Friday, 29 June 2012

Love at First Treadle

I am in love. My new love is desirable in every way - looks great, feels great and delivers everything I could possibly want. I first encountered the object of my desire last October at the East Sussex Guild Exhibition. I spied the handsome creature across the crowded room and sidled up to introduce myself. After a long conversation, I was hooked. My friends nudged each other and looked sideways at us - 'she's going to take that one home with her!' They muttered. 

My new found love played hard to get. We didn't go home together that day. But hey, when you are going to enter into a long term relationship and share your home with someone you have to be sure they are the right one, don't you? 

For the next few months I fantasised about my new sweetheart. I gazed at pictures on the internet and read what other people had to say. No one had a bad word to say, except one person didn't like the unusual posture. I have to admit, I did find the slanting pose a little odd at first myself but it does make intimacy a breeze!

After several months of yearning and unfulfilled desire, we met again at Wonderwool Wales. I sneaked away from my stand before the show opened on the second day for another tryst. The lovely Martin of P and M Woolcrafts noticed how well we got along together and before I knew it Martin had my beloved ready for action and helped my whisk my darling back to my stand. I didn't feel cold for the rest of the day!

You guessed - my new love is a Lendrum spinning wheel. 

So far I have spun a Jacob batt on my new wheel. These batts are a particular favourite of mine, they are light grey with some darker fibre which gives a marbled effect. I think I've over spun the yarn though, the Lendrum treadles so effortlessly my hands didn't keep up with my feet!

Today I'm linking up with Creative Friday over at Natural Suburbia, so do click on the button below to see what everyone has has been making.

Monday, 25 June 2012

The Great British Story - Spinning at Hall Place

On Saturday I took part in an event which was linked to the BBC series The Great British Story - A People's History. The series is about the everyday lives of ordinary people in Britain through history. 

To accompany the series there are events being held around the country to help people discover more about their past. The event I took part in was at Hall Place, a Tudor House in Bexley, Kent. I went with my friends Viv and Della - from Wye Community Farm, and Della's daughter Cat. We represented the Kent Guild of Spinners, Dyers and Weavers.  

It was an unusual brief. Normally we rock up with our wheels and things we have made and take the day as it comes. The usual 'script' is about the process of spinning wool. This time the brief was different. We were there to give people a peek into the past. Now I consider myself to be a 21st century spinner, I don't particularly spin to recreate history, I spin in the here and now. Could I manage to talk all day about the lives of women in the past? I really wasn't sure if I knew enough about the history of spinning. 

Then there was the matter of deciding what to take for display. As it was an event with a history focus I asked my fellow Guild members to loan items which would fit in with the historical theme - nothing mill spun, nothing chemically dyed, nothing modern in design. That limited our choice of display materials but on the day we could honestly say that everything was handspun and either undyed or dyed with historic natural dyes. 

Yarns naturally dyed by Guild members
 The display looked good and showed people what could be achieved with ancient techniques. Guild members even lent a replica great wheel and a genuine antique flax wheel - which fell apart at every opportunity. 

The Great Wheel
People were fascinated to see us spinning. One person was convinced spinning wheels today were 'only made for demonstration' and 'didn't really work'! No I did not spend the best part of £450 on a wheel just to look pretty. 

We met members of the Guild of One-Name Studies, they research surnames and had seen many occupations related to wool in the census returns but were not sure what those occupations would have involved. It was exciting swopping knowledge to gain a better picture of the lives of textile workers in the past.

Taking part in this event has made me think about those forgotten women across thousands of years who spun every inch of yarn the world needed. Now I feel inspired to find out more about the history of wool and handspinning. Do you know of any good books or websites?

The TV programme, presented by Michael Wood, airs on BBC2 on Fridays at 9:00pm. 

 Thanks to Cat Newman for the photographs.

Friday, 22 June 2012

My Camera is Smoking!

Painter's Palette

My camera is smoking. Why? The poor thing has been over worked lately. I'm getting a new online shop! The current shop was a bodge job I muddled together myself. It was later improved by a professional (more about him in a minute) all the good bits are thanks to Simon.

