Me and The Norfolk Horn sheep

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Norfolk Horn Ewe. One of Olivers in Elsing, Norfolk (Image: J. Monahan)

Look at her, isn’t she magnificent.

She is a Norfolk Horn. Medium sized, hardy breed  with a distinctive black face. Long in the body and limb with alert, bright, inquisitive eyes. And those magnificent strong open spiral horns sweeping backwards found on both ewes and rams.

I have been developing something of an obsession with the Norfolk Horn.

Me and the Norfolk Horn have history. It was the first fleece I worked from start to finish. From scratch. It took a year. It was not a good year. It was the year I hit a wall and something inside me shattered and broke. I’m not going to dwell on why it happened, that is another story, but I guess some explanation is required. It occurred after a protracted period that began with the death of a parent after a period to watching them dissolve over Skype from Motor Neurons Disease, we emigrated to New Zealand, then came back again, picking up the old life as best we could, renovating a house whilst burying myself in work (over the subsequent three years I wrote my PhD thesis in 18 months, co-authored a book, started working as a lecturer as well as taking on three research contracts). I was sleeping 3- 4 hours a night. And then the crying started. My brain felt like it had literally broken. Snapped. I could barely string a sentence together. I could not work anymore. I was just functioning. Everything went monochrome and tasted like cardboard.

Working the small, dense, very greasy, crimpy fleece saved me. Is that too dramatic? Scouring it, carefully combing it and dizzing it into rovings. At this time I only had two dog combs and a vice with a button for a diz. Spinning it. Dyeing it. Designing a pattern and knitting it up. I think that through this slow, slow, oh so very slow process I was mending myself. I’m alright now, different, but doing ok.  This year I have rediscovered sleep.  Its wonderful.

Anyway…

Suffice to say, I have a deep personal affection for these mad looking wee beasties. The more I find out about them the more questions I seem to have. Their story is an extraordinary one that I can only summarise for you here.

Rare, now found mostly in or around East Anglia, the Norfolk’s story is one of abundance, decline to near extinction and, tenuously, back from the brink.

It is thought to be one of the oldest breeds in Britain. It is currently thought that they came to Britain with the Saxons. It can trace its ancestry back to the Saxon Black faced heath sheep that once roamed over Northern Europe from the Netherlands to Russia.[1].

The Norfolk Sheep a portrait P Nursey 1846pcf0867
The Norfolk Sheep – a portrait P Nursey 1846 (image courtesy of Norfolk Museum Collection service)

It was the breed that was found everywhere across East Anglia from the Anglo-Saxon period through to the C18th. The Norfolk was a tough hardy breed. Small, feral and deer like, well suited to life ranging on the relatively poor Heathlands found in the region. It thrived on the poor sandy soils in the Brecklands and North-West Norfolk. Excelling at converting the low-grade heath pastures into milk, wool, manure and meat under the fold-course agricultural system unique to East Anglia [2].

SALLE CHURCH. NORFOLK, UK.    PICTURE: JAMES BASS PHOTOGRAPHY
St Peter and St Paul Church, Salle, Norfolk. My favourite church and a fine example of a Wool Church, built to impress by merchants grown very rich indeed on the proceeds of wool.

 

Its wool is said to be the wool that created the wealth that built Norfolk’s numerous and ostentatiously over-large wool churches that pepper the county. It produced the wool that was exclusively used in the famous worsted yarns upon which Norwich’s medieval worsted textile industry was founded.

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Thomas William Coke of Norfolk Inspecting his Southdown Sheep, 1808 (Thomas Weaver). Thomas Coke, the 1st Earl of Leicester at Holkham, a keen advocate of agricultural modernisation.

Later, the Norfolk Horn found itself at the heart of the modernisation of livestock breeding during the C18th. Ironically, acting as the agent of its own demise. It was the crossing of The Norfolk Horn with the Southdown during the 18th Century that produced the Suffolk. Why is this important? Today, the Suffolk is the ram most used to produce the British Lamb that you will find on your plate.

By the mid C19th the Norfolk Horn was deeply unfashionable, considered a poor and troublesome breed by the Agricultural reformers. Their feisty, wild nature and inability to remain where they were put – leaping fences to keep roaming – made them ‘difficult’ to manage. They were replaced by these heavier docile Norfolk/Southdown crosses which were held as superior in every way. The number of Norfolk Horns declined.

