Sunday, 12 May 2019

Still a Student...Still Learning

Me, The Gansey and The Aran

I set myself the task of completing a hand-spun Aran in an adult size BUT (and you'd be wishing she'd only but listen...) I wanted to test the theory that the Gansey informed the Aran. To do that I wanted to knit an Aran in the traditional Gansy method i.e. in-the-round.

I wasn't fallowing a commercial pattern and I was using some "end-of-line" hand-spun with irregularities. In other words, a research project to use up some old wool. 

To explain:

I am a huge fan of Alice Starmore. I will provide a link below. She was one of a few brave souls who took the basics of Aran Knitting and held it up for serious scrutiny in the 80s and found there was a whole lot of poetic drivel being used to describe the origin of the stitches and the construction. 

A Herr Heinz Kiewe based in Oxford UK deliberately misinterpreted the pattern-work doing no favours for Ireland's embattled credibility

I happened to come across Alice Starmore in the early 2000s and the immense relief I felt when she debunked all the "inspired by Ireland's beauty" references in Aran work. Note, this was coming at a time when the Catholic Church in Ireland was dealing with the very beginnings of the avalanche of scandals. Ms Starmore, unlike Herr Kiewe, was researching the truth. Kiewe was spreading lies.

I had grown up in the 60s in a mixed heritage family and the Aran came with all the tourist-sales-talk. Worse, it was all believed as gospel! 

So no, every family did not have their family stitch pattern unique to them so they could be identified in drownings.

This book by Vawn Corrigan is the tidy and scholarly follow up to Alice Starmore and has been informative as well as providing the odd jig-saw pieces that were out of place in my understanding.

I had wrongly assumed that the Scottish and UK North-Eastern Coastal herring families were sent to the Aran Islands by the Congested Areas Board but it seems they went on their own volition encouraged by the investment in wharves and piers in Ireland. They were basically following the fishing. 

That is where Gansey-wearers met Aran Islanders....and where the exchange of stitches began.

It was on the Westerly Inis Mor that a more elaborate bobbled and furrowed version in white and in childrens' sizes had become the special outfit for First Communion by the early 1930s. A fabulous woman Muriel Gahan worked hard to secure consistent knitters and encouraged them to scale up the Ganseys (that's what they were still called) to adult sizes.

Two things at this point: Thanks to Ms Corrigan we now have all the names of the instigators. The Congested Areas Board was set up by Balfour....he of the Balfour Agreement which has dogged the Middle East since about 1917.

So now I introduce the one dratted stitch that won't transfer from Gansey to Aran......

The Blackberry Stitch

It owes its existence to Arans exclusively so far as I know. It does NOT come out well when knitted in-the-round which is the Gansey Style of knitting because one is always working on the RS (Right Side). I followed a pattern that assumed I was working across the back....and I WASN'T.

When you work a Blackberry Stitch across the back you get to haul it together by the scruff of its neck and it starts to sit better.

Mine was a bit sloppy and I wasn't going to stop. The photo at the top is suitably vague because I'm not keen on exhibiting my laziness. The diamonds were affected was interesting.

SO....Aran knitting with successful Blackberry Stitches sitting handsomely in rows HAVE TO BE WORKED BACK AND FORTH. 

...and this where I get annoyed. I thought we had moved on from knitting dress-making pieces and them seaming them up. Why knit stretchy fabric if you are going to seam it?

It's my problem and one I will have to improve on. Meantime some more photos of the Aran.....which IS BEING WORN BY MY SON.

Back of Aran

This was a great research project and I learned enough to inform myself of the "not-so-direct" link from Gansey to Aran. I happen to be a big fan of steeking and picking-up stitches.

Ka Kita Ano

Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns

Saturday, 26 January 2019

What is your relationship with your drum-carder like?

A wool-comb and a drum-carder

My relationship with my drum-carder was vexed at the start and I suspect many hand-spinners out there felt the same.

The contraption was SO hellishly expensive that you felt you should treat it with such reverence....light candles in front of it.....arrange flowers and pray. After all, the drum-carder signalled you had "arrived" in the world of hand-spinning. It meant you were now beyond the dependencies of commercially carded wool.

I was devoted to collecting equipment too but then the changes in my life meant I had to actually start proving myself as well.

