Sunday, 31 December 2017

Shetland Wool Week Day 12: Wonderful Haps and the Opening Ceremony

Wind was a dominant feature of today, it had been very windy in the night and unusually the van rocked a bit. We were very glad we were in a sheltered spot. It looked  as though it might be a weather dominating week. 

The plan had initially been to have a restful day after a full day yesterday, with just the opening ceremony. However, the restful part of the day was to be confined to the morning. 

The Ollaberry Haps Exhibition was closing on Wednesday so the only possible time for me to see it again was this afternoon when I could fit in a brief visit. I also found out I had to call at the Hub to get my membership bag so I had entry to the Opening Ceremony tonight. Then we needed to get to Cunnisburgh and get our campsite place sorted all before 6.30 when the opening ceremony started. It would work but I would need to limit how much chatting I did!

We decided to have lunch as the Ollaberry exhibition opened and as long as we spent no more than an hour there it would be fine. As before the spread was wonderful and we were easily able to chose some lunch. As soon as I sat down to eat I noticed a jumper board for sale that would fold up quite small. Well this was too good an opportunity to miss.  What was really nice  about this was the lady sitting at the stall was the wife of the maker, who himself turned up later so I was able to chat to him about it. It is very nice to envisage the maker of things like this that I buy. I did get chatting to the lady selling, who told me that she spent a few happy years in Norfolk as her husband had postings there in the RAF. So we chatted about Thetford, what a small world. 

Although I had seen Haps at Ollaberry last year, it was still an immense pleasure to see them. What was particularly good was seeing those made in Hap classes that had been held in the time since the last exhibition, what a great idea. Again it was lovely that there was such a good description and story available for the majority of these. I bought some other small things and chatted to people who have become friends. 

This one won a prize at Voe Show, had 3 rosettes  and noted it took 100 hours to complete. It was superb and priced at £500, underpriced in my mind. 

This is the jumper board when constructed. Apologies for the quality of the photo. This was taken in the evening back in the kitchen where we were staying.

I was really pleased that I had managed to get there but only sorry I could not have spent days examining them.... the skill and work that had gone into each demanded that really. So two days, two great exhibitions, what a treat. 

Then on to the Hub  to pick up my membership bag, a nice design again this year. 
I did chat a bit - this time to Alyssa Malcolmson who was wearing a magnificent cardigan that she had knitted. She is Wilma Malcolmson’s (1) niece  and a designer to watch. She is on Ravelry (LissyLooLoo) with at least one of her designs there.
The visit to the Shetland Museum visit was tinged with some disappointment as the shop still did not have Elizabeth and Hazel’s DVD. I made a new appointment for tomorrow- I would be at the Shetland Times Bookshop as early as possible, they MUST have a copy as they were publishing it (I hoped). 

A short drive down to Cuningsborough, where I met a machine knitting friend and her husband who were visiting Wool Week for the first time. Then a quick turnaround and off to Clickimin where the opening ceremony would be held in the Sports Hall again. 
We sat at a table near the front in the huge hall and had a lovely group for the evening. It was so lovely that Wilma Malcolmson came to sit with us, as well as Sarah and Jo (2) and Silvina  (3). As always the event was enjoyable. I felt it was too long last year but rather rushed this year. It was great to see items from New Designers in the Fashion Show but I was disappointed that established Designers were not represented. I wore my Ground Elder Dyed cardigan for the first time - there will be a separate blog post about this after the Shetland 2017 Journal series is completed. 
There were too many people to catch up with but I did have a brief chat with Hazel (3) Ruth(5) and Oliver (6) as the undyed wool for the cardigan was a cone of Jamieson and Smith Jumper weight and I know he likes to see products made from their yarn. 
Ground Elder Dyed cardigan. 

This was marked on the plan as a rest day! It had been another great ‘wool’ day but a rest day -not really. 

If you are into Wool you will know many of the people I refer too, but just in case I am giving more details. 
(1) Wilma runs - her use of colour in Fair Isle is legendary
(2) Sarah Moran - we met in Cheshire when I was organising the first Maker’s Market for Alsager Music and Arts and have become ‘wool week’ friends since... and her impeccably dressed friend and  ‘all things needlework’ Jo
(3) Hazel Tindall, who changed my knitting life last year after the classes on using the knitting belt and knitting a yoke. Hazel has a great dvd on Fair Isle knitting - and also the one with Elizabeth (see later) which I  recommend. (
(4)Silvina - from Brazil,  who I sat next to at the workshop in Whalsay the day before  -a keen knitter who is VERY keen to learn all she can about lace knitting and more
(5) Ruth Gough of - Ruth and I go back a lot of years. She is great for spinning tuition, teaching the how and the why; great for equipment; great for courses. I have been to both Wingham and Borrowdale where I see they are doing residential courses again. 
(6) Oliver Henry of Jamieson and  Smith - this  website has to be on any serious knitters ‘favourites’ list in my opinion 

