Tuesday, 20 December 2011


This is a time of year when we traditionally look both back at what has happened and forward to what may come. It has been a busy year for me, with wonderful opportunities but I am increasingly wondering who I am, as a textile artist. I wasn't even sure what I meant by the question when I thought about it, usually in the shower.....

I think back to those people who have had enormous influence over me, things they have said, things I have seen them do and how I view them. I was very struck by one of my first teachers telling me that she sees things in numbers: if she is planting a flowerbed she will see 7 tulips, nine daffodils, three iris and twenty-one crocus. When that is sorted in her mind, she will move on to the subtlties of colour, texture, spacing and timing of flowering. When I repeated this apparently bizarre account to another weaving friend, she said: "Well, don't you see it like that?!"

No, I certainly don't! But I wonder now about how I do see things, and if I was planting that same flowerbed, how I would visualize it right at the beginning? And I realise that I see things initially as textile, or aspects thereof. I look at a catkin and see a braid, I look at bourgainvillea arch and see a shawl, in silk. I look at a painting and my brain automatically begins to translate it into cloth, yarn and dye. A flower will be a subtley shaded, naturally dyed fleece; a skyscraper will be a repp woven mat; popcorn will be a textured yarn.

I like to do everything from scratch and, stupidly, feel that if every aspect of an item hasn't been produced from the raw material (scoured, carded/combed, spun, dyed and knitted or woven) by me, it has somehow failed a test I set myself. I am, however, realising that if I want to produce more textiles, I need to give myself permission to use commercially spun and dyed yarn - after all, I have no problem with my friends and colleagues using these 'short cuts.' And the skills of dyeing and weaving are valuable and satisfying in their own right.

A very happy celebration and 2012 to you all

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Long time, no blog

Well, what a lot has happened since I last put in an appearance on this page!

Fleece First is up, running and nearly over - finishes next week for those of you near Bovey Tracey who haven't seen it yet; I've managed to crack the lampas weave and finish my sample from Jetta Vandermain's course in - well, some months ago....

Since then I have been on two more courses - one extreme to the other, you might say. Ann Richards with collapse weave making very fine, delicate samples; and Jason Collingwood making fab rug samples. Both of these, in their different ways, made me very happy and I will be taking pix at some time in the near future and showing you what I have achieved.

In the meantime, here is a photo of the woven fabric in the exhibition:

Friday, 2 September 2011

What happened to my resolution to update the blog every week without fail?! Life, I suppose. I am still spinning madly away to get the yarn done for the fabric and when that is finished, the dyeing and weaving are still to do.

This is the colour sample on the loom - the blue is woad and the brown walnut. The yarn is Bluefaced Leicester, combed on English woolcombs - hard work! - and spun worsted. I've currently spun just over half the warp.

Combing - you can see the unwashed fleece on the floor, though the fibres were clean when I combed them

Pulling the fibres through the diz - this preparation is more than worth the work - properly combed sliver is a joy to spin.

Fibre Fest was a busy weekend for us and it was very nice to see lots of old friends there and make new ones. The silk workshop went well and it was particularly nice to have Maria from Moscow there, though I haven't been able to suggest what she can do with 10kg of carrier rods! Well, I have given her suggestions but I think she has a lifetime's supply...

Last weekend was a family party, and lovely to see so many relatives- though a bit of a shock to see that a gorgeous baby I remember is now 6 and at school! Still gorgeous, of course, but he might appreciate my saying that!

The bee-keeper is currently in occupation in the kitchen and is quietly delighted at the amount of honey he has this year, despite the weather being unhelpful for these wonderful little creatures. I really don't think the world in general appreciates insects as much as we should.

Next week, if anyone is in the Tavistock area, I will be spinning at the Alexander Centre on Monday afternoon - teaching, so there's still time to sign up, indigo dyeing on Tuesday, likewise, and helping with textile design on Thursday.

