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Saturday, 9 March 2019

Another Rabbit Hole??

After 30 years of spinning on wheels, I thought I was a pretty good (well not bad anyway) spinner.  I've tackled most fibres, spun directly from the fleece, in the grease, cotton isn't a problem for me now . . . so why the heck, when I decided to buy a drop spindle to take on an impending holiday, am I having so much trouble?

I thought, if you're going to get a drop spindle, get a fairly decent one.  So I chose a beautifully made spindle by Enid Ashcroft in the UK.  She has a Ravelry group dedicated to her spindles, and an Etsy shop here.  If you're at all interested in any type of spindle, check her out, she has some fabulous ones.

This one is made from yew, walnut, sapele and brass and weighs only 20g.  She sends her spindles all over the world and has a very good reputation.

So, should have been easy yes?  Well, no, I actually feel like a brand new spinner rather than someone who's been spinning for such a long time.  I'm having a real struggle getting the spindle to spin for any length of time (probably my own clumsiness), and have proved to myself on numerous occasions how this actually got its name ("drop" spindle?).  After struggling along for a few days, I can report a bit of improvement, but I still have a way to go.

I'm determined to get this, but I'm not sure I'll be investing in any more spindles.  It will come in useful on our holiday, but I think at home I'm firmly glued to my spinning wheels.  Pity, because I really have my eye on a gorgeous little "midge" she has in her shop!!

I did notice when I visited her Ravelry group that people had an awful lot of her spindles. They seem to breed prolifically and produce copious amounts of offspring.  Maybe it's best if I don't manage to get on with this spindle eh?

Monday, 4 February 2019

Maria's Quilt

About a year ago a friend (Maria) posted a photo on Facebook of a beautiful quilt she'd seen and asked if anyone would be willing to make it for her.  Actually, she asked if someone could do the crochet part if her Mum made the patchwork squares - and I replied.  When her Mum decided it was maybe a bit too much for her, I offered to do the whole thing . . . as long as she wasn't in a hurry!!

She loved the fabrics used to make the original quilt and wondered if I could buy the same ones!  Hhmmm, that was a difficult one as I had no idea of the origin of the fabrics - they could have been years old.  I spent quite a lot of time on the internet looking at fabric suppliers and by the time March arrived when we were due to visit the UK I had found nothing!  Whilst on our trip to Scotland I visited quite a number of fabric stores and eventually found two fabrics (from John Lewis) to start off the collection.

Maria wanted old-fashioned type roses and I thought I was quite lucky to find these.  I just hope she thinks so too!!

A few more sessions on the internet after we got home eventually provided the rest.  The fabrics on the bottom right are some gorgeous batiks that I found for the reverse side of the quilt.

Once I'd amassed all the different fabrics I started the sewing.  Each 6" square was made up of either one piece of the same fabric (the blue or white in the first photo) or a collage of 2, 3 and 4 different ones.

Then they had to be sandwiched to the backing fabrics with a piece of wadding in between.  Quite time-consuming, but very satisfying when I had a nice pile of neat padded squares.

The next step was to machine stitch about a quarter of an inch from the edge all round, and then blanket stitch around each square with the yarn I'd chosen to join them all together.  This, and the crochet, was going to be the easy part . . . ha!  Or so I thought!

Surprisingly, it took 20 minutes to blanket stitch around each piece.  I made a cardboard template to show me where to put each stitch and pinned it onto the fabric.  As you can see, it's pretty well used.  And this was the third one I think!

Next step was to crochet around each square.  I found a pattern on-line and followed that, but once I'd finished all the squares and started to join them together, I realised I didn't like they way they looked. The pattern was the pretty much the same as the ones in the following photo, but the little shells were made up of triple trebles and produced large "holes" where the squares were joined.  I just wasn't happy with it so I decided to pull the crochet back to the first row of double crochets all around the blanket stitch, and re-did it with trebles.  This looks much better I think, and reduces the size of the holes in the blanket.  That might seem a bit drastic, especially as it took 45 minutes to crochet around each square originally, but with the more simple edging that I finally settled on, it only took about 15 minutes to re-do each one.