Friday, 29 December 2017

Shetland Wool Week day 11 :Fair Isle Workshop, Whalsay: Sat 23 Sept

No need for any alarm today, I was awake early as today was my first workshop of Wool Week in Whalsay. Having not had the best ferry experiences getting to see the Whalsay Fair Isle Exhibition last year I vowed that was to be my only visit to Whalsay. 
However, never say never. 
When I was making a mental list of what I would like to learn in Wool Week ‘knitting in the round using 3 rather  than 4 needles’ was high on the list and that just happened to be In Whalsay. We drove to Laxo and there were one or two cars and several foot passengers who looked like workshop attendees. Amanda (Pottinger) who was running the workshop at the Heritage Centre was going to pick up anyone who needed it but  we were taking the motor home over so Michael could explore the island. It was a bit choppy on the ferry but nothing compared to last year- however I did move to sit in the middle j(rather than the front) of the ferry. 
Prior to the workshop we had been asked what colours  we would like to work with and these yarns  and the instructions were named and so we sat with our name. This was a lovely  touch and ever thoughtful  if anyone was not happy with their choice there was the opportunity to swap colours. 

There were 11 of us taking the workshop; I was from Norfolk, a lady from the Isle of Man, another from Northern Ireland and the other eight from much further afield. I noted USA, Canada, Sweden, Australia, Brazil and Germany so a truly international group with a shared love of knitting. We  got started  right away completing  ribbing  for either a headband, tablet case or cushion cover. I opted for the tablet case and was in fact going to adapt the pattern to make a new cover for my Filofax. I left my woven Filofax cover on a shop counter whilst living in Cheshire, so a new cover would be really useful.
Not only were the tutors (Amanda and Janet)  great at pre planning  and teaching they were also great bakers. As soon as we started on our knitting, we were offered tea or real coffee and a cake stand with scones, butter, raspberry jam and clotted cream and drop scones appeared. Later on we were offered delicious chocolate squares with mint aero in them.
Two shots of the group, notice the mini kitchen with the goodies in the background.

The tutors constantly checked our progress, for many this was the first time they weee using a knitting belt and for all of us the first time knitting in the round with less than 4 needles. It was so good to watch Amanda and Janet (as experts)demonstrating  knitting and they were tireless in their help and encouragement to enable us to do the same. They even arranged for a special delivery of knitting belts made in Whalsay to be brought  to the Heritage Centre so workshop  members who wanted them could buy one and take it away with them. I think everyone bought one. (I had my own bought in Shetland a few years ago now and well used since Hazel’s class last year, where I really learnt how to use it.) 
All too soon it was 14.00 and  the class was officially over. We finished off this great class with a group photo and we all began to notice the bigger waves in the sea - anticipating a fairly rough return back to mainland. 

We were all on our way with our knitting at the end - notice the knitting pattern as dots as traditionally used and also the colourful knitting belts

I also took the opportunity to look at the exhibition, there had been some changes since last year. This cardigan took my eye and I have not cropped the photo so you can see some of the variety of Fair Isle Knitting on display. 

After the workshop, Amanda offered to drive to Shoard, the popular ‘charity’ shop and we were keen to follow. It is a big and impressive shop. I bought a 40cm length set of 5 dpns, steel and probably size 16- very fine indeed and some more lopi Wool so I could continue making repairs to my slippers that I knitted and felted some years ago. I then limited myself to 2 buttons and Michael bought a book. 

After what seemed like a very long drive we found the pop up cafe, lovely to see junior age  children helping the community provide this during Wool Week. I did have a small piece of cake but was mindful that the ferry crossing might be choppy, we were going to Vidlin so that indicated it wasn’t going to be calm! However, we were told it was because of the ‘tides’... mmm I thought ‘I wonder’. 

On the ferry we sat int he middle and I decided to spin, with my portable tiny drop spindle,  some Norfolk Horn.  I was spinning very fine - this distracted me and was also helpful in doing that for other members from the Fair Isle Class. The boat was choppy but nothing like a year ago. 

I felt much better when I was off the boat and we went back to the campsite briefly to sort ourselves out, tonight’s treat would be fish and chips from  the award winning Brae fish and chip shop, which we could just about see from our campsite. The fish and chips were amazing. 

This had been a very good start indeed to Wool Week- in fact it was brilliant. 

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Shetland Wool Week: Day 10: Last Day in Unst: Fri 22 Sept

We woke to a stunning sky, spectacular bands of light moved over the sea to the shore and then there was the most glorious sunrise, so lovely to see today which was tinged with leaving sadness. I tried to capture it.

We left as soon as we could pack up and headed for Norwick beach where Michael walked up the road to a favourite bird watching spot and I took the camera and pottered on the beach - sheer bliss. It is ungrateful to complain but it was really too bright for photography. However, I did take lots of pictures and its difficult to choose a few for here.
 I can already visualise some textured weaving with some of my naturally dyed yarn

I spent some time knitting, can there be a better place for knitting? (Prep for my grafting class later in the week) 

I rarely take a selfie, but this was tempting. I know I am only supposed to include what is the frame, but what is outside is better!

