Spinning a cat hair comforter …

Two funny little cats, Eggy and Ilsa, came to live with us some 18 months ago …Unlike any other kits I have had (and I’ve had quite a few in my time) they need constant grooming. This isn’t surprising really as they are half Persian and half Exotic Shorthair, inheriting from their Persian father a gloriously luscious outer coat and a dense, soft undercoat. Left unchecked, this undercoat matts badly – so they need the regular grooming to keep their coats shiny and silky.

It occurred to me last summer that I might well be able to spin this undercoat. Why I had quantities of it available! The very cream tones are from Ilsa (on the right above) and the darker colours are from Eggy (on the left).But it’s not exactly a long staple, being just a couple of inches at most.  Sometimes there are guard hairs too, but mostly what I was getting from grooming sessions was the soft grey you can see by my fingertips below.I decided the best thing was to blend it with some of the Cornish alpaca I still had spare. This is a beautiful creamy lustrous fibre (once washed – it was almost grey with dirt and dust when I first acquired it), but similar in texture to the cat hair, so I expected the fibres to blend well. On with the alpaca to the carders then …Followed by the rather grubby cat hair (this I didn’t wash – full explanation to follow) …It carded very well together …Giving a beautiful silver grey rolag …Actually there were lots of tones in the rolags, reflecting the different colours of the cat hair.  I rather like this variation, being true to the original cats …What did the kits think of my work?  Were they at all interested in this processing of their hair?  After all it must smell of them … And they were about much of the time as I was busy carding and spinning …Ah yes! Look at Ilsa in seventh heaven padding away at my rolags!  Can you see the little bits of alpaca fluff floating up and catching in her whiskers? And Eggy keeping a sharp eye behind?!Eggy had her heavenly moments with the rolags too.  This looks like pure cat bliss to me too …Happy summer days …Why I was even tempted to card straight from source (as it were) …!Time to start spinning my rolags …With my not-so-helpful kitty companions … I spun the mixed cat hair and alpaca fiber very fine with lots of twist to hold the cat hair and fluffy alpaca in place.  Any relaxation of the twist and the yarn easily broke …Then the cat hair/alpaca strand was plyed with pure alpaca …Giving me a yarn that was 25% cat and 75% alpaca … (pure white alpaca in picture here to show the colour difference) …Time to get knitting! I wanted a very simple pattern, so adapted my knit from this Viewfinder cowl in Alexa Ludeman and Emily Wessel’s Road Trip. I’ve knit it before as a cowl, but this time wanted to knit a comforter ….. Are you familiar with the term?!  Well, it is the best word – in my opinion – for a shawl or scarf.  Time to consult our wonderful 1891 Webster’s! A knit woolen tippet, long and narrow. Just so – thank you, Mr Webster.  Only I would add: something to offer the physical warmth of succour … a woolly hug, perhaps … You see this comforter was planned as a gift for my daughter whose cats these really are.  They no longer live with her, but with the unwashed (now you see why the cat hair wasn’t washed!) comforter, she could wrap herself in comforting almost pure cat … So effective was it (and so pleasant to knit), that – having plenty of yarn still – I knit another comforter …You can see the catty variations in the spin quite clearly …And laid out you can see how the lacey stitchwork has distorted the rectangular comforter into something quite shaped with pointy ends …I decided to dye the second comforter, mixing up a vibrant fuchsia colour from my Easyfix AllinOne Dye powders …Such a pleasing result!Was I influenced at all by the colours of the season ….?You can see quite clearly the distorting effect of the lacey stitches as the comforter dries …The resulting knit matted a little bit in the process – but that’s not a bad thing as it stops the comforter shedding cat hair so much …And boy, is it cosy and comforting to wear!(Not mine for long as it’s off to give comfort with its predecessor …)

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Border Union Show

The Border Union Show is traditionally held on the last weekend of July, at Springwood park, just south of the river Tweed and the Scottish Border town of Kelso.  If you look carefully at the banner picture above this post, you will see Kelso’s historic Abbey looming dramatically over the glitzy showground site.

It’s primarily an agricultural show – a chance for the farmers of the locality to meet, greet and compare. But lots of other bodies join in the fun – and I was there as a member of the Tweed Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers to demonstrate with my little Innerleithen spinning wheel.

