Hand Spinning & Natural Dyeing - Sarah Matthess

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Summer Weaving

Willow is in it's full glory in mid-August, and especially so this Summer due to the amount of rain- fall we have had in Northern Ireland this year. In fact, it's doing really well indeed.  The wonderful thing about willow is its versatility.  I grow a few different species including a bio-mass willow that puts on 10ft in one year. That willow is usually destined for fencing projects and for making wig-wham style pea-stands and

The willow is all cut in January when the leaves have fallen.  I grade and bundle it, and stand in an airy shed for a slow drying out process.  The willow has to then be soaked for a week before using it. However, on fencing projects like this one, I do not soak it because the amount of bend that I put in each willow is not enough to break it.  It's only on smaller projects like baskets, obelisks and wreaths that the willow would have to be pre-soaked before using.

I decided to make a wind break this week.  I staked out my fence line by driving posts into the ground about every 18 to 20" from each other.  This was all very unscientific, I 'eyeballed' the whole thing, and went round the corner at the end, so the weaving would follow it in a curve.

It doesn't look like anything to start with, but as the weaving builds, and is packed down, it starts to take shape.
Back to the barn for a few more bundles...this type of project takes an awful lot of willow!
The first few layers of weaving were using the bio-mass willow which is really hefty stuff putting on an amazing amount of growth each year. It takes really good secateurs to cut through it.
After completing the wind-break to the height I wanted, I simply sawed off the tops of the posts...
And you can just see from this picture my 'round the corner' weaving, to make it easier to mow on the other side.
The asparagus bed has been severely hit by the prevailing westerly wind this Summer, so this should help.

 In constructing a woven fence, I start at one end and weave back and forth until I have worked my way to the other end, and then working from that end, I come back again. That way the weaving builds up more evenly.  A really good pair of secateurs is essential for this, and for the heavy willow ratchet secateurs are even better.  I never have enough of the really heavy willow for the fences that I would love to build, so I finished the top of this wind-break with a slightly lighter willow, doubled up, weaving 2 at a time.

Christmas wreaths were my next willow project this week.  It's lovely to work outdoors in the Summer. I had the willow soaked up for a week in my home-made willow soaking vat, so it was ready to go and nice and supple. 

These are now up on Etsy, and I've posted more about how they were made up there!
If you want to check out some really lovely Co. Armagh basket making, see Greenwood Baskets website. Alison Fitzgerald is a perfectionist and her baskets are second to none.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Summer Ramblings

This Summer's ramblings' were in Northumbria with the caravan. A wonderful wild and rugged county.  We worked our way down the coast from Berick-upon-tweed and Lindisfarne with its castle and priory to Bamburgh Castle just south of Lindisfarne.

Bamburgh Castle

Lindisfarne Island Causeway

Lindisfarne Priory was where the Viking's first invaded Britain in AD 793. The island is now accessible by vehicle on a very civilised tarmac road, at low tide. 

Back at the camp site, imagine my surprise one morning to find a newly arrived fellow camper with her spinning wheel perched outside her caravan on the grass. Pity I didn't get a pic of Alison. But we had some nice spinning-chat.

Alnwick a few miles south of Bamburgh, is the home of 'Barter Books'. Anyone who knows the area, knows 'Barter Books'. Housed in Alnwick's beautiful old dome roofed, stone built, train shed, and claiming to be one of the largest second hand book shops in England. I believed that. Model train sets are set up above the bookshelves, and the little trains rattle around the shop giving a very pleasant background noise which sounds like rain. If you don't know that you will think it is raining. It probably is anyway.  Best of all was the 30p a cup filter coffee and the comfy sofas to sit in whilst thumbing through volumes you might want to buy.  I did find something rather interesting.

'The Natural Knitter' by Barbara Albright, published in 2007. This book contains a lot of interesting, and I thought a little unusual knitting patterns, alongside information on the fibre used and highlighting various small yarn producers. Plant and animal fibres are both covered and information on natural plant dyeing.  Barbara Albright lives in Connecticut and is an author of several books on knitting. This book contains a sweater pattern for men, which was a welcome discovery.

I'm trying this one on some soft hand-spun Jacob's fleece blended with black alpaca, spun to a light Aran weight, knitted with a fine strand of brown tweed commercial singles on 6mm needles.

During our travels we stumbled upon Whistlebare where we had a very friendly welcome from the owner, Alice, who kindly showed us around. They run a small family yarn business.  After sheering, the wool is spun commercially and then dyed back at the farm.

'Whistlebare, a small family run business in North Northumberland where we keep pedigree flocks of Angora Goats, for their fine mohair fleece and Wensleydale Sheep for their high lustre longwool.' 

The drive back to the east coast followed Hadrian's Wall. Intrepid hikers were braving the sheets of rain that swept over Northumbria National Park that day. Clad in expensive looking hiking boots and trekking poles, they were really experiencing The Wall! Reaching Caryryan we boarded Stenaline for the return trip to Northern Ireland.

For more lovely photos of places we visited, check out photography by Peter Matthess