Friday, 15 June 2018

Finding My Thing

I have been drawn to textiles and creative crafting since I was a child. I made my first dress at age 12 with no help and no supervision. I wore it to a party, no one yelled OMG you made your dress yourself!! So I guess it passed muster. Sadly there was no obvious career opportunities for a girl who liked to play with fabrics and threads. Over the years I have dabbled with other crafts, bobbin lace making, tatting, crochet, knitting, quilting, cross stitch, embroidery and now spinning... and lastly felting.

Raw wool before carding

I like playing with wool. In fact the more I play with it the better I get to like it. Does that make sense? I should explain. I have a small stash of fibre from other areas and some from other animals. Since I am fairly new to spinning I thought it important to be able to compare the local wool with what is already out there.The more I play with fancy fibres the more I understand what an exceptional product the local merino wool is.

Wet felted flowers

It doesn't win for being the softest, its not alpaca, but it's really nice honest good hard wearing wool. It's also not too tough or scratchy but I understand that many people prefer not to wear pure wool against bare skin.  That's ok. It's wool - intended for jackets, cardigans, jumpers etc.

Detail of child's poncho

When you have alot of hobbies it can be difficult to get really good at just one. Sometimes you have to keep it simple. Pull back a bit and concentrate on perfecting something fairly basic - the impact is often greater with less. So. I guess wool is definitely my thing, and I thought knitting would be the best use of it but having sustained an rsi injury from repeated knitting now I'm not so sure.  But that's ok too, wool can be used for so much!

Hoodie for baby with wool covered buttons

I recently sent some wool to an online friend for her to spin it and let me know what she thought. At first she waxed lyrical about how lovely it was then she mixed it with a commercially prepared merino and some sparkly fibre and then she spun it.  It was ok. Yeah you can tell I was disappointed. You see I felt that the wool was beautiful in it's own right and didn't need any bells and whistles and certainly not sparkles! OK perhaps I should have sent her more than I did but I feel sure she still would have thrown sparkles at it.

Experimental mock fairisle

I have only recently begun experimenting with colours and I like it more and more.  This I think is definately IT.  Wool! Yes wonderfully woolly wool. It can be spun and then knit or crochet or woven on various different types of loom, it can be wet felted, it can be needle felted into sculptures or shapes. The possibilities for playing with colours are literally endless and as a medium for creative expression it has been sadly relegated to the mundane, the lowly utalitarian - a position it does not deserve. Here are some of the qualities inherent in natural wool. 

1. 100% natural.
2.  Renewable sustainable product (sheep's fleece regrows every year right?)
3. Biodegradable - at the end of it's natural life it can be composted or dug into the garden.
4.  Environmentally friendly product using less energy to produce than synthetic yarns and being natural it does not contain any petrochemicals.
5.  Wool is fire resistant and meets fire prevention regulations without the need for chemical treatment.
6.  Wool fabrics trap air between their fibres making them super warm in cold weather and conversely in summer they help the body stay cool.
7.  Wool repels water sufficiently to be called shower proof - naturally.
8. Woollen fabrics do not crease or wrinkle easily. The fibres have crimp or memory that enables them to bounce back to their original shape.
9.  Wool is durable and hard wearing - different breeds of sheep give different types of wool with varying softness Vs durability. There's a wool suitable for every project!
10. Wool comes in lots of natural colours but also takes dye really well - fortunately there are literally hundreds of colours to choose from.
11. What you can do with wool is only limited by your imagination.

 So... let's hear it for wool! Hip hip....

Wet felted book cover

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Mowing Time

It's time to mow the lawn. Actually it's well past time but if you tackle it too soon then it grows again very quickly and you have all that work to do again.

The trick is to cut it just as the intense summer heat begins and then you can ignore it until after the autumn rains, last year the fall rain didn't come and we didn't have very much grass at all.

This year we started the Big Mow and then it rained. The machine doesn't work with wet grass so it's been very much a stop and start affair.

