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Geminids Cowl
Geminids Cowl

My mind seems very oriented towards the stars in recent days, what with todays second UK astronaut Tim Peake (any relation to Mervyn?) taking off for a six month trip up there. Not to mention the imminent arrival of the next instalment of Star Wars.  I have to admit feeling a bit giddy with excitement. I might even shell out and go see it.  Of course that is if I can be arsed to venture out into the dark.   It seems that the more corrosive things are down here the more we look to escaping to space.  Its like a far flung northern isle just isn’t far enough any more that we have to look to space to get some peace and distance from the chaos.

But more importantly its the annual star spectacular of the Gemenids Meteor shower that signals Solstice is so very nearly here.  The nights are as long as they will ever be and soon it will be getting lighter.  Yay!

Its all inspired me to make this little starry bit of lace.  I’ve called it Gemenid. It’s a very delicate latticed lace cowl.  I think it looks like a meteor shower in the inky purple night sky. Green silk shines with starry silk neps and shooting stars in silk thread against a gossamer web of midnight purple sky. It has a very pretty pico edge and a lace pattern of bursting stars.  Super quick to knit and used less than 80m of lace weight yarn. Shown here in hand spun 2 ply lace weight Romney and silk I hand dyed and spun up a few weeks ago. It’s a real doozy to knit in the round on 6mm circular needles.I have written the pattern up and will be publishing it shortly once I can get the photos sorted.  Assuming the sun will come out some day soon. I will keep you posted.

In case you are wondering the Gemenid meteor shower is possibly the most reliable spectacular going, running from 4th to 17th December. This year was supposed to a good one as it coincides with a new moon on the 13th and 14th December which means the sky will be dark which will allow even the faintest of shooting stars to stand out against the inky purple night sky. However, we are still waiting a clear enough sky to make it worthwhile to hunker down in the garden in heaps of blankets with a flask of mulled grape juice.  It should be wine but we go dry from 1st December until Solstice so no booze till then which might explain the anticipation and rising excitement.

If you want to watch it and are fortunate to have a clear sky, look to Gemini (I start at Orion’s Belt and look up and left a bit) from 9pm onwards (peaking at 2am for those of you that are night people – not me I’m a lark and can’t make it much beyond 10pm before sleepy time). Should not be difficult to spot them.

The source of this spectacular is 3200 Phaethon, whose orbit passes closer to the sun than any other celestial body, hence it being named after the Greek myth  of Phaethon (“the shining” or “radiant one”).

Hendrick Goltzius:Phaethon from the Four Disgracers series
Hendrick Goltzius: Phaethon from the Four Disgracers series

Phaethon was a son of Helios (the sun god) and Klymene. Typical of many a young man he wanted a go at driving his dads Chariot (in fact this applies equally to any child and is not gender specific). His dads Chariot was the one that pulls the sun. Dad and mum categorically said no. But Phaethon pestered and moaned and begged and begged and pestered his dad. Helios broke, and handed his son the reigns. It comes as no surprise that Phaethon lost control of the vehicle and the whole shebang ploughed into Africa, setting the earth aflame and scorching the plains of Africa to a desert for ever more. It did not end well for Phaethon. Zeus was so angry about this destruction he struck the boy from the chariot with a thunderbolt. Phaethons flaming body fell down to earth into the waters of the Eridanus river. The image above is by Hendrick Gotzius, his Phaethon is a bit on the very well developed side with the most incredible thighs for a teenager as he goes spirally down to a smoking earth.  Incidentally Goltzius also did a rather terrifying Judith with the head of Holofernes, you might like to check it out.

So endeth the lesson.

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Olivers hat: musings on paying a fair price for our habit


This is Olivers hat.  I made it as a thank you.  I hope he likes chartreuse.  Everything I do at the moment seems to have chartreuse in it.  I can’t help it.

