If you've not received your parcel yet, then look away now!
Are are the videos and fibre information to go alongside the June round of the Non-Wool Club. The spare fibre from previous rounds is now live in the Non-Wool section of the shop if any of the previous videos have wetted your appetite to try these fibres.
We're on to a new 3 month block of this club, some fibres are ones we encountered last time, but others are brand new.
I've started off with Viscose. This is a shiny fibre, in many ways similar to silk, but it's a manufactured cellulose fibre. The plant material is turned in to a pulp, and then forced through fine jets producing the fine stapled fibre. You may also see this fibre described as Rayon. The smooth, shiny nature of the fibres produces a yarn with very little memory or bounce so I think it's best suited to being spun more finely. I prefer to spin it straight from the end of the length of top to produce maximum shine, but you may like to try spinning it from the fold if you're struggling with the fibres getting away from you. The amount of twist will depend on your intended use, knitting yarns can use much less twist, but if you plan on weaving with it them add more twist as it will suffer from abrasion from the heddles and reed.
The next fibre in this round of parcels is Ramie. This is another cellulose plant fibre, but not a manufactured fibre, this is a traditional base fibre like Linen (Flax) or Hemp. It comes from the nettle family; Boehmeria Nivea and Boehmeria Tenacissima. These plants grow incredibly quickly, they can reach a heigh of 2 or 3 metres and be harvested several times in a single year. When linen is processed you can remove the outer stem by hitting it, but this isn't possible with ramie. The inner stem is instead treated with lye (the same chemical used to make soap) and that dissolves the pulpy material, leaving behind the fibrous vascular bundles. The fibre is then combed to make the length of top we are spinning from. The fibre has a long staple length and develops a beautiful lustre when spun. Be sure to keep your hands well spaced, and don’t use too much twist or you’ll end up with string. This fibre blends beautifully and evenly and adds strength to your finished yarn. You can spin this one from the fold but it really does lead to a slightly hairy yarn, rather than one with beautiful smoothness and shine. It works better when spun more finely as it has no memory or bounce, but it does drape beautifully, and as with all bast fibres the more you handle and work it the softer it becomes.
The final fibre is a new one for the club. Yak down is a very fine stapled fibre, at 17-19 microns this is nearly as soft as cashmere, and with many similar properties though is slightly shorter in staple length. The yak is collected when the animals moult, and is then commercially dehired to remove the diff guard hairs leaving behind the soft undercoat. The short staple length will be your biggest battle with this fibre, if you try to use a short forward draw you will continually feel as if you are having to grasp the fibres for grim death to stop them getting away from you. Switch to a point of twist draft and it will all become much easier. Don't panic if your yarn isn't super even, plying will make a huge difference to the final yarn. You can use lots of twist with this fibre, in fact lack of twist will produce a yarn that is likely to pill very quickly. If you over-ply your yarn slightly you will increase the bounce and memory, making this yarn ideal for things like hats and cowls. It will work well when spun more thickly, though thinner yarns are also beautiful in fibres of this type.
I finished this cardigan a couple of weeks ago and it's already got so much wear. The combination of an open front, but still with a Mohair fuzz has proved to be perfect in the Welsh spring.
I spun the yarn from some hand dyed BFL & Silk I bought from Mandacrafts a couple of years ago.
It's dyed in what I refer to as a repeating style, so the blocks of colour repeat at a regular interval. Fine if you want stripes, but I knew I wanted to use this in a garment, and didn't want broad stripes that I would want to match up on the arms and the body. So I stripped it in to thinner pieces of varying thicknesses, and broke those up in to chunks of varying lengths.
That gave me 1100m of heavy fingering/sport weight yarn....
I also had some Mohair singles that I'd intended to use as a carry-along yarn in a project, and thought it would work well with this BFL & Silk to allow e to work the yarn at a looser gauge and to knit something larger.
I swatched the 2 together to check I liked the fabric, and then dyed a small sample to bring out the orange shade in the BFL & Silk.
