Shepherding the lost sheep

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Chrissy and one of her many spinning wheels

Unlike Little Bo Peep’s sheep, which would, apparently, return home of their own accord ‘wagging their tails behind them’, most sheep need a shepherd – someone to guide then, nurture them, heft them and ensure their well-being. Sadly, it appears that many farmers and shepherds could, themselves, also do with such care and attention… and so, I’d like to introduce you to Chrissy Smith, an amazing woman doing her bit to help the sheep farmers of Wales.

Interested in Welsh sheep breeds and discovering a few years ago that their wool was not really being understood and effectively marketed by the farmers who produced it, Chrissy decided to take action. So, she established The Lost Sheep Company. By understanding the properties of the wool of different Welsh sheep breeds, farmers can appreciate the value of what they produce and consumers can select wool that will do the job they want. So Chrissy is on a mission to get everyone (producers and users) to appreciate the value of wool, especially wool from the traditional Welsh breeds: Balwen, Beulah Speckled Face, Black Welsh Mountain, Jacob, Kerry Hill, Llanwenog, Lleyn, Ryeland and Welsh Mule.

On her web site, Chrissy provides a wealth of information, from how to roll a fleece, to the characteristics of wool from the different breeds. In her shop (well, heritage craft centre really) in Colwyn Bay she sells fleeces, hand spun yarn and equipment, restores old spinning wheels and runs and hosts classes. She buys fleeces from local farmers for ten times the price that the wool marketing board pays (which is often just pennies per kilo), processes them in a couple of old twin tub washing machines and works her magic with natural dyes.

In 2017 Chrissy was involved in reviving the tradition of the Conwy Wool Fair and she’s hoping to make this an annual event.  In fact, what she’s seeking to do is to re-introduce the traditional Wool Charter Market in Conwy – the right, granted by royal charter, to close off the streets and hold a market to trade wool once a year. Apparently, she’s got Prince Charles on the case trying to track down the original charter. Now wouldn’t that be an event worth going to?

We met Chrissy during the Knit for Peace Wool Hunt weekend and, for me, visiting her shop and hearing about her work was one of the highlights. I am always inspired by people who see a problem and take action, and you don’t get more active than this. If you are ever in north Wales, The Lost Sheep Company is really worth a visit.

Twiddling

Patricia’s post about knitting for good causes resulted in many suggestions (here on the blog and on Twitter and Facebook) of worthy recipients for our work. One, in particular, caught my eye because it was so local and covered two good causes: Incredible Edible Carmarthenshire (a group who promote community growing in public spaces) were asking for twiddlemuffs, apparently they keep a stock of them to hand out at events and they are running low. For those of you who are not familiar with twiddlemuffs, they are knitted or crocheted tubes, incorporating various textures and items that can be given to people with dementia so that they have something to occupy their restless hands, plus they can simply keep hands warm. I’ve made a few in the past, so I decided this would be a good way to use up some scraps and stash yarns.
Periodically I acquire yarn that I probably wouldn’t actually go out and buy, and projects like the twiddlemuffs can be a great way to use some of this up. My Crochet Sanctuary weekend resulted in me coming home with some lovely blue Scheepjes Softfun yarn, intended to be used for a hot water bottle cover that we started during the retreat. However, on reflection I decided I didn’t really want another hot water bottle cover and so I frogged my work and put the yarn to one side. Rummaging through my stash, though, I came across it and knew that it would be an ideal base for a twiddlemuff – washable and soft.
I started by crocheting a tube, with a few added stripes of yarn with different textures – a bobbly one, a couple of wooly ones, a bit of rough silk/cotton and some eyelash yarn, all left over from past projects.

Double the length, so it can be folded in on itself

I added a little pocket, found a couple of crochet flowers that I made when I was teaching a workshop and stitched these on and made two pompoms – one for the inside and one attached by a crochet chain to take in and out of the pocket. To add some texture, I tied on a piece of cotton tape and a length of silky cord. Finally I attached a few buttons – nothing too weighty, because twiddlemuffs shouldn’t be able to cause harm!

I photographed it right way round and inside out so you could see what treasures lie hidden. The orange bits are on the inside.

Back to the stash now to find the next lot of yarn that needs using up for a good cause…

Truth

2019-03-28I love the internet.

I hate the internet.

And… I remember the days before the internet. Do you? You know, when information was relatively difficult to find and we used to toddle off to the library to look things up.