Now I knew Oliver kept a couple of pigs on the village allotments but what I didn’t know was that he had also recently started to dabble with sheep (Norfolk Horn).  These are they:



I found this out when he sidled up to me at a concert in the village hall and said ‘ you spin don’t you?’  and offered me one of his fleeces.  For free.  Gratis.  Niet.  Well you can’t turn down a man that makes an offer like that!  A few days later a potato sack turned up by the back door stuffed with one of the nicest fleeces I have seen in a long time.  It was better than many that I have paid for.  I have this thing where I can’t take anything for nothing.  I have to gift something back.  Its good form and helps keep the karma going in the right direction. Hence the hat.  But it got me thinking.


In the UK sheep are primarily raised for meat, wool is perceived as a by-product of limited value. Shearing is done for welfare, to avoid stress from overheating and from fly strike. Shearing sheep is a cost that erodes still further narrow profit margins. I don’t keep sheep, I don’t have anything to do with the raising of sheep, I don’t shear sheep.  I just want their fleece.

So I don’t really have any idea of how much it costs to shear a sheep.  A quick trawl through the internet didn’t give much information, which normally means the data either doesn’t exist or its held in some vault somewhere so someone can sell it or hide it.  Someone somewhere must keep statistics on this – if you know where or have them please let me know.  However, the little snippets I did pick up gave a range from £1 – £2.50 up to £4 for longwool breeds. Which must eat into profit margins (if any) possible from the revenue that can be generated from sale of the clip.  There are many anecdotal stories of it costing more to shear a sheep than the wool was worth.

But, thankfully, things are changing.  According to the British wool marketing boards average clip value statistics in 2015 the average clip value was £1.05 per kg. Which makes 2015 a very good year for wool prices. In 2015 wool was actually worth more than the cost to get it off the sheep. Yay!

British Clip price historic

The table shows the actual wool clip value (£/kg) from 2010 to 2015 (guide). In five years the value has fallen and remained low but showed signs of an upturn this year.  I also did a very quick and very dirty average fleece weight to see roughly how much value there was in a raw fleece for each of the main breeds shown (Note this is not a robust investigation so please interpret accordingly and use wisely). You don’t need a PhD to see sheep farmers can’t be in it for the veritable gold mine that is wool…

For small holders – the main resource for spinners who like the raw stuff – the costs may be even greater. They are typically not participants in the BWMB.  They generally have smaller flocks.  The costs of shearing will be higher.   Typically smaller flocks mean a greater outlay in terms of transport and overheads for the shearer or a slower rate of clipping for the smallholder which increase costs.  Indeed, many smallholders undertake the shearing themselves. Often this leaves the small holder with fleece that has ‘no value’ or rather no market.  It is not unusual for fleeces to be burnt or disposed of in some other way.  If they are fortunate they will know someone who knows someone who spins and they will give it away happy in the knowledge that it will go to good use.

So if you get offered fleece for free. Bear all this in mind. Gift something back. Whether it be a crisp £5, some of your time, a cake to go with the cup of tea you will inevitably be offered or a beautifully hand spun hat/scarf/teacosy/gloves/doily or whatever you have made from said fleece.  Answer this question: Do you work for free?  Why would you think that someone else would not deserve the same?


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Wovembers Robins Pincushion Pi

DSC04757It’s taken a year in the making but it’s finally complete. The Robins Pincushion project is done.  Spun for Spinzilla, knitted for Wovember, covering me up on the sofa whilst binge watching too much crappy TV in December/January/and or February.

As you may well be aware, I love walking my local woods and fields. On one of these walks I became completely obsessed with the Robins Pincushions that were infesting the wild dog roses. These amazing galls are caused by a gall wasp (Diplolepis rosae) which induces the most gorgeous distortion of an unopened leaf axillary on field roses or dog roses.

They have a spectacular appearance. All wild wind spun sugar in colours running from
gold through rose to brilliant scarlet reds and on to rusty dried blood reds and browns.

