Monday, 27 June 2016

A Call To The Leaders Of The UK

Now is the time for our elected Members of Parliament, our leaders, to step up and do the jobs they were elected to do. If that means cancelling holidays, returning to Westminster and working on implementing a Brexit you didn't want, well so be it. 
Many UK workers have experienced having to work at things they'd prefer not to, having to put in extra hours at short notice, even having to cancel holidays if there was an emergency at their place of work.  Well, MP's must not be exempt from the experiences of their working constituents.

If there was a nuclear accident affecting millions in UK, a sudden war declared or a climate change induced disaster should the people of the UK expect the Prime Minister to resign and members of the Shadow Cabinet to look to their personal career ambitions and stage a coup? NO!

The economic position the UK now enjoys was won by the sacrifice of millions of citizens through a period of austerity. Our position & responsibility in the world was won by the sacrifice of millions fighting for democracy and freedom. For this to be squandered with months of financial & political uncertainty is disgraceful and must not be allowed to happen.

So the referendum result wasn't as expected by our leaders.  Well our country will face all sorts of unexpected challenges, even disasters, in the coming decades and it is the job of our Government and the whole of Parliament to get to work and deal with it.

Now is not the time for personal political career development. Now is not even the time for political parties to jostle around seeking greater power & influence. Now is the time for everyone to come together in a Government of Unity, putting the personal aside, to work hard in accord for what is best for the whole of the UK bearing in mind our responsibilities to the rest of Europe, the Commonwealth & beyond.

For members of the Scottish National Party who were elected to serve in Westminster please remember that the Parliament at Westminster, including you, serves the whole of the UK.  MSP's may prefer to concentrate on the needs of Scotland alone but I would hope the Scottish First Minister would continue as statesmanlike as she has been over the past couple of days and she too would look, for now, to contribute for the whole of the UK.

Racist actions have already started against those from Europe and beyond who are part of our society and contribute to the UK. They must be protected now from a racist minority and be reassured throughout the whole of the UK that they are welcome here.  What has been said to those in Scotland by Nicola Sturgeon must be repeated loudly throughout the UK.
As individuals it is our duty to stand up to the evil of racism, report incidents against others and say something at the time if appropriate and safe. However it is our Government that must send out a strong and clear message, immediately, that racist actions & speech in public are a crime and will not be tolerated. The UKIP MP has his own reponsiblity as a member of Parliament to do this also.

So, as a citizen of the UK, I call upon our leaders to do what is right now, to be responsible public servants, and to get back to Westminster today and do everything you can working together in unity to steer the UK through the challenge of leaving the EU in the most advantageous way for the UK and the rest of the world.  Becauses, yes, the UK has relationships and responsiblities beyond our little islands and historially has responded to those.

When, and only when, you've achieved what you need to do, you can get back to your personal career development and building up your power bases.  But you may well find that this huge wake-up call for the British electorate means that we may take our voting choices and responsibilities more seriously in future, and we may expect more from those candidates we elect than you've previously experienced.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Where am I now?

My experience is that when I have the most interesting things to talk about, I have the least time to blog about them.

That has certainly been the case since my last post.  I've been rather busy (!) helping to run the Woolsack Project.  This was an Inspire Project, part of the Cultural Olympiad, and we made British wool cushions as gifts for Paralympic and Olympic athletes.  Much about the project was wonderful, but there were challenges (the BBC2 series Twenty Twelve was a bit restrained)

Anyway, the important thing is that our amazing Team Woolsack managed to get every single British wool cushion to an Olympic or Paralympic athlete or team.

So, in theory, I now have spare time........
Well, in one sense I do, but following on from the original Woolsack Project I'm now running the Woolsack website to promote British wool and enable people to source it.  Full details on the new Woolsack home page.

As part of this I've started a new blog - Mrs Woolsack's Blog - where I can blog about woolly and Woolsack related things that I'm personally doing. 

I will still post here if it's something I don't want to have on Mrs Woolsack's Blog, but I suspect it won't be very often.  There is though an untold story - the undiplomatic version of being part of LOCOG.......... if I tell, then it will be here.

The diplomatic tale is told here

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Tour de Fleece Days 4 to Final Day

I was just sending a photo of my adventures with my sidekick to a friend when I realised that I hadn't completed the story of my first Tour de Fleece - so, slightly out of order, here it is.