PrinceFrederickinhat
Prince Frederick Duleep Singh

There was a small Antiquarian revival lead by gentleman farmers such as Prince Duleep Singh at Old Buckenham, and (another ironic twist) Lord Leicester at Holkham. But this was over by the start of the First World War. By 1917 there were no Norfolk’s left in Norfolk and just one flock remained.

The survival of the breed is down to one man, Mr J. D. Sayer. JD Sayer kept the only flock known in existence from 1895 until 1947. At this time the flock of 13 surviving Norfolk’s were moved to the Cambridge Animal Research station, later the remnants of this flock became the nucleus of what would become the Gene Bank at Whipsnade Zoo. Over the next 20 years The Norfolk’s situation went from bad to disastrous. By the late 1960s all that remained of the breed were 14 badly interbred individuals. The breed was on the brink of extinction.

The last Norfolk ram died in November 1971. This has me welling up, it is so sad.

It isn’t the end though, clearly.

In yet another ironic twist of fate, to preserve what was left of the Norfolk’s genetics and to increase the genetic diversity of the breed, Joe Henson and his daughter Libby at their then recently opened Cotswold Farm Park in 1969 and in subsequent years, in an extraordinary act of foresight outcrossed one of the final surviving Norfolk rams with some of their Suffolk’s. Outcrossing with the Suffolk was continued in the early 1970s ensuring the survival of the breed.

It is at this point in the Norfolk’s story that it finds itself at the centre of the fledgling Rare Breeds Movement story as the Gene Bank Project was closed down in the late 1960’s. It was the desperate situation of the Norfolk Horn breed that led to the awareness of the need for genetic conservation of traditional farm animals. The Norfolk was the most at risk of all the breeds identified at the formation of the Rare Breed Survival Trust in 1973.

Through dedicated and careful stewardship by a number of people the breed survived and by 1994 The Norfolk Horn Breeders Group was established. By this time were less than 300 registered breeding ewes. By 2005 RBST moved the breed to Category 4 ‘At risk ‘on their watch list.

Today, there are more than 2500 sheep dispersed between 79 flocks, predominantly in its ancestral home of Norfolk. The Norfolk Horn is now off the critical list and is a Category 5 – minority on the RBST watch list.

I don’t know how the modern Norfolk Horn compares with the Old Norfolk. They look stockier, less agile and less wild. But they have a certain way about them, in the same way that Irish Wolf Hounds do. A rough raggedy regalness in the way they carry themselves. And I love them for it.

If you want to know more about the Norfolk Horn story the best reference I have found is Peter Wade Martins book. Black Faces: A History of East Anglian Sheep Breeds.

In the next post I will blog about the fleecey aspects and talk about the fibre side of life.

[1] Ryder, M. L. (1983). Sheep and man. Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd. . Wade-Martins, P., & Martins, S. W. (1993). Black Faces: A History of East Anglian Sheep Breeds. Norfolk Museums Service.

[2] Fold-course or Sheep-Corn system is unique to East Anglia. Under this distinctive form of agricultural management flocks were run on the open heaths during the day time and then folded (penned) on a set field area overnight to tathe (manure) the fields and feed on the crop residues.  See Allison, K. J. (1955). The wool supply and the worsted cloth industry in Norfolk in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Doctoral dissertation, University of Leeds).

Saori and me

I recently spent a very happy few hours playing in a Saori Weaving Sessions with Kim at the Saori Shed.

I confess I am not a weaver. As a craft it has never really appealed to me. I don’t know why.  It has always seemed so complex, all that talk of ends, so much jargon and all those rules. Too many rules. Too many conventions. Too controlled.  Too complicated.

Saori (pronounced Sa-Ori) promotes freestyle weaving with no rules or restrictions. Saori is an art form in which the weaver can express their true self in weaving. There are no mistakes, no patterns to follow. Weavers just weave what they want to with complete freedom and creativity. This resonates with me and my approach to making.

I first met Kim a couple of years ago when she gave a talk and demonstration to my Guild (Mid Norfolk Guild of weavers, spinners and dyers). Kim weaves some extraordinary, breathtakingly beautiful textiles from handspun yarns using wool, natural and local fibres and recycled materials. She combines her woven fabrics with knitwear to create garments that can be worn in many ways. A very talented lady indeed.