Now, I’m not saying that those were better days, and buying a knitting pattern certainly took much longer, but there were benefits. First, information in books tended, whilst biased by the author’s opinions/agenda, not to be enormously swayed by the demands of advertisers. And, second, some degree of filtering happened before a book was published – acceptance by a publisher and subsequent editing, for example. I know that there was still plenty of misinformation, not to mention downright lies, but we were exposed to less of it because all information (true or false) was harder to access.

Now, we are bombarded by information and it can be overwhelming. How often do we look for something and get a million or more hits from our internet search, so only look at the first couple of suggested sites? How often do we see some figures on social media and think that they must be correct because they are quoted by a friend or a “trusted” source? Apart from anything else, what I consider to be a trustworthy source may not be the same as what you think is a trustworthy source.

However, the fact that we can access all this vast store of information is marvellous because, unlike in days gone by, we can follow up on it, we can check it, we can examine sources, we can find out more about the view of the author or publisher and, therefore, we have the opportunity to be more discerning than ever before. But often, we don’t… because it takes time, or because the information that we see supports our existing view of the world or makes us feel good. I know that I am much more likely to fact-check something that I disagree with or that makes me uncomfortable than something that confirms my existing opinion.

I am not someone who clicks the “share” button very often on my social media accounts and, you may have noticed, that here on the blog I try to research my information-sharing posts thoroughly and provide links to the sources. I generally don’t entirely believe the attention-grabbing headline statistics I see, but recently I find myself becoming more and more cynical and wondering what agenda is being served by the numbers and “facts” that appear before me. So, I’ve started looking a bit more closely – even at the numbers I like. I recently came across a useful fact checking charity called Full Fact, which seems to be impartial and I have used Snopes for many years. What I’d really like, though, is for people to check before they post. We are all responsible for “fake news” if we keep spreading it around.

So… are you a sharer or a cynic? Do you have a preferred fact-checking website? Do you reference the information that you put on your blog?

 

Making, but not excessively

By Patricia Collins

Dorothy was 89 when I asked her how she spent the long dark evenings of winter. “Jigsaws’ was her answer. “Do you knit?” “I love knitting, but I’ve no one left to knit for”.  Her family of children and grandchildren were grown up and fending for themselves and her great-grandchildren had reached the age when they would not be seen in hand made clothes. Now there’s a topic for discussion!

Dot’s rather plaintive cry was something that I could relate to though in s slightly different way. I love making things, sewing in particular, but I’ve reached the stage where I have everything I need – sufficient clothes, accessories, curtains, aprons and the rest.  From now on my sewing life could easily be confined to repairs and the making of an occasional pot holder.  Any more would be surplus, excess.  But I still love sewing and have a box of material just waiting to be used.  How do we make stuff without making more stuff?

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Dot, at her knitting group, models a fleece hat!

There was a simple solution for Dot. A few of us started to meet regularly in our village tea shop and exchange news about local projects needing hand knitted items. Now well into her 90s, Dot is keeping the local premature baby unit in exquisite tiny clothes. Others in the knitting group have produced hedgehogs for the local rescue, blankets for homeless people, warm bed socks to welcome refugees to the county.

There was a solution for me too and a chance to get back to that stash of fabrics and enjoy my sewing again. Shoe bags for the women’s rescue, incubator quilts for the hospital, Little Dresses for Africa and my easy favourite Morsbags for the food bank. There are projects galore on the web wanting and needing our sewing skills.  We can make more without making excess. Any favourite sites anyone?

Finding Rainbows

We make a special space in our lives and our hearts for our pets, and when we lose them, we are left with a hole. Max was a huge part of our lives and his care was one of our major concerns during the last few months of his life so his departure left me very sad and empty. But, what kind friends I have… in very short order a parcel arrived all the way from Pauline (The Contented Crafter) in New Zealand, with a very special light-catcher made to commemorate Max’s life. There is even a little heart shaped frame in which I have placed a photo.

Isn’t it lovely? And, in combination with my other light catcher (made specially by Pauline for the limery) I have rainbows (which look lovelier in real life)

like the ones that Max left in my memory.

Daisy is doing a good job of making new rainbows in our life and she and Sam seem to be enjoying each other’s company.

What joy to give another unwanted dog a home… although I can’t for the life of me understand why she was taken back to the rescue. Perhaps it was the singing.

Seize the Daisy

Sometimes life doesn’t go to plan… and sometimes things just happen and it’s probably best to go with the flow. Currently my flow has taken me here:

a very waggy tail

This is Daisy… and as of today, she’s part of the Snail household.