Day 4 - and I did have a neolithic experience today, just not exactly what I’d planned. Orkney is windy - very, very windy. Today’s light breeze by Orkney standards (greenhouses up here have to be chained or cemented into the ground!) proved somewhat problematic when it came to alfresco bits of fluff.

I found a large stone at the Stones of Stenness that sheltered me from the worst of the wind and just went for it - after 30 minutes though and with husband commenting that the other tourists obviously thought I was either mad or an apparition I packed up the wheel and stool. When the Ring of Brogdar proved to have winds of a far higher magnitude (and my husband had developed a disproving tightness to his lips) I called it a day on the extreme spinning and just enjoyed the neolithic bits.

I managed another session in the hotel when we got back and spun about 1/3 of a 100g plait of overdyed oatmeal BFL.

Given the forecast for the next day, I feared plans to spin on the ferry back to mainland Scotland might be scuppered by a need to spend the crossing leaning over the side of the boat - if you get my drift………..

As it turned out the winds were much less than forecast so I had a lovely crossing, spinning the whole time in the ferry lounge and on the deck.

The Sidekick proved to be a great way to meet people, plus of course having my much travelled copy of the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook with me.  Some people were just intrigued at the sight of someone spinning, others knew enough about spinning to spot that I had a rather unusual wheel.  
There was a large group of Germans on board and also some people from Norway - I'm anticipating a sudden surge in Sidekick orders from Europe!  The lady below is a lovely lady from Norway who is a spinner and I learnt a lot from her about spinning in Norway.  She also took details of the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook - I really must remember to make some cards with the details of the book to save writing them down for everyone!

Day 6 and I finished the BFL

Days 7 and 8 and spinning at home - still on the Sidekick since I'd not yet unpacked everything.........

Absolutely delighted at the final result for the Wensleydale - the colour is fabulous and the yarn has such a lovely feel to it.

Day 8 and I turned to a close relative of Wensleydale - The Teeswater.  As it turned out I was very surprised with Day 8 and how different the Teeswater was to spin given how closely related the two breeds are.

Day 9: 
At last, cracked the Teeswater problem and managed to settle on a thickness and twist that kept the yarn soft and lustrous but that was within my ability to spin fairly consistently.

This was the first time I’ve been without the FFSB for a couple of days - it got left at home by mistake while away for the weekend, and of course it would have been a help with the Teeswater conundrum. Still a bit puzzled by the staple length and fineness of the Teeswater - it’s about half what it should be and finer than I expected now I’ve checked in the book. An early sheared lamb I wonder?

Day 10, Monday, is a rest day for Tour de France, so also a rest day for us. 
I sort of rested - planning some fleece washing and sorting out my wheels and fibre since, after all the travelling, things in the house were a bit ………..ok VERY, messy.

Then I decided to make an early start on Day 11's spinning since I was going to  the Great Yorkshire Show - leaving before 6am in the morning! - and anticipated being very tired when I got back - hopefully with a camera full of sheep photos.

Back from the show and with enough energy to finish the coloured Ryeland.  Chunky weight so it spun up very quickly.  The natural colours are much more interesting and complex than it looks from the photo and this was a good weight to choose for this breed.

Day 12 was spent more on fleece and fibre preparation than on spinning.   The reference to the Five Islands Breeds refers to the five breeds of sheep native to the Scottish Islands:  Boreray, Soay, North Ronaldsay, Hebridean and Shetland.  I do now have fleeces from each of these breeds - I haven't yet managed to spin them all.  As you can see from the photo I have now managed to unpack enough to get the Lendrum DT out.

Day 13 and a change to Cheviot and the Sidekick.  My first go at dyeing after the fun of dyeing with Liz on Flotta (grief, that reminds me that I've not put more lovely photos of Flotta and North Ronaldsay up here..........)

Day 14 and I mostly carried on with the Shetland Moorit which has lovely colours due to the lightened tips.  I also started combing the dyed Cheviot since it turns out that the bit of the fleece I’ve dyed has lots of 2nd cuts and at least combing gets rid of them all.

Day 15:  WSD Guild meetings are where you meet with your friends
and get loads and loads of spinning done.

Day 16 saw me back to lots of spinning and continuing with the Shetland Moorit.  I am loving this fleece even if a few 2nd cuts and the bottom of the locks breaking off (?shorn too late and new growth at the bottom of the fibres I wonder) means it’s all needing to be hand combed.

