Colour: I thought this fleece was a cinnamon colour when I bought it but it turns out it is grey with cinnamon coloured dirt on it. Funnily enough this is the first time I’ve had this happen. I’ve bought many greasy fleeces and they were all the colour they appeared to be.
Urine: collected for 1 or 2 days from 2 people. Ended up with around 6 litres of urine. Far more than I ended up using. Let urine develop for 3 days.
Process: I followed the Instructables page fairly closely but not exactly. – Soaked fleece overnight in 3 litres urine and 6 litres water. – Divergence no 1 -The instructions give you a particular temperature to take it to but I don’t have a suitable thermometer. Instead, in the morning brought the whole lot to a simmer and left simmering for 20 minutes. – Divergence no 2 – The instructions say to let cool before pouring off the liquid which I didn’t realise till I’d already done it hot. – Rinse till water is clear. Took about 10 changes of water which seems ridiculous.
Desired Results: At this point the fleece should be scoured and also bleached.
Actual Results: – 85 grams of fleece – the grey is no lighter than what is still in the grease. But it does seem like there was some bleaching effect. That is, the tips of the wool are now yellow, shrivelled up, and pull right off! I have heard of the scouring process being able to weaken wool. But this seems to have weakened it without scouring at all. I spun some up and it is incredibly sticky, maybe even more so than it started out. So I treated my little sample skein like I usually do raw yarn and washed it with dishwashing liquid. But that seems to have had no effect, it is still incredibly sticky and I don’t think I would ever use it in this state. – the kikuyu where I poured off the liquid is dead and completely white. So the bleaching worked somewhere!
The ends just pull right off!
Follow Up Experiment
Since it turned out to be so dirty in the literal dirt sense of the word, I thought a follow up experiment was in order. I want to compare this fleece still in the grease but without dirt, to the urine scoured result.
Fleece: The same as above (100 g Corriedale x mystery breed)
Process: Soak fleece in cold water for a night, then a day and so on, with as many water changes as necessary to get a clear run. It took four changes.
Result: – 85 grams of fleece (!!) – The weight is the same! Suggesting that absolutely no grease was removed by the urine scour. I’m also surprised by the comparison or rinses. Could the scouring process above have somehow locked in the dirt making even that harder to remove? I’ve yet to spin up some of the soaked but not scoured locks but it does look lovely.
Left – urine scoured wool with the ends all shrivelled up. Right – greasy but dirt free wool from the same same fleece.
Next experiment on the list – Sheep dung fermentation scour.
Recently I completed my first hap – the Hansel hap by Gudrun Johnston. It’s too large to let take up a whole table to dry on, which would normally leave the floor or the verandah, if it weren’t for the canine mastermind. He has so far outmanoeuvred every way I’ve tried to fence off wet knitting and walked all over it without even a glance in my direction. I looked at tutorials for making your own frame and they all seem to involve timber, screws, multiple drill bits, knobs, dials, money and expertise. So I made a free one out of bamboo without any tools and here is how.
Step 1 – Identify your local bamboo patch.
There might be some in a park, near a drain, or on the side of a road. Dwarf varieties wont do.
Step 2 – Select the bamboo you want and snap it right off
You will most likely see some tan coloured stems and some green. The tan coloured ones are better for our purpose. They are older and sturdier, till they get to be too old and brittle. Test stems for flexibility. The more rigid the better. Pull your chosen stems down toward the ground and they will snap right off. No tools needed. If there aren’t enough tan stems, you can use the green ones. They will be a little harder to break off and might need a bit of twisting, but it is still easily done by hand. To shorten tan stems, stand on one end to break sections off. To shorten green stems, cut with pruning shears.
Step 3 – Thread your hap points
Use a separate piece of string for each side. With a tapestry needle bring string from back to front through each point of the hap border. Before cutting pull the string through so every loop is long and dangly enough to fit around your bamboo.
Step 4 – Wet
Soak hap for as long as you like. Once soaked, roll up in a towel and squeeze out as much water as possible.
