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……
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
Recently I came across some wonderfully soft locally produced knitting yarn in the most delicious rich colours at the farmers’ market near my home. It comes from a farm called The Smallholding at Tufton in Hampshire who farm shetland sheep. As well as natural shades they have some lovely rich colours and I chose a ball of rich warm yellow and a ball of Christmassy red. I decided to try my hand at making a cheerful patterned hat from it and was so pleased with the result that I wrote down the pattern to share. I chose the double knitting weight which is 50g (120m) per ball and decided to knit using 4mm needles. It fits me nicely but if you decided to make it you might like to make the ribbing a little deeper depending on how far over your ears you like your hats to come. It could also be made longer at any of the plain row stages by adding another row here or there and could also be made to fit a larger head by going up a needle size.
Usually I knit in a less structured way using my handspun yarns so writing out a pattern was a new departure for me but I was pleased with the outcome and am going to share it. If you make it, please remember that it is just for your personal use and if you wish to use it commercially then please ask my permission to use the design.
The design is a very simple 2 colour pattern on a circular needle and would be an easy one for anyone trying out a two colour design for the first time.
If you make it I would love to see it in other colours so please share your pictures with me.
Here are the instructions!
Using 4mm circular needles cast on 84 stitches in main colour. For this design the main colour is Red.
Join round to make a full circle, taking care not to twist the stitches and work in K2P2 rib for 5cm. At this stage you can make the ribbing deeper according to your personal taste. You may like to use a marker to indicate the end of the round if this helps you to keep track of the start of the pattern.
Row 1 -2 knit 2 rows yellow
Rows 3-4 K2 Red, K2 Yellow to end
Rows 5-6 K2 Yellow K2 Red to end
Rows 7-8 K2 Red K2 Yellow to end
Rows 8-10 Knit in Yellow
Rows 11-12 Knit in Red
Rows 13-14 (Knit 3 Red, 1 Yellow) repeat to end
Rows 15-16 K1Yellow, K1Red, (knit 3Y, 1R) 20 times, knit 2 yellow
Rows 17-18 Knit in Yellow
Rows 19-20 (Knit 1 Red,3 Yellow) repeat to end
Rows 21-22 Knit 2 Red (K1Yellow, K3Red) repeat 20 times, K1Red
Rows 23-25 Knit Red
Row26 Knit 3 Red (K1Yellow,K3Red)repeat to end
Row 27-29 KRed
Row 30 Knit 1 Red (1Yellow,3Red) 20 times, then K1Yellow. K2 Red. Break yellow leaving a tail to thread in later.
Row 31 Knit Red
Row 32 (Knit 5, K2tog) repeat to end
Row 33 (Knit 4, K2tog) repeat to end
Row 34 (Knit 3, K2tog) repeat to end
Row 34 (Knit2, K2 tog) repeat to end
Row 35 knit
Last row. Keep repeating (k2tog) until only 12 stitches remain. Break the yarn and thread the end through the remaining stitches with a darning needle. Pull tight and stitch down on the underside to create a secure finish and cover the tiny hole which forms the centre of the ring. Thread other loose ends in on inside.
I used about half of the red ball and a third of the yellow so plenty left over to start another project!
This week I am in the final stages of preparing for my exhibition at the Flora Twort Gallery in Petersfield, Hampshire. I feel very excited about having the opportunity to take over a whole gallery space (albeit quite a bijou gallery space) and set it up with my collection of wool work under the heading ‘A Celebration of Wool’.
I have spent the last few months building up a huge collection of woven scarves made from my handspun wools, as well as knitting and weaving bags which are each a small piece of textile art in themselves. The bags in particular are time consuming as they evolve very organically as I knit. I never plan a design for either a scarf or a bag as I want them to develop naturally during the making process. Inflicting precise patterns, measurements and colour schemes inhibits the creative process and allows for ‘mistakes’ to happen whereas if there is no plan, there can be no mistakes.
