This is it, folks, the last post of WOVEMBER 2013! Don’t worry though, as usual there will be a few afterwords… we still need to identify the winners of the WAL and of the photo competition! In the meantime, as promised, here are some of the BEAUTIFUL things people have been doing with WOOL during this month!
Thanks all for reading, re-tweeting, commenting, sharing and encouraging our daily postings. We are so glad you all seem to love WOOL as much as we do! And now, without further ado, and in no particular order… here are the WAL projects that have been sent into us. All content and photos © the individual contributors.
‘I want to show you my finished Cardigan Clarity: I was able to spin enough yarn of Cormo and dye it nearly the same color as one of the used Xisqueta ones, so I used that for the Cowl collar…
…I am really quite proud of my first cardigan. Thanks again for all the wonderful inspirations on your website. Have a nice Christmas time’ – Birte Kurth
‘I’ve finished this scarf (‘first scarf’) but not sewn it up yet. It’s knitted on a 3.5mm circular needle with a picot edge, I will turn under and sew the hem which is in a bit of cashmere. The wool is mostly from a 100% wool jumper I bought in a charity shop, unpicked and washed, mixed with Jamieson&Smith jumper yarns. I think the jumper was originally J&S as some colours match exactly. The patterns are picked from Alice Starmore’s Fair Isle book…
…The second scarf (‘LonelyTreeEin02′) is knitted in Icelandic lace-weight yarn, called Einband, which I bought direct from Iceland via a website a while ago. The pattern I picked up in a charity shop. it took a few trials before I got the right gauge – 5mm needles. I think it needs a bit more washing and rubbing to soften up though…
…I love the Wovember series – it’s really making me knit more!’ – Carys Davies
‘During Wovember I worked on Kate Davies’ “Shepherd Hoody”. It is knitted in pure New Zealand Corriedale wool yarn. The sheep are farmed by Anna Gratton, who also processes and spins the wool into yarn in her mill on her farm in Feilding. Incidentally, at least one of the shearers is also a woman!
I thought this project encapsulated the spirit of the hoodie very well in supporting a local shepherdess and wool producer. All my favourite projects are knitted in this yarn – it is very durable very, very, comfortable and cosy to wear’ – KiwiPurler (on Ravelry)
‘This jacket was already in process since July, but completed in Wovember. I started with some lovely Finn wool, which was faux solar dyed in jars on the top of my wood stove in winter in Australia. I used natural dyes, logwood, lac, cutch and madder, the wool was blended and drum carded and made into rolags and spun with a long draw, the resulting blends were then knitted into a jacket. My design was inspired by Lynne Vogel’s book The Twisted sisters knit Sweaters, using both intarsia and slip stitches to show off the blended colours’ – Faye Cumming, Bullarto, Australia
‘My project is to make a vest out of wool from different German sheep breeds such as:
Merino Landschaf– the special type which is common in the Wuerttemberg area in southern Germany;
Waldschaf (Forest sheep)
Juraschaf (Black mountain sheep)
Bergschaf (Mountain sheep)
Unfortunately, I do not know the breed names in English.
I keep some of the Merino Landschafe on my own and the wool of the other breeds I got from fellow shepherds.
I washed the fleeces, carded, spun and plied the wool.
…The idea of Wovember and the WAL is great! I tell it to everybody working with wool in my reach :-)…
Now I have finished my project.
It was quite an experience to work with such a variety of different wool types. I found that I had to avoid working edges with “Alpines Steinschaf” and “Waldschaf” which are the most primary breeds which I used because their wool is less elastic than all the others. All colour are natural 2ply yarns with the exception of one: the stripes in “heather” is a dyed 3ply yarn from my favourite sheep “Mia” which is a crossbred between Merino Landschaf and Bergschaf (Mountain Sheep).
I am happy that I managed to finish the vest in time though I am a bit sad that the project is over now.
Thank you for the idea of WOVEMBER! We too have a long tradition of sheep breeding in our region and we try to put the value of wool back into the heads of the people’ – Beate Herold, Nuertingen, Germany
‘One of my first weaving projects (I decided to learn a new ‘woolly’ skill as part of Wovember) woven with hand dyed lace weight blue faced Leicester wool’ – Rachel Raynor
‘I seem to have darned holes in 13 pairs of socks. Roughly a hole a day, but sometimes 2 or 3. I used my own hand-spun yarn for all of the holes. Photo 1 is a picture of all the Wovember-mended socks I could find (I couldn’t find two pairs – I think they are on people!). Some of the darns were already there. There has been much darning on darning! Plus 2 pictures of a couple of my favourite mendings. Most of the mending is very visible because the darns make me happy! But I was quite pleased with my not-so-visible darning of some of the socks…
…this photo above shows two darned heels in a pair of socks knitted in Noro yarn. A conventional woven darn on the left and a Swiss darn on the right. I liked the exercise of matching my handspun wool with the Noro colours…
…this is my favourite darn. I love the little triangle!’ – Cecilia Hewett
‘My Shepherd Hoody – a fabulous pattern and a finished piece that I am absolutely thrilled with’ – Sally Duncan
‘Here is my Wovember WAL project: Kate Davies’ Puffin sweater, knitted in Jamieson and Smith Shetland Supreme, with natural black as the main colour, and yuglet, shaela, sholmit, mooskit, katmollet, gaulmogot, and white, for the yoke. Thank you for making this Wovember a truly wonderful, woolly month!’ – Valerie Heuchan
‘My aim was to spin wool from six Short Tailed North European sheep breeds during the WAL. I managed four, because I couldn’t get Åland fleece in November. I also hadn’t thought that I would hurt my back, so I spun less than I thought and skipped Kainuu Grey (I have spun that breed earlier).
I spun brown and black Swedish Finullsheep, and brown and black Finnish Landrace aka Finn aka Finnsheep. I already knew the two breeds resemble each other, in fact so much that it’s not possible for me to tell which is which. The wools also are quite similar. If I lay out locks and close my eyes, mix them, and look again, I can’t tell which is which. There’s white, brown and black Finull and Finn. You can blend them into lots of colours. A mill here in Ostrobothnia where I live used to spin 24 different colours by blending. Both breeds grow soft, lustrous wool wool with a fairly tight crimp. I handcarded and spun my samples woolen with a double draw.
I also spun a test skein of Värmlandsheep wool. This is a Swedish landrace with a double coat in white, brown or black, the browns from light to dark. The quality of the fleeces vary a lot, from almost only soft, short undercoat to pretty harsh and long fleeces with a distinct over coat. I chose a harsh one for my sample skein, but I also have a lovely fleece with mainly undercoat. Those kind of fleeces were chosen for vadmal, the waulked cloth that was of such great importance for centuries in Scandinavia. You can card the soft undercoat and the harsh overcoat together, or separate them and comb the guard hairs, and card the undercoat. You can then choose between spinning woolen or worsted and get several types of yarn. I carded and spun my sample woolen. The yarn would be nice in a rough blanket.
I have lovely light and dark grey Gotland fleece from Gotland. I carded and spun some of the dark grey with a woolen draw. Next week I’ll test combing to see which of my combs will produce the best prep for woven bands. The woolen skein is softer than I first thought it would be.
I also spun a skein of Finull/silk. I acid dyed the wool in September in my steam cooker, a brilliant investment! I rolled the washed locks in glad pack the same way you do with tops and rovings, and steamed for about 50 minutes. The result was lofty, nicely dyed locks that were easy to hand card. I added commercially dyed silk top and silk noils for texture and spun woolen.
And I also knitted a sweater. I used a handspun, very ugly yarn I’ve had in my stash for years. It loved being knitted in stripes together with a commercial wool/silk yarn, and a mill spun Finnsheep yarn I dyed in a warm red tone.
I’m satisfied with what I achieved during Wovember. I feel I’m part of a community, even if I’m the only spinner here. It’s been a great joy to start each day by reading the posts, following links, and looking at the photos…
…The photo from left to right: Värmland, brown and black Finn, brown and black Finull, Gotland. Blue Finull/silk’ – Barbro Heikinmatti
‘Finally, I have spun the Gotland wool’ – Idurre Aizpurua Iturralde
Thank you all for sharing your inspiring spinning, knitting, designing, darning etc. with us this WOVEMBER! It has been wonderful to WAL with you… we shall announce the winners in coming days. Meanwhile, WE HOPE EVERYONE HAS HAD A WARM & WOOLLY WOVEMBER,
Yours in WOOL xxx
Dear Wovember Readers, we have another evening with Ian Tait, who runs IST Crafts. Yesterday we heard from Ian in his own words, but tonight we’ll feature a new edition of a Q&A originally posted in the the Ravely Spindle Candy group. I feel Ian’s approach to spindle making, and his use of materials really resonates with Wovember’s ethos about wool; I hope you’ll agree. With many thanks to Diana, aka Chewiedox on Ravelry, for letting Wovember share her excellent interview with Ian, and thanks to Ian for updating the answers, as things have changed a bit since Diana ran the interview.