The next step was to join all the squares together.  The pattern that I'd found said to whip-stitch them together using the same yarn as the crochet.  I did try this, but I just couldn't get it to look very neat.  Instead I crocheted them together using slip stitches - much neater.

When they were all joined together, I crocheted two rows of double crochet around the edge.  I just wanted something simple for the outside and I think it works.

So, finally, here is the finished blanket :-

The back is made up of the two batik fabrics, which I love.

During the initial stages of making this quilt I decided it would make a really good wedding present for Maria and Jean-Louis who were getting married on 9th June 2018.  She still doesn't know this and is expecting to pay for it!  Unfortunately, it took far too long to finish before June and then I had interruptions for the Tour de Fleece in July, Spinzilla in October, and two baby blankets that had to be made for 2 new grand-daughters! Oh, and not forgetting Christmas!!  Maria and Jean-Louis have just returned from a late honeymoon in the Maldives, so hopefully the wedding is still fresh in their minds and they won't mind it being so late.

Monday, 7 January 2019

More Babies and Blankets

First of all, Happy New Year to all my readers, hope it's going to be a special one for you. Also, for all the spinners amongst you, Happy St. Distaff Day!!  This was the day that women, in general, went back to their labours after Christmas and New Year which included their spinning tasks.  Unfortunately, it doesn't look like I'm going to get any spinning time today, but I do have a few finished projects to show you.

This is the final photo of the blanket that I was knitting before Spinzilla.  Mara's blanket :-

This was delivered in October when we visited our new grand-daughter in Scotland.  She's a real cutie, but I can't show you photos - Mum and Dad are a bit sensitive about putting photos on the internet for which I can't really blame them.  Maybe when she's a bit older.

In the meantime, we had another grand-daughter arriving mid-December which called for . . . yes, you've guessed - another baby blanket!  Wingham's are doing a steady trade of super wash Falkland fibre to keep up with this lot!

I spun the yarn during Spinzilla because it was a good opportunity to get it done quickly. This time I chose Star Light Star Bright Baby Blanket by Anna Dillenberg Rachap.  It's a well designed, well laid out pattern which is easy to follow.  There are a heck of a lot of yarn-overs in there though, and I found it very easy to miss the odd one here and there and then waste a lot of time going backwards to put it right.  This is how it was looking after a few pattern repeats.  At this point it was actually going quite quickly, mainly because of the plain knitting in between the stars.

I worked on it for a few hours every evening, hoping to get it done in good time to send to Dubai before the baby arrived.  Unfortunately, baby had other ideas and was born a month early.  Mum had pre-eclampsia and the baby had to be delivered in a hurry, for both their sakes.  They called her Holly, because she was supposed to arrive at Christmas time.

After I finished the main part of the blanket, I had to decide whether to add the border or not.  When I looked back at project pages for other people who have made this blanket, quite a number didn't knit the border, preferring to leave the edge as is.  Although theirs looked pretty good without, I really did like the lacy border so it really had to be done.  This was knit separately to the blanket and then stitched on afterwards.  Easy peasy, I thought, it's only 16 stitches per row, I'll have it done in no time!!  In the end, this part ended up taking me longer than the blanket itself!  I worked on it continuously, every spare moment, for probably a couple of weeks.  Then I ran out of wool!!  Luckily, Wingham still had some of this fibre so I sent for some more, then spent time spinning, plying etc. so I could finish the thing.

Although I probably won't be doing this blanket again, I did enjoy it, and I'm really glad I made the effort to add the border as I think it really makes the project work.

