Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Finally - the one about the Wool Museum

Today, after going on about it for some time I am going to tell you about the visit my sister and I made to the National Wool Museum of Wales at the beginning of December. We'd been promising ourselves a visit for some time, but it's quite a long drive and of 'minority interest' so we chose a day when it would be 'just us' while the children were at school.

The museum is housed in a former woollen spinning mill with most of the machinery still intact. It is a working museum with the exhibits arranged around the process although on the day that we visited the machines were quiet. In fact, the whole place had a tranquil hush about it with us being virtually the only visitors.

Despite its idyllic rural setting the museum is essentially about an industrial process with skilled workers spending long hours in noisy rooms for very low wages. It is important that we affluent textile artists by choice do not make the mistake of romanticising the weaving industry. We thought about our late Aunty Annie who started work in the cotton mills of Accrington in Lancashire at the age of 12 and was so small she had to stand on a box to reach the loom. By the time I knew her in her later years she had been made completely deaf by the sound of the machines but was an excellent lip reader - a skill that needed to be quickly acquired.

Here is one of the vessels used to wash the raw fleece.

And this is a boiler used to supply hot water for the process.

An enormous amount of craftsmanship was evident in the building of the machines for the woollen mill which is still in full working order.

And here are some examples of the sorts of traditional Welsh woollen cloth that this mill and many like it produced, some of which are still in action today.

Apart from the main exhibit which followed the industrial process through, the museum wove social history throughout the story they set out to tell. The role of hand spinning was not forgotten with a few examples of spinning equipment such as this great wheel on display. What I hadn't realised was that in the impoverished villages, spinning on the great wheel continued well beyond the invention of treadle versions because the great wheel was simple and affordable by a wider range of people. One poignant image that stuck in my mind was of an elderly lady standing barefoot outside her cottage at work at her great wheel.

The museum also put together some good interactive pieces of social history where they had collected memoirs from local people about the thriving bustle of the village while the mill was in operation compared to the few shops that remain to serve a far more dormitory settlement. Our attention was also caught by the window frame on which it had been a tradition to write the names of mill workers who got married while they were working there.

Whilst this museum was not specifically orientated towards hand knitting it was striking that a large amount of the folk art and photography of the archetypal Welsh woman would contain references to hand knitting. Again, women would knit not as a restful hobby at the end of the day but out of necessity, either for their families or as outworkers on piece work rates.

Here is an example of a rather romanticised image of an elderly Welsh lady knitting stockings at her doorstep.

And here is a rather fearsome array of Welsh knitters who don't look as if they indulge in the pastime for fun.

All in all Sue and I had a wonderful day at the museum. The exhibits are well presented and there is also an excellent cafe and shop (these things matter!). As we said when we got together this weekend it was one of those days we treasure away to revisit when we're feeling a bit low - two sisters having a day out together doing something at least one of us is passionate about.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Home for the Holidays

As every year, my little family has gathered on the Isle of Wight. As I write, the children are asleep in bed with stockings securely tied with my knitting yarn to the ends of their beds and the adults are snoozing in front of Christmas Carols on the television. All is well in our small world.

Today in between last minute present wrapping, cooking and visits from friends and relations we took a walk down to the river and my nephew and I captured a few images we'd like to share. It was a typical Christmas Eve, a little dull and chilly but all the ice and snow that had threatened to keep us apart had disappeared. Difficult and uncertain journeys were forgotten.

The river was quiet and calm with the silence broken by the calls of curlews and oyster catchers. We made out the exotic shape of an egret at too far a distance to capture on camera.

We took a last look at the crumbling remains of the Ryde Queen, a paddle steamer that used to run between Ryde and Portsmouth but in later years served as a nightclub where we did some of our growing up as teenagers. It's sad to see the state it is now in as it waits to be scrapped next year.

This time of year makes me reflect on how many journeys this ship has taken people on - too and from their loved ones, from youth to adulthood. So many hellos and goodbyes, memories happy and sad.

I hope you all have the opportunity to spend the holiday season with everyone you love and love you.

Sheep courtesy of Sheep Poo Paper. You didn't expect an entirely sheep free post did you?

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

If we were lobsters...

...we wouldn't have so many fingers and I wouldn't have procrastinated so heavily about finishing test knitting this lovely glove pattern by the very talented Littleberry. I have had it on the needles since February and sailed through the cuff and the stranded knitting. Then came the thought of all those fingers....

I was given a reprieve for the summer months but as the days grew cooler my conscience began to prick me so I picked up the first glove and started knitting fingers. I have to admit that it was a lot easier than I had anticipated although it still isn't one of my favourite knitting activities.

Despite the temptation to take new projects with me on a recent trip to Wales to be with my family I took only works in progress and distracted with family chitchat managed to finish the second glove in double quick time.