1. A recently released book by Matthew B. Crawford entitled “Shop Class as Soulcraft” puts forth the argument that skilled craftsmanship and hand labour offers an undervalued yet vital contribution to modern life. The 21st Century world places a definite emphasis on technology. Mass-produced items made in factories where the maker never sets eyes on the end user are the norm. As a woodworker and crafter of fine fiber tools, you often get to interact with the person who will use and cherish what you create. Do you find this aspect of your work more fulfilling than your previous incarnation as an IT professional? If so, how?
Certainly one of the pleasures of making tools for fibre crafts is the e-mails of thanks and appreciation I receive. Also at the shows I have attended talking to my customers is a delight.
Trying to compare it with my old job is difficult, I did enjoy being an IT Project Manager but nothing quite compares with holding a finished spindle. Knowing that I have designed it, selected the wood and physically made it. It also helps that I just love wood.
With regards to the book (which I haven’t read) I agree in principle. My personal view is that the world would be a poorer place without individually created items be it a Drop spindle or a hand knitted jumper. One of the advantages in making tools for other crafts people is that they are more appreciative of what goes into making things and value an item for the skill involved.
Ian’s drop spindles are shown off at their best in the special spindle display unit. Image ©Ian Tait
2. Since so many breeds of sheep originate in the UK and wool has played such an important role in your nation’s history, it amazes me that there so few UK based spindle makers with international exposure. Do you think that the hand-spinning “Renaissance” is just a little late in reaching the UK or are there other reasons why we aren’t hearing about more of you?
I think the “renaissance” has arrived in the UK, it’s quite fashionable to knit. However I think spinning is a little way behind, but gaining ground.
The number of spindle makers has grown in the UK over the last few years. With some like my self providing the service of choice, but with the draw back of having to wait for an individually crafted item. Others opting for the make it and sell it on Etsy option. I have noticed that this seems to be the trend in the US as well.
Ultimately I think it’s down to economics, trying to earn a living from a ‘craft’ such as making spindles is very difficult. I rent a small business unit so have rent to find, also local council tax and insurance which is expensive. I have just had to buy a new van and with my bank charging me 15% interest it makes life difficult. I quit often work seven days a week and 12 to 14 hours a day. And even now I could not live on what I make!
I also feel that this reflects back on what was discussed in question 1. How many of us are willing to pay anything from £60 to £120 an hour to get our car serviced yet are reluctant to pay £5 an hour for a hand made item?
3. Your spindle designs are the result of refinements that you have made based on feedback from spindlers. Do you enjoy this ‘collaborative’ part of the design process?
I think that here it also help if you have an understanding of the use of the tool. I can spin on a drop and Turk and plan to learn on a supported. So, in answer to the question… Yes, I enjoyed this collaborative part of the design process. The thing to remember with asking for feedback is that negative comments that are the most productive.
Since then the design has settled down, but I still enjoy making “custom” spindles, as there is a certain amount of personal preference in choosing a spindle. I normally do not charge any extra for this service.
4. What are your favorite woods to work with, and why?
How long a list can I have? I just love wood; it’s an amazing material with virtually all the colours of the rainbow and has so many different properties. With each piece being unique. Yet if I must choose:
Tulipwood Dalbergia decipularis. It works well and just has such an amazing colour range from pale almost white through pink to red and even dark purples. I also love the smell of freshly cut Tulipwood.
English Oak Quercus petraea. The king of English timbers. For me there is an association with the building of the sailing men of war. If you have looked at my web site you will see that I am also into making model boats especially the old sailing men of war.
Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus. A much underrated timber in the UK. It is a member of the Acer family much as American Maple is. I tend to use mainly Ripple (fiddleback) Sycamore and there is nothing prettier that a just planed piece. It just shimmers.
Ian’s wood store can rival any spinner’s wool stash! Image ©Ian Tait
5. Some of the “burred” woods featured on your spindles have natural fissures that you infill with epoxy mixed with brass filings. The result is a jewel-like, yet organic appearance, similar to that of a vein of precious-metal ore. Tell us how you arrived at this method of combination wood-stabilization/ design element.
Like most ideas it arrived in small steps. I had just had feedback from Carol Leonard who was talking about the weighting of the whorl, which gave me the idea of the shape of the whorl I wanted to achieve. This led to thinking about adding more weight to the rim. Not liking to throw things away I had a bag of brass shavings from making tips for my Tapestry Bobbins, so I started experimenting with mixing it with epoxy to inlay into the rim of the whorl.
I expect quite a few people on Ravelry have a stash of wool which they are not sure what to do with. Well I have had this large lump of Oak bur knocking around the work shop for a few years, not quite sure what to do with it. I had looked at it a couple of times with the view to making some caps for the whorl, but it had a number of holes and fissures which I felt would be unsightly. Stability would not be a problem as it would be laminated to a Ripple Sycamore base. From here, I was cutting some brass rod and was left with fair quantity of brass filings. Brilliant, I thought. I could use this rather than the brass shavings and the filings would give me a very fine infill for the Oak burr.
6. On the opening page of your website, you have a mission statement. The third item on that statement is: “To use the resources that are entrusted to us with reverence and respect.” Living on an island in the English Channel, how difficult is it to implement that policy, how do you do it, and why is it so important?
I think first thing here is to say that the Isle Of Wight is only just off the south coast of the UK. The ferry time is 10 to 20 minutes for foot passengers and 45 to 120 minutes for cars etc., so on a day to day basis living on the Island has very little impact on trying to achieve this statement. On reflection, it has some advantages. For example when I buy wood, rather than just jumping in the van and going I have to plan it so I will visit several suppliers in one trip rather that making several trips.
I am sure that most Ravelry users will understand the joy and pride in hand crafting something to the best of their ability. Be it a pair of socks, a drop spindle or a tapestry bobbin. How can you achieve this if you don’t respect the materials you are using? So one aspect of this mission statement is just the respecting of the material that I use for what it is.
another aspect of this statement is more environmentally driven. There can’t be many people who are not aware of the impact we humans are having on this tiny speck of dust we call Earth. I am fortunate that I live in a fairly rural area and one of my pleasures is visiting the beach, walking in woods, seeing a porpoise swimming in the Solent or a red squirrel. We are all part of this Earth and I am sure that we are all poorer for each patch of nature that is lost. Also I have a 17-year-old daughter and I don’t want her to grow up in a world that has no wild places or elephants or polar bears or tigers. So I endeavor to use resources with care and with a view to the environmental impact.
How I achieve this?
Each morning when I arrive at my workshop the first thing I do (after making a cup of tea ) is to spend 15 to 30 minutes meditating.
I have installed a wood burning stove in my workshop and fuel it by burning old pallets that other wise would have been sent to the local municipal tip. Please note I do not use pallets that will be returned, but being on an Island quite a number are shipped over and left.
I only buy my timber from firms that operate an active environmental policy.
The whorls are designed to use the minimum amount of exotic timber.
I live close to where I work and often cycle there.
Ian keeps his workshop warm with a wood-burning stove. Image ©Ian Tait
7. Do you do fiber festivals or are there other places where prospective customers can test-drive your spindles? If so, where?
Yes I attend a number of Fibre festivals, more this year than ever. The main ones being Wonder Wool Wale, Fibre Fest in Cambria and Fibre East. The previous two years I have traveled to Germany to attend their ‘Spintrifen’ a long weekend spinning retreat run by their Guild. Having had a rather bad winter last year with some health issues it has left me playing ‘catch up’ most of this year. And I am acutely aware that my online order delivery times have suffered. So I need to strike a balance with the shows and my online sales.
8. What message would you like to send to a prospective spindle-buyer who may be learning about IST Crafts for the first time?
All my current spindles are of a rim weighted design and I take pride in making them. So they spin! I test each one on a test rig before it leaves me, set the hook and check for trueness of spin. I am always happy to make a specific weight or a different combination of woods, just e-mail me.
9. Now that you have taken up spindling yourself, has that contributed to the way you view the spindle as a tool? If so, how?
I am still very much a beginner when it comes to spinning, but even so it has given me more of an appreciation that I am making a tool that will be used. Looks are important but it also needs to function well.
Ian’s workshop. Image ©Ian Tait
Many thanks to Ian for talking to Wovember about his approach to spindle making.
The close of WOVEMBER is almost upon us, and so we are endeavouring to maximise the WOOLCONTENT while we may!!! A few points on Wearing Wool… firstly, we wanted to share with you an amazing design company whose work is really inspiring us here at WOVEMBER: Leafcutter Designs.
