Monday, 29 December 2008

Busy all day finishing things

Align Centre
Today was one of those days where I finished lots of things that had been started. Sometimes I feel that though I've been working really hard, there's not a lot to show - but then all of a sudden, it all comes together and... wow!

I knew I'd been a busy bee over the holidays, but today I packed up the 2kg black Wensleydale, washed out the 4 hanks of grey chunky and 4 hanks of fine grey Wensleydale (don't know the weight yet because its still damp, but it must be getting on for 1.75kg), and washed out the Carloway mix that I'd carded and spun. Must have been tired last night because I'd hanked up the second one before I realised it was still a single (ie hadn't been plied with anything). However, it looked pretty stable, so I've washed it and it looks gorgeous. Soft and wonderful and not at all twisty. In the thirty odd years I've been commercially handspinning, the only single I've ever produced has been the chunky Wensleydale so it just goes to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks!

When I looked in the bottom of the fridge this morning I found an old honeydew melon lurking in the shadows. It was half of a "buy one get one free" offer and had just got left till it had a nasty black spot. The hens were at the door looking hopeful, so I cut it in half and put it out for them.

They loved it, but what I didn't expect was one of last years' bottle fed lambs to join in......

These are only a few of our hens - actually there are three cockerels in the picture. The white one at the front is cross Light Sussex, the black one on the left is a cross silkie with a brown araucana, and the little ginger nut is our naked neck cockerel. The other forty hens must have been in the byre trying to to decide who was going to lay todays' egg!

Friday, 26 December 2008

Happy Christmas Day

Yesterday, Christmas Day, we did what we always try to do when the weather isn't too bad - we went for a walk somewhere we have never been before. This year the day dawned a bit overcast but mild, dry and with very little breeze. All in all a perfect walking day. So we piled in the van - dogs and all, and drove off to Bowglas, which is on the road between Tarbert and Stornoway just before the border which takes you onto the Isle of Lewis.

We followed the path into the mountains for about an hour and a half before reaching this beautiful loch.

If you want, you can continue on the path and follow the river down the glen which leads you out at Meavag (the North Harris one, not the one in Bays) just past Ben View where Leda lives. All together its about 17km - a goodly walk, but it leaves you an awful long way to go and get your transport to get home!

Anyway, that was our Christmas. No presents, no turkey, no tree - just us and the dogs enjoying our beautiful scenery.

Then in the evening, back to the spinning!

Today I've been taking a day off from the usual and spent some time carding the Carloway bits into batts to spin. Here's a photo of some I spun straight out of the bag a few days ago, on the Jumbo flier, and plied with some Texere fine silk to give a beaded effect. It would be wonderful on the fixed heddle loom for a mat or a country-weave cushion.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Black Wensleydale Finale

Today I got the black Wensleydale hanks out of the airing cupboard and they are now ready for packing up and despatch. They have lost 700g in the washing - which is about right for the amount of grease they have.

It's soft and smells just a little woolly and has the most glorious auburn tints at the end of the curly bits.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Grey Wensleydale on the Carder

Over the past couple of days I've been busy in the shed preparing a beautiful grey Wensleydale fleece from a ram called "Moonshine" (which is very apt because it is a lovely shimmery grey). I have to spin half of it chunky and half of it fine. So had to dig out the Louet carder from retirement. Its that long since I used it I couldn't remember where I had put the accessories for taking off the batt and cleaning out the prickles.

Here is a piccie of the half fleece after going twice through the carders:

Not too sure about the quality of this one - used the webcam to take the shot as opposed to the digital camera for the others. Forgot to focus it properly! Anyway, you probably get the idea that its long and fluffy and very, very soft. Also very greasy but that's supposed to be good for the hands.

Also caught a piccie of my sheepdog Bramble having a cuddle on the table in the loomshed:

There will be much more of her when we start vaccinating for Blue Tongue after the new year and have to round up all the sheep. What fun - hope it rains!!!