We had treated ourselves to Victoria’s tea rooms for lunch as it was our last day here for a while. It did not disappoint and we treated ourselves to a porcelain dish to put the spoons in from the breakfast cup of tea so we can see it each day. Then Michael was back to Norwick and I went into the Heritage Centre to sit and spin and chat to the lovely knowledgeable knitters and spinners who meet there on Friday afternoon’s for much of the year. I so enjoy this as I like to see what they are doing and they are interested in what I have been doing too. This year I took my Ground Elder cardigan (more about that later), some fine lace spinning and gifted them some Norfolk Horn fleece. One of the ladies had fallen and broken a bone in her hand. Currently her spinning was halted but she was still able to knit- a fair isle tam at that. Some more visitors arrived including a lady from Melbourne who was a spinner of mainly merino and a knitter also from England. (I noticed this year that more people were coming up to wool week earlier and using the time to visit beyond Mainland which is good) I have knitted the Ground Elder cardigan, naturally dyed and using the knitting machine and am very proud of that. Being told ‘machine knitting is cheating’ was embarrassing for me to hear from a visitor. Everyone who knits using a knitting machine - and this includes a lot of people in Shetland - appreciates the skill that goes into that.
All too soon for me it was time to clear my things away for another year and catch the ferry back to Yell and then Mainland. I just had a short time to chat to Minnie who had come in to see my medieval spindles and chat about historical sheep breeds. More envy (and delight) that she was planning to go to the North Atlantic Sheep Conference in the Isle of Man after wool week.
I had eaten my delicious lemon tart from Victoria’s tea rooms on one of the ferries, but we did stop to make a cup of tea once we made Mainland. Another treat was in store - fish and chips from Brae, an award winning place. Before we collected these we drove round the corner to book in to Delting Marina where we would be spending a couple of nights. It had been a great day and tomorrow I had my first Wool Week class in Walsay. However, I did have uncomfortable memories of the ferry journeys last year and I noticed the wind was getting up a bit.......

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Shetland Wool Week: Day 9: Mainly a technology day - Frustrations and learning new things: Thurs 21 Sept

It had rained hard in the night but it seemed amazingly warm when we woke up and the wind had dropped substantially. Even when dull, Uyeasound is still beautiful and we pottered and just enjoyed it. My plan this year was to publish my blog about our trip slightly retrospectively  but while we were still away. This day reminded me why that does not happen. Download speed is reasonable but upload speed is too slow. I had several attempts and then realised there were far better things to do when in Shetland. Leaving it until I got back home meant I could relive the experience again. However, I did not know I was to encounter a real technology bonus in the hostel. 

One of the cyclists, Laura of the yellow bike and I got chatting. She had been travelling with a tent and her bike since Sept 2015 and visited many countries, she wasn’t planning to get back home (Switzerland) until the spring 2018. She takes amazing photos and introduced me to Lightroom! It is now on my Christmas list- but that might have to be Christmas 2018 as  I intend to pack this years list with Shetland and Textile related goodies. If you know any German or even if you don’t but love great  photos take a look at Laura’s blog - 

I have been asked about the actual Viking longhouse in Unst, so here is a bit more information.  It is thought that Unst was the first place the Vikings landed in the North Atlantic and remains of 60, yes 60, longhouses have been found, which gives the highest rural density known including in Scandinavia. Three of these longhouses have been excavated in Unst and the replica longship in Haroldswick has made use of the knowledge and skills developed due to these. 

The roof is sealed with turf and the interior of the roof has all wood joints, the pattern at the end took my eye. 

I was particularly interested in the door, no metal was used, the hinge was very clever! 

The longhouse is a large building and events are staged there in the summer and sometime I hope to partake in some of these. It is a glorious building and I wonder what the Viking buildings in Norfolk were like. 
This site is well worth a visit and it is in sight of Victoria’s tea rooms and a very short distance from the Heritage Centre and that wonderful lace knitting. 

*** I didn’t mention in the last post the size of the Viking ship- 24m in length and 5m wide and made of oak. It is called the Skidbladner and is a full size replica.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Shetland Wool Week :day 8: wonderful people, Wool and archeology : Wed 20 Sept

This was going to be another restful day where we played at being tourists. It ended up packed full of things that form wonderful memories. One of the great things about coming to Shetland Wool Week over the years is that you meet 'spin off' craftspeople. This morning we were off to meet Cheryl from Glansin Glass ( which is in Uyeasound where we are staying - her products are beautiful. We had a hard job choosing what to bring back - delightful pieces for the newly decorated lounge that we will enjoy each day. 

We hadn't previously stopped at the Viking Ship and Longhouse but made time this morning. 
 It was a real treat, I loved this detail from the ship. 
The rope was integral to the ship, it felt wrong to ‘remove it’ and just look at the colours in it! 

