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Anybody who’s met me at a darning-related event will have seen a dark green sweater with numerous moth holes in it. It was given to me by Rachael Matthews about six years ago to practice my visible mending on. It was originally her dad’s jumper, who spilt food all over the front. Instead of washing it, he shoved it in the back of a wardrobe, from whence it resurfaced with many moth holes. What better to repair it with than some of Rachael’s mum’s first hand-spun, hand-dyed yarn. A very textural and variegated yarn, it made for a beautiful contrast to the fine machine-knit jumper. A project I named the MUM+DAD Sweater.

MUM+DAD Sweater moth holes

A sweater riddled with moth holes…

MUM+DAD Sweater Repaired tomofholland visiblemending

A mere six years later, all holes repaired

One thing that always interests me is the motivation for repair: every mend I have done has a story behind it. When I take on a visible mending commission, I always want to know the story of the item under repair. This is no different for the things I repair for myself, and this green jumper is a prime example.

The gift of sweater and yarn was bigger than I could ever have imagined, and in those six years, a lot of things have happened. I met amazing people along the way, I have learnt so much about repairing textiles, and yet I feel I have only just scratched the surface of what is possible.

The first record of the MUM+DAD Sweater that I can find, is when I wrote about attending the MEND*RS Symposium as Mender in Residence. It was a meeting of like-minded people at an old farm, and I have fond memories of gathering in the barn, talking about the subversiveness of repair, and with wild plans to change the world.

MUM+DAD Sweater Repaired tomofholland visiblemending

Extreme slow stitching – I always say I like to do things that take forever, but a six-year project must be my record!

Nowadays many people choose to throw out worn clothes, but I prefer to repair my clothes. From attending the MEND*RS Symposium it was clear I was not the only one. A few speakers had a background in fashion, and we talked about the issues around fast fashion. Clothes made in the fast fashion system are often of poor quality. Not because they are made by low-skilled people, but because highly-skilled people have to work with inferior materials and are under huge time pressure to meet deadlines. For me, repairing clothes is a way of honouring those anonymous makers. Speaking about my concerns with fast fashion at that symposium, and others such as John-Paul Flintoff and Sarah Corbett, I have come to realise that being informed about issues your concerned about is very important. It will help with focussing your attention to things you can do something about. This is something I spoke about with Sarah at length as part of her School of Gentle Protest.

MUM+DAD Sweater Repaired tomofholland visiblemending

The ribbing at cuffs and welts were the trickiest

Concerns around fast fashion is only one of many different motivations of repair, and I’m also very much interested in emotional connections to the item repaired. Mending an item, even through commissioning someone like me, allows you to highlight the story behind it, and one of my most favourite commissions was rather poignant. Mending a jumper knitted by a mother repaired a somewhat fraught relationship, and it was very special to work on.

MUM+DAD Sweater Repaired tomofholland visiblemending

Reminiscing about repairs

Likewise my green jumper has obtained a lot of memories and stories through the six years I’ve been working on it. Looking at the darns up close shows me how I have improved my technique over time. It has accompanied me to every single workshop, talk, and darning event. It started many a conversation about the meaning of repair, and I’ve made many friends as a result.

The MUM+DAD Sweater is now back on rotation in me and my husband’s wardrobe, and I’m looking forward to many more adventures together!

MUM+DAD Sweater Repaired silly pose tomofholland visiblemending

With many thanks to Anna “Sweaterspotter” Maltz for the impromptu photoshoot!

