Painfree stranded colourwork

IMG_20180319_131827807.jpgThis all began with Spinzilla 2017.  The fantastic Freyalyn dyed up some shetland fibre for the team.  The colours were so good, glorious golds/pumpkin/turmeric/greens/purples.  I really liked the colours and wanted to keep them intact in the yarn.  I had in mind another colourwork experiment.  This time with quite long colour sequences for a larger piece. I had a perfect neutral base to pair it with, a cone of unknown brown in the about the right weight (one of my charity shop finds). Another stranded colour work tank top with a sequence of large floral motifs in distinct bands.

I always find it easier if I have a finished design or end object in mind before I start any project. I am very in awe of creative folk who can just start on something with no particular end in mind.  I’m perhaps being deluded here as I don’t think this is entirely possible.  I find that if I am just noodling about with no particular aim it doesn’t go well. Its that blank page thing. I get crippling fright, feel a bit useless, it makes me unconfident in my abilities and anxious. Particularly when I start looking for inspiration on Pinterest or worse still Instagram…how on earth would anything I make ever be as good as that?

Once I knew what it was going to be I then knew what yarn I needed and how I needed to spin it.  A 4-ply (worsted) weight.  I had learnt from the Robin Pincushion project from the year before that trying to spin two plies to get a colour sequence was hard work! To keep my life simple it was going to be chain plied (3-ply).  I could spin away to my hearts content without the bother of trying to hard to keep consistency.  Plus this was going to be during spinzilla so I could spin using my default thin thin thin = fast fast fast!

And as it was spinzilla and speed was required it would be longdraw which meant rolags.

I split the tops into two.  Working my down the snakes I hand carded rolags placing each one in series next to its predecessor working my way:

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I span these rolags long draw onto two bobbins.  Making sure that I kept the sequence in order and numbered the bobbins 1 and 2.

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I chain plied 2 first and then 1.

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IMG_20180123_111428359.jpgI knitted a test peice as a swatch, a neckwarmer:IMG_20180302_140206709.jpg

Then spent some time working out the design.  Major headache with getting stitch counts and pattern to work.  I have learnt the value of the swatch.  More on this in a moment.

I also had a major conundrum with keeping the colour sequence right and how to split for the upper body.  Oh my god!  I was going make a tough choice.  Did I want to mess up the thickness of my colour transition by working upper front and back flat?  Or, if I wanted it to stay right  I WAS GOING TO HAVE TO STEEK.  CUT MY HANDSPUN YARN.  CUT IT???

My weirdness won out.  I couldn’t live with it if the colour sequence went off at the top.  No, really, I am that obsessive over the details. Drives me nuts if things are not right or balanced.

The knitting went smoothly, fairly straight forward:IMG_20180226_141011734.jpg

I’ve never worked a steek before.  I knew in theory what to do. So I had to do a bit of research.  Starting with the words of the wise, my fairisle bible (Alice Starmores Book of Fairisle knitting) and Elizabeth Zimmerman.  Meg Swainson wrote a really useful article for Vogue knitting here  I remembered  Kate Davies covered the topic with some good visuals over a series of blog posts resulting in what she called a steek sandwich. And the lovely and wonderous Hazel Tindall.

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This is the neck steek.  I used stitch markers and held the bottom stitch on asafety pin.  It was difficult to see the cutting stitch in the plain brown.

So armed to the teeth with the book learning I knew that I was not going to be happy with cut seams and loose ends.  I crochet a binding on the V-neck and armholes:

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It was difficult as I do this in the evening and the light is not so good particularly with the dark brown yarn being so dark.  I would definitely do this steeking in really good daylight tomake sure that one is working with the right stitches.

Cutting the knitting:

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Was not so bad once I’d got over it.

And then watched in horror as little wriggly worms of cut ends started to worm their way out of the beautifully worked crochet binding.  Horror horror.  I’ve already mentioned swatching.  Well wise words were given by Hazel Tindall “did you cut your swatch to see if it would steek ok?”… erm nope…. but I will next time….maybe…

However, always have a plan B to bodge things back into order!  Out with the sewing machine:

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I have a theory that it does take 10 years to master any skill.  Because this is how long it takes to make enough mistakes to learn enough bodges to make it look like you know what you are doing…

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I’m really pleased with it.  I like the flow of colour through the stranded colour work. Definitely will be repeating this at some point in the future.  As I hate the trauma of choosing colours in colourwork…analysis paralysis…

 

 

 

 

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Women and Worsted

My Norfolk Horn obsession is taking me to places I didn’t know I wanted to go but now I’m there I am loving it.  I have followed the Norfolks trail to Norfolks medieval and early modern textile industry.

England dominated the international textile trade, booms and busts notwithstanding, and Norfolk was the world centre for Worsted textiles. Textiles that were only possible to make due the production of vast amounts of yarn produced on what must have been an epic scale.

This is an extraordinary feat when you consider that until the introduction of powered spinning machines in the 1750’s, all yarn was spun by hand either on a spindle or on a wheel. And spun almost exclusively by women.

