Goodbye 2016!

So many ups and downs in 2016! It’s been a topsy turvy year – a year of sadness and upsets for my family and a deeply shocking year in global politics. I have travelled through the year with a pervading sense of loss.

But, in the last few days I’ve been indulging myself drawing up a #bestofnine2016 for my Instagram feed. I’ve looked through all the pictures I’ve posted online, and selected the nine pictures that most capture 2016 for me.  It has taken me quite a time to finally make a selection, but it was a good exercise because after that, I didn’t feel so bad. So many little ordinary happinesses and pleasures that I have taken for granted!  Here are my chosen nine:bestofnine2016Top left: That’s my dearest husband Stephen and our lovely cat, Poe, who passed away in her 20th year, this August. This photograph was taken on her last night of life, when we knew she was extremely ill and would have to visit the vet next day, probably to be put down. She is curled up asleep, comfy and trusting, next to Stephen, on the sofa, as she regularly did. RIP Poe, faithful friend.stephen-and-poeTop middle: Lots of little pleasures here. My knitting, my nails – and my travel knitting bag! Those of you who know me well will know I almost always have my nails painted – and doesn’t this colour match the knitting so well! The Solace bag was a generous gift from Rebecca of Needle & Spindle and symbolises to me the constant comfort of knitting, and the friendliness of the wonderful online community of knitters and makers.solace-bag-and-knittingTop right: This is our lovely local beach, just five minutes away from our home, and my very grown-up children, visiting from London, on a beautiful blustery day.  Stephen and I walk here several times a week, and watch the tides and waves and sands move, the holiday visitors with their families come and go.  To share this with my own family is the greatest of all pleasures.j-h-on-spittal-beachMiddle right: A golden GiveWrap, made with the Japanese and Indian silk scraps I was given for my birthday, and mixed up with some very treasured pieces of old clothing.  It’s been another year of GiveWrap making, sharing the ideas with my cousin Polly, and spreading the word about sustainable wraps.golden-givewrapBottom right: I wrote about the poppies that we grow here in a recent blogpost. They are the best of our gardening in this wonderful place, right up on the north Northumbrian border, exposed to all the elements.  Lots of plants won’t grow here – it’s too salty, too windy, too cold.  But poppies flourish, and best of all, they self-seed.  They grow where they will, not just where I choose.  Don’t they adorn the view so very well …poppies in laneBottom middle: In the turmoil of family events earlier this year, two little cats, Eggy and Ilsa, found themselves needing a new home – so they came to Seaview!  And look how these little smilers love it here! These little London softies have become Northumbrian toughies.  They’re good at mousing, chasing the neighbours’ cats, exploring their territory, and finding the comfiest places in the house to sleep (usually some special fabrics I have carefully laid out).eggy-and-ilsaBottom left: Nothing says Seaview to me as much as the big skies with their endlessly-changing weather stories.  Through the winter months, we are privileged to watch the sunrise as it moves over the south-eastern horizon. So often it is explosively dramatic and exciting. Perhaps best of all, the sun doesn’t rise until a decent time (8.38 as I write on 31st December), so I don’t sleep through it … You never tire of these skies.seaview-sunriseMiddle right: On the 23rd June 2016, Great Britain voted in a referendum on their European Union membership – and we all now know the result.  In the days leading up to this referendum, those of us who hoped to stay in the European Union became increasingly worried about the result – as indeed there was good cause – and I was inspired to stitch my Love letter to Europe, incorporating some lines from John Donne’s poem No man is an island.  Embroidery isn’t really my thing, so this was a textile experiment for me. It wasn’t, of course, an earth-shaking contribution – really rather feeble – but it was very comforting to stitch at the time.  Now it hangs up our stairs, and it speaks to me of our continuing membership of Europe, even if we lose the membership of the European Union.love-letter-to-europeCentre: We saw this little 18th century ladies patch box on display at Traquair House – a very happy daytrip to a most interesting place to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. So there are lots of things bound up in this picture for me: my very happy marriage to Stephen, the pleasures we have out and about exploring this beautiful part of the world, and above all else it speaks of hope.  More than anything else in these unsettled times, the message of this little box comes back to me, and I find in it great, great comfort.  At some time in its history, it must have given hope to another person.  Now again, it is holding a hand out to a dodgy future.patch-box-from-traquairGoodness knows what I will be writing at the end of 2017.  But hope isn’t a bad travelling companion.  So thank you for your company on the journey through 2016, and may you all be sustained by hope in whatever comes your way through the next year.  Happy New Year!