I spin and I knit. I don’t weave.  Aside from keeping me sane I spin for two reasons. Firstly, to make yarn to feed my knitting. A knitting addiction that could quite quickly drain my very limited funds dry. The second is for pleasure. I gain huge satisfaction from dipping into bags of fibre, locks, threads, random found things and creating textured arty yarns.

These yarns are fragile and delicate. Whimsical and decorative. Beautiful but limited in practical application. They are Divas of the yarn world. They make great accents in garments, beautiful cowls, wonderful cuffs, collars and cushions. But, unless they are given enough freedom in the knitted fabric to really strut their stuff they become trapped, caged animals. Loosing something of their wild, unconventional ballsy nature.

I have often heard spinners of textured art yarns recommend weaving with them. Somehow, trapping them in a woven fabric keeps their character. I was curious but also as someone who sells their yarns I really ought to know the process and how my yarns behaved so I could talk about my experience to my customers.  And this curiosity is how I came to spend a couple of hours with Kim at the Saori Shed clutching a skein of my handspun.

I had quickly thrown together a single skein in a grey Romney with some mohair locks in pastel candy shades the day before and bought it along to try out.

Firstly Kim took me through the origins and philosophy that underpins Saori. Then we were introduced to the looms.  The looms were already warped up ready to start weaving. So no time wasted for warping, an art in itself.  We began by raiding the ‘Wall of wool’. An amazing resource.  Coned yarns in different textures, colours and weights and baskets of brightly coloured fibres, locks and an assortment of objects. I went for grey and dark purple for the base colours with a bright citrusy green and pale lilac for accents.  With some locks and roving.

I found it difficult getting the gist of the rhythm. A dance of beat, feet, hands, repeat. I can understand why weavers find it meditative and restful. But for me the dance did not come naturally.  Maybe I have no innate rhythm?  Or maybe it was just new and needed time to get ingrained into muscle memory to achieve that restful meditative state as I do when I spin and knit.

Keeping the grey I introduced the hand spun.

The thickness and texture meant it was slower going but faster growing. I interspersed my yarn with some of the coned grey, wondering if it would blend with the first section. It didn’t.  The handspun fabric was thicker but softer. Weaving was most definitely faster than knitting.  It was amazing to see the fabric grow so quickly.

I’m undecided as to what this cloth will become.  At the moment I am just enjoying looking at it.  It will tell me what it needs to be when the time is right.

I had a great time with Kim but, I know in my bones a weaver I will never be. However, I also know myself well enough to know never say never…

 

Diary of a handspun cardigan: Part 2

I have finally got it together to finish writing the pattern and here it is:  Blakeney. A simple cardigan with a raglan sleeve and modern tapered fit designed for knitting with handspun yarn (weight 12-14 WPI (alternatively a commercial DK weight yarn).  Handsomely modelled here by Sean.

I wanted it to have a clean silhouette, with a tapering to the waist for a contemporary fit. With an unfussy plain knit fabric, I think the yarn should be the star here and not fancy-pancy technique or stitch-craftery.

It is knitted using a seamless construction, worked from the bottom up, with the body knitted in one piece. The sleeves are knitted in the round and assembled with the body for knitting onwards through the raglan. The button holes and a neat I-chord edge are knitted as the garment is worked. Thus avoiding any tedious after bands.  Which always take me at least 3 attempts before I get it right- and I have knitted many…you would think I would be whizz at them by now… but no.  I also spent some time playing with different buttonhole methods. but that is a whole subject in itself. So maybe a topic for a later post.  I finished it with a tape which gave the garment a very nice drape and handle. Hard to describe what I mean, but it really gave it a quality finish.

I worked on this design whilst I was knitting a particularly complex Patricia Roberts textured pattern, so I am wondering if the simplicity of stitch and construction was an antidote to this.

The yarn, a subtle marled 2-ply, in shifting blues and grey tones was inspired by the shallow seas of the North Norfolk Coast. I wrote of this in a previous post here.

In particular the pattern is named after Blakeney, one of my favourite parts of the coast.  Once a thriving port, Blakeney also had a colourful reputation for piracy, smuggling and general lawlessness. I’m not sure of the veracity of the claims but there are records of the men of Blakeney boarding ships, bringing them to harbour and stripping them of their cargo. As well as incidents of Merchant Ships resting in the harbour and finding their cargos mysteriously vanishing. Indeed the residents refused to supply a ship for the battle against the Spanish Armada. So it seems fitting with the Spinzilla Team HSNs Pirate theme.

