Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Solstice Post

I love the Susan Cooper books, 'The Dark is Rising' sequence.  So why have I never come across this poem of hers before?  Well, at least I have now!

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!

Happy Solstice, happy Yule!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A grab-bag

I don't know where time goes, these days, I really don't.  And I don't even seem to get that much done!  To be fair, we are in to what passes for the Christmas gadding season at the moment, and, confirmed introvert that I am, one social event tends to equal one day recovery time.  That's one excuse, anyway.........

I do gently chug along with all the usual fibre pursuits.  It is just that at the moment, there is nothing particularly noteworthy in the pipeline.  I did manage to finish the Guild Challenge project (although not to actually photograph it, and as I am writing this with Barni on my lap, I don't want to disturb him to go and do it now.  It is unremarkable, but somewhat to my surprise not only functional but I actually quite like it.  

The project was "something for the head";  the fibre was some less than remarkable White-faced Woodland, made even less appealing by being drum carded.  I dyed his deep burgundy, mine a bright mid-blue.  I looked at the yarn, and thought, well, what the blazes am I going to do with this.....

But I also had two lots of very nice yarn spun from blends I had been given at SOAR, one a beige plus a little glitter, the other cream.  Those two managed to salvage the project.  I decided to make a long cowl that would pull over my head when needed, and just did stripes, mostly of one row of colour with a few blocks for variety.  It worked!

I can't remember if I ever recorded the fact that the AH class has been ailing.  Lots of reasons for this, I think, and difficult for me to address.  Over the recent months, quite a few classes had been cancelled, and it was getting to be quite a problem planning the class, gathering supplies and then not being able to go ahead.  Did I skip that topic, or just move it over to the next month?  Keeping the programme, and our diary straight was becoming a bit of a logistical nightmare.  So, rightly or wrongly, in conjunction with TPTB, we decided to reduce the frequency of the class and go to one every three months.

Looks like that was the wrong decision.  December has always been a favourite one on the calendar, but numbers were way, way down, with a distinct dearth of the usual suspects.  (Although it is fair to say that the Hall was empty apart from us and in the afternoon a group of ladies in for some event and afternoon tea....such a sad and worrying state of affairs.)

Don't get me wrong, we had a good day!  Lots of productive sampling, enjoyable chat, and a good Festive lunch of the usual, with a goats cheese and cranberry tart for the veggies.  We even had a mince pie at tea time instead of the biscuits we have been reduced to!

Now next up - one week tomorrow, we are off on our travels again.  To Mexico.  Coincidently for Christmas, which will be very unusual and interesting, but mostly to meet up with dear friends from California and to explore the weaving dyeing and other traditional crafts of the Oaxaca area.  We should have internet access while we are there, so I hope I can do on the spot as well as retrospective reporting.  I have to admit to being a bit nervous about it as it is rather outside our comfort zone.  We don't speak Spanish - fortunately, our friends do!

And finally.  One other small FO.  I had designed a cowl/neck warmer/whatever on the needles, found it rather too big, and thrown it in to the washing machine to see if I could reduce the size a bit.  It also worked!  I like the basic idea, but both the design and the execution need a bit of work.  This would have had a phot on Flickr, but Flickr refused to co-operate, so .......

Next post, the Festival of the Radish, maybe......

Monday, December 02, 2013

Open Studios Weekend

This time last year, we had just applied for a studio space, and thought it would be a good idea to go down and have a look around when everyone opened up for the Christmas event.  In the summer, we were happily ensconced in our own space, but could only do one day as we were coming back from Cumbria on the Saturday.  (There are two open weekends per year.)

So this Christmas event was the first we could participate in fully.  I have to say, it was fun.  It was actually fairly quiet, but that meant that we could spend time with family and friends who dropped in, and also enjoy meeting the visitors.   We even managed to collect half a dozen names of people expressing an interest in a fibre crafts weekend that it has been suggested the four of us who are spinners and weavers (and dyers and felt makers) could organise some time next year, which was an encouraging thing!

We got the studio space looking very colourful and cosy on a rather chilly weekend, and settled in to do a lot of spinning (plus a few other bits and bobs.). Our aim in having a studio is not to make lots of stuff to sell, although I had intended to have rather more yarn available for purchase than I actually managed.  Best intentions and all that.  Will try to do better another time.

