About this blog space

This blog space is a place for me to primarily put all my wool gatherings, adventures, experiments. I am now a mum of two astounding daughters, and I used to be a DIY musician and co-ran a tiny independent label (Slampt), so this punk can-do attitude plus feminist analysis and Art school experience somehow informs my wool work! I am also deeply moved by GREEN, trees, weather, colour combinations in nature, and texture. I aim to source wool from round the corner or at the very least UK grown and processed, and to create no toxic waste. This means I get to see sheep as often as I can, sometimes at wool fests.
I am on Ravelry and Etsy as FatHenWildWool and Facebook as Rachel Holborow.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Wensleydale Socks: Or: How I learned to face prepping a long lustrous fibre.

Well ofcourse socks (for husband), and ofcourse plant dyed by me. And a new woolly fibre adventure: Wensleydale.
Wensleydale Yays: long lustrous fibres
                             lustre brings out the colours beautifully
                             takes up the dye magnificently
                             highly local to me (bought this fleece at Masham Sheep Fair)
                             hard wearing fibre, yet soft and silky (good for socks...)
                             is an incredibly beautiful fibre, with it's long curly locks...

Wensleydale Boo: Prep! Actually this is not all bad, BUT it takes a long long long time to do.

Prepping Wensleydale: You must wash it carefully, and slowly. It kind of matts often anyway before you even get it off the sheep. Natty dreds indeed. Be GENTLE.
Dye it really slowly and gently (see above..)
And then there is the fibre prepping bit... Wensleydale is too long for a drumcarder OR conventional carders. It will wrap right around your drumcarder and cause you much to curse about, like a bent awl. Those gorgeous fibres can be over a foot long...They also need to be teased apart (hand picked) anyway, before any more prepping can be done. If you wish a  textured yarn, maybe with some gorgeous curls pointing out, just do this much prep, and have lots of fun spinning it. If, however, you wish to spin for socks for your husband's birthday, you need to open those locks further, so you can spin a lovely straight yarn...
I flicked the locks open with a small carder, although many spinners use "flick carders" for this task. More like "combing" the fibres, half on and half off the carder. DON'T fold the fibre (unless you want difficult to draft lumps). It is a far remove from making a rolag, you are just aligning the fibres in a roughly parallel way, and getting rid of any snarls and knots you can.
I took this long and involved process as a chance to play around with blending the colours of some of my plant dyed Wensleydale fibres. I chose a slightly limited palatte, in the blue, yellow, brown spectrum (hmmn, don't normally use "brown" and "spectrum" in the same sentence, but it's a metaphor. I am a dye poet...). I thought "combine as many colours as I can get away with for a manly sock...". Greens and oranges and greys sneaked in. I had a great time with colour, trying out colour blends I wouldn't normally.
Something that seems to be important to me when blending colours in a multi hued arrangement is to have "quieter" areas - greys, paler colours, and "louder" ones with more saturated and intense colours. It works like an abstract painting: how you place the colours and their tones together in the piece gives the eye places to rest and reflect, and places where it is having a visual adventure. ( I know this seems like a lot for a couple of  humble socks, but honestly, these things MATTER to me...(sort of) if you're gonna do it, do it the right way for you....) Ofcourse it is a debatable point whether or not a visual adventure is also a soul adventure, but I know where I stand on that discussion.

After much prepping, the fibres were spun up and chain plied back on them selves. I didn't, after all that careful blending and ordering, want the colours to be muddied by careless (some might say "random") plying, as might occur in a 2 or 3 ply. It has to be 3 ply. We are talking socks, here. A chain ply does, ofcourse, give you a faux 3 ply with TOTAL colour control.
What else? Oh, colours: Blue: woad, home grown, fermented in the wee hot box. (see other blogs).
Many browns/oranges/rusts, these from eucalyptus, madder over some brown shetland, purple onion skins.
golden tans: plain onion skins. Greens from birch leaves + alum over dyed with woad. A bluey gray from woad. Mustard yellow... er, can't remember...rhubarb root? Sure lots of other things sneaked in, too.
Some of the brown sections are so complex and delicious, that these photos just don't do it justice.....