I’ve been going to the show as a demonstrator for several years.  We’ve had scorchingly hot years, and a thoroughly miserable wet year (last year – see my 2015 blog post for the Tweed Guild for how we survived the rain), but this year was proper traditional Scottish weather with sunshine and showers.  The plastic covers went on, and the plastic covers went off.  We ran inside with spinning wheels and our knitted displays – and then they all came out again!  It was hard work, and a long, tiring day, – but great fun too.  Not just for me – everybody everywhere seemed to be having a blast.Kelso Abbey watching over fieldThis year we found ourselves in the best of company.  We were sharing a tent with the Dunse flock of rare breed sheep!Rare Breed flockThey are lovely – but at close quarters, in a tent all day – yes, they do pong a bit (especially when their fruity fleeces come inside to avoid the rain).Rare Breed fleeces I did not envy those members of the guild who spent the day based inside the tent. But they put up magnificent displays of felting and basketry, and demonstrated their skills with energy and enthusiasm right through the day.demonstrators inside Tweed Guild tentThere was lots of interest.inside Tweed Guild tentThe Tweed Guild also had an interesting display of some of the different breeds of sheep and their fleeces.different fleece displaysAnd next to it, a beautiful display of natural-dyed materials.  (I’ve been really naughty here and snuck my acid-dyed royal blue Fika shawl into the display 😦 )Tweed Guild displayOutside there was a group of spinners.  This worked very well, as we attracted a lot of interest from passers by.Tweed guild spinners outside tentAnd there were spinning lessons!  Lots of youngsters were fascinated by the spinning wheels. Such a great pleasure to show them exactly what spinning entailed.giving spinning lessonsBut we were only a teeny tiny part of an enormous enterprise occupying 46 acres of parkland. I cannot do justice to it all because I only took short walks around, but let’s make a start with the animals as they were after all the raison d’etre for the show.

As we walked around, an enormous bull lumbered out of the showground.  It looked docile enough, but we were stopped well away to allow it to pass a safe distance from the public.getting the bull over the public pathThe other bulls were waiting inside looking remarkably peaceful and calm.bull waiting area - CopyFurther on, we came to the sheep. I love to see farming folk studying the sheep, leaning into the caging – as they have done since time immemorial (check out this fine Ravilious picture in the Beaford archive).sheep in pensThere were even some Blue-face Leicester sheep – highly prized by spinners!blue-faced leicesterCanny sheep were taking advantage of all the food on offer.sheep feedingIn a nearby tent, there were goats – interesting to see what a lot of young people seemed to be involved with them.goatsNot all animals were flesh and blood.fanciful creaturesI was particularly intrigued by the egg judging in the poultry tent.  For some reason, I had not thought that eggs would be judged – only the birds. Clearly the quality of the yolk is an important part of the judging criteria.  Not Stephen’s favourite spot (he doesn’t like eggs).judging eggsI’ll finish the livestock pics with some of rabbits because Stephen took an enormously large amount of photos of them.  Aren’t these little cuties?!rabbitsIn the main ring, meanwhile, young motorcyclists were entertaining the crowds with terrifying daredevil feats.Daredevil motorcyclistsOh my goodness!oh my goodnessThere’s definitely a macho feel to this place. There are big boys’ toys (photograph kindly contributed by Stephen).boys' toysWe are never allowed to forget that there is serious money behind all of this.  There were more spanking new four-wheel drives on this showground than I have ever seen before in my life.  The big landowners are in evidence – not just in their tweeds and their cavalry twills, but at the stalls.

This is the Roxburghe Estates tent.  Roxburghe Estates are based at the magnificent nearby Floors Castle (home of the Duke of Roxburghe) and from there they run a large and diverse local business empire.Serious land ownersThere are plenty of expensive shops around.expensive shopsThank goodness for cheaper treats that we can all enjoy on a sunny day out.hot enough for ice creamsWhat fascinated me most was the Industrial Section.  Inside were competition entries for jam-making, flower-arranging, children’s pictures, knitted garments, cake baking etc etc.  I’ve never heard it referred to as Industrial before – it’s more what I would have expected to be the province of the local Women’s Institute.jams and jellies behind wireWhat really shocked me about the displays was the wire fence caging them in. To stop passers-by handling the goods, or worse, perhaps to prevent theft?!  Either way it looks dreadful.  Particularly in the case of the children’s competitions.children's art workI’ll be the first to admit that my taste is never the same as the judges.  Here’s a prize-winning floral arrangement.First prize flower arrangingAnd here’s the one I would have chosen – the honeysuckle arrangement on the left.My preferred flower arrangementPerhaps there is a bit of an old-fashioned look to some of the competitions?  Hard to say really because nothing is shown to best effect behind chicken wire…baby wear in the industrial sectionLastly, just time to show you one of my favourite parts of the showground.  Small demonstration beds where they were growing sample plants for fallow ground – linseed, red clover, marigolds and cornflowers etc.  How wonderful it would be to see more of these grown over our landscape!test plantsAll in all: a grand day out 🙂