I really fancied an open fronted longer length cardigan, and found Mama Vertebrae, which is excellent for handspun because it gives you instructions that cover 4 different yarn weights (fingering, DK, light Worsted and Aran). The open front makes it very size flexible, and the top down construction means you can put the sleeve stitches on holders, knit until the body is long enough, and then go back o use up every last scrap on the sleeves.
We're getting in to my favourite time of year. The garden is starting to come alive, the weather is warming up, and the days are blissfully long. After a winter of dashing from house to dye studio it's blissful to be able to stand at the top of the garden and feel the sun on my face.
I've been out and about quite a lot over the last month, which has meant that the online shop hasn't had quite as many shop updates as is normal. However, I've nearly finished working on a commission project, and have got the first batch of Tour de Fleece team fibre sent out, so as we go in to June I should be able to ficus a bit more on the bread and butter work of dyeing lots of fibre in lots of colours!
On a personal spinning note I've just finished a big batch of spinning for a cardigan. I'm not going to go in to too much detail, because I think it's deserving of it's own post with the technical information on spinning to specific grists for certain projects. However, I was rather pleased with the colour I dyed it with once the fibre was spun. I used some undyed Cambrian, and then dyed the yarn because I wanted this lovely glazed effect with a deep red with a wash of black over the top. The colour is going to go perfectly with some of my summer dresses, here's hoping I get the project finished before the warm weather disappears!
This time last year we were just in the middle of sorting out leaking pipes that bring in our water supply, which eventually led to building our new rockery and pond...One year on, and we can see what survived the drought last summer, and the winter, so it was off to Aberconwy Nursery to fill in some gaps. If you're ever up on the north Wales coast this is a lovely little place, filled with some really unusual alpines. While we were up on the north coast we went to Plas Mawr in Conwy. This is a stunning Tudor town house, that is amazingly well preserved. I can't believe we've never been here before, but it's an absolute delight.
One of my 2019 resolutions was to make more of the opportunities I get when I travel round the country teaching at workshops, so when I was teaching at Oxford Guild I came home in a slightly circuitous way, and spent a couple of nights on the outskirts of Milton Keynes, and went to Bletchley Park.
I spent the whole day here, getting utterly immersed in the work of the World War II code breakers. By the end of it my brain hurt, I don't think I'd have been selected to work as a code breaker!
The Non-Wool section of the shop has continued to expand, and there are now lots of unusual fibres that are not commonly available in the UK. In particular one that I've not seen before is Wild Giant Himalayan Stinging Nettle. This fibre comes from Nepal, growing in the foothills of the Himalaya at heights of 1800-3000m. It can grow up to 3m in 1 yer, and the harvesting process actually encouraged the plant to put on better root growth which stabilises the soil structure. This reduced land slides and soil erosion. Local people do all the harvesting and scrutching, providing vital employment in this area in a way that encourages the protection of the local forests, as the plant will only grow when there is a tree canopy above it. It spins in a very similar way to Ramie, making a beautiful smooth, strong yarn that would be great for lace or summer tops.
And so to the final parcel of this round of the Non-Wool Club. The next 3 month round still has a few spaces, you can subscribe here. I still have a few new fibres to introduce to you, so this next round will hopefully be interesting for everyone, and of course the colour palettes are completely different.
The May round features 2 different plant fibres, and a different form of silk.
I've recommended you start off with the silk first, as it will be the most familiar to you. Muga Silk is an Indian form of silk, produced in Assam. It has a shimmering golden colour, with slight green undertone. It very much reminds me of the colour of the 9 carat wedding band that was my Grandmas. This silk will increase with lustre with every washing, the staple length is longer than Tussah Silk, and it really has a beautiful sheen and fineness. the staple length is longer than Tussah Silk, closer to the length of Mulberry Silk.
The next fibre we have is cotton. Cotton is a plant fibre, but very different to any we've spun so far. It's very fine, and very short stapled. It's hard to over twist cotton, and to will still feel soft even when you add a lot of twist. Cotton work best when spun as a fine single, if you want a thicker yarn you usually combine multiple strands. I can really recommend the Cotton edition of Ply magazine to learn more about this fibre. Use the fastest ratio you have, and you are looking to draft using a modified form of long draw straight from the end of the combed sliver. Keep adding twist and pulling your hands apart until the lumps even out and you can't draft any further, this is the point at which your yarn has enough twist to hold it together. You can add lots of plying twist as well, this fibre can handle it! If you own any lightweight spindles this might be the ideal fibre to spindle spin, and if you own a quill for your wheel this is the perfect fibre to spin from the point.
