Archive for the ‘wool’ Category

Rainy days…

March 9, 2016

It was quite tempting, this morning, to pull the wool over my my eyes and stay in bed… I have a lovely cosy wool duvet, which has proved to be a sound investment as it’s lasting really well and seems to keep me at the perfect temperature, winter or summer; no mean feat, with a lady of a Certain Age. Anyway, the wind was howling through the holly tree and the rain was hammering against the window panes; not exactly conducive to leaping out of bed with a happy smile and a willing heart.

But rainy days, like the clouds that spawn them, have silver linings. It’s a chance to catch up with some cooking – a batch of hob-nobs, some chicken stock & soup, and an aubergine bake all got done this morning – a little light housework (though it’s far too dark & grim for spring cleaning) and one or two projects that have been sitting on the back-burner for a while.

A number of vintage dressmaking patterns have been checked over before being offered for sale, and my neighbour’s handcranked sewing machine has been sorted out – I hope!

And this sturdy but curious little suitcase had been tripping people up in the conservatory for months. I’m not sure what it originally held – a musical instrument, maybe? – but it had a dark red plush lining, part of which had been ripped out. But I couldn’t help thinking that it would benefit from being introduced to some of the leftover sofa fabric… Result!

And here’s my “find” of the week: a set of 5 pristine vintage aluminium pans, most likely from the late 1940s. They came in with a vast collection of old knitting patterns, dating from the 1930s through to the 1970s; it seems from the few letters, etc. amongst them that the lady who collected them got married some time in the 1940s, and these look very much like a wedding present that had been stashed away and never used. They do have all their lids, and were separated by brown paper bags from Bourne & Hollingsworth of Oxford Street, W1.

Off now to sort out the best part of 1,000 vintage knitting patterns!

Ooooh – nice!

April 23, 2012

Bit of luck yesterday – I went down to the Tip with loads of cardboard, polystyrene (aaaargh – horrible stuff!) and wrapping from the utility room revamp. “We’ve got something for you!” Lee greeted me. “Some alpaca, in fact.”
Curious, I trotted over to the covered skip, thinking most likely I’d find a bit of raw fleece from an older animal that someone had meant to use for toy stuffing, perhaps. But no – two big bags of absolutely gorgeous-quality, squishy-soft, white, crimpy, supremely spinnable fluff, labelled “weanling”… the sort of stuff I’d have to hand over at least £30-£40 a bag for, if I were inclined to actually buy any. I love spinning (and wearing) alpaca, but don’t usually feel I can justify spending that much on my hobby – maybe £4 for a little bag once in a while. I spun up a quick sample skein last night and enjoyed it hugely; it almost spins itself. There was also a bag of washed Jacob’s fleece, which I shall give to my neighbour, as I already have 4 bags of it. I have to ask  – who throws these things away? There’s no sign of moths or  mice or anything else that would make me reject it. It may have belonged to someone who isn’t spinning or felting any more, for whatever reason, but how come they couldn’t find anyone to give it to, rather than just dumping it? Not that it matters; luckily the gents were alert & it’s made its way into my stash now. Into the very top, the next-project bit of it, as it happens.

What a lovely find! I’m a very happy bunny. Thanks, gents…

And I’m hardly even going to mention the pheasant – poor little fellow threw himself in front of a car (not ours, I hasten to add) on a country road at the weekend whilst we were helping with the move. We drove one way; the road was clear. We offloaded & drove back again 10 minutes later; there he was, dead as a dodo. He was on a bend & anything much shorter than a human would have been hugely at risk of being squished themselves, trying to drag him away – so who could resist? A large pot of delicious stock & several tasty salads later, I’m very grateful to him…

Well, I feel quite let down…

March 4, 2012

…by Google!

I do enjoy a bit of foraging, and the WWW has been my constant companion & advisor, both in identifying plants and in working out how (not to mention whether) to use them. I love walking in our beautiful countryside or along the riverbank, seeing what I can find to supplement & broaden our diet, and cooking & preserving the assorted goodies that Nature gives us. But not all my foraging takes place in the wild; our local market is often an excellent hunting ground for astonishing bargains, like the £1 sack of organic parsnips I bore home triumphantly a few weeks back. I shared that with a couple of neighbouring households, and Googled parsnip recipes (NOT Woolton pie) and we’ve had some lovely cream of parsnip soup, rösti, and roasted mixed vegetables over the last few weeks.

