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Meet the Producer….

Sabrina Ross from Heatherlea Black Cheviots

This is the first in a series of interviews with farmers/small producers of sheep that we are particularly interested for their fibre as spinners. I’m hoping to create a directory of high quality producers specifically for spinners.

Our first farmer is Sabrina Ross of Heatherlea Black Cheviots who is a vet, originally from Austria . I ordered fibre from Sabrina which came as two rolls of sliver fibre from her white Cheviot Sheep.

Sabrina Ross

Here, Sabrina shares her story

“Having always loved animals and spending all my holidays at my grannies’ self sufficient farm, it was inevitable that when given the question of ‘What are you going to be when you grow up?’ at the tender age of three that my answer was I’m going to be a vet mainly for cattle and sheep with my own farm. Sounds laughable but fast forward 35 years and here I am living the dream. I’ve already married my amazing husband who shares my love for animals especially our sheep and the rich biodiversity on the croft. My decision to leave the full time vet profession was hard, but the idea of self sufficiency was too tempting to try it out and see how far one can get. The wool is part of the journey and I especially connect to it since I am fortunate to have a mother who is an expert knitter and crocheter. I always loved wearing the finished garments. From her lovingly made socks to pullovers, blankets to couch throws, her woollens have travelled the world with me and lasted a lifetime. We learned knitting at school in Austria and I was not patient enough to appreciate it back then. Little did I know at the time that I would enjoy hand clipping, shearing and find the science of wool fibre very interesting. I have learned a lot about wool and other fibre in the last few years, picking up spinning from local women, taking up knitting and crochet again.

I’ve tried weaving, founded a knitting group and what shall I say, it is rather addictive! If someone would ask me years ago if I can imagine entering the wool world or let alone producing wool, I would laugh – very loudly! As it turns out I now love it and it connects me mentally both with my mum and grandmother.

What makes you so passionate about this particular breed of sheep’s fibre over another – why do you think it’s a great fibre for spinners?

That is pretty simple – our North Country Cheviot (NCC) fleece has a medium to long staple, amazing crimp, is springy, soft and durable – a very rare combination. The wool can be used for any garment, from warm durable socks to delicate lace scarves and soft comfy next to the skin pullovers, hats, scarves, mittens, legwarmers…

We have a closed flock: the only new genetics influencing the flock is from bought in males known as tups. We find that sheep with a dense coat, tight crimp and no kemp tend to thrive through our harsh Highland winters. So the tup’s fleece is the first thing we look at when making our selection from up to 1000 forward for NCC sales

Cheviots amazing fleece

An unforseen bonus of this genetic selection is that our wool has all the qualities spinners and crafters are looking for including softness, springiness and durability and all without the need to blend with other fibres or flocks.

With the NCC being sought after for it’s many other attributes such as conformations, hardiness and longevity, and with the raw fleece price being so low, it appears that wool quality is not prioritised by other shepherds and we can often get the tups we bid on. In my eyes NCC wool is often overlooked because it is not a rare breed but it really does offer what most spinners are looking for,

We hear a lot of reports about farmers and the difficulties they face in terms of the price of fleece. What keeps you motivated?

These days for most farmers and crofters it costs more to shear the sheep that they will get paid for the fleece it provides. Consumers often buy plastic wool which really dumps prices to a bare minimum and even below that . Wool is such an undervalued product. but from my experience, thankfully quality is appreciated by my customers.

Seeing the bigger picture, climate change is very much in the headlines nowadays and wool can play a role in combating the accumulation of microplastics filling our oceans. Wool is versatile, it can even be used as wall insulation or fertiliser in the form of pellets, the list is endless. It is a chance to decrease net carbon emissions and even increase the ridiculously low price for wool that farmers suffer from.

I enjoy that feeling of connection I get when working with the wool and when I do something I love then that helps me immensely in staying motivated.

How do you see the future for your flock? Do you think there is light at the end of the tunnel?

I am very positive. For instance, “the flock” reached out a few years back to buy a big bulk of our fleeces to process in Italy and this year they even increased their order. It is very encouraging that customers giving their good feedback can influence these decisions. I think this kind of organisation who work together with high welfare and sustainable flocks and want to discourage the fast fashion industry is key for the future of wool producers big and small.

Personally, for my flock I am very optimistic that I can continue offering high quality wool for crafters, the environment and my conscience. I am diversifying my range for example by offering not only hand spun wool but also machine spun (made in the UK) some colour wool and even cute felted slipper to reach the needs of different consumers. As with all crofters you have to be a jack of all trades an have multiple avenues. My wool is a reassuring part for our future.

What can we as spinners, weavers, knitters or crocheters do to help out farmers?