Our final fibre is flax. When spun this become linen thread. We're going to treat this exactly as we did the Hemp last month, so traditionally this is spun in the opposite direction to normal with an S twist (is your wheel going anticlockwise). You will find it helpful to wet you front hand as you go along, this really does help to smooth the fibres and to hold the yarn together. We are spinning flax tow, these are shorter fibres that will naturally spin in to a more textured yarn that you would get if you were spinning from flax strick. Just as with the Hemp I recommend a gentle boil in a mild washing soda solution to soften the hand of this yarn once it is plied.
Of course you can't mention April without talking about Wonderwool Wales. It's the high point of my spring, and this year it was my only big show. Friday night and Saturday were wet and wild, but still nowhere near as bad as the year it snowed... 2012 was my first show, and in hindsight it's a miracle I decided to carry on with shows! Woolfest the same year was biblically wet as well!
If you couldn't make it to Wonderwool here's a quick peek at what we had with us....
Earlier in the month I got chance to have a go at something new. Our guild hosted Lucy from Tidekettle Paper for a paper making weekend workshop.
I failed completely at taking photos, but I did have a lot of fun putting all sorts of fibre inclusions in with the more traditional paper pulps. The one above uses some pieces of hand dyed silk laps. I also got let loose with the dyes on the Sunday afternoon, and got in far too much of a mess turning paper pulp all sorts of pretty colours!
I've also been carrying on with my sewing, and turned a piece of Liberty lawn in to a new top. My selfie skills haven't improved, though my ability with the sewing machine is getting better! The pattern is the Rochester by Maven Patterns, and it was a real delight to sew, though next time I might modify it to have long sleeves.
I've also been doing more tapestry weaving, with another couple of traditional hangings, one using the new Naturally Dyed Superfine Merino, and also using up the leftovers from the silk sampler pack I used to weave the rainbow silk scarf.
Duck fans will be pleased to know that Clarissa has managed to lay another egg following her egg bound drama. Though at the moment if she's laying anymore she's hiding them somewhere in the garden, which is now fenced the entire way round to stop them escaping... there were a couple of scary mornings when Quentin got out on to the main road, requiring humans to flag down lorries whilst still in their pyjamas.
It's starting to feel like summer is on the way, and whilst my useless House Martins have yet to return, we did spend a lovely morning on the beach watching the Sand Martins. The House Martins now have an artificial nest to use, and did eventually arrive last year at the beginning of July.
I'm away at a couple of events over the next month.
By now the UK parcels for the April Non-Wool Club have arrived, so I sat down and filmed some short video clips showing me spinning them. I am aware that these are probably not the most professionally shot videos in the world, but do hope you find them helpful.
If you aren't a member of this club and are thinking about joining then I plan on opening up the next round of 3 month subscriptions at the start of May. The cost will be similar to the current prices for the club, though may alter slightly depending on the exact fibres I use. There will be some repeated fibres, but will be some new ones as well.
These are the colours that are going to inspire the next round, if you're interested in joining then select the option on the poll below, I pre-order all the fibre required for this club before putting it on sale to make sure I have adequate supplies. So voting helps make sure I can meet demand.
The colour options last time were inspired by the Italian landscape, and this time we're going to Spain.
So with the admin out of the way, on to the videos and spinning hints.
The first fibre that I recommend you start with this month is the mulberry silk. We spun 2 fibres last month that were similar, the tussah silk , and the viscose. If you still have your tussah silk, compare and contrast the 2 types, you may also find this old blogpost on types of silk useful.
The main thing is to remember the staple length. Mulberry Silk is more like spinning a long wool, so a relaxed grip with you hand holding the fibre supply is crucial. I favour a short forward draw for my mulberry silk, without using too much twist, it maximises the shine and makes the yarn feel very soft and luxurious next to your skin.
