Friday 10 December 2010

Yesterday I had a great day out with friends Isabella Whitworth and Claire Crompton as we braved the icy roads to visit Lesley Prior and her wonderful fibre animals. Sadly, I forgot my camera but there are lots of pictures of the Bowmonts and the cashmere and angora goats on Lesley's blog:

Bowmonts are unique in the UK in several ways: they are the only commercial flock that is being bred specifically for fibre; they are the only Bowmonts in existence; they live a life of sheep luxury! That last point may not be unique but it is certainly unusual. Sadly for us, but wonderfully for Lesley and the Bowmonts, the fleece is in such demand commercially that there is not a huge amount available for the handspinners

Sunday 5 December 2010

Well, the weather is going the right way and we are a lot less frozen this weekend than we were last. Let's hope it holds.
You will see the TAFA logo on the blog - have a look. It is the most fantastic resource and is an ideal way to while away a wet Sunday afternoon, especially if Santa has some chores for you do!

I am going to put some wonderful eucalyptus bark into soak for a week to see if I can get some exciting colour. It was grown in southern Spain and is a gift from a friend. I shall be interested to see if the bark grown in a hot climate differs in the colour that is produced from my little Silver Dollar gum in the chillier south west of the UK.

Clothes moths are a topic that has been raised on my friend Lesley Prior's blog (www.devonfinefibres.wordpress). Apparently people are concerned about the little blighters eating woollen garments, and that is why they are reluctant to buy natural fibres. I can tell you that if natural fibres aren't available and you have case moths or carpet beetles, that they are quite happy to eat synthetic fibres.....I would urge those of you who swat any moth you see that you check it is one of the clothes moth varieties. Thousands of moths are swatted to death every year when they venture through an open window, usually attracted by a light. These moths have no interest in your belongings, are already under threat from environmental pressures, are pollinators and a valuable food source for birds. The case moth, or clothes moth, is a weedy little specimen, doesn't seem to like the light much, leaves evidence of its presence with the little 'cases' from which the larvae emerge as moths and by then the damage is done, as it is the larve who eat the fibres, not the adults.

So how do you combat them? I keep my clean fleece in vacuum bags, wash dirty fleece as soon as I get it, put suspect fibres in the freezer overnight and repeat in 12 days to catch any eggs that may have hatched in the meantime. I vacuum dark corners, cupboards and drawers regularly and keep a mothball in my vacuum cleaner bag. I have no faith in lavender, sanderswood, cedar or any of the other so called anti-moth smellies, but I do regret the passing of newspaper printed with proper ink - that did help keep the moth down, because the ink contained a poison. I do keep my handspun yarn in hanks rather than balls and if they are to stored for any length of time, I undo the skein, give them a shake, and hang them in the sun every few weeks.

I raise silkmoths, as regular readers of this blog will know, so cannot afford to have chemical controls around the place - poison will not discriminate between useful and destructive moths!

Back to the loom....

Thursday 2 December 2010

Sunday 28 November 2010

Give Fleece a Chance Knitathon

This was very successful! We had spinners and knitters and the flock was increased significantly with more sheep on the go, including mine. We had two press photographers, one of them Mike Kinsey who as well as doing great photos is also half of the great husband and wife team who run the Oratory B&B, Highly recommended by friends who have stayed there.

We had a visit from Sally Vincent,, who keeps Whitefaced Dartmoors and is very supportive of the Campaign for Wool. Again and again we discover that instead of being a small, eccentric group of wool worshippers, we are part of a huge network of discontent over the woeful state of British wool: but the stopper is out of the bottle now, and we hope to make some real progress so that farmers, makers and consumers can have the benefit of a fair price for excellent fleece, cutting edge creations and the satisfaction of reducing carbon footprints by using what is locally available.

Right, off the soapbox and back to the loom!

Thursday 25 November 2010

Give Fleece a Chance!

Just a reminder to anyone out there within easy reach of Duchy Square, Princetown, that tomorrow is the Give Fleece a Chance Knit-Athon at DS Centre for Creativity. It is also Textile Friday - you can never have too much of a good thing!

On Monday, Claire Crompton and I went to visit Sandy Gilbert, to see her studio and work. We had a very enjoyable afternoon looking at sheep, angora goats, yarns, fibres and finished goods. Yummy!

Monday 15 November 2010

Another week over and another week nearer Christmas! We have had some appalling weather and that may be responsible for the virus I've been suffering. It caused me to miss some exciting textile related jollifications: Women's Wellbeing Day in Sidmouth and KnitExpo in Exeter. I was supposed to be present/represented at both but in the end made neither.....

I'm inspired by Laverne Waddington's blog entry: and the fabulous weaving she has just seen in Peru - so many ideas, so little time!