On Friday I found one of the fruit & veg stalls selling entire boxes of blueberries for £1; that’s 12 of the little supermarket punnets, which sell for about £1.75 each. Admittedly they were not in the first flush of freshness & one or two were suspiciously stuck together; I knew there’d be some sorting out to do. But I also knew that if they were too far gone to use any of them, I could use them for dyeing some of the tonnes of fleece & wool that’s hanging around the place. In the event, when I sorted them out this afternoon, less than one punnet’s worth had to be thrown into the compost & the rest were fine, so, having just been given some nice clean jam jars, I decided to make some blueberry & lemon jam.

The sort of thing I need Google for is to find out whether any given berry or fruit will gel left to itself, i.e. how much pectin it contains. I do have plenty of old recipe books, but were blueberries available to Isabella Beeton? It might take me hours to find out; it’s far quicker to use the computer. But could I find a definitive answer to how much pectin there is in blueberries? Not in a hurry… Some sites claimed they were high in pectin, and some that they were low in it. The rather-useful Pickle&Preserve was hedging its bets with a “medium” rating. I do have some pectin in the cupboard, but I always prefer not to use additives, however natural, if I don’t have to, so I decided to get on with it & see for myself. If it didn’t gel, I could always call it a coulis.

Well, I’m firmly on the “high” side. I would swear that the masher I used to smash the berries up as they were heating & the sugar was dissolving had trainee jam on it. And it had only been boiling for a very few minutes before the drops on the cold plate – I do own a sugar thermometer, but a cold plate is far less bother & much easier to clean – wrinkled straight away. Time will tell; it hasn’t cooled yet, but it looks like we have nearly 4½lbs of blueberry & lemon jam, for the grand sum of about £2. I feel a scone-baking session coming on…

And just an update on the mincer front; the little blue one found a new home without any trouble yesterday at Boscombe Vintage Market but in the meantime another one has landed in my kitchen. This one is a slightly rusty old “Potter” about the same size as the Spongs; it doesn’t have the slicer/grater attachment, but it does have a grain grinder and it screws onto the tabletop, rather than sticking down as the Spongs do – or rather, don’t, as our wooden tabletop isn’t smooth like the Formica surfaces they were designed for. Once I’ve cleaned the Potter up, I will have to choose which one stays & which one goes. Lovely, and effective, though the beige Spong is, it’s not that practical to use for slicing/grating in my particular kitchen, as I need three hands; one to push the food down, one to turn the crank, and one to hold the machine itself down! So that one too may end up on my stall next month.

Come to think of it, I have a whole porch full of “kitchenalia” – maybe I need two stalls…

Use up your scraps!

November 18, 2011

It’s been a good week, in many ways – any week in which an elderly Bernina virtually lands in my lap is a good week. But yesterday I enjoyed best of all; I sold one of my scrap-yarn shawls, crocheted on a 15mm double-ended Tunisian hook, and the gentleman who bought it for his wife evidently thought it was the most glamorous thing he  could possibly have found for her, which was lovely. And then I did a fingercrochet workshop.

How could I have gone so long without the wonderful feeling of creating something useful and hopefully attractive too, just using my fingers and yarns that no-one wanted, or that were otherwise surplus to requirements, in a  very short space of time? It’s so simple, it’s easy to forget how rewarding it is. For those of you who haven’t yet come across it, fingercrochet is exactly what it says on the tin – crochet done on your finger, without a hook. You just wrap the yarn around a finger – I’ve recently discovered that my ring finger works best – and use that instead of a hook. Because it’s a fairly big implement, in my case at least, you need to use either very chunky yarn, or several strands, to achieve any kind of “coverage” but because the stitches are so big, you can make a hat up very fast. You soon find that your finger, although not as smooth as a metal hook, is rather more helpful and bendable, and that you can feel the tension in a way that simply isn’t possible with a hook.

My one “pupil” was very dubious that she would be going home with a fully-formed hat inside two hours. But not only did she complete it, she had time to make a pompom to add to the top! I’ve added a new page for the pattern (and also now for a matching collar) so that all of you who crochet can make one at home… I look forward to seeing your photos, here or on Ravelry.

Sarah models one of the fingercrochet hats...

Been MIA for a bit…

August 29, 2011

…and “missing in ACTION” it certainly has been. My feet haven’t touched the ground for the last couple of months, but it’s been great. You know you’re actually reaching people when someone walks into your shop and the first thing they say is, “Aha! That’s the very sofa itself! I read about that on your blog!” And indeed she (and her husband too) have spent some time cosily esconced on said sofa, over the last few days, weaving happily away on their new-to-them peg loom and cutting rags into strips.

