Month: December 2016

looking back

hills

As we prepare to let the old year passes, I take to the hills. Not literally, not physically. But in my mind’s eye.

Drifting off into that place between waking and dreaming, there is no real time to mull over 2016 before I surrender to sleep. No need really either. Sleep is beckoning and I’ve learnt enough now to welcome it with open arms when I can.

But it’s good to take a cursory glance back across my shoulder, back down the mountain of the year. For it is only now that I can see it has all been worth it, that we did the right thing to keep going, to keep on hoping and not give up when the going got tough. If 2015 was the year that I became a mama, this is the year that’s truly starting to make me one. These past twelve months dedicated to being the mama of a little boy have been amongst the toughest I have ever known. Physically, emotionally and mentally. But standing here now at the closing of the year, I see that 2016 has truly been the most beautiful, personally fulfilling year ever. I’m excited to see what 2017 has to offer me, us, without resolutions but with an open heart and the courage of a mama of a busy toddler!

distractions

bear-ibear iiI had a vague notion that I would try to finish off all my current knitting projects for the end of the year. Although I’ve made great headway these past weeks, recently distractions have been lining up to keep me away from my needles. Not that I mind. Not yet. Freezing cold mornings, blue skies and sunshine and some quarters of German mohair found deep within my stash are bringing me back to my roots as a maker and being transformed into a series of sweet little bears.

I really should be baby knitting. But it’s so lovely to sit beside the glow of the fire in the evening and busy myself with these little bears in between.

Is anything keeping you from your knitting needles at the moment?

back to spinning, baby by my side

dsc_0511

Spinning was difficult for me during my pregnancy. At the very start, the odour of fleece  (whether raw or scoured) turned my stomach. We had to keep all my wool tidied away in the spare bedroom until well into the second trimester. By the time the nausea had subsided, I had a wonderfully round belly in it’s place. And so sitting for long periods of time bent over the wheel were rather uncomfortable. Besides, I had plenty of baby knitting to keep my fingers (and mind) busy.

dsc_0515

Unsurprisingly, that first summer of motherhood also kept me very well occupied. Not only was there a whole new person in the world to get to know and to look after, but I also had to get to know myself in my new role. And be sure to take extra good care of my own health; pacing myself through the days and nights, resting and sleeping whenever I could, and trying to get plenty of fresh air in between. All of which meant there was no spare time or energy for knitting, let alone spinning.

dsc_0526

I remember this time last year, just how keenly I was missing the comforting feel of fibre running through my fingers. Although we were starting to feel a little more settled, somehow the thought of making things seemed incredibly frivolous, even selfish. But a phone conversation with my own ma one chilly autumn morning nudged me back to the possibility of making. She recounted how when she was in the throes of early motherhood with my big brother (forty years before…), she had still somehow managed to find some time for dressmaking. In those quiet hours spent with her sewing machine once he was tucked up in bed, she had found both a renewed passion for sewing but also a deeper satisfaction in everything she made, because she had been forced to slow down and savour every moment spent working through the construction of a garment.

dsc_0532I felt inspired by our conversation and so when some raw fleece came my way, I tentatively set about getting back to the wheel. Encouraged by this wonderful initiative, I set about spinning up a little sample skein of yarn from a raw fleece we went and collected directly from the farm on shearing day. It took me the best part of a month to spin up that little 50g skein of yarn and the experience left me feeling a little bit ambivalent. It had been so much fun to get my hand cards out again and follow the fibre through from greasy fleece to finished yarn.

dsc_0543

But having to spin in the evenings when the baby was in bed was hard for me as I was often very tired by that time of day. And I also quickly realised that having greasy fingers was not the most practical thing for me when I could be called in to settle the baby back to sleep at any time. This project really brought it home to me how this way of working with wool is physically challenging, time-consuming and above all messy.

dsc_0552

I found myself feeling really discouraged, almost the point of being put off spinning for good. That is, until I saw this photo.  Seeing this mama spinning at her wheel with her baby cozily wrapped on her chest changed my perception of what was possible. Perhaps it would be possible to spin again, I just needed to be a little more creative in how I did it. Rather than waiting for the baby to be tucked up in bed for the night, perhaps I could spin a little at those times of day when I had a little bit more energy. That would mean spinning with baby by my side, or even on my chest like that mama. Back then, we were carrying him around most of the day in the sling (we didn’t and still don’t have a pushchair, mainly because it’s not the most practical of things when you live in the mountains). So why could I not spin with him beside me?

dsc_0555I was not only inspired by how she was spinning, but also what she was spinning with. I will always be the kind of spinner who deep down loves to work from raw fleece to finished yarn. But I realised in that moment if I am to ever get any spinning done, perhaps I could also used pre-prepared fibre rather than sourcing, scouring & carding my own. That was one of the first lessons of making & mothering, being willing to tweak the way I work with wool. And being willing to cut myself a little slack too.

dsc_0221 dsc_0222Since then, I’ve completed three quite substantial spinning projects (as well as a number of little mini-projects here and there) which I’m really excited to share here, all filed under the category of follow the fibre.

(Photos show the different stages of the making of my Breed Swatch Along yarn, using fleece we gathered from a local farmer.)

