Wednesday, 7 February 2018

I Should Have Listened...........

The Dratted Knitting Contraption
There comes a time when you make a decision and making it makes you feel loads better.

For me, writing up my Work Diary forced me to re-read my entry from the previous week about the second-hand knitting machine I had sourced locally.

I had given up then on it and it had been stored at the very back of the shed behind the old spinning wheel....that means it was just too heavy to store up in the rafters.

I had been warned, but did I listen?....did I heck as like.

Thought I could manage it....thought I could conquer it. Thought I could "whip-up" squares of hand-spun and then edge them by hand all nice and evenly.....thought I had a new product for a new market. What a total eejit!

I had been warned.

"Best of luck" a neighbour said, "one wrong move and it gets ruined..."

"Rather you than me", said another, "....never got the hang of them myself."

It even came with a stand....
I really did try to like it.

I gave it new needles and a new sponge bar.

I cleaned and cleaned it.

I read the manual.

I joined a Facebook group.

Still could not get the Dratted Thing to even get past a cast-on.

I re-set the sponge bar.

I watched video tutorials.

It was obvious the machine was just a bit too old and had been out of use for too long.

I think there is a support-group out there for Failed Knitting Machine Users.

Four rows...and a dropped stitch....
This was the best I could do. Fishing out dropped stitches was worse that managing them by hand.

Not sure what the thinking was behind all this technology.....totally inflexible.

Did I listen?......nope.

Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns

p.s. If you are in the Helensville district and you especially want this then it is yours.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Letter to Santa 2017

The valley stretching East in the morning.
Dear Santa,

How are things with you?

Hope the reindeer are eating well.

It has been a whole 12 months since we last talked and let's face it, it has been a s*** of a year. I am not blaming you but I really need a positive gesture to help with the New Year.

It was on the whole a "One Step Forward-One Step Back" experience all year. Determination to enter Exhibitions thwarted by derailment,on-going Family Dramas, illness (not mine), a Convent Restoration in Ireland to which I have links abandoned by ineptitude and nastiness, and then the whole culture of thoughtlessness in America, and Britain.

I was happy to hide in the Shed and just spin wool.

Which I started doing again last week.

Santa, I know you are a bloke and might have to ask around on this, but why do women always carry the burden of emotional responsibility within families? ...and is it fair?

You see, in order for a woman to be able to create a clear artistic path they have to be free of responsibilities and demands....or at least supported. The only way I can manage my path is to be more selfish.

Being selfish for women of my generation is the same as being bad....maybe I'll just have to be more "Bad".


I do have a bad/selfish little list. 

1. I'd really like a grunty clock-skeiner like this....Clock Skeiner.

2. I'd really like a Wooly Jumper Board.

3. I'd also really like an outdoor recliner so that I can practise being selfish.

Thank you for listening to me Santa...I know you are busy. 

We'll talk again next year.


Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Weaving a Sleeping Pod for a Baby -Wahakura

I the scary big thing -I attended a Maori Womens' Weaving Course.

I am not Maori.

But they let me in.

They did have some questions, such as what is your general experience with Te Ao Maori (Maori culture) and do you have a tribal connection?

I passed the first part being a curious soul and an employee of the Ministry of Education (a teacher). Teachers in NZ are expected to know basic phrases and to be able to pronounce children's names and place-names with ease. My tribal connection is Irish, and in the wonderful understanding of Maori that was considered good enough.

There is a huge understanding between Irish and Maori. Both were marginalised by invaders -both understand about family-strength and both laugh and sing a lot.

Image result for Harvesting flax for weaving NZ
The correct way to harvest flax. Leave the three in the middle
(that's the family unit) and take the ones on either side cutting on an angle.
 Photo credit
Flax in NZ is mostly wild and coarse. it grows freely around wetlands and is known as useful landscaping vegetation as it soaks up water from marginal land. The flax here was used for rope-making. It has none of the finesse of Irish linen and cannot be spun or woven for cloth. When the British Navy began sending ships to scout out NZ's potential as a British Colony the first thing spotted was all the flax. Maori men were used to harvest and bundle it up and were to arrive with the flax back in Britain. it caused huge offence to Maori as harvesting and weaving were essentially the domain of women. The British were then embarrassed in return as the flax proved unworkable for anything other than rope.

If you are uncomfortable reading about women and their monthly cycles then skip this next paragraph.

Kuia (female elders) will insist that women in their monthly cycle do not harvest flax. This is part of tikanga (protocol) around flax. Women who are hapu (with child) must not harvest either. This is for practical reasons as well as tikanga. 

Looking at the sides of the wahakura.
Harakeke (flax) has been woven by Maori women over the centuries and is now an established art-form in its own right. Some artists choose to dye their flax and add shells as ornaments.

Our raranga kaupapa (weaving process) was developed from a simple style of quick green-flax weaving used for baskets and brought into the 21st century as a simple sleeping pod for newborn infants.

Image result for Metiria Turei with wahakura
Metiria Turei with Sifatama Tamu. Photo credit The Spinoff.
The version shown in this picture is a little different from what we all made but essentially the idea was being born and with the publicising from former Green MP Metiria Turei, the wahakura was established.