I am officially jealous of my husband for owning these socks. He did say " They're too nice to wear" for the first few days after his birthday. But he has succumbed to the full tactile/visual experience now, and they are regularly seen on his feet.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Whittling a birch twig crochet hook

As post Christmas austerity set in, I found myself one evening whittling this crochet hook from a birch twig I found whilst scavenging for kindling.
 Rosie (Age 6) has been hassling for a rug for since the summer, when she moved in to her new room. I realised that all our "decorating budget" was more than gone. However, I did have an overly large stash of yarn and could just about crochet. I did however, need a larger crochet hook if I was going to make anything rug sized. Hence 40 minutes of whittling and sanding by the Morso one evening.
I have never made a crochet hook before. I don't even do much whittling. However, the nice thick birch twig was just asking to be a crochet hook. I found myself slowly shaping the tip, once I'd got most of the bark off, and had dealt slowly, but forcefully with a side twig's knot. The groove of the head was important to get right, as that is what keeps the yarn in place comfortably as you crochet. I didn't bother with sanding and finishing the far end of the hook, as I wasn't really planning on sliding any yarn along it, and that has worked out fine, so far. I spent ages, it seemed, in sanding the head and groove of the hook, but this was the place where the yarn would need to slip along most in the crocheting process. I have, in the the process of making the rug, needed to slightly resand the groove of the hook, as it has worn a little, leaving a "catchy" patch, which tugged the fibres out of the yarn slightly.
Turns out that birch is a good twig to use for a crocet hook as it has a relatively slender heart wood and is not hollow (like, say willow would be). It doesn't seem to matter (working at this scale, anyway) that the hook is rather bumpy and twig like. Perhaps straightness is not necessary in a crochet hook?
I used my little Opinel knife for the whittling process, and caught the shavings on the hearth, and put them in the fire...
My husband now believes we'll be okay when Armageddon comes. He believes I can whittle us a new life from birch twigs. Bless.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Woad, wonderful woad... growing and dyeing

So, the harvest has yielded!
This was my first year growing woad, and look at the lovely colour I got for my urine/ woad hot box combo ( see older posts for using this method ).
As blue is such a difficult natural dye colour to get, I decided to grow some this year from seed. I also know exactly where they came from (really local!) and there were no petrol transport miles involved in this process at all! I was donated the seed via a friend's mother, but also bought some on line.
One of the wonderful things about woad, is that you can harvest it in the first year of growth, in fact you need to, to get lovely blues, so the results are as quick as they can be!
I started growing these woad plants in February, as they really seem to need some frosty cold to germinate properly. Some seeds were sown directly into the ground, some were started off in little pots in my back yard. By the time it came to harvesting them ( any time from late August ), there was no difference in the size of either group of these plants, so either method is fine, but ofcourse, planting them in the ground first means , perhaps, one less process togo through ( although maybe more weeding?). Almost all the seeds germinated (hooray!), and a few leaves were a little munched here and there. In the end I had about 35 plants to harvest. One of them flowered, although woad is generally bienial in the UK (perhaps because some ants had decided to nest under it...). This plant is yet to bear fruit, so maybe might not this season, but an older plant I was donated has done, and I've harvested the black pendulous seeds from it, so hopefully can get a crop next year too.
It is the lovely lush green leaves you harvest, at a point in the year when they've had plenty of sun! Although this summer seemed very rainy, it was also rather sunny, and the proof is in this lovely blue I've obtained.
These leaves were harvested at the beginning of September, and brewed for two weeks in the warm urine vat. My harvest from the plants at this point was 1700 grams of leaves, and I used half of them for this brew, and reserved half of the dye liquid in (hopefully) airtight containers, for later use. This amount yielded about 300 grams of dyed fibres (mostly wool), from pale sky blues  (one dip, or when the vat was running out) to a rather dark blue (from as many as 4 dips).
The green in the picture was a lovely yellow from birch leaves on a young jacobs wool fibres, that I overdyed with one dip in the woad vat.
Wenslydale locks came out a more royal blue than the blue faced leicester and shetland wool fibres. The really deep jeans blue was on soya silk fibres, but bamboo fibres came out much paler ( top left hand corner, on second photo). I also dyed some naturally grey  and moorit shetland wool fibres: the blue only started to show after 3/4 dips, but I do like the effect too ( very top L hand corner, photo 2).
A month later, and I might be able to sneak one more harvest out of these plants before the cold darkness means they won't yield any more blue. If all turns out well, that might mean about 900 grams of fibres dyed from 35 plants.. We'll see how the saved dye liquid works out...

