Tagged: spinning

Jul 29

Scrap of the week #30


I’m cheating here as this isn’t a scrap of fabric, as such. But it could be. One day.


Raw fleece after a couple of washes


There’s an #onlyinBath hashtag on Twitter. It usually describes the quaint and curious things which could only occur in this rarified, picturesque location. And the subject of this post qualifies. Because there can be few cities where sheep are still grazed within spitting distance of the most splendid stone crescents (I know at least two such locations within the city). And possibly even fewer where the owners of said sheep can’t find takers for the resulting fleeces, even when giving them away. We live in a crazy mixed-up world, folks!

The prospect of a shedload of free Bath fleeces proved too much of a lure for me this week. My gain is yours, however, because I’m giving most of them away, in turn, to the first people who come forward.

These fleeces were sheared from their sheep at the end of June. Some are black (-ish), some white (-ish). They are raw, so you’ll have to clean them up, which is messy and requires a washing space the size of a bathtub (in fact, a bathtub will do nicely) and an alarming quantity of washing-up liquid. But I think it’ll probably be worth it, especially if you want to try your hand at spinning. I’m aiming to create the most wonderful natural stuffing imaginable. That’s the plan, anyway. So far I’ve washed a small portion (see image above) to get a feel for it. My hands are lovely and soft from the lanolin, but the fleece is still full of foreign bodies – mostly of vegetable origin, but some of sheep origin, if you get my drift. It’s obviously a long game.

Sheep and their wool have a long history in this city, of course. From the 13th century, Bath was renowned for its fine woollen cloth, and wool wealth built the early city. You can find out more about this history at the Museum of Bath at Work. Here is one of their displays.



Wool display at the Museum of Bath at Work


The Museum of Bath at Work also kindly hosts the Big Mend, a free monthly mending social which you’ve probably heard me mention before. If you live in/near Bath and ever find yourself with more holes in your favourite garments than you know how to handle, bring them along on the last Wednesday of the month, 7-9pm, and we can help you sort them out. The next meet-up is this Wednesday 31st July. This is the room we work in. It’s light and spacious. Do join us!



The mezzanine level at the Museum of Bath at Work

And if you’re interested in a FREE raw fleece, do leave a comment below or email me. I can’t mail it, so am requesting only local takers, please. First come, first served.




Apr 11


Last week I received an offer I couldn’t refuse: a free ticket for Wonderwool Wales at the Royal Welsh Showground, Builth Wells. Celebrating almost everything associated with a sheep and its clothing, Wonderwool looked like a golden opportunity for me to turn roving reporter*. Everything was included, even transport. So, bright and early Saturday morning I set off on the coach carrying much of the Wiltshire Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers.

And what a day we had! Longish outward journey [meh], the final third spent hurtling at improbable speed down twisting, terrifyingly narrow Welsh lanes [double meh]. I should really have known by the name that all the roads that lead you there are winding. But it was a tonic to see Wales in the radiant spring sunshine since I usually visit in near-horizontal rain. This was just like the tourist brochures: white cottages edged in black nestling at the foot of brooding mountains, quaint stone bridges (which the coach only just managed to negotiate) arching over sparkling stone-strewn river beds, and plenty of nodding daffodils. It was a relief to finally arrive  mid-morning, with fatigue and slight travel-sickness rapidly subsiding and excitement kicking in.

Wonderwool vista

Half barn, half textile show

The venue was no-frills but spacious. And, yes, true to its billing, the whole place was woolly, even the  information point.

Information Desk

Woolly thinkers welcome

I soaked it all up: stall upon stall of fleeces,  in varying stages of refinement; big bags of roving; carding equipment; drop spindles; spinning wheels; felting supplies; dyeing products; yarn of all types (plain for home-dyeing, or coloured variously as the rainbow); knitting needles; crochet hooks; buttons (outsized wooden, ceramic, vintage); blankets, blankets, and more blankets.  Refreshingly, there were signs urging ‘Please touch!’

Please touch!

Double-take signage

One stall was devoted to all varieties of guernsey knitting, with cute little knitted samples. Every pattern tells a story.