I’m just beginning to find my feet now and find a little time for writing – which is just as well, as I have an article to write before going off on holiday. It may seem a little perverse, trotting off on holiday just when things were getting off the ground, but believe me, I need it…

I’ve been surprised and delighted by how I do seem to have found a real gap in the market; people are genuinely pleased to find affordable stuff and somewhere they can just try things out. They may already be expert-level at, say, P&Q, but wanting to have a go at crochet, without committing to weeks of lessons or a jumper’s-worth of yarn. Or professional cardmakers who’ve always wanted to try their hand at knitting. I’ve done a whole lot of wet-felting, too; seems to be the one thing everyone wants a go at, even people who’ve done it many times before!

Here’s a link to a nice tribute from one of my friends – great to see you last week, Carrie! – and here’s one to our local newspaper’s account. And below is something I made earlier… it’s great to have some time & space just to sit & make things, and a good excuse to do so!

It’s been a while…

May 22, 2011

…because I’ve been busy. Very very busy, in fact, in the nicest possible way, because there suddenly seems to be a lot of interest in what I’m doing, So I’m taking the plunge & have rented a small workshop/shop in the centre of our little town, to open up TheCraftSpace.co; website to be set up over the next few days.
I’m really excited but there’s a lot of work to do; the unit needs painting & some other stuff like hot water & flooring sorted out, and I’m trying to source just about all the fittings secondhand, recycled or reclaimed, with one or two exceptions for electrical safety’s sake. There’s a side room for my VintageCraftStuff, and also some gallery space to display our own creations and those of other local crafters. There’ll be human-powered sewing machines & spinning wheels, giant knitting needles, inkle looms, spinning & felting supplies, handspun yarn, and reclaimed fabric, yarn and buttons for sale, and of course, books and magazines… open for retail Mon-Fri, 11-4 pm.
The idea is to run FREE lunchtime “craftalong” sessions – bring your sarnies, or buy something yummie & inexpensive from the Riverside Cafe next door, and sit & stitch/knit/crochet/whittle – whatever, as long as it’s creative! – for free in good company, anytime from 12-2 pm. Then 2-4 pm will be inexpensive have-a-go themed workshops, probably about £4 per person including materials (if it can be done) on simple basic stuff – cardmaking, scrapbooking, bookmaking, wet felting, needlefelting, learn to spin/knit/crochet/stiitch – and there will be expert workshops in the evenings & some weekends, with more advanced tutors. Everything will be small scale, partly because of space limitations but also because it’s nicer & easier to learn that way.
There’s a little garden space at the back to grow a few dye plants, herbs & flowers in tubs & baskets, and sit & stitch or spin in the sunshine on nice days. The river runs right outside the door, so it’s a very green & natural space for a town-centre location.
So I’m really, really busy trying to sort all the background stuff like insurance, website & fittings out right now. I’ll post again just before we open, so wish me luck, watch this space & plan to come & visit us when you’re down this way!

If at first you don’t succeed – don’t panic!

May 27, 2010

It’s been a hectic few weeks, ferrying offspring around to exams, job interviews etc. And I had a Guild challenge looming, and everything that possibly could go wrong with it, did.

Last summer, I took on the challenge of a 200g bag of Polworth fleece, “do with it what you will!” The person distributing it said when I took it, “It’s  the last bag; I’m afraid it’s a bit ropey, but I’m sure you’ll do something interesting with it…” which made me want to do something exceptionally fine with it! Knowing that Polworth is a very, very fine fleece, I thought I’d be very, very gentle with it, then spin some delicate laceweight, crochet something floaty but functional and let the fleece speak for itself. But I didn’t have time to tackle it until about November, when I popped it into a rainwater bath, as recommended by some older Guild members, outside in the garden. You can imagine my horror when I checked it about a month later and found it had gone green…

“Fermented Suint” as this method of cleaning fleece is called, needs warmth, and it wasn’t warm. You also need to exclude light (I’d used a glass lid) or algae will develop. Oooops.

So I washed it in nice, gentle washing liquid, rinsed it three times, the last time in rainwater, and left it to dry before carding it, whereupon luckily the green tips mostly broke right off.  But then I discovered it was full of neps, tiny short bits of wool, that leave bumps in your yarn if you don’t get them out. I’d been given some money for my birthday & Christmas, so I decided to invest in a set of woolcombs, which are the only real way of getting debris out of your fleece. But sadly they are only available made to order, and the winter was very cold, so the maker was unable to get out into his workshop, and I didn’t get the combs until the beginning of May – too late for the challenge fleece.