We decided we would not have liked to row the ship, for one thing the oar was very heavy but it was lovely to sense what it might have been like. 
Lunch was in Victoria's tea room where we had  trouble choosing, the food was all so tempting- we booked to return for lunch on Friday. Then it was on to the Heritage Centre for me, to get a fill of the glorious lace again. It doesn't matter how many times I look at this lace, it is never enough. But today I was in for a treat, I started talking to a lady ( obviously up for SWW by her cardigan). We got chatting and introduced ourselves, she was Hadewych van der Werf ( look her up she does wonderful colourwork knitting) and we noted we had a common friend Monique Boonstra  (such a wonderful lace designer and knitter, look her up too) both  from The Netherlands. I guess Monique’s  ears might have been burning. Another treat was managing to buy the Whalsay Fair Isle book, beautiful pictures of the knitwear in the exhibition - which I will see again on Saturday. The book is worth getting (try Whalsay Heritage and Community Centre). It is a sheer delight with fair isle knitwear from the 1920’s to 2010’s from the island. Every page is worthy of detailed study. 

Having bought a few other items we went   to Lund Church where it is always atmospheric ( windy) but is a place like no other. I decided it was a great place to catch up on my knitting, I am still trying to do my prep  for Friday and Tuesday classes. I couldn't not walk there, so I rugged up and was delighted that I managed to find the Viking crosses in the Church yard. There are another couple behind this and one was in front of the one you see here. 

Back 'home' ( I wish - I mean the hostel where we park the motorhome) there are 3 ladies each on their own- 2 cyclists and a lady in a small tent but with a car  lots of interesting conversation for all as we prepare and cook dinner. 3 more people now know about Shetland Wool Week! 
Another night when I will have no trouble sleeping. 

Monday, 23 October 2017

Shetland Wool Week day 7: An idyllic day in Unst: Tuesday 19 September

We got up to a brilliant sunny but windy day. I decided that some washing was in order. Pegging this on the line was challenging, needing 3 pegs forced down on each item and as I left the line it was all horizontal. It would be a good drying day.
I had received emails from two local people, Cheryl who I had met in a photography workshop last year and Minnie whom I had known from spinning etc for several years. We hoped to meet both during our time in Unst. 
We managed to get to Victoria’s Vintage Tea Rooms for coffee. The cakes as always were delicious, do fit in a trip there if you are ever that far north and below is just a quick snap as we arrived. As a treat we bought an Unst Calendar for next year, the added bonus being that I will not make our own and they are all pictures of Unst - that will be a real delight for 2018.

We were, of course, off to Norwick beach - one of our favourite beaches in Unst. Michael walked up the road to look for birds and I went on the beach to take pictures of seaweed. After a break for lunch, made in the camper van there was time for more of the same! 

I did tear myself away to finish a little textile project, lacing my boots with their new inkle woven laces in black and gold cotton to match the original stitching on the boots.  I am very pleased with them and in fact they got many favourable comments later in the holiday. It was a surprise to be stopped in the street and someone pointing to my feet and then after some more pointing and attempt at speaking a common language the lady and I managed to have a conversation about the laces. She knows they are woven but the ‘inkle weaving’ might have been a step too far!

The day got better, we stopped in Skiboull Stores for some provisions - pear tart, 2 delightful fair isles mugs for morning coffee when we get home etc and who should come in too, but Minnie. We missed each other in Shetland last year so we had a bit of catching up to do but things soon turned to spinning and natural dyeing. We hoped to meet up on Friday at the Heritage Centre when I would go along in the afternoon to meet local spinners and knitters who meet there in the summer at that time. 

What a super day it had been, great scenery, great seaweed, great cake and catching up with friends. We slept well. 

Monday, 9 October 2017

Shetland Wool Week day 6: A rest day in Unst : Monday 18 September

We had been travelling for 5 days so deemed today a rest day. We were not tempted to do otherwise as it was a bit wet outside first thing. We did not move the van all day. 
I decided that complete rest could well result in a migraine so set to on getting to the final draft stage with a month's long online textile workshop  ( on getting a professional finish to garments) that I am working on to be delivered in November. 
Image of section of workshop 

This is my first venture into this sort of thing, although in the past I have written stand alone teach yourself units - but that was in A level Chemistry and not a textile based subject. It will be interesting to see how this goes. 
By lunchtime it has stopped raining and brightened up. However, I was determined to get the new laptop talking to the wi fi in the hostel. Eventually  it worked, failure at first was operator failure and lack of familiarity with the newish laptop. 
It was very nice to walk round the sound to the north east and surprised to see a loch behind the shore. I just stretched my legs and took photos of sea based things, seaweed and fishermen's bits for the colour and texture- part of today's textile interest. I took a couple of other photos unique to Uyeasound, more on one in a later post. Michael walked much further looking at birds and was surprised and delighted by an otter that ran across the road from the sea to the loch. When he looked it obviously has a well worn track from the beach. He watched it for a couple of minutes while it swam away into the loch. 
We can fully understand how important this area was in the past due to the long area of sheltered sea. It is good to see there is still fish based industry of a sizeable nature still here.(1) 
In the previous post this can be seen  towards the right of the photo showing the sound. In the past herring were a big catch in this part of Unst and herring girls followed the shoals, some going down to Gt Yarmouth and Lowestoft - what a small world it is. 