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Goodbye Poe

Our dear companion, #happycat Poe, died on Wednesday.comfy PoeWe came downstairs on Tuesday morning to find that she had had a stroke.  Her head was twisted sharply to the left. She wouldn’t eat her food – even the most freshly cooked salmon couldn’t tempt her.Poe's strokeShe was still managing to walk around, but collapsed into short sleeps, exhausted by the effort.Poe asleep near the water bowlOn Tuesday night, we mossed her up.  She slept in one of her favourite places next to Stephen on the sofa.Poe next to StephenAnd the next day, we picked her up very gently from her flowery bed and took her to the vet.Poe asleep in flowerbedShe has been our excellent companion for over 19 years – she was a very very old lady.  You can may have read about her early life with us here, and some of you may remember also reading how worried we were earlier this year, when two younger cats came to live with us. Despite our misgivings, that was not a problem.  The three cats learned that they had to share human attention, whether in the morning …3 cats - all wanting attentionOr round the fire in the evening …K grooming cats in front of fireYou might even think Ilsa and Poe were friendly companions here … Sadly the picture also highlights Poe’s loss of weight against the plumper Ilsa.Walking with IlsaSometimes the new kits were a little bit mean … now kits, it’s not nice to mock poor Poe who just wants to get into the house …Yah boo sucks, PoeOur little Poe became markedly more absent-minded in these last days.  We would find her asleep in odd places…Poe with watering canBut she could surprise us too. After two year’s without catching any mice, she recently caught one, showed it to the very interested Ilsa, and then proceded to eat every little bit of it …Poe showing off her mouseOh, she did make us laugh!  She was so spoilt with little treats that she grew to expect them long before they were offered.expecting treatsAnd, on occasion, her love of icecream overwhelmed her.Poe with icecream cartonShe kept us company as we read …Poe watching me readingWorked in the conservatory …Poe sitting on Stephen's workOur dear friend, Poe, who ventured so bravely up to Northumberland with us – surveying her empire. Poe surveys her empireShe was immortalised for us in this wonderful painting by Flo Brooks.  #happycat Poe remains with us, in her place on the sofa.Flo's portrait of Poe

New kits on the block

There are two new cats at Seaview, Eggy (short for Eglantine) and Ilsa.

They have come from a London home.  There they had a cosy little two-up-two-down terraced house with a square patch of a courtyard garden in the busy, bustling world of north London.  For a variety of complicated reasons, that home had to be sold, so these little kits found themselves in need of a good home and a garden – so they’ve come north!

They travelled up by train in a sort of push-chair affair, and, looked so spaced out when they arrived. Where were they?  Who were all these new people?  Another cat?  To help them settle in, we shut them into my Woolly Room (big sacrifice on my part) and that has remained their bedroom and bolthole ever since.  In the photo below Eggy is on the right (she is darker with a light patch over one eye), and Ilsa is crouching down on the left.Two confused kitsOf course, we already have a cat.  Poe is a lovely ancient family friend who has been with us since she was a kitten. She’s just celebrated her 19th birthday, and if you haven’t met her before, you can read about her here.

Poe isn’t a well cat – not surprising considering her age.  She has serious heart trouble (for which she takes regular medication), eyesight problems, very reduced hearing, and is almost definitely on the way to some sort of dementia.  We sometimes find her sitting looking lost, facing the wall.  She is losing weight. Poe asleep on sofaSo Poe sleeps most of the day, either in the garden when it is fine (preferably the raspberry bed as below), or on her favourite sofa.  And we have recognised that we are probably supporting her in her last year of life.Poe asleep in raspberry patchWhen we invited the new kits to come and live here, we did consider Poe’s health, and the adjustment she would have to make in her very old age to having two new cats on her territory. We discussed with our very understanding vet the possibility of having Poe put to sleep.

This was a good move.  She was able to reassure us that given all of Poe’s health problems it would not be unreasonable to bring an end to Poe’s life.  With that reassurance, we somehow felt much more confident to accept the new kits.We like Katherine's sewing machine tableWe bought a new litter tray for the kits, set up their own feeding station (both in my sewing room) and invested in expensive Feliway cat pheromone diffusers.  The kits settled in to their new upstairs home, and we thought we’d take it slowly, let them live upstairs for a bit with Poe downstairs.  But the first night, the little curious kits pushed down the barricades we’d set up, and there they were on the stairs!shy kitsThen Poe happened to be passing … and, oh dear!  The look of horror on Poe’s face!  If cats could speak ….