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I spent a very enjoyable day at The Keep yesterday, making a casebound notebook at a one-day workshop led by their conservator, Melissa Williams. Being the conservator in an archive that holds many different documents and books, with some going back to the 12th century, Melissa really knows her “métier” and she freely shared her knowledge, making sure that the bookbinding techniques taught can be used at home, without specialist equipment, and only a few special tools.

bookbinding tools and notebook

All ready for the day: a paperweight, bone folder, bookbinder’s awl, glue brush, shoe knife, and empty pages to take plenty of notes

I have always enjoyed using nice stationery, and appreciate well-made books, in particular with “proper” linen covers, and I was very excited when my husband gave me this workshop as a present! I have always been curious about how books are made, and this workshop was a nice introduction. Of course, there are many ways of making books, and this workshop was very practical: we were taught one way of making a casebound book, and everybody left with their own by the end of it. Needless to say, Melissa showed us how to work to archival standards, and the materials used reflected this.

bookbinding workshop - book cloths

The stockroom in the conservator’s studio not only contains plenty of book cloth, but also greyboard, vellum, parchment, and other things I have no idea what they are for

I felt right at home in Melissa’s studio: specialist equipment everywhere, all the high-quality materials she uses, her in-depth knowledge of bookbinding, conservation, and preservation, always trying to achieve the best of her abilities, it all chimed with me.

bookbinding workshop - different sewing techniques

A different kind of sampler: a variety of ways to bind sections of a book together

We were taught how to make a casebound notebook, containing five sections. When you open a hardback book, you will probably notice that there are a number of sections, each of which has some thread in the middle. So we started with folding large sheets of paper that would become the sections (Melissa told us that she once went to a conference where she attended a 1.5 hour talk on how to fold paper!) After making holes in each section with a bookbinder’s awl, it was time to get stitching. I really enjoyed looking at the binding sampler shown above. The tape methods shown on the left are what we used, and if I remember correctly, the three methods with the cord are usually used when covering a book with leather – you may have seen antique books with a leather spine with thick ridges across it. This is what those ridges hide.

bookbinding workshop - sewing the folded sections

A professional bookbinder would probably use a “sewing frame,” but all techniques used in the workshop are achievable at home

After sewing the sections together, we moved on to gluing. Bookbinders tend to use PVA glue nowadays, but in the olden days the glue was usually made from bones. As a result, antique books often harbour whole colonies of bugs in the spine, as the bone glue can provide nutrients for literally centuries. Gluing happens in several stages, using thin layers that each need to dry out, otherwise the book will contain too much moisture when finished, and once assembled, would struggle to dry properly.

bookbinding workshop - mull and brown paper cover the spine

Mull and brown paper cover the spine. The big block is a brick covered in book cloth keeping the sections weighed down flat and in place

The spine is first covered in mull, a stiff open-weave fabric, and then some brown paper, and then everything is trimmed. That’s most of the inner workings finished, and it was time to move on to the most exciting bit: preparing the book cloth and covering the greyboard!

bookbinding workshop - making corners when covering the board

The bookbinders equivalent of “hospital corners”

bookbinding workshop - finished case

Boards covered in cloth, and a spine stiffener made from brown paper

Gluing in the sewn sections into the boards was the most difficult part, and despite my best efforts, the finished book isn’t quite true. However, this does in no way detract from the marvel of having managed to make my own notebook.

Bookbinding workshop - detail of finished book

A “proper” notebook, made by my own fair hands!

Since coming home, I must have picked up this notebook at least twenty times, caressing the linen cloth, looking at the end papers (even if plain) and admiring the nicely turned out corners.

bookbinding workshop - finished book

A slight imperfection in the cloth adds to the charm of this notebook

I can’t wait to have filled up my current notebook, so I can start using this one. I may have discovered a new hobby, as I’m already overflowing with ideas of playing around with scraps of bookcloth and combining them with my interest in mending. I can highly recommend this workshop, which not only gives you an insight into the art of bookbinding, but also a beautiful casebound book you made yourself!

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I’m pleased to let you all know that I will be running a Creative Mending workshop at The New Craftsmen, on 22 July, as part of their summer exhibition Animal, Vegetable, Mineral – a joyful celebration of new talents and new pieces.

Workshop at Wool House

A Tom of Holland workshop in full swing

I started working with The New Craftsmen last year, and as a result I’ve been involved in some pretty exciting things, such as Makers House, in collaboration with Burberry, and A Home For All, in collaboration with Selfridges.

