Category: spinning

last & first

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The mohair bear was my last project of the old year…and the hat is my first thing cast on (for me!) this new one. After a few evenings of swatching trying out different needle sizes and stitch patterns, l’ve settled on casting on 72 stitches on size 4.5mm needles, a brim in 2×2 rib followed by some colour work inspired by this project. I’m hoping it will knit up fairly quickly into a cozy beanie because we’ve started the year with a real cold snap and amazingly and after knitting up so many hats for my menfolk recently, I don’t seem to have anything adequate to keep my own head warm! I’m really excited to see how the colour work turns out and think it will be the perfect way to use up the leftover balls of yarn from one of my favourite hand spun projects of 2016.

As for my making, I have some intentions for the coming year, which I’ll talk more about in a future post. For now, it is enough to go slowly & gently into this new year. Wishing you a very happy 2017 and hope you are warm and cozy wherever you are!

ps: I’d love to hear about your last & first projects, whether knitting, spinning, sewing or otherwise, if you’d like to share below!

back to spinning, baby by my side

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

fleece

Raw fleece

For the past two years, corners of our house have been filled with bags of greasy, dirty, lanolin covered fleeces, gathered directly from local farms at shearing time. Little by little, I have been working my way through them, learning as I go about skirting & sorting but also experimenting with a variety of scouring processes. Every stage is an opportunity to learn something new, even when I get things ‘wrong’. And therefore further expand my knowledge of these rawest of materials. This knowledge guides my feet & fingers when sat at the wheel making yarn, but also when I am preparing for a knitting or crochet project.  There seem to be as many variations within individual fleeces as there are between the different breeds of sheep who have kindly gifted me their woolly coats. I know I am still far from unravelling all the mysteries of wool & fleece!

sheep

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It might already be apparent to those of you reading here or elsewhere that I love wool. I’m fascinated by everything that the world of wool has to offer us and it seems that I have, quite unintentionally, made it one of my life goals to surround myself with all things wool related. Wool, as my beloved dictionary tells me is the “outer coat that grows on sheep” that is “used to make things such as clothes, blankets and carpets“. It seems so simple and obvious. And yet.

I have a confession to make.  

I grew up in the West Country, in the beautiful county of Dorset. An area, like much of Britain, whose countryside is quintessential sheep rearing country.   And yet it wasn’t until recently, very recently, that I started paying attention to sheep. Really paying attention.

Like most people, I could recognise a sheep when I saw one. They have woolly coats, live in fields, eat grass and have lambs in spring. But those basic things apart, sheep were only sheep. I would not have been able to name the specific breed. Or what part of the world it belonged to. Or known what it was doing in that particular field or why it was there.

It was only in 2014 when I first started seriously becoming interested in where my yarn came from that I began to realise that not all sheep are the same. That there are different breeds which have been developed over time to become adapted to the land they live on. And that these adaptations make for an infinite number of possibilities, in terms of shape and size and character of the animal. And therefore also in the fleece.

Quite soon after taking up the wheel and spindle in spring 2014, I realised that these new activities had opened up a new source of joy for me. Living in a sheep rearing valley in the French Pyrénées, it was possible to spin yarn from sheep I’ve met. Or as Annie Claire has so beautifully put it, “to tighten the gap between pasture and pullover”, as it were.

From the moment I was invited to select my first fleeces from a friend’s farm, I felt a deep rooted satisfaction when I held my first finished skeins in my hands. Knowing that I’d worked with it from raw, stinky fleece through to final, washed and blocked yarn. Even if it was a bit lumpy and bumpy.

So far, all of the raw fleeces I’ve worked with have come from sheep that were born and raised in the valley where I live. Some from the local rare breed the Barégeoise, (see the photo above). Other fleeces came from other traditional (French) South West stock. Beginner that I was, very early on into my experiments I nonetheless started noticing differences in the way the fleeces responded to the various stages involved in spinning yarn: scouring, carding, spinning, plying and blocking. It quickly became apparent that if I were to do justice to the fleeces, it was important to become familiar not only with the various characteristics of the breeds but also the history and fibre traditions associated with each.

Perhaps one day, we’ll have a  patch of land. Where we’ll live in a tiny round house made of fleece and spend our days getting grubby. Him tending to a little permaculture veggie plot, me looking after a little dye garden and our own (tiny) flock of sheep. Then I’ll not only be able to meet the sheep whose fleeces I work with, but I’ll know them intimately.

Until then, I can enjoy the wondrous fibres by working directly with fleeces and yarns that have been grown elsewhere and cared for by other hands. And so in keeping with my personal slow wool project, I’ve decided to start sharing some of my sheepy discoveries and experiments with breed specific fleeces and yarns from here in France, my native Britain and perhaps, occasionally, a little further afield.

October, in wool

As October comes to a close, I’m excited to introduce a new strand: Lately, in wool. Here you’ll find a brief round-up of what woolly pursuits have been keeping me busy the past month. I’m hoping it will be a manageable way to keep a visual journal of my progress and experiments. But I’d also love you to join in and share what you’ve been up to with wool recently on your own blog, whether it be spinning, knitting, crochet, sewing, natural dyeing or just simple wool gathering (i.e. enhancing your stash!). If you do, please leave a link to your post in the comments so I can drop by and take a look! 

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Where spinning has been concerned, October has been about finishing off projects that were languishing on the bobbins since the summer:

  • Plying up some Ryeland singles (spun from some sliver left over from my Tour de Fleece spindle spin).
  • Finishing off a 2 ply sample skein of Lourdaise, spun “in the grease” from hand-carded rolags.
  • Gradually working my way through a big bag of carded Texel fleece (French reared, sheared & prepared) that I acquired at the same time as my (second-hand) Ashford Kiwi spinning wheel.