Wool/Sheep Craft Tag, created by and © Leafcutter Designs as part of their Changing Clothes project series
The label reads:
This garment holds a story. It hides in the seams and whispers from the folds. Look close: a sheep is grazing in a spring green pasture, a craftsperson is spinning yarn by a woodstove, the clicking of needles makes a song. Trace each stitch back to hands like yours. Someone made this just for you.
Raise happy sheep and fiber animals
Care for the pasture
Craft with love
Mend when torn
We love the sentiment of these labels and how they highlight the value of our woollen clothes and where they come from. Leafcutter Designs also do some amazing other projects, such as bringing spinning wheels into the shopping mall and setting them up outside High Street shops!
Subversive Spinning, photo © Leafcutter Designs and held here on their amazing website
This is amazing. Leafcutter Designs also have a brilliant gallery of mends! Which reminds me of the wonderful work that comrade and fellow WOVEMBERIST Tom van Deijnen AKA tomofholland undertakes in his superb Visible Mending Programme. Once we see the sheer quantity of labour that goes into producing wool garments, the need to repair them – and to celebrate the skill of mending – becomes more evident. I wanted therefore to share these lovely photos of Tom’s Darning Masterclass in Jamieson & Smith during Shetland Wool Week 2013. I love the care and attention with which people appear to be investigating the work of mending! Mending photos © Felicity Ford.
I have been so inspired around mending and repairing my woollen clothes through following the Visible Mending Programme and watching Tom at work with his darning needles! What I love most is how he makes the work of mending into an act of personalising and celebrating clothes, and the imaginative ideas he has put into his darning practice take all the drudgery out of the work. (I still have a massive pile of darning to do, though!)
In this wrap up of ‘Wearing Wool’ I really want to celebrate some of the projects going on in the world which repurpose existing woollen textiles and give them new life, as this is a wonderful way of honouring the work that has originally gone into growing and producing these garments, and keeping them in circulation and in FASHION! We must give a shout out here to SWANTS which give new life to old wool sweaters which might otherwise gather dust and moth-holes in thrift stores and charity shops!
The Famous Kate Davies Designs Sweeks!
It is also worth mentioning here I think the wonderful work that Sartoria is doing, repurposing old cashmere and merino sweaters and turning them into luxurious underwear… another project which extends the life and usefulness of woollen textiles.
Finally, the contributions YOU have sent in this year have been amazing in terms of giving new ideas about how we can ‘Wear Wool’… special mention must surely be given to the beautiful ‘Spinner’s Journey’ jacket by Caroline which comes with a beautiful note:
”Spinner’s Journey’ Modelled with muddy wellies that I use when looking after my sheep. This wool is very rustic, the fabric has almost zero drape & 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 great thing is that I remember spinning all of these wools and they’re all part of my early spinning journey. The resultant garment may not hang well at the back, but it has a reassuring feel to it, like a faithful old blanket. I’ll not see the back anyway, when I’m wearing it’ – Caroline
This is fashion as process! Fashion as learning! What a beautiful sweater, representative of discovery and appropriate for the farming tasks which ultimately made its production possible.
We have also featured some lovely stories this WOVEMBER, in which shepherds who are also knitters have made garments representative of individual sheep… ways of wearing wool which celebrate animals consciously and deliberately. Jake and Sunshine, I am thinking of you.
…all such inspiring ways to Wear Wool! Thank you to everyone for making this such a rich WOVEMBER; if you have been WAL-ing, please don’t forget to email your photos to email@example.com by approx 9am tomorrow (GMT) for them to be featured in the SHOWCASE of WAL projects! Please email the photos and if it’s at all possible, please save them at 1024px wide with your name as the filename… it makes work in the WOVEMBER office flow so smoothly when you do
Can’t wait to see all the WAL projects, and we hope you have been having a most wonderfully woolly, warm WOVEMBER. x
We do not have very many posts on the subject of ‘Wearing Wool’ this year, as there seemed to be so much more to say about ‘Working with Wool’ and so many people doing amazing stuff with this textile, that we extended that section. That WOOL is amazing to wear is very evident in the comments people make on our petition, and in the very wonderful submissions we have had of woollen garments in the WOVEMBER photo competition gallery! If you haven’t looked already, TAKE A LOOK! WOVEMBER readers seem to already be very convinced of the specialness and wearability of WOOL, however the myth that WOOL IS ITCHY still persists, and is still damaging to the success of this textile! We thought we’d share this short piece with Lesley Prior, talking about the work she does to show people that you CAN wear wool, and that it needn’t necessarily be itchy (unless you like that). All content and photos © Lesley Prior and used here with kind permission; this post originally appeared on the Devon Fine Fibres blog
May 24, 2013 – Will Expensive Wool be Itchy?
This was a term someone typed into Google and was directed to my blog so I thought the least I could do is try to answer.
Put simply, the price you pay for wool does not determine the “itch” factor. You can pay a fortune for a gorgeous, yet incredibly scratchy jumper which is not meant to be worn next to your skin but will keep you toasty warm in anything the British weather will throw at you. You can also pay quite modest amounts for 21 micron Merino jumpers which you CAN wear next to your skin.
Making an informed choice is NOT easy and for many people, it’s a step too far. Why bother to try to find out about wool when you can reach for synthetic in the shape of the ubiquitous fleece? The answer has to be that wool is INFINITELY superior, more flexible in use, more environmentally friendly and will give you an immense feeling of smug superiority every time you wear it. It’s well worth the effort of finding out about.
February 23, 2012 – Why does Wool Itch?
The comfort of wool clothing, particularly when worn close to the skin, is a crucial factor when we consider buying garments. A poor experience with “scratchy” wool can put us off for life! But exactly WHAT makes some wool feel this way and how can we find wool that definitely doesn’t have the itch factor?
Itch or ‘prickle’, occurs when the ends of some wool fibres push against the wearer’s skin, resulting in nerve endings in the skin being stimulated. This can cause skin irritation and scratching which leads to the release of histamines in your skin, inflammation and yet more itch, scratch etc!
Many people who experience this think they have an allergy to wool but it is extremely rare for anyone to suffer a true allergic reaction to wool. This should be verified by a doctor. Most people are feeling a normal physical reaction to specific coarse fibres poking their skin.
Whether fibres in garments push against the skin depends on many things including:
1.The thickness or diameter of the wool fibres in the garment. In general, 30 microns is the cut off point. Below that individual fibres are not detectable by human skin. Average British wool ranges between 32 and 37 microns. Lambs wools will be finer but not necessarily fine enough since the proportion of 30+ fibres might still be quite high. Most British wool goes for carpets and that which does go into clothing, unless sourced from specific finer woolled breeds, is best suited to outerwear or heavier jumpers etc which don’t touch your skin.
2.The yarn/fabric construction and finish. Woollen spun or Worsted spun yarn for example where worsted will produce a flatter, smoother yarn and ensure that any coarser fibres are lying flat and not sticking out to dig into the skin.
So how do we choose a non-itchy jumper?
Finer, thinner wool fibres bend more easily than thicker fibres. Instead of pushing against the skin, they simply bend and buckle when the fibre comes in contact with skin. So finer is definitely better if you want to avoid the itch.
The more fibres sticking out, the more likely the fabric will cause discomfort. The length of protruding fibres also affects comfort. Longer fibres have more opportunity to bend when pressed against skin, whereas shorter fibres are more likely to push into the skin causing an itchy sensation.
So, to avoid the itch when wearing wool that comes into contact with skin, go for garments containing guaranteed fine wool of less than 30 microns and with a minimum fibre length of…? What? How are you as a shopper meant to find all this out when it’s not shown on a label? Will a shop assistant know? Not likely!! The best and safest way is, as usual, to buy the very best quality you can afford. Obviously buy Merino for guaranteed fineness, but remember that NOT ALL wool sold as Merino is particularly fine and nor is it well spun and knitted so you can still get prickle and itch even with the name Merino on a label. A good Merino (or Bowmont!) will have a Prickle Factor (actually called Comfort Factor) of 95-99% meaning that 99% of fibres are less than 30 microns. Cashmere of course is 100% by contrast. My finest Bowmont is 99.8%. A cracking good sheep!!
Quality Quality Quality is key. Buy a really good, expensive well known knitwear brand (pref British!) and rely on them to know the technicalities. They will have sourced the fine wool with the right fibre length to have spun and knitted into their garments and should certainly be pleased and able to answer any questions you ask if you get in touch with their customer service depts.
Pringle, Johnstones of Elgin, Smedleys etc are obvious choices. Yes of course these are very expensive but we really should, as Vivienne Westwood said at London Fashion Week this week, “Buy Less, Choose Well, Make It Last”.