In the early medieval period spinning with a spindle and distaff was a ubiquitous activity of all women that transcended all classes.  For many women it the only way for them to provide their households with textiles. Spinning was so prevalent that it was not thought of as a skill or a craft that could be mastered but as some kind of natural ability inherent her gender. The spear side and the distaff side were terms to distinguish male inheritance from female inheritance. Spinster is still used today to describe an unmarried women. Chaucer’s Wife of Bath cites a proverb that holds that the natural endowments of women as ‘Deceit, weeping, spinning, God hath given to women kindly, while they may live.’

There are many contemporary images showing women spinning, or carrying her equipment, spindle and distaff visibly prominent as she carries out her other tasks, as a visual representation of her productiveness and positive wifely attributes.

My favourite is The Lutrell Psalter,an 14thC manuscript with illuminations showing depictions of everyday life on a manor through the year. Its wonderful, go take a look here. In it most of the depictions of women show them either directly engaged in spinning or undertaking other activities with distaff and spindle visible ready to whip out at a moments notice.

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Spinning on a great wheel and carding wool (source: Lutrell Psalter folio British Museum)
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a women attending her chickens, spindle and distaff tucked in her arm.

 

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In this image a women looms above a cowering man brandishing her distaff  with her spindle flying like a flail. I can’t help but wonder what his crime was.  Depictions of irate women brandishing distaff and spindle occurs alot.  Misericords in Malvern and Westminster also show husbands being chased by irate wives with raised distaffs.

 

 

And one of my personal favourites:

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Jousting.  Just another alternative use for a distaff  (source: National Library of France)

Women must have had their spindles and distaffs about them at all times, ready to whip out and put to use at every opportunity. It must have been an incessant unrelenting and all pervasive activity.

In Norfolk, doing different seems to have been a consistent thread through time. Whilst the spinning wheel was widely adopted elsewhere, in Norfolk, spinning ‘on the rock’ (as spindle spinning was known) persisted more or less until mechanisation replaced hand-spinning from the mid 1700’s on.

The simple reason for this technical.  A great wheel cannot spin a worsted yarn (I wont bore you with the technicalities of worsted and woollen – that is whole chapter all on its own). As a consequence, in Norfolk all the worsted yarn, for which its spinners were famed, used in the worsted textile industry were spun on the rock.

Yes, on a weighted stick.

By hand.

Whilst she got on with doing everything else as well. Hmm.

This got me curious about the time it might have taken and the quantities involved. So I did a very rough back of the envelope calculation. And please note this took about 10 minutes and I have very limited weaving knowledge. I would be really interested if anyone out there would like to put this to the test and work up some real data.

It’s easy for us to underestimate just how good the quality of English textiles being produced at that time were. We don’t have museum archives stuffed with bolts of cloth or clothing or household draperies to examine. But we are lucky that a few precious fragments have survived. These range in quality from coarse rough cloth woven from uneven yarns to very fine worsted that must have looked like silk.

So, M’lady wants a new dress.

Assuming she’s a bit of dandy and wants a reasonably priced good quality cloth and this cloth had an even number of warp and wefts [2]. Analysis of contemporary textile fragments show that the numbers of threads ranged from approximately 8 – 28 threads per cm[1].

So let’s assume our worsted cloth had a count of 20 threads for every cm. So, 1cm2 would need: 20 + 20 = 40cm of yarn. If our fabric was 1m wide, each meter of woven cloth would need: 0.40 x 10,000 = 4km of thread.

A women’s dress may have required between 3 -5 m of fabric, depending upon her status, size and cut. There would also have been wastage from the weaving process and shrinkage.

So if we assume 5m of cloth. This would require at least: 4 x 5 = 20km of yarn.

Geez! How long would that take to spin?

It is impossible to say how productive a medieval spinner was. She was likely to be very well practised and competent at her craft. I’m not a well-practiced spindler so I can’t really use my output for this. I do know that a competent spindler can spin between 35 – 50 m in 15 minutes competitively. I don’t think we’ve evolved much since the 12th Century so I think it is safe to assume this is a good match for your average medieval spinster. This output equates to between 140 to 200m an hour.

It would take over 20hours to make enough yarn to weave a single meter of fabric.

Therefore, to spin enough for m’ladies dress would take over 100 hours.

100 hours.

This is in addition to the time taken to wash and prepare the fleece before spinning.

In addition to all the other tasks the household required.

This goes some considerable way to understanding just how precious textiles were, given the amount of labour it took to produce them.

So there may well be a grain of truth in the  statement I keep coming across that it took seven spinners to keep one Worsted weaver going.  Without them Norfolks wealth and power would not have been possible. But these women made it happen. Sadly though, these women remain unrecorded, unrecognised and, mostly, invisible.

[1] Crowfoot, E., Pritchard, F., & Staniland, K. (1992). Textiles and Clothing c. 1150—1450 [Volume 4 in Medieval Finds from Excavations in London].

[2] Warp threads are the threads the loom is dressed with and run vertically.  Weft threads are the threads the weaver inserts horizontally running over and under the warps)

The Norfolk Horn: Part 2

As promised, a second post on the Norfolk Horn. In this post I want to tell you a bit about its wonderful woolly fleece.

