Launching Sheep

Over the last few months I have spent many hours looking at the shapes of different breeds of sheep. Working with wool made me want to design a series of images to celebrate this diversity so I got out my paint brushes and started drawing. Some breeds lent themselves really well to being spiced up with a little colour and pattern but other were less easy to work around. I ended up selecting 6 British breeds which gave a good variety of shapes for me to work with. I had never looked quite so closely at the different silhouettes of these woolly wonders and continue to be fascinated by their variety.

Once again for the design element I turned to my favourite source, Estonian embroidery and national costume. I had recently acquired another source book of these wonderful motifs based on flower and leaves and leapt right in choosing shapes I loved. A little manipulation and adaptation was required to make the designs appropriate for decorating sheep but eventually  I ended up with 6 rather funky looking sheep.


The breeds include Jacob, Shetland, blue faced Leicester, Welsh mountain badger face, Herdwick and Scottish blackface. Today my first order of  sheep coasters arrived in a big delivery and I’m absolutely delighted with them. Cards are also available.

sheep box

So today I considered to be the official launch day for my new sheep!

The Good Life

Yesterday was a relatively busy day for me as a wool artist. Ususally the days tick along with woolly activities interspersed with domestic chores followed by an evening at loom or desk. However, yesterday I ventured out to a ‘meeting’ at a wonderful place called the Tufton Smallholding. I had first come across the beautiful yarns from Jane and John when they came to the monthly Farmers’ Market in Petersfield. I have used them is several of my woven and knitted scarves and bags so I was very excited to be going to seee the actual sheep!

I drove across sunny Hampshire to the tiny hamlet of Tufton, not far from Whitchurch Silk Mill. Jane had very kindly invited me over to give us the chance to plan some wonderful woolly activities in her craft barn ………more about our exciting plans will follow at some point so watch this space!

After a minor sat nav diversion, turning the car around on a single track country lane as a postman’s van approached, I finally pulled up in front of the most delightful little cottage with a front garden full of wonderful plants in pots which Jane sells as part of her smallholding business. Jane lead me round the side into a beautiful cottage garden, bursting with a cocktail of colour. A stroll through the garden took us into a slighly wilder area to see the craft barn where we chatted and started to work on our greater masterplan of craft workshops in needle felting.

Afterwards I was introduced to a little gang of friendly hens .
Hen chalet



Our walk then took us through the orchard where a path was mown through the long grass and suddenly there appeared among the trees a forest wizard, beautifully carved from wood.

Tufton wizard

As I snapped my camera, a beam of sunshine came through the branches bringing the carving momentarily to life.

What a perfect position for a stuning piece of woodland art!

There was still more to come and I followed Jane into a nursery area with plants under cover and in beds. So many happy plants and vegetables!

More than a hint of The Good Life here, I found myself thinking.




Katrin Eagle

Back through to the cottage garden for a glimpse of the fishpond before retiring to the kitchen for a cuppa. I treated myself to an Anthemis plant from the nursery shop as the little yellow flowers had caught my eye in Jane’s borders and am now planning where to plant it in my garden.

In the kitchen John was busy preparing apricots for jam making and over a cup of tea we continued our plans for autumn workshops.

As I left I saw Jane’s sheep in a paddock over the road – what bliss to wake up each day with a beautiful garden at the back of the house and sheep at the front!

A spinning wheel rescue

This week I was passing through a village near my home and in the window of a house clearance shop I suddenly spotted a spinning wheel. An emergency stop ensued and I rushed to the shop window to have a closer look. To my frustration the shop was closed, allowing me time to tell myself I really did not need another wheel and I should go home quietly and find something useful to do. However, the sight of this poor forlorn, unloved wheel burned a hole in my heart and the next day I phoned to arrange to meet the owner when the shop was open.

