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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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

Clearing the decks

My last major project was my story quilt which I finished in April.  It was completely absorbing so when I had finished I had a build up of small projects and repairs to do.  Projects get thrown to the side  when time is short, piling up wherever there’s space in my  Woolly Room.  woolly room workings I have a tiny little Woolly Room (so named by my children when they were small…. you might guess why from this photo – if you can see the yarn cones for everything else on the shelves.)woolly room shelvesThis post is about clearing the decks before I start another big project.

There are always woolly projects on the go in the Woolly Room so it’s probably best to start with some  knitting…

I’ve loved Tin Can Knits’ Old Growth pattern for a long time.  It wouldn’t work for me because the button band is off centre (I tend to wear my cardies open and with this cardi, I’d have a lot of fabric hanging free).  But I thought it would be a really nice cardi for a friend’s baby.  The motif that is such an integral part to this knit, didn’t work with my yarn (Rowan all seasons cotton), so I had to adjust the pattern slightly.  You can see below how ridged and gappy the original motif is – I’m much happier with my adaptation above. knitting cardi for Maud The yarn came from my stash, as did the ladybird buttons – always a most satisfactory use of existing resources.  Can’t wait to see little Maud wearing it.finished cardi for MaudWhen this little cardi was finished, I had to get something else on my needles quickly for travel knitting.  So I started another 3S shawl.  This is the first one I have knitted in stripes of different colour.  I am using bits and pieces of my homespun yarn, having discovered that I had a lot of bluey/greeny/purple tones that worked so well together.

I just love knitting this shawl pattern.  I really want to knit it all the time, so have to be strict with myself and only let it come out when I am on the train or in the car.3S purple blue green shawlI had a couple of dresses that I wanted to wear now the weather is better.   This one came from a local charity shop, and it’s viscose (which I don’t usually wear, and have recently heard terrible stories of viscose which confirm my distaste).  However, I love love love the bold fabric pattern, and it has a great hang, so I decided to give it a go.  Trouble is, the skirt had been joined to the bodice in the most unflattering way – just gathered and sewn.  The pattern is so loud that you may not be able to make out quite what I mean here? bodice of K's striking black and white dressI carefully unpicked the bodice/skirt seam, and re-joined them in the Washi dress style – it is flat across the stomach, with 3 pleats drawing the fabric to the side.  Same on the back.  To make sure the pleats lay flat (and flattering) I added a (high) waistband inside. redoing bodice band I’m not sure you will really see what I’ve taken so much care to do.  However, I know it is a great improvement every time I wear it.  And we all know that at the end of the day that’s all that matters.  modelling K's striking black and white dressThis is a beautiful dress I made at least ten years ago.  I bought the fabric in Habitat.  I don’t know if it is really indigo-dyed, but it gives a very good impression of being hand-printed and hand-dyed.  It is a beautiful soft, strong cotton – very comfortable to wear against the body, and with good drape. long version of K's Habitat fabric dress But it is very long.  I used to wear in hot Devon summers when I was much younger.  Now I am older and live in cooler Northumberland, the length just doesn’t work.  Indeed, the length would be positively maddening in the wind that we can get here.  So time to cut it short, much much shorter.working on K's blue Habitat fabric dressNow I’ve cut it shorter, and I’ve also let out the centre seam  (you can just see the exposed fabric in the centre is darker).  But it is still too tight.  Face it, Katherine,  it is too small for you to wear comfortably.  Over 10 years you have put on a bit of weight…. The answer is to cut down the centre of the dress (sort of like doing one of those scary steeks), and add an extra strip of wider material.  Then add some buttons for decoration.  But which to choose… just too much choice.trying out buttons on Habitat fabric dress I’m still not sure that I chose the right buttons…or that buttons work on this dress at all.  I’ve got a little matching bag which my daughter made for me (one of her first projects when she was a teenager and just exploring sewing machine possibilities).  She’s reversed the fabric and got the strong pattern lines running horizontally.  It’s a fab little bag – thank you, Helen!K modelling finished Habitat fabric dressNow for mending – there is always mending to do here!

Stephen had worn through the other elbow on his pullover, so that needed darning.darning Stephen's green pulloverAnd I’ve been renovating my father’s old shopping bag.  My father died just two months ago, and my mother has started to give away his things.  She thought this was right for me, and it is – just right!  Funny how sometimes the most unexpected and ordinary gifts are the best.  My father used this bag everyday when he would walk out with his dog and his stick to buy milk, deal with the post and the other everyday things of life.  It came to me worn and weary.mending RHE's bagI’ve recovered the worn handles with new strong fabric, and I’ve added patches to the corners and sides where the bag was getting a bit holey.  It’s a plasticised cotton bag, and the iron-on patch material didn’t take very well (I had to be very careful with iron temperature), so some of the patches had to be glued as well.  Here’s my new bag, visibly mended, looking great and it gives me such pleasure to use it.RHE's bag with repairsNow that all that stuff is finished, I can do something about all those exciting projects I’ve been fantasising about.

