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Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Still Here . . .

Yes, we're still here in snowy Aberdeen and it's freezing. 

We were looking forward to getting home to the (slightly) warmer weather and preparing for Christmas.  In fact, we had actually set off on our journey back to Hull to catch the ferry, but luckily had only got as far as Edinburgh.  That evening we received a phone call to say Eric's Mum had fallen in her flat and she was being taken to hospital.

The next morning we drove back up to Aberdeen in ridiculous conditions (at one point we couldn't see the road and nearly had to abandon the car) but managed to arrive eventually.  It turns out she has had a stroke which has affected her left hand side, not badly, but she doesn't have full use of her arm and leg.  The doctor is fairly confident they can regain some, if not all, of that by therapy, so we're just keeping our fingers crossed.

Obviously we had to cancel the ferry back to France, but hope we can get back by new year if all is well.  Once she leaves the main hospital to go for convalescence and ongoing therapy, we may be able to think about it.

In the meantime, hope everyone has a good Christmas and New Year.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Frozen North

Well, here we are in the frozen north-east of Scotland for our annual visit, and the weather's certainly excelled itself this time.  No photos I'm afraid, because the computer we brought with us doesn't have the software to transfer them from the camera.

We stayed the first 4 nights in Cumbria visiting family and friends and, although it was pretty white there too, the roads were fairly clear.  We then drove north to Edinburgh to stay with Eric's son Nic and his girlfriend Vika for a night, but got stuck there for an extra night - the snow was absolutely atrocious.  It snowed and snowed and snowed on the day we were supposed to leave, and the Forth Road Bridge was closed for some time too.  We watched the webcam of the bridge for a while and all we saw were stationary cars, and then people walking off the bridge abandoning them.

Finally, on the 10th day of our visit to the UK (we're staying with Eric's Mum in sunny Fettercairn, about 30 miles south of Aberdeen), the snow is starting to melt, so tomorrow we hit the shops!!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Ashford Traveller Spinning Wheel

. . . and here it is!

When it arrived, I decided to treat the wood with clear varnish to help keep it clean and applied one coat.  Luckily, the varnish I used was quite thin and soaked completely into the wood.  I say "luckily", because by that time I'd decided that, actually, I'd prefer it waxed!  I then spent the next few days coating it with home-made beeswax polish, and I'm really pleased with the result.  It's come out a lovely warm colour.  Hopefully I won't have to do it too often, because it did take quite a bit of time.

Dyeing with Woad

On Wednesday last, my friend Sarah (of Camel Farm fame) came to do a bit of dyeing.  Before she arrived I picked all the leaves from my woad plants (only 5 plants, but some were quite big) and started the process of turning them from green leaves to lovely blue dye.

First step was to wash and chop the leaves and put them in a large pan.  Then just-boiled water was poured over them and they were left to steep for about an hour.  The leaves were then sieved out and squeezed to remove all the blue pigment.  (The leaves were then put in a bag in the freezer to use sometime in the future to create a pink dye).

Here is the strained dye ready for the next stage :-

Next, washing soda was added (or you can use ammonia, but it stinks!!) and the mix was whisked to incorporate air.  You can see the blue froth on the surface.

The bubbles were then stirred into the mixture, as much as possible, and the surface was sprinkled with colour-run remover which removes the oxygen from the mix.  Previously I've always used Spectralite (sodium hyhdrosulphite) at this stage, but as I only had the remains of an old packet (it has quite a short shelf life), and I had some colour-run remover in the house, I used that instead.  It seemed to work very well, but I really didn't know how much to use so just sprinkled it all over the top.

It then had to stand for about three quarters of an hour before the dye could be used.

The wool (well-wetted out beforehand) was then carefully lowered into the liquid (so as not to create any drips which might re-introduce oxygen) and left for about an hour.

You can see that the dye pot looks quite yellow, and the wool comes out a yellow colour.  But as soon as the air hits it, it starts to turn blue - magic!  Unfortunately, I didn't get photos of that happening (will have to wait until next year I suppose), but here is the finished Merino :-

This batch has turned out quite a pale blue, I suspect because I gathered the leaves a bit too late in the season.  In fact, the morning I picked the leaves it was quite frosty, and the leaves were actually a bit crunchy!  A lesson learned for next year.  I was still happy with the colour though - a lovely baby blue.