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At the start of the month, some dear friends came to stay with us for a week. I had been feeling like I was caught in a place of stasis where my knitting was concerned recently, but having a friend to knit with certainly helped pull me out of the rut! Florine is an incredibly talented & prolific knitter (as well as being the sweetest person), and I was so glad to be able to knit & chat with her once the baby was tucked up in bed each evening. Whilst they were here,

  • I made some real headway on my Papa Bear Jumper finishing up both sleeves during their stay, meaning I now have knitted all the pieces of the jumper. A few days later I was able to block them and now all that’s left is to knit the neckband and do the seaming when I next have some spare energy.
  • I also cast on another Quynn hat for little man, as we seem to have misplaced last year’s one! It would probably have been too small for him now anyway, as after measuring his head we’ve now gone up to the biggest size.

Natural dyeing

csc_0331The mists of the start of the month seem to have given way to some unseasonally warm weather – just perfect for some natural dye experiments. I have to wait until the baby is in bed (or out for a few hours with Papa) and so am gradually working out a system of splitting up all the different tasks associated with the process of dyeing – and learning the importance of extensive note taking in the process! As with all woolly pursuits these days, progress can be slow. But it does mean I’m really enjoying the process all that more.

spindrift

Spindrift

Spindrift on the Néouvielle, January 2011 (Hautes Pyrénées)

The name “Spindrift” comes from a lot of different places.

It’s a beautiful little word of Scottish origin, referring to both the spray blown up from the surface of the sea or the powdery snow blown off a mountain top.

Born and raised on the south coast of Britain, I now find myself living on a mountainside in the French Pyrénées, raising a joyful little boy with my French sweetheart.

Where salt in the air and sand between my toes always felt like the smell and feel of home for me, now the scent of pine trees on a summer’s afternoon and the distant tinkling of sheep bells are also anchor points for me. Where once I missed the energy of a blustery walk along the seashore on a stormy day, now I find I miss the familiar contours of the mountains when I am away from them too long.

And so for someone who came from the sea and now finds herself settled on a mountainside, Spindrift seems the perfect way to bring  these two threads together.

For me, “Spindrift” also signifies a steady but intentionally slow movement. Not seeking to rush, but rather letting oneself be gently carried along by the gentle pace of things; love, nature, life. It’s a value we actively seek to incorporate into every aspect of our daily lives, and one I would love this space to embody.

Finally, that drifting also encompasses the idea of unexpected deviation from an intended course. I would never, could never have expected the shape of my life to be turning out as it is now. But here I am, abandoning myself to the natural flow of things.

out of the mist

autumn mists

This is what early autumn feels like in our mountains : misty and chilly when we wake up to find our view eclipsed by the clouds that sit on the neighbouring mountain top. They hang like a thick veil across the sky, obscuring everything until the sun finally breaks through in the late morning.

It is already October. Already a year has gone by since I moved into this space, when our baby was just three months old. I had so many intentions and plans, all of which have steadily fallen by the wayside as the year has unfolded. Because although the words, the motivation and the dreams have been there deep down inside, I’ve been struggling to let them out into the fresh air. Partly because I’ve been undecided about just how much I want to document and share about our daily life as three. But mainly because in the grand scheme of things, blogging hasn’t really been my greatest priority this past year.

Because underneath this silence, that has hung like a mist, so much life has happened. Twelve months that have passed by in a haze spent with a dear little boy we feel we have always known. Such a joyful time this has been for us three. And also such a time of learning & discovery. Becoming a parent is an enormous challenge for anyone. Becoming a parent when you suffer from a long term chronic illness makes things just that little more interesting.

So whilst much has had to be put on the back burner, just knowing this little place existed, was waiting patiently for me has been such a comfort. It’s been like an anchor, of sorts. Now one year on, it feels as if I am slowly emerging out of the mist of early motherhood.

And so I return to this little place.  A place to gather all my crafts together, to delight in slow & sustainable wool. Wool that’s been grown, gathered, spun & dyed in our mountains: hand-spun on spindle & wheel, dyed with plants, knitted on my needles.

More news to come, no doubt. But first a night of sleep. And then a mug of steaming rooibos tea. Lots of rooibos.

welcome

spinsterI’m Fran, a slow yarn maker, knitter & natural dyer.

I live with my French sweetheart and our darling little baby in a mountain village in the Hautes Pyrénées – stick a pin in a map between Lourdes and Spain and you’ll find us somewhere in the mountains.

We are immersed in this landscape – these green mountains are what inspire and sustain us through the ups and downs of life.

They are also ultimately what steered the course of my life (back) towards craft, and specifically wool & natural fibres. It was whilst searching for a way to weave more meaningful connections with the natural world & pastoral traditions that surround us that I remembered a long held desire to hand spin & naturally dye my own yarn. One fleece led to another…and all of a sudden, I found myself involved in an incredibly rich & satisfying activity that just won’t seem to let me go!

When I became a mama in 2015, we knew it was now or never to embrace projects that fulfil and sustain us. And so both the name & intention of Spindrift were born in the same week as our son.

This coming year (2016), as our little man begins to take his first steps, we also hope to begin taking baby steps towards a more manageable & sustainable life as a family. One which will have us outside in the great wide open as much as possible. And ultimately one which will also enable me to work with wool, dye & fibre plants more closely.

We are interested in learning more about permaculture, self-sufficiency and off grid living. We hope very soon to have a patch of earth to call our own…a place where we can build a little (woolly) nest, grow our own fibre & dye plants…and maybe keep a few sheep.

Until then, this will remain a place to delight in slow & sustainable wool. Wool that’s been grown, gathered, spun & dyed in our mountains: hand-spun on spindle & wheel, dyed with plants, knitted on my needles.

Welcome.