Finally, some photos of the lovely plants prior to harvest, they are about 6 inches in diameter...
 And woad in flower, not to be harvested for blues apparently!

Thursday, 31 May 2012

what you can do with sox and chain plying

Been making socks again! "Silver Fox:20 day socks"(yes they did take 20 days to make, including  prep and spinning) for husband's birthday, and "Beltane socks" for me. Used my usual method of knitting socks: from toe up, using provisional cast on at the base of the toes, short rows/ wrapped stitches for the heels and toes. The Silver Fox's have twisted rib in the cuff (knitted and purled into the back of the stitch) with an invisible bind off, which I still have to look at the instructions for everytime I do it, until I get into the swing (about halfway around the sock cuff!)A really stretch cuff was the result. As with the Beltane's, I kept the cuffs chunky just by staying on the same size of needle. The Beltane's have just a standard k1 p1 rib with a standard cast off  too.
So both of these socks were made from a chain plied yarn. I'm so pleased I learned how to do chain plying, I use it alot. It's advantages in these socks are that you can keep different coloured areas of a many coloured singles seperate (if you are using one continuous multiple coloured braid, the colours work very similarly in the yarn to the original beauty of the fibres), and the yarn becomes a nominally 3 ply, making it harder wearing than a 2 ply. Additionally, you get a nice round yarn because of the 3 plies.
The Silver Fox socks are spun entirely from au natural UK wools. From the toe up these are: Black Jacobs, Black Hebredien, Coloured Texel, Oatmeal Blue faced Leicester. I aimed to subtley blend them to get a graduated colour change, which mostly worked ok. You actually can't do this too much! Somehow any "leap" in colour graduation becomes more pronounced when it's spun up into a yarn, so even if it's just a rolag or 2 per shade, really working on those subtle colour blends at the prep stage pays off in the end.
The Beltane socks, above, were spun mostly from 2 lengths of white shetland tops I dyed up with some artisan threads natural dyes I was given in UK Spinners secret santa. I also overdyed some moorit shetland , a tiny bit of tussah silk and some wensleydale, which take up the dye differently to the white shetland, and added these bits in, sometimes blended in, sometimes just spun in as they were. I felt these one's had a kind of Noro-ish look to them, but ofcourse they have the advantage of being 3 ply, and not singles, so they may wear better....

Monday, 9 April 2012

socks improv:spinning, knitting, dyeing : Design and recipe....

Please do forgive my pale wintery legs. Photos were taken in feb and there was snow hanging about still...
Loved dyeing, spinning and knitting these socks, it was an education and an adventure. Some of the dyeing was done by Myheartexposed (really bright green and orange) onto BFL. Some of the dyeing was done by me using the artisanthreads natural dye kit i got in the UK Spinners Secret Santa swap. Some of the dyeing is just from my stash of eco dyed fibres.

I wanted to have paler aswell as intense colours. Interestingly, although I find the intense areas of colour with blends and specks of brightness in them really beautiful, the pale areas set them off nicely.
 Most of the socks are 2 ply, but some of the more intense colours are actually two singles knitted together. I carefully chose which sections of yarn I wanted next to each other, some places fading more subtly and others suddenly leaping to darker areas. I swapped yarns often, and sometimes spun up something particular for a specific area as I went along.

Design notes: I added a bit more twist to the yarn, to help it wear better. I used mostly shetland (including some moorit) with some BFL and some random blends that had wool in. (in fact, an area of yarn across the widest part of the foot had lots of silk in, and so didn't stretch as much as the surrounding wool. It's relaxed a little now, but was a shade too tight at the start of the sock's useful career..) Some of the yarn is a variably dyed singles of shetland plied with a plain moorit. Some is various blends of colours and fibres, plied together randomly.
Sock design: Well I started with on sock in the middle of the foot! (with a provisional cast on..) Then as I liked what I was doing I added a toe and then knitted back up from where I had begun to the heel....The other sock I started with a provisional cast on at the base of the toes.(Casting on half the number of stitches that would surround the foot (swatch it ,baby! to work it out using stitch counting AND multiplication...)
 The toes and heels are wrapped short rows.
 I had some fun and designed in a vertical twist of one ssk yo every 2 rows, that moved one stitch to the left as I went along. This twist starts at the far left of each sock on the foot's bridge, and twists all the way round: accross the top of the foot, around the back of the heel up to the front of the shin.
Then I started a very stretchy twisted rib, knitting into the back of both the K1 and P1. I cast off with a very stretchy cast off, called "invisible bind off", which uses a blunt needle ( or if you are me, and can't find your bn, using a normal big needle, eye first) I had to follow the instructions for this for most of the cast off, but it works great, and makes the rib lovely and stretchy....

