Here at The Lace Knittery it is usually fibre central. I spin, dye and weave as well as never having less than four projects on the needles and two on the hook. And that is just at home, the design studio is similarly filled from floor to ceiling (come and visit I designed it to be a fibre and yarn filled haven).
I often get queries about fleece. Mostly from people who have one or two fibre bearing animals and along the lines of what do I do with this?
I am super passionate about natural fibres, natural processing and promoting this wonderful resource we have…ffs it’s renewable, biodegradable, natural, is wonderful to wear and use, keeps you warm and cool, keeps you waterproof (if you want to…more of that in a later post), nothing goes to waste because even the poo filled bits go on under my fruit bushes and plants as a degradeable mulch and the countryside only looks like that because it’s grazed! …
…and breathe…anyway, I had a Facebook message. I have these fleece but don’t know what to do with them. Nothing unusual there. I arranged for the person to drop in with them to advise her. A couple of days later the door opened at the studio and a bag was pushed in. No she didn’t want them, couldn’t use them and just wanted to get rid of them. Before I could get on my soapbox again about hating waste she had gone. I had a brief look at the fleece, they looked like Shetland and before she had scooted there was a brief story of getting them from third party.
I was in the middle of something so just bundled them into a bag and bought them home for a bit detective work. Weeks later I had tracked down the original source, and yes they were pure Shetland. I had a moment of fist pumping ‘YE-E-E-S-S-SSS, I am good at fleece recognition’…I know, sad but true…and then went to unearth them from my home studio room.
They were in a clear bag and as I approached I saw something move, and then more things and then I my stomach hit the floor…it could be only one thing…MOTH!!!
In the nearly twenty years I have filled my life, house, family, car and everything else with fibre I have only ever had one other moth incident. That time I had been to a show and bought some angora rabbit fibre to try spinning with. I got it out a few days later and it was alive with wriggly little brown moth caterpillars. I don’t think I have ever moved so fast. They were sealed in the bag but I got it out of the house and at least a mile away before I drew breath. This time the fleece had been in the house at least a month, surrounded by more fibre than the average moth could eat through in a thousand generations. Thoughts of having to Arnie style blast everything with a flamethrower went through my head, along with a long wailing ‘Noooooooooooooooooooo’ I had stuff in there that was special, that I had hoarded for years, that I will never use but is just part of the look at and pet stash (for non yarnivores do not ever question stash, we have useable stash, bored with stash, might come back to stash and no don’t touch but I may let you look at stash, amongst others but it’s all ours and precious so paws off).
OH heard the wail and came to investigate. Now, it might have taken me twenty five years but I have managed to convert him from a total uninterested onlooker to a newby to a yarnivore spinner…I maybe slow to convert but I’m persistent! He took one look at me hyperventilating and in tears one look at the bag and swung into action. The bag was out of the door and at the top of the garden before I had calmed down. We then had damage limitation.
First check had any escaped? We found one on one of my favourite creations…a natural dye logwood exhaust. A Sweartastic five minutes later nothing else. Now if you ever have this problem the way to deal with it is freeze or microwave the fibre filled objects to kill any eggs. Have you any idea how long it takes to empty a yarn filled room? Even now I am not sure I unearthed all the stash. The freezer now contains all the WIP…which leads to some interesting conversations when you look into it for supper inspiration…’well you can have a super Fair Isle cardie that I have almost got to steeking stage, a sweater I got bored with but the yarn is lovely or chicken?’…I then get affronted when he doesn’t opt for the Fair Isle option, I mean who the heck doesn’t like Fair Isle? We then spent the next few days nuking the rest of the yarn and fibre. I only had one mishap where I over did the timing. I did not know you could carbonise yarn, I also did not know it would take approximately two weeks to get rid of the smell from the rest of the house!
We now have a quarantine area for any new fibre and back to the picture at the top…the little brown dots stopped me in my tracks. I had only just undone the bag to process and had it at the base of the stairs in the light to look at. Would OH find me rocking and muttering ‘moth’. Would he find a strangely echoing house that was unaccountably twice the size than he remembered from that morning because I had removed all the stash (including the section that he didn’t know about). Well, no, panic over…we have in addition to Hamish Humperdinck the Wondercat, two rescue kittens…they had been gardening with one of the house plants. Panic, for the moment over.
When I first started to spin nearly twenty years ago I had a wheel I had no idea how to use and a bundle of sheep wool I had picked off the fences of the local Somerset farms. Not a good start unless you are a super bloody minded, no lump of wood is getting the better of me, sweartastic, anal and stubborn individual like me (…note I am like this and it came in handy when dealing with teenage strops).
Scroll through the years…picture leaves blowing off a tree, clouds racing across the sky, clothes going on and off a tailors dummy…still love that film…and today I have several wheels, spindles and fibre prep equipment but have never tried a blending board.
Well I knew I could never sneak another wheel in the house, they are just too big but a thing the size of a chopping board EASY. First I had to find one in stock somewhere. Flipping heck everyone I have been really missing out, why did no one tell me there was a shortage of boards. I finally tracked one down and an Ashford blending board arrived two days later.