Perhaps that’s why it took so much persuasion to get the kits to come further downstairs … Helen reassuring kitsNew friendships had to be made.  Trust had to be earned.Eggy meets StephenThey explored all of Poe’s territory.  The food bowls …New kits interested in Poe's foodHer conservatory … Poe’s expression (on the table) says it all.  I don’t plan to share this at all!Interesting encounter in conservatoryThe kits pretty quickly realised that Poe could get into a further world that they were at present barred from.  How did Poe do it?!trying to work out the cat flapWhen presented with an open door, they were very wary. Note Poe watching superciliously.Poe watchesThere were fascinating encounters – or non-encounters – as elderly Poe failed to realise the kits’ presence.  Perhaps Poe was just enjoying the fuss we all made of her too much to notice Eggy hiding under the bench.Poe unaware of EggyThe kits certainly took the outside world very cautiously that first weekend.very tentative steps outsideThey’d known outside, of course, in their London garden – but what was that compared to the huge Northumbrian spaces and skies. So both kits went very cautiously, looking for safe hiding places wherever they could.Eggy trying to trick the birdsThe real magic for the kits is, of course, the birds.  We have bird feeders on the house wall, but also put grain on the path for those birds which prefer to eat this way.  Ilsa will spend hours flattened like this, watching and hoping.  I feel uncomfortable because we love the birds, but cats are genetically programed to catch birds, and we just have to accept this is what the kits want to do.Ilsa trying to catch birdsEven though the kits have got better positions now for bird catching (they’ve moved to the raspberry bed), they still haven’t caught anything. I’m not sure they will – they aren’t exactly fast-movers. Yet.Ilsa in raspberry bedEggy is a bit better at finding a good hiding place.Eggy in raspberry bedAll sounds well and good, doesn’t it?  Well, the truth is it wasn’t.  Ten days in we were exhausted with monitoring the situation and trying to manage Poe and kit meetings. Expressive cat encounters Poe seemed to be getting thinner and thinner – whether it was just the contrast of the fat little kits that made us more aware of her loss of weight, or whether anxiety was genuinely causing her to lose weight, we couldn’t be sure.  She certainly seemed to be eating as much as ever. But she looked so thin – her sides are almost concave.Poe looking very thinSo as we approached their second weekend here, we were thinking that it would be kindest to take Poe on that fateful vet trip next week.

But something changed.  Suddenly, things jelled.

I think two things happened.  Firstly, the kits genuinely made our house their own home.  Because they are differently sized from Poe, they couldn’t get through the catflap without help, so we helped them …steps to catflapAnd a little gaffer tape came in useful.gaffer tape makes catflap manageableSecondly, I think the antagonism between Poe and the kits settled down.  It is now benign teasing of Great-Aunt Poe by her bumptious nieces. They are endlessly inquisitive, and cannot resist checking her out, but she, from her superior age and height, can just let it pass – mostly. She still hisses, and has been known to biff them if they annoy her too much. It helps that we separate the kits from Poe at night so that nobody can upset anybody else when we are not around.checking out PoeThe new kits are the very sweetest of sweet-natured cats, and they give us hours of entertainment.  For all that it is hard work having three unsettled cats, it is very funny. Look how guilty they seem after we caught them watching birdtv!guilty looks - watching birdtvOh Eggy, you know just how sweet you look in the sink, but how am I to clean my teeth?Eggy and the sinkI even laugh when Eggy plays with my knitting wool!somebody's discovered my knittingAmong our collected bits and pieces from the seaside, we have what we think is an about-to-be-born seagull chick.  It is just bones and feather (presumably the rest eaten by a predator).Seaview treasures including gull chickIlsa loves it!Ilsa with treasureSo Eggy and Ilsa have in their own ways made themselves at home. Meanwhile Poe is comfy as ever beside me on the sofa.Poe with me on the sofaThree cats, getting on with their own lives, sharing the space.all cats together

