Sunday, 31 October 2010

All the fun of the Greenwood Fair...

We drove just over the border to Lancashire today to check out a Greenwood Fair at Leighton Hall. It was a free event, organised as part of the Cumbria Wood and Forestry Festival with the aim of promoting the use of wood as a fuel and demonstrating lots of woodland skills, from green woodworking and charcoal making to chainsawing and bushcraft.

I particularly liked the bushcraft stall, where there was a tasty looking wild fruit jam and some home made bread (in a Dutch oven) cooking away over the fire...
Dutch oven and wild jam

Plus some demonstrations of butchering wild meat, which was hanging in a rustic looking 'larder' at the back of the stall...
Wild food larder 1

There were plenty of gorgeous hand carved spoons on various stalls...
Hand carved greenwood spoons

And demonstrations of some of the ways charcoal can be made, such as on a small scale in an old oil drum...
Jim and the oil drum charcoal burner

Or in a traditional 'earth burn', where the logs are stacked up and covered with earth before being lit. This mini version gave an idea of how an earth burn is constructed...
Mini charcoal earth burn

There was a lot to see for such a small event and the whole local greenwood community seemed to be there, along with artists and craftspeople, some local food producers and organisations like the National Trust (who manage the Arniside and Silverdale AONB locally) and the RSPB, which has the Leighton Moss nature reserve nearby.

It was well worth the trip and made me want to have another go at carving some wooden spoons (something I haven't tried since my poor attempts a few years ago on the Woodland Pioneers course!). Watch out finger-ends! :)

Thursday, 28 October 2010

A handspun scarf woven on a handmade loom...

Much as I like spinning, I often wonder what to do with all the yarn I've made, especially very chunky, textured 'art' yarns. I've tried knitting them in various different ways but I've yet to come up with a knitted style that really makes the most of these kinds of yarn.

One of the most exciting things about a lovely handspun art yarn is the way it flows from one section to the next, through a series of colours and textures. I often feel that knitting a very textured yarn somehow interrupts this flow. You can just wear a lovely skein of yarn around your neck but I know I'd end up in a tangled mess doing that!

I had an idea recently that if I could weave a scarf using some handspun yarn as the warp (vertical strands) and create an almost invisible weft (horizontal strands) with some sewing thread, it would give the effect of wearing a skein but without the risk of tangles. It would show off every inch of the yarn in all it's glory!

The one thing that put me off using handspun yarn as a warp in the past is that you generally have to cut through each warp thread at the end of the weaving to release it from the loom. This might not seem like a big deal but I've got a strange aversion to cutting my handspun yarn! It always feels wrong somehow (I know, I'm a bit strange!) so I was keen to find a way of weaving using a continuous warp thread that didn't need to be cut to get the finished item off the loom.

A tall order perhaps but I'd heard about triangle looms and Weave-It looms, which are basically frames with rows of nails around them that you loop the weaving around and then lift off the loom (whole - no cutting!) at the end. So I cobbled together a loom from some scraps of wood and nails and then made a heddle from some cardboard with holes punched in it and some string. It was very heath robinson! :)

Anyway, enough waffle, this is the result of my first attempt...
Draped hand spun scarf
I'm quite pleased with it!
Folded hand spun scarf

As you can see (or rather, not see) the sewing thread that I used for the weft is hardly visible and the main thing you see is the handspun yarn.

Even close up it's hard to see the sewing thread...
Close up detail of hand spun scarf

I used a whole skein of this yarn...
Camels in the Forest yarn mound
Called 'Camels in the Forest', which is a light fluffy corespun yarn made with all kinds of soft fibres like merino, baby camel, silk and soya bean fibre.

This first attempt was very fiddly to do but I've got plans for how to make it easier. I just need to make some more bits of loom because the first one had more or less fallen apart by the end of the scarf!

This prototype scarf was a gift for my Mum, seen here bravely modelling the scarf while suffering from a cold...
Mum modelling her hand spun scarf
She's going to provide regular scarf updates, so I'll get to see how well it holds up in day-to-day use. If the reports are good, I'll get on with making another one soon! :)

Thursday, 7 October 2010

A sheep-tastic day out at Masham Sheep Fair...

We recently trekked over to Yorkshire for the famous Masham Sheep Fair, a huge gathering of sheep and sheep-related activities in the town's market square. It was brilliant!

There's a great atmosphere because the pens of sheep are right in the market place, surrounded by shops and houses...
Showing Dalesbred sheep

With the lovely church in the background...
View of the church at Masham

2010 marked the 25th anniversary of the Masham Sheep Fair, which has been held in the town since 1986. September sheep fairs used to take place in town centres up and down the country but died out during the first world war. The Masham Sheep Fair was revived to raise money for the Sheep Aid for Africa cause and was so much fun that it became an annual event. Thousands of pounds are raised for charities each year.

Although the sheep that come to the fair are no longer sold at the event, its an important competition in the showing calendar and a different range of sheep breeds compete on each of the two days.

Its a good opportunity for sheep geeks like me to get to know the differences between similar-looking breeds because the pens are close together and clearly labelled with the breed names (which you don't always get at agricultural shows).

We went on the Saturday and saw the most local breed, the Masham...
Masham sheep pens

Plenty of Dalesbred...
Dalesbred sheep

Including some rams with amazing curly horns...
Dalesbred ram with big horns

Teeswater, with their long lustrous fleeces...
Teeswater sheep
Shearing time was quite recently so the fleeces weren't as long as they can be, but the length of this one's fringe (which must have escaped the clippers) gives you an idea!