Tomorrow is Fleece Fair day at Dulverton - see Devon Fine Fibres webpage for details. I shall be there with spinning wheel, spindles and assorted spinning and weaving gear, so maybe see some of you there? It is an opportunity in particular for farmers to see how we use their fibre.

Am I the only one whose inbox is filling with suggestions of what to buy friends and family for Christmas? The children haven't one back to school after the summer break yet and already the rush to part us from our money has begun.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Well, it's a while since I updated this blog because I have been getting some much needed inspiration and education and preparing a major piece of work for Fleece First, an exhibition to be held at Devon Guild of Craftsmen in September, October and November. September is next month.....

First the silkworms. They are all but two in their cocoons now and I won't be raising any more this year as the oak is not good and my privet bushes for the Samia have taken a bit of a hammering and need to regenerate.

I've been on two marvellous courses, one weaving, one dyeing. Weaving first - Jette Vandermain from Canada came to Devon Weavers Workshop to teach a course on Lampas, a structure I had never tried before. It is totally fascinating and has such possibilities. My sample warp is still on the loom and I am longing to finish it, not least because I will be doing a course with Ann Richards in September and already have my high twist yarns and instructions for making the warp......Plus a recents small bequest has enabled the purchase of a mechanical Magic Dobby loom and I'm longing to have a go with it!

The other course was with Michel Garcia, natural dyer extrodinaire. I had been one of the mob surrounding his instant, organic indigo vat at ISEND and was delighted to hear that he would be teaching at the National Quilt Festival at the NEC.

We made vats with bananas and indigo, henna and indigo, indigo balls, metallic vats (not organic, but non-polluting). We made resists, we overdyed with madder, cochineal, weld (found in a field near the NEC!) and an indigo paste we could paint with. Absolute bliss!

The picture shows some of the resist effects: white on blue, and mordant resists with weld and madder

Inbetween all this excitement we had a family wedding in Wales, beautiful bride, handsome groom, lovely countryside - shame about the rain but it was Wales in August!

Now I have a week, nearly, to get ready for FibreFest, so back to the dyepost, spinning wheel and loom and hope to see some of you there!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Sunshine and showers

Well, the weather is behaving in the way to which we have become accustomed - rain, then scorching dry days and then more rain and chilly winds. The Japanese indigo doesn't seem to mind, and I've already had one very successful woad vat from a plant that decided to spend the year in the polytunnel! Lovely blues, and I will be doing a woad vat on Wednesday with Claire Crompton, of Give Fleece a Chance fame.

This week I have been trying to make a start on my project for the Fleece First Exhibition to be held at Devon Guild of Craftsmen, in the autumn. I'm using Bluefaced Leicester fleece, from a local farmer, Neil Coles, and will be combing the fibres on English woolcombs in a traditional preparation. It will be woven on my Delta loom but the yarn design and weave technique are still at the mulling over stage - the adrenaline is beginning to kick in, so hopefully this time next week there will be something positive to report.

The photo shows the fibres at the bottom with the combed sliver on the left and the noil (waste from combing) on the right. I have to make dye decisions too - woad is obviously on my mind so maybe that will be the colour to choose.

My a.pyrni caterpillars are now the size of my index finger and they have gone quite pale, so I hope that they will be spinning soon. The S.ricini are still munching merrily away on the privet and the first few hatchlings of the Eri eggs have started appearing - if all the eggs hatch I hope the piviet will be able to cope! I hope there will be some caterpillars to show at FibreFest, particularly if the silk spinning course gets any takers....

Back to the combs - no wonder woolcombers were usually big strong men, my shoulders are aching and I've only done a few grams!

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Just a quickie!

Just to remind you that Fibrefest is happening at Bicton College in August and that I will be doing a mini-silk spinning course during the event. If anyone wants to come and try their hand at spinning this most wonderful fibre, look at www.fibrefest2011.org for details

Monday, 27 June 2011

Another Monday

The weeks whizz round so fast and each new Monday brings with it the knowledge that everything I needed to do last week still awaits me...