What would really help is to check our what products are locally available, respect seasonality, buy at farmers markets, learn that high quality and local supply chains are valuable and worth the expense. There are many high quality products only available locally that are hard to find out about. Get nosy and ask farmers what they offer!

Yarn from Sabrina’s flock

What are you most proud of when it comes to your business?

Working with nature instead of against it. The Highlands are a tough area to live in yet there is so much variety. I am proud that my products use what is already there, it produces a low carbon footprint product and is 100% traceable to my woolly family. The products that I offer are appreciated by spinners, knitters, crochet, weavers and even fibre artist professionals and beginners alike. Seeing a finished garment and a good review never fails to put a smile on my face too

Black Cheviot

To order yarn click the link https://blackcheviot.com/. Sabrina is happy to chat about fibre suitable for spinners, she is incredibly helpful and will try her best to get exactly what you need

Thanks to Sabrina for her time, knowledge and the work she does to produce her beautiful fibre

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Lazykate Blog

Fibre direct from Farmers

Having been involved with the Homegrown Homespun project and feeling that this is the start of something very exciting we have been making small changes here that we hope will lead to some larger ones down the line

We have always used British Bluefaced Leicester on our spinning workshops sourced in the UK but not always directly from farmers. To be honest, I didnt know how to go about it. Farmers se t their fleeces directly to the Wool Marketing Board or had them spun into yarn, it was difficult to catch them at the fibre stage. They were probably there all the time, I just couldn’t find them.

I joined a Zoom chat hosted by Kate Makin from Northern Yarn, somewhere we have been teaching weaving for a long time. Zoe from the Woolist as well as Maria Benjamen from Dodgson Wood were there explaining how they were moving things on for British Farmers so that their wool is valued and used.

Gloria, Maria and zoe from theflock.uk

This is something that we feel very strongly that we would like to support. We have a way to go, but by eating the elephant a bite at a time were hoping to get there in the end.

Our aims would be

1 To use different breeds on our different spinning workshops, direct from farmers

2 To change over time to natural dyes. We have a large stock of dyes and we feel that sending these directly to landfill is wrong so we will continue to use them as ethically as possible.

3 Our yarn at the moment is British Yarn spun in Peru by small producers and women led cooperatives. We need a high twist yarn for our weaving workshops (we dont use nylon). If the possibility of having this yarn spun in the UK becomes available we will look into it. At the moment this isnt an option but as the infrastructure is built we hope it will be.

These changes will take time but we are excited to be making a start and I’ve the next few weeks we will keep posting about our plans

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Homegrown Homespun

We were invited to join in with this fascinating project (see previous post for more information to provide half term heritage activities for the volunteers who come each week to weed the flax field.

This was the plan we started with, which began on Monday with a spinning workshop. The weather was absolutely perfect and we enjoyed spending the day spinning, some learning to spin, some returning to it. The plan was that the yarn that we spun would be dyed by Justine from the Wild Dyery using natural dyes and then woven into the banner that would be the entrance to the flax field.

It was such a special week. For us, we know the benefit of these crafts on people’s wellbeing, we see each time we take a workshop that people fall in love with the craft or connect with it. At Blackburn that happened again, there were people of all ages and backgrounds who were able to share their experiences, their family’s history of weaving. Some people had never spun or woven before and to hear the words ‘this is just so exciting’ and to know two of the volunteers have gone on to find spinning wheels is fabulous.

First time hand spun yarn

We each took a section of the workshops, I led the spinning, Jessamy the rigid heddle weaving and Sofia the frame loom letters.

The woven banner consisted of six lengths of woven fabric and 18 handwoven letters sewn together for the completed piece. This was unveiled on a chilly summers day and covered by BBC Look North West and Radio Lancashire.

The banner will be displayed for the fortnight Textile Biennial in October in Blackburn. We will give more information nearer the time about where exactly it can be seen

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British Textile Biennial

Homegrown Homespun Workshops

joining with North West England Fibreshed & Patrick Grant

We are so excited to announce that we will be involved in the British Textile Biennial celebration with Patrick Grant and Justine Aldersey Williams from the Wild Dyery

The initiative involves planting a field of flax for linen and woad, a natural dye for indigo in a disused field in Blackburn in order to produce a pair of jeans. This would then be used as a starting point for a prototype to be upscaled and the jeans to be produced by Community Clothing, a social enterprise organisation. You can read more about it all in North West Fibreshed’s blog here

The jeans will be made in October during the Textile Biennial celebration but on the week commencing the 31st May to the 4th June we will be creating a banner at the entrance to the field during the Homegrown Homespun Half Term Workshops

At the beginning of the week we will take our spinning wheels up to Blackburn and teach groups of volunteers to spin – anyone with experience of learning to spin will know how this often goes. For a banner though, imagine the texture that will be created with those gorgeous lumpy skeins.