A slow blue – and unsuccessful – knit

Last summer I wrote in my Fleece blogpost about dyeing some fibres to spin and knit Julia Farwell-Clay’s Tambourine cardigan. I had a productive dyeing session and ended up with a wonderful basket of blue-toned fleece just ready for spinning.blue fleece in basketOver the winter, I got spinning!Yarn, fleece and rolagsMy yarn is perhaps particularly colourful and flecked.  This is partly because I get bored with spinning just a single colour, and partly because I love the variegated hues that you find in old materials.  Look at the shifting tones in this carpet for example. carpet tonesTo achieve my flecked and variegated yarn, I spin both from rolags and teased-out fleece, thus getting both blocks of plain colour (the teased-out fleece) and blocks of blended colour.  Here, I’m preparing a rolag with white clouds to sit amongst the blue.blendingblending continuesAnd here, I’m using stronger accent colours of scarlet and purple to stand out against the blue. Some little bits of glossy alpaca amid the fleece.lots of colours on cardersThe finished rolag still shows the accent colours quite clearly.finished rolagYou will see from my finished basket of rolags that there are all sorts of different hues and colours in the rolags alone. Also in the basket is some teased out alpaca ready to be spun as a solid colour amid the blended rolags.fleece and rolagsI also add little sharply-coloured pieces of brilliant fleece (or perhaps mohair or silk) as I’m spinning to act as highlights.  If you look at this spool, you may be able to make out the three components of my spinning: softly-blended rolags, solid colour and accent colours (the little shots of vibrant green).spinning the fleeceI have large baskets of coloured fleece sitting around as I work; clouds of inspirational colour just itching to be spun.  basket of fleeceHappy cat Poe helps me with all this processing in her own inimitable way.help from the catIt is so immensely satisfying to end up with this.handspun yarnJust a wash on the line, blowing in the Northumbrian breezes, and the yarn is ready to knit.washing the hanksTime now to do some knitting and see how this yarn is going to knit up …working on the tension sampleI’m really pleased with the flecks and variation of colours, but will it work with the raised nups which are an intrinsic part of the Tambourine pattern?  Time to look at the swatch properly …Tension swatchYes, I am so pleased with the swatch – I think the nups stand out well against the variegated yarn.  Also good news, my yarn measures up to the same tension as in the pattern, so I shouldn’t need to do any adjustments with the calculations.  I decided to do some measuring against another short cardigan that fits me very well.  This is Kate Davies’ Deco – a pattern that I love, and a cardi that I wear a lot. So I’m fairly confident that if I base my measurements on this cardi, I will come up with a Tambourine cardi that will fit.Comparison with DecoAlas, that’s not the case! I get so far, and I know this cardi is too small for me.  It is meant to be a close fit, but this is a closer fit than I want. knitting progressingOh dear, time to do some unravelling, and start again. I am always impressed when I read how positively other knitters undo their work – I hate it!  I feel dispirited, and although I love the way my yarn is knitting up, I can’t understand how I’ve got my measurements so wrong.

But back I go to my needles, reknitting the cardi a size larger.  Through the spring of this year I busily knit away. New kits come to live with us and discover what fun my knitting is.somebody's discovered my knittingI’m really struggling with this blogpost now.  Moment of truth. I have enjoyed all the spinning, and dyeing and knitting of this project (well, almost all – not the undoing) but I will level with you: I am not happy with the re-knitted and completed cardi! Not happy at all. Oh dear, so much love, so much labour, so much effort!

I finished it a fortnight ago, and so dispirited was I that I just put it away, in a cupboard, out of sight, out of mind.  It is only today that I have got it out, and here it is.finished cardiIt actually looks very good considering it’s just tacked together, doesn’t have any buttons, and hasn’t been blocked. The nupps look great, the flashes of colour are good.

But it looks awful on me – the colour is wrong (far too washed out and pale), and the style just doesn’t suit me at all. I don’t really like it at all. I know I won’t wear it.K with new cardiHmm – I’ve been mulling what to do with this yarn.  I have over 1,500 yards of it – about 550 g.

I could do another cardi using this pattern that I swatched a long time ago, and which I like very much.  But it’s double stranded as you carry the colour behind the back which makes it very thick. I don’t wear thick jerseys any longer so I don’t think it would work for me.old swatchOr, I could do another shawl like this one I finished recently.K with fika shawlThis is Karie Westermann’s Fika shawl, and it is also knit with my homespun. You can see my trademark colour streaks in the detail of the shawl below. I am glad to say that I am very pleased with this shawl indeed!detail of shawlI’m still just mulling this over.  I guess the first thing will be to be brave and actually unravel my Tambourine cardigan.

I’ll keep you posted on what I decide to do next.

And, if you have any suggestions for how I might use my lovingly-produced homespun, please let me know!

Our knitted patchwork blanket

When Stephen and I married in 1991, we each brought to the marriage a stash (a dowry, so to speak) of  children, books and knitted swatches.

Children and books both found their places, respectively settling into a pecking order and a merger.  But the swatches – what to do with the swatches?  What about a patchwork blanket?!knitted blanketWe come from different knitting traditions.  Stephen is a whizz at the knitting machine, which allows full expression of his sophisticated designing skills.  He’s a mathematician and is never happier than when with a notebook or computer, calculating patterns, repeats, algorithms.  Stephen works with coned, oiled yarns, preferably 2-ply Shetland wool.

