Woolly connections

In recent years I have met many people via social media – some only online, but quite a number I’ve eventually encountered in person. The networks that I have built up have enriched my life, providing me with new friends, sources of produce and teaching me a great deal. And this week, they yielded a creative collaboration. I won’t go into the rather convoluted details of how this link came about, but Thursday found me visiting Glynelwyn, home of Faithmead Felt, Fleece ‘n’ Fibre, to talk wool.IMGP4975Mandy and Derek have goats, pigs, horses and poultry, but it was the sheep that I was there for. Below are some of them – indoors to keep them out of the current poor weather (some breeds are not as hardy as you might think, plus this will help to avoid pre-felted fleeces). As you can see, some of them are particularly partial to dry pasta as a treat!

 

Glynelwyn is home to small numbers of a variety of breeds – Blue-faced Leicester (standard and coloured), Wensleydale, Corriedale, Gotland, Leicester Longwool, Teeswater and Grey-faced Dartmoor – and produces single-breed wool. It is also the home to tiny Fennel – a ‘micro-Corriedale’. She’s not a big wool-producer, but she does write well (a truly amazing sheep) and has just started her own blog!

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Fennel and her pal Dennis

The wool from the big sheep is sold at occasional shows and on-line (they will send wool anywhere in the world!) and Mandy’s studio is heaven for a wool lover:

 

But, as well as the fibre, fleeces and yarn, Mandy wants to sell kits, and that’s where I come in. After a couple of unsuccessful previous attempts to have some patterns written, a mutual friend got us talking to each other and I’m going to help out. We are going to start small – a knitting kit for a hat using one of the yarns that Mandy has in (relative) abundance. On returning home, my first job was to knit some swatches, decide on an appropriate needle size and stitch pattern, and then get working on the hat…

 

It’s really lovely to be doing this with a local producer and I’ll be reporting on progress over the coming weeks.

Fleeced

I have an increasing number of friends who keep sheep and, therefore, they have lots of fleeces around at this time of year. This means that, because of my interest in things woolly, I get plenty of offers of fleece. In general, I turn them down because my real loves are knitting and crochet (and a bit of felt-making on the side) and I really don’t want to have to go through all the rigmarole to get to yarn (or wool tops for the felt). However, when one of my Twitter friends said that she wanted to have a go at making felted fleece rugs from her collection of fleeces, I asked if I could join in (just in case I loved the activity and would have found a reason to accept all those fleecy offers).

So, last Sunday, another friend and I trundled down to Carmarthenshire, and rolled up our sleeves, to get felting.

The idea is to use a whole fleece and felt the underside of it (using wool from a different sheep) whilst keeping the top unfelted. You do this (according to the instructions we were following)┬áby working on a mesh, so that what will be the top of the final rug hangs down through the gaps and doesn’t get involved in the felting process.

You start my making lots of fluff from a tatty fleece, pulling it gently apart and separating the fibres, then you spread these out over the underside of the fleece. First in one direction, then in the other. After that, it’s simply a case of using soap and water to work the wool into felt. I say ‘simply’, but it’s actually really hard work to persuade raw (although washed) wool, in large quantities, to become felt. We made some progress with three of us working together, but we didn’t complete the rug.

It was an interesting experiment and, despite not ending up with a finished rug, we learned a lot:

  • It turned out that the gaps in the mesh of the fence panel we were working on were a bit too big – not providing enough support to felt successfully without moving the fleece around periodically.
  • The panel was a bit too bouncy as well, so a bit more support would have been helpful.
  • Our instructions suggested using washing-up liquid as the soap, but it’s harsh on the hands after a whole day and I would use olive oil soap in future, as I do for other felting.
  • There was no mention of covering the work with net (as I usually do when felting) to stop the fibres lifting up. It’s absence made the work much more difficult and I would employ a net cover next time.
  • The process could have been speeded up by using a rolled bamboo mat as a sort of rolling pin to give extra friction a bit later in the process.
  • A whole fleece was a rather ambitious first project – it would have been better to make some mats to begin with.

Nevertheless, we had a lovely sociable day, a fabulous lunch which we all contributed to, and an audience with a special interest in the project:

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Ken and Dave

I’m sure there’s going to be a next time! I might even remember to photograph the finished item second time round.

The wonder of wool

Yesterday I went on an adventure with Kate … over the mountains to Builth Wells and the magical land of Wonderwool.

Kate helped me to get to grips with crochet on a course last year and, since then, I haven’t looked back. It seemed very appropriate, therefore, for us to go to a festival of wool together. The most direct route between Kate’s house and Builth Wells involves a 20-mile stretch along a single track road over the mountains, complete with hair pin bends, plummeting drops and tiny bridges:

The road's so small it barely appears on the map!

The road’s so small it barely appears on the map!

We were quite surprised, therefore, to meet an articulated lorry part way! Fortunately for us, he had clearly decided that he’d made a mistake and had pulled in to one of the very few places it was possible to pass such a large vehicle – a forestry track where, with some manoeuvering, he could turn around. He wasn’t still there when we came back, so clearly he’d managed it.

We got to Builth and the Royal Welsh showground without further incident but ill-prepared for the woolly assault on our senses. There was just so much to see and so many stalls. We spent at least the first hour wandering around, stroking things and saying ‘wow’ before we were able to pull ourselves together enough to sit down with a coffee and formulate a plan. This was quite difficult, because all the stands were so mixed up that it was not possible, for example, easily to compare all those selling alpaca yarn without walking about 15 miles back and forth. However, part of the reason for going was inspiration and there was certainly plenty of that… from felt quilling to interesting bags, from a dragon to an autumn woodland, as well as yarns in every colour and gauge. Not to mention a few of the most important contributors: sheep and alpacas!

Wonderwool Wales 2014

Wonderwool Wales 2014

So, I know you’re itching to know what I bought! Well, I was quite restrained and only purchased a hand-carved lucet, a ball of yarn to knit socks for Mr Snail-of-happiness and a piece of hand-dyed cotton scrim to use for nuno felting:

Yarn, scrim and lucet

Yarn, scrim and lucet

And then, I wanted some yarn to make a Bavarian crochet blanket (in the style of Teddy and Tottie). This is what I bought:

Yarn for my Bavarian crochet

Yarn for my Bavarian crochet

I fell in love with this yarn for several reasons: it’s amazingly soft (a mix of alpaca, Blue-faced Leicester and Wensleydale wool), it comes from Yorkshire and all the yarn colours are named after places I knew as a child because that’s where I grew up. The three I chose are: Eccup (the reservoir a mile from my old family home), Filey (a seaside town we used to go to for the day in summer) and Bramley Baths (well, we used to go swimming at Meanwood Baths, but close enough!). I also love the company name… and the fact that the yarn came with a lovely cotton bag. It wasn’t cheap yarn and so it’s going to be quite a luxurious blanket, but I’m really looking forward to working with it. I was unsure about which colours to choose and dithered a lot about ‘Filey’ because it’s not a colour I would wear, but (as Kate pointed out), I’m not going to wear my blanket, am I?

Now, I think I was quite restrained, don’t you?

 

 

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