The rain is most welcome even if it's frustrating the Mower in the family.

Our flowers are nearly gone, swamped by the advancing grasses. Although the grass has a beauty of it's own it invokes a certain anxiety connected with forest fires.

The water meadow has sprouted a low growing convolvulus type flower which is really pretty.

Some of our neighbours who invariably run a harrow through their Finca twice a year have been taken over by a hardy little blue clover-like plant. From a distance it looks like a haze of blue beneath the olives, which are in bloom at the moment too.

Altogether it's a a very photogenic time of year. If you can cope with the pollen that is! Big sales in antihistamines at this time of year.

This may look extreme but needs must - I might add that I also take antihistamines. Who knew?? We don't have olives in the UK - such a surprise that the blossoms are so troublesome. At the moment they are prolific and fall like snow with the slightest of movements.

Even with a blocked nose and itchy eyes it s plain to see how beautiful this place is.

Friday, 18 May 2018

A Vicious Circle

Having established that I need money to launch my new project what happens? Tooth ache followed by a totally different tooth simply disintegrating leaving horrid jagged edges.

Now my Sanitas health cover will pay for checkups and a yearly clean but on investigation the treatment I need is cheaper than the insurance excess charge so it's more prudent to simply pay for it...

So initially a whopping 105 euros to rebuild the crumbled tooth - with the warning that it will be forever fragile and the only other option is to take it out. 😶 Antibiotics have sorted the toothache but root canal work is scheduled for June.. that's more money.

This is the way it is. We feel like we are rich because we live in such a beautiful place and we have a lifestyle we want, mostly doing just whatever we want, but the reality is that we are on a fixed budget and over the past year or so we have slowly taken our eyes off the ball.

So it's time to pull in the horns a bit. This shouldn't be too onerous. If we focus on the important stuff, after all, the best things in life are free right?

Saturday, 12 May 2018

An Official Venture

I have for some time been trying to get an Etsy shop off the ground. It has stalled several times because my product, the local wool, takes such a long time to prepare. For example, it's almost shearing time and I still have the bulk of last year's fleece to process.

I have been guilty of seeing the end result without taking into account the obstacles right under my nose and hence things just havent got very far at all.

Things moved on in one sense with the creation of a Facebook group called 'Hilanderos de España' - Spinners from Spain. So far, most of the members are Germans living in Spain, or Spanish breeders of rare sheep who are looking for a market for their wool. As far as I can see there is only one Spanish spinner. It's a start.

And the requests started very quickly on the group for clean Spanish wool ready to spin. Cleaning the wool is the most time consuming bit and I haven't managed to save for the equipment that would speed the process up. Then I had an idea. Why not ask for help?

The whole idea originated in wanting to pay the shepherd a fair price for his wool. If I can't get the wool to market I can't pay the shepherd. No one wants dirty wool and many countries have strict rules about foreign vegetable matter arriving in the post.  So before my project can even begin I need to purchase 3 pieces of kit.

A desktop spin dryer. I'm using a salad spinner at the moment, it's ridiculously slow and inefficient.

A picker - this is going to make the most difference of all, this amazing machine opens out the locks of wool allowing the seeds, grass and hay to fall out.

A drum carder - this will cut down the time carding the wool and save the wear and tear on my wrists (I'm already suffering from an RSI injury related to the fibre arts!)

The way things stand at the moment it would be impossible to get enough wool into the shop to be able to meet even a small demand as well as work on developing end products that will showcase the quality of the wool. I had such plans.. still have.. but alas they cannot come to pass until I get over this hurdle.

From the Facebook page it became apparent that there are quite a number of rare breeds (some on the endangered list) here in Spain that would benefit from  a marketplace for their wool. Long term it would be nice to be able to help.  But before I get ahead of myself once again...

If you didn't look, it's a link to my Crowdfunding campaign and for those feeling generous enough to donate there will be gifts of fleece prepared for spinning or felting. Woolly accessories or whimsical momentos winging their way to you in due course. And for the really generous a series of discounts when the shop is launched online.

