I've also been on the hunt for a more environmentally friendly version of the clear grip seal bags that I use, and finally one exists!
These are still re-usable, but I can also heat-seal the top, meaning them can go through the postal system with no further packaging. These pair of bags have been travelling backward and forward through the UK mail system a few times to check how they stand up to the abuse of the postal system. They're still waterproof, but are now biodegradable so will break down in to compost. The outer is made from renewable wood pulp starch. These bags will compost, but I'd recommend including them with your regular rubbish because a household compost heap will take a while to break these down.
Once they arrive you can tear off the top, off over the pretty contents, and still use the bag for your own fibre storage.
I also did this to one of them....
Finally, I'll also be swapping over the cellophane bags that I use for things like Gradient Packs, and any other form of fibre that uses lots of small chunks of fibre. I can now get a clear film bag made from cellulose film (wood pulp from managed plantations, which again means they're compostable.
A few fibres have already been sent out using these bags, because I have ordered more bags than you can imagine to work out the size and type that works best!
I do sill have quite a decent stock of the old bags, but if you get one of the new ones, it will have this sticker on the seal.
You won't see all of the new packaging all at once. If I still have a few hundred bags left then it would be just as damaging for me to throw them away as it would for me to send you the fibre in an old style bag that you can then reuse.
The only form of packaging that will remain as non-biodegrable plastic is the small label bands I use on the fibre. I have tried other versions, but when you rummage around in a sack of 50 braids to find the right one strung labels tangle up, the string rubs on the surface of the fibre, and the hole in the card breaks. Card and staples cause similar issues. Some dyers individually bag every single braid, but I'd rather go the route of a single small piece of non-biodegrabale plastic, than use large numbers of bags, particularly because so many of you order multiple braids of fibre. I'm very limited in storage space, so can't hang everything up, so my labelling solution has to be robust.Eventually I suspect that tyvek wristbands will be made out of a new material, but for now it's just a case of waiting for the manufacturers to catch up with consumer demand.
We'll still be doing our bit to re-use or recycle the packaging that comes to us, there are 3 of us working from home, and we often don't fill our 240L rubbish bin when it's collected every 3 weeks, so I think we do a pretty good job.
We're all so used to be able to turn on a tap and get as much water as we want... Clean, ready to drink, and in plentiful supply. Our main complaint is usually that it doesn't taste very nice in certain parts of the country.
However, we're not on mains water supply, neither are any of our neighbours, or many of the rural properties in this part of Wales. We all rely on springs, wells, streams and lakes. Normally this isn't a problem, this is Wales, water is one thing we have in plentiful supply, it's one of our biggest exports. If you live in western England then part of your supply probably comes from Welsh reservoirs.
Then this happened... a miserly 2mm of rain in 3 weeks.
Streams started emptying, springs ran dry. Normally reliable water supplies no longer existed. Luckily, we seem to have a spring that is well supplied, and thankfully we never ran out water. Though thankfully we fixed our leaky pipe in early June...
Our water supply system is old, and for a long time we'd had a very damp patch in the garden. We presumed it was a spring, but when all the other damp patches in the garden dried up we did some investigating. The copper pipe that brings the water to the house had developed a huge hole...
It's now all replaced with brand new plastic pipe, that doesn't leak, and will last a very long time.
This is the marsh that supplies our water. Under all this reed grass are 2 plastic pipes with holes in them. The water seeps in and runs in to a collecting tank.
At this stage it's still swamp water, but underneath the deposits that have built up over decades the water is actually remarkably clear and clean. Even better, despite the dry weather, it's still running! That trickle provides our water supply. Enough water for 3 adults to do all their household activities, and for me to run a dyeing business. Pretty incredible really.
From that collecting tank a pipe runs downhill. This photo really gives a sense of how steep the valleys are in this part of Wales. The storage tank is just visible; the wooden fencing to the left of the green bush.
