Contemplation of tides ebb and flows under rain laden skies has been an occupation recently. The sound of the river tides meeting the sea brings me a lot of relief from the persistent annoyance of tinnitus in both my ears. Slowly over the last few years the ‘electric’ ringing noise has become louder and more insistent. Some days it’s particularly annoying but walking on a beach swapping this horrible noise in my head for the sounds of the waves is pure relief. I could stay there all day. Of course the views and the activities of the seabirds are good distractions too. The waves crashing are like white noise.
I’ve also spent a lot of time spinning at my wheel. I mostly spin on my Majacraft Rose wheel that I purchased several years ago from an elderly friend who has now left her mortal body. I was honoured that she chose me to have her lovely wheel for what was a very nominal sum and I do love spinning with it. The previous owner was a very acerbic and forthright character who did not tolerate fools and since I’m getting longer in the tooth and crankier it’s fitting that I’m the next wheel’s owner. She also marked the foot plates with scarring from dropping the bobbins and I admit to adding a couple more scars in the same way. I did notice a few chin whiskers appearing the other day so my transition to spinning witch is underway…..
Although I weave, knit and crochet with the yarns I make I absolutely love the time I spend preparing and spinning them. There’s nothing better than a basket of skeins.
There was time this week to stroll around Oamaru harbour and enjoy some sunshine yesterday.
It’s not surprising that many of my yarns and weaving feature sea and sky colours.
My dear friend Eowyn came into the shop on Sunday and spent an hour or so carding up some beautiful wool batts. Next week we’ll felt some of them into balls. Eowyn is also a weaver and knitter. I love the care and thought she is putting into her work in the photo below. her batts were beautiful.
It’s definitely starting to feel more wintry here in the south and the days are quieter in the shop so it’s a good time to be making stock.
The first few morning frosts are a reminder to pull out the winter wardrobe and top up the bird feeders.
Whilst there is still a couple a months to go before TOTE – The Oamaru Textile Emporium begins year fourteen it has made me think about how the co-operative shop I and my two fellow directors have run has evolved over the last decade. It’s been a roller coaster ride from day one. I’m not entirely sure how we’ve lasted this long when so many small businesses in the Precinct have come and gone. Sometimes it’s been financially precarious and 2020 is another very challenging year. I’m not sure we’ll survive this year but the last month has boosted our bank account although Covid19 sure took a toll on our savings and our membership. I think it made a lot of people reassess their lives. Some were forced into major changes and others have elected to take a different journey.
TOTE also has changed and matured over the years. Whilst its main aims to stay as a supportive retail outlet for its maker members is still the reason for its existence it has evolved as the membership itself has altered. We still fundamentally make things with New Zealand wool and other fibres and showcase textile crafts which we sell for a reasonable price so that many people can enjoy wearing what we make. Most of us are very local to Oamaru and some of us have been together for more than a decade.
It is a lovely shop to run and work in. I’ve met some amazing folk from all around the world. Over this last month a lot more local people have come visiting and helped support us by shopping in the Precinct. So it will be interesting to see what the rest of the year brings.
I’m continually questioning whether I need to make more stuff, dye more yarn, weave more fabric. Should I be selling anything at all? If the Covid19 epidemic has taught me anything it is that being totally physically isolated from your friends, family and people in general makes life seem fairly worthless. Weird how the fear of being too close to anyone for the 6 weeks of isolation became the norm. At least I had someone to share my ‘bubble’ with. Many people didn’t. It did give us time to assess what things we do and don’t need in our current lives and also maybe somewhat morbidly wonder which of us or our family members would be left with the clearing out of our house should we fatally succumb to the virus. Which I guess is still a risk since we don’t know how long the virus will stay controlled here.
I don’t have space for lots of possessions living in a small house. Things have accumulated over the years but we’ve slowly moved out the detritus left after the kids left home. There is still some things that need to go. Mostly though we have shopped and furnished our home of twenty years with stuff from garage sales, secondhand stores and the recycling centre. Our crockery and cutlery came mostly preowned. Only the whiteware was new. I admit that most rooms are on the shabby side of chic! The fire is an old battered looking Fisher wood burner which still valiantly does its job. We’re warm and cosy in our 1960’s wooden rimu ex-state house but certainly not stylish. I guess I’d call our style habitable bijou and it’s comfortable enough by our standards. We have no leaks, we maintain the exterior paintwork and we will one day replace the two cracked panes of glass and do up the bathroom. We’ve also been mortgage free for the past ten years.