I don't know if it's my imagination, but the wool seemed quite a bit softer after I'd used the dye.  If any other dyers are reading this, perhaps you have an opinion and can post a comment.  I'd really like to know if other people have encountered this.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

And the Winner is . . .


Pleased to say that someone nice did win the scarf, and she was thrilled with it.  Makes it all worthwhile!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

In the nick of time!!

Here is the completed scarf for the raffle tonight.  I finished it at 1 p.m. today, and we leave the house at 3:30 to set up the band gear at the village hall.  I'm really pleased with the way the colours have turned out - they're my colours exactly!  Pity I'm giving it away really, but hope the person who wins likes it too.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Thursday's Dyeing and Knitting

Well, I did take some photos of the spun and plied wool for the scarf before it was dyed . . . or rather, I thought I did!!  Eric (blame him, because he took a video of me plying the day before) had left the camera on video setting and I hadn't noticed.

Anyway, having washed the finished wool, I laid it on a piece of polythene and hand-painted the dyes onto it.  I only used 3 colours this time : blue, red and mauve.   Photo below :-

The skeins were steamed for half an hour to set the dyes, then rinsed and hung up to dry:-

. . . and this is where I am with it at the moment.  Will probably finish it tonight and get it wrapped up ready for the raffle.

I'm knitting the scarf fairly simply : just seed stitch with intervals of ladder stitch (it grows faster!) because the knots and knobbles in the wool, plus the colours, make it look fairly patterned anyway and I didn't want to overdo it.

I hope whoever wins this will look on here to see the process from camel (this came from Bridget, the white camel, now in Holland) to yarn, to garment.  And I hope they enjoy wearing it too - I enjoyed making it!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Raffle Scarf Progress

Finally finished the spinning tonight.  Here is a photo of the wool after carding and ready for spinning :-

And, hopefully, below is a video of the plying stage.  One strand is spun straight, and the other is spun with slubs at fairly regular intervals.  When plying, the slubs are wrapped around the other strand to form a "knot".  The video (very short!) shows this plying technique.

It's Arrived!!

My new spinning wheel has arrived safe and sound.  Can't say it arrived in one piece, because I still have to build it!  Decided to varnish it rather than use beeswax, as I'm too lazy to keep reapplying the beeswax.  They are a bit fiddly to do!

And here it is, so far.  Haven't finished the varnishing yet.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Raffle Prize

Beautiful day again today now that the morning mist is burning off.  Got up early to spin some white camel for a scarf I'm making for a raffle prize.  It has to be ready for next Saturday when our band Dolly Blues is playing at a local village hall so I've got to get a move on.  We're having a bangers and beans night with aperitif and wine included, and us playing all night.  We've got about 140 people coming, so should be a good night.

The plan is to spin a "knotty" yarn, then random dye it maybe using 3 colours.  I was going to ply it with a strand of silk, but then realised that with the dyes I'm using it has to be heat processed, and silk doesn't take kindly to that sort of treatment.  The camel I'm using is "best quality" and is so soft I can barely feel it between my fingers.  I'll post some photos when it's finished.  Hope someone nice wins it!

Saturday, 13 November 2010

New Spinning Wheel

Well, what decadence!  I'm currently awaiting the delivery of my brand new Ashford Traveller spinning wheel.  So, I hear you ask, how many spinning wheels does a person need?  After all, it's only possible to use one at a time, isn't it?  The only way I can answer that is with a question . . . how many guitars does Eric need - he can only play one at a time!  And I'm not very good at counting those!!
Do spinning wheels wear out?  Certainly some (replaceable) parts do, but, unless it's dropped from a great height, I can't imagine a spinning wheel ever wearing out.  My present one is relatively young - only about 23 years old.  It'll certainly see me out, and probably the next couple of generations as well.

So, I can create all sorts of reasons why I NEED another wheel, i.e. the Traveller is more portable and fits easily in the car (actually, mine's not bad either), or the fact that I can take it with me when we go away in the campervan - not really valid because I take my Traditional already.  The only real, valid and truthful reason I can come up with is sheer lust!!!!  And anyway, Eric didn't know what to get me for Christmas, so I've solved his problem!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010


I've finally started knitting my cardigan using the multi-coloured wool I finished recently.  After knitting various samples I decided it was turning out a bit too orange for me so set to work spinning some blue and some red to blend in with it.  I'm knitting it in one piece because I HATE having to sew pieces together after I've spent all that time making it.