I’m a spinner, and a hand knitter.  I’d knitted on and off from my teenage years, but what really sparked for me in the early 1980s was the combination of learning to spin and the multi-coloured knit designs by Kaffe Fassett. My chunky, wildly-coloured, homespun yarns worked perfectly with his garments.Katherine knittingBoth Stephen and I swatched – and we still do.  I’m always hearing of people who skip this essential step.  But how do you test colour mixes, patterns, designs – let alone tension – if you don’t swatch?

These old swatches now tell stories.  They are reminders of garments we have made, perhaps for others, possibly for ourselves, – and some, for one reason or another, never got made at all.

Let’s start with one of the most popular Kaffe Fassett patterns, and definitely one of my favourites: Poppies.  PoppiesI’ve knitted it again and again.red and white poppiesBoth the two swatches above became cardigans for good friends of mine. My old photographs leave a lot to be desired, but they still give some idea of one of the finished knits.  Odd buttons are the perfect finishing touch to this riot of colour.SJK cardiganSmall swatches in the blanket remind me of other colourways I’ve experimented with.pink and yellow poppiesEventually I made an orange version for myself.K's poppy cardiganPoppy cardiganI still have it – little worn, alas, these days because it is huge affair, with massive square shoulders (so fashionable at the time).  You can make out quite clearly the mix of yarns I’ve included – somewhere in there is my own handspun hair!

These were my first attempts at rainbow dyeing.  I had some beautiful yarns to work with, notably the fleece of a local Shetland sheep called Charity.  My sister brought the long lustrous mohair back from Turkey for me  – it caused great alarum among my fellow spinners at the Devon Guild – ooh, it might have anthrax, scrapie ….!  I survived.

There are all sorts of other interesting bits and pieces of yarn included as well that I used to pick up in charity shops or was gifted by friends.Orange poppy cardigan (details)Kaffe Fassett aficionados will recognise the patterns in these swatches below.  They were experiments that never took off – I forget why now. In some places the yarns have faded very badly.  Those are yarns I dyed with natural dyes, and this explains why I am so reluctant to dye with plants nowadays. The fade completely changes the pattern.Kaffe Fassett pattern IrisesLet’s move on now to one of Stephen’s swatches.  Here are two examples of the same interlocking pattern. He writes:

This is based on a tessellating design trying to interlock the shapes with a variety of different colours – alas, some of them did not have enough contrast to bring it out.Interlocking patternsmall interlocking pattern swatchThese are wave patterns he was experimenting with.  Over to you Stephen:

Trying to do 2 things here – firstly a pattern that moved sideways, and secondly trying to capture a wavy design so that the finished fabric looked as though is was rucked up or creased. Alas this version was not particularly successful.Wave experiment patternHe continued to experiment with wave patterns and came up with this fantastic wave pattern which is part of another blanket we made.

A much better version. This blanket looks even better when lying down under it in bed after a drink or two – certainly brings out the wavy effect.wave patternI too have worked with wave patterns.  My inspiration came from this small saddle bag.Saddlebag for inspirationIf you change the colours, replace the reds, browns and oranges with sea colours, you come up with something like this.blue wave swatchOr Or try the blues and greens in a slightly different arrangement, and you get this.blue & green wave swatchI used the design and colour plan from the first swatch to knit a Kaffe Fassett-style cardigan.  A beachside cardigan that I still have.  It’s huge and bulky but such a good friend.Blue sea cardiganWe could not be more of a contrast, Stephen and I!  While his knits are all about calculation and accuracy, mine are wildly colourful  – and remarkably inaccurate.  I have two pieces in this blanket which are testament to how very bad my calculations can be – perhaps the reason is I never swatched, because I can not find the swatch I might have knitted for this particular cardigan.  Instead, I have the two side panels I had to cut out of the finished cardigan because it was so huge!  I’d even gone so far as to knit pockets into the cardigan, so the blanket has the rare distinction of have two pocketed swatches!

Here is one of the pieces.  You can see the rib at the bottom, and the slit for the pocket in the centre.striped cardigan swatchAnd here is the finished cardigan – before the side panels had been removed.K's huge stripey cardigan - frontK's huge stripey cardigan - backIt was so huge that I had to run elastic round the neck to draw it in before casting on the enormous collar. It’s very 80s, isn’t it?  Actually, I still have it, and it is a great cardigan to wrap myself into on bitterly cold winter days.  None of this is handspun so it’s much lighter to wear than the Kaffe Fassett cardigans I have.  It’s a happy joke to myself of my terrible calculation skills.