In the meantime, the fleece had somehow become horribly sticky. I now know that sometimes it takes more than one wash to clear lanolin out of a fleece that’s been stored for some time, as I gather this one had been. But I didn’t then; what to do with this horrible, sticky, lumpy mess? I decided, what the heck, go with the flow, and ordered some more neps, multicoloured ones, to card into it and make a novelty yarn. With great difficulty and a lot of swearing, I eventually produced a lumpy, chunky yarn that I then “wrapped” with some thin commercial multi-coloured machine-knitting yarn to hold it all together. I only had a week left… but when I washed the yarn to felt it slightly and set the twist, some of the stickiness dissolved. So I washed it a second time, and ended up with something soft enough that I felt I could actually work with. Almost enough to make a scarf, perhaps?

After an interlude of spinning up some midnight-black Hebridean to team it with, then finding that as it was the last of last year’s it wasn’t soft enough to wear around my neck, I picked some soft brown yarn I’d spun for a weaving project that had turned out a tad too chunky. Out with my trusty giant double-ended crochet hooks, which are a wonderfully fast way of making things, and a day later I have a finished, wearable scarf, with a whole 48 hours to spare… I even quite like it, and will wear it with pride!

When it all went wrong, I just wanted to throw the fleece away and forget all about it. But I felt I couldn’t, and now I’m glad, because I have learnt several lessons on the way. Which is what challenges are all about, I suppose!

6' scarf made with Guild challenge fleece - eventually!

How can I reconcile myself…

April 1, 2010

… to having become bionic? There’s nothing recycled about my new hip; it’s all-new titanium, ceramic & plastic grafted onto my somewhat-protesting femur & pevis. I think basically I am going to have to think of it that by replacing a worn-out part with something new to keep me on the road, I myself have become recycled.

So my opportunities for recycling-in-action have been somewhat limited for the last 7 weeks, though I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in my very-comfortable leather-effect ergonomic chair with matching footstool, gleaned from the Tip for a fiver when I realised we had nothing the right height for me to sit on after the op. So I’ve spent the time learning new skills & practising old ones, unashamedly using new materials – some bought-in pre-prepared handpainted wool tops, for example, to take part in the first round of the Ravelry UK Spinners Scraps Swap. But I did dye my own for Round 3… I also invested in some garden twine; I bought a book called “Quick Crochet, Huge Hooks” secondhand from a fellow-Raveller, and it sparked a little bit of inventiveness on my part. I looked at one project & thought, “That’d be even quicker & easier in double-ended Tunisian…”   Three hours later I had this:

String bag made from garden twine

But I forgot how they stretch, and made both the bag & the handle a bit too long (doesn’t matter, I can always wear it cross-ways anyway, better for my back) so I sat down for a further 2 hours & 10 minutes & refined the idea a bit further to to this:

A smaller, more manageable version of same...

 …which is a little more manageable. I’ll get round to posting the pattern shortly, whilst you go & research “double-ended Tunisian crochet” on YouTube & work out how you’re going to make or get hold of a 15 x 50 cm hook…! I bought mine from Mike Williams realising that it was going to be a worthwhile investment, but now I think I might have a go at “bodging” one up for rough projects like this. I’ve picked up a windfallen good straight cherry-plum stick to try with , so watch this space!

Peace at last!

November 24, 2009

Shawl, "blocking" after a little light fulling...

At long last I’ve caught up with myself a bit. After keeping my head down all week learning how to use my tri-loom (which I’m afraid I did buy new; I ran out of time to make one, even if  several 7′ lengths of seasoned oak had somehow materialised) I’ve finally completed a commission I was given back in the summer, for a shawl in rich browns, gold & oranges.  It’s been a learning process… I know now that the tri-loom produces a much more substantial & even weave than the scrap loom, but as the threads are under far more tension, haloed, “sticky” or underspun yarns are not the best materials to pick. So if they are what I happen to have to work with, back to the scrap loom, which is a much quicker technique too. But for top-quality stuff, the tri-loom it shall be.