I’ve half-heartedly been looking at dog adoption web sites since we lost Max, but the prospect of choosing a dog on the basis of a  few photos and a paragraph or two of text was deeply unappealing. After all the behavioural issues we have had with challenging rescue dogs in the past and the stress of Max’s long illness, I didn’t think I had the strength to do it all again. But Daisy was different…

We first met her a couple of months ago when visiting a friend. This particular friend fosters rescue dogs and Daisy was one of her charges. She was a lovely and friendly dog, but we weren’t in the market for a new canine at the time. A week or so later someone said they wanted to adopt her and that was that, but for one reason and another the prospective adopters kept putting things off, a situation that went on for several weeks and eventually it all fell through. Poor Daisy.

So, last Thursday, knowing that I liked her, her foster mum sent me an email just to let me know that Daisy was available once again. First, we had to get Sam’s approval, but once it was clear that all was well in that department, things moved rather quickly and now it’s Monday and we have two dogs once more.

I feel very happy.

Have hook will travel

You may remember that one of my goals in 2017 was to meet up with friends I have made here and through other social media channels. Having a target gave me focus and so I easily reached my goal of seven visits – I went just down the road for some, and as far as Manchester and Devon for others. However, one trip that was planned did not come to fruition until a couple of weeks ago.

When I originally mentioned my intention, Jenny from Simply Hooked commented that she’d love to meet up, but that she lives in such a remote part of the UK it seemed unlikely. Never being one to shy away from a challenge, I started looking at the possibility of organising a trip and it wasn’t too long before advice had been sought and bookings made. The advice was ‘come in May before the midges and children appear’. However, it was too late for 2017, so it had to be 2018.

So, earlier this month, we set off for the west coast of Scotland, stopping on the way to visit New Lanark for a few days and buy a little bit of wool – you get a discount if you are staying at the hotel, so it would have been churlish not to.

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Beautiful New Lanark and the River Clyde

After staying for three nights, we continued our journey, arriving at our final destination to beautiful weather. Jenny and George kindly provided lunch the following day, and the weather was obligingly good enough for us to enjoy the sun and company in their garden.

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Sunshine and smiles

Later in the week we visited the little art gallery in the village and I was able to snuggle some of the beautiful crochet that Jenny has for sale there:

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Isn’t it lovely?

Sadly we were only there for a week, but we plan to return. More on the beauty of Scotland in later posts.

Minding the shop

Sandwiches… check; knitting… check; mittens… check; shawl… check; woolly socks… check; thermal undies… check; keys… check.  It’s an odd combination of things to need for work, but I think that covers the most important stuff. And so, yesterday, I set off for my day in charge of Red Apple Yarn.

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a woolly tribute in the shop window

The loss of our friend Pauline has left a hole in our little knitting community. Whilst Red Apple Yarn is owned and run by Jude, it was Pauline who looked after the shop when help was required. Minding the shop this week was already in her diary and no one expected that she would no longer be with us to do it. The Knit Nighters, however, were determined to fill the hole and so we volunteered our services to keep the shop open this week so that Jude didn’t have to close up for her holiday… and yesterday was my day.

I should explain that Red Apple Yarn lives in the old Post Office in Lampeter and it still has many of the original features – wooden doors and window frames, the old counter (now L-shaped rather than running across the room), the wooden panelling and, most importantly when you’re sitting in there all day, a very high ceiling. It’s very difficult to keep warm, and the big, heavy outer door needs to be propped open otherwise no one would dare venture in, but it makes for a chilly work place… hence all the warm clothing.

Despite the temperature, I loved my day there. I settled down to knit and talk about wool. I found chatting to the gents whilst the ladies browsed  a good ploy. Of course a wool shop on a rainy Thursday is not the busiest place in the world*, so I had time to make use of the huge swift that Jude has in the shop and wind a couple of skeins that were too big for my antique one (skeins must have expanded in the last 100 years!). I cast on for my new top-down jumper and drank a lot of tea. I failed to locate the gift vouchers and a specific colour of yarn, but on the whole I think I had happy customers. In addition, I didn’t break the till – which I was slightly intimidated by. So, I’m hoping that I’ll get the chance to help out again in the future… it is a very happy place for me!

-oOo-

* Apparently, however, Sainsbury’s was heaving as people stocked up for the Easter weekend, when no food is available in the UK**

** No, really… we may all starve

Privilege

Some months ago, a comment from Jill (Nice Piece of Work) on my post about decluttering got me thinking a great deal about privilege. About the fact that I am only in a position to make choices because of my circumstances… the fact that I am educated, that my parents both had jobs and money, that I live in a democracy, that I am a member of the major ethnic group in my country, that I have a job, that I have home and partner, that I have a supportive family, that my country is stable politically, that I am healthy. So many people have so many immediate things to worry about… where their next meal is coming from, where they will sleep tonight, whether their children are safe, how they will pay for medical treatment…. When I thought about all the problems I could be facing, it seemed somewhat crass to be fretting about clutter.