I did the usual, read the instructions…bollocks I want to play…tangled lump that was as hard as a brick resulted…step up into bloody minded gear and read the instructions. Not really comprehensive so I then did my next favourite thing…cogitate!
I love a good cogitate. You think I am spinning or typing or driving but I am also cogitating on how, why, where, what if. A week later I think I have it worked out.
It’s all about the fibre, but then isn’t everything?! What I mean is it’s all about the amount of fibre you add on the board and then the amount you pulled off and how.
Lovely little rolls above was one of two but I had a spin with the first. Not overloading the board makes them easy to spin with. Check simple rolag then I wanted to push it. How about making a continual roving? I need a diz…bum, haven’t got one but that’s never stopped me. I didn’t have hand carders for the first year of my spinning adventure. I used a pet hair comb. It worked was really slow but cost under a £. Back to the diz, need something with a hole in, and something that I could hold and easily push, pull and not lose. To the button box batman…..
It worked! Continuous roving is possible on a blending board. I could have gone on and on but a kitten intervened and legged it with a load of fibre.
Kitten removed by feeding her and back to the board. My next attempt was little pencil rolag things. I loaded more fibre on the board than the roving, overlapped the colours and started pulling it off.
It takes more effort than you think to pull the fibres apart. Lift them up from the board and apply a steady pressure while winding. You can get four from each board. I love them and want to give them googly eyes and names. I can now see why they were out of stock, you can produce a lot of different things and for blending fibre and colour you are in total control…possibilities are endless.
Two of the questions I am most frequently asked are ‘When did you first start knitting?’ and ‘What made you start The Lace Knittery?’
The first is the most easy to answer…I have no idea! I cannot remember being taught to knit but I can definitely remember the first piece of knitting I was aware of and excited by. It was at Primary School and I was six or seven. We knitted squares from donated yarn. I can remember being selected to knit two because I was one of the quicker and more even knitters. I can remember the struggle and hard work in making those squares BUT also the pride in the finished square (ish!) shapes and the fascination starting then with all things yarn. It was also the era of The Good Life on TV and I was imagining the sheep that my lovely bright red acrylic came from…I have got MUCH better at fibre identifying since then and have gone on to process from fleece to finished garment on a regular basis.
Anyway some poor parent got to cobble together our squares into two blankets and we sent them as a class to the Donkey Sanctuary in Devon. The clincher into making me a yarnivore and general fibre obsessive was the Donkey Sanctuary sent us story books as a thank you! Not only was I a knitter but an an appreciated knitter…sold!!!
The second question is much more multifaceted but is something I shout about to anyone…soz, if you are someone who had asked this question and then backed away as I was still going after ten minutes…I am passionate about what I do.
Firstly, as already said acrylic was king in the 1970s and this continued into the 1980s when I first started knitting lace (Aged 14 when I decided my first project would be a wedding ring shawl. I finished it after 4 years.) you could not get natural fibre yarn. For a while in the 1990s I imported and ordered from outside the UK but I really wanted to find homegrown, natural yarn.
I started spinning in the early 2000s…and bam…we have this wonderful, unique, renewable resource I had to get word out. A huge part of starting the Lace Knittery was to stock, use and promote natural fibres, build bridges and relationships with fibre producers and educate anyone who wants to learn about this…and I won’t stop going on about it!
Secondly we were starting to lose skills…not while I am around! I have demonstrated cast on, cast off, different yarns, knit stitch, purl stitch, yarn overs, reading patterns and a myriad of other things from the middle of fields to on stand at an exhibition. I love encouraging and passing on skills. We are all part of one big yarnieverse. If I can help, encourage and teach I will…go on just ask!
Finally, and probably most personally, I cannot say enough about how good the act of creating something, be it single stitch or entire sweater is for you. It is food for the soul. You are doing something with your hands, which frees your mind from every day cares. It is my me time of mindfulness. It has helped me cope at the most stressful times of my life as well as celebrate the most happy and fun.
When I was being sexually harassed and assaulted by a coworker, knitting helped me calm down and ask for help.
It was there in the aftermath when I was moved departments while the perpetrator was given gardening leave until I had left, taking the form of me furiously knitting the most enormous and complicated aran sweaters to hide under.
It was there with the excitement of being pregnant and anticipating new life. The wedding ring shawl pattern got another go.
It was there in the long evenings and nights alone while my OH was working. My twenty something children still have the knitted cat.
It was there when I bounced around the room because The Lace Knittery was going to exhibit at The Knitting and Stitching Shows. I treasure each and every interaction and am still amazed by it all but can’t stop the designs coming out of my head.
It was there when I was diagnosed with MS…
…you see we never know what other people have in their life, good or bad, but making, creating, be it drawing, colouring, knitting, stitching, cooking or anything else cannot be overlooked. We are all as important and as valid as the next person. Yarn doesn’t know about race, or sexuality or religion or disability it is just a tool for you to use and enjoy. If we were all given the same yarn and needles we would all produce something different AND THAT’S what I love, the diversity of the yarniverse, the willingness to share, the ability to calm and validate…oh and probably a myriad of other emotions that swirl around and make me talk fast and hand out yarn and needles and encourage and encourage and encourage…