The yarn is one of my favourite standards, Jamieson's Spindrift in Pistachio and Blossom and took just over a 25g ball and a half of the green and half a ball of the pink so the project is very economical. The Shetland yarn blooms beautifully and always gives colour work that sense of cohesion that stranded fabric needs.

The finished gloves are a really good fit and may be pressed into service sooner rather than later as the temperatures in London plummet and my customary fingerless mitts need replacing with something offering more comprehensive coverage.

I hope Littleberry makes this pattern available soon as I can highly recommend it as simple ,straightforward and well written with only the absolute minimum number of fingers required ,assuming they are not a gift for a lobster.

The promised trip around the National Wool Museum of Wales is not forgotten - I just have a few photographs to take which require daylight - as I leave home in the dark and come home in the dark Monday to Friday, the weekends are the only times I can get photos done for the blog. I am so happy that the solstice is just around the corner and we can soon look forward to a few more minutes of daylight every day.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

I may never take this scarf off....

I know the last few posts have been a bit of a repetitive parade of finished projects but that is only because I have been really good and resisted the temptation to cast on new stuff.I'm not sure how long I can hold out however as while I am knitting away on a piece of work where the pattern is firmly embedded in my memory my mind can wander off and generate all kinds of wild and wonderful ideas.

Mind you, I am delighted to say that I have managed to finish the Lace Ribbons Scarf. This is a pattern by Veronik Avery from Knitty and has turned out to be the perfect showcase for this yarn which is Acero, a wool, silk and viscose fingering weight blend from Brooks Farm which I bought at the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival last year. I had originally intended to make a shawl which was made up of what seems like hundreds of little spirals all knit together but quite honestly, when it dawned on me how many ends that meant sewing in I fell at the first hurdle...

I have used two 100g skeins for this project and the scarf is a magnificent 3 metres long. Which is hard to photograph.

I knew that is was longer than I anticipated when I started blocking it on my bedroom floor, followed it across the landing and into the bathroom....

It has, however become a wardrobe staple as it is light enough to throw around my neck several times and also works perfectly with a long light brown boiled wool jacket that I wear a lot for work at this time of year.

I also think it looks equally good from the back

As well as the front.

Next time, by way of a change I will have news of my visit to the National Wool Museum of Wales, once voted the most boring museum in Britain. I of course, might have a slightly different view....

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Leaves are finally falling

Last time you saw this shawl must have been back in May when I was first planning some proper lace knitting with lace weight yarn. I chose 100g of cashmere lace weight from Knitwitch which gave me over 800 metres of entertainment.

So I knitted

and knitted but the ball of yarn never seemed to get any smaller.

Eventually I decided that the piece was big enough and I stopped. With 25g still to go. And there she lay for a few weeks until I decided to go on a blocking spree and the magic happened.

I find it very difficult to photograph large pieces successfully but I hope these images give you and idea of the floaty airy pinkness of this project.

It amazes me that there can be so much warmth and substance from 75g of yarn but at the same time it can be so insubstantial.

The mild variegation's in the yarn don't detract from the simple lace pattern which I found very easy to memorise and the yarn very pleasant to work with.

I think I may be ready for something a little more complicated next time.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

When Ishbel was very young

...she looked like this. 100g of grey blue faced Leicester and silk over dyed in blue, green, pink and jade but with plenty of the natural colour showing through. The fibre was dyed by the lovely Marianne in her Etsy shop Fluffenstuff.

you can see from the predrafted fibre how well the colours blend with each other.

and this is how the yarn turned out. Maybe a little unevenly spun in places but overall a reasonably bouncy yarn which averaged out at about a 4ply.

I wound the yarn and have to say that it sat on my desk for a long time while I decided what project it was best suited to. I wanted something which would show the subtle striping of the yarn but would also add a bit of movement to draw the eye from some of the lumpier bits of spinning.
Ishbel by Ysolda Teague presented herself as the perfect project with an expanse of stocking stitch which gives the yarn a chance to show its real character and a lacy edge to break the whole thing up.
I'm pleased with the result - I made the centre to the specifications for the larger size and the edging for the smaller as I was determined to use every last morsel of yarn. In fact, I ran it so close I had to hastily Andean ply myself a couple of metres from the leftover single on the bobbin so that I could finish the cast off - phew!

I really like the combination of the yarn and the pattern. It puts me in mind of the effect of one of those giant clam shells with the iridescent mother of peal inside and the fluted edges to the shell.

It's also just the right size to throw around the shoulders to keep the chills off or to fill that gap between your coat and jumper and has the unmistakable texture of hand spun.
Thank you Marianne and Ysolda - a lovely combination.