Facts first. Todays Norfolk horn is a medium sized, hardy sheep. With its distinctive black face, alert bright eyes, with magnificent strong open spiral horns.  Both rams and ewes have horns. Long black legs and a belly that is free from fleece. It is intelligent, inquisitive and friendly, and, relative to its ancestors, fairly docile.  Its docility is thought to be owed to the Suffolk part of the modern Norfolks genetic heritage.

If you can get your hands on a Norfolk horn fleece you will find it is a creamy coloured, down land type, with flecks of dark fibres, the amount of dark fibre will vary between fleeces.

The British Wool Marketing Board classifies its fibre as fine, with a given micron range of 32 – 34.  So not so fine.  But bear with me. It does have a soft to medium handle. It has a staple length of 7 – 10 cm. The lock structure varies from a longish pointed staple in Shearling fleeces to a short thick more blocky staple in older sheep.

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Shearling locks

The fleeces are quite small weighing in between 1.25 – 2.25 kg.  But the belly and legs are not fleeced. I have found that their fleeces tend to need little skirting so don’t generate too much waste. But they are greasy.  Very greasy.

Another factor in their favour, it is incredibly reluctant to felt.  So best avoided if you want a woollen yarn to full if you’re a weaver or felter. But great if you are a bit on the heavy/careless side with your finishing and washing. That’s not say they are impossible to felt…Here’s something from my research into the Norfolk breeds history: The poor felting of the Norfolk breed was one of the reasons why Norfolk developed a thriving Worsted yarn and cloth industry during the middle ages.

Surprisingly the lovely soft chocolatey brown fleece in this photo is Norfolk Horn.  The Lambs are born with dark fleece and this gradually grows through to white with time. If you are lucky enough to get lambswool like this, the fleeces are a beautiful, short stapled but very fine and wonderfully soft. You’ll find shades ranging from salt and pepper grey through to dark rich chocolatey brown/black.  The black fades out over time but some adults keep some dark fibres which gives an interesting colouring when it’s spun.

It is a great fibre to spin giving a bouncy lively yarn. The medium staple length and crimpiness make it a very tolerant fibre perfect for new spinners. It is not slick and slippery like over processed merino. It sort of sticks together and lets the spinner focus on keeping the wheel/spindle turning, whilst drafting the fibre and letting it feed in without having to concentrate too hard on keeping the drafted fibre.

I have found it spins up much softer than its fibres suggest it ought.  But it is definitely a tickly sheepy yarn with bounce and life.  The yarn seems to carry the character of the breed it comes from.

In general I card Norfolk horn on a drum carder. I used to painstakingly comb locks before feeding on.  Took for ever.  My hands raw, sore and blistering from combing.  I don’t do this now.  Now I pick up the locks, pull out any offending neps, noils, second cuts and other reject bits.  Lay the lock perpendicular to the licker in and then feed it onto the drum sideways.  Yes sideways.  No.  Not tip first.  Not butt first.  Sideways.  Brilliant.  I promise you try this once and you will be amazed at how speedier this whole boring slow boring and tedious process becomes.  I will then split these once carded batts and then card them another couple of times.  Picking out nasty bits as I go.

In general a woollen or semi-woollen spinning suits the fine character of the Norfolk the most.

 

This swatch was spun longdraw from the batt as strips that I’ve pulled into slivers.  Its about 15 wpi and knitted on 3mm needles.

I’m useless at hand carding rolags, always seems to be full of neps and lumps and bumps. The yarn is light,airy and bouncy.  It has a much softer hand than expected but is definitely tickly.  Don’t mock the quality of my spinning, I can never seem to get enough ply twist!

The longer staples make a great worsted yarn. Unlike the sample in this picture, which is not my best. It spun denser than the woollen sample, at about 13 – 14 wpi and is knitted on 3mm needles.

 

When combed and spun worsted the resulting yarn has a lovely lustre and an amazing memory. Although it has a crisper handle the stuff is like elastic! It just keeps springing back to shape. It makes a perfect sock yarn. I’ve wondered about adding blending in some mohair for a harder wearing sock yarn. Haven’t got around to it yet. Although you will also lose a lot of fibre through combing but this can be carded and spun into a lovely textured woollen yarn. This swatch is spun worsted short draw.  Sort of. I may have drifted of at points and forgot to keep with the inch worm…its firmer and a little harder hand that the woollen spun.

This cardigan is Norfolk horn.

I was in a silk phase so everything was being blended with silk.  Didn’t need it.  The brown pattern work is Alpaca.  Despite being light its incredibly warm.

Heres another example.  These are socks are Norfolk horn.  I knitted them from a two ply worsted yarn spun from combed top and then dyed. They never, ever sag or bag. And I really like the lustre and good stitch definition. They have also more than a few trips through the washing machine at regular 40oC cycle.  Did not felt. Amazing.  The pattern, if you are wondering is Sunshine by Cookie A.  Love love love her socks….

To sum up, its sheepy, bouncy, a full of life, versatile, dyes well and is virtually a natural superwash  fibre.

Hopefully that’s what you need to know. Go find some if you can and give it a go. I would love to know how you find it.

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…