Bedeguar Gall or Robins Pincushion

Unsurprising these common galls have a rich dense folk lore attached to them. The Robin referred to here is the Woodland sprite Robin Goodfellow  aka the mischievous and malicious Puck, he of Midsummer night’s Dream fame. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, he is a jolly trickster who loves nothing better to “change shape, mislead travellers, spoil milk, frighten young girls and trip up venerable old dames”. He may also be a derivation of the great Norse Trickster Loki.  Although you wouldn’t think that from Cecily Mary Barkers 1928 very lovely and whimsical autumn fairy print:robins pincushion fairy cicely mary barker

From a technical stand point this was quite a taxing work. I knew it had to be circular, I also knew that it needed a colour graduation from the centre out changing from golds through greens, onto reds and finally to rusty reddy browns. The pattern structure also needed to spiral out from a dense and textured centre gradually become looser and lacier as it spiralled outwards. And points. It had to have pointy bits.

Never one to shy away from a technical challenge I wanted to make a 2-ply yarn rather than my usual low twist single. This was going to bring some major headaches on how to dye up the fibre so it would spin into two roughly equal singles that, when plied would match (or mostly match) colourwise.

The dyeing was solved by space dyeing four carded batts of Romney (each wieghing 65 g giving a total of 260g fibre).  These were laid butted up together in two strips (each two batts long). The dyes were then painted on in series across both batts:  Each strip was then rolled up in a cling film sausage and streamed.  These were hand carded in two roughly matching series of rolags to spin long draw:


All this was done in preparation for spinning up the yarn for Spinzilla (you get credit for plying hence the two ply…er herm…embarrassed cough).  Spinzilla equals spinning fast.  Not very beautifully.  But fast.  Very fast.  My wheel blurred like a time machine.  The yarn turned out thicker than intended, close to a double knit rather than my usual 4-ply.  The total came to 767 meters.

I knew I wanted to use the great Zimmermans Pi circular shawl template as the starting point. But didn’t really have any fast and firm ideas for the textural and lace patterns. So I knitted up the lace patterns on the fly without much planning or forethought.  The consequence to this (very lazy) approach was that it certainly lived up to its namesake and was a tricky testing thing indeed. But that’s my own fault for not planning ahead but just rolling with where it wanted to go.

Starting with a 6mm circular needle and plain garter stitch for the first few sections. Then moss stitch for the next 12 rows.  Changing up needle size to 8mm.  For the following 24 rows I used pattern no 48 in Leili Reimann’s Pitilised Koekirjad.


I hadn’t a clue for the following sections.  The lace patterns I thought I wanted to use didn’t knit up well.  So after much frogging and faffing I altered the original pattern (I turned it upside down and changed the starting row to give a distinctive flower on a stem).

DSC04761The final band a lace pattern I made up.  Which just about used up most of my yarn.  To get the open lacey edge I cast off using a crochet cast off.  Miraculously I had exactly the right amount of yarn.  So maybe Puck smiled on me in the end.

You can find out more details on my Ravelry Robins Pincushion Pi project page if you are interested.  I might write the pattern up.  Do you think anyone would be interested?

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Wovember 2015

buttonWovember 2015 is here. Wovember, established in 2011, is a celebration and campaign for clearer labelling and honest marketing of woollen clothing. Wovember is about demonstrating a collective appreciation of wool by wearing as much of it as possible, by sharing woolly and fibrous stories and images throughout November.  The campaign is shepherded by Team Wovember: Felicity Ford, Louise Scollay, Kate Davies and Tom van Deijnen.

I’ve a couple of projects planned.  The first is to knit out that Robins Pincushion circular throw from the yarn that was dyed and spun up during Spinzilla.

The second project, which fits in perfectly with this years Wovember theme: Year of the small producer.  Which has got me thinking.  I, er herm embarrassed cough,  ‘aquire’ quite a bit of fleece throughout the year from various folk that have sheep but no need of the troublesome fluff that they have to remove every year.  Free, gratis, niet, nought. I always gift something back.  The most recent is a donation from Oliver in the village from one of his Norfolk Horns.   So my second project will be a gift back to say thankyou.  I’ll let you know what I do when I’ve done it and why I did what I did in a coming post.