I am experimenting with doubleweave pick-up at the moment and am getting more and more excited. I am also becoming infatuated with the idea of a drawloom....

Dying has been going well and this batch of yarn has really delighted me. The colours are Madder, from Coleur de Plantes, Cutch Waste and Dhak from Pure Tinctoria, mordanted with alum and cream of tartar on a 70% alpaca, 30% Blueface Leicester yarn from John Arbon: Glorious yarn and the dyeing has been fantastic.
I have some more in a different colourway but the skeins need tidying up before I photograph them.
The other really exciting thing that is happening in the dyeing part of my life is that I am going to ISEND next April. This will be a fantastic event and I am lucky to be going with several colleagues and friends - that always helps!

Sunday 7 November 2010

Another busy week has come to an end and I look back at all the things I promised myself would be done, and haven't!

On Thursday afternoon I went with Philippa and Laura, colleagues from Duchy Square,, to be interviewed on Radio Devon. Our interviewer was Fitz (David Fitzgerald) and if you should be interested, you can listen again online until Tuesday. We talked about Duchy Square Centre for Creativity, what it's for, what it is like being there and I got in a plug for using local fleece.

On Friday I ran a morning workshop for some of Peter Tavy Guild's weavers on how to read a weave draft. The discussion generated over the yummy soup and rolls lunch provided by Hilary, has resulted in our forming a weave study group. Striking while the iron is hot, I turned up at the Guild the following day with a challenge!

We are going to weave a minimum of 20 x 20 cm (8 x 8) samples, using only straight entry and black, white, grey and one colour for the warp. If all 10 of us do our bit, we shall have 80 samples to inspect in January. It will be really fascinating to see how different they will all be.

Tomorrow I am going to teach Lucie Ponsford ( natural dyeing. Lucie is a fantastic designer and she upcycles old clothes into the most fabulous new creations. Wednesday I am going to help a friend put up her new-to-her loom, Thursday a meeting with Claire Crompton, knitwear designer par excellence and creator of the Give Fleece a Chance ( project, Friday is Duchy Square Christmas Fair in the evening, and then on Saturday I will be in two places at once....I will be in one and my presence will be represented in the other as I have yet to master the ability to split myself in two.

I hope to find time to experiment with some delicious steel yarn I was given, so watch this space!

Monday 1 November 2010


Well, Duchy Square Textile Fair has been and gone and was a rip-roaring success! We had some wonderful stalls, including Handweavers Gallery: , Fiery Felts, , KnitExpo, and many others - google Duchy Square Textile Fair for a complete list.

Now I have to get on with the work that has been piling up, including some weaving samples for Giles and Joanna of Avocet Alpacas, a double weave blanket in natural dyes for me - probably! - more dye experiments, work for the Christmas fairs that are rapidly coming up, and planning for the Fleece First exhibition that is being curated by my good friend Isabella Whitworth and will be held at the end of next year at Devon Guild of Craftsmen.

2011 will be a great year - the regular teaching visit to The Netherlands with Alison Daykin, Amanda Hannaford and I and next time we are delighted that Helen Melvin is joining the team. Then ISEND in La Rochelle in April, then the Fleece First exhibition in the autumn - all wonderful opportunities.

So rather than sitting in front of a computer, I should really do some work!

Monday 4 October 2010

Time Flies...

Over a month since the last post, and a lot has happened, very exciting news for next year so watch this space......

The moths and caterpillars are finally over for this year, at last. We found one or two escapees who had cocooned in strange places - one in the recycling bin and how he got there is a real mystery. The silk crop for this year has been good and I have combed most of it out into lovely, long, lustrous fibre. Now I have to decide how to use it. Though I have managed to do a small sample from each variety to show with the moth when doing talks.

I have today had a bit of a dye fest - I've dyed a kilo each of madder and cutch, some cochineal, some dhak, mordented some top and some more yarn and am about to put some commercial silk fibre in the pot to mordant for the up and coming Textile Traders Day at Duchy Square. It's the 29th and 30th October, if anyone would like to come and see all the wonderful stuff on display and for sale there - after all, Christmas is coming.... Most of the dyeing is for me, but I have just put a kg of indigo dyed dk yarn in the post for a lady in Sussex.

Off to check the dyepots and will try to remember to keep a bit more up to date with the blog, but time will tell.

Thursday 2 September 2010

Autumn is upon us!

Well, it seems as if the summer is on its way out as the nights are drawing in, the evenings are getting chillier and the early morning is adorned with dewdropped cobwebs. I'm fed up with cooking the apples that are r apidly falling from the Grendier apple tree though will be grateful for them later in the winter when I can dig them out of the freezer.

