A Special Retreat and Some Sheep

Ryeland Sheep & Fleece
Ryelands are one of the oldest British sheep breeds and have been in the UK for hundreds of years.  Their legs are covered in fleece as well as their bodies, which along with their cute noses, gives them the distinctive ‘teddy’ appearance.  They are great mothers, good for both fleece and meat and rarely suffer from foot problems.  They can have either coloured or white fleece.  Wow!
The wool is great for spinning or needle felt.  it has a rather unique ‘crispy feel to it without being at all scratchy and will not pill or felt easily when made into knitwear.

One of Jacqueline Bonner’s Ryeland sheep

The Best Wool for the Job

I think that imported Merino is over rated as a spinning fibre, although its availability in as coloured tops makes it a good choice for UK based feltmakers who do not want to work specifically with indigenous fleece.   If you live in a country that produces it in larger quantities such as Australia or New Zealand, it is a good choice for you of course.    And there are breeders this side of the Pond of UK version of the breed, called Bowmont.  Although Merino type wool is soft it is prone to felting, hence its popularity with felt makers.  it is lovely for babywear if the parents don’t mind handwashing.  But Ryeland is a good all rounder and I love its ancient roots as a breed.

An Exciting New Retreat for Textile businesses

Janet has launched her very first Retreat specifically for those with a yarn, fibre or fibre animal business.  She has provided 1-1 mentoring for many years and this is something she is really excited about.   The Retreat will take place at the same amazing venue as the Create With Fibre knitting and spinning retreats.  So the views, food, wine, woodburning stove and time to spin, knit or crochet will all be there.  At the same time, we will talk about the business dilemmas and plans we have.  There will be 1-1 time with Janet and also a chance to actually get down to the nitty gritty and do some work on those plans.  Together we are stronger!

The Wonky Weaving Project

This has been so exciting and I love projects that emerge and develop as they grow.  We are working in Maybole, South West Scotland.  I was asked to do a weaving project to celebrate the town’s 500th anniversary as a Borough.

The weaving on one of the eight rigid heddle looms

The organisers were enthusiastic about the idea of a weaving project because this like many, was a weaving town. They wove Ayrshire blankets here and there were also many home weavers if you go further back.

But get this: the weaving riots in Maybole were just about the worst anywhere. Far more so than the oft talked about Paisley riots.  The riots were about mechanisation and factories destroying the livelihoods of home weavers. Difficult times.

So the group involved in this project  wanted to learn to weave, create  a wall hanging and learn a tiny bit of history at the same time.  And they have been amazing.  Only two had ever woven before.  They range in ages from 14 to 80-something and only a couple really knew each other. Weaving has brought them together.

The weaving is all done and now needs to be put together.  We did it on ‘rigid heddle’ looms but pretty much any loom will do, including a frame loom like our very economical Create With Fibre midi frame looms of course.

I call it ‘tapestry type’ weaving. It is not true tapestry, you can see the warp in places especially when we add those lovely bits of curly fleece.  Far easier and faster too.  We created slopes, curves  and texture and somehow the eye sees a landscape. And ‘wonky’ because of all those curves and wonky bits of course!

The finished weaving will now be backed and hung

We will add tiny needle felted sheep and boots now. Boots because Maybole was a boot making town too.

Teaching spinning, weaving and knitting is what we do…

Was just looking through the diary for 2016 and it hit me.  I have taught a lot of people.  When we started this in 1994, I had this vision of growing spinning, weaving, knitting and all things fibre and yarn all over the UK.  Kind of like planting seeds.  Well it is happening!  So I am blowing our own trumpet just a tiny bit here, just because what we do is not always evident.

Having taught many of the people who are now in their turn teaching spinning, I can see it.  Some of them have quite high profile businesses now, and some of them I have gone on to work with in partnership for many years.    See the current courses on our Create With Fibre website.

Then I realised.  I have taught over 750 people this year.    The 750 has admittedly included about 200 new weavers at two larger scale events:  A music festival  commissioned us to teach weaving all weekend, and a primary school who had me there for two days teaching nearly all of the classes….But all of the rest are in relatively small courses.  sometimes, like this week,  I am teaching three courses in a week (weaving wednesday, Indigo dyeing Thursday and beginners spinning on Saturday this week).