A scarf usually begins with selecting warp threads from my wonderful stash of fine yarns. The warping process is never measured and I simply thread until I fancy a colour change and position my loom at roughly the same point across the room from the warping peg each time. Selection of the yarns to weave with is similarly haphazard and spontaneous and once the weaving itself begins there are always surpirses to be had. Watching the warp and weft threads react with each other as the heddle is brought down always creates a kind of magic. The flecks of colour within a handspun yarn can jump out unexpectedly to a colour in the warp and the uneven texture creates bumps and ripples in the newly froming textile.
Gathering up a collection of work for this show has made me look closely at pieces which I hadn’t studied for a while. I’ll be showing a collection of about 12 wool art pictures this time, the most I have ever had out in one go. Usually I exhibit in group shows such as the Petersfield Arts and Crafts Society where just a handful of items are out, so pulling together a large number of pictures will be very exciting. I will of course have lots of printed versions of my wool art in the form of coasters, placemats and cards available as these are always popular but taking a group of originals out together is quite an event for me.
Although the show essentially runs itself in the good hands of the museum staff I plan to visit a few times and take my spinning wheel with me for company. This will also give me a chance to chat to visitors and share my love of the wonders of wool.
I was lucky enough to be able to book a time which overlaps with the Campaign for Wool’s National Wool Week so hopefully there will be a raised level of awareness of the wonders of this lovely natural medium and my celebration will add a little to it.
Just a few more final things to organise as well as a little more creative work to complete before opening day on October 6th!
Following on from my last blog I thought I would share the final framed special commission landscape as it really looked lovely in the frame made by Shear art Framing .
The solid oak frame is in two parts with the glass between the frames, allowing space for the thickness of the wool. I like to leave the edges of the wool art soft and unstructured.
The client who commissioned it sent me a very sweet note saying ‘It is beautiful, more so than I thought it could be when I first emailed you. Thank you for giving us this keepsake of our lives here.’ I always feel a thrill when I have the opportunity to make something personal for a special occasion.
Now I need to knuckle down and work on some new pieces for my upcoming exhibition in October…….more news will follow!
Sometimes I am asked to make a special piece of wool art for a client. I particularly enjoy these opportunities as they are very personal and it is an honour to be chosen as an artist in these instances. The chosen scene is often of a particular place which is special to someone. Latterly I’ve been asked to produce wool art to celebrate seventh wedding anniversaries, the Wool Anniversary.
Recently I was asked to base a composition on a particular location in the south of England and the client sent me a few photos as a starting point. Here is one of them.
She particularly wanted me to emphasise the dramatic sky and include various greens in the picture. As wool is a clumsier medium to work with than paint, I worked on simplifying some of the elements which appealed to me and selected a colour group of warm lilacs, soft greys and greens. The little farm building gave a focal point and the client also asked for some sheep to be included. The finished picture captures the mood of the location whilst I’ve been able to stay true to my personal artistic style in the interepretation.
A little trip to the picture framer to have a custom design deep frame of solid oak is all that is now needed!
I have a beautiful embroidered tablecloth on top of a cabinet.
It was made by my mother (also a fabulous needlewoman, like her sister) and just by chance was the exact size to fit on this little cabinet in my dining room. My favourite shades of rust and yellow give it a warm glow and it goes perfectly with the wooden plate you see on the picture.
The plate has another story behind it as it was made long ago by my grandmother. She taught herself pyrography and created stunningly detailed images, like the landscape you see here. As a refugee from Estonia at the end of World War 2, my grandmother made these items to sell as a way of earning money to provide for her children. She had no formal training as an artist, yet continued to develop her skills in leatherwork, painting and ceramics well into her old age.
Seeing my mother’s creative side as a painter, stitcher and knitter as well as my aunt (also talented in all aspects of textile work, as seen in my previous blog) and my grandmother, I am firmly convinced that the creative urge is hidden somewhere deep in our genes.
When I look around me I see colours and shapes spring out at me all the time and I need to somehow put them into action. At the moment I’m doing this with wool, either by felting a picture or bringing together colour combinations with spinning and weaving. The finished result somehow makes me happy, the colours give me feeling of contentment, warmth, comfort. The simple pleasure of creating something is a very special reward.