Of warmth and wool

Miles walked: 210        Miles left to go: 290

I’ve been washing woolly jumpers, cleaning my winter boots, digging out warm hats, gloves and snuggly pyjamas: we’re heading to the UK for a couple of weeks and I think we are really going to feel the cold this time. It’s not that we are hothouse flowers by nature, but we have been revelling in wrap-around warmth for several weeks and anything under 15° C will come as a bit of a shock. This photo of Roger says it all – painting outside in hot sunshine on the 4th November.

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One of the reasons we’re travelling is that Roger has been selected to represent Wales in an international cross-country competition in Glasgow. It’s a great honour and very exciting but I don’t envy him having to strip down to shorts and a vest, even if he will be running around at speed; I suspect his support team will be tightly wrapped up in her thermals!

I’m not so bothered about leaving the garden this time; we’ve been making the most of the lovely weather to get jobs done outside and even the weeds are more or less under control. With that ugly bedstead fence gone, we’ve started to shore up the salad patch with chestnut poles so that it can be extended for more planting next year.

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Roger has also made a gate from an old palette, nothing fancy but so much better (and easier to use) than the bedstead it has replaced.

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The vegetable harvest has slowed but we still have more to eat than we know what to do with.

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Snail damage on the outer leaves but the hearts are lovely.

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Sutherland kale on the left, cavolo nero on the right.

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Yes, we are still picking peppers!

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The leeks are monstrous . . .

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. . . and the parsnips are the biggest we’ve ever grown.

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The black winter radish are giants, too.

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A single fennel plant – an unexpected bonus.

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A bed of golden and ruby pak choi: no prizes for guessing which is the better doer.

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Radicchio ‘Palla Rossa’

The autumn onions and garlic are all through the ground and I suspect the broad beans will be up by the time we get back, especially given the amount of self-set French beans that are popping up all over.

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Hiking socks: the next chapter. Having spun three bobbins of very fine, highly twisted singles, it was time to ply i.e. twist them together to create a yarn. This is much quicker than spinning as there is no drawing out of fibres to be done, it’s just a case of remembering to turn the wheel in the opposite direction to the way the singles were spun. My wheel has an integral bobbin rack or ‘Lazy Kate’ which I think is very efficient as it saves me having to buy or store another piece of equipment.

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My Lazy Kate

However, plying would be easier (and probably of a higher standard) if I could put the Lazy Kate on the floor behind me and let the singles run onto the bobbin in a straight line. It is possible to make a temporary one by pushing a knitting needle through a shoebox but I’m too much of a lazy Kate myself to be bothered; instead, I have this crazy cat’s cradle thing going on with the singles having to turn a sharp hairpin bend in my right hand.

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It is all under control – honestly.

Ah well, it makes life more interesting.

Once plied and rested on the bobbin overnight, I used a niddy-noddy (I love the language of spinning!) to make a skein.

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My niddy-noddy makes a 1.5 metre skein so by counting the number of wraps, I can calculate the total length of yarn – in this case, 350 metres. Mmm . . . for a pair of large men’s socks I’d prefer something closer to 400 metres; I’m not knitting long socks, but I do want to make a very deep ribbed cuff to fold over, which is quite greedy on yarn. So I decided these will have to be lady-sized and once knitted, I shall be able to gauge how much more (if any) I will need for bigger ones. This might all seem a bit chaotic but for me it’s all part of the fun; after all, if I wanted certainty, I’d just go out and buy a ball of commercially-spun sock yarn. Time to dig out the dye kettle and recreate my ‘Northern Lights’ colour scheme, toning down the deep purple and acid green shades – I was after something a little more subtle this time.

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Once again, I was really pleased with the result and particularly in how even this yarn is.

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I just want to knit this now!

I can’t wait to get started on the knitting bit now, but first there’s Ben’s jumper (most important) and a Jacobs sock to finish . . .

I don’t want to start spinning the next batch of sock yarn until I know exactly how much I need, so in the meantime I’ve decided to have a bit of fun with the Perendale wool top I dyed last week. With this sort of hand-painted colour effect my first thought would be to peel slivers off down the length of the top and spin it so that the bands of colour move onto the bobbin in the same way they go down the wool. However, this wool is unusual stuff and was just crying out to be carded; no problem, I love making rolags and as the wool has already been combed, one pass of the carders is enough.

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Rolags at the ready.

It does mean that the colours in the wool will be more blended and the colour changes more subtle, but I still think it will make a pretty enough yarn. It also gives me the chance to practise long draw spinning. Without getting too technical (or indeed, too boring) there are two traditional techniques for spinning wool: short draw from a combed preparation which makes a dense, hard-wearing yarn (perfect for socks!), and long draw from a carded preparation which makes a lighter, airier, bouncier yarn. I am very definitely a short draw spinner and I find long draw spinning very hard; it all feels back to front and unnatural, like trying to write with my left hand.

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Pull back with the right hand, STOP pinching with the left – aaaargh, this is SO hard!

So why bother? First – when done properly – it is a truly beautiful thing to watch and do, so free and relaxed compared to the control freakery of short draw; it’s also much speedier. Second, it opens up many new possibilities for working with fibres, particularly short ones, and creating a wider range of yarns. Third – and most important – it’s great ‘brain gym’: like learning to speak Spanish or drive a left-hand drive car, it’s good for my old grey matter, learning to do things in a new or different way. I’m not expecting much beyond an uneven slub yarn but it will knit up into something all the same.

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Oh good, another knitting project in the offing – time to grab my needles and get busy. 🙂

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3 thoughts on “Of warmth and wool

  1. It sounds you are in about the same situation as I am: an ultimate project (Petteri’s pullover in double knitting) – and lots of other projects coming between the present and the ultimate project (“Two pairs of wool-silk socks before the end of November? OK. And three alpaca-silk shawls? OK, I suppose…”)

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  2. Ah, we suffer from the same ‘problem’, Anja! Actually, if I’m completely honest, I get a little twitchy if I haven’t got more than one thing on the go at once. Petteri’s pullover will be spectacular when it is done, I hope you will post photos! My current ‘new’ thought is to spin and knit a Shetland ring shawl – quite ridiculous as I am the worst lace knitter in the world . . .

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