In the meantime we can all contribute through words, pictures and by joining in with the Wovember Wool-A-Long  and through the Ravelry group.  And most importantly wear as much wool as you can.

Check it out.  Your Wovember Needs You!  Let me know what you do.IMG_20151110_140630827_HDR

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Holiday knits cap n’ mitts

Masham hat and mitsBeing away for a few days gave me time for getting cracking with a back log of knitting from a burgeoning stash.  I managed to start and finish this hat and mitt combo.  Me optimistic re sunnies, anything but, I don’t think I’ve seen the sun for days…


The yarn is a low spun single spun worsted I spun from combed Masham locks. I dyed the resulting yarn dyed in two lots the first was a chocolate brown for the main base colour.  The second was in my favourite space-dyed combination of blue, chartreuse and turquoise all toned down with a drop of black (about 1% – 2%).


I used the colour to work a series of fair isle patterns.  Rather than the convention of only two colours on each row I wanted to see what happens with a space dyed yarn where the the colour is left to blend itself through the pattern.  Cunningly removing the need for time spent charting colours (or even thinking about the fairisle patterns themselves) and the dreaded analysis paralysis of having to make decisions on colour.  Too much effort at the moment.  Camera ran out of battery before I could get a good close up of fairisle to show you up close what I mean.

I really like the way the colours blend and flow through the pattern.  Its definitely something I am going to come back to and experiment more with.

The yarn has a lovely sheen and bloom to it.  I was going to give it to Jason the Shepherd, the provider of my Masham fleece, but its probably a bit too girly.  I will have to think of something else.

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Autumn Glory in Edale


Have you noticed how glorious, vibrant and just darned wonderful the autumn colours are this year?  We have spent a very happy few days in Edale with the gathered clan blown in from the four corners (actually it was just the two sets, east and west but four sounds more poetic).  The autumn was well ahead of home.  The colours in the leaves were stunning.  The most amazingly vibrant chartreuses, rusts, golds, greens and purples.  The leaves seem to be especially vibrant this year.  Aside from the mild damp days causing the intensity of colour, does it also mean something predictive for winter?


Sadly my rubbish camera failed to pick up the colours in their most amazing glory.  The best I could get was this view taken from our bedroom window:


On a quick walk up hill and down dale we came across the cutest of sheep:


Absolutely no idea what breed they are.  But in a Galaxy far far away in a few millennia I have my suspicions they may just evolve to become Ewoks.  If you do know the breed please put me out of my misery and let me know.  Aside from the fact there were sheep everywhere.  EVERYWHERE!  Got me thinking again about the history of wool in East Anglia and the lack thereof these days.  A reading project for the list.

I was compelled (propelled?) to get in the workshop when I got home.  Those leaves just had to come out in a dye job:




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Liberty in Fashion

Friday saw me off for a long awaiting weekend away in Bournemouth with my very dear friends Ali and April and I took full advantage by taking a few hours en-route for a happy afternoon in London.  I wanted to see the Liberty in Fashion Exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum.

The exhibition celebrates the 140th anniversary of Liberty’s. Focussing on Liberty’s fabrics and print designs, the exhibition explores Liberty’s impact on British fashion, from Orientalism and Aesthetic dress in the 19th century, through Art Nouveau (me drooling over these – my favourite era) and Art Deco in the early 20th century, and the revival of these styles since the 1950s.


The surprising thing for me, and one that I had not considered before, was the continual recycling and reworking of the print designs through time. At times small on dark back grounds during the 1920’s, later the prints becoming lighter, to be blown up in the bold (my interptetation and reaction: the word ‘gopping’ sprang to mind in yer face prints of the 1960’s.  And of course the ever present Peacock feather, made fabulous by the Hera print design.

