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Late last year, I met Mrs Pademelon and her Joey.

MrsPademelonsJoeyBook

Mrs Pademelon’s Joey, a classic children’s book from Australia, first published in 1967

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Mrs Pademelon and her Joey, in dire need of a spot of darning!

This toy was knitted for a colleague’s husband by his mum, based on his favourite book, Mrs Pademelon’s Joey. It was much loved, although a balaclava knitted from the same wool was deemed too scratchy by the young recipient. Subsequently, when my colleague’s daughter was born, Mrs Pademelon became her beloved companion, and still loves her now, ten years on. Mrs Pademelon has received the love of two young children along and has lived a while in the loft. Looking after children is hard work, as Mrs Pademelon can attest, and her coat is much in need of repair.

MrsPademelonBefore1

Joey was misbehaving when I took this picture!

When my colleague asked me to repair this cherished knitted toy, I was somewhat flummoxed by her name. It turns out that pademelons are small to medium sized marsupials found inhabiting the forests of Australia and a number of its surrounding islands. The pademelon is most closely related to the wallaby and the kangaroo. The pademelon is a solitary and nocturnal animal meaning that the pademelon, spends the light daytime hours resting, and goes foraging for food during the cooler cover of night.

For the repairs I used two yarns from The Little Grey Sheep: the solid blue is Stein Fine wool, and the heathered blue is Hampshire 4-ply. For such a classic knitted toy, I used the perenial classic stocking darn as a technique.

Mrs Pademelon Repaired Visible Mending by Tom of Holland

Mrs Pademelon and Joey sport some new patches on their coats

Mrs Pademelon Repaired Visible Mending by Tom of Holland closeup

Photobombed by Joey!

I worked the darn on the bias, as I find that works nicer on the garter stitch background. The heathered blue makes for a vibrant repair.

Mrs Pademelon Repaired Visible Mending by Tom of Holland closeup 2

Solid blue for belly repairs, heathered blue for back repairs

Repairing this toy brought simple pleasures: perhaps it was not the most challenging job I’ve ever done, but nevertheless it was immensely satisfying. While stitching, I tried to imagine what it was like to knit this toy: I’m not sure there was a published pattern. Every child enjoys a cuddly toy, and being able to make one for your own child imbues it with care and love for that child. It made me chuckle to think that the balaclava from the same wool wasn’t appreciated quite as much due to its scratchy nature!

Clearly much loved, I hope that Mrs Pademelon and her Joey will stay in my colleague’s family for a long time to come and will bring joy to a few more generations of children.

Mrs Pademelon Waves Goodbye

Mrs Pademelon says g’day!

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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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As a knitter, I’m somebody who likes to plan ahead. I knit numerous swatches; I try out new techniques and compare them with firm favourites; I take gauge measurements; I sketch and calculate. I knit up accordingly. This doesn’t mean I always get it right, but that’s okay. I will have learnt something new, and I can use that knowledge when planning the next thing. But in the last couple of years or so, I have been exposed to other methods of working. A more carefree and let’s-see-what-happens approach. A good example, and great inspiration, is the work by Rachael Matthews who runs Prick Your Finger.

Rachael Matthews Shamanic Bed for Creatives

Rachael Matthews’s Shamanic Bed for Creatives

Rachael’s Shamanic Bed for Creatives contains a cornucopia of textile techniques. Hand knitting, machine knitting, crochet, darning, and who knows what else, all find their way into the shamanic bedspread. Ideas come into her head and these magically flow into her hands and make a fabric, as she comes up with them. Some of these will work, and others will not. Knitting and crocheting allows one to shape the fabric while making it, this in contrast to woven fabrics, where one has to cut and sew to shape it. In addition, knitting and crocheting can easily be undone without loss of material. It is possible to use the ripped out yarn and try again. So if an idea doesn’t work, then it’s a lesson learnt that can be put to use straightaway. It’s even possible to start something without knowing what the end result will be, like Rachael’s Explosion Jumper.