WOVEMBER: I often hear the complaint that wool is itchy and in the past was known to mutter these words myself (although now I am a fan of all wool, including the really coarse stuff!). Understanding breed types, applications, garment construction etc. I now understand that this widespread, blanket statement belief is being particularly damaging to the health of the wool industry. I love the work you do to explain why some wool is itchy, but there are quite a few photos of you presenting handfuls of Bowmont Fibre to the public, and I think this a wonderfully direct way of showing people just how fine and soft wool can be. I wondered if you could tell us a bit about the sorts of conversations that bringing fibre and sheep into public view creates, and some of the best responses you’ve had to this wonderful outreach work?
Lesley: Mostly is just what you say. People often comment “I can’t wear wool I’m allergic!”. When you question that more deeply what they ACTUALLY mean is that wool itches them, they scratch, the skin goes red, they scratch some more etc and then they think they have an allergy. True wool allergy is incredibly rare. Most people would be very uncomfortable and itch in above 30 micron wool next to the skin. But when you explain how wearing the RIGHT wool next to your skin can be amazing in heat and cold they are fascinated. I wear a lot of Merino T shirts in bright colours and people are astonished when they feel them.
Thank you, Lesley, for helping us to understand why some WOOL is itchy and why some WOOL is not!
As this is the last working day in Wovember, this will be the last Wovember Words post. Today I’d like to share Felix’s, Kate’s, and Tom’s Personal Favourite Top-Three Wovember Words Winning Entries, and also the most favourite word selected by Wovember Readers. But first, here’s a recap of all the Wovember Words we heard about this Wovember:
#1) Wovember coins a new word: WAL
#2) Oxford English Dictionary woolly entries part 1: chilver, cosset, cuckoo-lamb
#3) Oxford English Dictionary woolly entries part 2: gimmer-lamb, hob-lamb, mutton dressed lamb-fashion, in three shakes of a sheep’s tail
#4) Oxford English Dictionary woolly entries part 3: lamb-ale, teg, crone
#5) Winding Wool, a poem by Robert William Service
#6) Quote from Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain: the way to wrap oneself up in warm blankets in order to take the air out on the balcony, even in the middle of winter
#7) Kate’s research on the meaning of ‘drugget‘
#8) Definitions from Textiles in America part 1: baraclade, barracan, bay. bearskin, beaver cloth
#9) Definitions from Textiles in America part 2: berlins, borsley, box cloth, broad cloth, bunting
#10) Definitions from Textiles in America part 3: calmuc, carptmeal, cassimere, cubica
#11) Cardings: conversation taken from Tobar and Dualchais archives about the cardings get-togethers in Shetland
#12) Gaelic sheep words from Uist Wool
#13) Edward Miller, Textiles, properties and behaviour in clothing, quote 1: definitions of three qualities of wool (merino or botany, cross-bred, carpet)
#14) MACGREGOR: a Scottish Blackface sheep, photographed in 1890
#15) Hefting: definition and link to short film
#16) Da Spinning Sang/Roo da Bonnie Oo, by Rosabel Blance and link to oral history record
#17) The Wool Pack by Cynthia Harnett, quote 1: resting under an oak tree and wool-gathering in the fields
#18) The Wool Pack by Cynthia Harnett, quote 2: new-fangled wheels versus spindles, and a young man secretly enjoying spinning
#19) SWANTS and SWEEKS
#20) Edward Miller, Textiles, properties and behaviour in clothing, quote 2: about remanufactured wool, in three different qualities: shoddy (from shredding soft rags like knitwear), mungo (from shredding hard rags like thick heavily milled fabric), and noils (waste product from the worsted combing process)
Felix’s Personal Favourite Top-Three Wovember Words Winning Entries:
1) Winding Wool, a poem by Robert William Service
2) Hefting: definition and link to short film
3) Da Spinning Sang/Roo da Bonnie Oo, by Rosabel Blance and link to oral history record
Kate’s Personal Favourite Top-Three Wovember Words Winning Entries:
1) Da Spinning Sang/Roo da Bonnie Oo, by Rosabel Blance and link to oral history record (for its evocation of the relationship between wool and those who work with it)
2) Quote from Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain: the way to wrap oneself up in warm blankets in order to take the air out on the balcony, even in the middle of winter (somehow suggestive of the whole of the Magic Mountain)
3) Edward Miller, Textiles, properties and behaviour in clothing, quote 2: about remanufactured wool, in three different qualities: shoddy (from shredding soft rags like knitwear), mungo (from shredding hard rags like thick heavily milled fabric), and noils (waste product from the worsted combing process) ( I always find the embedded historical meanings of textiles, that lie buried in their everyday uses, really interesting)
Tom’s Personal Favourite Top-Three Wovember Words Winning Entries:
1) Winding Wool, a poem by Robert William Service (for describing how everyday things create bonds between loved ones)
2) Da Spinning Sang/Roo da Bonnie Oo, by Rosabel Blance and link to oral history record (for showing the Shetland character so well: a very practical answer to how the song came about, and the sheer poetry of the song itself)
3) Kate’s research on the meaning of ‘drugget’ (for drawing me into textile history and the changing meanings of words)
The Wovember Readers Personal Favourite Top-One Wovember Words Winning Entry:
There’s a joint first here:
1) Da Spinning Sang/Roo da Bonnie Oo, by Rosabel Blance and link to oral history record
1) MACGREGOR: a Scottish Blackface sheep, photographed in 1890
Clearly Da Spinning Sang is an all-time favourite amongst Wovember Readers and Team Members alike, so we’ll repeat it here. Joined by MacGregor, the magnificent Scottish Blackface.
I hope you have enjoyed reading the Wovember Words as much as I had putting them together. Until next year!
words and music by Rosabel Blance, You can listen to the recording on the Tobar an Dualchais website by following this link.
Roo da boannie oo fae da haet sheep’s back;
Roo da boannie oo at we’ll spin an mak,
Da auld spinning-wheel ‘ill hae wark to dö
Fir we’ll hae foo bags ere we laeve da crö
Da dirl o da wheel gyings hurr-in hurr-in,
Da whip-tree clicks as da wheel gyings roond.
Da whirr o da flicht gyings murrin, murrin,
Da sang o da wheel is a weel-kyent soond.
Taese da Shetlan oo till it’s clear an fine,
Lyin laek a clood wi a silver shine,
Dan shak ower it oil, laek bricht draps o dew,
Ower a wib i’da hill whin da mön is foo.
Da dirl o da wheel etc.
Tak doon da cairds noo apo your lap,
An turn oot da rower wi a quick saft flap.
Da risk o da teeth, as ye caird da oo,
Keeps da time o da sang at we’re singin noo.
Da dirl o da wheel etc.
Reck oot your haand fir da spinning-wheel;
Lay on da treed noo, an lay it weel.
Da rower rins oot as da treed rins in,
Wi da fit-board clappin, as da oo ye spin.
Da dirl o da wheel etc.
MacGregor has found his pastures at the Online Gallery of the National Galleries Scotland website.
Dear Wovember Readers, tonight’s post and tomorrow’s post will go back to the Working With Wool theme, as we managed to get a last-minute contribution from Ian Tait, who runs IST Crafts. When I started out with spinning, I learnt on a drop spindle, and I didn’t get on with the cheap spindle I had at the time. Then fellow Wovemberist Felicity let me play with her Ian Tait spindle, and I never looked back. It turned out I wasn’t the only fan of his spindles, and I found a “Show off your IST Spindle” thread on the Ravely Spindle Candy group. Ravelry member Chewiedox asked Ian a lot of interesting questions, which I have been given permission to reproduce in tomorrow’s post; with updates from Ian, as that original interview is now about four years old. More things have changed since, as Ian now also has his own Ravelry group. Today, we will hear about Ian’s background in his own words.
Tom’s IST Spindle in pippy yew
Based on the Isle of Wight I am a former IT project manager in the defense industry. But after changing companies 7 times in 10 years without even ‘changing desks’ I found myself working as a sub-contractor on the site I served my apprenticeship at, for a company I had never heard of before. Not liking their culture, when they offered me “voluntary” redundancy and I accepted.
I wanted to do something more akin to my personal philosophy so I went to WestDeanCollege in Sussex to learn the art of making early stringed musical instruments. I think life sometimes has its own plans for us and it was here that the seeds of my current business were sown. One tea break, I happened to mention to the tapestry weaving tutor that I did a bit of wood turning. Well, next tea break she showed me a small turned item. OK! I started to get worried as I didn’t realize that they had a problem with Vampires in West Dean. So I started making tapestry bobbins for the college weaving students (I still supply the craft shop at West Dean).