I have to be honest and say that I have not yet got to where I want to be with my use of the studio.  I recognise various reasons for this (I do not intend to go in to them all here, could make things go a bit whingey!)  I can address most of them, and will do so.  One of the beneficial side effects of this weekend was getting myself considerably refocused, so that is good.

Part of the trouble is having too much going on in other areas of my life, which us of course basically A Good Thing.  So I need either to get a bit more efficient, or not to worry about any of it!  (I think I might go in the latter direction......)

Oh, I am wittering.  Probably because it is nearly 11.30, and I should be thinking about bed.  Though that us something I do try to avoid doing - one of the impediments to efficient studio yes gas been the insomnia, which had been better recently but made an unwelcome reappearance last night.  So I tend to do something that needs doing, or I like doing or similar so at least if I am lying there all wakeful I can console myself with some small achievement!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Time to cut my losses

I do believe that I have blathered at some length about some silk I have been spinning. I found it in the stash, so I only have an inkling of where I might have bought it. A near-perfect match to a lovely merino and silk blend.

I struggled. With a silk top or brick - this was the latter - I would normally pull off a chunk, fold it over my finger and spin with an extended draw. With this prep, I very quickly learned that this technique simply would not work. It was full of, well, for a better word, clumps. If I did an extended draw, these would obstinately refuse to draft out, leaving a huge and unwanted slub. I found that if I did short draw, sometimes I could catch this as they came through and manage to draft them, or if they still refused to co-operate, remove them entirely.

I still don't understand what was going on - sometimes the dye job was implicated, sometimes it was the silk prep, presumably badly prepped, all on its own. One of the most frustrating spinning jobs I have done in a while, and quite painful, too, hard on the hands.

We come to plying. I had spun all the fibre on to one bobbin, and deliberately chose, knowing all the risks, to ply from a centre pull ball. I REMEMBERED TO PUT A PAPER QUILL IN THE CORE. I start to ply.

The singles is much more variable than I had thought. Even though I had tried hard to mitigate the thicker, clumpy sections, I still had far more slubs than I liked. Ah well, soldier on. Maybe it would not look so bad, be a useable yarn.......the paper fell out of the core.

Quick as a flash, I stuffed my thumb approximately into the middle of the centre pull ball, and continued. All was going quite well until the phone rang, and the DSM seemed to be having problems with something. I stopped plying, and TOOK MY FINGER OUT. (Sometimes, extracting ones digit is a Good Thing. Not this.)

Almost immediately I started plying again, disaster struck. Trying to sort that out, disaster was piling upon disaster. I got the scissors, and cut myself free, took the time to look closely at the plied yarn.

It was horrible.

I not only cut the yarn, I cut my losses. I should have done it sooner. Just means a slightly different project is all. With no silk yarn.

No doubt I have learned something from this, right?

Saturday, November 09, 2013

November: Take 2

By which I mean starting the writing of this blog post all over again, as I had nearly completed Take 1 when I was interrupted by a person from Porlock (actually the DSM) and in the kerfuffle, I closed down Blogger on my iPad without saving to draft.

Such a shame. I had waxed poetical about the meadow and woodland outside our windows turning to golden shades of autumn almost over night plus various other lyrical stuff. All gone. Can't remember anything much of it at all. I shall just have to be more pedestrian.

After a week back recovering from our travels, and in my case the minor ailments that each travel gifted me, this week has been all about the studio. I cannot tell you how good it has been to get back in there, even though this had meant studio duties as well as work/play. Because this is a co-operative we belong to, we have to share a cleaning rota (public spaces, not just our own) and have other responsibilities. Himself grabbed something to do with website, IT or whatever, whilst I was a bit slow and got Health and Safety. Not, actually, that I mind too much. As far as I am concerned, H&R gets a bum rap, and is really just Common Sense. I don't have to do much. Although filling in our own studio's risk assessment form might be a good thing........

But we are coming up to the Christmas Open Studios weekend, so had to have a Meeting. This, I have to say, was very much like a bazillion other meetings that I have been to for various groups over many years. In other words, I a) glad when it was over; and b) glad to have a nice straightforward job like making soup to feed the masses who will visit.

However, it did turn my attention to what I intended to do about the event. Although the main import is simply to be there, talk to people, show what we do, &etc, with no compulsion to sell anything, it did seem to me that I could kind of kill two birds with one stone and combine what I felt like working on at the moment with producing some cute little skeins of ooh shiny! yarn that wouldn't cost too much.