Here's the finished blanket :-

I actually finished this before Christmas, but have been hanging on to it for a while as I didn't want it to go missing in the Christmas post, especially as it needs to go to Dubai and I know from experience that their post can take quite a while to arrive.  It will be sent very soon and I'll have everything crossed hoping it gets there in one piece.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Christmas Dyeing

As usual, I'm working almost at the last minute to get Christmas presents made.  Each year my friend in the UK and I exchange something we've made.  As the years go by it gets more and more difficult to come up with something I haven't already made for her.  But this year I had a brainwave - why not make something, if not exactly for the Christmas table, then something for the table that can be used every day of the year.  Placemats and napkins!  And what better way to add my own personal touch than dyeing them with natural dyes.

I ordered some Egyptian cotton from Empress Mills in the UK.  They were offering pieces just big enough to make one placemat and one napkin for £5 which I thought was pretty good.  So I ordered two.  The fabric when it arrived was really nice quality and I can see myself buying more next year when her birthday comes around.

Firstly, I washed the cotton in hot soapy water to make sure there were no residues or finishing substances still on there, then I soaked it overnight to make sure it was well and truly wet through.  Since I've never done any tie-dyeing before, and it didn't look too difficult, I thought I'd give it a go.  I was hoping to maybe get something resembling flower shapes, so tied little scrunched up pieces of material with elastic bands.  So far so good.

The next step was making the dyes.  I decided to make life a bit easier, since I didn't have a lot of time, and use natural dyes which didn't need a mordant for the dye to adhere to the fabric.  Onion skins are usually pretty good for that, and I had a large bag-full in my cupboard.

After boiling the skins in water for an hour or two, the dye was looking pretty impressive:-

so in went one of the sheets of fabric and I heated it for an hour before checking the colour.  After an hour, the fabric had hardly taken any colour at all!  By now I was feeling a bit despondent, thinking maybe I should have mordanted.  Anyway, I gave it another couple of hours simmering and it started to look a bit deeper.  In the end I turned off the heat, thinking that was as dark as it was going to get, and left the whole thing overnight to cool.  I was actually quite amazed the next morning to see just how much more colour the fabric had absorbed.  It's not quite the same as dyeing wool with onion skins as normally I would have got yellow or orange, but I'm still happy with the colour.

At this point, you'll notice my photography skills were slightly lacking - i.e. I didn't take any of the fabric as it came out of the dye pot.  Still, I'll show you the finished result at the end.

Next up, woad.  Woad never lets me down, never fails to amaze me, and always looks great when it's finished.  I was quite hopeful.

I picked, washed and chopped about 600g of woad leaves and poured almost boiling water over them so they were all covered.

After leaving for an hour to steep, I strained out the leaves and added some washing soda to make the solution alkaline.

Then came the aeration part.  I used an electric hand mixer to whisk the whole lot up.  I think I may have used a bit too much washing soda because the suds were spilling over the side of the bowl!  You probably can't see too well in this photo, but the foam does have a slight blueish colour.

This was then left to stand for the bubbles to dissipate, then I sprinkled the surface with Spectralite which removes oxygen from the mix.  After about half an hour the fabric was carefully added to the dye liquid.  This was particularly difficult with fabric because it holds air in the folds.  The trick with woad dye is to keep all air out of it which is quite easy with soggy wool.  I did get air in the dye, and wondered if I'd get any blue at all.  Happily, I wasn't disappointed and the fabric came out a beautiful pale to mid-blue.  How can you not love woad?

Here are the finished results, starting with the onion skin dyed set.  It's quite a lot browner than I expected, but it's actually quite a nice brown considering it's a colour I hate with a vengeance!!  I sewed the name of the dye using embroidery silks, unfortunately not dyed by me!  I didn't exactly get flowers with this either, but the shapes are quite interesting.

The woad set is my favourite, I must admit.  Again, not quite flowers, but, given that the fabric was tied in exactly the same way as the other one, the woad attached itself in quite a different way to the onion skin dye.  Hubby thought this would make a really nice dress fabric, so that's something to aspire to next year.  I think I'll need more than 600g of leaves though!