Days 17 and 18.   Day 17, Monday, was another rest day for Tour de France, but I decided I was tougher than the cyclists and pushed on with my Shetland Moorit.  By the end of Day 18 it was finished.  All 417m of it!

I had a big skein of what I meant to be fingering weight, but I felt would probably wash up a wee bit thicker.
This is what I wrote in the TdF thread on Ravelry:

"If I’m going to have any chance of spinning at least some of the other 4 breeds I need to get cracking and spin a lot less for the other breeds during the challenge. Trying to find the courage and patience to tackle the very short staple Soay so I don’t leave that until last. And I still have to wash the Hebridean and North Ronaldsay. And I’m away from Friday morning setting up and running the Woolsack stand at Fibre-East.

And I’ve just heard that I’ll be getting a ‘too weedy’ letter from the allotment committee following their site inspection today - don’t they realise it’s the TdF!!

Anyway, I’m pretty pleased with the Shetland and it’s a lot prettier than in this photo."

For Day 19  I tried something new - a bag of carded Mule/BFL cross from a spinners' flock.
The fibre was very nice but it would have been even nicer if it hadn’t been carded (before I bought it) with all the 2nd cuts left in.

Day 20 and time to get down to some serious practice for the Back to Back challenge at Fibre-East on the final day of the Tour.  That meant spinning in the grease without using any combs or carders and spinning to a set thickness and twist so that the finished garment would be knitted from a consistent yarn even though it would be produced by more than one spinner.

Day 21 and the only things spinning were the wheels of the car.  The drive from Newcastle to Fibre-East just north of Bedford took 6 hours!  The A1 is not my favourite road.

Day 22 and I had my Sidekick with me all ready for some spinning while looking after the Woolsack stand - it didn't happen.  The stand was incredibly busy all day.  Fantastic for Woolsack and lovely meeting so many people from an area of the country new to me, but there wasn't time to do anything involving a wheel.  I didn't even get time to look round the vendors.  There were some amazing cushions turning up though.

I was however all ready for the final day of TdF with my yellow t-shirt.

For the Back to Back challenge we spun Sally - a Suffolk cross - crossed with a Charolais I believe. Anyway, her fleece was lovely to spin in the grease and we’ve reserved her for a repeat of the Back to Back with the same team next year - strictly a fun event rather than trying to break any records.

Lots more photos of the Back to Back challenge can be seen on the Fibre-East 2011 flickr site

This is a photo of most of the Back to Back team taken by Phil (chilliphilli)

Copyright All rights reserved by chilliphilli    (used with permission)

At the end of the challenge I washed all the yarns I'd spun, including the Shetland I'd spun in the grease and this is the result:

In total it was 9 breeds since I forgot to list Sally the Suffolk cross above.  The total length of yarn spun was 1532m (1675 yds).  That's pretty mind-boggling to me - to have spun and plied over a mile of yarn.  Can't wait for TdF 2012!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Special Anniversary

Today is a very special day - it's the first Anniversary of the Blacker and Beyond group on Ravelry.

This was our original group banner:

We're celebrating this with an Anniversary Along by challenging ourselves to take on a project - some of us knitting Liz Lovick's March of the Fibres sweater or some of the Fair Isle designs from it.  This is the Ravelry link to the pattern, or you can obtain it through the Northern Lace website.

The idea for a Ravelry group that would be about international breeds of sheep (and other fibre animals) and their fleece, fibre and yarn for all crafts came about at a memorable and inspiring workshop with Deb Robson where we spent a day knitting with wool from 20 different breeds of sheep.  The participants were from 3 different continents and we wanted to stay in touch through Ravelry.

The name of the group was strongly influenced by the fact that many of the yarns we'd used in the workshop had been donated by Blacker Yarns.

An early and popular feature is our weekly Sheep of the Week thread.
We also have collected a vast amount of information about sheep and sheep breeds, stockists of breed-specific products, books, small mills, other resources - you name it, we have it listed on our group pages.  There have been swaps and sharing of fleece/fibre, lots of information about breeds in the Sheep of the Week threads, and sharing much more besides.  The group membership is very international and we have a number of European members who constantly astound me with their excellent English.

There have been some exciting highlights during the year.
We gained 2 group mascots.  There was the excitement when Deb's Handspinning Rare Wools DVD came out - a nice lead up to the countdown to the book I've already mentioned - The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook.