I had a fantastic time at Devon Weavers' Workshop, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, learning all about lampas. Jette Vandermeidan is certainly the best tutor I have ever had, and I've had the benefit of doing classes with some of the most highly regarded in the world! So, I am really enjoying the workout my poor old brain has had - doing two seperate warps that sometimes interlock and sometimes don't, each capable of weaving two structures and all the possibilities that offers, has been a bit of a shock to the system! Pictures when I am happy with the samples.

Yesterday I travelled to the other side of the moor to teach a dye workshop at Organic Arts. We had a fantastic time, got lots of colour from the plants growing on the farm and I was pleased to have a squizz at the new dye garden. I have given them some madder and Japanese indigo, so hopefully that will get them off to a good start. Wonderful to see how the dye garden movement is taking off in this part of the UK.

We dyed with weld, madder, woad, oak, ash, beech, willow, nettle, onion skin, and then overdyed some of the yellows and the madder with woad to get purples and greens. Fantastic! And the weather was wonderful, too.

The caterpillars are growing away, doing their thing quietly. I have high hopes that my Eri eggs will hatch and give me the option to continuously brood this species, as their silk is good. They eat evergreen pivet, so I can feed them all year round.

The plan for this week is to get lots of dyeing done for a school fair on Friday - my little gradaughter's school, so all the stops pulled out, and to make a start on an exhibition project. Will also need to fit in gardening, washing, housework, etc, so don't expect to hear from me for a while....

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Rainy Sunday

Summer is on a break at the moment here in gloomy Devon.

Last weekend I taught a very successsful session on indigo in a tent at Bovey Tracey Contemporary Craft Fair, an event that gets better with each passing year. The indigo vat did what it was supposed to do and the participants had some lovely dyed fabrics to take away.

On Saturday I gave a talk on natural dyeing to Devon Guild of WS&D, followed by a workshop the next day.

We used two yellows, weld and dhak; two reds, madder and red lac; and we had a natural indigo reduction vat on the go as well. Considering we started with unmordanted fibre/yarn and only had 6 hours, the group achievement was excellent. We dyed protein fibres, cellulose fibres, yarns and fabric. We painted top, painted yarn and immersion dyed and did colour mixing, when the indigo came into its own. There are photos, but sadly I didn't take them! If anyone likes to send them to me, I will post them on here

The skein below was painted with weld and red lac extract, covering some white areas in clingfilm to prevent the colour spreading into the white. It was well wrapped, steamed and then dipped in indigo to produce the blues, greens and purples. Careful measuring of the dye extracts to provide the required depth of colour without wasting any resulted in an almost clear rinse - there was a minute trace of the red lac but that was probably unavoidable.

Lac, weld and indigo skein, both sides

Friday took me to Cornwall Guild, once more in the rain and wind, to do a Whacky Fibres workshop. The group had taken advantage of the recent Wingham Wools visit to stock up on all manner of weird and wonderful fibres so we had plenty to choose! We worked from one picture, chosen by the group, everyone selected a some fibres that they thought related to the picture and then we made a giant batt (or several!) on an Ashford Wild Carder and some rather more sedate batts on a Barnett. The batts were divided, spun according to individual preferences, and then the yarns were put back around the picture. We found, as usually happens with this exercise, that every element of the picture was represented - colour, texture and form. That said, I'm not sure that there were any obvious uses for this collection but the aim was to get people really looking at the relationship between the fibres and image. There was great excitement and soon the students were rushing off to repeat the exercise with their own pictures....

A similar exercise from a class in The Hague is illustrated on our Creative Spinning blog.

I've finally got round to photographing the walnut leaf dye yarns.

The darker skein and silk have been dyed in the walnut leaf liquid with no mordant and the lighter skein and silk have been pre-mordanted with alum and CoT. There is a more tobacco-like colour to the unmordanted skein and it is definitely more of a yellow brown than one would expect from the hulls. The alum seems to have increased the yellow potential and though the baths were split equally, so that the strengths were the same, the mordanted skein looks as though it has been in an exhaust of the first!