The caterpillars are all cocooned now, apart from the last two - there are always a couple that keep hanging on till the bitter end but I suspect they are about to spin and I will be extremely glad to have my dining room table back! So the cocoon and dye fridge will be full again.

On the dye front, I am about to harvest my Japanese indigo, grown from plants supplied by my good friend, Isabella Whitworth ( , and hope to get some turquoise on silk as well as some blue. Last week Isabella used my studio at Duchy Square to cook her leaves and the amount of blue obtained looked extremely promising. I also have the last few woad plants to deal with.

I am waiting for some more mohair yarn, as the throw was so successful that other people have commissioned one - the fab fibre comes from another good friend, Lesley Prior, ( or more accurately, from her goats!
I also have to whip up some tapestry samples - though anyone who knows about tapestry will instantly understand that it can't be 'whipped up,' for a forthcoming tapestry course I have been asked to teach for the local education authority in Tavistock. It is entirely possible that this won't have sufficient numbers to run but one has to be prepared in any event. And the samples will be useful and fun to do - stretch the old brain a bit!

Our Textile Fridays - last Friday of the month at Duchy Square - are growing from strength to strength and I hope the Textile Fair that we are running in conjunction with the October Friday (29th and 30th) will attract a lot of people for the traders who are coming - should be wonderful fun, apart from anything else.

I have some old sheeting in the washing machine at the moment that I am going to dye as a contribution to Nick Viney's forthcoming exhibition at Duchy Square so I had better trot off and fish it out - it is destined for the indigo vat!

More shortly!

Sunday 25 July 2010

Time marches on...

Seems like a long time since I have added to the blog but I have not been idle. Over the past few weeks I have been weaving a throw, mohair, double width, finished size 200 x 200 (believe my arms have grown several inches!), had a delightful student for a week learning natural dyeing and gathered increasing amounts of foliage for the caterpillars.

The first photo is of one of my moths, taken through the netting of the cage. It dims the colour somewhat but she was rather agitated so did not want to open the cage and distress her further. The second photo is of a caterpillar who hasn't quite got the idea of what he is supposed to do! He has pupated without bothering to spin a cocoon first. As he is an Eri Silkmoth and his silk was destined to be part of a project, I am a bit disappointed that he has decided to skip the silk and go straight to metamorphasis. When this happens, as it does occasionally, it is usually because the caterpillars haven't had enough food, and therefore energy, to spin. All I can say to that is he and his companions had fresh food at all times and my privet is looking remarkably bare after the depredatations of feeding this batch.

I have Zara's permission to put the photos of her dyeing experiments on the blog so here are just a few of them:

Top left is woad; middle is myrobalan; far right is silk screen printed indigo
Bottom left is top to bottom : cochineal, cutch waste and annatto. Bottom right is silk screen printed red lac.
We both had a very good time, and I wish there was room here to show you the other 20 photos!
Now I must go and wind a sample warp for double weave alpaca......back soon!

Sunday 20 June 2010

Photo de jour

Well, this something I have never actually seen before - a Giant Atlas caterpillar eating his shed skin. Recycling is something I am generally in favour of, but not sure about this....At first I wasn't sure that he was actually consuming it, but he was.

I've just done today's major muck-out and the cat house now has Giant Atlas, s.ricini, a.pernyi, a.mylitta, 2 sorts of moon moth but can't remember which (will check records!), s. pavonia, one solitary little Great Peacock baby living with the s.pavonia, 2 baby Asian eyed moth cats - their siblings haven't survived, and some polyphemus. The GAs and the s.ricini are hopefully not far from cocooning, as are the s.pavonia, but the others are all first or second instar, so a busy time ahead.

I've got some solar dyes on the go again and am hoping to have a dye day soon - the woad is coming on nicely - but also have two deadlines coming up, one for some woven devore for which the samples have been disastrous, and the other for more devore and a rug, 2 cushions and a throw. Not to mention having rather a lot of fleece, as I may have mentioned before (there's more since then!). Oh, and two alpaca saddles to spin. Anyone know how to live without sleep?

Monday 7 June 2010

Peel me a grape!

Just thought you might like to see this Giant Atlas cat, looking for all the world as though he is waiting for someone to wait on him, like a Roman Emperor!

Silk crop

Not kept up with this as I had intended, but there you go!

All but three of the a.pernyi cocoons have emerged, I've had 6 observed pairings and have been distributing eggs to friends in order to avoid a population explosion of caterpillars!

I took 17 cocoons, weighing 20g, and degummed them yesterday. I now have 7.1 g of gorgeous tussah silk that you can see in the picture, together with a gummed cocoon and a moth. The cocoon is to the upper right hand side of the moth.

The Giant Atlas babies are growing well, as are the Emporer and s.ricini, and the Great Peacock babies have hatched at last, though they are doing their best to escape! I've found them all over the place - the lid on their little box must not be a good fit, so they now have a new home, hopefully escape proof.....