Entering the shop full of treasures from the past I could sense this wheel needed a home. Apparently it came from the home of a lady in her nineties who had passed away and family members had cleared out the rest of the house leaving the wheel in a cupboard beneath the stairs to be salvaged by the final stages of clearance. The footman was dangling, the bobbin was full of decaying yarn and the lazy kate had no metal spokes to carry a bobbin ( a very lazy kate!). Having only ever used a modern Ashford Joy wheel I was totally unfamiliar with the workings of this traditional style wheel and had no idea if I would be able to restore it to its former glory but I decided I was feeling brave and bought it. Apparently another customer had viewed it with a plan to use it decoratively in a fireplace – a distressing thought that something so beautiful with such working potential could be cast to a life of inactivity and unused dustiness!

Carrying it through the village attracted a few comments but it squeezed nicely into the back of my car once the seats were put down and travelled to its new home.

At home I sat down to investigate this beautiful piece of woodwork. My first port of call was my dear friend of Once a Sheep , the person who was entirely to blame for drawing me over to the woolly side about 6 years ago. She would know what to do next!

The advice was lots of oil and wax. I ordered up some more bobbins and managed to fix the leather connector to the footman with a spare screw. Lots and lots of oiling of working parts has ensued and I’m layering on wax to nourish the dried out wood and obscure the water marks where it had got wet at some point. As I worked on her ( now a she rather than an it!) I was wondering about the lady who had once owned her. The scrap of yarn on the bobbin appeared to have been dyed with natural dye, possibly onion skin. Had she been a serious spinner or someone who dipped into a new hobby and gave up? Looking at the chips and knocks on the maidens and the flyer I think this wheel had been well used and loved.

Ready to run, I threaded her up and started to spin. What a joy to see it working! There is something magical about the traditional design which has been lost in the more compact modern versions. She spins like a dream and hopefully with more oil she will stop creaking completely. I can’t wait to create beautiful yarns from her and wonder if someone is looking down on me, glad that her wheel has found a happy new home.

Now all that remains is to find a place for her to live……

Knitting with handspun yarns

When I’m at craft markets with my handpsun yarns people often admire and touch them but have a fear of actually using them because they don’t quite look like shop bought yarns. I spin in a variety of fibres and thicknesses and tend to produce something which is probably of an aran weight but the variable texture and loftiness can confuse those who are looking for something ‘safe’. I like to think that handspun yarn is a way of breaking down our expectation of knitting according to precise rules and patterns and just seeing what happens. If there are no rules then there can be no mistakes! Knitting something like a simple cowl, hat or mittens allows for enough flexibilty that precision need not be a part of the process. The natural beauty of a fibre which has been lovingly produced by hand will speak for itself and give you a totally unique finished product.

To guide new knitters I wrote this simple fingerless mitten pattern and have packaged it with a mixture of my beautiful hanspun yarns in  coordinating shades. They knit up in an evening and are knitted on straight needle requiring basic cast on and knit and purl. I can also put together other colour ways or undyed fibres on request.

Most of my fibres have been processed entirely by hand. I wash the fleece in my kitchen sink and dry it in my garden before carding, dyeing, blending and spinning. The final yarn is always unique and seeing freshly spun and washed hanks drying in the sunshine always makes me happy. Hopefully a little sunshine and warmth stays in the fibres to make a truly special finished article.

I also used these yarns for hand weaving scarves and knitting bags and the possibilities for freeform knit and crochet are endless!!yarns--kits--gifts/csvw
Easy fingerless mittens to knit

Orange marmalade recipe

This has absolutley nothing whatsoever to do with wool or felt but it’s something I do around this time every single year because seville oranges are only available in January. Sitting down at my laptop just after getting a huge pan of chopped up oranges on to cook, I notice that Facebook has reminded me that I posted a picture of my marmalade jars on this very day last year, so I really must be boringly consistent in my habits.

There is nothing like a crisp and sunny January morning, the house slowly filling with aromatic orange vapours, Classic FM on the radio and some soft fleece to spin while the orange peel simmers.

So many marmalade recipes are terribly complicated so I’m going to share my very easy recipe which I’ve used for about 20 years. Seville oranges are the best as they are more tart than an eating orange & have a wonderful flavour.