Back to Kaffe Fassett and this lovely pattern, a sort of variant of the poppy pattern earlier.Aunty Jilly swatchI used this pattern for a pullover for my aunt – and I believe she still has it.  I love the colourway – her choice.  It was knitted predominantly in Colinette hand-dyed yarns which are very soft and comfortable to wear.Aunty Jilly's pulloverThis little snippet is a another variant of one of Kaffe Fassett’s patterns.swatch for stephen's sweaterI knitted it into a vast sweater for Stephen.  Occasionally, I would wear it, but was soon banned because I turned the sleeves up! It doesn’t get worn very much because it is just so bulky.Stephen modelling sweaterI don’t know how to describe this colour change pattern that Stephen came up with – so I will leave it to him:

In this pattern I used the random function on my computer program to select the stitch colour at random, the probability of a particular colour being chosen changing from 1 stich in 12 to 11 stiches in 12 over 120 rows – the idea being that the colours should seem to merge from one to the other, From these designs you can see that some give a better effect than others.
blue through yellow swatchThe colours in the swatch are very strident, but the design was used to much better effect in this panel that Stephen knitted for another blanket.colour change patternThis is another Kaffe Fassett motif that I am very fond of.yellow gold swatchI knitted it up several times, and eventually came up with this.blue gilet swatchWhich became a gilet (which I still have, and still wear).giletThere are some more interesting swatches in the blanket which Stephen made. Here is his Briget Riley piece. Eye-boggling, isn’t it?! Tell us about it, please, Stephen:

I was just playing about with trying to capture some of Briget Riley’s op art designs and this just seemed to work. Very effective as the shapes seem to swirl and catch the eye.Bridget Riley swatchThis stridently green and orange swatch went on to become something much nicer!

Not my own pattern, and the swatch was done with some spare bits of yarn to see what it turned out like.  Pleased with the design, but not these colours!
star swatchA beautiful, softly-toned jersey. Alas, very little worn these days.  It was knitted cuff to cuff making it quite short and bulky. But it is such a beautiful work that I have felted it in the washing machine, and plan to cut it up for another life, one day …. Perhaps make bags, hot-water bottle covers …

Much better colours – but making garments with ribbing like this takes an awful lot of work. Anyway at present I no longer have my ribber.cuff to cuff pulloverSome kind friends, thinking I was lacking inspiration, brought me back this wonderful print of the golden altarpiece in St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.Gold altar, St Mark's, VeniceI did have a go at knitting it  – honest!  but it was a nightmare to knit … so never went any further.Venetian swatchThe same was true of this cat swatch.brown and white catsIt’s interesting to me looking back on all this knitting to see how very little of my knitting was textured.  The emphasis is almost all on colour and pattern.  However, there is one swatch that indicates that I was toying with textures.green homespun swatchAnd then I reverted to pattern!  This is another disappointing 80s knit (with the same homespun yarn), with enormous upper sleeves (you can just see at the join on the right side how big the sleeve setting is).  Consequently, the jersey has been little worn, but I do love the pattern and have it in mind one day to re-knit it.green tree pulloverSo here we are some twenty five years on, and what do we have?  There is still knitting going on … a new knitting machine, no less ..Stephen knittingnew swatches …

Based on a medieval tile we saw at Fountains Abbey on our recent Yorkshire trip.brick pattern

In fact, there’s a whole new pile of swatches waiting to be made into a blanket … perhaps one day …a new crop of swatchesI guess you could say these blankets are a metaphor for our marriage.  A mixture of talents and skills, many of which you wouldn’t think would work well together, but amazingly they do.

(Should you wish to make a blanket of your swatches, this is what I did: I crocheted round each swatch, sometimes several times to enlarge the swatch to fit the space available.  The crocheted pieces were then sewn together, and I crocheted round the entire blanket several times to finish it off.)

Cornish alpaca

We came back from the Cornish wedding last year with spinning treasure – 3 large bags of creamy white alpaca.  My just-married step-daughter, Ellie, had negotiated the sale with a work colleague (and got me a very good deal too).  The car was laden, but we managed to squeeze the bags in somewhere – far too good to leave behind.

I’ve never – in all of my thirty years of spinning – spun alpaca properly before, so I wasn’t sure how to tackle it. First I needed to lay out my treasure (and this is only the first bag) …alpaca on sitting room floorOf course, Poe had to inspect it first …Poe with alpacaNow to consult the experts …Spin Off mags on alpacaWriters in these Spin-off magazines wrote of the difficulty of spinning alpaca – how slippery it is, how heavy and lifeless your yarn will be.  Yes – I have to admit that I don’t terribly like spinning alpaca – everything, everywhere was covered with fluff – far worse than when grooming the cat.  Alpaca was in my mouth, my nose … ugh! And yes, it did break constantly as I tried to spin quite a fine yarn – just slipped through my fingers.

Hmm …. there were all sorts of other suggestions in these Spin-off magazines.  One article strongly recommended that you ply your alpaca with another yarn, so I found an old batt in my spinning stash which I think is synthetic yarn of some sort – can you see the sparkle on it? – and got a nice little hank of mixed fibre yarn.stash yarn and plyed with alpacaHowever, others wrote that you can produce “straight” alpaca. So that is what I did too.   This yarn I produced is very soft and fluffy and has just a bit of lustre. I rather liked the result, – so much so that I got carried away and started knitting without remembering to photograph my pure alpaca hank.