To try and earn some spending money whilst at collage I set up a small web site selling the tapestry bobbins. I then received a phone call from a lovely lady somewhere in the far and distant North (unfortunately I have lost her contact details) who asked me if I had ever made drop spindles. I spent several happy months sending boxes of my first attempts at drop spindles to her and her group of spindlers and getting feedback, making changes, and learning.
On finishing the course at West Dean the reality of instrument making became apparent. Not wanting to do just repair work for very little money, I tried to set up a small company making electric guitars with another former student. Well, after a year or so of designing and setting up a small workshop, he had to leave for personal reasons. So I moved back to the Isle Of Wight.
Here, I rented a small industrial unit and set up my workshop. I decided to ‘get back into’ my turning, which I enjoy. Already having some experience I concentrated on making items for the “fibre crafts”.
Ian’s workshop, with loads of tasty parts of spindles! image ©Ian Tait
I started by refining the design of the tapestry bobbins making small changes to the shape and in particular the brass tips. Still one of my favorite items to make the clean lines and form show the wood to great effect. I currently make three types, two with the option of solid wood or a brass tip, the third comes with a brass tip as standard. The brass I use is CZ121 which is what is termed an Alpha/Beta alloy. Which means that is has over 35% Zinc and is lot harder than normal brass. I have just developed a range of slim line bobbins and have been pleased with their reception at the fibre shows. I hope to introduce these to the web site shortly.
Next the drop spindles.
I had a number of criteria when designing these, first was to produce a tool of a professional quality that would stand along side those from the US. Second was the consideration of the environmental impact. Running along side these was the build quality, with the goal of achieving some thing similar to when I was building a viola da gamba at collage.
With the assistance of Carol and Pete Leonard and Beverly Usher, who very kindly agreed to “test fly” my prototypes for me I settled on my current design.
The design is of a rim weighted form. All those shown on my web site are top whorl but I am happy to make a bottom whorl for any of the timbers shown. Nearly all my whorls are a laminate of the display wood on a base of Ripple Sycamore with some on Elm. For the laminating I use the same skills I learnt at collage when fitting finger boards. All the joints are hand planes to exact tolerances. I use a proprietary brand aliphatic resin glue which is water clean up, has good properties on the more oily woods and much better longevity than PVA. This ensures a very strong joint with no glue line and enables me to under cut the centre section to 4/5 mm so enhancing the rim weighting effect. Another advantage of this design is that where most of the whorl is of the base wood it enables me to achieve a consistent weight and is not so dependant on the varying weight of the display wood. I am thus able to offer spindles at an exact (give or take a gram or so) weight at no extra charge. The laminating also helps with the stability of the whorl and helps prevent cracking which would be more likely if it were solid. The slightly curved shape of the sides of the whorl, both internal and external, also help to produce a very stable form. I leave a smallish ‘plug’ of wood in the centre to provide a good length for the joint with the shaft. This joint being very critical for smooth spinning. I drill the hole for the joint on my lathe which was made in the UK and is very accurate. I continually monitor it for trueness. I hand cut three notches which are functional but not intrusive. I take extra care in the finishing of them with the under side being sanded to 600 grit and the external surfaces to 1200 grit and burnished.
All my shafts are hand turned (no dowel here). For the shafts I have settled on three timber, English Ash, English Ripple Sycamore and American Black Walnut. I take particular care when selecting my wood but even more so when selecting my shaft wood. Looking for well seasoned straight grained timber. I use an old chiller room as my wood store which provides an ideal stable environment for storing wood. I tend to buy my wood in bulk which enables me to season the timber further. I then cut this into billets which are further seasoned. For the design I wanted to achieve a fairly fine thickness and settled on 7.5mm for the 70 & 75mm, 7mm for the 60mm and 6.5 for the 50mm. These measurements are of the joint thickness. The shaft are slightly tapered so aid removal of the fibre. The joint is initially cut just over size to a tolerance of .1mm using a pair of digital calipers. I also cut a small notch in the bottom just incase someone wants to use it as a bottom whorl. The finial is a representation of an acorn with a small shoulder to aid the trueness of the fit. The shafts are then individually fitted to the whorl. Again I use the aliphatic resin glue.
The hook is a traditional shepherds crook design. After talking to a number of ‘professional’ spindlers I felt that this was the best. I use one mm stainless steal which is fine but robust. I hand form all the hooks varying the size with smaller hooks for the lighter spindles and larger for the heaver ones. These are fitted using ‘super’ glue. This provides a good bond but which can be broken so enabling a replacement hook to be fitted.
Ian’s drop spindles have a shepherd’s crook-shaped hook. Image ©Ian Tait
Once assembled the spindles are given a final sand and checker for trueness. I then apply two coats of oil. I use my own mix based on pure Tung oil. I use oil on the drops as it sinks in and becomes part of the timber maturing in much the same way. In the drying process the oil forms long chain molecules which interweave in themselves and around the cells of the timber. Two coats of a Bee and carnauba wax are applied and finally buffed. This forms the basis for a finish that will mature with age developing it own patina, especially with the addition of the lanolin from the fibre.
From the Drop spindles I have developed my range to include Turkish, Russian and Tibetan spindles. All have been developed with the same care that I have taken with my Drop spindles. Many with features unique to IST Crafts such as the brass weights in some of the Turkish spindles.
I have also just invested in a small Oxyacetylene torch and have started making Tahkli.
I plan to update my web site in the next few weeks and include some associated items such as thread counters and Nostepinnes.
I am not an expert at spinning but I can spin fairly consistently on a drops and Turkish. If I get time I want to learn on a Russian or Tibetan over this winter. As I feel that there is nothing like using the tool to help with the design.
Turkish spindles in the making, image ©Ian Tait
Be sure to check back in tomorrow, when we will feature Chewiedox’s interview!
This afternoon, as WOVEMBER draws near its close, we are showcasing knitwear designs which in one way or another celebrate SHEEP! All of the designs featured here have been nominated by fellow WOVEMBERISTS in the WOVEMBER Ravelry group; thank you all for your sheepy suggestions, and if we have missed something out, please leave a link in the comments so we can all see how different knitwear designers have treated the origin of WOOL in their design work… unless otherwise stated, all of the images featured in this post are © the designers whose work is mentioned, and are used with kind permission. WOVEMBER has suggested appropriate 100% WOOL yarns for each project in case you want to make your own META PROJECTS which are made of WOOL while celebrating WOOL!
Let us begin with Meta Mittens by Beth Wolden. Beth says that ‘having purchased some good, sturdy, wool from a shop in Madison, WI, I was compelled to make a warm, water-resistant pair of mittens that had sheep on them’ and her resulting design makes superb use of the dense, matt, sheepy wool used. Beth used Yaeger’s Acres yarn, a 100% wool yarn in natural sheepy shades, which looks warm and wonderful in the photos. If you can track it down, we recommend you use it too, because Beth’s description of it is very enticing: ‘this is rough, sturdy stuff. If you don’t like scratchy tough wool, this yarn isn’t for you. It has a lot of lanolin and made my hands nice and soft after knitting with it. It did soften up quite a bit when washed’
Next up, we have Sheep Mittens by Jorid Linvik; a gorgeous, graphic representation of WOVEMBER’s favourite animals! We love the curvy lines, the fact that the ram and the ewe are both shown (on the front and back of the hand) and the delicate palette chosen by Jorid.
If you wanted to make your own sheepy pair, WOVEMBER suggests: Organic 4-ply Poll Dorset yarns from Renaissance dyeing; Blacker Yarns Guernsey yarns; or perhaps Jamieson & Smith Heritage or Jamieson & Smith 2-ply Jumper Weight. For for a blend which retains the nice translucence of the Alpaca originally used, but with a higher SHEEP content, you could also go for Titus which contains 50% Wensleydale, 20% Bluefaced Leicester and 30% UK Alpaca…
While we are on the subject of multi-fibre projects, check out this beautiful colour-work sweater designed by Liz Lovick – March of the Fibres – originally realised in 100% Shetland Wool. This design celebrates a wide variety of fibre-producing animals as well as Sheep, such as Alpacas, Camels, Angora Rabbits and Mohair Goats… Instructive on the different sorts of animals which produce fibre, this wonderful sweater pattern also utilises Shetland WOOL to best advantage; the stranded colourwork benefits from the bouncy, fuzzy nature of Jamieson & Smith 2-ply Jumper Weight, its lovely bloom, and the wonderful way that it blocks out into gorgeously even colourwork. Knitting March of the Fibres by Liz Lovick will instruct any fibre enthusiast on the wonders of Shetland Wool and also the massive quantity of animal buddies producing fibres that we can knit with. Liz also recommends that this pattern might be knitted in all the constituent fibres: this would be an amazing process, and WOVEMBER says that if you decide to do this, go the whole hog and read the Fleece & Fibre Sourcebook in between rounds.
