Friday 31 May 2013


This blog has served me well for many years now, but alas all things must change.
I've got a new website up and running for HilltopCloud, and the blog is moving over as well.
The old posts will remain here, as you never know, I may end up coming back here.

You can find the new blog (and all the old posts as well) here

I hope you'll come and join me.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Blending Fleece

On a day to day basis I most commonly work with commercially processed fibres, I use a huge amount of wool in an average week, and using fleece doesn't make sense logistically or economically, particularly because I don't have my own flock. 

My friend Katherine however does have her own flock of sheep, so of course wants to do things using their fleeces. I sold her fleeces on my stand at Wonderwool, and to help people decide what to do with them she spun some samples. 
Gotland works best in both our opinions, when blended with other fibres. It's more like mohair than most wool people commonly use. It has sheen, drape, and a very loose curl rather than a crimp. If you don't blend it with something else it makes a drapey, dense yarn. But add something else and it really excels. If you blend it with silk you get extra drape, and shine, or blend it with wool and you get more bounce. 

These samples are all blended with wool, the one at the back is plain Gotland spun semi worsted, and you can see how much longer that sample skein is compared to the others. 

The other thing I love is the depth of colour you get. This is the same principle I use when creating blends. Add multiple shades of dyed fibre, to a natural coloured base wool and you get a really lovely subtle effect. The colour isn't harsh, which makes it very easy to wear. 

It's also an easy way to add colour to a fleece with out dyeing. You can get commercially dyed merino, BFL or Shetland tops at very low prices, and can blend them in to your fleece using a drum carder, or hand carders. 

Friday 17 May 2013

Making Things from Handspun Part 3.... or is it 4

This is part of an ongoing series on making this from small amounts of handspun. The posts are slightly sporadic, and purely depend on me making something from some handspun, and as ever there just aren't enough hours in the day to spin and knit all the things I want to!

All the previous posts have featured something made just from handspun. I often only spin 100g or maybe 200g, so yardages are usually quite small, and as a result I make hats, or baby cardigans, or fingerless mitts or shawls. However, even if you don't want to spin enough yarn for a jumper you can still use you handspun in a larger project. 

This is Stilwell by Jared Flood. It's a lovely modern take on quite a traditional jumper style. I made a few modifications, the body is longer, as are the arms. Both are quite cropped in the original pattern, and I know that if I'm wearing a warm wool jumper I want to cover my wrists, and not have a draft up my back when I'm sitting down. 
It's knitted using some Troon Tweed from Texere. I love this yarn, it's an old fashioned oiled Aran weight, proper wool, and wears like iron, but isn't too scratchy. The colourwork though, is all handspun. The snowflake motif is using some Merino, Baby Camel and Alpaca I bought from Marianne at Fluff n Stuff, the border on the motif is just using my BFL/Baby Camel blend. In total I probably used under 200g of the handspun, so perfect for using up smaller amounts of more expensive indy blends. 
You do have to try to match the weight of your commercial yarn and the pattern, but it's amazing how you can get away with a difference in thickness. Here's the reverse of the colourwork section and you can see my handspun was quite a bit thicker. 

Thursday 9 May 2013

I want to ride my bicycle...

Things are very busy round here at the moment. I just came back from running a workshop in Oxfordshire, I had a lovely time, but it takes nearly 3 days out of my work week, the day before getting organised and packing the car, the day of the workshop, and then the unpacking and catching up when I get home. I love teaching workshops though, I nearly always learn something from the really experienced spinners out there who started spinning before I was even born. The participants seem to enjoy them as well, so it's all good. This year is pretty much full up, and next year is starting to look the same way, but if you think you'd like a workshop then send me an email. 

Back at home things are pretty busy as well, non-stop carding, and dyeing. I've just dyed up 3kg of a BFL/Ramie blend. I completely sold out of this at Wonderwool, and it really is a beautiful blend. It's drying in front of the fire now, because spring has taken a temporary vacation, and we're back to cold, damp and windy. Keep an eye out for a shop update, probably on Sunday.

I've also been busy plotting. Last year I didn't run a shop Tour de Fleece team, but this year I'm delighted to say I'm teaming up with my friend Katherine (BarberBlackSheep) and we're doing one together. Katherine is the person with the wonderful Gotland fleeces I was selling at Wonderwool, she lives just down the road from me, and also loves the Tour de Fleece.
For the unfamiliar, the Tour de France is the worlds biggest cycle race. The top professionals spend 3 weeks racing round France (with occasional detours to nearby countries), and the Tour de Fleece runs in parallel. You set your own challenge, but the aim is to spin every day. Last year I used the time to consolidate my handcarding and long draw spinning techniques, I got nearly 1600m of fingering weight 2 ply yarn spun up in the 3 weeks. The only thing you'll need to do to join in with the shop Team (Team HillSheep) is to spin something from HilltopCloud during the spin along.
I'm getting excited, partly because of the spinning, though spinning every day isn't that different for me, but also because I am a bit of a cycling nut. It's all the fault of the Tour de France knit along, I joined in when I first learnt to knit, and found myself learning more and more about the sport and now I'm addicted. Don't say I didn't warn you!