The New Craftsmen curates, commissions and sells unique contemporary objects that are rooted in craftsmanship and narrative. Spanning furniture, lighting, textiles, gifts, ceramics and decorative accessories, our range is made by a growing network of over 100 makers across the British Isles.

The Creative Mending workshop at The New Craftsmen will be informed by some of the pieces I made for the summer exhibition; Sue Parker, the stylist behind the exhibition, asked me to visibly mend three boilersuits, which will be for sale:

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with braided belt

Boilersuit with braided belt (VMP09)

Besides a few holes, which I repaired with classic darns, he first boilersuit also had a broken zipper, which presented me with an exciting challenge: how do I visibly mend a broken closure? After removing the zipper I tried out a few things, but ended up using a braid as a belt. The seam allowance that was exposed after removing the zipper has been stitched down with small stitches, echoing the zipper teeth.

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with braided belt, detail

Detail showing the stitches, reminiscent of the zipper teeth. Each boilersuit has a serial number stitched in

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with oversewn patches

Boilersuit with oversewn patches (VMP10)

The second boilersuit had some paint stains, rather than holes, and here I used hand-dyed fabrics that were stained during the dyeing process. Instead of stitching them over the paint stains, I placed them in each others’ vicinity, thus reinforcing the presence of stains on the various fabrics.

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with oversewn patches, detail

Stains of various kinds reinforce each other’s presence; the patches are inserted using the oversewn patching technique

The third boilersuit had paint stains, missing buttons, a fraying cuff, and some busted armhole seams.

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with textured layers

Backview of boilersuit with patched cuff, boro-inspired decorations, and replaced buttons (VMP11)

All the stitching and repairing on this boilersuit used a hand-dyed silk thread, which was a dream to sew with. In addition to repairing the busted seams and sewing on new buttons, I really wanted to try out some boro-inspired techniques, where the simple running stitches create a ripple effect in the fabric.

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with textured layers, detail

Boro-inspired patches; the silk patch in particular shimmers as a result of the ripple effect of the simple running stitches

I turned accidental paint stains into acts of intention by outlining them with small back stitches.

Tom of Holland boilersuit for The New Craftsmen, with textured layers, detail of stain

Turning accidental paint stains into intentional decorations by outlining them in back stitch

As you can see, the three boilersuits each have a different focus in their repairs, and highlight in one way or another what needed repairing. Another thing it highlights is the question: when does something require a repair? One of the boilersuits had merely some paint stains, and in this case, the repair wasn’t something that was broken, but more about how you would be able to wear this garment.

This Creative Mending workshop at The New Craftsmen will not purely focus on technique: not only will I teach you some simple repair techniques through making a small repair sampler, but I also look much forward to having a conversation around visible and creative mending with everybody.

If you would like to come along, then you can buy a ticket, and find out some more information about the workshop here.

All images by The New Craftsmen, and used with their kind permission

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The last couple of months has been a very productive one. I can’t reveal everything just yet, but it did involve a lot of hand-stitching of fabrics, and re-reading some of my old books on mending and repairing, such as old Dutch lesson plans to teach girls the art of marking and darning.

Merken Stoppen en Mazen, Nuttige Handwerken

The Female Handicrafts for School and Home, and Useful Needlework. Both are lesson plans to teach girls the art of marking and darning

I have written about these books before, but I looked through them again when I was preparing for one of my workshops a little while ago at Hope & Elvis. In particular The Female Handicrafts contains a lot of detail, starting with the very basics.

How to mark household linen

A page from The Female Handicrafts. showing some letters of the alphabet

For instance, the first chapter on marking household linen, starts with the easy letters with lots of vertical elements, such as the letter “I”. It then moves on to those with strong diagonal lines, and finishes on those which have curves. To learn this, it advocates starting with an open-weave plain fabric, such as scrim. Marking your household linen was important, as many people took their washing to the laundry house, and this way you could check whether nothing was missing and that you actually got your own things back.