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Embroidered Cushion Cover, exploring Jamieson & Smith Heritage yarns

I find this way of working, when it comes to knitting, quite a challenge. With decorational techniques (for want of a better description) I struggle less with this approach. For instance, the embroidery on the cushion cover pictured above was done free-style, without any planning whatsoever. Those of you who follow me on Instagram (@tomofholland) will have seen the doodles I occasionally post. Embroidering this cushion was like doodling with needle and thread.

Slowly but surely, I’m opening up to allow my knitting also to be more free-style, and less planned. It’s a shift in thinking that wakes me up, and it allows me to use my knowledge of techniques in a different way. It started with a simple bath mat. Having worked with Sue Craig on the Knitting The Map project (more on that in a later blog post), I had developed an obsession with stripes in garterstitch. Rachael selected eight shades for me from Prick Your Finger’s carpet yarn range, reminiscent of Bauhaus colours.

knitted rug in garterstitch by tomofholland

Knitted bath mat in garterstitch

Although I had made a lot of doodles (none of them larger than approximately 4 x 7cm), I didn’t plan anything before casting on. Yes, I knitted a swatch to select the right needle size for the fabric I wanted, but after that I just started at one corner and came up with the patterns and colours as I went along. I only decided on the construction after knitting the bottom strip. It was a departure of the planned object, the self-imposed constrictions and the letting go of expectations.

inspirational craft books

Inspiration for creative knitting: C Nieuwhoff: Anders Breien en Haken; M McNeill: Pulled Thread; M Walker Phillips: Creative Knitting; M Stove: Creating Original Hand-knitted Lace; A Sutton: British Craft Textiles; S Read (editor): Wild Knitting; E Mairet: Hand-weaving Today

These are just some of my books in my craft library in which the author in some way or other speaks about, or shows, how to let go of the regimented way of working, but instead letting materials or techniques guide the way. The compendium by Ann Sutton is a showcase of British textile artists working with a huge variety of techniques. Wild Knitting shows that knitting doesn’t have to stop with jumpers and socks. Margaret Stove shows how to create your own lace patterns, after explaining how lace stitches work together. Moyra McNeill and Constance Nieuwhoff both use traditional techniques in new, sometimes unexpected, applications. Ethel Mairet talks about letting materials and colours speak for themselves, and she often used simple techniques to show these off.

It all seems to come together in Mary Walker Phillips’s Creative Knitting. A weaver by trade, she became a very accomplished knitter with a sound knowledge of knitting techniques; she also spins and dyes. She explains how she uses vastly different materials, from artificial straw to handspun linen, and how these have an influence on the techniques she uses. Mostly her art pieces are wallhangings, casement curtains or other lacy structures, incorporating pieces of mica, pebbles, or beads. I find these pieces particularly inspiring at the moment.

Lace sample in handspun Rough Fell 2ply yarn

Handspun Rough Fell 2ply yarn and lace sample

The lace sample above was a quick study in mixing and matching lace stitches, using handspun Rough Fell 2-ply yarn. I like the contrast between the kempy, hairy and wire-like yarn, and the lace stitches, which are more usually executed in, for instance, a fine and soft Shetland yarn. This is just a starting point, and I will be creating more samples of both yarn and stitches this year, and be guided by my newfound approach to creative knitting. And in true Rachael-style, I don’t quite know where this will lead me, but I’m excited to start this journey and will be reporting back on my blog.

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Post-script (added 1 March 2014): perhaps my view on how Rachael appears to create her work was somewhat romanticised and simplified in my head, so please check out the comments on this post below, where Rachael has responded to my writing.

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Last week I wrote about my visit to Diamond Fibres. As we hadn’t finished our job, we went back last Friday. On our first visit Roger had given me a lot of information, so I took this chance to clarify a couple of things. Unfortunately I didn’t take any new pictures, so I’ll keep it brief.

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two gilling machines on the far left, the top of the combing machine at the right. Click on the image to see a larger version

After the wool gets carded, the carded fibres land from the back of the carder into a belt, with a funnel at the end and a number of rollers. These compress the continuous carded batt into untwisted sliver, which ends up in a big coil in a “can;” a large open-topped casket, so that you can move the delicate sliver to the gilling machine.