In the meantime, my car has been filling up with goodies – there’s fabric, yarn, several nice handcranked sewing machines including a “Queen Alexandra” Jones FCS in fine shape, a sturdy 50s concertina sewing box and some very interesting books in there, as far as I remember! (Not to mention a bale of barley straw for the chickens & rabbits – it’s dry in there, and not in anyone’s way.)  But there they will probably have to stay until after the weekend, as we have guests and there’s enough “clutter” already inside.  I’ve also been busy networking on the Transition front; we’re planning a “Skills Taster” day early next year and I’m having quite a lot of fun going round to various groups & asking them to come & demonstrate.

I’ve also sold off my Louet S20 spinning wheel. I’m sad it had to go, but since my diagnosis I’ve realised why it had started to hurt to spin for any length of time on it; I needed a double-treadle or wide-treadle wheel. I chased a few on Ebay and won one, an EasySpin, which is absolutely beautiful & spins very nicely too, but is made of some kind of hardwood which is very brittle where it’s cut thin, such as the bobbin ends. So it’s not up to everyday life in a hectic household; I will try to hang onto it until I have my workshop as I do love it, but don’t want to risk damaging it. So what to use? As I already had quite a few Louet accessories & spares & their wheels seem to suit my style of spinning, as well as having a relatively small footprint, the answer was obvious. So I’ve dug into my rapidly-decreasing little savings pot & acquired a very lovely brand-new Louet S75, which I hope will be my “forever after” wheel. I haven’t had time to do much on her yet, but am working on two gorgeous Gotland fleeces, in very different colours but both beautifully soft, blended with a little angelina, and will post a pic when I’ve plied the first two bobbins-full together. The wheel is a dream to spin on; light & easy to treadle and very smooth, with the classic big Louet bobbins & good-size orifice. Lighter than the S20 to move, too, but with rubber feet so she doesn’t slip gently away from me as the S20 used to.

So now I have to behave myself for at least a year – NO more new equipment! I have enough supplies to keep me busy until next summer, by which time I should have acquired my bionic hip & be able to run my stall again, well stocked up!  Anything I really think I need will have to come to me secondhand or rescued, be made by me, or wait until my birthday and/or Christmas 2010. It shouldn’t be a hardship; I’m very lucky to have as much equipment as I do, and I really don’t have room for any more. So that’s my challenge to myself for the next year; to do what I need or want to do with what I already have, or can make for myself, am given or rescue.

Another wombled goody…

November 4, 2009

I’ve had a busy few days, with no time to spare at all.  But today I simply had to take something to the Tip – a mattress pad which had spilt right open in the wash; even I couldn’t come up with another use for that, and it was damp & had started to become rather smelly – and I’m really pleased that I did. Lee called me over and showed me something that had come in shortly after my last visit, last week. “But it’s not complete,” he said sadly…

But what it is, is an Ashford Traditional spinning wheel, in pretty good nick. Not 100% useful without a flyer or bobbins, but the beauty of the Trads is that there are a variety of flyers & bobbins available to fit them, in either single or double drive. They’re still very much in production, so there will be no problem finding them, and as it happens I’m due to go down to Herrings in Dorchester tomorrow anyway, which is the nearest source. The treadle connector was broken, but that’s just a strip of tough leather & was easily replaced, as the drive band will be too. The wheel spins smoothly & looks to be running true, so all in all that’ll be another fine tool rescued from an early grave.

As is the little upright flax wheel that I found sitting in a dark corner of our local market. It’s a pretty little thing, but didn’t look to be in the best shape; the drive band was wrapped around the axle quite inextricably so the wheel couldn’t move smoothly, the treadle pedal was hanging off, and the arm that probably once held a distaff just had two snapped-off dowels poking up. Altogther it looked like adorning a weekender’s inglenook fireplace was the only thing it was fit for, but yet… the flyer is complete and sturdily made, there was an intact bobbin, the orifice looked clean & clear – worth a try, I thought. The price was towards the higher end of what’s acceptable for a non-working wheel, but bang on for a weekender’s ornament. So home it came with me. I had it up & running within an hour; the pedal re-attached perfectly easily and I was able to unscrew the pegs that hold the axle in to remove the mangled drive band. I had some suitable cord to make another, and once I’d reassembled the flyer the right way round and oiled it here & there, it was ready to spin, and very well it does it too! It’s fast & smooth, if a little noisy; well worth trying to find some more bobbins for. I’d spun a small skein within half an hour and took it to show the stallholder the next morning. So cross your fingers for me that Herrings have something in their odd bobbins box; if not I’ll get some made up but that will take some time & cost more.

So that’s what I’ve been up to…

flax wheel

Upright flax wheel by (or from) Leonard Williams of Whitchurch