I’d decided to knit Emily Wessel’s Tin Can Knit’s Loch hat with the alpaca.  The Tin Can Knit’s ladies have come up with these lovely lacy patterns which – after initial lacking-confidence struggles – I am now enjoying knitting more and more.IMG_1960Easy peasy – in no time at all, it was finished.  Completed alpaca Loch capThe alpaca knit up like a dream.  It’s softly fluffy as opposed to lustrous, but you can still clearly see the wonderful pattern.  detail of Loch alpaca capThing is – I don’t really see myself wearing an off-white hat – just not a colour I feel comfortable with.  So could I dye it? I’ve always been given to understand that you could dye fleece and dye yarn, but not a finished product because it would felt.  However, perhaps if I dyed it in a microwave oven, which would be a very quick process, with minimum disturbance, I would get away with it …? Time to consult the dyeing books …synthetic dyeing booksFrances and Tony Tompson only cover microwave dyeing very briefly in their excellent book, Synthetic Dyeing, but by very good fortune a friend had attended a workshop they ran and was able to give me the course notes which expanded the information on microwave dyeing considerably.  At the end of them they say:” Finally, the wool will remain soft and springy with no chance of matting.”  Sounds promising.  Gail Callahan also gave excellent clear information on microwave dyeing.

In the end, I came to a rough mix of their times and their temperatures.  I mixed up the colour from Easifix’s AllinOne Acid Milling Dyes: Emerald Green, Golden Yellow, Ultra Blue and a little Black to act as a saddener.  Into the microwave my pot went.  Oh, it does look so very promising!Microwave dyepot of alpaca capAnd what an excellent result!  When wet, of course, it was much darker and I was afraid that the dark colour obscured the pattern definition.  But dry, it was just perfect, and honestly not matted at all.green Loch capCuriously, it has a little darker crown.  I didn’t change yarn, so I can only think that I must have spun a different part of the fleece here which didn’t show up when it was all creamy-white.  I rather like it.top of green Loch hatAnd luckily, the weather is still cold enough to go off for a brisk seaside walk well wrapped up and sporting my new alpaca beanie!K out for walk in new green hat(The camera and light are playing colour tricks – the outside photo is closest to the actual colour.)

Christmas gifts – and wintry weather!

December knocked me flat.  I feel quite ashamed to admit this because in retirement we enjoy a leisurely and simple Christmas.  No longer are there small children to delight and exhaust, no longer are we heavily involved with parish church festivities, and no longer do we have working schedules that get more and more chaotic as Christmas approaches.  I look back on those times with amazement – and wonder how we did it all?

This year, it is only now – as Twelfth Night, Epiphany, the end of the Christmas festival, approaches – that I have recovered sufficient mojo to look back on December reflectively.

Of course lots happened.  But for the purposes of this blogpost, I’m going to concentrate on homemade Christmas gifts.  These made me very happy – and I hope they gave the recipients pleasure too.

I just love the small furry animals devised by Kerry Lord, the talented brains behind the Toft alpaca story. They are so cute – so quirky – with so much character – surely, I thought,  they would be acceptable gifts to our very grown-up children?

The first Toft creature I made – a bunny – was crocheted using Toft’s own alpaca yarn.  I’m not a crocheter and found the pattern very hard to master so I was just pleased as punch when I finished her.  Isn’t she a sweetie-pie?Toft BunnyA wintry day in December found me up in my woolly workroom, with Poe, our cat, putting together some more Toft creatures.  I didn’t have enough of the Toft yarn to crochet more creatures, so dug into my stash for some hand-dyed homespun. A single strand of Rowan Kidsilk Haze added to homespun  gave the Toft creatures a soft furry finish.