Annabel babe cardigan

csc_0298Autumn will soon be giving way to winter and all around me dear women in my life are entering or on the cusp of entering a new season in their lives, that of motherhood. One of my oldest childhood friends has just become a maman here in France, and there is also a dear friend expecting her second child and a special cousin expecting her first. All in all, it’s the perfect excuse to dive deep into my stash & get stuck into some baby knitting.

Perhaps once I’ve made it to the end of the list of things I want to knit for these new little people, I’ll have made a significant dent in some of the yarns I’ve accumulated since I was pregnant and never got round to using for our own dear baby boy? I’m also anticipating it as the perfect opportunity to discover some lovely new knits for littles.

I’ve started off the proceedings with this gorgeous garter stitch cardigan designed by Carrie Hoge. It’s a pattern I’ve only very recently discovered and I so wish I had known about it when I was expecting. Garter stitch has rapidly become one of my favourite stitches for baby knits, as much for the cozy fabric it produces as for the practicality, I find it so much easier than stocking stitch to manoeuvre on to tiny limbs!

I started by knitting it up in a Burgundy cotton, something from my deep, deep stash…before realising 3/4 in that I didn’t have enough yarn to make it to the end. So I ripped it back and made it instead from this nautical navy blue cotton/linen/tencel blend. Just perfect for my friend’s little boy, as she met her Mauritian husband whilst they were both working below stairs on an ocean liner. Keeping with the nautical theme, I’m making a little fish mobile to hang in little baby E’s nursery with the leftovers from this and another project.

Annabelle Babe Cardigan // pattern // my project

Fish on the line Mobile // pattern // my project

shearing day

shearing dayshearing dayIt’s a chilly Autumn morning, at the start of October last year. We’re stood shivering in the yard of a local mountain barn, wellies on our feet, scarves wrapped round our necks, the baby bundled up beneath layers of cardigans nestled on my chest. The farmer and his helpers have been up to their elbows in sheep and wool since first thing. The yard smells of machine oil, manure and sweat. The trimmers buzz, the sheep bleet loudly as they scrabble around on the cobblestones and the workers say very little. The air is thick with dust and fibres, and as a light drizzle starts to fall, I wonder if it really was a good idea for us to bring the baby up to this barn this morning. But he is unperturbed by all the excitement and sleeping soundly in the scarf, no doubt lulled off to sleep by the whirring of the shears and the shouting of the men as they wrangle each ewe from the barn and across to where the shearer is working furiously.

” Numero 50017. 50176. 10237, laisse le cou.”

“ Numbers 50017. 50176. 10237, leave her neck.”

It takes less than two minutes for the shearer to undress each sheep. The farmer and two of his helpers gather up fleeces as they fall from the animal to the ground. After a few minutes, the farmer approaches me, with what looks like a cloud in his arms. All be it, a very grimy cloud, covered in bits of straw and dung. He gestures to me to touch and I reach out across the gate. The wool is still warm from the sheep. Running my fingers through the locks, I imagine this must be what it feels like to pluck just-laid eggs from a hen’s nest. Oddly intimate. A few seconds ago this fleece was part of a living animal, protecting it from the elements all year long.

For this sheep farmer, who raises his flock not for the spinning mill but rather the slaughter house, shearing day is the end of the production line (for the wool) and just another necessary aspect (and expense) to his farming year Now the wool has been removed from the sheep, it’s status as a protective covering for an agricultural product (sheep) has been reduced, to that of a category 3 animal by-product. Current EU legislation sees no difference between the sack of warm fleeces in the farm yard and catering waste, slaughter house waste & “former food”. Meaning it’s value as a precious, renewable and sustainable agricultural resource has depreciated to that of an item of (at worst) hazardous agricultural waste or (at best) an animal by-product. At least the wool from this clip, destined to be turned into thick woollen blankets by the local blanket makers, is still considered valuable enough to just about pay for the expense of the shearer. But sadly it is not the case for many farmers and their fleeces here in France, in my native Britain, indeed all across the EU. Often just the cost of transport versus what a farmer is paid for raw fleece often makes it economically invalid to send wool to be spun in mills. Which for a local wool enthusiast like me seems like a very sorry state of affairs.

By half past ten, the men are halfway through the flock and they pause briefly to drink a slurp of coffee, brought out on a tray by the farmer’s wife. If she is nonplussed to find an British girl in waterproofs stood somewhat awkwardly in a corner of the farm yard, she is surprised to discover I have a three month old baby snuggled up on my chest. Before we are allowed to leave, she ushers us in to the cosy warmth of the adjoining barn, where a fire is burning merrily in the grate and a big pot of garbure (the local hearty mutton stew) has been slowly bubbling since first light. The shearing will soon be over, but the day is not yet finished. The men (and lone lady shearer…) will soon be joined by various wives and family members to sit down and enjoy a hearty lunch by the fire as the freshly shorn sheep are left shivering out in the drizzle. Twice we are invited to stay and join them at their table. As tempting as it is, the babe is starting to stir and we’d rather get back down to the valley. We don’t leave empty handed however. As we prepare to leave, the farmer hands me three bags full of lovely greasy fleeces (2 white fleeces & 2 black) to take with me back down the mountain.