natural egg dyeing, daffs and lambs

Have had fun egg dyeing for Eostre with the girls, using brown and red onion skins. We laid interesting shaped leaves on the eggs, then wrapped them in water softened onion skins, tied them up well using a silk thread (which also took up the dye: a lovely orange brown..), and hard boiled them for ten mins, and resisted unwrapping the steeping eggs until the water cooled. The results were even better than eggspected. Curiously compelling... Lots of pics because you have to eat these little works of art!

Have managed to FEEL the revolve into Springtime this year, so could really get that in touch with that Eostre energy. Lambs and daffs definitely are essential for this. Husband and I spent quite sometime watching a small gang of lambs running up and down a hillock in what can only be described as gambolling glee!

Woad is also germinating nicely... hopefully will get enough to embark upon complex dye processes later in the year. Have planted about 60 seeds....

Friday, 24 February 2012

Tree of Life Eco mitts

A dream realised, and I am mostly content with the result!
The reality is that REALITY and IDEAS ABOUT REALITY are not the same thing. This is especially true in the world of arts and crafts where you can have a brilliant creative idea, and what comes out of your dyepot or off your wheel and needles is just, well, disappointing. So mostly I am of the don't plan TOO much and see what happens persuasion. This is what doing abstract art at Art School does to your creativity...
However THIS project was pretty methodical! That's a knitting thing I think, knitting can be a very left brainy thing... The "see what happens" part of it was the dyeing and allowing a little magic into the yarn by not worrying too much where the 2 plies fell next to each other.
So. I found a pattern I really liked, although the mitts were a little too pointy for my tastes. (I understand it's a traditional shape, but it wasn't exactly me.) So "Tree of  Life". What could be more perfect for my "as low as I can go" low impact mittens?
Back in the summer I was gifted two fleeces from a friend who lives just up the road.(Yay! Very little carbon footprint there!) One a black hebredean, and one an unknown shearling. Upon sampling, they were both full of double cuts, but soft and springy. The shearling a little softer, the hebredean a little longer in staple. I set about gradually dyeing up the shearling fleece, mostly solar (& eco) dyeing over the summer, although the woad urine vat (see other blog post...) was heated on the stove every night and then wrapped up in a wool hotbox to maintain the required vat temps for the dyeing magic to occur.
Come the Autumn I got a drum carder! I was thinking of mittens. I was thinking of how the sky is in Yorkshire in the winter : layers of subtle greys, blues, pale yellows, odd hints of other colours. So I rummaged through my summer dyed stash and found a range of yellow to rust to grey to green, to beautiful woad dyed blues, all from Karen's shearling...., soft and springy. So I made them up into about 100g of batts: I carefully faded the batts from yellow on one side through browns and greys then to blues (with flecks of other colours here and there). I made two batts. I spun two bobbins short draw, (madly pulling out double cuts as I went) aiming to keep the colour sequence similar in both, and then plied them together to get " Wintery sky" the yarn above. The colours came out great, some parts more solid, some more heathery, which worked great for the winter sky effect I was going for. This was to be the background to the tree silouette, which I spun longdraw from rolags in the hebredean. (When I'd sampled it, longdraw worked out nice and soft, short draw, a bit too ropey...). The WPI was very very slightly thicker on the hebredean, which didn't matter too much...
On and off between Advent Fair and first snowfall, I squeezed in knitting up the mittens ( I was also knitting 3 Christmas presents at the same time...). Why is it harder to justify knitting for yourself?! I have no Catholic ancestory (or presentory...)...
I have done very little of this kind of knitting (stranding? colourwork?) before, only really some sampling of trad fair isle patterns on a scarf. So I was pleased it went so well, although some of the tree branches are a little improvised! The leaves were very pleasing to do, especially on the thumbs. One of the mitts has slight furrowing where I LINED UP MY FLOATS instead of staggering them, as I learned was best to do AFTERWARDS. But hey! live and learn. I'm not a perfectionist, and I'm pretty proud of the whole project, not least because they are very low impact on the sourcing and dyeing fronts, and quite beautiful in the snow/ bright sunlight!