Sometimes it's a mistake to go back to things you remember from childhood. They're often not quite as shiny, not quite as charming and all too often disappointing.
My trip to Northumbria was none of those things however. Maybe to helps that I was there as a small child, and I'm not someone who has vivid memories of many of the places and things I did much below the age of 7. But there was something about the Northumbrian coast, I just knew that I needed to go back there.
I don't have many things that I would try and rescue if I had to leave the house in a hurry, but this is one of them. It's painted by an old family friend who is sadly no longer with us. We have many of his watercolours hanging in the house, this probably isn't one of his better ones, but it's special to me.
The two small figures in the left are my Mum and I. At 5 I probably didn't appreciate the gift of this painting, but at 33 I appreciate more than I can express with words.
Bamburgh Castle wasn't looking at its most magnificent on the day we were visiting, but that didn't really seem to matter. Now when I sit on my sofa at home my painting will remind me not just of childhood kite flying, and running on a beech in a cold winter wind, it will remind me of a slower walk to a headland, of exploring a new town and the magic of a bamboo maze.
We spent the evenings cutting and sewing fabric for a quilt. That age-old evening activity of women, the act of making. The photos I took were lovely, but the handmade things I have to remind me are so much more precious.
So far I'm managing to stock pretty well to my resolution of rounding up all the things that have been happening in the valley over the past month. Maybe this is the secret to New Years Resolutions, don't make them at New Year.
Of course this post is a bit later than usual, but that's because I took my holiday for the year up on the Northumbrian Coast. It was beautiful, and windy, and just what was needed. As usual I'll be working pretty much up until Christmas, and then taking some time off over Christmas New Year to spend time with family, do lots of cooking, and mess around with some non-Hilltop Cloud projects.
As we're talking about Christmas, here are the dates by which you need to place your orders-
Wed 5th Dec; Cyprus, Malta, Asia, Far East, Eastern Europe, Caribbean, Central and South America
Sun 9th Dec; Greece, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand
Wed 12th Dec; Canada, Czech Rep, Italy, Poland, USA, Finland, Sweden
Sun 16th Dec; Rest of Europe, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, UK
Parcels will be going out as normal throughout the holiday period, on Monday and Thursday mornings, and I plan on sending both clubs out before Christmas.
I've also made a start on dyeing the special fibre I posted about last month, and even managed to twist John's arm in to supplying me with a further 10kg. The first batch went up in the shop with the latest update, and I will be dyeing small batches for every update until I run out of base. This fibre is special, because every step of the way is done with such care and attention. First the flocks that supply the fibre are specially selected, the fleeces are first graded by the sorted at the south Molton Wool Marketing Board Depot. It then goes through a secondary grading process to remove a further 20% of any kemp and coarse fibres, or ones with too short a staple. It's then scoured, and finally combed by the team at John Arbon textiles, and combined with 20% Mulberry Silk. At the moment it's the most expensive base that I stock, but with good reason, you can't produce a base like this cheaply.
This is also the month we said good-bye to Otis, my trusty ex-BT van has carried me around the country to shows and workshops for the past 5 years, but he was getting older, and with my decision to do fewer shows I no longer needed such a large vehicle. Our space at Wonderwool Wales has already been confirmed, and will be the only show in 2019 where I will be taking a full stock of fibres. Wonderwool is by far the most shopper-friendly of all the shows, with wide aisles, generous stand sizes, and a level floor. If you've never come then it's well worth the trip.
It's getting towards the time of year when I start to notice a few orders from people with familiar surnames, but very different first names! I've been buying bits and pieces for my family members for the past few weeks, and judging by the parcels that appear and are immediately hidden away I'm not the only one in the household who's started buying presents,
I thought I'd share a few gift ideas for spinners for you to point your loved ones towards. I've tried to pick non-fibre options to avoid the issues caused by buying the right fibre, but in the wrong colour! There's lots of small options as well that would be ideal for gifts in your local spinning group, or as stocking stuffers.
First up, the things in my own shop... (If you're in the UK or EU all these prices will be plus 20% VAT)
Things to care for your wheel. Your wheel is a tool, it needs maintenance just like your car.
If your wheel is already well cared for then how about something to make you better at working with colour?
It's hard to go wring with bags... places to store things are always useful when you're a crafty person.
Finally a wpi tool is a useful addition to anyone's spinning toolkit.
If books are your thing then there are so many that are excellent... (Note, these are all links to Amazon UK, if you're outside the UK you will probably be able to find all of them on your countries own Amazon site, and many will be available from other online book sellers)
The Spinners Book of Yarn Design If you only own one spinning book this should be it!
The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook For the spinner who loves learning more about sheep and the quality of their wool
Yarnitecture For the spinner who wants to get better at analysing the sort of yarn they are spinning, and be more in control of the results.
Spin Art For the spinner who needs to step outside their comfort zone
Non-spinning books, but interesting for anyone who has a love of textiles.
Women's Work- The First 20,000 years.
Stitches in Time: The Story of the Clothes we Wear
The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History
A subscription toPly magazine would also be a lovely gift. If you're outside the US then it may be better to buy a subscription from one of their stockists.
Akerworks bobbins are such a pleasure to use, and I love that they collapse flat so I can store them easily. Note to any potential present purchasers, you need to check the wheel that your spinner uses...
Beyond Measure stock lots of beautifully useful trinkets for people who love to make things. I love their tape measures, or their sewing needle cases.
There are usually a few tipples consumed at Christmas, so how about some knitting stitch identification guide drinks coasters.
If the person you're buying the present for is a spinner, the chances are they're also a knitter or crocheter. So a storage solution for their needles or projects will probably be well received.
Your spinner might also like abeautiful tool to use to wind their yarn in to skeins, or need a new orifice hook.
If you're hoping for some spinning goodies to be in your pile of presents what would you like to receive? Leave a comment below, and someone else might be getting a nice surprise!
Did you know that there's s sharing thread over in the Hilltop Cloud Ravelry group?
And as a reward for sharing your photos there are random prizes on offer?
The current thread is here, all you need to do is post a picture of spun yarn, or a finished object.
Here's a few highlights from the last thread, that really do deserve to be seen by more people, they're stunning!
Click on the photo to go the Ravelry project page to find out more details.
You can browse the rest of the thread here, and do come over and share your creations in the current thread.
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.
Hilltop Cloud- Spin Different
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