Liz Lovick has also created a design more specifically focused on THE SHEEP; Shawl neck Sheep Sweater for children again utilises the natural sheepy shades of Jamieson & Smith 2-ply Jumper Weight in a jolly repeating motif of sheep that face us, and sheep turned away from us! We love the graphic, circular quality of the sheep in this design, and the way that they repeat across the fabric divided by little blades of grass. They look plump and well and very splendid in their Shetland shades.
We felt we should really also include the extraordinary St Kilda Shawl by Liz Lovick… although it does not actually visibly depict an actual sheep, the story of the yarn which was used in this design, collected and sorted by Jane Cooper, spun at Blacker Yarns, and designed with by Liz with the wool from our most critically endangered sheep breed (The Boreray) is just too amazing and wondrous not to include here! THE SHEEPY CREDENTIALS FOR THIS PROJECT ARE OFF THE CLOCK! Clicking through those links with a big mug of hot cocoa is absolutely recommended WOVEMBER reading; the yarn, the shawl, the story, are a triumph of finding markets for wool from our rarest sheep, and thus helping to keep this breed going. Huzzah for the Boreray breed, for Jane Cooper, Sue Blacker, and Liz Lovick. We heart this shawl and recommend that it is specifically knitted in the yarn which inspired its creation, because this yarn directly creates a market for wool from a critically endangered sheep breed.
Hurrah for these iconic sheepy designs! Are you ready for more? OF COURSE YOU ARE!
Next up we have Selbu-Baaa-Ter by Mary Scott Huff. This refreshed, contemporary take on traditional Selbu patterning also includes (for those of us completely obsessed with SOUNDS, ahem…) BELLS! What is not to love?!
WOVEMBER reckons a beautiful pair could also be made from Wensleydale 4-ply yarn from the Wensleydale Longwool shop, or in Excelana 4-ply! The beautiful, graphic sheepy design is a triumph of combining fresh new ideas with traditional knitting styles and we think a pair of these with pretty bells on top would be just the thing for a wonderfully sonic, sheepy start to 2014.
Jennifer Little’s beautiful Sheep Yoke Cardigan is another delightful riff on the theme of sheep grazing in their field, with the fantastic textural detail that the fuzzy sheeps’ coats are described in garter stitch against the stockinette which comprises the grass, ground and sky.
This charming design is worked in DK weight yarn and would be beautiful in something soft enough for a baby; WOVEMBER recommends something like this wonderful Bluefaced Leicester from Great British Yarns or the Pure English Merino which Blacker Yarns have started producing, as both of these yarns would be appropriate for purpose.
If you want not one but MANY sheepy things to knit, why not go the whole hog and make your own felted flock?
This pattern requires bulky weight yarn that will easily felt; some good 100% WOOL options for this purpose may include Garthenor Organic yarns in chunky or aran weight or Blacker Yarns in chunky or aran weight… as long as it will felt it will work!
There are many fine patterns which celebrate the Herdwick sheep, and a goodly quantity of patterns from the Herdy company, which promotes this traditional Cumbrian breed through contemporary graphic design.
This cushion, designed by Janice Anderson for the Herdy Company, is knitted with “Herdywool”, a 100% WOOL yarn made in the UK. Janice also designed this amazing rucksack for the Herdy Company.
There are tutorials for both of those designs on Janice’s blog which is a wonderfully sheepy place indeed… Check out Miranda the Masham Sheep, knit in Rowan British Breeds Yarn and designed for Wool Week (pattern available here).
Next up, we have a sheepy design from Julia Farwell Clay, which includes, ahem, A WOLF!
Julia says: ‘The hat came first, as a doodle and a chat with my son who at 11 years old is negotiating the broad territory between “cute” and “macho”, so I was allowed to knit him a sheep hat only if there were some wolves involved. The name of the hat is something he said during our conversation: “When sheep are around, wolves will be wolves.” I just thought it sounded very wise.’
After designing this gorgeous hat, Julia went on to make this wonderful cardigan, Welcome to the Flock.
Welcome to the flock is knitted in naturally dyed, 100% superwash merino wool yarn produced by Sincere Sheep. To continue the naturally dyed/100% WOOL theme you could try knitting this with DAZZLE from the Natural Dye Studio in 100% Bluefaced Leicester.
Now no collection of sheepy patterns would be complete without the iconic designs from our very own TEAM WOVEMBER MEMBER, Kate Davies.
Both Rams and Yowes and Sheep Carousel (and the iconic Sheep Heid, of which more momentarily) utilise the natural sheepy palette offered by the varied, coloured fleeces of Shetland Sheep, as represented in Shetland Supreme 2-ply Jumper Weight yarns from Jamieson & Smith. Utilising Shetland Wool’s suitability for colourwork to fantastic effect, these designs represent a particular approach to combining designs with materials. Like with the Meta Mittens by Beth Wolden, these Kate Davies Designs draw on the very materials of which they are made, and create lovely links between the actual sheep which inspired the design and whose fleeces have been used in their composition. How this real connection between sheep and their representation has inspired other knitters everywhere is evident in, for instance, this photo submission to the WOVEMBER competition;
‘Rams & Yowes knit with natural shades of Jamieson & Smith Shetland Supreme, draped behind the horns of a wild Alaskan Ram. I love the echoes of the ram horns in the blanket design and then in real life’ – Shelly Dockins Kocan
However we would like to show how one shepherd has taken this idea of linking real sheep with a sheepy knitwear design even further, and shall close this post by profiling a brilliant realisation of Kate Davies’s Sheep Heid. The following content is all © Sara Dunham of the amazing Punkin’s Patch blog, whom you may remember from last year: this is the story of Sunshine hat.
Once upon a time a wee Jacob lamb was born on a small yarn farm in Kentucky in the south central United States. She was an accidental breeding and born with some health issues that most lambs would have found insurmountable. She was a tough, cheerful little lamb though and in her short life she brightened many days. Her name was Sunshine.
She lived almost a year and I held her close as she passed. After the veterinarian left and I regrouped a bit, I decided to shear some of her beautiful black and white wool before we buried her down by the creek she loved. Her fleece was fairly short and my shearing job could have been better, but I washed it, wrapped it up and stored it away.
Earlier this year I was perusing patterns on Ravelry and came across Kate Davies’ Sheep Heid pattern designed to celebrate the many beautiful colors of Shetland wool by using yarn from nine different sheep. I decided to see if I could create a Jacob version of her stunning Fair Isle pattern, using colors blended from just one sheep… and I knew whose fleece would be just perfect.
I separated out everything that was absolutely black and absolutely white. I then used wool combs to blend varying shades of gray and ended up being able to spin six different colors of yarn. My sister-in-law is a puzzle master, so I had her re-work the intricate pattern colors from nine down to six and I modified the sheep and ram heads a bit to more closely match Jacob sheep.
It knit up perfectly and I used duplicate stitches to give each sheep a unique Jacob look with different spot patterns on their bodies and legs and even added two or four horns to each sheep. I can hardly wait for a good cold snap!
I truly appreciate the life I lead shepherding the mixed flock of wool sheep on our small farm. The joys far outweigh the few, but inevitable sorrows. In an era of mass production, my husband and I have an extra special connection to the wool we wear – sweaters from Punkin, Elizabeth, Jester, B. Willard, Ford, Marcel, Woolliam… and a hat from Sunshine.
For more stories and photographs of the sheep at Punkin’s Patch at Equinox Farm, visit www.myfavoritesheep.com.
WOVEMBER says: Thank you so much to all the designers who have allowed your amazing sheepy designs to be featured in this celebratory post! We are truly inspired and just wish there was more time to make EVERYTHING WOOLLEN AND SHEEPY!
More Wovember Words from Edward Miller’s Textiles, Properties and Behaviour in Clothing Use. These are three words related to remanufactured wool.
This is wool which has been used or processed before, as opposed to virgin wool or pure new wool which is wool being used for the first time. Wool [has] the capacity to be used more than once and in view of the cost of new wool, this is a distinct practical advantage which is not shared by any other textile fibre type.
There are three main sources of raw materials for this industry:
The term shoddy will be familiar to many as a word signifying something which looks inferior or poor in quality. The rags used to obtain shoddy and mungo fibres are either old fabrics or new clippings but in reducing the rags to fibres there is considerable fibre damage and breakage. These fibres then are short, and vary considerably in thickness and quality and lack the full qualities of resilience and softness which new wool possesses. Noils are better in tha the fibres are merely shorter than average and not damaged, but they are not fully representative of the quality of wool from which they were extracted.