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This simply isn’t available to everybody

Then last week we were having lunch with Sue (Going Batty in Wales) and discussing her recent experience during the time she had her arm in a cast, having broken her wrist. She mentioned the necessity of using prepared, frozen vegetables when she was unable to chop up her ingredients for cooking, and how disappointing many of them were in terms of both flavour and texture. This sort of inability to do things is the long-term reality for many people and so they, unlike me, are deprived of a full range of choices when it comes to, amongst many things, their food. So, there’s my privilege again.

It’s funny how these sorts of conversations come around several times… the following day I was having a video chat with Kt (Kt Shepherd Permaculture) in Spain and she mentioned the value of ready-meals for people with limited abilities to cook. She pointed out how marvellous they are for those who rely on other people preparing their food: to at least be able to choose a dish that you fancy and heat it up yourself. Ready-made food may not be everyone’s idea of freedom, but for some that is exactly what it represents. And so, again, my level of privilege is reinforced. I can choose what I eat, what I buy, where I buy it from, how I cook it. The fact that many ready meals are, in the words of Joanna Blythman, “food-like substances” rather than real food is unacceptable – we should not condemn those with limited choices only to poor choices.

So where have all these thoughts led me? I don’t think feeling guilty is the answer – that just directs energy to a useless end, but certainly being aware of such privilege is important. This issue certainly relates to the permaculture ethic of ‘fair shares’ but perhaps I haven’t really thought about it in this way before. I feel that I would like to take action, but other than doing the usual things I can to support my friends and local community, I’m not sure how. I’m only just beginning to think this through and deciding on possible actions, but I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this and what, if anything, you or anyone you know is doing from/about their position of privilege.

 

 

My Kind of People

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The Masterpiece in all its glory (picture: Alan Charlton)

When I first started blogging, I wasn’t really sure where it would lead or what to expect. I was originally inspired by Hedvig Murray, a permaculture practitioner I met on a course about seven years ago. I thought that I would share information relating to my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design and maybe keep in touch with other like-minded people. Well, I did that… and we made a blanket known as “The Masterpiece” to represent my permaculture diploma (thanks to all those of you who contributed all those years ago – I’m still sitting on it every day as I work and blog). I think I’ll put together the story of the blanket in a post soon because so many of you weren’t around for it… and I also want to include the story as a chapter in one of my planned books.

Anyway, I finished my diploma, but by that time the blog had become a record of all sorts of stuff that I do and a place where I had met and made friends with amazing, talented, enthusiastic people from around the world. And this is really what I hadn’t expected – that my blog would become one aspect of a community; that I would follow other blogs; that I would write to, Skype and even meet fellow bloggers face-to-face. That we would send each other gifts, that we would swap our creations, that we would share ideas and give support, and that we would feel part of a safe and caring ‘space’ were all totally unexpected outcomes.

The time and effort invested in blogging is always worthwhile. At one point I thought that I might have to give up replying to comments, but what’s the fun in that? The comments and responses make a blog the dynamic and responsive space that it is – if I just wanted to tell you stuff I’d write a book or set up an ordinary web site. Both have their place, but they serve different purposes. And so, the blog carries on and people continue to be immensely kind.

Not long ago I gained a new reader, Patricia. She came to the blog via a personal recommendation… actually someone who I know through permaculture and who was there when I did my diploma presentation with the blanket. I hope that she’s going to write a guest blog post soon and stimulate some discussion but in the mean time we’ve communicated by email and via the blog. Anyway, the other day I mentioned that I thought I’d get myself a new notebook and make a start on writing one of those books I have in mind. Immediately Patricia said she had just the thing and today I received this:

With this explanation:IMGP4864Oh, I’m so touched. What a wonderful gift – what wonderful history. Thank you, Patricia, I hope that one day we can meet up and talk fabric and yarn ans sustainability over tea and cake.

So, that sums up my experience of blogging – you really are my kind* of people – thank you all for being here.

-oOo-

* According to the OED, ‘kind’ has several meanings, including:

A natural quality, property, or characteristic; a distinctive feature of a person or thing

and

A class, sort, or type of people or things

and

the people with whom a specific individual has a great deal in common

and, my favourite

Having or showing a benevolent, friendly, or warm-hearted nature or disposition; ready to assist, or show consideration for, others; sympathetic, obliging, considerate.

 

 

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