Our house costs are reasonable because we don’t have a dryer, dishwasher, kids at home or more than one living space to heat. We’ve learnt to conserve water and particularly are careful about how much grey water goes into our septic tank. Old small septic tanks were built before washing machines. I guess when we move on from here the next owners will probably burn it down to build something new since the section it’s on is large.
I can’t help but be a little shocked at the sheer size of much the new housing being built in our rural coastal area. Our house would fit into some of the garages! We have a neighbour who has built a house of large proportions on the hill above us to house just two people. It seems so easy to borrow big sums of money to put into a mortgage. Your house must be your castle! Imagine all the cleaning required….
If anything I’d like to live in something even smaller still than we’ve got, preferably with no gardening required other than maybe a small veggie plot. Perhaps we should plant even more trees where we are so we don’t need to mow anymore. I do appreciate the sheds for all the messy dyeing and soaking plant dye material I do.
Craftwise I’m moving to reducing some of my excess equipment too. The one extra Loom ( the big one has gone to a weaver already). I’ll keep one of the floorlooms. I’m down to two spinning wheels from four. I need to continue reducing my craft books too. There’s a sense of relief and freedom from not desiring or wanting to buy new things. Enjoying what I have. Lifting my spirits come from walking along a beach, reading a book, spinning a yarn, seeing our kids, spending time with a friend. Weaving a shawl, spinning a fleece.
The simple life is deceptively hard to achieve. The fact that so many bills are due for what seems like invisible costs and which you have no power over such as council rates, electric charges, interest on loans, insurance, acc, tax, fuel, heating , food etc. Being content with what you have and who you are isn’t easy either with so much influence from elsewhere as well as your inner voice saying your life and you are not enough. Its a life’s work to achieve.
Losing myself in really simple creative tasks, mixing and blending together dyes, collecting leaves, winding yarn, carding fibres, washing raw fleeces. It’s grounding but has potential to be turned into something special. It measures time with something real and tangible.
I can’t believe it’s been so long.
I’ve missed writing and using this site. Seduced I guess by the immediacy of Facebook and Instagram. This is much more my own space. Sometimes the others are just a cacophony of sound and sadly have many loud discordant voices. so I’ve crept away and left the noise for a while.
There is always the ocean, the tide rubbing away yesterday’s footprints. It’s a five minute drive from the house. I like to observe it from the beach. Occasionally I’ll dip my body into the cold waters but I’ve always been a bit afraid of disappearing under the waves. A childhood memory of being caught in a rip and no one noticing. After what seemed like forever and being dragged out of my depth it let me go and I could swim sideways and then back to the beach.
I splashed with a dolphin family here more than a decade ago with my children. They swam joyously close to our bare legs and twisted sideways to observe us watching them.
The sea marks my time here in New Zealand. The tidal clock ticks away daily, yearly, for more than two decades. I thought it would be a temporary visit, five year plan. That I would return to my country of birth and my brothers and sisters. Our parents left the earth and we were not there. My elderly mother gasping a few words down a telephone line before dying a week later. My parents came out to visit us on their first long haul flight of their lives in their seventies. They loved New Zealand and even at ninety my mother was contemplating another trip.
But it is home here. Familiar. My children are grown and living their lives as we must live ours, measured by the tides, the seasons and if we are fortunate then a few more years.
Of course this has always been a blog about woolly pursuit and despite the strangeness and global mayhem of 2020 there still is weaving, spinning and dyeing happening. A shed full of fleece waiting to be spun. So I’ll be adding more of my craft work here now I’ve rediscovered my blog again.
The reality of most home grown New Zealand wool is that it is a raw commodity to export, where processing happens overseas and a small proportion may be bought back as finished goods. This includes clothing made for the big brands such as Icebreaker.
So our wool mills have largely shut down and the equipment sold. There are a mere handful of mills left here. Some are very small boutique or specialist mills such as carpet Yarn spinners.