I couldn't resist this photo of the bus stop - how useful to have a pair of wellies to use! 
Uyeasound bus stop

(1) It seems that in 2007 when a new pier was built, 30 people were employed by two fish farms in Uyeasound.  More recently one of the farms has been sold by the family that have been running it 24/7 for 47 years! They were raising about 275,000 fish which equated to approx 1000 tons of salmon a year. Today, business seems mainly to be raising the salmon and the area is good for this as the farms seem to avoid the detrimental 'sea lice'. I will wonder when I next buy my Shetland salmon whether it was alive and well when we were looking out at the sound. Scotland is the third biggest world producer of salmon and quite a lot of this comes from Shetland and the other islands. 

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Travelling to Unst- day one to five of the 2017 Textile Experience

I am going to try and keep up with this textile journal of our time in Shetland rather than write it weeks or even months later. I will therefore summarise the last 5 days in one post. As in previous years I will concentrate on textile items but also describe non textile things that are 'special'. 
We arrived at 17.30 this afternoon having travelled 820 miles which includes 3 sea journeys, the longest being 200 miles on the Aberdeen to Lerwick ferry last night. We decided this year to come up from home the west of England route involving the M6 so that we could meet friends in Cheshire for some catching up. The M6 was so busy,  so was local traffic in Cheshire, and we had forgotten what that was like. It is bliss to live in rural Norfolk. 
We are sitting having a cup of tea overlooking a very calm and peaceful sea, the sun is out and the light is wonderful. It is a superb evening. 
Image of uyeasound looking west

 In terms of textile interest it has been action packed! On Thursday morning I visited Metropolitan Machine Knitting to collect 2 garments I had lent for a fashion show for Tony Bennett, a wonderful Machine Knitting designer and tutor from Australia.( One  of these items is described on my website under machine knitting- it is the Grigna Cardigan; I have yet to post about the pink jacket! )  I have been on two of Tony's  courses and learned so much- his finishing is fantastic. I was sorry not to have been  on the course he was running last week but I was able to see him and 6 colleagues from previous years who were doing this new course! I resisted the temptation to buy any yarn and instead chose 10 'old' magazines ! The old ones are far better than the newer ones and if I ration myself to one every other day I will make them last 20 days! Then it was on to Little Moreton Hall to meet a Cheshire WSD friend. We took time to go into the long gallery and reminisce about Alsager WSD exhibitions that we held there. The room is as long as a cricket pitch, if I remember correctly, and we always tried to make sure that each member of the Guild had at least one item in the exhibition, and most people had many more than that. We tried to make it an educative exhibition with information that onlookers would find interesting whatever their knowledge of WSD. Those truly were the days! We enjoyed showing our wares, demonstrating and interacting with the public and feedback was always great to read. That evening we caught up with another WSD  member from the Guild and we were able to discuss ideas for next year's National Exhibition to be held in Glasgow in July. 

As for my textile ' doings' I  have started to knit another shawl by Donna Smith, from Kate Davies' Book of Haps. It is called Houlland and after 2 trial pieces I felt I had the pattern in my head for the edging, which has 63 repeats. I am using a knitting belt for this as the pattern involves garter stitch and am very pleased with the tension. ( see blog post of 30 October 2016 where I discuss tuition with Hazel Tindall with a knitting belt last year during Wool Week) 
Image of knitting the edge

The yarn is from my stash and is Many a Mickle lambswool in laceweight. I guess it is about  30 years old but I still love the colour. As for spinning, I have not brought my wheel this year, but a selection of drop spindles including some medieval ones. On the ferry last night, being National Spin in Public Day, I decided to continue to spin with Boreray (1)as it seemed apt to do so. I am spinning it quite fine and intend to make it into a lace bookmark. A wool week participant from last year who was in the Design  class with Nielanell with me was also in the ferry lounge with us and we naturally got chatting. She was accompanied by a Canadian friend who I tried to convince to have another shot at spinning with a drop spindle. She had had a bad experience ! I hope to see more of her  during Wool Week and help her on her drop spinning journey! 
Image of drop spinning on ferry

Apologies for the quality of this photo, I only had my iPad with me and the lighting was not ideal! 

We are aiming that tomorrow is a rest day, to me that means doing Textile things. I have already been out photographing the tide line as there has been a high tide recently, great for textile inspiration. 

(1) Boreray is the most vulnerable of all the rare breeds. This fleece came from a Norfolk flock which is being kept to help maintain the breed. 

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Natural Dyeing with a plant of your choice

This was the third of three workshops that I led at Designer Makers21 this summer. This workshops is really special to me as after it the dyers are well on their Dyeing journey.
In workshop one we had learned how to scour, mordant and dye with different concentrations of a powdered dye. Then this was followed by a workshop where we used the three core dyes that were so important, historically, to local dyeing- Madder, Weld and Woad - and then got their secondary dyes too. (See previous blogs for more details and images.)
For the third workshop each of the participants arrived with scoured and mordanted yarn the along with their soaked plant material. Our aim of this workshop was to get a set of six colours from the basic dyebath using additives and over dyeing so each member went home with their unique set. There was  a choice of 7 plus  treatments for each plant dyed skein so decisions had to be made.
There was much excitement and discussion about which plants had been chosen and which ones might be used at home after the  day. 
While the plants were cooking up and yielding their colour we looked at examples I had taken ' for ideas'  and more importantly learned how to make up the additive solutions, how to use them and how to store them safely at home. 
What a busy action packed day it was. Unfortunately I only took a few photos. 
This is a plant dyed skein, complete with additive and having been heated up. From memory (?!) I think the additive was copper. 

