Friday, 24 June 2011

Woolfest 2011...

I've been at Woolfest all day today! Woolfest is a fantastic celebration of natural fibres, especially wool and all the crafts relating to wool (spinning, dyeing, weaving, knitting, crochet, feltmaking... to name but a few!). Its a fantastic festival and I've been lots of times (I blogged about the 2009 and 2010 events). I'm pretty sure that today was the busiest Friday at Woolfest that I've ever seen!

I didn't manage to get many photographs, due to being either weighed down with fleeces, wedged in by the crowds or too busy talking to lots of lovely people, so many of whom are passionate about some of the things I love the most! :)

You can always count on me for some pictures of sheep though! Here's a lovely Teeswater, slightly stressed that her friend had disappeared to take part in the rare breeds parade...
Teeswater sheep 2

A handsome Ouessant ram, who was very friendly (and tiny... I wish there was something in this photo for scale as they really are the smallest breed of sheep in the world!)...
Ouessant ram

Some beautiful Gotlands...
Gotland sheep
I love the colour, softness and curl of Gotland fleece.

I got drawn into discussions about keeping Angora rabbits on the bunny stall... I'd really love a pet rabbit (especially one that grows spinnable fibre!) but they're not very compatible with hi-fi cables apparently :(

The rabbits on show were quite laid back (and massively fluffy). This is Jasmine, who's a Woolfest pro and takes it all in her stride...
Jasmine the Angora bunny

This is Toblerone, who was experiencing his first year at Woolfest and wasn't sure he could face it head on...
Toblerone the Angora bunny
(I think he's trying to pretend that it's not happening!).

I was quite taken by this knitted Angora bunny rabbit... a bunny made from bunny fibre!
Knitted Angora bunny 1

On the subject of knitted things, I was very impressed by this knitted hanging basket on the Tall Yarns and Tales stand, complete with fuchsias!
Knitted hanging basket

Shopping-wise, I managed to snag three fleeces... a lovely brown/black coloured Bluefaced Leicester x Wensleydale, a white Leicester Longwool and a brown/black coloured Wensleydale. So lots of fleecy fun to come over the next few weeks! :)

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The people inside The Book of Forgotten Crafts part 2...

I'm writing a series of blog posts about The Book of Forgotten Crafts because when I bought the book recently, I realised that I knew several of the craftspeople featured inside and either had some items made by them or had been on one of their courses. Part 1 of my little series was about local oak swill basket maker, Owen Jones and can be found here.

Part 2 is all about bowl maker Robin Wood. Here are some of Robin's pages in the book...
Bowl maker

Robin Wood isn't your run-of-the-mill bowl maker... he turns wooden bowls on a lathe but it's a foot-powered pole lathe rather than an electric one. I've had a quick go on a pole lathe in the past and can say from experience that it's good exercise... Robin must have a very powerful thigh muscle from all his bowl turning!

If you've never seen anyone turning wood using a pole lathe, check out this video of Robin making a bowl...


We're lucky enough to own some of Robin's beautiful handmade wooden bowls and plates...
Wooden bowls and plates 2

We've had them for several years now and they're in use most days. In fact, I had to leave a note out for Ade this morning, asking him to use a different plate for breakfast so that I had the chance to photograph all four bowls and plates when they were clean!

You can see the marks made by Robin's carving tools on the finished items...
Wooden bowls 2

I think it's amazing that he gets such a lovely finish just by using his carving tools and an axe... no sandpaper to speak of!

Each item is finished with a 'W' makers mark carved into the back...
Underside of wooden bowl

Robin has written an excellent book all about the history of the wooden bowl, called 'The Wooden Bowl'...
The Wooden Bowl book

The introduction says: 'In Medieval times people had very few possessions but almost everyone owned the clothes they stood up in, a knife, a spoon and a wooden bowl.' Many of Robin's designs are based on historical bowl-shapes (ours are based on the design of bowls found in the wreck of the Mary Rose) so it's really interesting to see photographs of wooden bowls through the ages.

The book also highlights artwork featuring people using wooden bowls, including several scenes from the Bayeux Tapestry and the book concludes with a look at the last bowl turners and Robin's work today. There's lots of detail about the processes Robin uses at the back of the book. Its a very interesting read!

As well as turning bowls, Robin carves spoons (and runs spoon carving courses). You can see a gallery of Robin's spoons here. People who know me well will already know that I have a bit of a 'thing' for spoons and I'd really like one (or several) of Robin's... they're stunning! Mmm... spoons! :)

If you'd like to find out more about Robin and/or the bowls and spoons he makes, he has a website, as well as a gallery of his bowls (which are for sale - I'm sure you won't be able to resist buying one!) and a fantastic blog that is about all kinds of traditional crafts, because Robin has a keen interest in them all and is the chairman of the Heritage Crafts Association.

Keep an eye out for part 3 of 'the people inside The Book of Forgotten Crafts'... it's a woolly one! :D

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

A sheepy educational experience...