On the silkworm front, I have some S.Ricini cats coming along nicely and some a.pernyi getting very fat...The Eri moths are mating and laying so I hope that I can continuously brood this variety but we will have to wait and see how it goes.

I'm hoping the rain will keep away long enough for a jaunt round some Open Gardens this afternoon, my reward for spending yesterday doing a stock-take at the studio!

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Vat Revisited

I forgot to say that the jar in which the vat was made holds approx 2 litres and I filled it to about 75% of its capacity. I apologise for the two photos being marked 'Left' and 'Right' being on top of one another instead of side by side, but however often I move them back to where they should be, save them, blogspot moves them back again........

This morning the vat is cold but still at pH 11, so I will try again but it won't be till this evening. In our south west facing, double glazed conservatory, it may well warm up by itself during the course of the day.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Michel Garcia vat

This vat has been a puzzle since La Rochelle but I have clarified the oyster shell component with Michel, who explained that in order to use the shells, they need to be heated to 1,000deg C. He has a pottery kiln, so this is not a problem for him. He suggested I use calcium hydroxide
This afternoon I made the vat according to Garcia (his proportions, my quantities):

1 teaspoon of indigo - I used Pure Tinctoria powdered extract

2 teaspooons of calcium hydroxide

3 teaspoons of fructose

The teaspoons were level and the vat is a large Kilner Jar.

The pH was 11, as recommended by Garcia

Within 10 minutes the vat had gone from grey through green to yellow

By 25 minutes, there was blue foam forming on the top and a coppery scum developing - much like my rising levels of excitement!

After 30 minutes the foam had turned dark blue

Left: Vat at 25 mins, Right at 45 mins containing cotton
At 45 minutes, the vat should be ready, according to the instructions. The pH was still 11 and remained at that level throughout the dye session.
I put in a cotton wool ball and a piece of cotton in the vat which now had the sherry colour that one expects from woad

The first dip, airing

The second dip for cotton (large piece) and first for linen

Third dip for cotton and second for linen

All in all, very successful and the vat is by no means exhausted, so I will go on until one of us gives up! What I'm not sure about is how to revive such a vat - there's no problem with reviving more usual vats. I warm them up, correct the alkalinity and put some reducing agent in and they come round. This will need some experimentation, I think

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Things are hotting up!

I've got two huge dyepots on the go, one full of mares-tail that I am hoping will give me some green though so far there is no indication it is going to give me anything, and one full of walnut leaves that are bound to give a nice brown. Some walnut leaves, rescued from a branch that needed to come out, are being boiled up as one might with any fresh dyeplant, some are soaking to see if the colour is stronger for soaking. Research seems to indicate that it will be, but time will tell.

I have moved one lot of moths from the breeding cage - they have all sacrificed their lives for the future generation as is the way with moths - and put the eggs in a quiet place to hatch. I will have to transfer a bumper population of a.pyrni into the mating cage, though some are already enthusiastically creating the next lot of babies! It never ceases to amaze me how powerful the mating urge is but I suppose if you only metamorphasise in order to produce fertile eggs, it wouldn't be much use to spend your short life with a headache...As the photo shows, the male is in great demand! Not sure if you can see from the photo but he has three ladies in the queue!

Friday, 20 May 2011


Not a spelling error - a group of us went to Maristow today to begin clearing the dye garden. I suggested to Jenny, whose gardens they are, that she should apply to hold the national collection of perennial and annual weeds! Nevertheless, a stout hearted gang of us: Philippa, Janet, Sue, Paddy, Jill and I, spent the day pulling out bindweed, bramble, giant hogweed, groundsel, nettles, docks and other sundry unwanted plants. I know that nettles are good for dye, but there are plenty in other places in the gardens. We cleared about a third of the ground and were joined by my husband, Mike, for the afternoon.