Often there are courses for one of the Guilds of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers.   Last weekend we were at East  Central Guild, and before that Eden Valley.  The beginners spinning is one of a series of special courses for Dumfries & Galloway Guild.

Then there are the courses for Councils, youth groups and voluntary organisations.  At the moment, a series of several weaving sessions and a wall hanging project for Maybole 500, which celebrates the town being 500 years old.   These  have been many and various over the last couple of years.  A tipi making project with ten different youth groups (that one went on for months), and weaving projects with a number of schools for example.

weaving with primary school children

And I teach at other locations.   This year I have taught at Higham Hall    four times, weaving, spinning on a spinning wheel, spinning on a hand spindle and a fibre and yarn retreat.  They have already booked me for next year if you fancy a retreat…  The workshops for Scottish Fibres  have gone on for years.   Two a year usually, although this year we have added in extra ones, one on spindle spinning and one on weaving.   And we do them at yarn festivals too.  Look out for us at Perth Festival of Yarn this year.

Beginners spining for Edinburgh Yarn Festival

Then there are the fibre and yarn Retreats at The Old School.  They are completely awesome.  Only in February/March and October/November each year, because The Old School gets very busy and cannot fit us in at other times.  So who wouldn’t want to come on an exclusive Retreat at a 4 star, rather special, quirky and unique guest house?  With wood burning stoves, panormic views and each of the four bedrooms a whole, lovingly restored classroom.    Did I say it has 9.8 on Trip Advisor and a Taste Scotland award?

Oh, and I do a few ‘cosy courses’ courses here at my home each year.   We are just about to launch our 1-1 bespoke retreats at our place, so it is an exciting time.

nattural dyeing course chez nous

Yeah, like I said, courses are what we do…

How to warp a rigid heddle loom

The rigid heddle loom is my passion. I get excited about colour and texture and they are ideal for that.  You can create lots of patterns on them too of course.

Warping these looms is relatively simple once you get the hang of it and does not take too long.

First clamp the warping peg to a table. Put a weight on the table if necessary so it does not tip over (hence pig in photo)

Attach warping peg to table

Position the loom with the front facing the peg. Clamp it on too. The distance between the loom and the peg will be the length of the warp, minus about 60cm/2 feet of wastage.

Put the yarn on the floor behind the loom. Tie the end to the back stick. Put the heddle in the ‘neutral’ position in the loom.  This is the middle position, neither up nor down.

Use a reed hook to pull a loop of yarn through the heddle.  Pull on the loose end until it is long enough to drop the loop over the peg.  Do not pull it tight or the warps are likely to pop off the peg or pull it off the table.

Winding the warp round the peg

Pull another loop through the heddle and repeat. Continue till all the slots you want to use are threaded like this.

The slots all have two threads in them at this stage. There are no threads in the holes yet.

Tie a spare bit of yarn round the warps for safety.  Remove them from the peg and cut the end of the loops.

Wind the warp onto the loom, keeping it under tension and as tidy as possible. Insert pieces of paper between each layer of warps as you wind them on. This prevents one layer from embedding itself in other layers, which can make the warp uneven. Pages from magazines or flip chart paper work well.

Engage the ‘elbows’ to tilt the back of the loom up slightly,  if using an Ashford knitters  loom.

Take one of the warps out of each slot in turn and thread it through the neighbouring hole.

Threading the holes in the heddle

Tie the threads to the front stick in groups of four or so. Tie in a single knot first.

Tie the threads round the front stick with a single knot.

Go back along the threads, tightening each group in turn and tying in a half bow. Tightening them all at once like this helps to get an even tension.

Tension the warps and tie each group firmly with a half bow.
The warps tied on to the front stick

Put the heddle into the up or down position.  Insert a piece of folded paper or some card into the ‘shed’ or space between the warps.  Change the heddle position and insert a second piece of card. This card covers the knots when you wind the warp on.