The pattern doesn't really show up very well here, mainly because of the colours, but it's a mixture of little bobbles, moss stitch, stocking stitch, seed stitch and, basically, anything I feel like at the time.  I'm making it up as I go along.  Need to have it finished by the end of November when we are going back to the UK for a 3 week holiday, so got to get my fingers going!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Talullah's Wool

Finished the first ball of llama wool, there are some photos below.  The llama is the grey colour, and the other is from Bridget the Camel.  Unfortunately, there won't be much more wool from Bridget - she's been sold and sent to Holland.

And the next photo is the same wool wound into balls . . .

Think I need to work on my photographic skills.  They look black and white on here.  And they certainly don't show how soft and fluffy they are.

Spent this afternoon digging the garden, adding manure, and planting garlic.  And Eric's started work on my new greenhouse.  We have an old dilapidated swimming pool which we inherited with the house and have spent the last seven years trying to decide what to do with it.  Then last year we had the chance of an above-ground wooden-clad pool, half price.  So we decided the best thing was to put a poly-carbonate roof on the old pool and make it into a greenhouse.  Think I might be spending a lot of time in there in the winter months with my spinning wheel!!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Talullah, Brewster Bob and Lady Camels

Had a visit from Sarah on Friday.  She brought me another huge box of camel down plus some llama from Talullah and alpaca from Brewster Bob.  The camel is on the left, Talullah is the lovely grey colour on the right, and Brewster Bob is top right.  They don't look very spectacular in these photos, but I just wish you could feel them.  They are all so soft, but I think the camel gets the gold star every time - it's like spinning clouds.

This is a very bed photo of Talullah the llama's wool before and after carding.  I thought I'd start with her because I like the colour so much.  It looks a bit brown here, but it's really more like the photo at the top  - grey with a hint of brown - gorgeous soft feel too.  Can't wait to finish the first ball.

Today we have rain, so I don't feel too guilty about spinning all day instead of digging the garden.  We collected a trailer load of  nicely rotted horse manure from the pony club the other day and I need to get the garlic planted.  Not today though!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Market Demo

These are a few photos from September taken at our local market.  In the summer months, our village has a small market every Sunday morning and this was the final one of the season.  There were other craftspeople and artists there, and I'd been asked to take my spinning wheel and demonstrate.  It was a lovely warm day, and Eric took his guitar and amplifier to play and sing a few tunes.  On the table is a selection of some of the yarns I've spun, including a basket of naturally dyed yarns.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

New Wool!

Here are some photos (I hope!) of my latest spinning and dyeing efforts.

The wool is a mixture of merino and mohair (one strand of each, plied together) which was then washed and hand-painted using Ashford's acid dyes - a little pack of the 3 primary colours.  I mixed half a teaspoon of each colour, then mixed some of the red and yellow to create orange, blue and yellow to make green, and blue and red for purple.  Then I added more water to each of the six colours as I didn't want them too strong.  Each colour was put into a hand sprayer (old hair conditioning sprayers) ready to apply to the wool.

The wetted out (but hand-squeezed) hanks were laid out in the skein on a large piece of polythene and sort of separated into strands as much as was possible.  Then I sprayed each colour randomly onto the skeins and left them to seep through the layers.  When done, they were steamed for half an hour, left to cool, and then rinsed in clear water and hung up to dry.

The photos show the hanks lying on the polythene just after applying the dyes, and the finished article.  I was quite pleased with the finished result.  Just got to knit the cardigan now!


Wednesday, 13 October 2010

First EVER Blog!!!!!!!!!!

As a fairly creative person (spinning, dyeing, knitting, sewing, pottery etc. etc.) I am a real technophobe.  The fact that anyone is able to read this at all is a major miracle.  Hopefully I'll improve as I go along.

I live in south west France with my born-again rockstar (well, I think so!) husband Eric (will post photos when I know how!!) where we are restoring an old fortified farmhouse in the middle of beautiful Gascony.  My passions are spinning and dyeing all types of wool (i.e. sheep, mohair, angora, camel, alpaca, lama and even my cat!!), silk and anything remotely spinnable.  I grow some of my own dye plants, i.e. madder, woad, dyer's chamomile, and frequently collect from nature and the fields around us to create my colours.

I hope in the future to post details and photos of my current projects, so WATCH THIS SPACE!!