The trickiest part to making these Toft creatures is the stuffing – they need to be tactically understuffed. I’m getting better at this – not easy.   But it is the sagginess that adds to the character. Each creature also has a little bag of “ballast” sewn into their belly to help provide core stability.working on Toft animalsThese two were meant to be Siamese cats but they do not look at all feline to me. No, they are foxes, surely – little Fennec Foxes, I think!Toft Fennec FoxesHere’s my Toft gang before they set off bearing Christmas love and good wishes. Most of them went to new homes, but three little ones (the darker ones – my earlier attempts) keep me company and stay here.  As it is cold and wintry, they all got stripey scarves to keep them warm on their travels.Toft animal collectionSome Toft creatures found themselves making new furry friends in their new homes … Others got Christmas cuddles when they arrived …Hats were my other focus this Christmas.  Browsing through old Designer Knitting magazines, I found this two-colour cabled hat designed by Cully Swansen in the Winter 2009/10 issue.   Just a great pattern – and excellent for using up smaller amounts of yarn.  I changed the pattern slightly, adding a wide-ribbed headband in place of the garter stitch of the original pattern.  All the pompoms are alpaca and were purchased from the Toft alpaca shop – I can’t tell you how lovely they are: soft and furry and very fluffy.Cully Swansen's hat patternMy first attempt was this green and white hat. The white is the leftover yarn from the Toft bunny above, and the green is homespun mixed fibres yarn (wool, silk, and mohair).  I picked up a small ball of what I think is Noro Silk Garden in a charity shop and put a strand of that with my homespun.  This added to the variegated effect and the softness.Hat for BarbaraI was really pleased with the green and white hat – so made another. It took me a long time to work out the colours. I knew I wanted grey – but what to put with it. I tried red – no, too obvious. But khaki golden yellow? Hmm – yes, that looks very promising.  I think its what is called Grellow in knitting circles these days.  The yellow is left over Rowan alpaca colour (a gorgeous soft silky yarn) and the grey is two strands made up of Lang Donegal and another grey yarn (name and details lost – oh dear, system slipping).Jam's Christmas hatWe had perfect weather over the Christmas period for the wearing – and modelling – of the new hats.Jam & Barbara in hatsI made three of these hats as Christmas presents. This last is more a beanie because that’s what my husband wanted.  He didn’t think a pompom was for him …   (The black is Debbie Bliss Fine Donegal combined with my own homespun, and the name and origins of the red scrap is lost in history – but it is a lovely thick flecked yarn.)Stephen's cabled beanieAnd now I’m making one for myself. I found it very difficult to restrict myself to two colours so with my own hat, I’ve allowed myself to use three colours. I know it doesn’t show off the clean lines of the cabling, but the colours work well together. One of the yarns is a beautiful hand spun merino yarn my husband brought back from South Uist.  It’s red and orange and brown and yellow – Uist Landscapes – Peat Stack is the name the spinner, Denise Bridge, has given it.  So evocative.  The variegation confuses the cable pattern further, of course, but I don’t think that matters.  The homespun merino is like little flames in the green and brown, isn’t it?  (The green is a Rowan Tweed, and the brown is my own homespun combined with a strand of dark purple Rowan Kidsilk Haze.)Katherine's cabled hatMy son asked for the present we all want – more time.   And this is what my clever Stephen gave him – why, of course, let’s up the hours in a day from twelve to thirteen!  That’s 8.3% more time a day … Look how pleased my Jammy is!  The secret of this time cook-up lies with Stephen, but I can let you know that there were cheap Homebase clocks and Excel broadsheets involved …13 hour clockThere were a couple of new GiveWraps for these presents.  Both went to cat-loving ladies. I think these Japanese ladies work very well with the cats – for some reason …Japanese ladies and cats GiveWrapAnd this GiveWrap went to a lady who loves cats and Mexican Day of the Dead images  and Moomins – and those scratchy cats of Alexander Henry’s keep up on cropping up everywhere …Even an old child’s pillowcase has started a new life as a GiveWrap … happy memories …  Mr men GiveWrapI was given the most generous of gifts – gifts to feed inspiration.  There were books and fabrics and yarns ….

Perhaps you read my blogpost about dyeing fleece, and my undisciplined methods?  This year I am going to learn how to dye properly – thank you, Gail Callahan!Hand dyeing bookThese wonderful Japanese fabrics were a gift from my daughter.  They are such an amazing vibrant colour – and the patterns!  I sort of have the seeds of an idea for another quilt – and perhaps these would be part of that …Christmas fabrics from HelenMore fabrics from Stephen. This is an entire sari – silk, of course.  It is vintage – I guess that means somebody threw it out?  It is very soft, both in texture and in colour, and I will not be throwing it out any time soon.  There is enough material to make a full length dress, but my seventies days are over, and I’ll probably be making a tunic to wear over leggings.  Gorgeous to wear in the summer.recycled sariFrom another Ebay website, Stephen got these silk sari scraps.  These are the good parts from old, damaged and worn-out saris.  They will make some beautiful GiveWraps.recycled sari piecesLots and lots of inspiration there.  Now the days are grey and dark, windy (very) and miserable.  I learn from a Brittany instagrammer that the Celts call this time Les Mois Noirs.  Apt description indeed.  We look out on wet puddled fields …view from window and wild seas …Spittal beach promenadeOnly the seagulls seem not to care …Seagull soaring over wavesOur lane is eroding as water forces new pathways …View down our laneTime to put all the lights on so that I can actually see some colour, and get playing with all this gorgeous new stuff!

(I must add that although the weather here is very wet and windy and generally horrible, we have not been flooded.  Many homes in the UK have experienced awful flooding troubles over the last few weeks.  There are some poor souls watching and waiting as I write, fearing they will be flooded soon with this continuing rain. It’s been a heartbreaking Christmas for many.)

Yet more GiveWraps!