Insert a strip of paper or cardboard into each shed.

Weave a ‘header’ with waste yarn. Do three shots of weaving, leaving loops at the sides. Beat all three shots down together. Repeat this once more.

leaving loops at the sides enables you to pull the header out easily afterwards. This is not part of the weaving, it is there to even out the gaps between the groups of warp threads before you start the actual weaving.

Weaving the header with waste yarn
Beat three shots of the header down at once, then repeat.

You are ready to weave!

A Crocheted Jacket to go with the Skirt

A Crocheted Jacket to go with skirt.

Finally!  Having handspun yarn for a skirt, I was thrilled with the handwoven, simple, above-the-knee skirt.  The yarn was spun from Hebridean fleece carded with all the leftover coloured bits from the workshops I teach.  There was not enough of the yarn left to crochet a jacket to go with it.  So having raked through my stash, I combined that yarn with some grey handspun alpaca and a commercially carded and handspun black Shetland/alpaca mix.  That yarn had been hanging about for a while, so it was a good plan.

Making the Jacket
The jacket was created by crocheted a chain long enough to go round my hips.  Then working UK double crochet (that’s single crochet if you are in the USA) one row of each colour in turn.  At the armholes I split it and crocheted the fronts then the back.  Joined the shoulders and went back to crochet the sleeves in the round , directly onto the garment. 
A tip for crocheted the sleeves of a garment without a pattern.
To make sure I got the two sleeves the same, not only did I write down what I did, but also crocheted the shaped part of one sleeve, then the shaped part of the other before finishing the bottom, straight section.  Just in case I put the project down for a while and forgot what to do.  It is of course possible to compare the two, but easy to end up one stitch out and end up with them different sizes.
Finishing
The jacket was finished by crocheting a wide band up the front in the grey alpaca.  Button holes were made a couple of rows from the finished edge. And then, a row of double crochet and one of crab stitch up the front, around the bottom edge and the sleeves.
Buttons
The buttons were made from some of the left over skirt fabric, and bring the outfit together nicely.  Button blanks 15mm size were bought on Amazon but you can do this round any button with a stem. 
Cut a circle somewhat wider than the button.  If using handwoven fabric, you may want to add an iron on backing to the fabric.  The one I used is a cotton one.  Stitch a running thread round the edge of the circle, then gather the stitching firmly around the stem of the button.
The Create With Fibre Community – our Facebook group – has lots of tips, chat and sharing.  Why not join us?
 
AND if you sign up for our newsletter you will get a free copy of Janet’s article on sorting and washing fleece.  
 

 

 

 

 

 

crocheting the glenfinnan viaduct

UPdate:  It took several months to complete the Knit 1 Bike 1 artwork after Janet returned home from her ten week bicycle and art tour. The first exhibition took place Oct – Dec 2016 at the textile tower house hawick. Here is the completed crocheted Glenfinnan Viaduct, with the train on top.    Whilst transferring to the new blog, this post was updated to include photos of the construction and development of the viaduct.  Getting it to stand up independently was the hardest thing and Janet’s hubby Lee was technical advisor and engineer, finally sorting it with medium tensile fence wire!

On the date this post was first written, the Sunday Post newspaper came to photograph the crocheted Glenfinnan Viaduct.    Here’s what she wrote at the time – it seems weird now that so much has happened since, all the art work is pretty much completed and the first exhibition has taken place.  Here is the Viaduct in the exhibition.

It was not finished by a long shot but with a big push this week, all three sections and 21 arches will now stand up.  Have stuffed it, stiffened the legs with Paverpol and used alloy rods threaded through to get the curve.  The curve will be more accurate once it is attached to the base. It had to be in three sections that velcro together due to it being 12ft/4m long.   Now to crochet the base, some mountains and of course a train for the top.

Can you spot the knitted Brompton bicycle like the one I cycled round Scotland on in the photo below?

Janet posing at the end of our street(!) with several onlookers whilst the Sunday Post took her photo.

The Viaduct was actually held up by tent pegs at the rear, although it did stand up when it was finally completed.  it was months of work.