Everyone appeared to be very conscientious taking notes and had leaned from previous sessions that adding yarn  'labels'  was a big help in identification later. 
These are the colours a member obtained from eucalyptus leaves- fantastic. 

All the dyed sets were quite different and it was a real joy for me to see how far each person had got since the start of the workshops. We are keeping in touch and more is planned later - watch this space. You can never stop learning about natural dyeing! 

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Supporting Rare Breed Sheep

Knettishall Fair, in Suffolk,  was held recently. It is a day event held every other year and there are a number of 'country based' stalls and activities, the aim being to provide a nice day out for the visitors and raise awareness (and some money) for Suffolk Wildlife Trust. Knettishall Heath is interesting;  it is a really special area of open Heath in 'the Brecks' area of Suffolk just south east of Thetford ( 1) 
The Rare Breed Survival Trust had a largish marquee and were happy to house members of Diss Weavers, Spinners and Dyers along with their own activities. 
I volunteered to go along, I love the Heath and it is nice to give something back to organisations such as these and have a thoroughly great day interacting with the public I thought long and hard about the best use of my time on the day that would complement the Rare Breeds message. So I decided to take:
The Pansy  jacket - hand spun Jacob (2) fleece knitted  from Becky Whatley in Diss. The detail is yarn dyed with cochineal, the lighter pink being dyed with the exhaust of the first bath. The jacket, being knitted in an aran weight yarn took about the whole of a fleece. Visitors find this information both interesting and helpful to know. 
The general view of the Rare Breeds Marquee - taken before the visitors arrived- shows the Pansy Jacket on a mannequin at the front. 

The Skaw Hat - which was knitted in hand spun  Shetland (3) from Shetland! I then naturally dyed the yarn inspired by seaweed on Skaw beach, the most northern beach in Scotland. The pattern was designed by Hazel Tindall, a true knitting genius. The hat was knitted for Shetland Wool Week 2014. 

I love this hat and more details  of the dyeing can be found here in posts August and Sept 2014 if you are interested. Comments often include ' don't the colours go well together' - they do when they are naturally dyed. There is often surprise about the colours of the seaweed and also the colours of the hat. It is nice to show that natural dye colours need not be 'mud coloured'. 

Sample Bookmarks
As many of you know one of my passions is fine lace knitting. These bookmarks are all in Norfolk Horn (4) fleece- now my local fleece! The yarn diameter is 0.15mm- I know this as I have measured it with a stage micrometer on a microscope. 
The bookmarks show how changing the needle size has a dramatic effect on the overall look of the lace. 

SO, what did I do as an activity ( other than talking!) ? I spun quite finely Boreray Fleece on a top weighted drop spindle rolling it up my leg! This is the rarest of the rare breed fleece.(5) My aim is to knit a bookmark with this too. 

The sun shone, there was great camaraderie in the gazebo, visitors were interested and for many their awareness of different 'wool' (and just how fragile some of the breeds of sheep are ) was increased. All in all a thoroughly great day out. 

(1) it is an SSI site and gives one the feeling that you could have been there 4,000 years ago and the landscape could have been very similar ( except the parking places, loos, picnic tables etc.) It is said that the landscape was created in the Bronze Age and the area does have much geological and archeological interest too.  It feels a special place to me and I am fortunate that I am only half an hour away. 
(2) Jacob has progressed from being  on the RBST watchlist 
(3) Shetland has also progressed from being on the watchlist
(4) Norfolk Horn is in the minority (1500-3000 registered adult breeding females) 
(5) Boreray Is in the vulnerable category 

More about Suffolk Wildlife Trust
More about the Rare Breeds Survival Trust

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Dyeing 'the rainbow'

Last weekend saw the second in a series of three workshops I was leading, at DesignerMakers21 (1) in Diss. I was very much looking forward to it, especially as a new workshop space had been created and we we're going to be the first people to use it. 
As always the participants came well prepared having had 'prep' to do after the first session. 

The plan for this was to obtain yellow by dyeing with weld  and have the experience to work with plant material which would take time. Next we would dye with madder  to give us red. Using madder has some similarities to cochineal from last week. However, this red needs more care and skill particularly with a thermometer to get a rich red. Finally we would dye with  indigo to give us blue. (These three dyes are very much dyes of Norfolk's rich textile heritage and I have written more about them in the post of 
14 May 16).

Making good use of the walled  garden during the day

The result was the three primary colours and the secondaries between. A lot to take in, in one day. All members obtained such strong rich colours, the results were glorious. 

