two more yarn bowl designs

I've just added two more yarn bowl designs from Helen Dixon. The dark bronze in colour is mirror-like. The other glaze is a very bold red. I think these glazes and the geometric design are reminiscent of the opulent Ard Deco era - what do you think?

100% cat

I've not made any progress with any of my own projects recently because I've been spinning this 130g of pure cat fluff.

It was badly matted, with lots of variation of colour. I tried drum carding which would have saved a lot of time but lots of work with hand carders was the only way to separate the fibres nicely. This meant that each lot on the carders became well-blended colourwise, but I tried to stick to one colour on each charge of the carders so that there's a good colour variation within the singles.

Some of the fibres are very short so I tried a tightly-rolled poonie as with cotton, but in the end I found that it went best from a very loose mass lifted off the carder.

There's more of a colour variation than you can see from the photo, in places it's almost white and in some places dark brown. I'm looking forward to seeing how it looks knitted up. The owner isn't sure yet what she'll make.

Book review: Hand Spinning and Natural Dyeing by Claire Boley

  • Sheep and fleece
  • Spinning with a drop spindle or just your fingers
  • Spinning wheels
  • Carding and combing fleece
  • Spinning techniques
  • Getting the handspun yarn ready for hand knitting
  • Fancy handspun yarns
  • Natural Dyeing
  • Glossary

First impressions are that the book is smaller than I was expecting (6" x 8"), but that does make it a nice portable size, and it packs in 127 pages of not-oversize text and lots of illustrations

The text is comprehensive and isn't lacking in any way. From selecting a fleece (with a table of popular British breeds and their properties) through spinning with a spindle and a wheel to skein and ball winding and knitting with your handspun.

The plain-English and straight-to-the-point-style makes it very easy to read and understand (although a background image does obscure the text a little bit on a couple of pages). It is definitely aimed at beginners but does take us to the next level with topics such as woollen / worsted yarn and some fancy techniques.

The photographs have a little bit of a homespun look but they're plentiful, clear and illustrate the text well.

The topic of hand knitting your handspun yarn and the necessary considerations is important but often overlooked or only touched on. Claire Boley gives us a whole chapter and a pattern for a hat with a rolled brim; easy to knit and a good introduction to knitting with handspun.

Natural dyeing is covered in a single chapter, starting with a double-page spread showing some of the surprising colours that you can obtain using natural dyes. The following dozen pages give recipes for dyeing with 'found ' and 'bought' substances with some basic instructions for dyeing and mordanting. Unfortunately, other than a few at the start of the chapter, there don't seem to be images of the colours obtainable for each of the many recipes; only the berries, flowers and leaves themselves.

The combination of hand spinning and natural dyeing is a good and unusual one. The book comes from the The Good Life Press, who are also responsible for Home Farmer magazine, so it is obviously aimed at those of us keen on doing things from scratch the natural way.

I'm very happy to recommend the book and I hope to have copies available at handspinner > books very shortly. It will retail at £12.99 and make a nice and slightly cheaper alternative to the Ashford book of Hand Spinning, Spin to Knit and Start Spinning , especially if you're interested in natural dyeing as well as learning to spin.

paperback, 6" x 8", 127 pages

Review by Shiela Dixon, 5 Nov 2011

Tardis socks finished! Just in time

... for the autumn weather:

Really pleased with these.
  • It's my first go at colourwork (Intarsia in the round = lots of ends to weave in) that's worked out very well, the second one is neater than the first!
  • The detail is embrodered on, not something I'm familiar with or very keen to do more of
  • The chart only gives you the leg - after that you're using your favourite sock pattern. I love the squares and chose to carry them on over the top of the foot and that looks good
  • The leg chart isn't symmetrical, so I read it right-left for one sock and left-right for the other to make them a pair
  • One ball of Zitron Trekking XXL 4-ply Sock yarn (shade 451) was perfect in colour and more than enough. The white was some almost-white wool/nylon sock yarn from my local shop, but they don't use much white so anything from stash will do
  • Many many thanks to Tara Wheeler for the pattern which is free and is here - and the Ravelry page for the pattern is here

A change of mind (I can feel a frogging coming on)

In the last post I'd decided to make some hiking socks from some black zwartbles yarn that I was very proud of. I kept looking at the skein and swatch and wasn't sure that it was saying socks to me. So I tried knitting a sample bit of cable from the Opulent Raglan and loved the result!