As a handspinner I still have access to beautiful NZ grown fibre mostly from life style block farmers. But I wanted a commercially woollen spun yarn from preferably local Otago grown sheep milled here on the South Island. Whilst I was researching how I could achieve this Mary Furness Weir began her wool business Maniototo Wool four years ago.
Here’s Mary selecting wool for her Yarns. Mary visits the Duncan’s farm in the Maniototo who rear commercial flocks of white halfbred (Merino/Romney) sheep. The Halfbred sheep is an established breed that does well here in Otago. The fibre has Merino traits but also the hardiness and staple length of the Romney. In this case the Merino rams are bred to Romney Ewes.
Photos above credited to Mary.
The sheep are shorn by very experienced shearers and the wool is removed carefully, cleanly and efficiently.
Mary selects with the guidance of a very experienced wool classer. I was particularly pleased that Mary always planned that it would be a woollen spun Yarn although she now has a lovely worsted version too.
Woollen spun wools are still unfamiliar territory for many hand knitters as the bulk of commercial knitting yarns in NZ are worsted spun. Woollen spun Yarns are matte, not shiney. There is a little more texture and the spin is light so they are fluffier and trap more air. They are also a little more delicate although the choice of half bred means this is a robust wool.
I love dyeing and stocking this wool. It is exactly what I would desire in my own commercial processed yarn. It takes plant dyes beautifully and stands up well to all the processing required when using plants.
Whether you knit, crochet or weave with this yarn it will produce a gorgeous fabric.
It takes up acid dyes well too. It needs a little more dye than other wool yarns to reach a full saturated shade but this is partly because it is a non machine washable wool which has had less processing and no polymer coating on the fibres. The Wool travels via Mary’s van from the farm to the Scourer in Timaru. Mary then collects it and takes it to the mill in Christchurch. From there she collects the finished yarns a few months later and takes them back to her home in Geraldine before sending them onwards to her customers.
Mary has a lovely range of her own dyed yarns so check out her website. Plus she is a beautiful prolific knitter with a few of her own patterns.
As you can see I enjoy dyeing This beautiful wool. It’s truly local to me and very special. Thanks Mary and the Duncans.
‘Antler Wrap’ NZ wool, alpaca and silk.
For much of my fabric there is a local and personal story attached which is the underlying structure of how the yarn came about. Each section of yarn has not only been through my hands several times but comes from living creatures.
It gets harder to buy Coloured wool locally of good quality as some of the shepherds have retired or died themselves. Flocks are dispersed and there is not the interest amongst younger folk. However I still access a few of my favourite fibre providers. Plus I still have plenty of fibre in my wool shed to keep me occupied for a while.
Above are Stuart Albrey’s Polwarth Sheep brought into the shed.
If I’m using raw fleece it has to be washed first in hot soapy water to remove the dirt and grease. I use pure soap flakes with dishwash detergent and extremely hot water. Two washes are required for greasy fleece followed by two or three rinses in clean water. I spin out the excess water and lay the wool on a drying rack outside for a day or two. Once dry I need to open it up and fluff it with my picker below.
This prepares it for carding and spinning. So already I have spent time with this fleece and handled it a few times.
The next stage – Do I blend this fleece with other fibres? What do I want the Yarn to be? Textured or smooth? Variegated colour? Etc.
Onwards to the carder.
Carding is a time consuming job even with the help of electric. Some fibres require several passes through the carder and alpaca has to go through the feed slower than wool or else it sticks to the ‘licker in’ drum. It’s a job I enjoy as I can get creative with blending and colour.
Batts of fibre are rolled and stored in a basket ready to spin. Ideally I like to card enough for a project in one go.
I Spin on both a manual treadle wheel and an electric spinner.
a bobbin takes me about 2-3 hours to fill depending on the diameter of the Yarn. Two bobbins plied creates approximately 200-250g of Yarn.
The finished plied yarns are washed to set the twist and remove any remaining oils. Then once weighed and measured are ready to sell or weave with.
A wrap or blanket will take me several hours to warp and weave on the floorloom.