In honour of the new website I have worked my way through all the stock re-photographing everything. That was an interesting experience. There have been numerous times when I nearly threw the camera out of the window. It is all very well having a camera with the potential for full manual control but what on earth do you do with all those combinations of settings? Still, the photography is done now. My camera is lying in a darkened room with a wet flannel on its forehead.

The site is being created by Simon Kiteley of Simon is a very experienced web person. As well as the design he does all the clever stuff I don't understand. Coding, I think its called. My idea of modern technology is a double treadle spinning wheel with flyer. I mean, you don't have to stop spinning to wind on the yarn and you can sit down - how advanced is that!

If you want to acquire a website or you're not happy with your current one have a look at Simon specialises in small and medium size businesses.

The new site is looking so much better than the old one already. Much cleaner and the product images are bigger so you can really see the items. Also thanks to a more advanced camera and proper lighting the colour representation is closer to reality.

I'll let you know the new web address soon when the site is ready for unveiling!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Wearing the Red Vest

Remember I was disappointed when I qualified to shear at Plumpton College Open Day then the event was cancelled? Well, I finally got to wear the red vest. I was part of the Plumpton College Shearing Team at the South of England Show (yes I know, the show was 7-9th June - I'm a bit behind!) It's a milestone in my journey to learn how to shear sheep.

The Plumpton College Shearing Team - thanks to Plumpton College for the picture
I had mixed feelings about shearing in public. There's always the worry something will go wrong, like falling over or letting your sheep escape. Then it's a male dominated world. I think a lot of people assume I'm there to roll wool and sweep the floor. Every time I opened the pen gate I sensed surprise behind me. That girl is going to shear a sheep!

I sheared every day of the show, shearing 18 sheep across the three days. The sheep were all very similar, lovely Suffolk Mule tegs. I really felt like I was improving and I think it helped that the sheep were consistent. When every sheep you pull out of the pen is different it can almost feel like starting again. Each sheep was a similar weight, size and shape and the fleeces combed through beautifully.

I can tell from the time stamps on the photos I was taking about 8 minutes to shear one sheep. That is slow but the important thing is to get the pattern and foot work right. Speed can come later. I've got to grips with the basics of shearing but there is so much detail to learn. For example the answer to the question why is the sheep struggling may be, you need to move your right toes two inches to the left. It's that precise.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Icelandic Sheep

As promised, the pictures of the Icelandic sheep, I thought I'd post these separately.

Have you ever spun or knitted wool from Icelandic sheep?

Meet Oliver

I promised to tell you about Oliver. Oliver is a rather special lamb. He is an orphan and just like his namesake he is always bleating for more. Even though he is bottle fed, he chases the ewes around and tries to sneak a drink from other lambs' mothers. 

Oliver came over to watch the shearing. When one of the ewes was sat up to be sheared he saw her bulging udder and two pink teats waving at him. Oliver could not resist. He latched on and helped himself. 

Shearing had to wait while Oliver filled his belly. Fortunately, the ewe didn't seem to mind.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Ice Badgers

I met some very unusual sheep this weekend. Ice Badgers. Baby Ice Badgers to be exact. Want to see one?

Aren't they adorable? They are a very unusual cross. They only exist because some naughty ewes decided they fancied a bit of fun and jumped into the ram's field. The ewes are Icelandic sheep, the ram is a Badger Face Welsh Mountain. 

In the picture above, the lamb on the left is a pure bred Badger Face and the one on the right is an Ice Badger. Can you see the Ice Badger already has tiny horns? It is unusual to find Icelandic sheep outside of Iceland. Icelandics are beautiful sheep, they remind me of Arab horses, they have dished faces and huge eyes. In the top picture above you can the Ice Badger lamb has a dished face.

This is a pure bred Icelandic ewe:

Isn't she gorgeous!

Later in the week I'll show you some more pictures of the Icelandics and tell you about Oliver, the cheeky Badger Face Welsh Mountain lamb I met.