Garden Goddess in cotton stuffed with wool.

Look Here

Monday, 23 April 2018

Animals Matter

We have oodles of space here. Plenty room for lots of animals, should we choose to have them. And before we got here our dream life was going to be shared with geese, ducks, turkeys and pigs as well as our pets. Two dogs figured in the dream as well.

Our experience with the geese pretty much put us off large domestic fowl. The turkeys have never materialised.

We have been breeding our own hens with the intention of using the males as meat and only keeping sufficient hens for our egg needs. Our last brood of chicks were all hens (how lucky was that) but then we had two hens die for no apparent reason. This happens sometimes. One minute they are fine the next they're dead. The flock is now a manageable 7 hens and the cockerel.

We never intended having 5 cats. It's way too many. Yes we have space but in winter when it rains they want to stay in the house and the house is small. This resulted in instances of bullying and floor wetting and defecation in the shower. This is not fun for us.

At last the better weather has arrived and the cats spend more time outside. Then the eldest cat was attacked by something (probably a strange cat) and the trip to the vets was very expensive. Not to mention time consuming and awkward on a daily basis trying to administer antibiotics in food to just one cat. There was barely a pause between that ones recovery and the next coming down with cystitis - a male cat??? WTF?? The evidence of this was urinating in tiny puddles almost everywhere he went. On  the table, on my lap, on floor, rug etc. It also coincided with guests staying.

More antibiotics and analgesic followed. Cue the next cat which started exhibiting symptoms of fever and what we thought was a bite at the base of his tail. Turns out this is a rare case of perianal fistula in cats. (Dont go there!) We are now administering more antibiotics and applying cream to the cats bum!

Our beloved Fergus is doing well. Now receiving daily medication for his Cushing's disease and responding well. He will be 12 this summer. That's quite old for his breed. Today the vet tells us he is showing early signs of cataracts, sort of the pre cataract stage. We knew he was losing his sight for some time but luckily for dogs their noses and ears are much more important to them.

Our kitchen is starting to resemble a pharmacy and we are on bread and water for the next month. The vet, I believe, is contemplating an exotic holiday.

Friday, 6 April 2018

The Spring Clean

Every year around about this time I do an old fashioned spring clean. Corners are cleaned, little used areas inspected for unwanted visitors (of the insect variety), curtains washed and even cupboards emptied and cleaned.

This year the spring clean has included reupholstering the outdoor dining chairs and changing the curtains in the outdoor kitchen.

As the weather starts to warm up the outdoor space becomes our main living area and the door to the house stays open all day.

With the door open the house is soon dusty again but I'm not too worried about this. If it has been thoroughly cleaned then a little dust isn't going to worry me too much.

Except that we are poised for visitors and we'd like them to get a good impression of the place. So it's been spring cleaning plus!!! The plus has included the garden.

New shrubs and flowering plants are poised to be transplanted - hoping they do well, it's never easy here. Basically my rule of thumb is to give everything as much shade as possible.

We are including the veggie plot in with the spring clean. The winter veg was a bit of a disappointment due to lack of rain. But we have bought an array of summer veg - tomatoes, peppers, aubergine, squash and lettuce. I also have alot of cotton to plant this year.

We love having visitors but we can hardly fit them in with all the work still to be done.  Since spring arrived we have also had another hen turn broody. Our last little batch of three chicks turned out to be all hens (hooray) and so we decided to move broody hen to the maternity wing and give her half a dozen eggs this time. She sat for a day then turfed all the eggs out of the nest and gave up.  Now she is bopping about making broody noises but showing no inclination to sit on any eggs.

And so the rythm of the seasons continues and we are never bored and seldom discontented.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Edinburgh Knit Fest 2018

There were a number of reasons for my return visit to Scotland, one of the most exciting was the Edinburgh Knitfest. Since knitting became the cool and trendy favourite pastime of the young - EYF has to be one (if not THE) trendiest of events in the UK knitting calendar and I was really looking forward to being on the crest of the coolness wave for a change. My usual place is treading water in the rock pool after the wave has receded and the tide is barely a line of blue in the distance.

