Three bags full

IMG_20180425_104604108.jpgThe yarn has arrived safe and sound.  It was a surprisingly emotional moment. I confess I did well up a bit.  Silly, but it was a bit of a moment for me.

No you can’t see it yet.  I’m being quite possessive.  Its not ready for its debut yet.  I want everything to be perfect.  It deserves it.

It is exactly what I had hoped for.  The care and effort taken at each step of the way was well worth it.  In the husbandry of the shepherds,  the shearing by the shearers, my fussiness in sorting only the best of the fleece before taking it to the mill, and the exceptional milling by The Natural Fibre Co.

Its perfect.

Just to tease you: It is so soft, bouncy and fluffy as tufts of clouds and just a bit tickly.  A proper sheepy yarn.

But I am only half way there.  There is an extraordinary amount of stuff that needs to be done to get a yarn to market. I think I may have just done the easy bit. I have a budget so low it’s almost non-existent so buying in expertise is not an option.  This is going to be a one woman operation.  Production – me. Marketing – me. Admin – me.  Sales – me.  Do I have any experience of these things?  No.  This is going to be interesting.

For example, labelling.  How will it be labelled. Tags or bands? What information needs to go on it.   Whos going to print it?  On what paperstock? What size?  So many questions that need answers.  My head might just explode.

But what has been exercising me most is how to minimise the environmental impacts of what I am doing.  If you know me or have read my blog, you will probably have noted that these things are important to me.  I try to do less evil wherever I am able to.  So for me all the packaging for this project has to be as low impact as possible.

Paper? Have you ever thought about swing tags, you know  those attractive tags that you will pull of your yarn and then chuck in the recycling/bin/compost.  These are the choices that need to be made in producing it:  Paper stock: 100% virgin woodpulp from sustainably managed forests or 100% recycled paper? Either kraft (unbleached brown) or if white then chlorine bleached or can I get unbleached? Laminated with plastic for that shiny smooth professional look or unlaminated? That’s an easy one. And then there’s the inks and how it’s printed.  And the list goes on. And then there’s finding a printer that not only offers these choices but also has the environment embedded in their own practise and thinks the same as me.

Packaging?  This is another huge (and very topical) issue. FFS we’ve been recycling since the late 1980’s so you would think we would have this thing sorted by now.  I hate those plastic postal bags.  I’ve taken the decision to be as plastic free as possible with packaging. My customers should be able to throw their packaging straight on the compost heap where it will biodegrade. Luckily there are now a huge choice of recycled card options.  I’ve even sourced a 100% recycled paper parcel tape that is completely biodegradable as it uses latex based adhesive to seal my parcels with. How good is that.

In the meantime.  Me and the Norfolk Yarn are having a cosy time of ‘getting to know you’.  As you can imagine, lots of squishing and sniffing and lots of swatching.  I’ve been testing out different needle sizes, different stitches, lace, cables, textures.

More on this soon.  I’m not ready to share yet. When she is ready for the big reveal you will be the first to know…

 

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The Norfolks coming home!

p10200901-e1524240154524.jpgIts ready! My Norfolk Horn yarn is finished.  It will be wending its way to me very soon.

Gulp.  Golly, shit just got real! I’m having a bit of a panic attack.  What have I done?  Is this project going to do what I want it too?

Its been a long journey already.  Beginning in the winter of 2015 when the first itching of wanting to do something for these regal wonderful sheep who helped me out so much.

The itch would not go away.  I knew from my spinning life that many small holders have nowhere for their fleece to go aside from the odd one to spinners like me.  Most talk of using them for mulch or compost or worse still burning.  This lead to more research into what happens to wool in the UK.  Phone calls with the wool board.  The prices paid. Conversations with local sheep farmers, small holders and their shearers. The appalling situation that people who keep small flocks of rare breed sheep face when it comes to their fleeces made me more convinced to do something.  I wrote up what I found in a post on the issue here  .  Rachel Atkinson (Daughter of a Shepherd) wrote a particularly impassioned blog post : fleeced  in her blog My life in Knitwear.  Recounting how her father received less than £10 for his entire clip of Herdwicks from the Wool Board, roughly 3 pence a fleece.  I was convinced that this was absolutely a good thing to do.

More research.  How exactly did you get fleece turned into yarn? Is it possible to produce a yarn from Norfolk Horn that would be beautiful and economically viable?  Who would spin it?  It had to be done properly. And by properly I meant not just spinning the breed to its best but also with care to the environmental impacts from this process.  If you know me you know I live my life trying to do less evil so this is a non negotiable part of it.  The Natural Fibre Company had answers to all my questions.

It was a fun spring and summer finding the people who keep Norfolk horns that would sell me their fleeces. People like Oliver in the village with his tiny flock.  The team of volunteers and Richard the farm manager at Gressenhall Museum of Rural life who gave me their entire clip. Waiting on people who turned out not to be able to help me.  The weird and the wonderful. I’m not a sociable type, so for me this was well out of my comfort zone.  But it was good for me to have something to focus on.