The next fibre I recommend you spin is the Ramie. Ramie is a bast plant fibre like linen, so hasn't needed the same level of chemical processing as that required for viscose of rayon. Ramie is processed from plants belonging to the nettle family; Boehmeria Nivea and Boehmeria Tenacissima. These plants grow incredibly quickly, they can reach a heigh of 2 or 3 metres and be harvested several times in a single year. When linen is processed you can remove the outer stem by hitting it, but this isn't possible with ramie, which is one of the things that contributes to the price. The inner stem is then treated with lye (the same chemical used to make soap) and that dissolves the pulpy material, leaving behind the fibrous vascular bundles. The fibre is then combed to make the length of top we're spinning from.
The final fibre to spin this month is Hemp. This is a very ancient textile plant, one of the first to be spun in to yarn as long ago as 10,000 years. Unfortunately the familial connection with the plant that produces cannabis meant that this very useful, very ecologically sound textile was largely abandoned. The Hemp plant that is used for textile production is completely different to the plant that produces the THC chemical which is needed to produce a high or be useful on a medical basis. Hemp was commonly grown until the 1900's, but is now experiencing a revival particularly as it is one of the fastest growing plants, producing a crop very quickly, and requiring half the amount of water and yielding twice as much usable fibre as cotton grown in the same field.
In the video I recommend reading the Flax edition of Ply magazine, this is available as a digital download and is well worth the money to get a sense of how to work with this bast fibre, as in essence you can treat flax (linen) the same way as the hemp.
Finally some advice on finishing this yarn. I treated it as I would linen thread, and gave it a gentle boil in a washing soda solution, the yarn came out much softer and more flexible. I wanted to test it because this normally something that's done with undid thread, and I was a little concerned that the colour might leach out from the fibre. However, the water was slightly lilac, but not really enough for me to not recommend this method.
I suspect for everyone reading it's felt like this month has been rather quiet....
But in reality it's been rather busy. I decided to get on with my dyeing for the stand at Wonderwool Wales so I knew if I was short of any particular fibre base. I also wanted to tick the job off my list. I suspect I'm not alone in finding that the political uncertainty is making me somewhat anxious, and getting the Wonderwool dyeing out of the way meant I had one less thing that I was worrying about.
Speaking of political uncertainty, I always try to be respectful of people who have different political views than me, however I am going to come out and say this bluntly. Brexit will be a disaster for our country. It in no way allows us to "take back control" and leaving the EU will solve none of the fundamental issues with unfairness and lack of political representation in our country. On a very personal basis the British wool trade has never actually been just the British wool trade, it always relied on imports and exports, and this is no different now to how it was in medieval times. I use suppliers that are based in Europe, and even suppliers that are based in the UK are in turn reliant on manufacturing partners that are based in Europe. At the moment I still don't know how much it will cost when I re-order certain fibres, and that makes planning for the future impossible. We are already poorer as a result of Brexit and that will only get worse if crash out with no deal. Bank of England estimates that the British economy is already 2% smaller than it would have been if voters chose to remain in the EU. That translates to a loss to the UK economy of £800 million ($1 billion) a week' (Source- CNN)
My first job was working for Britannia Building Society, the headquarters were based in my home town, and part of the first week training focused around what to do in the event of an attack by the IRA. The Good Friday agreement had been signed, but it was recent enough that the treat of a bomb was not one to be taken lightly. I am a comparatively young person but it's easy to forget that in my lifetime we have gone from the horrors of the Troubles, to a border that I got to ride over on horse back as part of my summer holiday without any problem. Brexit means an end to that peace, and I find that thought to be completely horrifying.
So earlier this month I went on a protest march for the first time. I went down to London and was part of the Peoples Vote March on the 23rd. I am privileged in that I was in a position to attend, so felt that it was something I had to do. I am also lucky in that my MP (Liz Saville-Roberts) is one of the MP's who is coming out of this with her head held high.
I know some pope would like to just read about spinning and look at pictures of my chickens, but all that is only possible if I earn money by selling fibre, and despite being very capable at running my business Brexit places my entire livelihood at risk. So I'm afraid I am not in a position to be able to just keep quiet and pretend that everything will be alright, because it won't. If you choose not to buy from me due to this position, then I am sorry that you will loose the pleasure of working with my fibres, but I will be even sorrier if I don't speak out to try and stop the catastrophe that will make all of us poorer.