Sunday 30 May 2010

Matings and babies

Well, I have now had 9 a.pernyi emerge, six males and three females, so the poor girls are having a busy time! I've got eggs from two observed pairings and another taking place so I sincerely hope some cats will result.

My s. ricini are growing quite fast now and so are the Giant Atlas and Emperor caterpillars. No movement from the Great Peacock eggs, but there's still time, and quite honestly as we get to this stage every year with caterpillars everywhere, all needing LOTS of food, I wonder why I do it...because I just love them, is why. I am supposed to rearing them because I want the silk, but actually the pleasure and fascination of watcching the egg become the cat, the cat grow from a tiny beastie to a giant, then the cocoon spinning and finally the gorgeous, gorgeous moth really makes the silk a wonderful bonus!

And speaking of spinning, in addition to the rest of the stash I now have about 30 Blue face Leicester fleeces to deal with.....

Wednesday 26 May 2010

Spring has sprung

Well, after what seems like months of waiting for something moth-y to happen, I gave in and ordered some fresh cocoons and cats. Today some a.pernyi cocoons and s.ricini cats arrived in the post, all well. The cats are now happily ensconsed on some privet branches in wet Oasis foam and are chewing merrily away.

Two of the a.pernyi were emerging as I opened the package, both males and both, sadly, have not manged to pump up their wings so were destined to a merciful end in the freezer. Whilst contemplating this, a male and female emerged in the pop-up cage, so I transferred them to the mating cage into which I had put the two damaged males. I left them in peace for a bit, and having just looked at them, see that mating is already taking place but with the female and one of the badly deformed males! How he reached her from the far side of the bottom of the cage (actually a collapsible fly guard for food) to where she is at the top of the cage is one of life's mysteries. Photos later!

I await more fresh stock in a few days and am feeling very chuffed with life generally - we have a new hive of bees after the disastrous year we had last year (DH collected them last night with a fellow apiarist and they are from the world famous Buckfast Abbey apiary), I've got caterpillars and moths again, and I have just bought 45 Blue Face Leicester fleeces from a local farmer. Most of them are destined for friends to share, so it isn't quite as bad as it sounds....anyone want to know what I'll be doing for the next few months?!

Sunday 2 May 2010

Janet's Naturally Dyed, handspun, handwoven rug

At last!

The leaves are beginning to arrive at last so I shall be taking my Robin Moth cocoons out of the fridge today. It is a bit chilly still, but they will be inside so fingers crossed for some of both sexes and some caterpillars!

I thought I would show you this rug, woven by my friend Janet. She dyed all the yarns at a workshop I ran, using Pure Tinctoria dye extracts, and spun the yarn herself. I'm very proud of her!


Monday 5 April 2010

Goodness me - what a day! The bank holiday crowds were out in force at Duchy Square today and I met a charming young man who is studying entomology at university and was really interested in the silkworm sagas. He was surprised that I let my moths emerge, as he was under the very common misconception that you can only use fibre from unbroken cocoons. Hope he'll spread the word, and even more I hope the leaf buds begin to burst soon!

The woad is coming along nicely, and I look forward to a good crop this year, but my Japanese indigo has failed to show any signs of germination yet.

I remeber saying weeks ago that I would post the pix of the yarn I had mordanted when it was dyed, so am going to attach an image of it as it is stocked at The Art Chapel in Moretonhampstead. These are all natural dye extracts - environmentally sound, fantastic colours and so easy to use.

Saturday 3 April 2010

The Netherlands

Well, still no oak leaves so the cocoons are still in the fridge. But I have been to The Netherlands for the annual teaching trip and these are some photos of the yarns my students designed from their images. Didn't they do well?!

Monday 8 February 2010

Is Spring just around the corner?

Well, I was tempted to think so because we have had glorious sunshine, the birds are building their nests and there is evidence that leaf buds are forming on the trees. Today has brought the cold winds back, though, and a cloudy sky so maybe we'll have to be patient. I'm hoping the oak is not as late in leaf this year as last as it puts my caterpillar season back.

Still, I have mordanted 3kg of yarn over the last 24 hours and am just about to put some more on to cook. This is destined partly for Unravel, in Surrey at the end of February, and partly for a new venture down here on Dartmoor, The Art Chapel (, run by my good friends Anne Middleton and Brigid Arnold. There will be craft kits to buy, courses to take and all manner of goodies! Grand Opening is on 6th March and by an amazing coincidence, that is also the day of the Moretonhampstead (Art Chapel's location) Food and Drink Festival! If you are on Dartmoor, come and join in.

Now to decide what colours to dye the yarn.....I'll show you later in the week what I have done.