Final Colours - natural dyes! 

We ( Michael and I ) had a great time. Natural Dyeing with us is quite scientific in terms of procedures and we like to include theory ( e.g. of how indigo works) as we know this helps to get good results. Comments from the class indicated that they enjoyed the day too. It is such a joy to have a thoughtful, questioning and enthusiastic group. A participant had to pull out of these workshops  (breaking her arm badly ) but she popped in to see us at just the right time - some delightful indigo dyed silk as slight compensation ! 

So, workshop three to come in September - more choices and more glorious colours! 

(1) do visit DesignerMakers21 if you can. It is home to a number  permanent and very skilled  designers and makers covering a range of crafts- in the very best use of that much maligned word! 

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Indigo Dyeing in Carleton Rode

Undeterred by the weather forecast  a group of friends met in my garden to 'do indigo dyeing' last week. We had plan B and plan C in case the dire forecast was true! The order of play was for an explanation of how the indigo vat works then a demonstration of how to set it up. I firmly believe that if 'learners' understand the reason for each stage in the process, see it being done and then do it themselves they are far more likely to be motivated to do it beyond the workshop and have the confidence to do it too. 
Of course getting great results helps too. 
So this was plan A. The weather held just about and everyone got great colours from their first 50g of stuff in the bath. Needless to say all involved were well  prepared and had brought a variety of fibres, colours etc to try. 

How much equipment do dyers need? Just getting started.

Wonderful rich indigo dyed fibre and fabric started appearing, and kept appearing. Indigo appeals to the full age spectrum, the grandchildren were excited on Sunday and  us  ' more mature' types  were also excited today; but the difference was that everyone today had made their own vat. 

The washing line got filled ! Job done - more confident indigo dyers and what a lovely day it was too. Fine cake, happy and enthusiastic people, a variety of conversation topics and a fascinating activity providing lovely take home bags. What more could one want? The weather did not kill our day, despite the threats of the weather forecasters. Well done everyone!  
Weren't we lucky ! The next day was VERY wet, just the day for re skeining  and labelling the yarn. 
There's more about indigo, madder and weld- three traditional Norfolk Dyes on my blog post of 14 May 16. It includes historical details and brief details of the science of indigo dyeing. 

PS I rarely get a chance to 'do' the Dyeing when running a workshop but dipping needed demonstrating. You can't waste an indigo bath can you, so here is my variety of fibres from the day. 


Friday, 4 August 2017

Natural Dyeing in Diss,

What a great day was had last Saturday. I ran a 'learn basic natural dyeing' workshop at Designer Makers21  (1) in Diss - do look it up or better still visit it is a great craft place and by craft I mean REAL quality craft.
There were 5 attendees who had either dabbled in natural dyeing or never done it before and wanted to know how. 
The plan was to get 6 skeins from the day BUT more importantly I wanted them to really understand how to do get good colours. My approach to natural dyeing is to use my science background and to teach natural dyeing scientifically. After all until 1856 when the first synthetic dye was discovered all dyes had been naturally based. They were not all dull or patchy. Norwich, historically had the reputation  of being the place to get your dyeing  done so something to live up to! 

We had a range of protein fibres in the group, including  some 2 sorts of fleece. 
The class were great and worked really hard and we got some stunning bright and bold colours from cochineal. Remember these are people who were not experienced natural dyers and we were doing it outside! 
We did an indigo dip to extend the range and Michael (DH) was in charge of that and the chemicals. Real chemistry for him again! 

These are a couple of shots of some of the skeins, exhaust from dye bath one has been taken home to extend the range. 

And fleece:

A great bunch, lots of really good questions and 'what if's'. This is what learning  is all about. Really looking forward to session two and three where we use important Norfolk 
Heritage plant dyes and then see the wonderful dyeing we can do with weeds! 

(1) more can be found about DesignerMakers21 at 

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Cochineal Dyeing in Norfolk and a colour conundrum

Last Sunday we ( Michael and I) had an interesting and enjoyable day. I had been invited to run a Natural Dyeing workshop for a group of the NSTG (Norfolk Small Holders Training Group) - see note 1. We used our local village hall for this. 
I had decided that by using cochineal I could teach the basics of preparation which the attendees could repeat  and we would still have enough time to dye several colours. I do like people to take home skeins of a decent amount from a dyeing day with me as well as the knowledge and understanding to proceed alone. I also love dyeing with cochineal! ( see my website and index on the left for more examples of my cochineal dyeing). 

I have dyed with cochineal many times and run successful workshops using it. However, being a teacher of many years, I know that you always have to check the experiments before the class. 

I had a mordanted a skein of yarn from 2011 and decided this would be fine to use. So I 'wetted it' and dyed with cochineal as I do normally and horror of horrors I did not get a beautiful cochineal red as I expected. I assumed the mordant  must have worn off ( intrigued how though) as I was getting an unmordanted yarn type colour. ( middle bottom of photo)

This is the image of my cochineal dyeing for the day

So clearly I had not to 'cut corners' and decided to do the whole procedure from scratch - scouring, mordanting and dyeing. This I duly did and got an even 'cooler' pink - left of photo. 
I decided to up the percentage of cochineal to 20% as the pinks were far too pale as well as too cool! 