I know that many of you are not so blessed with your elected representative, if you've not sent them an email then please do so (form letter here asking for a people's vote on any final Brexit decision). Also, I'm going to share the link to the petition to revoke Article 50, and move on to happier topics!
We had a bit of a soggy week in March, where the rain never seemed to stop falling. Thankfully the end of the month bought some beautifully sunny weather and we've dried out nicely and the garden is now starting to show all the signs of spring. There are tulips popping up everywhere, and we took advantage of the warm weather to check the bee hives for the first time this year.
With the Wonderwool Dyeing complete I've been able to move on to getting the online shop a bit more sorted. There is a drying shed full of hand dyed fibre that I will be photographing tomorrow.
I've also added lots more colours of Superfine Merino & Silk (this is one of the bases that comes from Europe and I am lucky that I am in a financial position to stock up now, there is no guarantee that future deliveries will remain at this price). In particular I've added quite a few very beautiful neutrals, those of you who got the 12 Days of Christmas parcels will recognise a few of the shades.
And, there's a new fibre to add to the range. I've been thinking about this addition for a while, drooling over the colour palette in my shade cards, but not sure whether to take the plunge... But I made a decision, so there are now 7 colours of 19 micron Merino which has been naturally dyed. I hope you like them as much as I do.
I've been busy with lots of personal projects as well... there's a freshly sewn top that's waiting for a photo, more lace shawls. the start of a new lino print to celebrate the arrival of spring, and some more tapestry weaving.
I know there are quite a few of you that love the hand turned wooden items that appear in my Dad's shop, and be wondering why there's not much listed at the moment.... he's fine, but now the owner of a new hip, which has finally been replaced. Hopefully he's going to be back on his feet in no time, not least because sympathetic nursing is not a personality trait that comes naturally to either my Mum or I!
If you've not received your club parcel yet you may want to skip this post and come back later when your fibre has arrived.
There are lots of new fibres in the club parcels, so It bought some video clips to give you some ideas on where to start would be helpful.
If you want to see step by step instructions on how to attach a leader to your bobbin with a loop at the end then the blogpost is here.
I recommend starting with the Tussah Silk. I like spinning it with a short forward draw from the end of the top, that way you get a super shiny yarn. The other way to try spinning silk is from the fold. You can use a short forward draw as before, or try doing a point of twist draw.
Viscose is shiny fibre like the silk, but much more slippery. Try spinning the silk first!
You can use a short forward draw to keep it smooth and sleek, or you can spin it from the fold.
For the Baby Camel, check the staple length, that's what will catch you out after spinning 2 long staple fibres. You can spin it with a short forward draw, and it will also work well as a thicker yarn. Don't be afraid to use a good amount of twist with this short stapled fibre. It will also suit being spun from the fold, and this would probably be the method I'd pick to spin this fibre.
And here are the fibres in the parcels this month.
Tussah Silk in the Antilles and Violet, Viscose in Fog and Shell, and Undyed Baby Camel.
The club is full for this 3 month block, but I will be doing it again in the summer, and spare fibre from the parcels will go on sale in the shop in 1 months time.
Tussah Silk is one of the more textured form of silk, if you're interested in knowing more about silk then I wrote a summary here a while ago. Viscose is an extruded cellulose fibre, it's also sometimes called Rayon. Celulose fibres are dissolved using chemicals, and are then extruded out in to very fine filaments that make up the fibre. This Viscose is made in China, but is purchased through a supplier who is committed ti ensuring environmental good practise. Both fibres were dyed to Okeo-Tex 100 standard in Italy. Baby Camel comes from the undercoat of young camels, and is incredibly warm and fluffy, most of the fibre comes from the Bactrian Camel (the one with 2 humps), and is sourced from China, Tibet and Mongolia.