Once cut off the loom that too needs checking, mending skips, trimming ends and washing. Fringes are twisted and trimmed and the fabric is checked again and then steam pressed lightly.
Labels are stitched and the article is ready go from my hands to someone else’s.
I am so grateful that there are still people willing to care for these wonderful fleece providers and I still have access to these quality fibres I put into my yarns. Raw wool commands very little financial return for these farmers often costing more to shear than they are paid. Without the diversity of local colours and fibres I would not be able to produce the fabrics I love making and wearing.
I have two commission pieces to make soon both include working with very local to me wool from flocks of sheep that have lived for many years close to my home. Now I need to turn those raw fleeces into long lasting textiles for the recipients. The cleaning and spinning of the wool will involve many hours of work. It is work I like but it is a chore too as a fleece is a mountain of fibre if you only have your own two hands to turn it into yarn. No magic wand to instantly conjure up these articles. The sweat and toil will be my own.
The finished threads I’ll weave with to create two throws that small children can snuggle under or build a blanket fort. Tired adults can lay across their knees or wrap around a shoulder when feeling under the weather.
Slowly over time the threads will wear and change, getting softer, maybe a few pills and tears. Over time the natural sheep shades may fade a bit and the texture will flatten and felt slightly rubbed against warm bodies. The fringes may get raggedy and short.
Eventually it may become the old picnic blanket, a pet bed or a covering to protect car upholstery from wet pets and children.
After a couple of decades or so it may return to the earth. Melting slowly into the decay and providing some nutrition to the soil and small beasts.
Keep the woven fabric dry generally. Wash only if absolutely necessary in cool water and a gentle detergent. Dry flat. A gentle shake and an airing outside sometimes is good. Get children to take off their shoes when using the Textile so buckles and Velcro don’t snag the threads. Sponge with clean water any stains straight away.
Do not keep it in bright direct sunlight as this will degrade wool quite quickly.
Check your pets claws are not too long and sharp.
We makers love our pieces to be used and loved. Wear and tear is normal and each item will develop a patina reflecting its life much like its owners and the maker herself.
Is there anything more alluring to a handspinner than a naturally pigmented fleece. Or even the unpigmented cream. My great love has been fibre preparation and spinning. For years I chased the elusive goal of spinning smooth regular yarns but now I want to put the texture back into my yarns.
for a few years I have collected locally grown fleeces from the rambunctious Arapawa to the silver Gotland and sturdy Romney. A visit here and there to smallholders netted alpaca in its glorious hues and even some sublime angora.
last month I cleaned and repacked my woolshed, reboxing the best fibres. It refreshed my desire to make gorgeous fabrics from what I have here already. A bounty of local animals fleeces. I may even share some of it.
So part of my stock in the physical shop has always included a few blankets which are usually the size of a cosy sofa throw because that suits the size of my big loom. My favourite ones always involve hand spinning the warp and then using a locally commercial spun yarn. I rarely use ultra soft yarn in the warp for these as I want the blanket to be robust and last. Plus we have wonderful wools grown in this country which have strength, lustre and character. The fibre I love to use in my warps may include anything with NZ Romney, Corriedale, Perendale, Gotland and Cheviot and blends of these sheep. I also include naturally coloured wool which I may or not overdye.
My next batch are going to have Corriedale warps. Since the area nearby where I live is Corriedale where James Little originally came up with the Romney/Lincoln cross in the late 1800’s. Corriedale is such a versatile fleece with the softer ones suitable for apparel. The fibre is bouncy and elastic and really easy to spin. For this batch of throws I’m using Ashford Handicrafts carded sliver for its palette of colours which I can blend into a never ending rainbow of colours.
So all the texture and character is in the warp and the alpaca or wool yarn I use for the weft is usually finer weight and acts like the glue disappearing somewhat into the background hopefully and allowing the warp to feature.
The blanket in the background is our personal one, a prototype which is now several years old. The cat has fluffed the alpaca weft a bit and so I do depil the fabric every year or so. I’m probably crazy spinning all that warp since it’s hard to charge fully for all the hours I put into the carding and spinning, but weaving with handspun is just such pleasure. I love the texture and variations along the diameter of the strands and how the colours move across the fabric as I weave.