I went on a sheep husbandry day recently, which was organised by the Cumbria branch of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST). It was a 'hands on' day, aimed at giving people the chance to practice routine sheep maintenance tasks (of which there are many), under the watchful eye of some experts.

The sheep we worked on were a mixture of Kerry Hills...
Kerry Hill sheep

And mules, which are sheep cross-bred from various breeds...
Sheep in a pen

We trimmed lots of hooves...
Hoof trimming 4

Hoof trimming 2

And experimented with a bit of machinery that I've christened 'the sheep tipping device' to trim hooves without having to manhandle the sheep so much...
Hoof trimming using the sheep tipping device 2

Although our group generally felt that the 'traditional' method of grabbing the sheep and propping it against our legs was less stressful for the sheep, even if it was harder on our backs. After all, it doesn't look much fun inside the sheep tipping device...
Sheep in a sheep tipping device
And they're an expensive investment for someone with only a few sheep. I think I'd buy a galvanised sheep sofa if I found that I struggled to hold my sheep steady for foot trimming etc. Apparently you back the sheep into it and then they lay there quite happily and don't struggle :)

Once we'd finished with feet, the lambs were herded into the main pen...
Here come the lambs 2

And were then subjected to vaccination injections...
Vaccinating lambs

And dosed with wormer, a mineral drench and a spray to deter blow flies...
Worming lambs

One particularly runty little lamb was rescued from the crush and given a bit of TLC...
Runty lamb gets a cuddle 2

After lunch we had a new group of sheep to practice on and this time we looked at condition scoring (checking the muscle on the sheep's back to see if it's too thin, too fat or just right) and we practised the art of dagging, which is the removal of manky poo-covered wool from the back end of the sheep to make it less appealing to blow flies.

Mmm... dagging...
Mmm... dagging

The 'sheep day' was held at Askerton Castle, near Brampton in north Cumbria, which is an organic farm with a variety of rare and native breeds. I was amazed that organically farmed sheep are still subjected to so many routine injections, doses, sprays and drenches. There's certainly a lot to take into account when you keep your own sheep and I learnt a lot, especially from talking to the other people on the course, all of whom already seemed to own some sheep.

One of the best things I took away from the course was a copy of Val Stephenson's Shepherd's Calendar book...
Shepherd's Calendar book

Its only a thin publication but it was written by someone who started out as a novice sheep-keeper and its aimed at other novice sheep-keepers, with an emphasis on keeping a small number of sheep with very high welfare standards, which is exactly what I would like to do when I have some of my own sheep :)

I've learnt more from this little book than I did from reading some of my other, much thicker sheep books and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone else who hopes to keep their own sheep and wants a very thorough and readable introduction to what's involved.

Now all I need to do is find someone who would let me keep some sheep on their land and I might make my dream a reality! :)

Friday, 3 June 2011

Lovely goodies for the 'vintage' spin-along on Ravelry...

I'm taking part in another 'spin-along' on Ravelry! The last one was 'woodland' themed (my blog post about the woodland spin-along is here and the yarns I made are here) and the theme this time is 'vintage'. Both spin-alongs were organised by the lovely Laila of laigrai, who has her own 'I love laigrai' group on Ravelry. Its a lovely group of friendly spinners from all over the world :)

As with the last spin-along, Laila carded up some beautiful fibre batts in her vintage-themed colourway and everyone who wanted to spin-along bought a batt from Laila's shop. The batts were sent out and now all the spin-along-ers are spinning (or felting) the fibre in their own way, sharing the result (and the work in progress as they go along) in the spin-along thread on Ravelry.

Here's the batt I was sent...
Vintage batt

Unrolled, so you can see it a bit better...
Vintage spin along batt unrolled
Mmm... tiny little crimpy bit of fleece sticking up at the edge! :)

And then folded over a bit so you can see the underneath!
Vintage spin along batt unfurled

As well as the batt, we were each sent a treasure trove of lovely vintage bits and bobs that Laila had gathered for us all. I got buttons, beads, fabric scraps, bits of fleece and fibre and all sorts in my pack...
Vintage spin along goodies
I love that curly turquoise fleece... my favourite colour!

But the bit I was most excited about was the cotton boll...
Cotton boll

I've never spun cotton before and I've never seen cotton 'on the boll'. I really enjoyed playing with it and picking all the fibre from the leafy bits.

I ended up with a little pile of fluffy fibre, the stalk bit (which I'm keeping because I like the look of it) and the seeds...
Cotton seeds, fibre and stalk

When I mentioned picking out the seeds on Twitter and mulled over whether I could grow my own cotton, Laila replied to say that I could! How exciting! So now I just need to figure out whether I can plant the seeds whole or if you have to crack open the furry little cases first and I'll be on my way to growing some of my own fibre! Yay! :D

I'll keep you posted with my progress on the spin-along and the cotton growing, although I imagine I'll have my yarn spun before my first cotton is ready to pick :)