Friday, 9 May 2014

Victory at Last

I started this project back in December, for the Knit for Victory KAL. It began life as a reasonably quick and simple tank top, then rapidly mushroomed into a cardigan. The tank top part progressed relatively quickly and was completed for the KAL. After the excitement and camaraderie of Knit for Victory, I lacked the motivation to 'Just finish the sleeves'.

I finally finished my cardigan this week. It's the twelth hand knitted jumper I've made and I have to say it's the best piece of knitwear I've produced to date. It feels fab, it hangs well, fits exactly to my liking, with room for another jumper underneath, it makes me very happy and I love it! Can you tell? I'll not say any more - I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Great Joy !

Those who know me are aware how much I love wool. It's an obsession. I keep sheep, I spin yarn, I knit, I crochet, I make felt fabric, and I weave fabric. From the fruits of all these activities I make clothes. All of this is tied together with my love of wool, preferably local.

Over the years there have been several spinning wheels in my life. None of them arrived new. Indeed most of them were brought back from the dead, with careful restoration and lots of 'elbow grease'. Like most people I started with an Ashford Traditional, which in car terms would be rather like owning a Ford Fiesta. It's extremely popular, it's readily available, it's a sensible price, it does the job, it's reliable, parts are easy to get hold of but it's nothing special.

The one that's stayed with me the longest is the charming Haldane Lewis. Now we're becoming a wee bit more selective. She's Scottish, she's beautiful, she has go-faster ball bearings, she has double drive and she spins like a dream. What's more, she matches the colour of the woodwork in our house.

However, this classic old girl was retired about a year ago when I acquired an ugly old banger, with a huge bash in the back end. Why would I / how could I do such a thing?

The Herring arrived, as cheap as chips and was perfect to throw in and out of the truck, without a care in the world. Strangely, I grew to love the ugly Herring. His huge bobbins, smaller overall size and superior engineering won me over. But, he's slightly heavy to treadle, he's still ugly and he's still not small enough for our caravan. Then, while I was dreaming about an enormous chunky wheel, it dawned on me - I need Joy! It was a sad goodbye, but Lewis and Herring have gone in to a home - a new home, where they'll be loved and used. What's more, the proceeds have financed something incredible.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, I now have the Joy I need and I'd like to share the wonders of this machine, with you. She's amazing! This 'Joy 2' is my first ever brand new wheel. Much to my amazement, a brand new wheel is surprisingly affordable, especially if you sell your existing wheel/s to finance it.

I ordered the double treadle version, plus an additional flyer and bobbins, from Sanday Spinners, a small, friendly, local business, based on the Isle of Sanday, which is one of the Orkney Islands, just across the water from us here in Caithness, Scotland. They also happen to offer the best prices on the internet, as well as having great ethics and a delightful personal service. They did have a fantastic package deal, which included a sturdy carry case, but I resisted, thinking that I could easily make a carry case.

It took about a week (in the past they've been a wee bit faster) to arrive and was beautifully packed. My first reaction was what great design genius, to create something so compact and relatively light weight. This is so perfect for my miniature house (caravan), as well as taking in the car, to craft groups and demonstrations. It even has a built-in carry handle.

Despite the wooden origami, it's incredibly easy to set up and pack away. Just fold down the treadles, screw in the flyer and you're away. It really does only take seconds.

Apart from portability, another bonus is the absolutely enormous bobbins. Even the new 'standard' size is good, but the 'jumbo' size, that comes with the 'Freedom flyer'  is something else!

I love the range of ratios on the whorl. It means I can go twice as fast as I went on the Herring.

This is my first experience with the thick stretchy drive-band, that looks like silicone. I love the fact that it doesn't seem to need adjusting. One question I would ask is "How long will it last?". I'm not entirely clear about the availability of replacements from Ashford. The standard maintenance kit has a string drive-band in it. Will there be a Joy maintenance kit? I'm really not going to worry about this. If my drive-band breaks, I'll improvise with good old fashioned string.

The sliding flyer is something I could take or leave. I've spent so many years changing hooks that I'm quite used to it and the aesthetics of a wooden flyer pleases me. I can't help thinking that two sticks of something that look like carbon fibre don't quite float my boat. But, we have to move with the times - right?

I had the chance to try a double treadle before I ordered and thought I could probably get used to it. In fact I took to it straight away. The alternative, single treadle, is positioned centrally, which I felt may cause some bodily twisting, given that my legs are not attached centrally on my torso.

My greatest concern had been the single drive, with associated Scotch tension. These reservations proved groundless. It was nowhere near as annoying as I'd remembered it being in the past, maybe due to the double spring. I hardly need to touch it. I still find that the cord looks like a nasty piece of fishing line but it can soon be replaced with some thin Roman blind cord, or even a rubber band, in an emergency.

