I have always been interested in yarn and related crafts, I learnt to knit at a young age and always have something on the go involving needles or crochet hooks. I learnt to spin wool from the fleece back in the 1980s, then my children came along and this hobby was put to one side as I was too busy with full time work and caring for the young ones. I invested instead in a Brother knitting machine and made lots of garments over the years for the children and relatives in the evening and at weekends.
When we moved to Norfolk eight years ago I was so lucky to find myself with a neighbour who had a small flock of Jacob’s sheep (along with a horse and goats) and when she discovered I was keen on sheep, wool and all things fleecy she bought three Romney Kent ewes so that I could have the fleeces to play with, get back into spinning and also begin to experiment with dyeing using flowers and plants from my garden. We set off and travelled down to Kent and brought back the three sheep who were introduced to the Jacobs and became part of her flock. Happy memories as sadly my neighbour is no longer with us.
Romneys have heavy fleeces with a long staple length (that means the length of the wool that has grown over the year). Each spring at shearing time I had lots of lovely fleeces, too big and too many for me to spin as I was just beginning to learn again and so I started to investigate having the fleeces processed. I soon realised there were not many mills in the UK that spin wool (a lot have switched to spinning Alpaca which is a different process) and even fewer that will take small quantities of fleece. Then I came across Diamond Fibres, a mill in Horam East Sussex, contacted the owner and arranged to drop off the prepared fleeces. It was a long way to go from Norfolk, but we took the opportunity to have a weekend break at the same time down in Rye and visit the gardens at Great Dixter and Sissinghurst to made the most of the journey!
I had to wait a long time for my wool, Diamond Fibres is a small mill and is very busy and it was about ten months later that I received the much anticipated wool. It didn’t disappoint, the skeins looked stunning, creamy and lustrous, and I couldn’t wait to get started with it.
When I started dyeing the wool I found it took dyes beautifully and I experimented with comfrey, ivy, beetroot, tansy, woad…
The shelves began to fill up with dyed wool. I knitted a few jumpers, began to crochet a blanket, dyed more wool, grew more plants and flowers and realised I needed to take the plunge and learn to weave. This had always been at the back of my mind as a craft I would learn one day when I had more time. Well, now with the children all grown up and left home and with all the beautiful colours I had sitting in my cupboard, learning to weave was the natural next step. So I did a search for lessons on the web and was very lucky to find a teacher who lives locally and has been teaching weaving for decades. Fantastic! Over the last year and a half I have been getting to grips with the basic process, I bought an eight shaft loom with my teacher’s advice and learnt how to set up a warp and experiment with samples, thinking about yarn types and experimenting with my Romney Kent wool.
By this time I had more fleeces backing up and it was time to pay another visit to East Sussex with more Romney Kent fleece to continue the yarn I was already using and in addition a large quantity of sorted Jacobs fleece for spinning to an aran equivalent. When the wool arrived it was glorious and the Jacobs had spun into a rich brown that was soft and delicious.
I soon realised that I needed another loom. This is a common occurrence with weavers learning to weave apparently, one loom is not enough, even two or three can seem too few…so I invested in a four shaft loom and at the moment two looms work well for me, I have samples on one and a current piece of work on the other.
Up to date I have made a shawl dyed with comfrey, tansy, and elderberry…
A scarf in the lovely chocolate Jacob yarn
…a blanket in three sections dyed with madder…
…and experimented with point weave and made a blanket for my daughter and her partner dyed with indigo and woad, tansy and elderberry.
This has to be my favourite item to date.
I’m now looking at weaving with linen at the moment, it’s a very fine yarn that I’ve dyed with indigo and woad and am planning a table runner in these two blues and white. Watch this space… Weaving is addictive!