The plan is to make another four sets like these for my friend, each one using a different natural dye.* I need to start in good time though because mordanting cotton is a bit more complex than wool and I want to be sure I get it right.  I think I was lucky this time!

*The friend I made these for is a little bit unconventional when it comes to sets of things.  I think she'll quite like the idea of having, eventually, six different coloured place settings on her table.  Last year she sent me odd socks after admitting that I sometimes wore them and her admitting that so did she!! 

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

2018 Harvest

Don't you just love harvest time?  Especially when it's olive harvest time.  Every year we have to cover the tree with netting because otherwise the birds eat the lot in a very short time.  I've no problem with wildlife having its share, but when they eat my olives before they're ripe, and I don't get any, then it's war!!

We bought this tree as a little sapling 15 years ago when we first moved here.  I remember being told "you'll never get fruit on that!", but I'm pleased to say they were wrong.  Each year my harvest is getting bigger.

This year I picked just over 3 kg of olives, which filled 21 small jars!

The most I've ever had previously was 12 jars, last year.  They take about 10 or 11 days to "cure" in a salt water solution that has to be changed daily, but the final result is definitely worth it.

Can't wait to start eating them.  Oh, and I did manage to leave one on the tree for the birds :-

A couple of days ago our neighbours harvested their pomegranates.  They can't normally eat them because they live in the UK and only come over here 5 or 6 times a year, so guess what they do with them?

And there was a slightly smaller box of damaged ones, which will be used for dyeing.  Pomegranates are full of tannin so don't need a mordant.  These will just be chopped up, boiled, strained and the dye liquor is ready!  The perfect fruit (above) will be squeezed and added to my morning fruit and vegetable juice for extra vitamins and nutrients, and the shell which is left can be used as a mordant for other dyes.  I may just dry them and keep them until I need some.

Now, I just need to find something to dye!!!

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Baby Blues

Recently I knitted this cute little baby sweater for a friend who's having a baby soon.  I still had some Falkland super wash yarn left after finishing Mara's blanket, so put it to good use.  The pattern is Jeudi by Elisa Di Fiore and was a very easy knit.  I think the original pattern is "vendredi", but it's written in French and I still can't cope with that.

Apparently it's going to be a boy, so a visit to the woad patch seemed in order.  I now have woad growing in a few different parts of the garden so I was able to harvest quite a bit from "volunteer" plants first, meaning I still have lots to harvest here:-

Woad is considered a pernicious weed in some parts of the world, but if they're as useful as this one I don't mind if it colonises the whole garden.  The farmer who owns the land all around us might not be too pleased if it spread everywhere though!

I won't bore you with photos of the dye process - I've posted lots in the past, so if you're interested in knowing how it's done you can find out in older posts.  I'll never tire of the magical transformation from yellow, through green to this amazing blue though.  In fact, it actually turned out a bit patchy, but hubby said it made it look more like old faded denim, so I can live with that.

This is the back view, which is equally cute.

For the buttons, I searched through my late mother-in-law's button tin which I inherited.  I think they're pretty old.  They've never been used, and were still stitched to the original cardboard.  They had a sort of faded bit in the middle which matches the patchy sweater! Perfect.  And I have two spare in case they're needed.

As usual, there was still some colour in the dye pot after the sweater came out, so I found a random skein of sheep's wool to put in there.  It's not ultra soft, but I think will go well in socks.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Spinzilla 2018

Well, who would've thought a year could go so fast.  October 1st was the start of the Spinzilla marathon spinning event - a whole week of spinning as much yardage as possible.

There was a lot of controversy last year over the way this event was run and quite a lot of people vowed they wouldn't do it again.  Especially as they were paying $15 each for the privilege and there was no proof of where this money was going (it was supposed to be a charity event).  I ummed and aahed a fair bit about whether I should join in this year or not, but finally decided to sign up again.  The team I spun with (DM Fibers Old School Spinners) were putting a team together again and, to be quite honest, I didn't want to be left out!