This tank holds our water supply, it means that we can do all the normal daily things, even though the water is only a trickle. The tank empties during the day, then overnight fills back up again. We upgraded the old 1000L tank with a 2500L tank a few years ago. The old tank now sits in the garden so we can water plants in dry weather. This big tank is set up with an overflow system. In winter a pipe takes the water back to the stream that the spring normally flows in to. In summer we can bypass that system, and bring the overflow directly down to the garden. Even throughout the dry spell we've had a trickle of water much of the time that we've been able to use to keep things alive, and ensure the fruit bushes still crop.
From that tank, another pipe flows down to the house (this is the one we replaced this year), and it gets cleaned and filtered. (the blue pipe in the photo is the overflow going to the stream) A UV light kills all the bacteria and viruses, and there's also a pH filter to clean out any sediment, and to lower the pH. Our water is naturally around pH 6, and will slowly dissolve all the copper pipes in the house if it's not raised. The water is also very rich in iron (that's what the black deposits are on the side of the collecting tank). Our kettle doesn't fill up with limescale... we get iron-scale!
All of this is why I rarely dye to a recipe, particularly for complicated colourways. Our water supply can be incredibly variable. During the dry weather is was noticeably more acidic, and had more mineral content as the water was running through the soil more slowly. When we get a heavy spell of rain (like the 2 inches that have fallen over the weekend) the water becomes cloudy with mud. All these things change how the dyes behave, it's generally ok for very simple solid colours, but the ones that rely on complex colour interactions... just don't play ball when I dye them at different times of the year!
I love silk.
I love spinning it, love dyeing it, and just think it's such a wonderful fibre.
But it has it's own terminology, and that can get confusing, someone asked me about it via email recently, so I thought a summary on the blog might be helpful for other people.
First things first, what is silk?
I sell 2 kinds of silk, and they're the kind of silk you're most likely to encounter as a spinner.
All silk comes from silk worms. We're all familiar with the idea that caterpillars build a cocoon in which to turn in to a butterfly or moth. A silk worm does this by spinning out a strand of silk, similar in the way a spider spins out a web.
The best quality, shiniest silk comes from a reeled cocoon.
By Claude Valette - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14980967
This produces a single strand of continuous silk. In order for this process to occur the cocoon must be processed before the moth emerges. However, this isn't wasteful, for people who process the silk the pupae is a valuable source of protein Each stage of further processing then goes on to make use of each lesser grade of silk, usually depending on consistency of the fibre length, and fibre type. There's next to no waste, everything gets used, and as spinners we use nearly all of the different grades of silk, either as top, brick, noil, or laps.
The key exception to this, and explains their comparatively high price is silk hankies. These are a whole cocoon stretched over a frame, so they can't be processed to remove as much value from the different grades.
Tussah vs Mulberry
There are many types of moth who produce silk during their pupal stage. The most common are Tussah and Mulberry.
Which moth provides which kind starts to get complicated, but generally Mulberry Silk comes from the Bombyx types of moth. This is sometime why Mulberry silk is also called Bombyx silk. Tussah silk comes from other types of moth. However, the types we usually have available as spinners are all farmed.
So what are the differences that matter to us as spinners?
These are both silk top.
Bottom fibre in green is tussah, top in blue is mulberry.
Mulberry is shinier, and much more compact. The tussah feels slightly toothier, with a little bit more wave to the fibre.
Mulberry also has a longer, more consistent staple length.
They will both spin in a shiny silk yarn. But for maximum shine I tend to go for mulberry over tussah. For blending with wool tussah is generally a better option, as it matches most wool staple length better.
If you're a beginner, it honestly doesn't matter which kind of silk you choose to spin. A good quality Mulberry is in some ways easier than Tussah as the staple length is more consistent. However, Tussah can be slightly grippier, and easier to keep control of. There's no one correct fibre to begin with, try both!