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Back to the Wensleydales

Yesterday the weather was really bad all day. Fortunately we had nipped over to Buna to see Leda Tin Shed early as the bridge closed for a while in the afternoon I believe. Leda had been to Harris Tweed Textiles mill in Carloway, Lewis and brought me back three bags of stuff......

Carloway spin yarn for a very well known company that starts with "R" and ends with "N" and has three letters in between. There was a bag of blue tweedy roving that is just wonderful and I can't wait to start it. And there are two bags of wispy bits of all sorts of different colours of carded fibre - all cleaned and ready to blend in with something else to give a bit of an accent to some of my spinning. Its also clean and soft enough to be carded up again into batts and used as stuffing for cushions etc. for those who like natural products.

When we got home from Buna I couldn't face battling up the hill to my loomshed, so I stayed in and carried on with the Wensleydale. Now its all spun up, I hanked it off on my special hank winder made for me by a very kindly gentleman who used to live near us.

The fleece spun up into ten hanks - around 3 kgs greasy weight.

Then I washed it - soak for one hour at a water temperature of 140 F at the start and 200ml of Hebridean Soap - Lemon and Eucalyptus liquid. Then spin in a cylinder spin drier. Soak for a further 15 mins in a solution of Merino Wool Wash liquid (available from Skyeskins, Waternish, Isle of Skye) and water at the same temperature as the first wash.

Then spin again, take outside and whirl each hank around to loosen up the yarn and take out the crinkles. Hang up in a warm place, and put the kettle on for tea!

By this time the lights were flickering alarmingly which they normally do prior to having a power cut, so I spent the rest of the evening creating another wonderful marine item from Calana Crafts fabby Uruguayan wool.

Today (Saturday) the broadband is not functioning here - probably something happened to the radio mast in the bad weather. Our own TV aerial broke and is hanging by a thread from the roof. Fortunately we usually use the satellite dish and that is ok though reception was pretty ropey yesterday. I guess living here you get used to having back-ups for everything, I still keep my dial-up internet going for occasions such as this - otherwise I wouldn't be posting this just now.

On a completely different subject - next year is International Year of Natural Fibres so Calana Crafts and Scalpay Linen are hoping to plan an event in celebration of the occasion. Joan has offered to dress up as an alpaca for the summer (only joking Joan!).

The sun is shining now - I have installed my webcam but can't get it going until the broadband comes back, so after that there will be views from our shed when I am online available through my web site. More info when its up and running. But hopefully it will be "lambcam" in spring and "ramcam" in the autumn. Now there's something to look forward to......

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Ram back on his hooves

A couple of weeks ago our Swaledale ram had a massive fight with another ram (presumably after some nubile young gimmer) and we had to take him home on his side in the back of the van as he looked to be finished.

After over a week confined to barracks in our intensive care unit (a shed on our croft apportionment) we let him out into the field. Then someone left the back gate open and he did a runner (or maybe just a fast hobble) into the wind-swept yonder. Today he came back for his breakfast with the others and seems none the worse for wear, though I hope he stays around here now and doesn't wander very far.

Sometimes the sheep come to grief on the roads, as here on the island we are one of the few places left which practice "open township" grazing. This means that none of the crofts are fenced and sheep are permitted to graze where they like when they are not on the common grazing (which is fenced). Some people are not keen on the sheep being around during winter and say they make a mess on the roads, which of course, they do. But I'm sure its not generally recognised, even by those who have lived in this sort of environments for a long time that the landscape all over much of Scotland has been sculpted by generations of sheep.

Anyway - here's the ram having breakfast:

Windy again today and a fair bit of hail falling, but I'm hoping to finish spinning the black Wensleydale today and then put something on the blog about the washing of it.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

More marine inspiration

Today the weather is very wet and windy - but am I downhearted? Absolutely not. Yesterday morning I had some surprise Christmas sales so in the afternoon I hot footed it over to Calana Crafts and bought some more yummy Uruguayan wool which I thought I would make Sea Anemone hats with. When I got home I realised that I had bought the wrong wool - so instead I made a really funky hat last night.......