The cable is very well defined with the black yarn. The grey really is a woollen yarn which is ok for the big cable but the little ones look very, well, woolly. The WIP above came to a bit of a halt after a few mistakes and some uncertainty about the yarn. Been thinking about pulling it out. I think the black is going to work far better.

So here's progress so far. Not much but it's looking and feeling good. Pattern is Opulent Raglan

combing for the first time

This week has seen me using wool combs for the first time and some of the nicest and most consistent yarn I've made so far.
The gauge is not only spot on, but I've been experimenting with colours. The black is the zwartbles fleece that I've been selling. I thought the yarn would be great for the trekking sock pattern in the background, but I've found that wool on its own wears quickly, so the middle grey section is with the addition of some mohair (I heard someone refer to this as 'nature's nylon' this week) and the top section is some brown shetland, again combed and mixed at the same time with some mohair. The decision is to make the socks using mostly the black zwart with the brown shetland mix as contrast colour / heel & toe.

So let's do this story backwards. I'm very proud of the yarn. Combing takes out shorter or tangled fibres leaving you with the best fibres arranged nice and parallel. (Known as worsted preparation.) Fabulous to spin. In my case there's a little grease left in the wool which also helps.
Short draw keeps the fibres straight and even. In this case quite a long short-draw worked well because the fibres are nice and long. With the combed wool drafting like a dream I switched to the faster ratio and have been working very quickly.
This pair of mini-combs has been knocking about here for a long time but drum carding makes such short work of fleece that I've not tried them before now. With lots of fleece around, curiosity got the better of me. Even with these small combs, I found that you can work with quite a few locks at a time.

You work with the empty comb at right angles to the static one and a sweeping motion. This transfers the long fibres onto the second comb leaving the rubbish on the first one which you remove. I've been repeating 4 - 6 times.
It pulls off the comb into a sliver which is ready to spin.

I love combing and am now in the market for a grown-up sized secondhand pair - if you can help, contact me!

The Frame-breakers

I read this blog post from Amy of Spin-Off magazine which made me think about the Luddites and their motivation. Wool and cotton mills and spinning and weaving machinery were broken and burned.

The recent distubances in London have similarities to the actions of the 19th century textile workers, but also some important contrasts.

'Luddite' is a term used about someone who has a fear of new technology. I think that's a bit unfair; the Luddites weren't simply afraid of technology and progress.

Unlike the young people in our cities recently, Ned Ludd and his followers were clear about their purpose. They valued their skills and employment and were fighting for their jobs and way of life. They believed in a skill-based economy and were resisting a move to automation and unskilled jobs.

Some were executed or transported for their actions.

Although it's not proved possible to halt automation and technology, we can't shake off connections with the past. It's clear that we still feel the need to develop and use manual skills to create beautiful and useful things.

back to back challenge - Fibre-East 2011

Thoroughly enjoyed a day sitting in the sun spinning with some lovely people. It wasn't a full attempt at the challenge but a dry run for the full version maybe next year. We made a child-size jumper so that visitors to Fibre-East could see the event from start to finish while they were there.

Some firsts:
  • Spinning with unwashed greasy fleece
  • Spinning longdraw from a teased mass of fibre without using carder or pet comb
  • Spinning the yarn and seeing a garment knitted in one day

I enjoyed spinning wool with all grease left in. While it didn't feel too dirty, a small knitted sample square that we washed was much whiter. It's surprising how much dirty grease collects around the orifice and on your wheel generally

I wouldn't want to spin dirty fleece again (before the next b-to-b challenge!) but I will try washing without scouring out all of the grease, and try a 'dressing mix'.

I will also remember to put sun-block on my neck next time!

On your marks:


My photos from the day are here:

[edit] and the more official photos from the day are here:

First Tardis sock (almost) complete!

I don't remember being good at needlework at school, I don't think my gonk was very good, so I'm a little perturbed about having to embroider the 'Police Box' lettering.

The detail on the windows has gone well though, and I'm very pleased with the knitting generally. I really like the 'square panel' pattern (probably not easy to see in the photos) and so I carried it on over the top of the foot, knitting plain just on sole, toe and heel.

