Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Shopping for fibres

My son Simon has finally fled the nest! He has a new job in Reading and last week moved into his own flat. He doesn't drive so I volunteered to drive him down to Reading with all his gear - computers, rowing machine and other things that it is not really practical to move by public transport. He flew up on Saturday morning and we drove down on Sunday - 650 miles, 11 hours, but trouble free apart from confusion over how to pay for the toll motorway. (Up here in Inverness we don't even have motorways, never mind ones you have to pay for.)

Anyway, the advantage of driving to the south of England was that I was traveling north again on Monday. Wingham Wool Work has the largest stock of fibres for spinners and feltmakers of anywhere in the UK. They have a large mail-order business, but there is nothing like seeing it all for yourself and picking what you want. The shop is only open on Sundays and Mondays, so traveling north on Monday was my reward for driving south on Sunday!

I made a list before I left of the colours of Merino fibre that I particularly needed to stock up on. The shop consists of a large barn with 3 large sheds. The stock of Merino fills one large shed and it is just a question of collecting a large polythene sack and filling it with as much wool as you can afford. I filled two sacks for myself and one for a friend, then headed to the shed with all the natural fibres. Ruth Gough runs the business and she is very happy to give advice on all the fibres she stocks. (This photo shows Ruth beside a display of Scandinavian carded wool.) She is an expert spinner and we had a long discussion about what would be the best choice for me to try spinning enough yarn to knit a jumper.

I have done this once before - a lovely white Shetland wool jumper with a random check pattern created using a combination of moss-stitch and stocking stitch which I was very pleased with. Unfortunately I spread outwards and the jumper shrunk in and it is now too tight for me. It still fits Mary and she is wearing it in the bottom right photograph of the bags page on our on-line shop website.

On Ruth's advice, this time I have plumped for Blue-faced Leicester and I will be spinning up a combination of white and beige mix fibres and plying them together to get a nice tweedy appearance. If you come back in 4 years time I might have finished the project! My spinning is not bad for an amateur, but my knitting is slow and tends only to happen when I am traveling on a ferry or sitting with my elderly mother-in-law waiting for a doctor to arrive. I reckon that if I were to try and sell a hand-spun, hand knitted jumper I would have to get £4000 if I were to get a reasonable hourly rate for my work! I will stick to embroidery and felt making for earning my living, but I do like having something like this on the go.

The whole process of shopping at Wingham Wool Works took well over two hours and I had lovely conversations with other fibre enthusiasts - a feltmaker who lives in Abu Dhabi and stocks up every time she comes home to the UK, and a spinner from Yorkshire who had recently visited Inverness while on holiday.

In this photograph you can see the car loaded up with my sacks. I would have loved to get more but I have limited storage space and the credit card might have melted if I had bought any more!

The next thing is to do some more felt panels which I will then transform with embroidery into large wallhangings. At least now I can choose my colours freely rather than being restricted to those I had in sufficient quantity.

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