The top is hyperbolic crochet - which I think is going to be the next big thing as its just so organic and interesting. The bottom is the same as the sea anemone hat and the two are grafted together. Its more of a skull cap type hat - sits neatly on top of the head and looks like a lions mane jellyfish - hence I've called it a jellyfish hat. Though my husband said he thinks it looks more like coral, specially with the colour. Its on in case you fancy having it for yourself. Colours are black and shocking pink.

The Harris Tweed labour is going slowly - have sorted out colours and am still photographing to get a good balance. Also had some good suggestions as to how I should arrange the colours so I'm looking into that.

Tonight will be another night for the fire and the black Wensleydale spinning I think.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

A New Harris Tweed Being Born

Yesterday afternoon I decided to do something constructive about getting the new tweed on the loom after spending a few weeks dithering about.
So the first thing I did was to get out all my stash of Harris Wool and photograph it.....

There's enough here to do a couple of small tweeds and I can't really afford to buy in any more just now, but I need to decide what colours will go well with what and its important in design to make sure the "balance" is correct between the various colours you are using. The best way to check balance is to turn the photos into grayscale. Then you can match up shades of grey together and be sure that if you use matching shades they will be properly balanced in the warp.

Then a quick visit to the future trends info to check if any of the colours I have are likely to be in vogue next season...... fortunately I have a number of colours that can be combined to make a trendy look.
So I threaded up my little Louet table loom with 100 warp ends and started doing a little sample piece. Don't have a photo of that yet as my batteries have gone dead and I forgot to recharge them. Haven't decided on a draft yet - maybe something a bit different like a staggered herringbone or a bit of bell celtic mixed in to get some texture. With the Hattersley Loom I am a bit limited to the patterning - also for Harris Tweed only certain weave structures will fulfil the technical parameters that will make it the right weight to be stamped as authentic.
Anyway, watch this space for some more progress....

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Christmas Auction

Today I went to the Christmas sale at the Auction Mart in Stornoway. The cattle are sold off for the festive market and the fat lambs the same.

Sometimes you can pick up one or two really good lambs - Suffolks or Cheviots - that will breed well with the Hebrideans.

We are still trying to produce a cross that will have a fleece with the same characteristics as the Hebridean, but in white. The grey is ok but because it tends to come from the older sheep, the texture is different and it doesn't work that well mixing it in a cloth, though its better than nothing. The thing is with the black Hebrideans, the black gene is recessive - you need a black one coming from both parents to produce a black lamb, but the fleece gene seems to be passed on through either side and the softer, crimpier fleece dominates over the more kempy, rougher blackface type fleece. Over the years we have had quite a few successful crosses, but not enough to produce a consistent supply of the wool.

This picture is of my other half outside the mart at the pens looking at what is coming up in the sale.

Now inside to the ring where the auctioneer (who comes over for the day from Dingwall) expertly handles all the bidding and sales. The two lambs in the ring were first prize winners in the pre-sale show.
After the show we repaired to the Stag Bakery tea room in town and had sausage roll, hot chocolate and a big cream cake to thaw us out as it had been a very cold morning.
Then off the the Arts Centre - An Lanntair to see how sales were going. Sea Anemone hats had gone well (check out ), and I left some sample gents neck ties in Hebridean, Harris, Hybridean and Linsey Woolsey tweeds as well as a pure linen one.
A quick visit to Lewis Crofters for poultry grain, hay and some goodies for the sheep to munch on and then home for tea.
Back to the spinning this evening.........

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Winding yarn for lazies....

Here is my "Munty" a fabulous machine lent to me by my good friend in Somerset who is also a Hattersley maniac. These winders are very rare and I look after it with great care. This picture shows me winding off some handspun yarn (wonderful superwash pink/plum/maroon) plied with some handspun nylon - all rovings from The Sheepshed Studio in Wyoming. The only supplier I have ever found of nylon roving for handspinning. It's well worth having a browse on the website (I shall put it on my links below) as they have a great selection of both spun up yarns and tops, rovings and caps for those of us who are that way inclined.