But it was time to get to the science of this. I had used cold water from the house for my first attempt, a warm pink but pale skein - we have a water softener as the water is very hard in Norfolk, so this water had been softened to some extent. For the second skein ( cooler duller pink) I had dyed using the outside cold water tap - no water softener. So we decided I would do two more skeins. The outside cold water tap would give me the hard water and I would also use use rain water from the covered water butt. As soon as we dissolved the cochineal in the water butt water it went red, not some cool pink shade so this was promising. 
So it was time for the pH paper now. Our water is hard and alkaline whereas the rain butt water was decidedly acidic. 
Looking at the structure of  carminic  acid in cochineal beetles confirmed that the dye would be sensitive to pH changes. 
The colours this time are bottom right corner of the picture cochineal in water butt ( soft, acid )water which gave an expected cochineal colour and bottom left cool but deeper pink from the outside ( hard, alkaline ) water. 
We were getting somewhere. But I was not satisfied, by using 20% cochineal the colour was deeper than I had achieved before in Cheshire - which has soft water- and I thought it was a bit too deep! 

So another skein was dyed at 10% cochineal using water butt water and hurray, it was the same colour as that from Cheshire from the tap. ( top right in photo - scarlet colour). 

This is all very interesting and the research has not ended yet. I know that Norwich was  good for dyeing with madder to make Norwich Red as the water was hard and yet with cochineal to get a good red I need soft acid water. So it's time to get into the loft and get my organic chemistry text books out to look at the structure of the relevant molecules in more detail. 

The mauvy  blue skein in the centre top of the photo is obtained from dipping the pink ( centre bottom skein) in indigo, something we included in the workshop. 

Another interesting aspect of the day was that the attendees brought their own fleece or yarn to dye and thus we got even more variation in colours from the different breeds which was great. 

This is not one of my best photos but this shows some of the Dyeing produced during the day. 

Natural Dyeing gives such rich colours and keeps the 'chemistry' brain alive! I have found this lovely quote from Ethel Mariet 'Natural dyes are alive and varied holding the light as no chemical colour can hold it, and they are beautiful from their birth to old age when they mellow one with the other into a blend of richness that has never yet been got by the chemical dyer.'(1872-1952) See note 

If you've managed to read this far, I think you deserve a stiff drink! 

Notes : 
1. Norfolk Smallholders Training group have their own website - 
2. For 'chemical' perhaps 'synthetic' might be a better term. 

Monday, 19 June 2017

The Meadowsweet Cushion

This is cushion 2 in the series - being a collection of cushions, all with a story,  to sit on our library 'under stairs' daybed which we have have commissioned by our local brilliant  carpenter known to us as 'Chris the carpenter'.
The post here describes 'the  meadowsweet  cushion'. 
Once I had decided that I would make a variety of cushions I decided that I would do one in hand embroidery. It is years since I did anything like this from scratch but have continued to do bits such as 'mend/ replace' the embroidery on a bag I made from one of my aunt's cushion covers - more about that here. 
This was in another league  as I was not just embroidering over a transfer pattern, I was going to make the design from a photo of meadowsweet in our lane. So there were issues about the size of the design and placement on the cushion. I did not wish to draw a design in pen / pencil that I then stitched over. 
I decided to: 
1. Mark out the 4 quarters of the cushion in tacking stitch and also give an outline frame  so as not to be tempted to take the design too close to the seam  with the back of the cushion. I had already neatened the raw edges of the back and front of the shrunk fabric of the  cushion with the overlocker - this had been preshrunk by washing and ironing damp to avoid creases forming.
2. Sketch the design onto a full size sheet of plain paper and use this to mark the main features on the cushion cover by tacking stitches. 

Part of my wish with choosing the meadowsweet was to be able to do lots of French knots to represent the frothiness of the flower heads. My other self imposed 'rule' was that the colours should be the colours of the room, mainly greys and tealish/ light royal  blue but with cream and taupe of the sofa. 

I planned this design for the right of the cushion and with a selected set of embroidery threads I took this little kit with us on our holiday to Teesdale and Cumbria earlier in the year. ( Postcript : the weather was so brilliant that I did much less embroidery that I intended! But who's not to get out and enjoy lovely scenery in lovely weather? ) 

So when we were back and  had recovered from the break, I took up the embroidery with increased vigour and used it to keep me awake in the evenings while 'watching' the TV. I was really pleased with how the  meadowsweet flower heads were coming out and I allowed myself to digress from my strict colour scheme to add some olive green for a leaf. This was rather an afterthought. 

One morning - in my quality thinking time in the shower - I had a thought that I could add some of my meadowsweet dyed yarns to the left and the choice of embroidery thread in the dark olive would help to tie the two sides of the cushion together. 

I am pleased with the cushion which evolved during the embroidery process and is also another item in my meadowsweet series  from last year's wool week yoked jumper set.