The 'Freedom flyer', which I affectionately call the 'wild' flyer is available as an optional extra and comes with one of the jumbo bobbins. I bought an additional two jumbos, not realising that the big standard bobbins would still work on the wild one. Another unforeseen benefit.

The star attraction on the Freedom (wild) flyer, apart from the gigantic bobbins, is the massive flyer hooks. One of these enormous hooks also replaces the orifice. Why would I want this? To create mega-thick art-yarn of course. It's enormous fun and now I don't need to buy a Country Spinner.

Thick'n thin - mega-thick in fact. Possibly a wee bit too wild, but I loved testing to the extremes.

This red and white is not to my taste at all, but the materials were what I had to hand and I'm impatient beyond belief. Beads, along with any other objects you'd care to add (feathers, bells, sequins, Wensleydale locks...) fit through the 1" flyer hooks with ease.  Art yarn options are only limited by your imagination. Be sure to slow down though, when you put solid objects through. They might take your eyes out, or your nose off!

The great thing is that the wild/Freedom flyer still works perfectly well for more restrained yarns. It also works perfectly well with the smaller bobbins, supplied with the wheel. Another happy accident has been that I've been using up all the odds and ends of fibres that I don't want but can't bring myself to ditch. However, it didn't take long before I returned to my own lovely lamb's wool. This Zwartble cross is so soft and what a monster of a skein size, weighing in at almost 200g (about 7oz) and the bobbin wasn't even full!

The only downside to the Freedom flyer is that it doesn't fit in the stowing position, in the wee cubby hole, where the standard one fits. So, for travelling I'll use the standard flyer. But, hey, you can't have everything!

If I was being really picky, the build quality of the wheel, flyers and bobbins could be better. They're not Scottish. I'm not entirely comfortable with shipping from NZ. To me, it feels morally wrong, but at least it helps support one local business. Besides, as far as I know, there's nothing like this made any closer to home. So, well done New Zealand.

In summary, I'd say that Joy's a Smart Car, only better, because she doesn't need a battery or fuel. She's cute, quiet, a modern innovation at a sensible price, I can park her anywhere, she's a little bit special and I love her. I'd thoroughly recommend the Joy 2 wheel and Freedom flyer to any spinner, from novice to professional.

In other news, feast your eyes on this lot - the most fabulous wool swap ever, from Margaret in Canada. It was spun at her local mill, from her own sheep, traditional to her area. Yes, you may be surprised that I can love wool from so far away, but the ethos is there. It wasn't blindly imported by the container load. It was raised and produced with love, jut like mine, so it's still local, just local to Margaret.

Next time I'll tell you about bags of fun that I had with some luxury hand-woven fabric and a visit to a lovely wool shop in Edinburgh. In the meantime, here's a couple of sneaky peaks.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Knit for Victory

Tasha at By Gum By Golly recently hosted a knit along (KAL), called Knit For Victory. She's a wonderful knitter, her work is simply delightful, she writes perfect tutorials, and she's just such an inspiration. It's just been fabulous fun. So, hats off to you Tasha and thank you.

I wanted to try some Fair Isle style knitting and decided to make this tank top. The biggest Fair Isle project I'd attempted until now was a hat. Without the sleeves to do, this looked quite reasonable. This pattern has also been re-written for modern yarn, by Susan Crawford, called Wartime Farm. The great thing about Susan's version is that it's raising money for the British Womens Land Army Tribute. I hate using patterns. I find I end up blindly following the instructions, without thinking about what I am doing. So, I used the pictures as a guide. 

One of the most splendid things about Fair Isle style is that it's so good for using up left-overs and being a thrifty soul, I certainly wasn't going to buy wool for it. It took lots and lots and lots of swatches to decide on a colour scheme but, eventually, I decided on these greys and blues, which will work well with jeans or farm trousers. I called it Wartime Sky.

As I progressed, all was going well until I got thinking how nice this knitting would look as a cardigan. Then I thought how much more I would wear a cardigan. It wouldn't be that much more work to knit a pair of sleeves, would it? Especially if they were traditional Fair Isle style rectangles. I could steek the front open - something I've done before... I do like a round neck on a cardi though and a collar and pockets. Oh and really I'd prefer set in sleeves... So, it turned out that the simple wee tank top project had mushroomed and had no chance of being completed for the KAL! But, I still feel pleased that I got a tank top's worth of it done in time, even if the full-on cardi still has some way to go.

I've started the sleeve caps for the third time, with the aim of getting the pattern to match like these do. They are now matching so, maybe, I'll soon (before next winter) be able to show them to you.