You can see two gilling machines at the far left in the picture above, one of which shows its feeding belt. The can goes underneath this belt and the sliver is fed into the gilling machine. The gilling machine will add some twist, but more importantly, it has rows of combs hanging down. These will align the fibres so that they lie parallel to each other. This first machine has the tines of the combs quite far apart (seven to the inch.) The sliver comes out at the other end and ends up in another can. This get’s moved to the second gilling machine, shown at the far left of the picture. This one has finer combs, with the tines spaced closer together (ten to twelve to the inch.) To align of the fibres even further. Again, the sliver is caught in a can. Once sixteen cans have been filled up, they go the combing machine.

The combing machine will only comb out noils (small clumps of short fibre), in order to end up with a very smooth yarn. It also adds a bit more twist to, what is now called, combed top and it gets wound onto the biggest bobbins. These then go onto the big machine in the middle of the picture above, and from there on, the process continues as described in last week’s post.

Any readers who enjoy preparing their own fibres for spinning will have noticed that the process of aligning the fibres and combing out the noils is reversed when you process fibres by hand. When preparing your own fleece at home for worsted spinning, you usually skip the carding altogether. The locks go straight onto the hand-combs, and you comb the fibres first to remove the noils. Once this is completed, you pull off the fibres with a diz (a small flat object with a small hole in it) to produce your combed top. Some people add some twist to this, by carefully winding it onto a make-shift distaff – this could just be a large knitting needle. Others leave the combed top as is.

Another thing I learnt is that Roger’s spinning machine is a flyer spinner (as I noted in the previous post, just like a spinning wheel at home), as this is more suited for longwools, the type of wool Diamond Fibres specialises in. As the pencil roving is drafted out to be twisted into yarn it is guided around the flyer a couple of times before it winds onto the bobbin. This will make for a smoother worsted yarn as it will help “tuck in” any loose fibres.

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The yarn is twisted around the flyer before it goes onto the bobbin.

When spinning woollen yarns, where the fibres are more jumbled up, the spinning machine has a ring, rather than a flyer. You can see the woollen spinning preparation beautifully explained in the following Wovember blog post with the ring spinner here.

If you’re curious about hand combing at home, then I can highly recommend the following set of videos found here (link to the first of four videos.)

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Well over a year ago I was in Prick Your Finger and somebody was in the shop, spinning at a spinning wheel. Seeing that I like all things woolly, I was most intrigued. As spinning wheels are a serious investment, I thought I could explore the art of spinning by starting off on a cheap spindle and some fleece. The fleece was rather special, yet of unknown provenance as far as breeds go. It was called “M25” fleece, which was unwanted fleece they had gathered for within the M25 for their installation at the Stanley Picker Gallery. Unhindered by any knowledge of fibre preparation I made an attempt at spinning. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I didn’t do a very good job of it and in fact, I didn’t even enjoy the process. But, as you can see in the following picture, things have changed since:

HSOverview

two spindles, Wensleydale combed tops, textured merino yarn, two ply M25 yarn, dyed Portland

Somehow I couldn’t let go of the dream of spinning my own yarn and late last year, in fact, just before the start of Wovember2012, I had a chat with Felix, as she had been spinning for a little while and I decided to plunge in again. This time I bought myself a nice spindle:

HSSpindleIST

22 gram Spindle from Ian Tait, shaft from Ash, whorl from Sycamore with a pippy Yew finish

I got my spindle from IST Crafts and it is a thing of beauty. The shaft is made from Ash, the whorl is made from Sycamore, and is finished with a layer of pippy Yew. It is extremely well-balanced, and the whorl is rim-weighted, so it keeps spinning. I also availed myself of two books:

HSYourHandspinning

Your Handspinning, by Elsie G Davenport

Your Handspinning by Elsie G Davenport was originally published in the 1950s and is considered a classic by many. I was lucky to find it in a secondhand bookshop. It takes you through all the basics of spinning on a spindle and a wheel. But for me, one book on a subject is never enough*, so I also bought the following book:

HSRespectTheSpindle

Respect the Spindle, by Abby Franquemont

It’s Respect the Spindle, by Abby Franquemont, and she covers a lot of ground, going into great detail of the intricacies of spinning with a spindle. Well worth the investment if you when you’re starting out.