Our tutor was very firm on following the strict guidelines on construction as she was representing a body of research as well as the cultural sensitivity of the weaving. Our wahakura have naturally occurring holes at the crossing of the flax leaves allowing air circulation. 

How do you use a Wahakura?

Baby is placed in the woven bassinet with only a fine woollen shawl tucked around it and mum and dad sleep either side of the baby in bed. It solves the problem of co-sleeping and the prevention of smothering the baby. The statistics presented to us on SIDS were harrowing.....and higher for Maori. Co-sleeping with the baby was considered normal for Maori (and Irish if I'm honest) so long as all were safe from alcohol, drugs and smoking. The SIDS statistics show that families using the wahakura have much lowered rates of sudden infant deaths.
Wahakura on the bed.
The wahakura will take a few weeks to dry out and become yellow. When it does it will become less pliable and stronger. We were issued a firm foam mattress each. I, as you all know, will be organising woollen shawls too.

It is expected that we each make more of the Wahakura and donate them to families and organisations who help. That is the payback for this funded course.

Wahakura top plait bind-off.
The women in the group were all leaders of their own small communities and therefore strong and committed. On the second day of the two-day course they were gently teasing me for being "an eejit" with my mistakes. I got the pod made ....not beautifully, but finished. 

Wahakura waikawa completed.

Nau te rourou -with your basket
Naku te rourou -with my basket
Ka ora ai te iwi -the iwi will thrive

Many many thanks to the Whaea who helped me and the Wahine who fed us and looked after us.

Iwi -tribe
Kuia -Maori woman elder
raranga -weaving
kaupapa -understanding
harakeke -flax
tikanga -protocol
wananga -course
Whaea -Auntie (woman of some standing)
Wahine -woman

In this text I omitted the macrons over the letter "a" where the vowel is lengthened. I apologise for not adjusting my keyboard settings.

Fiona MacBride

Friday, 10 November 2017

Pricing Your Work

Kaipara Valley Shawl
Pricing Your Work and Meeting The Market.

I want to talk about putting a price on work ready for sale.

We all consider doing this -large projects or small, hand-dyed yarn or finished shawls. It is a fraught process and the big word needed is TRUST.

-Trust in the product.
-Trust in the venue or platform.
-Trust in your worth.

The buyer has to trust you, the maker, completely as well.

This last line becomes vital when making a "one-off" piece because there is nothing to compare it with. Skeins of wool on an on-line platform can be viewed and considered at the click of a mouse or at the squeeze of a hand at a trade show. 

I'd like to think that this is the where that imaginary line between craft and art intersect because a shawl with an original design and a story behind it is where the maker and the buyer meet. The buyer feels they are buying a little of you -the maker because it is bound up in the work.

Buying a little of the maker's soul is well known to artists. It's understood as a kind of Spiritual Contract directly between the artist and the buyer. Big collections in Art Galleries have a complicated contract as it is not a directly personal one until you, the viewer, get to stand in front of it.

Corner Placement for Kaipara Valley Shawl
And how do you put a price on that Spiritual Contract....that visceral feeling in your gut when you know you like it and can value the effort in the making?

I go back to trusting the venue: Sometimes the sale has to happen in the right place, at the right time, with the right group of people and the right business model.

We all know there are Art and Craft Markets and then there are Trade Shows; Each have their peculiar tone, feel, access, parking, and amenities. You may feel confident about spending and then you might not. We sellers have the same list of venues and we know that it takes much more than a cosy space to sell wool. It needs confident shoppers, coffee, comfort food, and a bit of pressure such as exclusivity or seasonal changes.

Part of the Story of The Shawl 

Then, there is the Story: If your piece is to sell there must be a story , and one that people can relate to. 

I was happy to place the Kaipara Valley Shawl in the Art Auction run for The Helensville Women and Family Centre because the venue, the people, the promotion and the auction sale process allowed for that visceral link with a couple of bidders. 

The Story accompanied the Shawl as it was displayed for viewing. Winning at the local A&P Show and its design origins coming out of a firm rejection at one of our local Charity Shops, made good reading for the good people of Helensville. That rejected used throw was un-picked and re-knitted into the prototype for the shawl above. The Story and the anger that inspired the next shawl was important.

Having two bidders helped too.

Iconic Classic Shawl Lines on the Kaipara Valley Shawl 
In the end I placed a high reserve price on the Shawl. It meant it was passed in at the Auction but sent a strong message to those gathered that this was a serious work with a serious price. 

The next day I was visited by the Auction Promoter with the good news that a price had been price. Later I was also visited by the buyer. It was an important meeting as she was a woman of some standing in our local community...and she wanted the shawl for her grandson's Christening.

Yes it all took time and energy. Talk to any artist about how they go about making sales and they will talk about the almost-stripping-bare-to-the-depths-of-ones-soul agony in making sales.

That is the difference between Art and Craft......satisfaction and agony. Satisfaction with a craft well worked, and agony at the amount of ones soul one gives with each work.