The yarn will then be dyed by Justine with natural dyes along with donated T shirts and other fabric which will be incorporated. On the Friday we will then use our looms to weave the banner which will adorn the site. It promises to be a great week, covid permitting.

We will also create tapestry woven letters to spell Homegrown Homespun, the theme of the project. It’s so exciting to be part of this at the beginning of something that could be amazing.

For more information about the Textile Biennial, take a look here

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Spinning Our Own Yarn

Each one of us is a set of shifting molecules, spinning in ecstasy

Jim Jarmusch

It’s that moment when there are a few butterflies in your stomach. A germ ( or a caterpillar) of an idea. Could we actually start filling our calendar with workshops….and if we did, would anyone come?

Well we have booked in dates for the next few months at our favourite venues and people are joining us to weave! Covid pushed us to try new ways to work, to learn and help others to learn and so we are taking those forward with us in these new baby-step times.

So, for weavers, over the next 6 months we will continue with our Weave a Scarf workshops but also have Pick Up Stick classes, Warping workshops and more.

For Spinners we have workshops from complete beginners through to more experienced classes and also project classes. So here’s what’s coming up

Saturday 26th June Beginner’s Spinning

Saturday 24th July Woollen & Worsted Spinning

Friday 10th September Beginner’s Spinning

Friday 15th October am Spinning for Socks

Friday 15th October pm Navajo Plying

Friday 12th November Beginner’s Spinning

So, something for everyone. If you’d like to have more information, click on the workshop name or you can message me. If you’d like a workshop on a subject you don’t see here, let me know and I can try and create one – if you want to learn it, chances are someone else does too.

email me at [email protected]

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Navajo v Trational Plying

Which Ply & When?

Navajo or chain plying is a really useful tool to have in your spinning kit. It might seem a little complicated at first but with some practice and patience (isn’t that always the case?) you’ll find you’re getting into the swing of things.

Navajo or chain plying is plying from one bobbin, different obviously from traditional plying which requires two bobbins on a lazykate and a clear bobbin on your wheel. With your single yarn you create a loop, attach it to your leader and chain your single to create a three ply yarn. If you are a crocheter, you will already be familiar with the chain technique.

Why is it worth learning?

When you’ve been spinning for a while, you’ll find with the best of intentions you end up with leftover singles on your bobbins. Unless you intend to have hundreds of bobbins, you’re going to want to find a way of using that yarn up. Navajo plying will help with that, you can collect small amounts of plied yarns to use up as edgings in your weaving, or in scrappy blankets, as accents in your sock knitting, in toes and heels.

Another really useful way to use this technique is in maintaining defined colour stripes in your work, whether that be weaving or knitting.

Long strips of hand dyed fibre are everywhere at yarn festivals and it’s something we love to dye too. Sometimes there will be large blocks of colour, sometimes small ones and you might like just to spin away without thought – nothing wrong with that but what if you want to keep those colours true without any blending?

If you separate your fibre into thin strips and spin each one from top to bottom, trying to maintain your drafting and then use Navajo plying this will definitely help you to do that.

Navajo Plying v Traditional Plying

Experiment 1 – Singles spun and Navajo plied

I decided to try three different techniques with one strip of hand dyed fibre. I dyed the fibre with large colour bands so that I could get quite a bit of spinning done in one colour before there was a change.

With my first bobbin I spun a single that was around 24wpi with an aim to get a 4plyish yarn at the end. Because of the nature of Navajo plying, the chain will produce a three ply yarn so that would be something to take into account when you begin to spin and how much meterage you need for your single. As this was only an experiment I didn’t overly plan

I plied my singles using the technique, taking care that when the colour changes happened, I chained quite small to keep the colours seperate. While the colours were solid I did large chains. I then knitted a square with the yarn which looked like this

Experiment 2 – Traditionally plied in strips

For the next square I took my fibre and divided the strips in the same way as I did with experiment 1, but this time I spun each strip on a separate bobbin. I took care to spin with the colours the same way round so each bobbin would ideally look the same.

I spun in the same way, aiming for a 4ply plied yarn. As I’m only human though, my drafting wasn’t always exactly perfect and I will insist on watching the TV while spinning so can easily get distracted. As a result, the plied yarn didn’t match up exactly and the knitted swatch looked like this

The blocks of colour are there but there is heathering where the colours are mismatched, known as barberpoling. I don’t dislike this, I think it looks quite nice

Experiment 3 – spinning any which way

So for my last swatch I spun however the fibre came to me, there were bits where the fibre hadn’t split off perfectly, some I spun in a strip one way, some in the other way. I spun two separate bobbins and plied them together. The resulting swatch looked like this.