As a fashion and textile student in a former lifetime I was somewhat obsessed with the Aesthetic dress movement and styles of the early twentieth century.  The loose fit, the way the fabrics draped, the influence of the East.  So I was as happy as with this:

DSC04646This beautiful scarlet red cape (c. 1860) in silk with metallic thread embroidered paisley design and tassels to the hood:DSC04642 The silk tea dresses were just so  utterly feminine.  Shockingly tiny though, were women of a certain status starved to diminished proportions?DSC04601 And, aside from the cape, if I could have stuffed one thing into my rcuksack, it would be this sun-ray pleated pinafore dress made of Varuna wool in ‘Hera’ and cotton velveteen by Annabelinda:

DSC04605The detail at the yoke was just lovely, even though i am not partial to yellow, or brown, it was the sun-ray pleats, the button detailing at the yoke and side fastening and the overall silhouette that spoke to me:
DSC04606 DSC04617

This button hole detail was recurring design feature, as in this pinafore dress in blue corduroy and cotton:DSC04613

The exhibition also gave a peek into the craft and design process.  This was a silk embroidery sample, yes just a sample produced by someone to show their skill and then tucked away in a cupboard.  It was exquisite.


And the notebooks and sketches:DSC04610Definitely worth a visit.  Not much wool I’m afraid and definitely no knitwear but I did find this:

DSC04608And you can’t argue with that…

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Sad its over

Spinzilla day one
So, last week saw me and so many others all over the world spinning like the very devil.  No idea yet as to the total yardage spun globally.  I am pleased and very proud to have been part of Team HSN UK.  Not only did we outperform every other team in chat (over 2500 posts, closely followed by Team Alaskan Yarn Company with a measley 1500!) but we also span a stonkingly huge amount of mileage.  So how did we do? Drum roll please……

The team’s total was146336 and a tiny bit Spinzilla yards. That’s 83.15 miles! Average 3.32 miles per spinner.  How awesome was that? And spun in every corner of the UK:

Team HSN UK location map
Team HSN UK location map

My own personal target was to spin a mile.  Smashed that with a grand total of 2.25 miles!  It was also to speed up but slow down (last post – seeking the spinners nirvana).  I think I also managed that. Up to a point.  By Thursday I was starting to experience odd out of body stuff – my limbs still felt they were spinning when I was doing other things.  Very odd sensation indeed.  Not sea legs so much as spinning legs…

Yarn spun during Spinzilla 2015. Top from left to right: Romney and silk worsted spun 2-ply, Romeny and soy silk blended colour gradient woolen prep spun long draw, Castle Milk Moorit/Alpaca/Rose fibre blend carded batt spun longdraw. Bottom Corespun BFL top with feathers.

I managed to spin up the fibre for my next 2 projects.  The purple is for my Nieces birthday gift, the five skeins forming a colour gradient from pale gold through greens out to reds are for a circular shawl  (itching to get started on that one).  I only managed a couple of skeins of the castle milk for a jumper.  By this time I was so bored with conventional spinning and it was brown.  Bored.  Bored.  BORED!!!.  I’d been watching my chickens moult all week, their feathers were so downy and fluffy and gorgeous, calling to me: ‘spin me spin me’.  So on Saturday I just had to spin feathers.

'Spinning Feathers' Corespun BFL with chicken feathers
‘Spinning Feathers’ Corespun BFL with chicken feathers

I have to say it was my most favourite spin of the whole week.  I absolutely love it.  I’ve been wearing it around the house all week bringing out my inner rock chick and going total Stevie Nicks. I had to draw the line at rocking it up to Tesco’s in double denim – think the world is perhaps not ready for that.

But the fun goes on.  We are reconvening at Fibre East 2016.  The team is keen to keep the fun going.  We have decided to put that Shetland top kindly donated by Martin Curtis of Curtis Wools Direct to very good use.  Each of us is going to contribute a knitted a 30cm square which will form a blanket to be auctioned off for a good cause (yet to be determined).  There’s also the Back 2 Back challenge.  Taking a freshly shorn fleece, spinning it and knitting it into a garment in one day.  Hmmm.  Not sure about that one.  Neither a speedy nor consistent spinner and a very slow knitter…

So sad its now over.  I met an amazing group of people and had a really good time.  But its back to reality.  Till next year…