I found writing the pattern out an odd process.  The act of writing and planning was a more rigorous approach than I am used to.  My normal approach is quite instinctive, usually involving a great deal of trial and error, much swearing and ripping and reknitting till I get the perfect finish I have in my mind.  Over time I have got better so there is less trial and error. Grading was also a new skill that I had not any experience of. hopefully I have it right (ish).  If you do have a bash at this pattern (and thank you so much if you do) let me know your experience of it, feedback is very welcome.

Pattern is now available in on Ravelry here.  10% of all pattern sales will be donated to MND Association.

The pattern is in 4 sizes: Small, medium, large, x-large (105 [108, 112, 115] cm (40[42, 44, 45] inches).  Shown modelled by Sean, wearing the large size.

Handspun isn’t to everyones taste nor accessible if you are not a spinner. I suggest a millspun alternative would be something woollen with a soft to medium handle.  The pattern would need a Double knit (DK) (US no 4 Medium) with a gauge of between 21-24sts over 10cm. Just a suggestion but something like Blacker Pure Shetland DK knitting yarn would do well.

Diary of a handspun cardigan

Have you noticed how awful mens knitwear is?  Tragic!  Absolutely gopping! I live in a houseful of menfolk. None of whom wear knitwear. Is this the reason why? Who on earth thinks that men should wear these awful shapeless ugly patterned hideous body boxes?   So in a weak attempt to be bang on trend I wanted the perfect man’s cardigan.

This was in June 2016 by the way. It’s now finished. It is mid February 2017.  It is worth it. It will be with him until he leaves the house feet first.  Slow fashion?  Indeed.  Which is why I am often asked ‘seems like a lot of work.  Why don’t you just buy one?’  Which misses the point entirely.  Through the ‘work’ comes the pleasure.  It is pleasing to sink hands into beautiful lanolin rich pungent fleece, to prepare it and to spin it into yarn.  It is pleasing to think about the wearing during the knitting and the wearing or the gifting once it is done. And to remember those moments when the garment is in your hands over the years that follow.  So, my response is ‘why would you buy one.  Where is the pleasure in that?’

So, I thought you might be interested to see the process by which a hand spun cardigan is born.

For me it starts with the idea.  I find it difficult to spin for the sheer joy of spinning. I typically have a very clear idea in my head for a design.  In this case it was for a simple, fuss free, fitted cardigan in response to the sheer ugliness of mens knitting patterns out there.

The muse looks good in blue but I hate solid slabs of bright colour (especially blue).  I am reminded of those makeover programmes where ‘She doesn’t like orange’ so everything gets done in orange…Anyhoo, the answer was a marled yarn, in blues with a neutral base.  Grey is currently my favourite.  Or deep rich chocolate brown.  I digress…

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The tropical blue Top came from John Arbon Textiles. As a nice digression that I think you will like, John Arbon Textiles blended up a new top called Spin Fresh in honour of Spinzilla Team HSN 2016 Pirate theme, they donated some fibre to the team and made the remainder available for purchase exclusively at Fibre East 2016. I bumped up my Team HSN batch.  It is a glorious blend of 55% dyed Merino/33%Perendale/12%Zwartbles in the colours of a really tropical Caribbean blue sea. I send a big huge hug of thanks to the guys as John Arbon Textiles. I can honestly say it was just beautiful to spin.

For the grey base I used a natural grey whitefaced woodland/Jacobs fleece that I purchased at Ickworth Wool Fair – the result of a happy accident – happy for the Jacobs Ram less so for the Shepherd…I scoured, sorted and carded this in September.  About 6 hours work altogether.

John Arbon Top and hand processed grey batts ready to spin
John Arbon Top and hand processed grey batts ready to spin

The yarn was spun during Spinzilla October 2016. All  the fibres were spun separately and then plied to give the marled yarn.

Full bobbins ready to ply
Full bobbins ready to ply
Plied hanks of finished yarn
Plied hanks of finished yarn

Just over 1000m of plied yarn. The spinning took just over 10 hours altogether.  Lovely speedy longdraw.

