Sometimes the most treasured things are crafted into life slowly...
Way back in 2010, my family and I were at the North Somerset Agricultural Show on May Bank Holiday Monday. We go every year, and every year we find something new to see and enjoy. This year, we were checking out the sheep (OK we do that every year...) and I spotted a gorgeous ewe with long, luscious ringlets...
A chat with her owner, Dr Margaret Rutherford, revealed the ewe's name to be Florence, one of Margaret's Christon Flock of Black Leicester Longwools.
Florence wasn't due for shearing for a while but Margaret offered to let me know when it happened and to put the fleece aside for me. Many months went by but one day I received the email - Florence had been busy, travelling around the country winning one award after another for her luscious locks, culminating in Fleece Competition Champion at the National Sheep Association Sheep 2010 competition
To my mind, longwools are the most difficult of fleeces, consuming vast amounts of preparation time as every long, wavy lock has to be flicked, combed or teased individually, and every time I finish one longwool fleece,I think it has to be my last. But they are also the most rewarding; prepare and spin them right and you are rewarded with gorgeous, shiny yarn that still holds the bounce and ringlet appearance of the original fleece.
I spin mostly from fleece, rather than commercially prepared fibres, and I rarely start with a plan of what I am going to do with the fleece or the final yarn. Instead I try to let the fleece be what I feel it wants to be, and Florence's fleece wanted to be a thin, lightly spun yarn that retained a lot of the original curl. If i had prep'ed it more, it would have been even finer and smoother but that would have been less "Florence" to me.
Becasue it was a big fleece and I spun it quite finely, the final yarn took many months to spin, ply, wind into hanks, wash and wind into balls.
When finished, the yarn measured 15wpi (wraps per inch), making it a double knit yarn, though it feels thinner than that to me. I haven't tried knitting any of it yet to test that out, as it has always seemed to me to want to be a woven yarn.
And last week, 3.5 years after finding Florence in the show field, I finally finished my scarf woven with her fleece.
I don't often follow patterns but I knew I wanted a wave in the weave to accentuate the wave of the original fleece and so I chose a scarf pattern from Handwoven magazine - its the one on the front cover here: http://www.weavingtoday.com/blogs/handwoven-issues/archive/2012/12/05/handwoven-january-february-2013.aspx.
The other yarns I used were my handspun chocolate-brown icelandic/wensleydale yarn, handspun browny-yellow yarn (can't remember what that was..) and two vintage commercial yarns from my stash - a grey wool and a bright yellow for a bit of zing.
When I finished the scarf, it still felt a little bit rough but after a machine wool wash (I wash all my woollens in the machine these days), it has bloomed into a lovely soft comforter for chilly winter days.
It's been a slow make but that doesn't matter at all and I will enjoy wearing it for even more years than it took me to make it.
Thanks Florence x
I am just back from Summer School with the Association of Guilds of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers, held this year at the University of St David in Camarthaen. And what a fun week it was! We laughed a lot, met friends old and new, learnt new skills and luxuriated in intense creative energy for a whole week.
I did Janet Crowther's course "Bags of Bags from Bits" and I am fairly sure that all 14 of us there came away thinking that we had been on the best course. Initially all squashed together in one muchtoosmall room, with 14 sewing machines, piles of our own materials, mountains of Janet's own bags and her own super-stash of materials and (the most immediate threat) no kettle to make coffee with, we could have felt overwhelmed and defensive against these obstructions. But quite the opposite happened: with good humour, we found the extra workspace (and a kettle) that we needed and the experience of being forced together toomuchtoosoon left not barriers or negativity but instead an openness to ideas and a cheerful camaraderie that lasted the whole week through.
Janet Crowther described herself as "a dabbler" in many crafts. At it's best, as in Janet, I think this means someone who is open to art and craft in many forms and sees inspiration and potential materials all around them. Combined with her teaching skills (she used to be a primary school teacher - hence the playschool jokes), this made Janet a great tutor for this course, where, alongside practical techniques, she could also convey the creatively different "ways of seeing" that produced some really beautiful and inventive work by the students. Below is a gallery of photos of some of our work.
Many thanks to fellow bag ladies Janet and all the other students on the course.
Last Friday and Saturday we were at the "pop-up shop" in the National Grid office in Nailsea with the Avon Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers. Given that it was the hottest weekend of the year and we were demonstrating spinning and weaving with nice, warm, snuggly wool, we weren't expecting to be anywhere near as interesting an attraction as the ice-cream shop nearby! Nonetheless, there was plenty of interest in our crafts. Lots of people loved looking at the handspun yarns and handwoven textiles (mainly women) and several wanted to have a go at spinning and weaving (mostly men and children). It's always so rewarding at this kind of event when someone comes in and says "I used to do spin/weave/knit/crochet but I haven't done anything for ages. You've inspired me to start again.." Hopefully we will see a few new members and guests at the Guild in coming months.
If you would like to find out more about the Guild, see the website at www.avonguild.org.uk
We are just back from a weekend in a very hot and sunny Madrid, where the people were lovely and the tortilla and sangria were just delicious.
Around every corner there is inspiration for yarns to spin and cloths to weave. These are some of my favourite photos I took in this beautiful city, where even the trees in the park had an inspirational architectural quality.