Another question was how do I raise the funds to pay for it all? This project had to stand on its on its own.  No funding.  No raiding the pension fund.  No savings to draw on. I spent the summer at local events with The Fibre Workshop squirrelling every penny into to the Norfolk Horn Project fund. So thank you to every one that bought a mini batt, handyed roving, spindles, fleece and felted nicnaks.  I could not have done this without you.

And, in October 2017 I took my tiny crop of 3 bags full to the mill. You can read about that adventure here.

And now its coming home!

I am beside myself with anticipation…

And also a little bit terrified…

 

Natural dyeing

IMG_20180409_145244085.jpgI said I didn’t but now  its time to try.

These are my first ever attempts at dying with natural dyes.  I have to say I really like the results.

I’ve been feeling the first twitches of wanting to learn more about dyeing with natural dyes for a while but have resisted the urge.  As if I don’t have enough to do. But its been creeping into my conciousness.  On Sunday I went on a natural dyeing workshop with Janet Major and the Norfolk Smallholders training group.

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A display of Janets work.  The cardigan was dyed using only Ground Elder.

For the workshop we had to bring along 60g pre-mordanted fibre and a plant dye bath of our own making. Of course I used Norfolk Horn.  I had a 50g ball of Kentwell Halls 4-ply (gifted me by the lovely Erica Eckles) and some of my own hand spun lace weight.

I have been saving up onion skins all year and had accumulated quite a lot, about 500g of mostly white onion but also a few redskins and some garlic as well as the stalky plaits. This seemed to be the perfect opportunity to make use of them.

I’m not good at preparation – I’m working on it – I only started prepping for the workshop 3 days before.  Ooops, supposed to soak dye material for a few days.  Not enough time. I figured that if I made the skins into smaller bits a larger surface area would get more chance of getting the dye out in a shorter time.  I blitzed them in the food processor with plenty of water.   I put the chopped up mush in a slow cooker that I use for dyeing.  Topping up with more water to the maximum fill level.  Brought it to the boil and left to simmer for about an hour. I left it to cool overnight and strained off the liquid the following day. Smelt pleasantly of rhubarb.

The mordant, Alum, on the other hand, proved to be a bit trickier. I do not recommend trying to source a chemical of any kind on the high street the day you need it. I thought it would be relatively easy to get on the high street. That was a mistake.  Chemists and Pharmacies are not what they used to be – the folks at my local Lloyds pharmacy blinked looked at me strangely and gave me that ‘uh oh! I’ve got a live one!’ look before saying ‘What was that Alan? Nooo, never ‘eard of it. No we don’t do that’.  I got pretty much the same response in Boots and in the local hardware store.  If I was more organised I would have bought some on-line weeks ago.  But that would make me a whole different person and would not be nearly as exciting or fun.

I have a copy of Jenny Deans ‘Wild Colour’ and in it I remembered reading about using Rhubarb leaves to make a mordant.  This appealed to me as I have limited (no) income at the moment and it also makes use of something that is usually discarded. I had a pleasant walk up to the village allotments.  Whilst I was there I er herm cough cough ‘borrowed’ some leaves.  Not the stalks, as that would be theft and a bad thing. But I eased my conscience with the knowledge that no one was going to miss a leaf or two. I gathered 1kg leaves. Jenny Dean writes that 500g of mordant should treat up to 1 kg fibres.  So I had more than enough.  I heartily recommend both the book and Jennys blog here: Jenny Dean

The leaves were chopped and put into the slow cooker.  Again topping up to maximum fill level.  Bring to the boil and cooked for an hour.  Left to cool in the pan overnight then strained out the liquid.

To mordant the fibres (already scoured, clean and damp) pop the fibres into the mordant solution bring the liquid up to simmer and cook for half an hour or so.  Leave to cool, then rinse. It did colour the fibres a gingernuty yellow:

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Rhubarb mordanted yarns (colours less orange more yellow in reality)

The all the pre-mordanted skeins were dyed in the onion dye bath for about an hour. Then we experimented with modifiers.  I choose iron and copper. The copper didn’t have a strong effect but did enriched the colour to a vibrant gingernut.  The iron on the other hand did.  I used a small amount (5ml) on one and a larger amount (15ml) on another. it really darkened the brown taking out the gingery tones.

The final skein I dipped in an indigo dye bath for one minute. I knew it would be a khaki type green given the gingery base:

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From left to right: handspun dyed, millspun dyed, 5ml copper modifier, 5ml iron modifier, 15ml iron modifier, handspun over dyed with indigo.

I was surprised that the different fibres took the dye differently.  My own handspun was paler and more golden than the millspun. What struck me most was the intensity of the colours achieved.  When it comes to colour I’m not a pastel wishy washy person.  Colour needs to sing. I think this may be one of the myths’  that has kept me from experimenting with plant dyes. The outcome of this experiment has definitely encouraged me to do more.

I’m waiting for some alum and will repeat using that as a mordant for the same dye bath.  I want to know if the rhubarb mordant had an influence on the colours I achieved. I also want to test the colour fastness so I’ve left these little beauties on the table in the workshop. I will let you know the results when I get round to it.

So there you are, six different shades from the same dye bath using materials that I have to hand.  Whats not to like…