Due to the shortness of shoddy and mungo fibres they would be difficult to hold securely in a yarn and would easily be rubbed out in use so that the fabric would gradually disintegrate in wear. It is easy to see therefore how the term ‘shoddy’ came to represent something poor in quality.
These fibres are mostly blended with new wool in order to prevent rapid loss of fibres. In this use they are a valuable contribution to the textile industry because if they are skilfully used, attractive medium and low priced woollen fabrics can be made which have sufficient durability, particularly for fashion garments.
Shoddy freight team of Slack Shoddy Mill, Springfield, Vermont, circa 1871. Image from www.slackshoddymill.com
Good evening! We continue on from yesterday this evening, as we are joined for a Q&A by Sue James, who works with the wool produced by Juliet Morris, the shepherd we heard from yesterday! Sue is the Knitwear designer for Llynfi and brings fascinating insights on how to utilise what is produced locally, as a fashion designer. All content and photos © Sue James and used here with kind permission.
WOVEMBER: Where is Llynfi based, and to what extent is the place where you work an influence on the designs which you produce?
Our main base is in Talgarth, at the foot of the Black Mountains between Brecon and Hay on Wye in beautiful Mid Wales; Emily designs and makes the woven clothing in a small studio here. I live and work further west, near Lampeter, renovating and restoring an old water mill and, most exciting! – getting my new knit studio up and running.
Llynfi is the name of a little river that runs from Llangorse Lake to the River Wye, past Talgarth and through the hamlet we used to live in when I started out with Angora bunnies as Llynfi Angora. It’s an SSSI, noted for otters and kingfishers and crayfish – and represents much of what is dear to us I guess. Taken literally it could mean ‘My Lake’. (Llyn = lake, fy = my)
Our surroundings are not so much a direct influence on our design, but living in such a rural area and away from urban centres perhaps gives a certain freedom from the constant pressure of trends, and allows us to explore our own ideas. We do have days out in Cardiff or Swansea, to the Big Shops, just in case we’re missing anything… but we’re always relieved to get back to the rural idyll!
WOVEMBER: I have spent some time going through the Shear Waste Report; it is a compelling case study of the untapped potential of Organic woollen textile production in Wales, and has some really fantastic ideas in it which will benefit both the shepherd (who will earn more for the wool) and fashion designers primarily concerned with traceability, provenance and sustainability (who cannot currently access easily locally produced organic woollen textiles to work with). This latter point is where, I guess, you fit in! Would you mind first of all unravelling for WOVEMBER readers the relationships between your own company – Llynfi – and Organic Wool Wales? How are those two entities related, and how has “Llynfi” come about, as a fashion business operated by you and your daughter?
Sue: Well, to start at the beginning, a fashion business as such was never really the aim – it’s just about making good clothes. It’s evolved over a lifetime: my mum taught me dressmaking, my grandmother taught me to knit and we made our own clothes. My mum got a spinning wheel when I was about 15, in the mid 70’s. I’ve been in love with our British wool ever since those early days of unrolling fleeces on the back lawn, with books by the likes of Mabel Ross close by to enlighten us in the mysteries of sorting. And so it continued, encouraging my own daughters to sew and knit, knitting and sewing a bit for other people, becoming ever more interested in the origins of whatever I was using. My middle daughter, Emily, continued with textiles and design and began her own work with natural dyes while she was studying Surface Pattern Design at Uni. She joined with me part-time when she graduated, continuing with screen printing using natural dyes on wool fabrics, and I gained a Soil Association licence for dyeing and knit in 2007. About 3 years ago we decided to stop selling hand-dyed yarns and cushions etc and concentrate on our first love, making clothes – best decision ever!
From the start, everything we were doing led back to making the most of wool and, where possible, certified organic British wool. Unless you personally know your supply chain, organic certification gives best assurance of production and processing to highest environmental standards. Knitting yarns weren’t such a problem – Chris King at Garthenor Organic Pure Wool, here in Wales, was one of the early pioneers and produces a wide range of beautiful British breed yarns. Around 2008, I met Juliet Morris of Ystrad Farm who had decided to breed her sheep for quality of wool, again to Soil Association standards, and we began using her yarns too.
Working with Juliet, we all felt that more needed to be done to make the most of wool from organic Welsh farms and, in particular, certified organic wool fabric as this is currently only really available by special commission from one weaver. There seemed to be a gap where fabric was concerned. Was it a case of demand/supply? Lack of awareness? The costs? The ‘right’ wool? Organic Centre Wales run a scheme called Better Organic Business Links (BOBL) aimed at developing supply chains from primary producers to market. The Organic Wool Wales project was born; Juliet organised the weaving of fabric and wrote a report to investigate the current position, and Emily and I curated a collection of pieces to be made from the fabric to create a showcase and a talking point, all with BOBL support. We set out to find some answers!
WOVEMBER: Central to the report and also to establishing Organic Wool Wales was the production of two big lengths of Organic Welsh Wool, produced to demonstrate that it can be done! If I have understood correctly, over twenty-five designer-makers from across the UK and overseas applied to join the project and, for no remuneration, designed and made works using some of that fabric. Eighteen designs were selected to form part of an Organic Welsh Wool Fabric Collection, launched at Wonderwool Wales 2013, showcasing the designers’ range of original pieces including accessories, footwear, clothing and furniture, all from the organic wool fabric… could you tell WOVEMBER readers a little bit about your own role in that part of the project?
Sue: Emily and I had the job of finding people to work with the fabric. We sat and scratched our heads and drew up a list, but in the end it was the power of social networking that produced the response. We were really encouraged by the enthusiasm for the idea. What we had forgotten of course, it that these Twitter, Facebook and Linked-in are global – we had to turn down quite a few overseas enquiries.
Applications were sent out to all who asked, and the three of us made the final selection of 18. There was a tight deadline of 6 weeks which made for a good buzz. Emily had the work of cutting up and sending out all the fabric and I set up a Facebook page, which worked brilliantly as a way for the participants to share their progress and feel part of what was happening. It was like Christmas when the completed work started arriving, the standard was amazing!
Chrissie Menzies at Wonderwool was enthusiastic about the whole idea and reserved us an exhibition space, having a rope barrier specially made and getting PR. Staging the whole thing was a challenge as we had our own stand too, but Tony Little of Organic Centre Wales manned the exhibition – and learned a huge amount about wool in the process! It all gained a great amount of interest, and made an inspiring collection – just what we’d had in mind.
After Wonderwool, we staged the collection at Kate Humble’s Wool Weekend, Welsh Smallholders Show, Royal Welsh Show, British Wool Weekend at Harrogate, and Llandovery Sheep Festival. It was also on display for the final Project event, the Farm Day, where it all started. Now the pieces will all be sent back to their makers.
We’ve also tried to maximise publicity for the contributors too, and one participant is going on to stage her own exhibition of Organic wool interior products next year.
Designed by Lorraine Pocklington and Camille Jacquemart using Organic Welsh Wool
Designed by Lorraine Pocklington using Organic Welsh Wool
Designed by Mick Sheridan using Organic Welsh Wool
WOVEMBER: I took a look at your collection online and was impressed by the textiles that you use; there is a strong emphasis in your collection on natural and renewable textiles. Could you say something about your ethos in terms of sourcing fabric and yarn to work with?
Sue: Researching and sourcing materials led us on a difficult journey: dyeing and its issues made us think about the use of colour, how ‘eco’ is bamboo, and what is ‘Peace Silk’ really all about? What was the problem with using British wool? Many of the answers were difficult to pin down, were surprising, enlightening… and often depressing. We realised it was a case of doing the best we could, accepting that compromises had to be made sometimes; that we need to wear clothes, and that good clothes that women would want to keep would be best use of resources. As makers, it is up to us to do the thinking. Wool is our fibre of choice and wool produced as close to home as possible could be a challenge – but then, there’s nothing like a challenge is there?
The main difficulty for a micro business is cost of materials. Maintaining a provenance for your wool tends to mean small quantities, small quantity equals high costs. Buying direct from the farm allows the shepherd to add value to the wool – quite rightly. We could obtain beautiful wool yarns from, say, Italy, and they would be a fraction of the price. But we didn’t want to do that – Britain does wool, and Wales in particular has many sheep! – it must be possible to utilise it, but wool needs to be the right quality for the purpose. One issue appears to be that there isn’t enough of the right grade of British wool available to interest larger mills. However it is all getting better: the rise of the Internet has, I think, made it easier for people to ask questions and think about problems and try and get answers. There’s nothing wrong at all with a yarn (knitting or weaving) made of imported wool, but when you’re led to believe it’s British and then you end up telling your own customers it’s British… well, it raises the question: is a British yarn one that’s spun in Britain or spun in Britain from British wool? The end consumer rather expects the latter. For us, Welsh Wool means wool grown in Wales.