You don't believe knitting is cool!? Well try this little snippet featuring the lady I saw on the bus going to the event.

I was sat at the back of the bus anxiously watching for signposts or clues about where to get off when I began to notice a large number of hand knitted hats and scarves dotted about the bus and stood at the front, a lady with turquoise hair who filmed us all and then asked all the hand knitters on the bus to raise a hand. It seemed like the entire bottom deck of the bus was going to the Knitfest, so I followed everyone else - there was no possibility of getting lost.

My only anxiety after this was the weather and the fact that I was queuing. By the time I knew for certain that I could make the festival all the advance tickets were sold out and I had to leave it to chance and the queue. The weather was a windy -1C with snow. I am no longer accustomed to such stuff. Now I'm going to gloss over the horror I felt when someone told me their sister had queued for over an hour the day before. I only waited about 10 minutes.

It was warm inside, and full, I mean FULL of yarn and fibre goodies from all over the world. Colour senses overload!

I was not as well prepared as I thought. I had a rough list of things that I wanted to purchase or look at. I knew one of the suppliers that was there and intended to purchase some wool from her for a jumper pattern I bought when she was at the Loch Ness Yarn Fest. I walked around the hall aimlessly for the first hour before I realised I needed a plan of the hall with a list of vendors. When I found her it turned out I'd passed her stand twice and not noticed - too many sparkly pretty things either side! Or perhaps this is evidence of my taste in yarn - subdued, subtle even.

Shopping in this kind of atmosphere is fraught with danger. You are surrounded by people in a shopping frenzy and with every breath you take on board not just oxygen but the desire to exchange the notes in your purse for some squishy soft woolly delights.  Its a pandemic! But it's hard to decide which, or what will cure and what will just make your symptoms worse! Some purchases lead to others like patterns lead to wool which leads to needles and stitch holders and markers and yarn guages and needle guages and one of each is NEVER enough.

Too much choice leaves me unable to decide and in danger of buying nothing. Oh no! This cannot be! The most popular choices are skeins of varied coloured or multi coloured or gradient coloured wools in every shade of the rainbow and then some. The cost of some of these skeins can be as much as £15. But there is simply too many different hues to be able to choose just one. And just one would make a hat, or a scarf or perhaps gloves but not all three. There's only so many hats and scarves a girl can use (especially if you live in Spain). So I admired much of these but purchased little. Likewise I passed by the stand called Socks Yeah.

My favourites are the single breed wool in natural shades straight from the sheep. Or the gentle dyes of the fairisle patterns. Timeless, classy and ageless - or perhaps they're not. Perhaps they are old fashioned, a bit like me.  This is what I'd like to achieve with my local wool but I will seriously have to up my game.

Or perhaps if I want to attract interest from younger knitters I should try to emulate the wilder colours that are perhaps what has been fuelling the rise in popularity of knitting in general. 

I did get to try out a spinning wheel that I've heard alot about but of course would normally not get the opportunity to try before buying. It's the Schacht Ladybug. A beautiful, small, portable wheel that spins like a dream but doesn't seem to offer anything different than my Lendrum and is surprisingly complicated to set up (or perhaps I'm not very wheel savvy) by comparison. Remembering how nervous I was about purchasing my newest Lendrum without being able to try it first I am now patting myself on the back. The Ladybug was cute and kinda cool but my Lendrum is better 😁.

The cute little Ladybug.

Only one thing could have improved on the day. If I had taken a friend and some knitting. But I had neither with me.  Although knitters are always happy to chat with other knitters and it wouldn't have been hard to make new friends I didn't really make the effort.  Although I did find someone willing to take my photo with the Heilan' Coo!

Needless to say I had a wonderful time, spent a pile of money, came home exhausted and with a cold but soooo happy I went. Can't you tell?