Conclusion

Spinning is all about choices and knowing different having plying options gives us just that. The three swatches side by side show just how different those plying methods make the yarn. None are wrong, but you might like to use them in different ways.

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Worsted Spinning-week 2 of Spin Club

We decided to focus on worsted spinning this week at Spin Club. Its my go to style of spinning and it was great to have the opportunity to delve into it a little bit more.

As is always the case, many different spinners will have their take on what is the definitive description of a technique. On my spinning workshops I teach worsted spinning to the beginners because I think its the easiest place to start.

Worsted spinning is a combed preparation of fibres so that they are all aligned in the same direction. This means that there is less air in the fibre making it hard wearing with a good stitch definition if you knit it or sheen if you’re weaving.

The technique is called short draw drafting and I’ve seen it referred to as inchworm drafting too. You take your fibre between your hands and draft a small amount of fibre apart, not allowing the twist to run into the main body of fibre. You then slide your pinched fingers over that twist.

Some writers feel strongly that true worsted or woollen spinning can only come from prepared fibre and not mill prepared top. I think thats probably true in the strictest sense of the word but I would still call short draw drafting with top worsted spinning.

There are some great resources if you want to research all about it and you can decide what you believe to be true. Whatever is right for you, whatever works for you is right in my book

Mabel Ross’s book The Essentials of Yarn Design is a wonderful read and for such a little book has so much information.

The Spinners Book of Yarn Designs by Sarah Anderson, a great resource

The worsted edition of Ply magazine, this issue is from 2014 but you might be able to pick one up as a back issue

Suggested by Kate, Spinning Bear, The Spinner’s Book of fleece by Beth Smith is a good recommendation which I don’t have but will need to aquire immediately.

Happy worsted spinning everyone. Next week we will be looking at woollen spinning and preparations so I hope you can join us live, or catch up on igtv

Speak soon

Follow me at Lazykate_textiles on Instagram

http://www.instagram.com/lazykate_textiles

and Heather at Inquisitive Weaver

http://www.instagram.com/inquisitiveweaver

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Spin Club Win! (we think)

Thank you to everyone that joined us for the first Weaverbirds Spin Club. We were ridiculously nervous but a couple of minutes in and it was fine, the time flew.

It’s interesting to hear other’s experience of spinning, how they spin their fibre and the wheels they prefer. Shared experience while we can’t be together is great on Instagram and hopefully it won’t be too long before we can spin with others in person.

In the meantime, I’ve been making a couple of spinning videos for beginners, just a few minutes long to explain the very basics and making plans for more spinning workshops both recorded and on zoom.

This week we’ll be talking about worsted spinning at Spin Club, it’ll be great if you could join us. If you have any questions you’d like to ask please let us know and we’ll do our best to answer

See you there

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Weaverbirds Spin Club

You are cordially invited to join Heather and I for an hour of spinning each Sunday at 3pm

3pm – early enough for you to grab an hour to yourself and late enough to have a little something to celebrate the day! Could be a little glass of white or a large velvety hit chocolate with all the trimmings!

We’re meeting on Instagram live and we’d love it if you’d join us. Feel free to message any questions or hello’s.

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Ways to spin an even yarn part 1 – Cross lacing

What’s the issue?

One of our aims as new spinners is to be able to spin super fine yarn. We berate ourselves because our yarn is thick and chunky. Once it is thinner, it’s over spun or has little piglet tails. We’ve reduced our tension. How can we stop this happening?

There are a few ways that we can stop our yarn running away with us once we’ve been able to master our drafting technique. Cross lacing is one method.

I first came across cross lacing on the instagram page of the technically brilliant Bren Boone of Snerbyarn. Her spinning is so consistant and beautiful and she credits cross lacing as one of her methods. Here’s a little video which explains how it works

Thin, fine yarn requires much more twist than thicker yarn. This is why when you are a beginner spinner and your brain is overwhelmed with all the things you have to remember -drafting, (and I mean at all – never mind drafting evenly) treadling without sliding the wheel across the floor or allow it to spin the opposite way etc etc, you will find your thick yarn overspinning again and again.

This is one of the reasons why once we can spin thinly we tend to stick with it. Thin yarn requires more twist and therefore is more forgiving. There is more time for us to treadle away, allowing twist into our yarn while we watch the telly before it becomes horribly overspun. But sometimes we might like to spin a super thin lace yarn and our wheel just seems to run away with us. That’s where cross lacing comes in.

What is cross lacing?

Cross lacing can stop there being so much draw in, slowing the wheel down and allowing all the twist that we need without over twisting.

You do this by tracing your single across the bobbin hooks, from one side to the other. Or if you have a slider style flyer wrap your single over the metal rods of the flyer.

Have a go of this simple method and see if it makes a difference, I noticed an improvement immediately and I hope it helps you too.