This literally was a countdown as some of us looked on with unashamed envy when a hundred or so lucky people at Maryland Sheep and Wool Show were able to buy some copies specially shipped in.  Then those in America started getting their copies, and finally it reached the UK.  Many of us had pre-ordered through Amazon who had a major fail and put back the date.  Not to be thwarted there was a lot of googling and checking and the Book Depository came up trumps.

Soon after this there were the inevitable calls on Ravelry for a FFSB group, and I think it was Beth from The Spinning Loft who pointed out that any FFSB group would have a big overlap with B&B.  Quick check with group members and the decision was made.  Blacker & Beyond became Blacker & Beyond with FFSB.

As the first anniversary approached, and membership of the group passed 800, we thought it would be fun to have a Knit A Long - something we could share together and would link back to our roots in that knitting workshop.  It was one of our new moderators, Barbro, who came up with the great idea that we keep things the now accustomed relaxed B&B way and have an Anniversary Along where people could make what they wanted.

So that's where we are now.  People are posting in the AA thread what they'd like to try and do during the next couple of months.
I approached my choice logically:

I wanted this first Anniversay Along to have some strong links to the events around the starting of B&B, and also what that has led to me taking on during this past year.
  1. So, it has to be a Liz Lovick pattern because I took 2 classes with her at Knit Camp - hence March of Fibres.
  2. It has to be knitted from Blacker Yarns because Sue donated many of the yarns we used in Deb’s class at Knit Camp, plus I want it to be a knitting project because it was a knitting class we took with Deb.
  3. It has to have several breeds of sheep in it because the Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook has come out during the last year and is now an integral part of this group
  4. It has to be a Woolsack cushion because I wouldn’t have been involved with Woolsack if it weren’t for B&B and having met Sue at Knit Camp.
I’ve put all that together and decided to use the sheep pattern from March of Fibres, plus some of the smaller bands between the animals, but I’m going to knit it in DK and fit the pattern onto the 40cm sq cushion size.

For anyone wondering what Woolsack is - well that's one of the things that for me has come about partly through my starting B&B.  I'll post about it soon, but this is the website if you don't want to wait.  Other things I've got involved with include writing the Baa Baa What Sheep articles for the Ravelry newsletter - TWIR, hunting down owners of the very rare Boreray sheep around the country (I'll post about that another time as well), and writing an article on Borerays for Yarn Maker magazine, with the help of Barbro who did all the spinning samples.

And it all started in Deb's workshop on Friday 13 August 2010 in Stirling - a very lucky day for me.  The last year has been a wonderful, fascinating journey.

Note - some of the links will only work for members of Ravelry.  If you're not a member, then why not join?  It's free and has a great deal to offer anyone with an interest in woolly things.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Tour de Fleece days 1 to 3

The Tour de France is an annual bicycle race held in France.

The Tour de Fleece is an annual event on where participants spin-along during the Tour de France - they spin, we spin.

We join any one of the many teams - I'm in 3 for my first year - and post photos our fleece/fibre and finished yarn.  Oh, and have great fun while doing it.

So it started on Saturday  2 July.  I am of course still up in Orkney and on Saturday we were travelling from Flotta to North Ronaldsay - in a very tiny plane.  Not sure about how things would work out re TdF spinning I decided to crack off very early in the morning and get some spun.  So I worked through some of the Cheviot fleece I'd washed in Newcastle and managed to get just over 50 m of it spun and plied at about worsted weight.  I'd carded it into rolags the evening before.  Yes, this is what I look like very early in the morning before breakfast!

The travelling to North Ronaldsay went very smoothly despite my worries regarding the spinning wheel - I had to take the Sidekick so it would fit into a case - and the weight limit of 15kg each on the plane.  When we arrived Liz took us for a walk along the beach and that's when I had the mad/brilliant idea - take the sidekick down to the beach and spin there!  I'd spotted lots of bits of fleece lying on the ground so I decided to use that and just spin in the grease.  It was very easy carrying the sidekick back down to the beach and I found a suitable place to sit at the base of the wall surrounding the island that keeps the sheep on the beach.  Paul came with me and took some photos and then went back up to the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory where we were staying, leaving me to finish spinning my pile of fleece.