Step 5 – Fixing the frame
Start by working flat on a table or the floor. Find one side of the hap and hook the string on that side over your hand in the same way it was sewn. Lay each loop neatly, in order and twisted to face the right way. Thread one piece of bamboo through where your hand is. Do the same with another edge that joins onto the first. Tie the bamboo together with strong twine to form a corner. Repeat with remaining two sides, tying corners as you go. I made my frame larger than I expected the hap to be, to leave plenty of room for stretching.
Step 6 – Stretch and adjust
At this point there will be no tension in the hap. It probably looks a bit messy. While everything is still flat on the table tighten the strings until it’s at least a square shape, and move your loops around till border points are evenly spaced. Once you stand the frame up the hap will sag under it’s own weight. Tighten all the strings again until you are happy with your points. To test if it’s pulled tight enough, turn the frame onto a different edge and see if it sags again.
Did you even know it was possible?! I have completed writing a knitting pattern, had it tech edited where it turned out there were more mistakes than I ever imagined, fixed them, had it checked again, and am now at test knit stage! You could even join the test knit!
I am probably more surprised than anyone. It has taken months more than expected and I know why. You know when you have to hide from yourself that you are doing something? You sneakily look up one piece of information, or send one email, then quickly look at something else before your brain realises that you are trying to make progress on a project and whips out the big sabotage guns of doubt and self-ridicule? Well it’s been a lot of that. I’ve had to keep the entire thing secret from myself, and everyone else, in case they mention it to me in passing and the secret’s out!
Here is a photo!
It has been a big week of firsts. First finished knitting pattern, first piece of knitting chopped up and grafted back together, first square of first scarf woven on a tapestry loom started, first beaded handspun yarn, first Fair Isle purl stitches. Apparently it is an extremely exciting time to be crafting.
And so it is time to embark on my first even properly written down knitting pattern. I say first written pattern because I have invented some things like a beanie and mitts, off the cuff so to speak. In those cases I made no records and knitted along according to whim at the time. The results were quite lovely and I highly recommend this kind of free-to-flow knitting. But today we’re all business.
As I am a pattern maker for cut and sew garments, making a paper pattern to follow seemed the most natural place to start. I measured a garment I like and drew up a true to size paper pattern to use for both front and back of a vest or slipover. A vest seemed a good place to start as the pieces are few, similar, and simple to conceptualise flat. Below is a photo of the paper pattern. I imagined that the front and back armscye would be different as with woven garments. I am aware that that is not how hand knitted garments are generally made but I just can’t figure out why. Why oh dear reader? Surely hand knitters still have chests that are larger at the front than the back? Busts around which you might remove gape at an armhole? It is a mystery. But after many times ripping back trying to get a satisfying curve at the back armhole I gave in and copied the front.
Below is a photo of the knitted front. You might notice that I drew in the rib for the armholes but at the neckline the rib will be added on top of the drawn line, which is an outrageous inconsistency that wont be repeated. I found it very useful to have the paper to lay my work on to check the shapes and lengths. The knitting being slightly wider than the pattern was planned. But I have since had a realisation about using the paper pattern as a template. Which is – if my washed and blocked fabric ends up larger or smaller than the dry in-progress item, then the measurements might end up way off. Would that mean calculating the difference between a dry and a blocked swatch and then making a template that is a scaled percentage larger or smaller than the desired measurements?
The front and back pieces are both finished and ready for seams and ribbing now. So I will continue with what I have while I mull over this new idea.
I have not been knitting for long. A casual observer might even wonder if I have purposefully and stubbornly avoided knitting despite many an opportunity and encouragement that has come my way. And there have been many.
Certainly in my private life I have been an ardent pursuer of hand crafts. And when spinning, which I do a lot, I have fielded the question “what do you do with your yarn?” more times than can be put in a basket. My go to reply is “look at it”. A little besides the expected use for yarn, maybe. But “what do you do with it?” is a question you could ask of any art form. And you might give a similarly blasé answer if someone asked you about Art, on which you have Opinions, but feel like an A**hat going on about. So I am not going to go on about it today.
What I am going to do is tell you I’ve bitten the bullet. Crumpled under the onslaught. Flat out given in and accidentally gotten addicted.
I am officially a knitter.