We moved a smoke bush, cotinus, from its rather unhappy position outside the walls and into our dye patch, marked out two beds and sowed safflower, coreopsis tinctoria and woad. We planted hollyhocks and edged one of the beds with Lady's Mantle. There is a small elder already in situ, and when we have cleared some more space, we will move two small New Zealand flax plants into the dye garden in order to give us some fibre!

Though we may be rather late in sowing, we hope that we will get something to use this year to show for all our hard work, and we have made a start - probably the single most important thing.

The photo shows the progress we have made - the whole bed looked the area you can see behind us. Sadly, I forgot to take one as we finished for the day, so you can't see the beginnings of the beds!

Saturday, 7 May 2011


My brain is still overloaded with all the information that bombarded us in La Rochelle but I am still experiencing the warm glow of hope offered by the Symposium - a machine developed in Taiwan that can dye fabric in natural colours in industrially sensible quantities; the high quality extracts being produced in Europe as well as Asia; the coming together of all manner of people from 80 countries in pursuit of the goal of making natural dyeing culturally and commercially viable and forging new relationships. If you want the ultimate networking format, ISEND is it!

Delegates ranged from university professors to practioners, via dye producers to retailers, fashion designers, textile students, chemists, anthropologists, historians, botanists and individuals who like to 'play.' Friendships were forged - and a sense of community created, particularly necessary for those of us who sometimes feel we are a lone, eccentric voice preaching to the uninterested.

And there is more moth mating today - so if only the weather would improve so the dye plants can go out, all would absolutely perfect. The rain is much needed, though the bees aren't terribly keen and I am going to Maristow Gardens tomorrow to help Jenny Tunley Price start the dye garden - sh e has been using a digger this weekend, so I hope we are not going to be drowned in mud! If you don't know about Maristow, look at www.maristowwalledgardens.co.uk

I am off to my land guild, Peter Tavy, to talk about Isend with my travelling companion, Paddy Younge, then this afternoon I must start potting on the Japanese indigo before they all expire from overcrowding.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

ISEND, or Dyed and Gone to Heaven

Well, not sure where to start really when reporting back on the International Symposium and Exhibition of Natural Dyes! It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my textile life and I came away feeling much more hopeful for the future of this vital way of creating colour from the resources provided by nature. The photo above shows me on the left and Alison Daykin, under the huge sign that advertises what is happening inside Espace Encon.

450 people attended, from 60 different countries, all bringing their expertise and enthusiasm for natural dyes and with a willingness to share what they knew. We understand that this knowledge, some of which is still confined to very small populations in remote areas of the world, must be preserved before it is too late.

There is so much to say that I think it will gradually emerge over the next few postings, but I had the opportunity to meet two of my dye extract suppliers, Andi from Renaissence Dyes and Patrick from Coleurs de Plantes, and even better, to go to Coleurs de Plantes premises and see for myself the care that is taken in producing these extracts - no synthetics used, just plant material and drying techniques. I watched Yoshika Wada make resist paste from rice bran, tried to see Michel Garcia's indigo vat but the crowd was too deep (got the recipe, though!), have a tiny piece of silk dyed with shellfish purple extract during a demonstration with Dr Takako Terada from Kwassui Women's University in Japan, made a piece of marbled indigo on silk...some much to do and so nice to meet up with friends old and new, and put faces to people only known up to now online.

La Rochelle, the venue, is a beautiful old town and I have taken dozens of photos of the buildings - just my style, late medieval and early modern. Wish I'd popped across when doing my degree as my essays would have been far more interesting! Eating fresh strawberries from Provence, bought in the market, in the gardens of the Natural History Museum, in the sun - April doesn't get much better than that!

Then to get home and find moths emerging and mating taking place made the perfect end to the perfect week. More soon...

Friday, 22 April 2011


Well, it's a couple of hours later than my post and I now have a picture or two, though it is another swarm! We are running out of space, and desperate bee-keepers all around us are in the same predicament. It will be absolutely wonderful if we can keep all these casts that are developing - it will increase the bee population dramatically. At this exact moment, at least three bee-keepers I know are frantically trying to rearrange their hives, build more supers and generally keep up with this population explosion, the like of which, we can't remember!