I was engrossed in the spinning but then must have heard a little sound off to my left that caused me to look up, and what I saw was unbelievable and amazing - some sheep had come round the corner and were just standing there watching me.  I knew that no one would believe this so I managed to get to my phone and quietly sneak some photos.

Then Paul came back and between us we managed to get some of this exciting event filmed.  I have to say that there is a lot that the sheep were doing that we didn't manage to film - like the single file rush past us when they decided they'd watched me long enough and really wanted to get to the beach on the other side.  Then I heard a lamb calling for his mum and spotted the little black lamb in the distance.  He looked at me, decided I was too scary and ran back.  Then he gathered up some courage and came back and crossed in front of me, pausing for a moment when just a few feet away before chasing off to catch up with his mum.

 When all the fleece had been spun I set off back to the Bird Observatory and that evening plied and washed the yarn in the bedroom sink.  It came up very nicely, although you can see the under-plied bits where I was trying to keep spinning but watch the sheep at the same time!


Day 2 and 3 of the TdF

I started with some nice hand painted Shetland Tops dyed by a friend, Sue, and spun the first half of it in the Bird Observatory bar, much to the interest of the other people.  After flying down from North Ronaldsay on Monday morning I then finished it off on day 3 back on Orkney Mainland in the hotel bedroom.  I ended up with 150m of a nice DK weight and was very pleased at my efforts to spin consistently and evenly.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Adventures with Lace

The two main things I told Liz that I'd like to work on during the week were learning to spin lace and to go further with knitting lace.  Now when I said this what I had in mind was lace weight yarn.  So it was a bit of a shock when Liz produced some cones of very nice ColourMart cashmere that was rather thinner - in fact it was cobweb weight.

However the shock was lessened by Liz's reassurance and the fact that I got to try a little sample first:

This is really thin stuff.  Next step, to make a small triangular shawl using a construction technique that involved knitting the centre triangle first, then picking up around 2 edges for the border and finally knitting a lace edging which would be knitted sideways along the edge of the border and joining by knitting in the edge stitches as the edging progressed.  It all sounded very complicated and this was what had put me off trying a shawl with any of these elements before.

Still, with Liz there to help I was up for the challenge and learning how to do all the techniques involved.  I'm not the fastest knitter though so it came back with me for evening 'homework', even if in practice this meant doing it in the morning before breakfast - memories of cramming on the bus to school!

Slowly the knitting progressed and grew.  First the centre triangle was finished, and then as I got more used to the yarn and reading from the charts the border and edging followed.  Lots of extra tips from Liz along the way which will really help me when I tackle a full size version in the future.

  The really clever thing was that in all of the moving from different sections I didn't need to break off the yarn once, it all just carried on through.  Finally this morning I finished and blocked the shawl which dried very quickly outside in the sun and wind so reveal the finished shawl - soft, gorgeous, feather light, and I can't wait to start a larger piece.

So that was the knitting side of my week.
At the very start of the week Liz had introduced us to the fun of dyeing yarn and fibre - a great way to break the ice and I really enjoyed myself.  I've not done much dying of fabric since I graduated in 2003, so it was really good to get back into the fun of creating with colour at the level of fleece and yarn.

Here are a couple of my experiments.

The green and pink fibre, once dry, I started spinning as fine as I could go, and was pretty pleased with this first attempt.

Then Liz started teaching me about how to knit lace weight and the need for good fibre preparation with a lot more twist in the spinning.  I combed the dyed fleece which was absolutely gorgeous - very fine lustrous Shetland.  I didn't realised that Shetland could have such lustre.

  Then came the spinning and I was thrilled with the results - a finer and more even yarn than I'd dreamed I could spin.

Before I knew it I'd spun all the dyed fleece so Liz went into her shed and came out with the most divine Shetland fleece I'd seen - and it was huge!  Gorgeous shades of grey and fawn.  Perfect to ply with the green and pink I'd already spun and a bag of it is tucked away to finish this project at home.

Then Jeannie came down the hill and into my life and the lace spinning got really exciting.  In just a couple of hours I progressed from this:

 to this - which is shown alongside the ColourMart cobweb for comparison - yes, Liz had not only got me knitting with cobweb, but spinning it as well.  I was over the moon!

Then to finish off today, my last day working with Liz on Flotta, she came up with something rather special, and initially very scary - qiviut Totally divine even in the raw state here, and if you can see past the not very good photo, you'll see how beautifully and finely it spun up.