Size is spot on, Hoping the enthusiasm remains through its partner....

sneaky peekies

A newsletter reader asked for some pictures of the wide carder in use.

First up was some 'fairy wings' angorino. Just 50g but it fitted on the drum easily. I'd usually do that quantity in two lots so it made short work of that.

Next up was some of the Shetland I scored recently.

I kept feeding until the drum seemed full. A monstrous batt indeed, but weighed in at 66g, a bit short of the promised 100g, but I'm sure it's possible to get more on next time, particularly at the edges. The drum tended to fill in the middle before the edges, but I'm sure that's just practice.
And a sneaky peeky of a new range of hooks and needles - ebony and rosewood with the most exquisite finish:

Available on Handknitter very shortly and possibly p2tog too.

feeling sheepish

I had the pleasure of meeting these neatly-clipped girls this afternoon, and taking away some shetland fleece in various shades.

I now have lovely soft hands and the scoured fleece will be available at handspinner shortly.

Summer Flies

Do your knitting habits change with the seasons? Craftsy magazine held a survey on Facebook and found the top answer to be 'the weather doesn't affect my knitting'. The next highest answer was that projects become smaller; hats and socks.

In response to this, Stefanie Japel has put together her top five free summer patterns.

I guess that like me, you are not often moved by many of the patterns in a top five, but these ones really grabbed me, I've bookmarked three of them.

The Summer flies shawl (I assume meaning that Summer goes quickly, not a reference to the insects) looks lovely and is said to be quick and easy to knit. The Ornamental Socks have a fascinating heel! And the Suntrap Scarf just looks beautiful and summery.

The scarf is similar to one of my own WIPs and reminds me that I should get on with it!

Read more.

Project Spectum - Green

This is my contribution to Lolly's Project Spectrum. This year she's concentrating on the 'additive' primaries', the basics of coloured light rather than pigment. For June she'd like us to focus on green.

She's set a challenge to capture some greens in your neighbourhood.

Easy! I took this photo on Saturday on a circular walk starting from home. Being in the middle of The National Forest, there's lots of young forest around, including these poplars just beyond Smisby. I've made this picture available in various sizes for desktop / wallpaper at

It's nice to combine my walking with my fibre crafts!

decorated drop spindle

Most Ashford products often come in 'natural finish' which is a nice way to say that the wood needs finishing somehow, stain, oil, wax, varnish, the choice is yours. Some things come lacquered or have a lacquered option.

But the great thing about the natural finish is that it gives you the chance to get your creative mojo on.

Drop Spindle Spinning

If you're a knitter or just curious about spinning, then this free eBook is for you!

It contains excerpts from well-established books from Lee Raven, Maggie Casey, Amy Clarke Moore and others. You can learn how to make a spindle for yourself and spin & ply your first yarn!

The free download requires you to give your email address to SpinningDaily, but their regular emails are often interesting and worthwhile.

Read more.

Weaving with a harness loom - 6 things I've learned

I've been doing more weaving recently, and with a bathroom redecoration 'looming', this article has inspired me to make a pair of curtains for the smallest room.

It also contains some good easy-to-follow guidance about calculating yardage needed for warp and weft.

Much experimentation with yarns and patterns has yielded some results I really like. The ideal colour came from handspun made from my gold-ish 'fairy wings' blend in merino and silk (warp is cream cottolin). For the main part of the curtains it's going to be this herringbone weave, and check out the 'waffle' weave! That will make a great decorative border!

One really nice surprise is that the work is translucent! Light behind this sample brings out the patterns and the gold colour.

That surprise has inspired a matching lampshade too!

(Yes, you guessed - that second picture is cropped because the edges looked really untidy!)

Here's the promised list of lessons learned along the way:

1. Warping takes time and is intricate work, and when you want to weave a different pattern it generally means threading up differently. But with a little application and a good audiobook, it's relaxing and enjoyable.

2. Care taken when threading can save lots of time re-threading.

3. Once warped, the weaving process is very quick and rewarding

4. Weaving with singles is perfectly good and the work doesn't bias as knitting can.

5. There are many permutations of similar or different warp and weft (colour and thickness) giving a wide variety of fabrics.

6. Repairing broken warp threads is possible but it's a bit of a pain and far better to take care and not break them in the first place.