When at SOAR, I had been in the right place at the right time and acquired a couple of goodies in Deb Menz's yard sale. A hackle and a pair of Viking combs. I love producing multicoloured yarns on a hackle (which is all Deb's fault, anyway). I do a class on creating multicoloured yarns without dyeing, hence being so pleased to pick up some extra tools. And I hadn't done any of it for a while......this definitely seemed like a good time.

So, first go.


The tops set up on the hackle (in this case, my Peter Teal.)


The fibre dizzied off, and ready to make a smooth, worsted type yarn.


The short stuff left behind on the hackle. I did actually get more off after this was taken, but as I had packed it down rather to much, it was a but hard on my hands and I ended up with a blister! Deb advocates re-combing (I think - need to refer back to the book!) the top before hackling, which might prevent this, and quite so much waste. I will try that, but in this instance, I want two small co-ordinating skeins, one smooth, one fluffy. Photos of those later.

Now to think of some more colourways.........

Footnote: in moving between Flickr and Blogger, I may have got the photos in the wrong order. In which case, just use your intelligence...........

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The end of a long road

So, we were barely back home from Shetland, than we were off again.

I had been intending to wait until I had some photographs for this post, either borrowed from the DSM or taken of my shopping haul, but then I thought, no, get it done.

I took no photographs myself. Well, only one or two with the iPad. I actually find this really interesting. I think, in hindsight, that I just wanted to be right there in every moment. That worked well, too. I had a wonderful time.

The DSM and I did have some rest time whilst classes were going on, for a couple of days at least. We used the little pool - very nice and relaxing. Sat around with our knitting chatting to whoever walked by, got to meals early for long lunchtime chats, joined one or two groups for pre-dinner.......nibbles.

We did have a bit of a blip on Wednesday, when one of our compatriots was unwell, and we went with her to Urgent Care. We still got to knit and chat! We had some small experience of the system, which was a help.

Thursday, of course, we shopped. Not the best market ever, but the places I wanted most to see there were, so I have come home well-equipped with Fiber Optic and Abstract Fiber fluff. Both of these do fabulous rich saturated colours, and FO specialise in graduated colour preps. We also got Muga and Eri silk preps, not available in the YK as far as I know. And fresh supplies of Socks that Rock yarn.

And we bought a Hansen minispinner. We had not intended to do that, the thought had never crossed our minds, but somehow we ended up with one. The thinking went, probably, a bit like this: we are not getting any younger; one day one of us might need an electric spinner; buying it in the US had to be cheaper than having it shipped; it would fit easily in to our luggage. Done! I will report further at a later date.

Both of us really enjoyed our Retreat sessions. Finally someone got me to understand the threading and weaving paths of a weavette/ZoomLoom, by patient teaching and a really neat teaching aid. And the nuno felt scarf class was super. Nicely paced, just the right amount of instruction to actual felting time, and a great, useable product at the end.

Before that, though, on the Thursday evening, we had a lengthy session chaired by Anita Osterhaug, editor of Handwoven. A very, very brave thing for her to do, I must say. No one was aggressive, but there was not surprisingly a certain level if, shall we say, hostility. Fortunately not directed at her, but at F&W, the new owners.

It seems that the plan is not after all to end SOAR, but to reinvent it in a new and improved format (sounds like one of those old soap powder ads!) maybe hotel accommodation, no meal package, lots of classes with no preset number you have to take, and not in the Autumn. (Spot a small problem right there!). We were asked what we would like to see. Well, um, everything that SOAR already us, including time of year - duh. Lots of time spent on...well, I forget the buzzwords.

Call me an old cynic, do. I am not feeling sanguine about it. For a start, it is extremely unlikely that anything will be arranged for 2014, so impetus will be lost. For a second, diluting the spinning focus, as we are told will happen, will lessen to attraction to many. For a lot of us, spinning is the primary devotion - we know we need to actually do something with the yarn we create, but we love being with our spinny kind. Yes, I do quite accept that things change, things come to an end, there is a natural evolution. But I suspect that this is more of an execution...........we shall see.

Then on Saturday evening, we had the Fashion Show. Sometimes of late years, this has been a bit of a tame event, but this year, stops were pulled out. There was a feeling, I am sure, that tribute had to be paid to what we were likely losing, so many did retrospectives, included the event itself in their scripts, all sorts of things. It was lovely.