At the same time my spindle arrived in the post, Felix had very kindly put together a parcel full of fibre to play with. It was all ready to be spun, so I didn’t have to worry about combing or carding it.

Here’s one of my very-first-for-the-second-time handspun:

HSMerinoUnintentional

handspun Merino

As you can see, it’s is rather textured. Anyone who spins will recognise the unintentional thick and thin nature of this first handspun yarn. But it didn’t take me that long to get more consistent; just spin for 15-30min each day and slowly but surely it starts to get easier and easier. I started of with the park-and-draft technique, explained in detail in Abby Franquemont’s video here. In fact, I find her video very instructional and although she made it well before her book was published, they go together well. I spun all the Merino, then some Masham, Jacob and also some Shetland: Felix’s parcel was stuffed full of goodies!

However, I still had that bag of washed, but otherwise unprepared M25 fleece. So Felix came to visit and she brought along some of her spinning tools. Of course a spindle, but also some hand carders and mini combs. I took to the combs with vigour and I really enjoyed prepping the fibre and I worked my way through the bag in no time. We noticed a few locks were coarses than others, so I processsed that separately. Once spun up and plied, you can see how the coarser fleece has turned into a yarn with a bit more halo:

HSM25Both

M25 fleece, combed and spun by myself. Coarse fibre yarn at the front, finer fibre yarn at the back.

I hope you don’t mind, but I’m so proud of this achievement and the difference between fibre quality within a fleece shows so well in these two yarns, that I just have to share some close-ups:

HSM25Fine

M25 fleece, finer fibre yarn

HSM25Coarse

M25 fleece, coarse fibre yarn

Aren’t they beautiful? The waste fibre left over from the combing was used to practise carding and making rolags. Definitely more difficult than combing and we didn’t have a lot to play with, but here is the yarn we managed to spin from it, and it clearly has a more woollen spun nature to it:

HSM25WoollenSpun

Woollen spun M25 fleece

For my latest experiments I used some dyed fibres. Portland in fact, and all dyed by Felix herself. Here are the four colours, in the lock:

HSDyedPortlandLocks

 

Portland fleece, dyed by Dr Felicity Ford

The browns are dyed using black walnut (I’m assuming the lighter brown is from a second dye bath), the green was made with now forgotten plants and the “crazy pink” from dylon cold dye. Although I think my main interest will be breed specific wool and their natural colours, I did enjoy spinning this up and playing around a bit. I found Cecilia Hewett’s series of posts on spinning for Wovember very inspirational. I particularly like the yarn she showed in part II, a yarn that appears to be brown from afar, yet up close it reveals a myriad of colours. Amazing!

My attempts are not half as fancy, but it was fun to do nonetheless:

HSSpindlePYF

 

yarn from the dyed Portland

I mixed up the fibres by taking chunks of the combed tops and using them one after another for one single ply yarn, and then I made a much longer repeat on the second single ply. I have tried plying the yarns together from a centre pull ball but I don’t get on with that technique. Instead I followed Abby Franquemont’s advise of creating a plying ball. Simply wind the two single ply yarns together in a ball, making sure the tension is equal on both yarns; you can use a tennis ball or similar as a core for the plying ball, but I just started winding without it. You might already introduce a bit of twist when doing this, but once you’ve wound up your ball you are going to ply it proper on a spindle. As you can see, the Prick Your Finger spindle, which is larger and heavier than my IST spindle, is perfect for this.

I created two small quantities of this coloured Portland yarn, one with a balanced twist, and one very much overtwisted in order to see what would happen. It will also allow me to try something out I have wanted to swatch for a long time: the bias effect that an overtwisted yarn introduces to a fabric knitted in stocking stitch. But that, dear readers, is the subject for another blog post.

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*) whilst I’m writing this post, two more books on spinning and preparing fibre are on the way. Peter Teal’s Hand Wool Combing and Spinning; and Judith MacKenzie’s The Intentional Spinner.

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