The main thing is to keep your hands far enough apart. Remember the staple length, if you hands get too close together they will be pulling on the opposite ends of the same piece of fibre. Silk is incredibly strong, you will never draft silk with your hands too close together.
Some people advocate spinning silk from the fold with a backwards point of twist draft, and using a high twist level. Personally I spin straight from the end, using a regular short forwards draw, with relatively low twist levels (less than I would use for wool in a yarn of the same thickness). I find that gives me a yarn with maximum shine, and that's what I want from my silk! So experiment, find the way that works for you.
Unlike wool which usually only comes in 3 commercially processed forms (combed top, roving or batts), there are a huge variety of ways in which silk is processed.
The most common form of commercially dyed silk is as tops. This is a thin strip with all the original fibres aligned in parallel. It will be one of the forms of silk that is processed first, and as a result contains high quality fibres, of even consistency and quality. Both fibres in the photos above are combed top.
The form of silk that I dye most often are Silk Bricks. In essence these are a thicker piece of combed top. They are called a brick because they are bundled up in to a dense rectangular form. They're easy to dye because you can spread them out. Dyeing Mulberry Silk top with hand painting techniques is a little like wrestling eels.
Other forms of silk you'll come across
- Silk Laps
These are the waste from the processing. When the silk cocoons are carded the long fibres pass through the machines, but the shorter, clumpier fibres are left behind. They build up on the drums of the carding machine, and are then cut off in enormous sheets of textured silk fibre. You can spin them by themselves, and get a shiny textured silk yarn, but where they excel is for adding texture to blends. They also work wonderfully on the surface of felt.
These are the bits and pieces that are leftover inside the cocoon. They're lumpy and bobbly and short. They're great for adding a tweed texture to blends.
These are a whole cocoon, stretched over a frame. They look like a square handkerchief, hence the name. They are also sometimes stretched in a cap shape, which do exactly the same thing. Because they contain a fibres that are so long they can be a real battle to spin. The best way I found to spin them was mounted on a distaff, and in the same way that you would spin linen. However, they are versatile...
You can knit with unspun hankies
Photos here, More details here.
I love using them directly on the surface of a piece of felt, they form a thin spiders web over the top of the wool.
Knitty Article with more details on drafting them out, and spinning with them here.
They will give you a textured, uneven yarn. Do not try to spin these on a smooth, even thread! Another way to use the is to take a pair of scissors to them, cut them in to strips that match the staple length of you wool, and card them with other fibres.
Silk comes in various grades, particularly mulberry silk. The grade refers to the quality, both in consistency of fibre length, and the amount of straight, non-waste fibres that are present. Silk top is usually A-Grade, it's such a narrow strip of fibre that you will spot any inconsistencies. Silk Brick comes in several grades. A, B1, B2 and C are the most common.
As a spinner, do not bother with anything less than A grade. It's just an exercise in frustration. If you do have inconsistent fibre then spinning from the fold with a point of twist draft helps to keep the fibre under control.
However, what's coming in to the UK at the moment is of nowhere near the quality that it used to be. I have bricks from 6 years ago, and compared to the Silk Bricks I can buy now they're in every way superior. There seems to be a tendency for far too much seracin to be left in the fibres. Seracin is the glue that the caterpillar uses to glue the fibres together. It has to be removed before processing by boiling and use of an alkali. If it's not properly removed the machinery tends to damage the silk, and you also struggle to dye the fibre as it acts as a resist to water.
As a result I'm switching away from dyeing bricks and am moving towards dyeing silk top. This seems to be better processed and better quality. I'm having it specially made in a thicker put-up to make it easier to hand paint so I can get the same colour effects as you're used to seeing on my silk bricks.
If you want to read more about silk, then the Wormspit website is filled with useful information, but is quite in depth.
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.
Hilltop Cloud- Spin Different
Beautiful fibre you'll love to work with.
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Dugoed Bach, Mallwyd, Machynlleth,
Powys, SY20 9HR