Alpaca clip broken into 50gm plus wastage amounts (20gm) all lined up.
A big break through came when I came across Deb Menz's book "Color in Spinning" Deb is American and is fearless. Her book is one of those books where all the bits of the hand-spinning and fibre-preparation jigsaw all came together. Deb gave me that fabulously magical step into "The Next Tier Of Artisanship".....being in control of the whole process and making it suit your life-style, budget and spirit.

Allow enough fibre to lightly cover both drums of the carder.
Her approach was need to be able to predict the outcome.

That meant, you had to know how your equipment worked.

It was THAT simple.

It meant no longer being scared of the gear....get it out of the cupboard and become the best fibre-blender you can!...just do it!

Wool-combs are ideal as drum cleaners and short-fibre collectors.
Suddenly I knew what a "rolag" or "batt" was.

I also learnt about combing.

I then knew what a "combed top" was.

Her presentation on colour-blending is the best I have found yet.

And then and there, with one book, I could demonstrate to other spinners how to make good use of their drum-carders. Those fear-full spikey bits of kit that went rusty if you didn't use them taking up space in the attic.

Basically, you need other bits of equipment to make them really efficient, so may I introduce wool-combs please.

With a firm downward motion all the scrappy short fibres from the small drum can be
 collected tidily on the tines of a wool-comb AND the drum is cleaned of fibres as you do so.

It's keeping the dratted drum-carder clean that causes the most heart-ache, and a wool-comb will that. They ought to be included with every drum-carder sold.

What no-one EVER told me when I bought my first one was...


I know..............AND....


This was as if the Angel Gabriel himself had come down and announced world peace.

Ready to lift a drum of carded alpaca off the main drum.
And there was could blend fibres on your drum-carder....
(deep breath) using maths you work % blends.

This machine suddenly held the future of my spinning in its very teeth.

A twice-passed batt now ready to be lifted off the drum.
I mixed my equipment up and stopped relying on the suppliers' guides...I WAS NOW IN CONTROL...

In a similar method with hair-tongs, fibre is held between two smooth
wooden surfaces and wound up pulling the fibre off the drum.
...and loving it.

A batt being wound into a rolag off a drum-carder.

Rolag being made.

Rolag as candy-floss.

Rolag removed from wooden slats and ready for spinning as a supported
 woolly spin.

All the extra fibres left behind from both drums can be added
 for spinning if they are workable. This is 50gm of prepared alpaca.

This is two lots of 50gm prepared alpaca rolags and spare bits from
 cleaning the drums. This will make a 100gm skein. This was two
hours' work.
Go forth and card with vigour.

Many thanks,

Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Letter To Santa 2018....

I'm trying so hard this year.

For God's sake where the hell where you this last year?

Oh look, I'm are not God, but last year I was gentle and careful and I asked for the three things that "Rang My Bells" so to speak.

This year I RESOLVED.

I am now putting out a warning ...Never have a Woman Declare they are RESOLVED.

This year Santa I dug deep and sorted my son out.

That meant providing physical space and emotional space for him.

I also had to be the back-stop to his alcohol and drug abuse.

I did this even though it scared me....and exhausted me.

Where the f***k was my support?

In the meantime my totally beloved and gorgeous partner of twelve years ...for whom I left my miserable marriage...and who had salvaged my very soul and my life....was unable to face much more after his full diagnosis of leukaemia, and didn't want treatment. 

His dignity became my priority and I traipsed from Doctor to Specialist to Clinic to Hospital to Blood Test and back. I now know the inner workings of North-Shore, Waitakere and Auckland Hospital's Parking Arrangements.

Himself at the A&P Show Display in 2016

Chris died on August 20th at 9pm in comfort and peace at Auckland Hospital this year. It was a full moon that night and I helped the nurse with Last Offices. That lovely nurse stayed an extra hour with me while we prepared his body for the morgue.

Never again do I want a year like this last one....EVER. I wasn't ready.

I elected to get my son into D&A counselling and so the long and intimate nature of AA became our life. Good friends of his became silent and constant angels at his side.

My angels arrived politely and quietly in the form of formal bouquets from the local florist. 

Those that knew me hugged me deeply.

Those that didn't squeezed my hand.