Darning fabric technique

A page from Useful Needlework

Likewise, Useful Needlework starts with the simple re-inforcing technique of weaving thread through the fabric, again using something like scrim to get a feel for the technique, before moving on to finer work. Needless to say, I’ve stocked up on scrim, and I have my darning threads at the ready!

msm-stoppen-2

Easy start with darning…

darning in pattern, damask darning

…followed by an intermediate step of adding stripes and checks…

msm-stoppen-3

finishing with something altogether more complex

For the aforementioned workshop at Hope & Elvis I got everybody to make a sewing sampler, based on the samplers I’d seen at Goldsmiths earlier this year, as part of  the A Remedy for Rents exhibition.

20151215CHG_3238

Plain sewing samplers from the Whiteland College College

It was my first foray into teaching something sewing-based, and we all made a small sampler using old textiles. The edges were hemmed using four different hemming techniques, then we made three different types of patches. I had selected the different techniques based on practicality, still useful today. They included amongst others: slip stitch hem, herringbone hem, hemming stitch, napery hem stitch, calico or oversewn patch, tailored patch, and flannel patch. For those who wanted more, I also taught how to hand-work a buttonhole. I don’t believe hand-worked buttonholes are any better or stronger than machine-made ones, but I do think they look very nice.

Tailored buttonhole by Annie Hewins 1879, Whitelands College Collection

Hand-worked buttonhole, found on a sampler in the Whitelands College collection

I’ve also spent a lot of time sewing patches onto sturdy linen tea towels (I will share this project in a couple of weeks) and it became apparent pretty soon that I will have to start using a thimble. I enjoy hand-sewing, and whenever I sew, I tend to do a lot of finishing by hand. When sewing woollen trousers, this is quite easily done without a thimble, but it’s a different story with those tea towels. The needles I use are rather fine, so the eye of the needle is almost as sharp as the point! Teaching myself to use a thimble might take some practice and perseverance, but I’ve found an old tailor’s apprentice trick to get me started.

All-in-all, this means I have a lesson plan of sorts for myself. I’m going to take it all back to the beginning: teach myself how to use a thimble, and then start marking, darning, and patching according to my Dutch books. I hope that this will lead to new inspiration and new off-shoot projects. I will be sharing my pursuits here, and perhaps you’d like to join in! Therefore I will post not only completed work, but also a heads-up post with what I’m planning to concentrate on next. Keep an eye out for the first post in the next one or two weeks.

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On 17 September I’ll be running a very special darning workshop at The Keep, Brighton. The Keep is a centre for archives that opens up access to all the collections of the East Sussex Record Office (ESRO), the Royal Pavilion & Museums Local History Collections and the internationally significant University of Sussex Special Collections, including the Mass Observation Archives.

Yarn Advert Bellmans WW2

No coupons for khaki wool; three special offers of this popular shade; The Brighton Herald, 1941

The Archive holds the papers generated by the original Mass Observation organisation between 1937 and 1949, with a few later additions from the 1950s as well as some documents from the 1960s. The material collected by Mass Observation falls into two main categories:

  • Personal writing: A national panel of volunteer writers were recruited to reply to regular questionnaires and tasks, including writing diaries
  • Topic collections: A team of paid investigators went into a variety of public situations and recorded people’s behaviour and conversation in as much detail as possible. This was first conducted in Bolton (known as Worktown) and then in other locations across the country

Make Do and Mend Notebook

Make Do and Mend notes, held in the Mass Observation Archive (reference: SxMOA 99/83)

Having all these collections in one place makes it easy to find some interesting cross-collection links. For instance, at The Keep you can find copies of women’s magazines such as Woman’s Own (a weekly publication first published in 1932 and still going strong) and Woman’s Journal (published monthly from 1927 to 2001). Woman’s Own was aimed at a different kind of woman than Woman’s Journal. This is not only evident on the front cover: Woman’s Own usually shows a child or a woman, often actively occupied with something or other. Woman’s Journal, on the other hand, has portraits of upper class ladies, wearing a ball-gown or other fancy outfit.