Next, tedious yet vitally important – swatching. What can I say – don’t be lazy SWATCH! This was a happy couple of hours in front of the TV.

One of many swatches
One of many swatches

The first draft of the pattern followed from the gauge in the swatch. This was tested in the the knitting… and the frogging…and the knitting again.  Roughly 3 weeks of evenings (christmas came and went) and a few lunch times.img_20170112_140808756The finishing took about 2 hours. And here is a sneeky peek of the finished article.

img_20170215_151457624The pattern will be coming soon. Watch this space.  But these things can’t be rushed…

Buying the perfect fleece for handspinning

All the fleeces cleaned, bagged and ready to do
All the fleeces cleaned, bagged and ready to do

All my fleece buying for this year is now done. I have 10 fleeces all clean, bagged and ready for processing into whatever they will become over the autumn and winter.

2 Jacob (from Jason the Shearer)

1 White faced woodland x Jacob (from Ickworth, Suffolk)

3 Norfolk horns (gifted from Oliver in the village, one of which I have gifted on),

1 Shetland (moorit – ginger – not my favourite but it does dye really nice muted autumny shades, from Paulines Norfolk friend at Guild)

1 black Romney (the lovely Arabella)

1 Wensleydale (bought from Marion in Acle)

1 Massam (gifted from the lovely Lorraine)

1 BFL mule (ditto)

1 unknown lawn mower meat fleece (bought on a whim as it’s very soft and very beautiful and more than a little Shetland like)

1 kid alpaca (bartered for a discount on a couple of leather armchairs I sold)

Do you think I have enough?

I think they are all very fine fleeces, each one beautiful in its own way.

But it causes me to reflect on what exactly is the perfect hand spinning fleece and the mistakes I have made. For a spinner the perfect fleece is clean, uncontaminated by pests and vfm, well skirted, few second cuts, is sound, and not discoloured. It has the right fineness and the perfect staple length for its purpose. It is open and just falls onto the card or combs, taking but a moment to prepare it to spin. Heck it is so open and clean that it can be spun straight from the fleece with nothing more than a quick flick. In short one that comes from a sheep that has been kept in good health, in a good environment and sheared well.

Sadly, these wondrous beauties seem to come along quite rarely. But since I bought my first raw fleece five years ago my lucky strike rate does seem to have improved.  I’ve become one of those very picky, awkward customers. I am no longer embarrassed or afraid to say no thank you to a generous offer if the fleece is less than desirable. I am quite prepared to get stuck in and open out a fleece pull it to bits and then reject it, bundling it back up as I found it. Non spinners have a belief that all sheep fleece is spinnable. In a way they are right but… most spinners do not have the time to rescue a bad fleece that will spin up into a bad, rough, just plain nasty yarn. Unless of course that is what they wanted.

I have made just about every mistake there is.

There are 5 questions I now know to ask of a fleece and to ignore at my peril. These are:

Is it matted?

Is it sound?

Is it clean?

Does is have any staining or strange colouring?

How good was the shearing?

The first thing I do is to open out the fleece as much as I can. Matting or cotting is fairly easy to spot. Does that fleece want to fall apart or does it already look like it’s halfway towards a good felted sheepskin rug? I have paid good money for fleeces that gave me blisters and made me weep tears of frustration trying to tear them apart to be able to card the fibre before giving up on them. They did however make very nice sheepskins by felting the backs, sewing up the weak spots and dyeing them. I now sit on one when I spin.

Massam felted on the back and stitched to make a rug
Massam felted on the back and stitched to make a rug

By soundness I am talking about structural weakness in the fibres. For soundness test by giving a random staple or two the tug test. Take a staple and hold it firmly at each end. Then give it a firm steady substantial pull, do this by your ear as well to hear any tell-tale snap, crackle and pop of breaking fibres. If the fibres break then walk away. If the fibres randomly break along the shaft then the fleece is ‘tender’. If it is tender you will hear the snap, crackle and pop. If the break happens across the staple at the same point then this is a ‘Break’. A break is caused by some type of trauma such as diet, weather, illness or shock of some kind.