Small scale production can also mean uncertainty and long lead times and this does cause a huge problem, most especially with fabric – we had to wait over 6 months for a bolt of cloth for example, and a batch of wool was spun into the wrong gauge, which lost us a design and a wait of over a year for another chance… Certified organic is the best one can do, as a maker, to prove the provenance of the material used. Organic is currently small scale – and so the circle goes…
In developing the Organic Wool Wales project we’re looking at various ways of people working together to reduce processing costs, to make the yarns and fabrics more affordable and easier to access for small businesses, yet still give a proper return for the producer; it’s also at the core of the Cambrian Mountains Wool group, which Juliet and I are also working with. Small can work to your every advantage of course – but it still has to be economically viable. Fabric is a particular issue as the wool has to go out of Wales to be spun; it can come back to be woven to Organic Standards, but then has to go up to Scotland for finishing; it all adds to costs.
WOVEMBER: The price point for your garments is significantly higher than the prices you might find on the High Street, reflecting the extra costs involved in using local labour; high quality materials; and the small-scale production runs you are working with. Could you say something about the economics of Llynfi?
Sue: There’s no way we can compete with ‘High Street’ and we’d like to think that what we are offering is quite different to what might be found there! We fall into the category of designer–maker, we’re not manufacturers, we don’t use manufacturing facilities. We sell directly to our customers as we can’t price our work to allow selling through retailers. It’s hard work, but people appreciate being able to talk to us as the makers of the piece they are buying, we can take into account personal figure issues, we can tell the stories of the materials we use. Our customers tend to be women who buy only very few items in a year, or who have saved specially. We don’t change the collection every season – being wool we focus on Autumn/Winter anyway, and we have to keep older patterns as they get asked for.
The challenge we set ourselves was to use Welsh wool wherever possible or, at least, British, and in a contemporary style. I think my previous points about scale also highlight the challenges involved in working at this artisan level.
WOVEMBER: The Shear Waste report includes some very heartening phrases, including this gem: “Organic Welsh wool has a powerful resonance with the new economic values of natural, sustainable, local and organic. There is no difficulty engaging designer and consumer support in the concept.” I wonder if you could say a few words about changes in perception which you have noticed, as a fashion designer, in terms of both what you now want to design, and what your customers now want to buy?
Sue: There is definitely a shift to paying more for fewer pieces that are well made, that are going to last better and have a reassurance about them where production is concerned. I think people are starting to realise the true cost of cheap clothing. Having never set out or trained as fashion designers, we have come into making clothing from a different angle – that of developing our own interest in wool and taking our own clothes making a step further. We design and make things that we like, one eye on the trends but definitely doing our own thing, with clean lines and interesting detail. We haven’t really had to change anything – but it’s certainly heartening to discover more and more people who like what we do. I think there is much more opportunity out there now, people are learning how to wear wool, and they appreciate knowing about the origins of the fibre and buying into a sense of place.
WOVEMBER: In the world of organic food production, one of the things that seems to have really taken off is product differentiation, and also increased consumer awareness regarding different types of breeds, provenance, etc. I wondered if the organic food model has been inspirational at all to you in terms of thinking about how woollen textiles might be once again considered artisanal, and marketed as such to an increasingly aware consumer base?
Sue: Absolutely! One of the puzzling and frustrating things is that wool isn’t considered an agricultural product so it doesn’t have the same status when it comes to farm support, or the same promotion behind it as organic food. Organic farming is all about food – why not the wool as well? There is very much to be done with farmers through to general public though, when it comes to wool qualities. All wool is not the same, and it’s vital to make the appropriate use of the wool available. Just because a particular breed has a certain appeal doesn’t mean that it would make a jumper that someone would pay a lot of money to wear, and I think that’s where wool producers, processors and designers could gain much by working together more closely . It also needs to be accepted that artisanal products have a price attached to them which reflects the production, or that the product needs to be made in such a way as to repay the maker appropriately.
WOVEMBER: The Shear Waste report covers the whole sheep to shoulders supply chain, describing where value could be added both for end consumers and wool-growers. It bought people together from all ends of the wool industry, including designers, mill-spinners, representatives from the British Wool Marketing Board, Shepherds, Designer-makers etc. have these meetings with folk involved in other areas of the Organic Welsh Wool industry changed how you think about your work as a fashion designer?
Sue: It has been an extremely interesting year! It’s made us realise how little the general public know about textile production and how interested they are to find out; how massive the wool industry is and the vast quantities involved (and how very, very tiny we are!); how much passion there is among small producers and designers/makers and craft people for making more of Welsh (and indeed, British) wool; how supportive the Wool Board wants to be – they’re not the bad boys after all… And it’s given us much encouragement and helped us grow tremendously in our direction for the Project. Personally, it’s given us so much more confidence in moving forward with what we are already doing – exciting times!
WOVEMBER: Your current look-book has a wonderful, WW2-inspired atmosphere; I wondered if this vintage aesthetic in some way harks back to an era when more clothes were made by hand and before the widespread adoption of synthetic textiles caused an international drop in wool prices?
Simply – yes! That wonderful rose-tinted way of looking back to a time of a slower pace, elegance of dressing for an occasion, women starting to have more freedom, and discovering flight and travel.
WOVEMBER: Could you talk WOVEMBER readers through a couple of the designs you have made using 100% WOOL?
Sue: Although I make the knitwear, dressmaking was my first interest and I always start with the dress styles of a period. For the current aeroplane designs, it was the detailing of cuffs and collars in the 30s that caught my eye. The more we looked into this era, the more we found out about how popular flying was for women, and cycling for holidays. Then I came across a lovely old photo of a model aircraft show, with planes of all shapes and sizes lined up ready for take-off. Cue developing the jacquard pattern of aeroplanes. I’d also found a little vintage red aeroplane brooch, which was the perfect shape. I really, really, wasn’t sure about it though! I mean – ‘planes? For ladies? I made up a jacket, using a smaller ‘aeroplane tweed’ for a contrast of scale as well; Emily loved it and made me do more! It’s taken off (!), and the funny thing has been – people don’t see the planes at first; they fall in love with the overall pattern. So I can get people wearing aeroplanes, without them realising they are… I felt this design needed a soft yet fairly sturdy woollen spun yarn and tried Sue Blacker’s ‘Classic’ (although not organic); this has Blue Faced Leicester from a Welsh farm with Lleyn (which is a Welsh breed although this particular flock is in Cornwall) and some Hebridean for a grey blend. The yarn works beautifully, with a slight sheen, and dyes well with madder for the red aeroplanes.
WOVEMBER: Finally, just for fun, there are quite a few sheep breeds native to Wales – do you have a favourite and why?
Sue: Tricky! I’m interested first and foremost in suitability of wool. I think the Welsh Black has to come pretty near the top though – we like to use naturally coloured wool and this is a breed developed specially for its colour. The wool can be good for knits, and for woven cloth. Hill Radnors (of which Juliet has a flock) have a great, sheepy, friendly appearance and an interesting fleece, also the little Balwens with their blaze.
Balwen with its blaze, image found here
Today’s Wovember Words is very au courant, and we have to thank Stephen West for coming up with the word: SWANTS. Stephen repopularised this concept of repurposing an old sweater into pants: sweaterpants. Swants (for the UK/US language barrier: in US English, pants means trousers and not underwear.)
Swants seem to be very popular amongst the Team Wovember Members, and both Kate and Felix have been busy making themselves a pair of swants. Incidentally, Kate also coined the word SWEEKS in the process: sweaterbreeks (breeks being Scottish for breeches.) Tom is waiting for some quality swantsing time during the coming Christmas holidays.
Felix swantsing in her lounge. Image ©Felicity Ford
Kate is completely swantsed with her new sweeks. Image ©Kate Davies
Established in November 2011, Wovember is both a celebration of wool and a campaign for clearer labelling and descriptions of garments. Team Wovember comprises Kate Davies, Felicity Ford and Tom van Deijnen.
You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wovember is about showing our collective appreciation of wool by wearing as much of this fabulous fibre as possible, and by celebrating its unique qualities in stories and pictures throughout the month of November. Through our enthusiasm and creativity we can raise awareness of what makes wool different, and jointly create a force for wool appreciation strong enough to effect changes in how garments and textiles are described and marketed.
The copyright for all the content held here on the Wovember site lies with the original content creators. Therefore every post has a separate copyright holder - always attributed in the text - and the posts which are not specifically attributed to an individual were created by one of the members of Team Wovember: Kate Davies, Felicity Ford or Tom van Deijnen. For information on reusing any content found on this site, please email email@example.com.