Just a Quickie!

Well, it's been some time since I posted and a lot has happened. Some good, some not so good but I am gradually getting back into the swing of things.

Our trip to the Netherlands was great and we produced some fabulous yarns in the Whacky Fibres workshop in The Hague. There are lots of pix and information on the Creative Spinning blog, www.creativespinning.wordpress.com, should you wish to have a peep. In Zeeland, Alison and I had the opportunity to do some design work with Helen Melvin's landscape felters and we all thoroughly enjoyed both the process and the outcomes. As usual, it was lovely to meet old friends and make new ones, and I was particularly delighted to see that two of my students from last year had really made use of those workshops to create some wonderful items - their development was also evident in the yarns the created this year. I am not going to name names - look at the blog and see if you can tell who they are!

This morning the first two silkmoths of the year, a. pernyi, have appeared, a male and a female. So I am hoping for a positive outcome, although they are not yet making any great effort to mate! They are very close though, so fingers crossed. Might have some baby caterpillars when I return from France next Sunday - there is someone at home to do the necessary feeding should they get on with it.

France - ISEND, the International Symposium and Exhibition of Natural Dyeing. This is something I have been looking forward to for about six months. If you want to see why, go to www.isend2011.com. The only downside is that in order to catch the plane to La Rochelle, we need to get up at 4 am on Sunday morning - still, we should miss any bank holiday traffic!

I was hoping to add a photo of a swarm of bees in our garden - my husband is a beekeeper, so insects are a bit of an obssession in our household. Whilst writing about ISEND, I saw him put on his hat and veil and he said one of the hives had swarmed and were in the medlar tree - this is the third time this week, despite him checking twice a day for any emerging queens. By the time I got the camera - on my desk next to the computer - and out into the garden, about 2 mins, literally, they had gone. There are a few stragglers circling the tree but where the bulk have disappeared to who knows where. I daresay there'll be a phone call from a neighbour any minute now! It is very, very hot for April and we are hoping that the weather doesn't repeat last year's performance when the bees were active very early in the season but then came the rain, the flowers were either knocked down by the heavy showers or never came to anything and the poor old bees suffered. The poor things are under enough pressure from disease, climate change and lack of awareness of how crucial they are to the survival of human life on this planet - they deserve to have a great year. All our hives are in fine condition at the moment, hence the populations swarming to start new colonies and some we have on a nearby farm are producing a wonderful honey flow already.

I expect this is the last you'll hear from me until after ISEND.

Have a fantastic Easter - be sure I will!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Who says natural dyes are boring?!

I stock some yummy fat yarn, a single so I suppose really it is a giant pencil roving, that I dye and sell to knitters and weavers who want a fast result! I am often asked what it looks like knitted up and began a blanket, in log cabin style, to have as a sample on display. As I was making it, a friend fell in love with it and so I finished it to fit her when she was lying down, toes covered at one end and reaching generously to her chin at the other. Friends and colleagues at Duchy Square began referring to this project as 'Blankie,' and progress was watched with interest. Blankie is pictured above with some dyed yarns

Moving on a year, I had a burning desire to try weaving Blankie 2 - the warp is on the loom now, slightly more progress than you will see in the photo of the warp raddled. The dyes are cutch, madder, dhak and a mix based on weld extract. I hope to have some woven fabric to show later this week but realistically I have very little time as I will also be preparing for the annual teaching trip to The Netherlands with my good friends Alison Daykin, Amanda Hannaford and Helen Melvin. We are all getting excited now, and I think I can speak for all of us when I say that these visits are inspiring, exciting and all round positive experiences. Can't wait!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Well, another busy few days have sped past, leaving me wondering where the time goes.
I had a most enjoyable day at Bicton College on Tuesday, teaching natural dyeing to a very nice group of ladies, amongst whom were two who preferred to weave. So I turned up with looms, hot-plates, dyes, fibres and all manner of 'stuff' - think I will have to get a bigger car! We dyed with saffron, cochineal and indigo thought the modifying was a bit disappointing - I think in my desperation to ensure everyone had a decent colour from the pots, I probably used more dye than necessary. Very bad practice environmentally but worry not, we saved all the dye liquor for the ladies to use later.