This is going to be an indulgent post!  I have been making lots of GiveWraps.  It’s the birthday season in my family and Christmas is in the offing, so there’s every reason to have a little play with colour, yarns and fabric.  Given a nice sunny day (so the light is good in my little Woolly Room), I went into production mode.K making GivewrapsIf there is time, I like to make GiveWraps with particular people in mind.  It’s my daughter’s birthday at the end of November and last year I made her a very special GiveWrap using bits of animal print fur fabric scraps left over from her teenage sewing experiments.Animal print givewrapThis year I wanted to do something different.  I’ve got some Very Hungry Caterpillar fabric (always a family favourite) – what about that?  The caterpillars are interspersed with familiar scraps: the grass-green chintz was left over from blinds I made in our old house, the pink and blue flower fabric was used for curtains in her bedroom …..very hungry caterpillar givewrapShe likes both cats and the designer Alexander Henry.  Happily these two likes come together with some of his wild and wonderful scratchy cat fabric.  I think these cats are just wicked!  Scratchy cats givewrapI have some interesting printed scraps from my cousin, Polly (with whom I set out on this GiveWrap adventure).  Here is her Microcosm enclosed print in the centre of this blue GiveWrap.  She has printed it on an old tablecloth that once belonged to our grandfather.  You can see his name embroidered on the plain linen.  I’ve kept it in partly because it is our shared story, and partly because it is an example of beautiful craftsmanship in itself.microcosm enclosed givewrapI had a few tiny scraps of Microcosm enclosed left over and wanted to emphasise the facial aspects of the print so I put them with these pieces from my old and very worn-out yukata.  I love these Japanese ladies!  The yukata was originally white – and a reject from my mother.  I dyed it turquoise – a great success – and wore it and wore it and patched it and patched it.  Eventually the time came to admit defeat – but these lovely ladies have found a new life in my GiveWraps, and don’t they work well with the purple?!  There’s a faintly mauve tone in their kimonos which is why it all works together so well.yukata ladies with purple givewrapThere are more people in this print of Polly’s.  The figures on the right are her as a little girl beside her mother.  I thought long and hard about how to make this GiveWrap.  I definitely wanted to emphasise the vertical lines so eventually settled on tree and leaf prints.  It seemed to be important to place the print on the right  so that the figures could look over the GiveWrap – and Polly’s fish print just snuck in on the left.Fish and mother and child print givewrapNow for some dragons – but what on earth was I going to put with them?  I knew that I wanted to pick out the orange of Polly’s dragon prints and contrast it with green.  Then, by chance, I came across this owl fabric with its orangey-reddy-brown owls on a soft leafy green background – just perfect!  Lots more leafy fabrics in the mix as well.  I deliberately set the dragons in two columns “facing” each other and “upside down” to each other (so to speak).  It’s a trick borrowed from the yukata ladies above that I particularly like.Dragons and owls givewrapThere were still more of Polly’s printed dragon scraps.  These dragons have been printed on a very fine gold silk, and – don’t ask me why! – they set themselves in browny-grey fabrics, and then the Alexander Henry scratchy cats just asked to join in!  Sorted!!Dragons and cats givewrapOn a roll now, I made yet another GiveWrap   I really struggled with this one.  The fabric in the centre is from a very beautiful Indian silk dress of my grandmother’s – alas, perishing.  You may just be able to see that the pink flowers are picked out with gold threads – so much work in it.  It was a very straight short shift dress – so not a lot of material – and I had no idea what to do with it, except, of course, make a GiveWrap.  But I found it a hard challenge to find colours and patterns that married with those delicate colours.

As it turned out, it is a very sentimental GiveWrap, using lots of pieces that have strong associations.  The small brown flower print is from the first dress I ever bought myself – in the 60s!  It was kept because my mother loved it – and used it for patchwork.  I’ve added strips of the soft brown needlecord that was leftover from a dress I made my little daughter many years ago.  How nice to have found a home for these special pieces.  But will I ever be able to pass this GiveWrap on?Pinky brown GivewrapAnd lastly two knitted GiveWraps which I have been working on by the fireside in the evenings.  Here I was using up scraps of knitting wool and some chenille too.  These are knitted in linen stitch which gives a pleasing woven effect.  They are such fun to put together – it’s really fabric creation at its most basic.  Little odd strands of contrast colour lift the whole.  One knitted in reds and pinks ….pink and red knitted givewrap… and the other has some orange in the mix.red and orange knitted givewrapTime to tidy up my little Woolly Room and turn to other projects.  It’s a tiny room and I have to be very disciplined as I work.Woollly room workspaceAll these GiveWraps have labels on the back.  I’ve given up using the computer for labels, finding it too much of a struggle for my printer.  However, Anne Wheaton has some helpful advice on printing  labels and perhaps when I’m next making GiveWraps, I’ll try one of her methods.handwritten labels for givewraps now