Jacob (this one was amazingly fluffy!)...
Fluffy Jacob sheep

Oxford Down...
Pens of Oxford Down sheep

And one of Ade's favourites, the Suffolk...
Suffolk sheep

Here's Ade checking out a springy Suffolk fleece...
Ade touches a Suffolk

Other breeds competing on Saturday included Wensleydale, Texel, Blue Faced Leicester and Swaledale. Sunday's breeds included several continental varieties and another great selection of British breeds such as Cheviot, Dorset Horn and Poll Dorset, Ryeland, Hampshire Down and mixed classes for primitive breeds and any other pure breed. I would have liked to visit on both days so that I could've seen the Lincoln Longwools, black Wensleydales and coloured Ryelands in the mixed classes on the Sunday. Oh well, maybe next year!

As well as the sheep classes, there was a craft market, sheepdog demonstrations, wool craft competitions, a Bishop Blaize procession (in honour of the patron saint of wool combers) and various other demonstrations (spinning, coopering, sheep shearing etc).

But behind the church, something highly random was going on...
Sheep racing 1
Sheep racing!
Sheep racing 2
Four sheep, racing over hurdles...
Sheep racing 3
With a packed out crowd of public onlookers placing bets on the winner! I think the people that had to tempt them/chase them along the track were more worn out than the sheep themselves :)

After all that excitement, we had to have a walk to the Theakston brewery for a sit down (me) and a cheeky pint or two (Ade).

How's this for a nutritious-looking pint?
Old Peculiar

It went down a treat though...
Ade drinking Old Peculiar

After a rest, we went back to the fair and although I was tempted by the overflowing tables of fresh fleeces on the fleece sale stall...
Fleece stall 1

I resisted the urge (amazingly!) and all we came home with was a fetching Masham Sheep Fair tea towel and a show programme...
Masham Sheep Fair tea towel and programme

It was a great day and I'd definitely go back another year! :)

Open day at a local Victorian Farm...

When we were at Lowick Show, we were given a leaflet about an open day at a very local working Victorian farm (at Bouth, just over the hill from our house), which I was very excited about checking out, because I love a bit of old school farming and rural heritage... :)

So off we went to Old Hall Farm and we had a lovely few hours checking everything out. There were lots of heavy horses, which Ade was happy about.

Here he is posing with Ben and Troy the Shire horses...
Ade posing with Ben and Troy the Shires

We had a ride on their trailer and I think it might be the first time I've been in a horse-drawn cart! It was good fun anyway and there was another horse-drawn trailer doing the rounds too, pulled by the very handsome Colin...
Colin the horse in harness 1
Colin seems like a strange name for a horse in my opinion, although I did once know a black Labrador called Colin and I thought that was odd too, so maybe it's just me having a peculiar aversion to animals named Colin... :)

Anyway, he made a lovely sight coming up the road with his trailer...
Colin the horse coming up the road

Other horses working on the farm included these two lovely Clydesdales, who were ploughing a field in the old fashioned way...
Clydesdale horse team ploughing 1
It was very peaceful watching them work, much nicer than a tractor. But something less peaceful happened when they stopped for a break and the man operating the plough unwrapped his snack and casually pushed the plastic wrapper into the lovely clods of earth that he'd just ploughed! I hate seeing people drop litter at the best of times but this seemed even worse than usual. Do people think that plastic dissolves in the rain or something?! :(

So we left the ploughing team to it at that point and wandered back to the farm to hang out with the Jacob sheep...
Jacob sheep 2

And the gorgeous Hereford cow with her calf...
Hereford cow and calf
I love her fluffy ears and drooly cow nose and the strange square-shaped bit at the front of her body! :)

It was a vintage machinery anorak's paradise, with a steam powered sawmill, steam powered threshing and corn grinding and a selection of Victorian games and fairground rides.

The Prospector seemed to be the biggest traction engine there...
Prospector traction engine 1

This is the wheat (or barley?) stacked up in a waggon, waiting to be threshed...
Vintage hay waggon 1

And there were lots of other bits and bobs about the place, like this little hut on wheels...
Vintage hut on wheels
A shepherd's hut maybe?

And a funky old car...
BSA car

All in all, looking round the farm was a good way to spend the afternoon and I'd recommend it if you're into that sort of thing. There is an Old Hall Farm website that you can check out if you're interested (its still in development at the moment though), or you can have a look at my full set of photos from the open day on Flickr here :)

Handspun knitted leaf scarf...

I thought I'd do a quick post about the scarf that I entered into a competition at Lowick Show (which I've already blogged about).

It was knitted from the Eden pattern (found in the lovely Knitalong book), which I've been wanting to make with some handspun yarn for a while but my chunky spinning style meant that most of my yarns were a bit too hefty for this delicate pattern. In fact, I did have a go at it previously with some white and gold Merino and soysilk yarn that I'd spun but when I was knitting it at Ade's parents house, his Dad commented that it looked a bit like a string of lambs testicles! Not ideal for wearing around your neck... :D

So, when I managed to accidentally spin a skinny corespun yarn from some of my hand carded Sugar Plum batts, I was itching to knit it up into a leafy scarf.

Here's a progress shot...
Knitted leaf scarf in progress 2

Its really easy to cart about with you because the scarf, yarn and double pointed needles all squish into a little bag and its very quick to knit up a sneaky leaf or two when you've got a spare minute. I even managed to memorise the pattern after a bit so I didn't have to keep referring to the book (which shows that its very simple because I usually struggle to use knitting patterns at all, let along remember them!).

Here's the scarf all spread out...
Handspun knitted leaf scarf 2

A leafy detail...
Knitted leaf scarf detail 1

And a picture of it draping (which it does very well)...
Draped knitted leaf scarf

That's it! I quite fancy making another one with a thin turquoise yarn that I've spun, which I think might make a nice seaweedy scarf :)