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.