Cards, messages, e-mails, texts,  from family who had been tipped off, from friends who had been told or from neighbours who had seen the ambulances. Either way...I was being loved and supported as a small town only knows how.

Son and Grandson

So, help me God, I am here still alive and so is my son....and he's doing just great.

I DID buy the Clock Skeiner in last year's Letter to Santa.

I DID order a Woolly Jumper Board from Jamieson and Smith but they always sell out before I get to order them....time-zone differences!

That outdoor recliner is still on the got replaced by Patio Furniture this year. Pathetic, I know.


I deserve a better year in 2019.

For once the world owes me.

It does after after all the caring, wiping, folding, picking-up, driving, sorting, adjusting, listening, worrying, washing, shopping, getting, finding, doing and generally *Mothering* that I have done all the most awful and scariest of circumstances.

The world needs more dancing.
If you are facing these circumstances please understand that while this is new for you, many before you went through this. I am happy to make you feel like you won't be ignored or left alone. I floundered on my son's drug use....

So, Santa and God, it's time to consider the Mums...and the girl-friends...and the MILs and the Aunties....and the sisters....and the daughters. It's time to think of the burden they take up just making life understand?

Right now I am exhausted.

This Christmas I need the following:

-Peace of Mind (..and to explain to the blokes this means approaching Christmas exactly the same way as blokes do -enjoy it as if everything is being done for just you.)

-Security of Spirit (...for blokes that means don't Mans-splain and don't under-mine and be respectful)

-Faith for the Future(...blokes, that means you WILL learn that women carry a huge emotional burden and if you share it you are indeed a PERFECT man.)

-I would still like a Woolly Jumper Board though.

-....and to know that I did a good job this year.


Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns

Friday, 7 December 2018

Summer Work...and being grateful.

Tin Shed Yarns
We're finally heading into summer.

In the Southern hemisphere we have summer and Christmas and New Year and End of The School Year all jumbled in together.

It makes for memorable's always well-earned.

Pictured is my Tin Shed with a wool-bale bag. If you have always wanted to know what the Auckland City Recycling Bin looks like, then there it is resplendent with the yellow lid.

The wool-bale bag and the feed-bags behind it amounts to my summer work

I am in the confident position of now having a reasonably steady income from wool-spinning and exhibition work. This is exactly what I was told on a silk-dyeing course 100yrs ago in UK: You need a bread-and-butter income (commissioned wool-spinning) and exhibition sales (lace shawls) to keep mind and body balanced.

I am a very lucky girl to have both those more or less in place.

While it sounds just fabulous just remember this took a while to build up and could only happen in a semi-rural lifestyle.

Freshly-shorn lambs' fleece from a very special farm.
Within that lifestyle too I found people on the "Sustainability Spectrum" and the fleece above comes from an Award-winning Agri-business where care is taken with water-ways, effluent and land-use. This is a big deal around these parts. Not all the land here is well-used. We are prone to flooding and wind erosion in the spring and summer. The soil is not dense enough to hold water or insulate against exposure.

Most farmers dump phosphates on their land to kick-start their grass growth but don't consider soil health. Land, when it's marginal, doesn't enjoy care and attention. 

I have made a wee reputation for taking the coarsest fleeces from marginal farms and turning them into shawls. With a classic lace pattern any wool will drape and become attractive.

Feed sack and wool-bale bags with soft new fleeces 
It's like I am finally being taken seriously...

...seriously enough to be gifted gorgeous fleeces from a farmer who puts real long-term effort in.

And it's only been 14 weeks since Chris died.

Wool and needles have been my rescue when curling up with the dog was really all I wanted to do.

Christmas is under control and will be gentle. Dinner on Christmas Eve with friends next door then off to the beach the next day.

I painted an old piano stool to put on the porch.
Things are good.

Hope they are with you.

Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns

Sunday, 4 November 2018

The Patio

Patio with Furniture
Today was memorable for the arrival of the long-anticipated Patio Furniture.

The cottage is 90 yrs old and is cozy but this side was a little untidy when I moved in. The French Doors are not the best but one makes the best out of it. 

The awnings too were on a list for three years.

I can't recommend them...sorry.

They are now installed and we'll just leave it at that. Many sweary words!

....but the chic, pretty, Frenchified, darling chairs with the scrolling iron-work (well...plastic-coated aluminium) and the all-over lace-look seat and table-top....oh my!