I’ve decided it’s official since I finished my first garment a month ago. One lovely plain jumper. And surely becoming a knitwear designer and pattern writer is the next logical step. I hope that it will be an advantage that in my professional life I am a pattern maker for woven garments, but you never know which way it will go. So come along for the ride as I learn new knitting techniques and then immediately incorporate them into new patterns intended for whichever level of knitter I happen to be at the time!
I always knew about ice-cream with cream on top from my Mum. That is, that it is a) amazing and b) just the best. It never occurred to me to wonder how she knew of such a miracle. But now it all makes sense. That once upon a time, over fifty years ago now, at Westward Ho! on the west coast of England (the only town in the UK or possibly the world with an exclamation mark in its name) a young girl had an ice-cream from the Hockings van, with cream on top, and never forgot how fantastic it was. I don’t know if this is actually the case. It might be her own Mum invented it, and let slip to the Hockings guy.
I was too distracted by living to take a photo of the ice-cream eaten this day in 2020, from the same Hockings van, which still only serves vanilla ice-cream, with or without cream on top. But here is a photo to demonstrate my reaction.
Scones were also eaten, but they weren’t as good as the ice-cream.
Near hipster hideout Frome there are some Castlemilk Moorits I have the pleasure of keeping an eye on for a week, as well as two free fleeces that escaped the fire. (The fire designed to get rid of unwanted things, not an unwanted fire designed for purposes known only to itself.)
This delicate breed grows only a small fleece – up to 1kg per animal with a staple length of 4 – 8 cm. It is very soft though and reminds me of yak down, which I have seen spun on a tiny drop spindle not 10cms long.
After sorting these two I already understand so much more about fleece culture. Like why it is so hard for farmers to get rid of unwanted fleece sometimes. Apparently the owners of this little flock tried to find crafters to take the fleeces but no one would, and I wonder now if I would take any more in such a state.
The formula is this: If you don’t want it why would someone else?
Or put another way, if a farmer does not care about wool enough to keep it in a condition that a crafter could use, why would a crafter want it?
Castlemilks are defined as a kemp free breed, which I suppose refers to it not growing mixed in with their main wool lumps, because they do have a hair and kemp patch on their rumps. This could be skirted and discarded immediately at shearing. Or it could be rolled up with the whole fleece to get rubbed into the wool and make a big mess. A shearer might be informed of the end purpose for the fleece and possibly be paid more to go slower and take more care (as shearers are usually paid per head and try to go as fast as possible). Or they might not be, and make regular double cuts of an already short fleece.
Of the fleece above I am keeping about 2/3rds after removing double cuts and good wool with kemp through it. I expect to discard more that is too short as I go along. And now for a wash!
Alternate Title: In a shocking turn of events, I purchase a scone despite lockdown.
I’m not being sarcastic you know. It really did seem like no scone would ever be eaten again, or at least purchased from a retailer, as I have forgotten how to order in cafes or make room for people on the pavement. There simply are no people on pavements. They may be crossing the road to avoid me, or not exist at all. We’ll never know. It is very possible that no-one else exists anymore, or ever did and I am quietly losing my mind. People gather on the Tor and other places. My light in the darkness hope is that people gather everywhere, in secret and or not, hug and sing and keep each other warm. That is what I hope.
These dried plant parts from the front yard go into the dye pot. Later I learn they are orpine flower stems but that the flowers themselves contain most of the walnut coloured dye. Location: Bonar Bridge, Scotland
Stork’s Bill I identify before trying to dye with, while deciding what is a weed in the new garden. It will hold without mordant (far right) though not the most controlled experiment, on different wool all together. Fresh stems, leaves and flowers simmered all together for an hour. The yellow caught held under for only a few seconds, and the darker simmered for an hour. I wish you could see how bright the yellow is in real life. Almost fluro. Location: Somerset, England
Alternate title: Is the sheep eternal ruler of all animals or only my heart?
Cheviot wool is generally classed as a carpet wool. But so is anything that a new born baby can’t wear directly on their skin. They are a shedding breed so I could collect the wool on the windswept heath, without a sheep in sight, and add accomplished forager to my resume.
And spin it on the drop spindle like a pro. Pictured here with my plying bracelet resting on top as I got tired.