The busy months keep on rolling round. It was lovely to meet so many people at Devon Guild, and even better I got to take a few days off after the workshop exploring Exeter. I can thoroughly recommend it as a pace to spend a couple of days. The cathedral is magnificent, the museum delightful, and the Underground Passages were fascinating.
I've been spending quite a lot of time on the computer this month doing lots of very dull behind the scenes work. The end is in sight however, and the work now should hopefully minimise a lot of the routine tasks I'll need to do in the future.
The Non-Wool Club is nearly full, but I can still squeeze in a few more spaces, you've got a couple more days to sign up as I shall be starting to pack up the fibre next week at which point subscriptions will close. I'm also in the middle of transitioning the existing monthly clubs to a new payment system. The Gradient Club members are in the process of swapping over, and I'll be moving on to re-organising the Time Travellers club soon.
I've also been dabbling in a new fibre craft. Tapestry weaving and woven wall hangings seem to be everywhere at the moment, and they're a great use for odds and ends of fibres. This cloud shape uses a frame loom from Weft Blown. I used lots of spare pieces from the Colours of Cambria packs, and some undyed Cambrian wool. Sometime I spun a length of 3 or 4m and used that to weave, in other places I used pieces of unspun combed top.
I've also had a go at making a more traditional wall hanging.
These little hangings are great fun to make, and really not that hard. I used a small frame loom I bought from Ebay for around £12. The rest of the fibre is a selection of colours from the Superfine Merino & Silk (Paradise, Thyme, Cinnamon, Fog and Cappuccino) with a piece of Silk Chiffon Ribbon (colour way Moss).
If you're on Instagram then take a look at the hashtags #wovenwallhanging and #weavingloom to get lots of inspiration.
If you want to have a go and don't know where to start then I used YouTube to teach myself most of these techniques. This playlist is really clear, she also explains how to make a loom using a picture frame and nails if you want to go down the DIY route. This playlist is another good one to use.
If you're coming by the stand at Wonderwool I expect there might be quite a few of these on display!
If you don't want to get sucked in to the rabbit hole of yet another craft then we're having a lovely time over in the Ravelry group doing an informal lace knit along, or crochet along if you prefer. You can pick any pattern so long as it has yarn-overs, and use any yarn, does't have to handspun, or Hilltop Cloud fibre.
We've had poultry drama over the past few days... I came home from Devon to discover that Trotty had completely gone off her legs. Still bright and bubbly and wanting to stuff herself with tasty treats, but completely unable to walk. Two weeks in the house and she gradually got better and is now back out with the main flock. Unfortunately one morning we found the other newest chicken, Pippa, looking very unwell and she died a couple of hours later. The day before she had been running round with the flock very happily, but they're very good at disguising illness. Clarissa the duck has also been causing trouble (again), in addition to having escape skills that rival the Colditz prisoners, she tried to lay her first egg and couldn't, requiring an emergency trip to the vet and a paraffin enema. She's currently making her disgust at all things human known by absconding as soon as it gets light and spending all day as far away from the garden as possible. Sigh, that duck....
Yesterday was St Davids Day, the patron saint of Wales, so I celebrated by going for a bit of a jolly over to the coast, and had a thoroughly Welsh lunch out. It seems insane to say that 1 month on from my last blogpost I still don't know what will be happening with Brexit, and for now all I can do is keep on running the business as normal. I plan on sending out the Time travellers Club as early as possible to avoid any hold-ups at the ports, and also to make sure you don't get charged tax twice when you receive your parcel. I am still hopeful that this whole process will be halted and that common sense will prevail.
I do love seeing what people do with my fibre, and I know from so many people how inspired they get by the work of others. Over on the Ravelry group we have a thread that is just devoted to the sharing of pictures. There's no chat in the thread, so it's the perfect place to browse if you're short on time.
Asa think you for sharing the photos I do a random number draw every 3 months, for gift certificates to the online shop. We've just got to the end of the time period of the current thread, so I thought I'd share a few of my favourites here. Clicking on the images will take you through to the Ravelry project page.
Hilltop Cloud- Spin Different
Beautiful fibre you'll love to work with.
VAT Reg- 209 4066 19
Dugoed Bach, Mallwyd, Machynlleth,
Powys, SY20 9HR