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An unsound fleece is not good for spinning. Carding or combing will break the fibres, the yarn will be lumpy, bumpy and will pill. However, all is not lost if you have one like this. It can make great felt or stuffing or insulation, rugs whatever. Just not great yarn.

felted collar (wool, silk and wensleydale locks)
felted collar (wool, silk and wensleydale locks)

All fleeces will have a certain amount of contamination of vegetable matter, bits of seeds, grass, insects, burdocks, and thistles whatever. This is the dreaded vfm. But some will have more than others. VFM means more work in preparing. Work is time. How much time do you have? How picky are you? Most of my yarns will have a bit of the field in them. It’s all character to me. But some are so contaminated that the more you do to get it out the worse it gets as the vfm breaks down into every smaller fragments. My advice. Walk away. I once watched in horror as someone shook out a lovely chocolate brown alpaca fleece onto an unclean stable floor. The stray, sawdust, hay, feed dust and just about every other particle of crap on the floor seemed to be attracted to the fleece like metal fillings to a magnet. I still took it, I was too embarrassed not to.  (Will add a picture when I can find one as I don’t have any in my stock)

Staining or discolouration, such as the yellow ‘yolk’ or ‘canary’ stains found towards the base of the staple, can be due to many different factors.  Staining or discolouration is not a problem if you plan to dye the fibre at some point. If you want a uniform colour then walk away as the discolouration will not wash out and is a characteristic of that fleece. For me I tend to ignore them. What I don’t ignore is the spray can of blue or fluorescent green or red that has been painted all over the fleece. This stuff will not wash out and will come through when dyeing. These I will walk away from if the shepherd has painted his sheep like it was a wall in a dulux ad. (again will add a picture when I can get one as I don’t have one in stock, unless you have one you would like to share)

Which brings me on to my final check. Badly shorn fleece. Second cuts. I once bought a fleece that looked ok. I did all the tests.  But when I got it home I shook it out and the thing peeled apart like 2 slices of bread where the fleece had been cut first halfway up the staple and then the shearer had gone back in to finish the job. Second cuts will make a bad yarn in the same way that breaks will. All fleeces will have some second cuts. But some will have more than others.  The one I bought was good for nothing but mulching the veg patch and lining my baskets…

My luck has improved with experience.  But I am not complacent or smug about it. Even now I make mistakes. That lawn mower fleece. Its feels like the one Jason and his Argonauts ought to be searching for. It’s so soft, open and glows with a lustrous golden light to it. I did do the tug test, honest, but I ignored my gut feeling. It really is very pretty fleece. But yes, it does have a break. So very sad. However it has meant that I am playing with wet felting and it is making the most wonderful felted things.

shredded cobweb felt scarf made with unsound fleece, silk and wensleydale locks
shredded cobweb felt scarf made with unsound fleece, silk and wensleydale locks

So what I have learnt over the years is that every fleece has its uses. Mistakes aren’t really that, just that you have the right fleece but for the wrong job.

Hope this helps you get lucky when it comes to finding that elusive perfect fleece.

I would love to do a follow up post with some of your horror stories so please get in contact and share…

Crafting for Cash

Long time no posting.  That’s not to say nothing has been happening.  Just that I don’t want to bore you – or myself – with an incessant stream of dribble that seems to afflict some and that has nothing to do with the point of this blog.  A diary of my exploration of a life in fleece and fibre.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the rhythm of the year for spinners and folk that work in fleece.  March, do you remember March?  So cold and dreary.  March was all about clearing out the remains of last years fleeces.  Spinning up all the projects that i had put aside ready to start knitting up.  And thinking about what to do with all the stuff I had dyed and spun.  There was quite a bit.  I’d filled up the workshop and had started to creep into TOH workshop.  More than I could use.  Not good.

It had to go to people who could love it and take it on to its next step in life  Craft Fairs obviously.  April was all about carding, combing, felting (more on that in a later post as part of my Wasted thread).  May was a frantic, panicking sweat of thinking, designing, dyeing, spinning and making.  The workshop is now clean, neat and ready to go for shearing season and the arrival of this years fleeces.

June.  June is.  June is craft fair and woolly festival month.  There is not a free weekend.  The season kicked off for me at Felbriggs Made in Norfolk event on the 1st June.  Typical for the 1st of June it was blowing a gale and was colder than Christmas.