 

 

 

Crocheting the train at the pub in a campsite.  It was so easy to do compared to the viaduct itself.

The base and arches drying in the garden.

 

 

The first few arches.   They were now 3 dimensional but I still had no idea whether the plan would work out.

a handspun, handwoven skirt

There is something about creating your own clothes from scratch. I mean really from scratch. This handwoven skirt started life as a Hebridean rare breed fleece. Hebridean is the blackest of black in colour. The only fleece that is truly black as opposed to nearly black
It is a double coated fleece with longer hair fibres and shorter fuzzy bits, making it interesting to spin. It also smells nicer than pretty much any other fleece so if you are a fibre sniffer it is for you!

So to begin with I carded the washed fleece with lots of coloured waste that was left over from workshops. I accumulate lots and always save it. Most was leftover ends of tops but there was a bit of silk too.  Spinning it long draw waa a breeze and made sure the bits did not work their way to the back of the rolag. It took me ages mainly because even at that stage it was scary to think of cutting the hand woven fabric. But eventually you just have to, unless you want to weave scarves and towels for ever.

The fabric was woven on a 24″/60cm  rigid heddle loom using a 12.5 dent heddle. This is the only loom you ever need in my opinion and i am passionate about them. I used a sewing pattern to cut the fabric but made up my own version of the pattern first, using an old sheet. and changing the size.  The lining is red satin.

Woven and knitted samples for the skirt.  The knitted sample was disappointing so the decision was taken to weave the skirt on a 20″ rigid heddle loom with a 10 dent heddle.  The samples were woven with 7.5, 10 and 12.5 dent heddles.

The handspun yarn on the loom.  It was made from Hebridean fleece carded with all the coloured bits left over from Janet’s many spinning workshops.

 

A Butterick pattern was used.  This was the wrong size so it was enlarged and a new pattern constructed using an old sheet.  This can now be adapted for any skirt I make in the future.

The skirt fits well, the fabric is durable and it has been worn lots.

the back zip on the skirt
the lining

 

 

weaving in the English Lakes

So here I go again.  Teaching weaving at Hgham Hall Bassenthwaite Lake near Cockermouth. Having warped all ten looms on on Monday for the Catstrand course Hubby and I warped them all again for the Higham course.  Well we didnt really need them all you understand but then i thought i may as well warp one for myself.  And take a couple of spares in case of last minute bookings. And one as a demo for techniques…you get the picture. And it only takes a few minutes to warp one of these looms.

So then I got an insatiable urge to weave some log cabin.  Rigid heddle looms are mind boggling because just by warping in two colours you can create an almost infinite number of patterns.  In fact just by weaving log cabin there is infinite variation. So i warped my larger, 20″/50cm  rigid heddle loom at 10pm because all of the others now had a plain warp on them.   The scarf was woven with New Lanark yarns.  These are spun at the Museum mill in Lanarkshire Scotland and they now have a wonderful range of yarns and colours.

There are almost infinite variations of log cabin. The weaving on the loom
The finished scarf

its easier to blog when you’re not writing a book…

The Knit 1 bike 1 book is finished. It has a lot more commas in it than i would like but is edited and all sqeaky clean. Hubby read it after the editor and pronouncec it a page turner! Publication date early May.

I have almost caught up with everything since getting home from the bike ride and am doing lots of workshops. Pics from Edinburgh Yarn Festival where i taught five workshops last weekend. Awesome festival!

A ‘Pre book’ book signing at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival. This was before I even set off on the bike and they were so supportive of the project.
Spindling at EYF
Busy spindlers.
Spinning wheel class at EYF

Parrot rescue

Met this guy in Dumfries. He is from parrot rescue. This Amazon orange tip is 11 and will live till he is 85 all things being equal. Apparently he used to be a biter but being hand fed porridge and being given lots to do turned him into a lovely bird.

A rescued parrot in Dumfries. Parrot Rescue in the area had 90 of them!
This guy runs parrot rescue and even went to Morecambe to collect a parrot at no notice to save it.