The Second World War saw unprecedented government intervention into everyday life on the British home front. Food rationing began in 1940 and clothes were rationed from 1 June 1941. Fabric was essential for war purposes, such as uniforms. By reducing civilian clothing production, factory space and labour could be freed up for war production.

Rationing forced people to be painfully mathematic in how they spent their limited supply of clothing coupons – and to find shrewd ways to avoid doing so. The government-backed ‘Make Do and Mend’ scheme was introduced to encourage people to revive and repair worn-out clothes. Handmade and hand-repaired clothing became an essential part of wartime life. People got creative across the country out of necessity, finding ways to make and care for clothes – and forge their own wartime style.Make Do and Mend Scheme WW2

Mend and make-do to save buying new, issued by the Board of Trade

This governmental intervention was subtly visible in these magazines, to a greater or lesser degree: although both had sections on making accessories, sewing, knitting, and crocheting, Woman’s Journal also featured a monthly spread on the latest fashions from Paris. In contrast, Woman’s Own would often highlight how many, or rather, how few coupons were needed for the materials required for a particular project.

Adverts from yarn companies (and you’ll find more of these in Woman’s Own than in Woman’s Journal) will, as less and less yarn becomes available for the domestic market, acknowledge that their yarns may be difficult to get hold of, but if you can, they’re worth buying. From a Lavenda advert from November 1943: “pure wool can and should be used over and over again.” Magazines have articles on how to re-use wool, and patterns start accommodating for having fewer resources: many items have shorter sleeves, v-necks (both save on yarn), use fewer buttons, or have yarn-saving stitch patterns: open-work inserts (lace stitches require less wool per area than textured stitches) or Fair Isle patterns, so you can use up odds and ends.

The Board of Trade also placed “infomercials” in Woman’s Own and Woman’s Journal as part of the Make Do and Mend campaign. They usually consisted of a few hints or tips around a certain topic (remaking old clothes into new ones, taking care of fabric, etc) and included a small section on Make Do and Mend classes. Women were encouraged to attend one of these classes, or set one up. The Mass Observation Archive contains two exercise books with textile samples from Mrs Watkins, who attended this class in Portslade. Some of these Board of Trade infomercials were also published in the Picture Post, a magazine more directed at a male readership: instead of a call to join a Make Do and Mend class, men were asked to “count their coupons”! One of them, however, does show sailors and soldiers darning their own socks…

Make Do and Mend with Patch

Invisible mending by using threads harvested from hem or seam, from Mrs Watkins’s notebook

I hope you will join me at my darning workshop at The Keep on 17 September, as it will give you a unique chance to see the some of these magazines and archived objects all gathered together especially for the occasion. Fiona Courage, Special Collections Manager and Mass Observation Curator (Library), will  give an introduction to The Keep, and be at hand to answer any questions you may have about items on display.

Read more here about my workshop at The Keep, or, if you simply can’t wait to book a place, please call 01273 482349.

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Currently on at the Pitt Rivers Museum is the “Preserving What Is Valued” case display and museum trail. It demonstrates how people from all parts of the world repair their material culture. Conservators study objects in great detail and part of their role is to determine at what stage a repair has been made. If the repair was made by the originating community while it was still in use this provides an additional level of information and can give the object a deeper resonance. Identifying an original repair can raise questions that make us think about the object’s history differently.

gourd vessel with visible mending using beads

Gourd vessel, decoratively repaired using beads, collection Pitt Rivers Museum

I was invited to run two darning classes as part of the events around this display. My name is Tom and I’m a self-taught textile practitioner, and one of the things I do is run the Visible Mending Programme. Through this programme I seek to highlight that the art and craftsmanship of clothes repair is particularly relevant in a world where more and more people voice their dissatisfaction with fashion’s throwaway culture. By exploring the story behind garment and repair, the programme reinforces the relationship between the wearer and garment, leading to people wearing their existing clothes for longer, with the beautiful darn worn as a badge of honour.