There’s fleece to be spun. Here it is, freshly dyed and drying on the washing line.closeup of green fleece on washing lineI’ve got some tapestry work on the go.Judi Dench embroidery in processAnd I’ve got some new books to explore.inspirational booksWhere to start?!

A new spinning wheel

new Innerleithen spinning wheelI have a new spinning wheel! It is a beautiful little ash wheel, handcrafted by Rod Grant of Innerleithen Spinning Wheels.  So elegant to look at and it spins like a dream.

Those of you who know me will understand how much this means to me.  However, it is also time to say good bye to my old Ashford spinning wheel which has been my good friend and comforter for nearly 30 years.old Ashford wheelThe Ashford came as a great boon to me at a very difficult time in my life.  I had just parted from my first husband, Hugh, and was at home most of the time, single parenting, with two very small children and little opportunity to get out of the home.

My dear friend and neighbour, Eileen Seddon (then President of the Devon Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers), saw that I needed distraction, and taught me to spin – and found me a spinning wheel.  It came from another member of the Devon Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers who was forced to switch to an electric spinning wheel because of arthritis.

I had a brief lesson from Eileen, and I was away! – couldn’t stop! – up until the early hours of the morning spinning and spinning!  I had to stop eventually because I had filled all the available bobbins and didn’t know how to ply.

I was so very enthusiastic that I would take my spinning wheel everywhere with me.  Here I am spinning in the hot Devon sun in my Shobrooke garden.  Nice basket of fleece – I think it is probably one of the first complete fleeces I ever purchased, a lovely Shetland sheep called Charity, who was raised most lovingly in the glorious pasture land of Stockleigh English.K spinning Shobrooke 1987Here is James having a go at spinning in our Shobrooke home.  A great basket of Welsh Mountain fleece to get through there, James!Xmas 1989 Jam ShobrookeThe wheel has accompanied me through many travels.  Perhaps its saddest time was when it was run over by our car at the Border Union Show.  Stephen hadn’t realised where the spinning wheel was standing as he straightened the car into the parking spot, and reversed straight over and into it – crunch, crunch, crunch.broken Ashford wheel at Border Union ShowI was demonstrating at the show, so the wheel had a hasty fix to make it spinnable – you can see the masking tape holding one leg together, and more masking tape binding the mother-of-all in place.

While my Innerleithen spinning wheel is the Emperor of all spinning wheels, the Ashford is a work-a-day wheel, Ashford logoand showing signs of wear and tear.  The very good news is that a beginner spinning enthusiast has given it a new home in the Borderland wilds of the Ettrick Valley.  She plans to collect fleece on her walks (as I used to).  Most conveniently her wood cabin is insulated with wool and cashmere purchased from the last mill in Selkirk when it closed down.  Not only does it provide fantastic insulation, but it has been dyed the colours of the rainbow!  How wonderful to think of those layers of colour wrapped round her cottage.  No need to worry that she will ever run out of fleece – she has only to prize a little out of the building structure!  I am sure my old spinning wheel has gone to a new home where it will be much loved and enjoyed – and become part of the furniture.

I’m spinning some pretty multi-coloured fleece myself.  Last summer I dyed a local Jacob’s fleece these amazing pinky purpley colours.  (I’ve always wanted to dye fleece this fantastic fuchsia pink!  I took it with me to demonstrate at the Border Union Show, and it attracted much interest, both from sheep farmers, and little girls who rushed to handle my pink wool!) purple pink fleeceI’ve added mohair and silk to the mix, and a few bits of other coloured fleece for extra effect.  Out come my old carders…carding fleeceRod Grant has made me a fine ash Lazy Kate to accompany the new spinning wheel.  It’s not just a very elegant piece of equipment, it’s brilliantly designed.  You may just be able to see the tension string stretched over the bobbins to make sure they release the yarn evenly and smoothly.  To help thread the yarn through the holes at the top, he’s added a specially designed hook which is resting in the central orifice. new wool winder for plying Here’s a basketful of my finished product.  So tasty, it’s almost edible.  Are you wondering what I’m making?  So am I!  I’m just spinning away for the sheer pleasure of spinning.  One day this yarn will find it’s purpose.purple pink yarnA final spin then of the old wheel with my new wheel waiting in the wings.  K spinning on Ashford wheel2Ave atque vale.K spinning on Ashford wheel