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Getting faster to live slow

Apples 2015
Apples 2015

September is a crazy stupid busy month.  The last of the fleece that will be spun up and knitted over winter needs to be scoured whilst there is still power coming out of the PV panels and sunshine to dry it before storing.  The garden is banging out so much fruit and veg that needs eating (yum my favourite thing), freezing, pickling and jamming/chutnifying. There is no more room in the freezer, the pantry is nearly full, as is the workshop. The green tomato chutney is on the hob as I write and this weekend is all about Christmas booze.  Sloe gin, damson vodka and getting the cider on the go.  Oh I’m very amused when I read about ‘Slow Living’. An oxymoron?  You tell me.  I can’t move fast enough nor have enough time in September.

Its just about over now and I have some space to focus on Spinzilla.  Spinzilla kicks of next week 5 – 11 October – go Team HSN UK!  Which incidentally also coincides with UK Wool Week 2015. I’ve been thinking about my own personal challenge.  I have two.  The first is to spin enough yarn for two projects.  A cardigan with some cabling in Castle Milk Moorit and a circular shawl that has been in my head for a year but more on that one in another post.  My other personal challenge is to speed up my spinning.  Yes, I am well aware that this may appear contradictory to my own ethics.

The fundamental reason I spin is the very slowness of the whole process.  Particularly if you are working with raw fleece fresh from the farm.  It allows for a very deep connection with the things made. From what the weather was like when I collected it, who I have to thank for providing it and the conversations we may have had, to the very sheep it came from embedded in the smell of its fleece and how it feels in my hand.  Everything made is unique and has a story woven into its making.

As an activity spinning is a repetitive, mindful activity that I find totally immersive and (mostly) relaxing.  My mind is occupied enough for it to loosen its focus on the brain babbling and helps deal with anxiety. This is well observed, creative activities, such as spinning and knitting, can ease stress,  help with anxiety, depression and pain may counter the effects of stress-related diseases (see for example this review by Gutman and Schindler 2007).

me spinning in pyjamas

Spinning faster is not necessarily a contradiction.  During a week of intensive spinning (a luxury that life very rarely affords) I want to work at improving my hand (drafting) and feet (treadling)  co-ordination so I don’t have to concentrate so much, to let the rhythm take over, and the mind to become freer.  The whole spinning process ought to become not only more productive but, more importantly a more relaxed and deeper meditative experience.

The spinners nirvana.  A perfect state of bliss.  Just ask any spinner.

From competitive spinning comes the road to enlightenment…who knew.

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greenfinch Chloris chloris

With the winter is coming feel in the air the bird feeders are alive with birds.  The tits (great, blue, long tail, and coal) seem to be especially abundant this year.  Which on the one hand I love to watch the highly entertaining circus acrobatics from the kitchen window.  On the other hand my car gets parked under this tree – so either it has to be cleaned every time I use it or I rock up to where ever with a white on blue Jackson Pollock paint job.  Which, as you can no doubt imagine, results in glances of shock and awe in the eyes of friends, family and strangers.  Have resorted to pulling a tarp over the poor wee Fiesta when not in use.

Greenfinch (Chloris chloris)
Greenfinch (Chloris chloris)

We have also had the odd VIP guest not least of which was the woodpecker, but more recently we have had a regular visitations by a greenfinch (Chloris chloris).    I was inspired by its beautiful colours, subtle chartreusey greens and grays with a brilliant flash of golden yellow under its wings. NOTE: How impressed was I when I popped out with the camera just now to take above photo of tits on fat balls and the damn thing showed up as if on que! So, after moaning about lack of time in the workshop I spent a happy moment dyeing up some Romney top from  Romney Marsh Wools. More on Romney Marsh Wools in a later post.



I used a low immersion kettle method and a range of greys, two chartreuse greens and a gold yellow.  I think I used too much water in the kettle and lost the bright yellow splashes I was aiming for.  On the whole though I’m really pleased with the result.  Will definitely be repeating this one.