My little Spinzilla mascot after he'd had his head in the yoghourt pot!
Last year I managed to spin just over 4 miles which was far more than I imagined I could spin in a week.  I'm not a fast spinner!  My goal this year was to at least reach that amount, but hopefully exceed it.  Then, a few weeks before the event, friends in the UK phoned to say they were going to be in France and could they visit for a few days - slap bang in the middle of Spinzilla!  Well, what can you do?  We enjoy having friends come to stay so I thought I could just work through it.  Unfortunately, when you factor in essential preparations for their visit, it didn't quite work out that way!

My first project was 500g of Falkland Super Wash from Wingham Wool Work in the UK. This is for yet another baby blanket - there's another grand-daughter arriving mid-December so I'd better get busy!

This took 4.5 days, I think, to complete, giving a total singles yardage of 4,395.

Next, I had some batts I'd made using the leftovers from a prize I made during the Tour de Fleece.

TdF prize
I didn't have all the colours to make more exactly like the ones above, but I added in a few different colours and it turned out fairly similar.  These were going to be spun as one ply and I needed to find something to complement it for the other ply.

I thought these colours would go quite well, and roughly blended them on my combs, before starting to spin.

Unfortunately, the main colour was quite a strange texture - it was a World of Wool Woolly Wednesday special offer and I have no clue what it was, except it was cheap!!

The staple length was so short that when I was spinning it I could only draft about half an inch at a time.  This was obviously no use during a speed spinning competition, so I had to abandon it and choose something else.  I had managed 29 yards though, so that counts in the final calculations.

To be honest, this felt like spinning combing waste - the short fibres that are left stuck in the tines after removing the good fibres and I do wonder if that's what it is.  Floor sweepings for sure!

So, I picked out some black and red fibres to go with the other bobbin.  I would have preferred the grey, but this actually went quite well anyway.

The finished skein was not too bad at all - `I like the pops of colour here and there.  I showed this to Eric and asked him what he thought I should call it.  "Black pudding" he immediately replied.  "But it's not black" I answered.  Final retort : "Neither is black pudding".  I couldn't argue with that, so Black Pudding it is!

By now we'd reached day 7 and I needed a quick spin to finish off the week.  About a week before Spinzilla started I cleaned out my larder - this is a small room rather than a cupboard and it had become rather "disorganised" to say the least.  When I got to one of the top shelves, there was an unidentified box sitting there, in full view, which I just hadn't noticed before.

This is what I found when I opened it.  I bought this in February 2015, so goodness knows how long it's been sitting on that shelf.  It's a Build a Batt Box from Barber Black Sheep in Wales and I'd completely forgotten I'd ordered it.  Please don't ask what it was doing on a shelf in my larder for 3 years, because I have no clue!  The embarrassing thing is, I obviously haven't spring cleaned my shelves for quite a long time!!

I picked out a 100g bag of merino dyed in a gradient, started at one end, blended the colours a bit in between, and finished with the deep pink on the left.

This was a real pleasure to spin, I enjoyed every moment.  Most of this was spun in the afternoon, then the visitors arrived back from a few days away and took us out for a meal in the evening.  We had a really nice evening with lots of nice food and wine, getting home at about 10:30 p.m.  Back to spinning!  I quickly finished the spinning and then started to ply.  All my yarns so far have been 2 ply (apart from the Floor Sweepings which were left as a single), but to keep the colour gradient, I n-plied this one (making a 3-ply).  I think this is my favourite spin of the week - the colours are yummy, and it's squishably soft.

So, here are the final skeins :-

And the final calculations?  This lot amounted to 6,208.752yards . . . 3.53 miles!  I didn't reach last year's total, but it's actually not bad considering the interruptions I had this week.

Oh, and before I go - don't forget that BritSpin starts on the 11th October.  This is a brand new 4 day event which I would dearly have loved to join in with, but unfortunately (well, fortunately for us) we're going to be away I the camper van from tomorrow on a little trip to the west (Atlantic) coast here in southern France.