Winter guests

Over the winter we take as much care as we can of the local wildlife.  We have discovered that that we can feed most birds that come to our table by scattering birdfood (grain and grated-up fatballs) along the path to our house, so we dispense with the bird feeders for this time of year as they aren’t really used, and the food there just goes mouldy.Birdfood on path in cold snowy conditionsThis brings a number of birds to our table.  Crows, pigeons, sparrows, blackbirds, robins and wrens all feed there – we do not discriminate.  All birds need food on cold hard days, and all birds are part of our local community.birds eating on pathWe even have a friendly – and very timid – seagull, and I am happy to feed this seagull (a young bird, I think) so long as he doesn’t bring all his friends along too.  Indeed, I rather admire his ingenuity in finding us, and keeping us to himself!Seagull on pathWhen we first arrived here, Poe was good enough to extend our winter hospitality to other small folk.  She would be out in all weather, looking for little lost souls.Poe venturing out in snowShe was sure they would prefer the nice warm inside to the snowy cold outside. Poe returning with mouseTrouble was, she would then expect them to play for a little while …Poe has a mouse… before she lost them, and they ran off to make new homes inside.  A year later, we discovered the small carcase of just such a forgotten mouse, trapped behind the grandfather clock.  Such a considerate mouse – never smelt in its decay.  Now it has a place of honour on our nature window display.desiccated mouse and other treasuresLuckily, Poe is now too old to go out a-mousing, but we have discovered with our shed spring cleaning that we are still caring for the local wild mouse population.  I keep my spinning fleece in the garden shed, as well as our supplies of bird feed.  The fleece is high up on shelves.fleece on high in shedOne year, I brought a particularly special bag of Crookabeck alpaca out of the shed into the kitchen for dyeing, and I discovered that somebody had not only been making a home in my beautiful fleece, but they’d been helping themselves to the food supplies available in the shed.  A cosy way to spend the winter, don’t you think, with food and comfy bedding both on hand?!Evidence of mice making themselves at homeWe always know what the mice are up to in the shed, because they leave little guilty teethmarks all over the bird food.mice eating bird fat ballsAnother year, I caught the little blighters in action.  Mice in grainTime for some shed spring cleaning soon – I wonder what we will find in there this year?

Spring is in the air – sort of!

Oh, how we long for spring!

We had some blissfully fine weather last week, and got very excited.  All sorts of spring activity is starting to take place.  The washing is being hung out again (for the first time for goodness know how long).Washing out againSmall plants are beginning to appear in the flower beds – Irises … (I just love the way they are so tightly and neatly scrolled as they poke out of the ground).Iris buds to comeSnowdrops …snowdropsLittle Daffodils …little daffodils in bloomCrocuses …CrocusesLittle pots on the terrace are more confident in the sun. Flower pots on terrace These marigolds (seeds from my cousin Polly) have splendidly flowered all winter.Flower pot flowersAnd there are outdoor chores calling for attention.  The raspberry canes are sprouting and will need cutting back soon.Raspberries sproutingAfter a miserably wet and windy winter, we are enjoying walks out and about again.walks in spring sunshineHow good to see the gorse flowering again.Gorse is outA couple of days ago we had a truly wonderful walk further down the coast from Beadnell to Low Newton (you can see the route we took in the Searching for Sanderlings blogpost, almost exactly a year ago).  Shadows still long, warning that it is early spring and the sun is very low in the sky.  Just in the distance you can see Dunstanburgh Castle.Walking along Beadnell bayInside, thoughts are turning to spring too.  Poe is starting to moult, and needs regular grooming again.  I think she’s a bit unwise to start casting her coat so soon, but perhaps she knows something I don’t.Poe starts moulting againSeed catalogues come out, and we begin to get excited about summer flowers.  Stephen has plans to build a pond this year ….Seed catalogues come outStrangely, inside our flowers are mostly flaming scarlet-red, which is kind of weird, – but gorgeous too.scarlet flowers insideAnd despite the cold outside, we are still getting salad crops in the greenhouse.salad leaves in greenhouseLast weekend, I was in London, and things are rather further on there than here in the north.  Just look at these positively Wordsworthian daffodils at Alexandra Palace!Daffodils at Ally PallyThere was spring blossom too.Blossom on tree at Ally PallyThen – just as we are starting to take this beautiful spring weather for granted, the weather turns and we get snow – or is it sleet, or perhaps hail?Grey and cold againEvery year, it is the same, and every year we get over-excited with the first signs of spring warmth and growth.  Back to normal for Northumberland.snow at SeaviewIn Moominland Midwinter, Tove Jansson tells the story of how Moomintroll wakes up early one winter (rather than hibernating right through as Moomins usually do) and thus experiences cold, snow and wintry wetness for the first time. Moonmintroll gets rather fed up with it, and comes up with this wonderful grumpy little poem.

Listen, winter creatures, who have sneaked the sun away,
Who are hiding in the dark and making all the valley grey:
I am utterly alone, and I’m tired to the bone,
And I’m sick enough of snowdrifts just to lay me down and groan.
I want my blue verandah and the glitter of the sea
And I tell you one and all that your winter’s not for me!

I’m with Moomin on this one!Grumpy Moomin

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.)

Fleece

Most spinners will recognise that uncomfortable moment when their partner remarks “And is that all the fleece you have? Really? Promise?”  Crossing every digit, you mutter “yes, of course“, knowing full well there’s another stash buried deep in a little-visited cupboard upstairs.

Well, here is my coloured fleece stash – and yes, I promise: this is all of it!  Honest.Baskets of coloured fleece in gardenA full coloured fleece assessment was called for yesterday as I checked over my spinning projects.

