Trying times


an early jute prototype

Ages ago I wrote a pattern for my crochet bird roosts. The plan was to sell both the pattern alone and kits with all the necessary materials in. Unfortunately things didn’t quite go to plan… my testers never got back to me with comments about the pattern, and then the supplier of the jute twine that I used during the design process went out of business. In a fit of gloom I put it all to one side.

Some months later I tried to source an equivalent twine, but didn’t have much luck, although I did buy some (unseen and, as it turned out not entirely suitable) from a British manufacturer – I really needed a local supplier who I could visit to allow me to see and feel the different types or a more distant supplier who was prepared to send me samples. I’ve had no luck on either count. However, recently Danielle from The Make It Shop offered to test the pattern for me and, as a result of chatting to her, I decided it might be worthwhile to try making a version in wool for subsequent felting.


trials and tests (note empty wine glass in the background!)

And so, over the past week I’ve been playing around with different designs and different wool yarns plus the new jute. Some of the wool I tried refuses to felt, some of my trials have ended up silly shapes, and some are promising, the new jute was so thick it turned into an extra-large roost. We’ve found a few mistakes in the pattern and a few places where the instructions were unclear. However, progress is being made and I’m hoping that in the not too distant future the pattern will be finalised and at least a woolly feltable version of the kit will be available. My desire to use British fibres as much as possible isn’t helping and I’m sick of doing internet searches for twine, so I’m planning to brave some real shops/garden centres in an attempt to locate some twine of the right gauge.

So, I’m just off to crochet yet another bird house… I’ll be glad when I can get back to my skeleton hat pattern write-up!

Woolly wonders

Welcome to British Wool Week.


Jute bird roosting pouch

I have to confess that I have started the week working with jute, as I have an order for four bird roosting pouches. I had hoped to link up with a producer of wool twine to create these, but after initial interest, they went very quiet and so I’m working with my tried and tested fibre. However, I have lots of wool from actual sheep in my stash and several orders that require its use. So this week I will be making a start on some socks to barter (I don’t sell socks – they take too long to make, but I do exchange them for other craft work, in this case a leather knitting pouch) and a shy hedgehog (with a British wool tummy), plus I’m about to start experimenting with making an echidna (by special request) that will also include British wool. The socks will have heels and toes made from WYS Aire Valley yarn that’s a mix of British wool plus nylon for strength, but the main part will be pure wool from The Inkpot – a farm in Lincolnshire run by the amazing Hannah T.

Aside from orders, there’s Mr Snails latest socks to make a start on – these will be knitted from hand-dyed Polwarth yarn from Burrow and Soar. And I really want to make a start on a neck-warmer made from the beautiful hand-spun Portland wool made by Hannah F. (Spinning a Yarn).

IMGP6560You may be wondering why I get so excited about using wool – particularly British wool, There are several reasons. First, it’s so versatile – there are so many breeds of sheep, each producing wool with specific characteristics, that it’s possible to find exactly the right wool for a particular job. Next, wool is very forgiving to knit and crochet with – it’s got some give to it, so unlike cotton, variations in tension are not so noticeable, which is a boon for beginners. Then there’s the production of wool. Sheep can be reared on very marginal land – areas where it’s too steep or the soil is too poor to raise crops. With good management flocks of sheep can have a beneficial impact on the environment. Plus, this way we can support local producers and help to ensure our rural communities do not disappear. Then there’s ‘yarn miles’ – things like cotton yarn cannot be produced in the UK, so there’s lots of transportation involved; plus, with cotton, there’s a high water demand (in places where water is often a scarce commodity) and (unless it’s organic) a very heavy pesticide load. And finally, wool, unlike many yarns, is a natural fibre – don’t be fooled into thinking that this is the case with some of the plant-based yarns such as bamboo,or soya – they are man-made fibres that use plant material as a raw product.

So, here’s to wool and all it’s benefits. Happy wool week!

Sock in British Merino (colour 'prize-winning pumpkin') and commercial sock yarn for heel and toe

Sock in British Merino (colour ‘prize-winning pumpkin’ from Burrow and Soar) and commercial sock yarn for heel and toe

Jute the job

A while ago, I saw ‘roosting pouches’ for sale… little pockets of woven natural fibre that birds can use for shelter in the winter and may choose to nest in in the summer… and I thought ‘I could crochet something like that out of jute’. Jute is a natural fibre from plants in the genus Corchorus, which is related to the mallows. You probably know it best in Hessian or burlap. So, over the past few days, whilst stressful things are happening elsewhere in my life, I have been playing around with this idea. I started off with a weaver bird nest in mind:

"Weaver Nest" by Tu7uh - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Weaver Nest” by Tu7uh – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – click here for link

What I created on my first attempt was this:

First try

First try

It’s a bit wonky, but I thought it was a good start. However, I’m never going to be as skillful as a weaver bird, so my second attempt was more cylindrical, but came out rather larger than I had planned:

Second try

Second try

My third attempt is a better size, but the top was rather a fiddle to make:

Third try

Third try

Here are the first and second together so you can see the size difference:

Two and three together

Two and three together

And this is my latest:

Fourth try

Fourth try

I think it’s rather stylish and I’m sure a bird would consider it a good place to roost.  I think I will make some more for sale, plus I’m going to write up the pattern for #4 and sell that too… I couldn’t find anything similar currently available on Ravelry.

It turns out that jute is quite pleasant to work with – I thought it would be tough on my fingers but, in fact, it’s not too bad and I have worked with wools that are rougher. So, I’d better get to work on some for the shop…


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