So - a secondhand four-shaft loom of a suitable width has been procured - pencil is in hand to calculate my number of ends and yardages, and then it's carding, spinning and warping. Most interesting redecoration I've ever done!

Still time!

There's still time to enter this year's Spring competition, a good prize on offer and not a huge number of entries so far. So why not give it a go?

I'm inviting you to make some yarn inspired by this springtime photo of cherry blossom.

It's a freestyle event - do whatever you like, dye the fibre, mix bought dyed or natural fibre, use animal, vegetable or synthetic, straight or funky, whatever you like. To enter, join the group on Flickr and add your photos. If you have trouble with that, simply email them to me. you've got until mid-May.

time-travelling spinning wheel

One very dirty spinning wheel (or rather a pile of dirt that turned out to have a spinning wheel underneath) + bowl of slightly soapy water = very shiny wheel plus what looks like... cloudy beer?

To be more serious, this wheel demonstrates the protection that Ashford's factory-lacquered finish gives. It's not been a decorative item - there are signs of use - and it's been neglected as evidenced by a thick layer of dirt and some rust on some metal parts. Features of the wheel put its birthday between 1975 and 1982.

But a wipe with slightly-soapy water and a deep shine is revealed. There are no signs of shrinkage or cracking as are sometimes seen on its stained contemporaries. The lacquer is hard and gives good protection against knocks and scratches - few can be seen. Stand back and it looks much newer than it really is. Having replaced a few lost or broken consumable parts (spring, brake and drive band, treadle joint), oiled the moving parts and it spins as well as the day it was made. And I'm sure it still will for many years to come.

looming large!

It's been a very long time since I warped this loom and started learning to weave using an 8-shaft loom (to be honest only threading 4 of those 8 but that was taxing enough). This afternoon felt right to pick up the shuttle and do some more.

I warped using one colour so that I could experiment with plain and twills. After a while, I'm very pleased to see that my edges are coming nice and parallel. This 2/1 twill seems to be a great pattern for showing up unevenness, but the diagonal stripes are becoming straighter with time.

Above is a mostly-warp 3/1, moving back and forth to create a chevron

And here are some more variations - swiss twill, alternating (really not quite sure what went wrong there!) and a zig-zag

Finished Spring Scarf

See previous posts for details of pattern and yarn. I'm not sure how to wear it, but it feels cosy, soft and warm. I love it!

Spring Scarf

The yarn from the last post did plump up a bit when set, and looks just how I'd hoped. It's my own 'just for fun' go at the handspinner spring competition The yarn is merino and silk, it feels very squishy and yummy and warm. Hopefully the airiness of the pattern will make it comfortable to wear at any time of year.

The pattern is the Chunky Mochi Fan Stitch Scarf. It's effective but very simple; after a few repeats you can remember it and just sit back and not bother to look at the pattern.

It's the biggest yarn I've made, and these are the biggest needles I've used (12mm). Not sure of their origin, but they are with a bunch of my grandmothers, so that makes the scarf a little more special.

It's about half the finished length, and that was a single sitting - it's superquick working on this scale! It's also harder work - much more physical moving those big needles around.

Handspinner Spring competition 2011

This is my own (non-qualifying) go at the handspinner spring competition. The brief is to make yarn inspired by the cherry blossom photo provided. There's a good prize on offer, so please have a go. More information is in the March newsletter.

I think this is my fattest yarn since my very first go at spinning, which was not intentionally fat.

I could picture those colours in a squishy arty scarf, made on large needles - cool in spring and warm in winter.

The blue is a mix I call Cirrus, merino and silk. I split it lengthwise so not very much drafting needed.

While looking for suitable light and dark natural colours, I noticed that Ashford's silk / merino mix in peppercorn is pretty much what I wanted to achieve, so I used that, split lengthwise to try and preserve the colour changes and spun thinly.

The result is looking a little under-plied. I didn't want a very spirally plied effect, so was afraid to go too far. It's not set yet, I'm hoping it'll fluff up a little more after a wash.

new bobbins for Haldane Lewis

With Haldane wheels not made any more, if you need more bobbins, or as in this case, a secondhand wheel comes with no bobbins at all, then your only option is to have some made.

Many thanks to Joan and Clive at Woodland Turnery for making me three perfectly-matching and reasonably-priced bobbins for this wheel,