1.4 kg Seville oranges

3 litres water

2 large lemons

2.3 kg sugar

Wash the fruit in warm water, cut in half and squeeze out the juice. Put the juice into your big preserving pan. Remove all internal skins and remaining pips from the orange halves and place these in a smaller saucepan.

Place the cleaned half orange & lemon peels and into a food processor ( about 3 batches in total) and chop finely. Add these to your large pan with the juice.

Add 2 litres of water to your large pan and the rest to the small pan.

Bring to the boil and then turn right down to slowly simmer until the large pan volume is reduced by a half. This usually takes about an hour. Don’t be tempted to rush it as the oranges need this time to soften.

Meanwhile the pips and skins will be cooking on their own in the smaller saucepan. Make sure they don’t boil dry by topping up the water. After about 30 minutes strain the contents through a sieve over the larger pan to add the liquid to the peel. The pectin from the pips will now have come out and you can discard the pith and pips.

Once the peel is reduced by a half slowly stir in the sugar and then bring to the boil again. Boil hard until setting point is reached. Test for this by placing a teaspoon of marmalade onto a cold plate. Once cool, if it wrinkles when you push with a finger then it’s ready.

Allow to cool for about 15 minutes and pour into clean warmed jars.

This little lot came from 3kg of oranges last January!





Counting Sheep at Scotland Farm

Yesterday I had the most delightful outing to a farm in Hampshire called Scotland Farm. I met Jessica the farmer quite by chance at a Christmas fair where I had a stall, and after a brief exchange in the crowded village hall we established a shared enthusiasm for wool. She kindly invited me to see her sheep so yesterday, a bright wintery day I trundled along country lanes to her farm. Friendly sheepdogs welcomed me and Jessica led me into her warm and stylish kitchen for a hot drink.

We quickly established that we share a passion for the wonders of wool and I was astounded to hear how she has built up a flock of Southdown sheep in only a few years and perfected her line of duvets and bedding filled with their distinctive fleece. The short, dense  fleece of these little sheep is perfectly suited to making lightweight yet warm bedding and Jessica has furnished her delightful B&B rooms with this bedding so that visitors can try before they buy. I would imagine that anyone with an interest in wool would find this a heavenly holiday destination.

After our drink in the company of two very friendly dogs and a handsome cat we went outside and I had the enormous pleasure of meeting a whole gang of her dinky little sheep with their friendly wide faces and short snouts. Each one has a name and Jessica knows them all. Here is one of her sheep!

a southdown sheep


I was also introduced to two big turkeys who strut around making their presence known. The wool bedding in the charmingly furnished B&B rooms made for the cosiest beds you could imagine and Jessica kindly gave me a bag full of wool rovings to experiment with. I’m looking forward to seeing how it can be needle felted and imagine it will be perfect for making gnomes.

I arrived home at the end of the afternoon with a spring in my step, inpired by the passion Jessica has for her lovely farm and the welfare of her beautiful animals.

Xmas socks

As Xmas loomed I decided I needed a small knitting project to work on, something to take on a long car journey or to easily do around visitors. Socks seemed to be the answer. My favourite local yarn shop is the delightful Handmade Gallery in Rowlands Castle, Hampshire. Tucked in a tiny old cottage which is perfectly positioned next to a tea shop. This little studio shop offers a wonderful selection of unusual handmade gifts as well as oodles of yarns to choose from. Old favourites are displayed alongside an array of handdyed fibres from indy dyers as well as books and accessories, all in a cosy setting with a welcoming seating area. My choice this time was some sock yarn in shades of blue and yellow from West Yorkshire Spinners and the end result was a pair of very cosy ribbed socks.
Hand knitted socks


By complete coincidence, the stripes ended up starting at exactly the same point for both socks so the tops match perfectly, however something went awry at the toe of the second one so one is a fraction longer than the other! Still lots to learn so I think this is going to be the Year Of The Sock for me.