I defaulted to my best Convent-girl behaviour and resolved only to buy a set once the awnings were up...I WOULD WAIT AND BE GOOD.

...and I did...and the shop had the very last set available and they quietly went into my car and I un-loaded them with awed reverence.

My Chris
Then I thought of Chris and what he would say....and I laughed.

First, he would have snorted at the bourgeois nonsense of patio furniture. I would have been mocked gently in a fake Eric Idle accent "This your patio then?...."
I would have smiled and reminded him of his mother who longed for a patio...which would have egged him on into a Four Yorkshiremen rendition of various Patios and their usefulness.

Then I would have coughed and reminded him that if he wanted a coffee he'd better stop with the teasing.

During the coffee, he would have commented on the fake French style it brought, and then he would have been off pretending to be French and chatting me up in lugubrious French making me embarrassed and delighted all at once.

Then I would have coughed again and reminded him that the croissants were getting cold.

Then he would have munched away on his croissants and I would have made some eejit remark about feeling content but at the same time needing to develop some aspect of my life....

Then he would have been deadly serious and we would have discussed it. 

And he would make me feel as if I was the star and I could do anything I wanted.

View from the Patio
And I wondered was it worth writing about...that feeling of achievement and loss all bound up in a middle-aged woman. 

Someone to identify with.

Others have pin-pointed it beautifully.....Willy Russell with his "Educating Rita" and "Shirley Valentine". All that energy and talent and goodness going into like-able women tottering through life.

Alan Bennet with his monologues....a little edgier maybe, but beautifully crafted for voice.......and that was how I grew close to Chris.....him directing me in "Bed Among The Lentils" 12 years ago.

Mad garden with Rose near Patio
So here I am ....trying to make sense of my world and not always wanting to be deadly serious either. 

He would have told me to just get on with it and don't think about it. Write what you know. Your audience will find you.

Bless him.

I miss him, but he's with me all the time.

I have my Patio Furniture...there's enough material there to start with.

Be your best,

Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns

Monday, 29 October 2018

Yarn Construction OR How To Build 8Ply Yarn

Production Spinner at Tin Shed Yarns

Deep in the back-office of technicality I now come forward to explain simply the difference between 4ply and 8ply...and why we knitters always use it as a reference.

Ravelry always asks for WPI (wraps per inch) as a density-reference for yarn because the traditional 4ply and 8ply description has not travelled well around the globe. 

I am required to know these two densities well in my production work and I do.

It was only moving here to NZ that I came across the term Double Knit (DK).

My Dutch Mother-In-Law patiently explained to me that 8ply was indeed DK because wool used to only come in four weights, Lace (2ply), baby (3ply), sock (4ply), and jersey (8ply). A 4ply doubled (i.e. held and knitted as two yarns together) will produce an 8ply, so here you can see why Double-Knit came into usage. If you are doubling 4ply, to make an 8ply then you have Double Knit (DK).

So far I can still understand this.

Here is a handy link to explain/confuse yarn weights even more.

8ply skeins drying.
Back at the office I have to be able to construct 8ply density. Let me be clear here....8ply is NOT constructed out of 8 actual singles. In the sampling for this work I did make an 8ply by doubling the plies in a 4ply, but it ended up lacking other words the yarn was ropey.

This 8ply was actually made with 3 plied singles. I achieved more softness and a rolling twist.

And then we come to style, or signature spinning. I DO like a tight twist from a rolling ply. It must be the jersey knitter in me. 

If you go looking at pictures of typical mill-spun 8ply on-line you will notice the differences in the look of the yarns -some are firm ordinary, others look soft and plump. No 8ply is really the same as the next, and like me, the mills have a formula they use to achieve that density and it may involve 2, 3 or 5 singles plied together.

So why the fuss? Well it's a reference we all know and need. 8ply and 4ply sit at the heart of most gauges for knitting.

If you don't know what gauge is, then spend 3 mins acquainting yourself ...please. 

Samples from the start of the project.
The knitting industry over the years has sadly not expected its consumers to take some control of their creativity instead wanting to direct that creativity itself. This has resulted in a generation of knitters who rely totally on knitting patterns and standard yarns for correct sizing. 