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My cheapo gazebo was on the edge of its capabilities.  And having the lightest fluffiest of things was just not sensible.  I lost count of the number of times I had to go running across the field to retrieve my stock.  It sucked!  The rain was frequent and horizontal.  But it was the wind that is my nemesis.  However, I sold enough to cover my costs and my profit went on a bottle of chilli sauce from the chilli man you can see in the photo.  I am glad I took some fingerless gloves – sold out!  I also got to wear them and a woolly scarf.  What did I learn? I can get my entire ‘shop’ of gazebo, two display rails, a table, one mannequin, plus all my stock and display frou frou and a wheel into my crappy Peugeot 106.  All those years playing Tetrus have paid off. Oh, and I need a better gazebo.

This was followed with Ickworth Wool Festival on Saturday and Sunday the 3rd and 4th June.  The sun was actually shining.   The summer was on.  I had perfected my packing technique.  It was splendid!  So many enthusiastic wool folk.  The pitch was a double act this time with Lizbeth sharing the pitch.  As you can see the sun was so shiny!  We had a blast.  Not sure we were the worlds best salesmen.  A bit shambolic.  Probably very inappropriate at times.  Often times telling people they didn’t want to buy our spindles etc but rather to go on YouTube and DIY before you buy.  I think we enthused enough people to have a go at spinning. We enjoyed ourselves.  And that’s a result.

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The hardest thing was what price to put on my work.  The dyed fibres were relatively easy as there is a well established market for hand dyed rovings, tops and carded batts  the rate is pretty much set by a quick scan through Etsy, Folksy and other online shops.  but it was my yarns and pretties made from my handspun.  I know how much of my love and labour went into these.  I am a realist and know I can never charge a decent hourly rate for the production of these things.  A quick bit of research shows a massive range in pricing.  but through into that mix the audience at the event…if I am next to a sweet lady who bangs out skeins and knitted things for £5 and the audience consists of families  on holiday on a grand day out then I am stuffed.  Its raised eyebrow time and ‘how much!’ followed by “its very pretty but what can you make with it?  Whats it for?”.  On the other end of the scale are events, like Ickworth Wool Festival, where the audience is appreciative of the craft and workmanship.  Recognising that we are not talking about a hank of factory produced ‘wool’ but a lovingly crafted thing and are prepared to pay an appropriate price.  When I work out a formula that works for me I will let you know.  But until then I will continue to price what I think is appropriate and see how it goes. If anyone has any thoughts on this I would love to hear them.

As a bonus I bought a fleece, a Jacobs/White Faced Woodland cross.  Lovely colour mix from the Jacob and a long lustrous staple from the Whitefaced. Which is pretty much bringing me back full circle.  Its time to get in the fleece.  July and August will be about cleaning and carding and storing.

Woolly Worstead on 16th and 17th July is the next in the Diary.  This will be a Guild gig.  Looking forward to it.  Except now I need to make more stock to replace the stock I sold…and so it goes.

All the pretty pretty fibres

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I’ve been playing in the workshop and having a massive art attack with the Shetland top from our trip to Howarths.  What do you think?  Oh so very very pretty.

I really love playing with colours.  The whole process from mixing up dyes, experimenting with different techniques in dyeing the fibre to exploring how the dyes mix and blend in rovings. Then using the drum carder to ‘paint’ with the different colours and textures.

Its not until the whole lot was thrown together that there is definitely a Fibre Workshop house style.  Aside form the oft’ mentioned acid and chartreuse greens that seem to find their way into most of my work, I also can’t seem to avoid strokes of shine and a wee bit of bling.  Silks (both natural and increasingly synthetic) and sparkley accents with trilobal and Angelina seem to find their way in to the mix more often than not.

When spun into yarn and knitted or woven into fabric or used in felting the silks and sparkles give the piece a beautiful accent that is very pleasing on both the eye and the hand.  But don’t just take this from me.  I’ve been taking these fibrous sweeties out into the world at both Guild and during makers month at the Forum as a bit of a consumer product testing exercise.  Blimey its scary showing the world your wares and asking for criticism.  The reception was overwhelmingly positive and included some very kind complements and extremely helpful advice from spinners, felters and fibre artists that bought them and have used them.  They are quite small and manageable at 25 grammes per batt.

Do you think you might like some?  Watch this space.

In the meantime these squooshy beautiful lovelies are now being stocked by Norfolk Yarn in Norwich.  So if you are in Norwich pop in to the best yarn and fibre art shop in the region and go give the Fibre Workshop batts a squeeze and I bet you you wont be able to resist…