The "Munty" was designed and made by Mr Munt, and I don't think you can get them now, but it has proved an absolute boon for me - winding off handspuns, and making up cones to warping. It also comes with a skein holder so you can wind off skeins. Just amazing!
To change the subject completely, the local arts centre is having their annual open exhibition from March this year and I'm determined to enter something textiley and unusual. Though there are a lot of textile workers in the Outer Hebrides, it is under represented from a artistic viewpoint. Now, I'm not a particularly arty sort of person - more commercial - but over the past couple of years I have been veering off on that sort of tangent, so I'm going to do something amazing for the show....... have a few ideas simmering but nothing tangible just yet. Will post progress on the blog. Meantime, if you have any ideas, please don't keep them to yourself, let me know. 2009 is the international year of natural fibres, so it must have a NF content and theme.

Spinning Wensleydale fleeces part 2

Last evening I decided to make a start on spinning up the black Wensleydale whilst watching a really interesting programme on BBC2 about life in the 1930's - what a lot of tweed there was around in those days. My goodness, the ocean liners were packed with people dressed in it.

If we all wore as much these days the Harris Tweed industry would be booming! I think we should start a movement called "Love your Tweeds".

Anyway, back to the Wensleydale - a nice soft fleece with staple of about 4-5 inches and light brown tips to add to the joy of it all.
The aim with this sort of spinning is to get it as thin yet as textured as possible without leaving weak bits. Each fleece is different, so each one has to be spun slightly differently. Some need a hefty twist to get them together, others just a gently draft and off it goes beautiful and curly. Anyway, this is nice fleece which will give a good curly finish with a medium twist.

The actual spinning is quite physical - I use an Ashford wheel with a jumbo flyer and bobbins which hold about 80m of raw yarn. As the bobbin gets fuller you have to wind the bobbin in manually as the tufty bits get caught round the flier hooks. I have often thought about using a spindle wheel for the thick yarn, but have never got around to sourcing one, or saved up enough to be able to buy one.

Watch this space for more exciting installments in The Story of Wensleydale Spinning.....

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Paper making from linen

Had an email today from another colleague of mine - Joanne Kaar - from Dunnet in Caithness.
Joanne is a talented papermaker, and I send her all the waste linen from the ends of my warps and wefts etc which she turns into the most amazing paper.
It's a great idea because, before she got in touch with me, I was burning it, putting it in the bin, burying it, leaving it in in parcels on buses.. (no, not really), but it was really difficult to get rid of, and it made me feel bad that it couldn't be used. And now it can.
Extra brownie point to me for re-cycling I think!
Above is a photo of a book she made and also some of the linen which is used.

Joanne has a website and blog:

Apparently some of the paper made from my linen and peat is going to Tasmania early next year for a juried exhibition.

Busy With the Camera

Yesterday it was too cold to spend long in the loomshed, so I went down to the house and spent the afternoon picking Wensleydale wool ready for hand-spinning.

Wensleydale sheep have beautiful long curly wool and I hand-spin it in a chunky curly way which knits into scarves, hats, tops and jackets and weaves beautifully as well.

This is a black fleece I will be spinning for a colleague in Suffolk. Before it can be spun it is picked - that is the individual locks are pulled apart and any debris can be removed.

The bag in the photo is part of the fleece ready picked. I will take more photos as I continue on with the spinning process.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Welcome to our Blog


This is the official Scalpay Linen blog. Everyone else seems to have one, so we thought it was about time we joined in.

This blog is going to be about weaving (specially tweeds), running a small business, hand-spinning, crofting (specially sheep and poultry) and anything else of general interest which we feel like including.

As we are Harris Tweed weavers, expect to see the new tweeds we are producing as well as other projects we are working on.

We would like to encourage Hattersley loom owners to contribute to this page as well. Sometimes a little support goes a long way, and we have links with other weavers all over the country who will help with those little problems that can get in the way of straightforward weaving!

So, please put us on your list of favourites and we look forward to you dropping in from time to time.

Best regards
Sheila & JF