Knitters who work on gauge are dangerous because they then go off on to "other" yarns having worked out the square meterage themselves.

This is why I adore Elizabeth Zimmerman -she got me knitting dangerously. If you don't know who she is please spend 10 mins on this

My patterns (linked to this site) are all strict about gauge. 

8ply and 4ply and their cousins 3ply and 2ply are the basis of what we used to knit: They are the foundation of our knitting knowledge.

Image result for Traditional Gansey
A traditional Gansey worked in 4ply.

A traditional 2ply shawl.
3ply traditional baby vest.
Not socks but 4ply used for baby-wear.

The basis of all yarn are the singles spun. On the left single for 4ply and on the right, single for 8ply.

And with that I bid you great yarn knowledge and dangerous knitting.

Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns.

Notice my drug-dealer scales for weighing the bobbins. They keep my amounts accurate as I work.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

The Lumpy Jersey

Basic knitting
It's almost a month since my partner Chris Bailey died. I am bereft. He was my one true love.

It has been simply a matter of getting through each day.
I've had good ones and exhausting ones. I have days when I look around and think about all the possibilities now that I am on my own, only to have doubts and fears about making any moves or decisions.

I've had days when family have insisted I be in touch when all I want to do is move on....days when people have taken me out for coffee and I've enjoyed when I didn't expect to....and days when I have taken up a neighbourhood issue when I had the lowest energy.

Basically, I am unable to predict anything vaguely normal at the present as it ends up becoming something else; I'm just not quite myself.

Bottom-up circular-knit. Divided for the sleeves and re-joined with a three-needle bind-off at the shoulder
So to create calm I took up my favourite hand-spun 8ply and started something I can almost knit blind-folded. This rough-spun Gotland cross wool was from a fleece I bought locally. Donna Hamilton breeds these sheep and she has since dived into hand-spinning herself. 
Gotland is a favourite of mine. It's a type and a breed, like Shetland. I enjoyed spinning it and I enjoyed working with it these last three weeks.

There's a rawness in loss that puts you back at the beginning again....around what really matters. After a good two years of knitting lace I found the 8ply chunky a joy. There were still bits of thistle in it. It smells perfect too. 

Stitches are picked up off the edge of the arm-hole (3 out of every 4) and worked down-wards to the cuff decreasing at a 1 in 4 ratio.

The thickness filled the jersey quickly and the colours were a comfort.

The simplicity of the stitch-count was so satisfying: 60 cast-on and knit to the shoulders. 6 is a perfect number for mathematicians as it can be divided by 1,2,and 3. 60 can be divided by 1,2,3,4,5,AND 6 as well as 10. With 60 stitches you can place the neck-opening in the middle third of the fabric (stitches 21-39) and have 1x1 ribbing without adjusting numbers. The sleeve-opening, worked by allowing one third of the jersey length to be worked flat, gave 60 stitches for a sleeve...back to 60 again, divided onto 4 dpns, giving 15 per needle. 
Proportions for a child's drop-shouldered jersey like this are basically in thirds: one third sleeve-opening, two thirds jersey length. I allowed a deep ribbing as I know how children can grow quickly. The sleeve cuff might have been a mite narrow. The proportion is usually just under one half of the sleeve-opening stitch-count. 

Neck-opening is usually one-third of total width of jersey. Sleeve cuff is usually just under half of the depth of the sleeve-opening.
The cuffs can be ripped back and knit wider...again. These sleeves are knit circular with decreases from the lower sleeve-opening point. 

(...apart from the shoulder seams...)

This is how traditional ganseys were worked. 

This garment has been a simple, happy easy knit...and I got to use up loads of stash....which I joined using the traditional method of laying the new and old wools together and continuing working until the new wool began. This way there are no ends to sew in, and the join is strong enough to be blocked too.

Jersey mid-sleeve and needing a blocking once finished.
I am getting better....and I am constantly reminded of how comfortable and safe I am really...and how loved I am.

I appreciate all the love and warmth shown me...the messages from contacts over the globe, the flowers, the poncho from my sister, the cards and the patience.

These two have been particularly snuggly and attentive.....they know things aren't the same.

Many thanks,

God Bless

Fiona MacBride
Tin Shed Yarns

ps excuse the muddy's still wintry here.