In other news, I've been lucky enough to receive these gorgeous hand knitted socks, from Weaving Heart, a talented weaver as well as a clever knitter. They're called Ziggy Stardust but I've re-named them Twinkle Toes. You can't really see from the photo but they're glittery, as well as being soft and comfy. What a long way yarns have come since the awfully scratchy days of Lurex. These were officially a swap for an unwanted book but they feel like a real present to me.

Lastly, this is Derek. He's sporting the most fabulous ski jumper, hand made by his mother in law, from some of my much prized wool. It's as soft as silk and as warm as toast. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Next time I'll tell you about some wild spinning adventures. Meanwhile, here's a sneaky peak.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Happy Journey

I've tried so hard not to get sucked not to the whole New Year reflections and resolutions thing. I prefer minimal planning, going where ever my journey takes me. If I don't like what I find, it's easy, I don't stay. I just pack up and move on. Right now, good things are happening here in the Wool Bothy. Less than a week in to January, I got the feeling that 2014 is going to be a good year.

Mr Picture Bothy and I have been thinking for a while now that we'd like to go travelling around the UK. Last year we sold all of our hens and most of our sheep which enabled us to dip our toes in, using an old caravan which was falling to pieces. We loved it and went off in search of something more modern. We finally found it. On the first weekend in January we traipsed down south for five hours and bought a new (to us) caravan.

A while back, I'd posted a photo on Wovember, of one of my woolly makes. A couple of days ago I received an email from the lovely Felicity. Apparently it's won 1st prize, for the best photograph, meeting the brief. I had truly not thought about trying to win. I only put up the photo in a burst of enthusiasm, in support of their woolly message. (Did I mention that I have an obsessive love of wool, especially British, and more specifically locally produced, in either raw, yarn or fabric form?) In fact, it was Mr Picture Bothy who shot the photo. I was wearing the woolly thing, so I couldn't have taken it, which leaves me feeling a wee bit of a fraud. Mr Picture Bothy, on the other hand, is delighted to have a prize-winning photo to his credit, that he hadn't realised had even been submitted for any competition!

I call this wrap jacket "Spinner's Journey". The wool is very rustic, the fabric has almost zero drape and there is no colour. Many of these skeins date back years, to my very early attempts at spinning and most of the spinning is appalling. Some are over-twisted, like gnarled old rope, while others have almost no twist at all. They’re all different thickness and they’re very lumpy-bumpy. The resultant garment does not hang well at the back, but it has a reassuring feel to it, like a faithful old blanket.

Just look at my wonderful prize, from Blacker Yarns at the Natural Fibre Company. It's absolutely soft, gorgeous, beautiful, squishy and sheepy. What more can I say?

On the back of this publicity, I've now been asked if I'd take a commission to write a pattern. It's flattering to be asked but I haven't yet decided whether to accept or not. Creating the shapes, numbers, colours and textures comes naturally to me, but I so hate writing concise instructions. Someone would have to edit it.

The icing on my January cake is that we've recently been treated to lots of activity from the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).

Meanwhile, my creative journey has firmly brought me to specialise in wool and I suspect that it will keep me wrapped in softness and warmth for some time to come. I sense that my sewing and knitting roads are about to meet and merge together, in to one exciting, onward journey. Will I knit lengths of fabric to chop up and sew with? Or, will I be inspired to knit the shapes of tailored clothes? I'll let you know, as I continue with my travels through woolly places.

Wishing you all a happy and rewarding journey, over the coming weeks and months, which ever direction you travel.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Presidio Purse

Here I am, up-cycling again, which feels far more exiting than another year of my life passing. I'm always at it. There are few things in life that make me happier than taking something that's no longer used and making it in to something that will be used like crazy. I grew up with this trait and I believe I picked it up from my Grandmother. She had to be resourceful and frugal during WWII and never stopped.

This is it, Seamstress Erin's Presidio Purse, made from old jeans. Her pattern is released for sale today and it's fabulous! The bag its self will never fail you. You really will fit everything in it, including your kitchen sink. You can customise it to suit your own look, and her instructions make it really easy. Oooo! Erin's hosting a sew-along in January. That'll be fun and helpful too, especially for anyone who's not made something like this before. 

Being my usual, impatient self, I couldn't wait for the official release and convinced Erin to let me in as one of her test sewers.

 You can see how massive it is. I'm not kidding when I say you can fit everything in it. 

The released version now has more gathers in the inserts, or there's also a flat insert option.

There's a choice of two handle styles. Both are strong enough to take all of the weight you can throw at them.

I found some old Union Jack lining that seemed to fit in quite well and reminds me of Carnaby Street, during the London Swings era.

Erin's really thought about the details too. The pockets are perfect for holding all the important things in your life, with special places for pens and phone, as well as a larger pouch for money, kindle, keys...

You've probably spotted that I haven't quite got the hang of this blogging thing yet.  Despite sizing my photos all the same width before uploading them, they still insist on all coming out different widths when uploaded and published.