The Visible Mending Programme - repaired jumper

“A mother’s Work…” repair commission for private client. You can read more about it here.

The darning classes were well attended and the participants were taught two classic knitwear repair techniques: firstly Swiss darning, also known as duplicate stitching, which is a good way to reinforce thinning fabrics such as elbows on sleeves, or to cover up stains.

pitt rivers class swiss darning swatch

Swiss darning in action by one of the participants

The second technique taught was the classic stocking darn, using a darning mushroom. It creates a woven patch that is integrated with the knit fabric, and is a good way to repair holes. Of course this is best known for sock repairs.

pitt rivers class completed swatch swiss and stocking darn

A completed practice swatch, showing a stocking darn and rows of Swiss darning in bold colours

Throughout the class, I shared many hints and tips on repairing, such as what tools and materials to use for best results, examples of my work, and how to look after your woollens. Half-way through the class we had a break, and everybody was encouraged to see the display cabinet and follow the museum trail to find original repairs.

muslin handkerchief repair close-up

tortoise shell comb repaired with metal strip

The Pitt Rivers holds many repaired objects in its collection, from all over the world. Here shown a delicate muslin handkerchief with some rather crude darns, and a tortoise shell comb repaired with a riveted metal strip

I found the repairs very inspiring: an inventive use of locally available materials such as baste fibres, small decorative additions such as beads, or the neat way stitching cracks, the use of staples, or even items made in such a way that they could be easily repaired in the future. I won’t go into too much detail, as it’s fun to go and see it all for yourself!

The Preserving What is Valued case display and museum trail at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, 29 June 2015 – 3 January 2016. More information here.

pitt rivers class picture

At the end of the workshop, all participants proudly show off their new skills!

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This blog post was originally published on the Education Pitt, Learning for Schools, Families, Communities and Adults blog.

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Last weekend I spent two wonderful days with Deb Robson at her Wool Types workshop at Fibre East. Deb wrote the Fleece & Fiber Source Book together with Carol Eskarius, which is a compendium of many sheep breeds and other animals, and the fibre they grow. It explains for each of the fibres their characteristics, strengths and weaknesses, and is illustrated with pictures of the locks, spun yarn, and a knitted or woven sample. She has also contributed to Wovember more than once.

Deb Robson Wool Types Workshop

Deb Robson distributing wool amongst her students

Needless to say, Deb knows a thing or two about wool, and she shared her knowledge freely and liberally during her two-day workshop on wool types. Although I have had a chance to play with wool from a number of different breeds, it was very enlightening to be able to compare and contrast sixteen different wools, ranging from the softest and most luxurious Saxon Merino to a very springy Southdown X Beulah cross, to the coarse hairs from a double-coated Hebridean fleece.

Wool Types Workshop 16 Sheep Breeds

Sixteen breeds: Saxon Merino, Rouge, Lleyn, Lonk, Hampshire Down, Polwarth, Southdown X Beulah, Soft Fell, Corriedale, Romney, Hebridean, Badger Face, North Country Cheviot, Texel, and Ouessant

The students in the workshop ranged from absolute beginner (amazingly, Heather learnt to spin especially to attend this workshop!) to the very experienced. They came from all over the world (from the USA to Finland), and there was also a good mix of wheel and spindle users. I think we all learnt from each other as well as from Deb.

Wool Types workshop with Deb Robson

This one’s for Donna Druchunas, who wanted to see a picture of Deb in England

Apart from learning about wool, I also learnt about spinning, and about spinning wheels. Until Fibre East I haven’t had a chance to try out many different wheels, but as I couldn’t arrange for my own wheel to be there, I got to try a number of loan wheels. It made me appreciate my Timbertops wheel, although it would be nice to have a travel wheel one day. On the other hand, for this class I could’ve just used my spindles.