Carol and Mair produced some fabulous weaving and I am fantasizing about a Bicton wall-hanging, incorporating lots of plant material from the gardens, though I expect one would have to fight the horticultural department for some of the best examples! I was presented with the most beautiful bouquet that I am still enjoying - thank you all, especially Gill.

On Thursday I hosted a Peter TAvy Guild inbetween day at Duchy Square and visitors to Laura Wall's wonderful art show (Love at the Seaside, www.Laurawall.com ) were somewhat taken aback to find the gallery full of ladies spinning. Laura herself popped in to change some paintings and she was very pleased to see us. We had a lovely day and I achieved one of my 'must get round to it' jobs of spinning a fair amount of last summer's silk harvest.

On Friday my good friend Archie Dickens, another silkworm fanatic, came to see me and we had a very absorbing time going through the suppliers websites, and choosing the varieties we will keep in 2011. I have my fingers crossed that my cocoons will have survived our very cold winter - they are in a fridge in the garage and I hope the fridge will have stayed above freezing.

Next Friday is Textile Friday at Duchy Square so if you are in the neighbourhood of Duchy Square (www.duchysqare.org ) and you enjoy textile talk, come and join us. We are there from 10-4 and will be delighted to see you

Thursday, 3 February 2011


I've had fleece on my mind over the past few days. First, a visit to the National Sheep Society and meeting some fellow wool devotees and supporters of the Campaign for Wool, yesterday. Then today my good friend Claire Crompton came to sort out some spinning techniques for her flock of mini-sheep, created from yarn grown, spun and knitted in the south west UK. The flock is growing and you can read all about it on Claire's blog: ukfleece.wordpress.com.

Claire bought me a Cotswold fleece, obtained from a farmer who doesn't do anything with it, regarding it as a waste product. It looks gorgeous - what do I mean by that? It is filthy - sheep live in fields and don't have access to regular wash and brush-ups, so that is to be expected. Vegetable matter attaches itself to the fibres, occasionally small insects (dead, usually!) are to be found lurking in the locks of wool, and quite often the remains of normal biological processes are attached to the rear end of the fleece. And it usually smells of sheep - an acquired taste. It is possible, and quite straightforward to buy ready processed, clean wool top to spin so why on earth would I want to use the raw fibre that needs to be scoured, dried, combed or carded according to the fibre type and intended spin? Masochism?

I love fleece, and I particularly love the qualities that remain in the fibre when it has been prepared by hand. The fleece I work with is generally from a breed I can identify, will have come from a local farmer, is intended for an end product for which it is entirely suited and will require skill and patience to turn it from smelly, mucky fleece into gorgeous yarn. The preparation and spin I use will be chosen to retain the particular quality of the wool and the skills I have developed over 30+ years will show me when it is appropriate to stick to the traditional preparation and spin, and when 'breaking' those rules will give something truly unique and wonderful.

I am going to put my fleece in a bucket of water to soak, and dream about what I shall do with it when it has been scoured.....

Thursday, 27 January 2011

A Late Happy New Year

Well, I haven't had much to say for myself recently but have been planning projects. I have an exhibition coming up in March, am writing a follow up to Creative Spinning with my friend and co-author Alison Daykin, planning a trip to The Netherlands in March to teach some workshops along with Alison, Amanda Hannaford and Helen Melvin, going to ISEND in April and am wondering when to start getting the cocoons out of the fridge! I hope they have survived and that the fridge has, ironically, been warmer than the garage was in the depth of the snow and ice...

I have been dyeing with some eucalyptus bark from Spain and have got some lovely browns, reminiscent of the colours from walnut.