Earlier this year I’d decided the time had come to dye some more fleece.  It was spring, and my  palette was strongly influenced by the colours of nature.greeny fleece on washing lineUp close and personal, as the wet fleece begins to dry you can see what gorgeous colours these are.closeup of green fleece on washing lineA little bit of acid lime to pep it all up.closeup of greeny yellow fleece on washing lineI couldn’t help letting a little bit of fuchsia creep into the dye pot.pink fleece on washing lineI had it in mind to knit a cardigan for myself.  I was very taken with Julia Farwell-Clay’s Tambourine (which appeared on the front of the Spring Issue of Pom Pom Quarterly). I love the rondels on front.Pom pom map coverWithstanding all the temptations of amazing indie yarn producers, I was determined to spin the yarn for this cardigan myself.  After all, I had all this fleece, and I loved spinning.  What I found I was doing was spinning odd little hanks that weren’t really enough for anything much.  Yes, they would work for the odd scarf, but I really had enough of those.

So, I assessed my fleece …pile of dry greeny fleece did some carding …Carding green fleece and got spinning.  Here’s the product: some lovely variegated green yarn.Spun green fleece hanksI wasn’t satisfied.

Let me explain.  It looks lovely as hanks, incorporating all the flecks and variegated colourings that I like.  But when knitted, it was rather dull and muted.test knitting samplesIf you go back to my fleece “puddle”, you’ll see why I was disappointed.  Look at that glorious top note green on the top of the pile.  It’s being swamped by the darker greens lying below.pile of dry greeny fleeceBack to the drawing board…err, dye pot. And a completely different colour palette.stainless steel bowl of dyeing fleeceAll these yarns (and they encompass wool from Shetland, Jacob, BFL and other sheep, mohair, silk) are rainbow-dyed using acid dyes.  You can now purchase excellent small dye kits which are complete in themselves (in the old days you used to have to add vinegar, washing up liquid, levellers etc).  And modern acid dyes are very safe – I wear a face mask, rubber gloves – and I clear all food stuffs from the kitchen before I start.  In recognition of the possibly undesirable effects of the exhaust, I pour as much of it as possible into the ground.  It’s not a small undertaking, so I set aside a day for dyeing and will dye at least half a fleece at any one time (making successive dyepots, reusing the exhaust from the previous dyepot).

My first dye pot and I got berry colours – nice, but a bit darker than I wanted.winey red fleece dyeingNext lighter redder, orangier colours – very pleased with this, but a bit taken aback when folk greeted my instagram pic with the statement that it looked like body parts!  Wonder what you think?body part fleece dyeingFinally some blues as well.blue and red fleece dyeingNow, lets go back to where I was at the beginning of this blogpost.  A fleecy assessment.Baskets of coloured fleece in gardenWhen you pull the fleece out of the baskets and boxes and bags, you realise just how much coloured fleece I’ve got here (this is a very honest post).  This fleece has come from a lot of sheep!centre basket and piles of coloured fleece on grassIt looks even more abundant when I start to make plans and move this gorgeous stuff around.

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I have several projects in mind.

First, I’ve decided to try spinning some blue yarn for the Tambourine cardigan. blue fleece on grassSecondly, I’m putting together some nice brightly coloured fleece to take to spin when I’m demonstrating with the Tweed Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers at the Border Union Show near Kelso at the end of this month.  Last year I took some fuchsia fleece and it was a great success with the young beginner spinners.  This is what I’ve come up with for this year.red orange pink fleece on grassI’m very taken with the orangey/scarlet/red tones that I’ve dyed so I’ve allowed myself to put a little bit aside for some comfort knitting this winter – I’ll probably end up with just a few skeins that will make a nice scarf.  Doesn’t it look cosy in it’s basket?red orange fleece in basketI’m also very excited to start spinning the basket of blue fleece.  Hmm – I’ll have to think this through – shall I card, or just spin?  Perhaps a bit of both.  The difference is that carded fleece will give me gently variegated colours.  If I just pluck the yarn from the basket to spin as is, I’ll get much more sharply contrasted colours – and you’ll see I’ve added some red and green mohair for sparky little contrast.blue fleece in basketI’ve already started to spin the fleece for the Border Union Show.  It looks great!spun pinky fleeceThe rest of the fleece gets packed away in the baskets for other projects other days.  There are colours in my bags and boxes that are leftovers from ancient projects that I worked on a long time ago.  I’m always careful to make the fleece unappetising to moth before it gets packed away.fleece and moth ball But I’ve left some fleece out for the cat to enjoy for a bit.

Happy cat, Poe!Poe on fleece