I now have some new techniques under my belt, too. One is Andean plying, which is a way of managing your singles yarn in order to ply it up. The other one is a quick and easy way to make a textured yarn. Deb called it ‘spinning from a cloud,’ (please note that the linked video is a slightly different method that what I learnt) for which you first pick open some locks until you have light mass of randomly arranged fibres in your lap. When you spin this, you feed in the fibre unevenly, giving you a very textured singles yarn.

So, what did I play with?

wool types class with Deb Robson samples 1

Lonk, Southdown X Beulah, Ouessant, Lleyn, Badger Face, and Romney

The picture above clearly shows how different breeds produce different wool. Although they are all “white” you can see that there are many variations in hue; some look creamy, whilst others are a much cooler shade of white. You can also the difference in lustre, or shine. Some breeds produce a very shiny, lustrous fibre, and others a very dull and chalky fibre. This can be emphasised with the spinning technique chosen. To emphasise lustre, you can prepare the wool by combing it, so that the fibres lie all parallel to each other, and then use a worsted spinning technique, to keep the fibres parallel in the yarn. Carding on the other hand will hide the lustre.

wool types class with Deb Robson samples 2

Ryeland, possibly Ouessant, Texel, Rouge, and Hampshire Down two ways

Deb is also fond of trying out spinning techniques that you wouldn’t immediately think of. For instance, the Ryeland at the top has a very short staple (fibre) length, and is traditionally carded, like my sample. This jumbles up the fibres and plays up a fibre’s crimp (waves in the individual fibres) and elasticity; this is enhanced by spinning it long-draw, where you keep the fibres jumbled up in the resulting yarn. This leads to very warm and lofty yarns. But not Deb, she decided to comb the Ryeland fibres on mini combs and spin it worsted style. The resulting yarn is also very nice, but not something people would immediately think of doing.

wool types class with Deb Robson samples 3

Soft Fell, Lincoln, Corriedate, North Country Cheviot, Hebridean – hair only, Hebridean – wool only, and Finnsheep

Sheep can produce three types of fibre: wool, kemp, and hair. In some sheep breeds the wool and hair are hard to distinguish. Wool is a fibre that naturally has a lot of little waves in it, which is called crimp. The crimp can be organised or unorganised (in other words, show as a regular pattern of waves, or jumbled up). Hair is just what you imagine it might be like: it behaves like human hair, so it’s stiffer and when spun up, it will feel more wiry and be more like twine than yarn. Kemp, on the other hand, are short and brittle fibres. It’s most usually white, but some breeds produce red or black kemp. Kemp doesn’t show dye well, or not at all. Traditional tweed fabrics and yarns use this as a feature as it will give a heathered effect when dyeing the fibres.

The keen observer may have noticed there are no sample skeins of the Polwarth and Saxon Merino fibre samples shown in the second picture. I tried to prepare a little bit of Polwarth, but as it was so hot and clammy that day, the combed top just collapsed into a clumpy mass in my hands before I even had a chance to draft it. I’ll wait for the cooler weather to return before trying thatand the Saxon Merino out again. Both fibres are very fine and quite slippery, and once mastered, will produce luxurious results.

The Sheer Sheep Experience with Michael Churchouse

The Sheer Sheep Experience, with Michael Churchouse, who has around forty different breeds in his flocks!

I met many inspiring people at Fibre East. The tutors were all top-class, and Fibre East have put a lot of effort in to get some tutors over from the USA, for which they deserve a huge thank you. Not only Deb Robson, but also Abby Franquemont (spindle spinning,) Sarah Anderson (fancy art yarns,) and Sara Lamb (spinning and weaving.) Michael Churchouse with his Sheer Sheep Experience was also there, and he puts on a very entertaining and informative show. And there were many others, too.

I already liked spinning, but Fibre East made me realise I like it a lot; and I feel inspired to spin all the wool to make myself a whole outfit – it will take me a long time, but I’m looking forward to the journey, and all the amazing people I will meet, and all the things I will learn along the way.

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