Followed by the not so. Warning, I am going to be negative, and I know that not all will agree with me. We had a talk and a slideshow given by Linda Ligon, the founder of Spin Off, and hence SOAR. And for that, we owe her a huge debt. But what she gave us that evening was essentially, her holiday photographs, with very little commentary. These were, to my mind - and this may be a cultural thing - slightly voyeuristic. Interesting in a way, but we learned little or nothing of the real lives of those depicted, or how the old textile traditions (which should be respected, cherished and supported) blend with everyday, more modern and changing lives. And she did not mention, even obliquely, the fact that SOAR, a textile tradition, even if only of thirty one years standing, was coming to an end. I found this....very strange, amongst other things. Ah, well.

Am I glad I went? You bet I am. It was a great week. It ended with sadnesses, of course it did. Some of those people I spent the last week with, I shall never meet again. But I have had the chance to add a few new memories as well as talking over old ones, and to make a few new plans for replacing something lost with something found.

And to replenish my stash a bit.........

Before I finish, there is one more, very sad, thing to say. The very first time I went to SOAR, I met a woman - and I can remember the moment now - who became one of my friends outside of SOAR. We visited one another, went to Convergence a couple of times together, talked on the phone. Whilst in St Charles, I learned that during that very week, she died. So, my blog commenter 'anon', or 'me', one last spooky coincidence, eh? Rest in peace, finally, lady. I shall miss you.

(Because she never wanted to be public on the internet, I shall respect that here. Some of you may know who I am talking about, or contact me if you wish. CarolL on Rav will find me, or info at

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

A moment of peace

Not everyone will understand this. After a few days of intense experiences - teaching, seeing wonderful new places, meeting and chatting with lists of lovely people, all compounded by a few nights of less than perfect sleep and some early mornings - I decided to take a day off. The other three have driven off for the best fish and chips evah! and a look around the more northerly parts of the Shetland mainland, but I have elected to stay behind, rest, read and maybe spin a bit. I will also cook them a version of my cauliflower casserole........

The two teaching days were great. Perfect students, who listened, and who threw themselves into whatever they were offered with gusto. Some comparative newbies to spindles who progressed in leaps and bounds, two of the least experienced at the outset ending up with spinning cotton, no less. We had some interesting conversations, and I do believe all learned a lot. I do so hope that they all enjoyed it as much as we did.

Yesterday, we went down to Hoswick in the morning to a drop in spinning and knitting clinic with Elizabeth Johnson, and, we knew, a visit due from a SOAR friend of ours. Deborah Robson, in fact, one time editor of Spin Off, now well-known and revered for her wonderful book The Fleece and Fiber Source Book. (I apologise for the lack of links, but I find these a little clunky to manage on the iPad and I am still somewhat tired!). Check out Deb's blog, The Independent Stitch for her island adventures.

The photograph below shows one of Elizabeth's spindles, which was found in a cottage or croft near her after the death of the elderly lady who lived there. Sometimes when you pick up a spinning tool, I get a strange but very good feeling from it, and I did with this. It felt smooth, satiny and warm, it also gave a sense of peace and calm. Very good. I also learned what the Shetlanders mean by driftwood - I had been told the day before of wheels made from driftwood, and my brain had put my usual southern interpretation on it, with so what bizarre results! But apparently, ships from Russia and Norway pass the islands laden with timber, which as it cannot be containerised, can sometimes be washed overboard. This fetches up on beaches, and is claimed for making all the usual things that would be made from wood that is not found in any other way here, as there are (very very few) trees!

Anyway, it was a splendid visit, with several other friends and acquaintances appearing, lots of terrific information from Elizabeth, and a warm welcome from the organiser of that event and the classes taking place there that day including an excellent homemade lunch.

We then set off back to Lerwick to pick up the bus for our trip to the Jameison factory up at Sandness, meeting another friend at the same time. Very interesting tour, with an excellent wee giftie at the end of it. But what impressed me most was that one of our friends had a bit if a diabetic wobble and had forgotten to pick up her emergency banana. Asked if there were any staff biscuits that could be raided, we were told, after a search, no, but someone had been dispatched to the shop in the adjacent village to buy some. And we were very firmly told that payment could not possibly be accepted.

All our interactions with people in Shetland have found them courteous and friendly, but this was extremely so, and we were all very impressed and touched. Such a good day all round! Finished off by a very nice meal in Lerwick before driving home.

I am including a photo of my sister, knitting. Even though you can't really see her face, she will kill me if she ever sees this. Fortunately, I am pretty certain she doesn't read this, or any blogs......