Saturday 4 May 2013

Displaying your wares

So the last week has been a bit crazy. Show weeks are always busy, there's the van to pack, then the long days at the show itself, then the unpacking, and dealing with the inbox and all the other things that pile up when I'm away for 3 days.

Things are approaching normality now, there's a shop update heading your way shortly, just need to get the camera out later.

My thoughts about this post came about while chatting on Ravelry. It's now a full year since I did my first festival and it's quite interesting to see how things have changed.

This was the very first year, it looks ok, but those white walls are very white, and very bare looking!

This year, much better. There's probably not a great deal more stock, but it looks much fuller. Mostly because of the samples. When I look at my Ravelry project page for the last year it seems rather empty in comparison to past years, but in reality I've made a huge number of samples for workshops and on the stand. They really help people understand how things look when spun, and fill up that empty wall space. 
I've also changed how I display the fibre. Far less is in plastic so people can touch and feel easily. It occasionally causes me slight headaches, why people think it's ok to dump their bags on top of a pile of batts is beyond me, but who can resist a bundle of bouncy loveliness!
At the end of each show I go through all the stock, anything that is too scruffy looking goes in to my pot luck pile, every now and again I do a 50% off sale using stock that has been to a show and come home a little worse for wear. 

One of the things I was really pleased to have with me this year were bags made by my Mum. She comes along to every show, covers for me while I go to the loo, keeps me supplied with food and drink and drives the van. I really couldn't do it without her, so it's nice she gets to share her work with others. If you couldn't make it to Wonderwool then she does have her own Etsy shop. so you can see all her beautiful creations there. 

Next up in Woolfest which brings it's own challenges, a single stall there is less than half the size of my Woolfest stall and it's a fine line between filling it so full you can't find anything, and not having a nice range of things...

Monday 22 April 2013

Only in the country...

There are times when living in the middle of nowhere gets a little surreal. I've lost count of the times when Dilys in the local post office has know what's been happening here when we've not spoken to anyone for several days...
Some days however, the surreal ramps up a notch.

For the last 6 months there's been an abandoned car in the field opposite us. Someone crashed it late at night, and managed to walk away, and then it's sat there. The ambulances have stopped, the police have stopped, even the air ambulance ground transport have stopped, all to check there was no-one in this vehicle.
Eventually Mum had enough and rang the council to complain, not least because the engine fluids are presumably slowly draining out in to the local water course. Today it was finally taken away.
We live on a very busy trunk road, it's one of the major routes across Wales from the Midlands, but the traffic control consisted of a couple of men stood in the road waving at the cars. The crashed car itself had to be hauled out by a JCB, it was then dragged up the main road, dangling body work falling off as  it went, before being manoeuvred on to the back of the scrap vehicle lorry, barely bigger than the car itself, and already half full of scrap...

All this while the traffic was whizzing along at 60mph past them!
The little lorry then put the lifting arm on top of the car to hold it in place, then headed off 40 miles north of here! Something tells me that the Health and Safety officer would be none to pleased.

Friday 19 April 2013

Lambs and Fleece

Yesterday I went over to visit my friend Katherine. She's known as Barberblacksheep on Ravelry and has her own mini flock of sheep. Rather jokingly she calls them her useless flock as there's a lot of castrated males, and quite a few are getting on in years, but the reality is they produce lovely fleece, partly because they're castrated males, so no pressure of lambing which weakens the fleece, but also because she takes fantastic care of them, and shears them herself.
They're a bit of a motley bunch, partly pedigree Gotlands, some BFL's, and Welsh Mountains, but there's also some lovely cross breeds, her Black Welsh Mountain/BFL cross is a particular favourite of mine.

There were 2 main reasons for my visit. First was to say hello to the newest arrivals. Alfie and Siwan, BFL/Gotland crosses born less than 2 days ago.

First time mum Rusby and her lamb Alfie

Old hand Rasta and her lamb Siwan. 

Taking these photos involved a lot of lying around on the straw, and deletion of lots of blurry sheep photos! 

Rasta in particular is friendly, she got really ill last year, but Katherine nursed her back to health, and as a result she's worked out that humans have treats, and give good scratches. She spent lots of time trying to work out if the camera was going to give her any food. 

Looks like her daughter is going to inherit those friendly characteristics. 

I also got to do some lamb cuddling, though Rasta was feeling a little left out. The look on my face is probably similar to the look I gave her last weekend when I was house sitting. These girls were told very firmly to keep their legs crossed until Katherine was there to look after the new arrivals!

The second reason for my visit was this little lot

I helped Katherine go through her fleeces and we picked out and sorted and bagged up a collection for me to take to Wonderwool next weekend. They're mostly pure Gotland, but theres a few of the cross breeds. Some as whole fleeces, others in smaller amounts if you just want to try spinning this for yourself. If you won't be coming to Wonderwool then I'd recomend going and joining Katherine's Ravelry group as there are still a few fleeces she kept back to sell via the post.