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, ) 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 ( ) 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:

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.....