Propagansey's display of traditional patterned fishing jumpers

There was extreme knitting with giant knitting needles so mesmerising that I forgot to take a picture. And Susie Johnson of the Wool Sanctuary, responsible for Kirsty’s cute beach hut draft excluder, had a pretty stall. Jane Beck was there with her impeccable vintage and modern Welsh tapestry blankets, cushions, and now (in a new departure) clothing. I really enjoyed speaking with Jane who is pleasantly straightforward and direct. Coming away without buying anything was a struggle as her stall was too tempting; look out for her gorgeous line in vibrant waistcoats cut from end-of-line bolts of wool.

As you might expect, I had my eyes peeled for recycling and upcycling ideas. I found:-

recycled sari yarn…

Sari silk

Recycled saris

rag-rugs being made from old t-shirts…

Making an upcycled t-shirt rug

Patricia making a rag-rug from old t-shirts

and also from tweed skirts, by Jenni Stuart Anderson… who sells lovely implements for rag-rugging and has written a couple of good books on the subject.

Rag-rug maker, Jenni Stuart Anderson

Jenni Stuart Anderson's rag-rugs

There were knitted and fulled wool rectangles (those these weren’t actually recycled, but nevermind) from Undy Yarncrafts

Fulled wool sample squares

Felted lambswool

and simple peg looms for rudimentary weaving of  scrap clothing strips: denim jeans, for example. Again, I got too excited to take snaps.

Moving away from the recycled wares, I found these beautiful hand-dyed cotton/silk embroidery threads from Strawberry Seahorse.

Hand-dyed embroidery threads

Hand-dyed embroidery cottons and silks

And I thought these Alpaca socks, from John Arbon Textiles in North Devon, were gorgeous; my picture doesn’t really do full justice to the delicious stripe and contrast heel/toe combinations. John Arbon also has a range of salvage cotton socks made from end-of-line and surplus yarn stocks which would otherwise be thrown away.

Gorgeous wool socks

Alpaca socks, made in the UK

Dotted here and there were pens of real, live sheep. I spotted some angora bunnies too.

Sheepish exhibit

It's Wales. We have sheep.

Punters queued placidly outside the metal fencing for the Wool School. Inside were workshops such as Understanding and Maintaining your Spinning Wheel and Knitting without Needles. I was signed up for Fibre Choice and Preparation with Sue Blacker of the Natural Fibre Company. When the gate opened, we filed in obediently like a flock of compliant sheep. Our tutor unfolded entire shorn fleeces from sacks and had us feel and assess the fibres, their differences dictated by breed, health, age, location (both on the animal’s body and of the breed within the landscape). Sue’s knowledge and clarity were admirable, as was her obvious affection for her subject. It was oddly moving to see that sheep turn grey with age, just as people do. And to hear that stress experienced by the animal affects the quality of wool;  it will become ‘fragile’ – i.e. the staple may break when stretched –  if a sheep suffers a shock, such as a dog worrying it. A ewe may suffer similarly from the stress of having triplets. Sue explained how black sheep go reddish in the sun, and brown sheep go blonde (at least on the tips), so if you want to maintain your sheep’s original colour you must keep it in by day and only let it out to graze under cover of darkness. The fleeces were raw and unwashed and amazingly greasy to the touch, almost as though dubbin had been applied, but this was just the naturally occurring lanolin. It’s now obvious to me that sheep are waterproof, and I wonder why every schoolchild doesn’t get the chance to feel a sheep’s fleece too.

Wool school

Wool school

Fatigue and information overload were setting in by mid-afternoon and I was pretty much finished before I reached Finnish felting. I snoozed on the coach journey home, dozing off some time after we spotted a field of improbably gangly Alpaca. The small square piece of fleece I bought just before leaving the festival came in handy as an impromptu pillow against the coach window. No sheep-counting necessary.

Wonderwool Wales 2012 will take place April 28-29, Royal Welsh Showground, Llanelwedd, Builth Wells, Powys, LD2 3SY. Enquiries: enquiries@wonderwoolwales.co.uk or 01938 820495

*I apologise unreservedly for the quality of that pun.

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