Always put a label on..... 
So....aim high on all aspects. Choose your venues well, choose your clientele well, choose your platform/site well. Have the story ready and make it a heartfelt one. Promote clearly and well....and have TRUST in your work.


Fiona MacBride

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Times When I Have Been it worth it?

Me.....talking about being annoyed.
This is a writing exercise......

ME: You just won't effing believe what I went through today...

HIM : was your day? How did the "Moving House for Dorothy" go?
         Uh oh -I know that look.
        (Moves valuable items away from my reach)

ME : I have just one thing to say...effing blokes !
HIM : OK.....(takes a deep breath) Want a wine? 
ME  : Want? -more like need.
HIM : What blokes? Blokes in general or just today's blokes?
ME: No not all blokes, not nice ones like you, just the Tosser-Type blokes who are                    married to absolute effing saints like Dorothy. God what she has had to put up with          all these years!
HIM : (Places wine glass carefully into her hand wrapping her fingers around it to stop her           gesticulating her anger)
ME: Do you know what....? No I'll start from the top. So I arrive nice and early to help              clean and Jill and I stand there looking at the four.....FOUR.....sheds still full of 
      his mechanical stuff. Four effing sheds full....nothing shifted....and get this, only              Jill, Dot and I to do it. 
HIM : blokes to help? I mean men? Why are you laughing?
ME:  There are "Blokes" and then there are "Effing Blokes". Stan is in the latter category 
       and he IS an "Effing Bloke".
HIM : You called him a "Tosser Bloke" before.
ME : That is a general term for ALL Blokes Who Think They Know Effing More Than Anyone
        Else -That is your average "Tosser Type".
HIM : So....who shifted all the heavy furniture? (Re-filling her wine glass beginning to
        enjoy this)
HER: Three blokes with a huge truck.
HIM: But they weren't "Tosser-Types"?...
HER : Nah...they were good blokes.
HIM : I think I understand....just might need reassurance here. Am I a good bloke?
HER: You are....completely. I need more wine.....bless you.

HIM: So how did you manage with the various "bloke" types? and all that gear?
HER: Well, Jill and I turned into "Blokettes". AFTER I cleaned the bathroom and HIS
HIM : they don't sleep together?
HER: (puts wine glass down and looks directly at HIM) Living with Stan is                 can't expect her to sleep with him too do you? No I cleaned his bedroom....he
           hadn't even packed his clothes. He was told to last night but apparently he refused           and had a few beers instead. 
HIM: (sharp intake of breath) Oooh I see.
HER: THEN....and this story is not over....when got to the new place, the "effer" ....
HIM: (laughing uproariously) so he's an "effer" now ? Has he graduated? 
HER: (Puts wine glass to one side which makes HIM a bit nervous) You know he                           "supervised" or "farted around" which ever version you want...he did it. All
         talk and no work....or finding things to fix that absolutely did NOT need fixing.
HIM: What about his gear in the horse-truck? (keeping the story back on track)
HER: Well....and you won't believe this....he managed to "supervise" the furniture truck
        guys -they are now "guys" OK? ...
HIM: "Good Guys" right?
HER: Keep up....yes.....he "supervised" the furniture truck so that was wedged in front of          the house so that the horse-truck was blocked in the drive-way and we had to                    wait...effing  wait...until the furniture truck was unloaded before we could unload            the horse truck.

          That's when Jill and I knew it was going to be a VERY LONG DAY.
HIM: So let me get this both gave up your time, the furniture truck guys 
        were being paid by the hour and you couldn't get past the truck to unload and go?
HER: No.
HIM: See....he's only thinking of the cost of the Furniture Removal guys .....are they                 blokes or guys?.....and he won't be thinking about how you and Jill have other things
       to do. That's how a man's brain works.
HER: (looking at HIM carefully)
HER: But it get's effing worse you have no idea! (Big breath)
HER: Then.....the Furniture Guys go. The horse truck moves round to the out-buildings
         and Jill, myself and Dot start to unload compressors, tool kits, lathes, gear off the            truck. Stan bleats about his hernia...and I have to clench my jaw NOT to say a                  word...not an effing word. The three of us heaved, nudged, balanced and scrambled
        up and down the horse truck ramp with an entire life-time's collection of                          "Blokes'"effing useless kit.
HIM: Why didn't he help?
HER: Oh he supervised.....and bleated. The way "Tosser Types" bleat on about their                  medical inconveniences (enunciating every syllable)....and then -Oh you just
        couldn't make this up...(settling in for the final satisfying blast) The previous owner
        arrived to talk about the stock in the paddocks. He also blocked the driveway...
        it's a skill that "Tosser Types" are born with I think.
HIM: How could you tell just from him arriving that he was a "Tosser Type"?
HER: Well, there was the way he parked his ute so that no-one could exit easily...and
        then there was the way he calmly sat down in the out-buildings with Stan and had
        a couple of beers with him. I caught Jill's eye as the beer was opened and we both
        turned away and continued....CONTINUED lugging mowers, chainsaws, girders,                  wood, chains into the shed all around the two Blokes. I slammed things down 
        and we all eye-rolled sighed together out of sight in the horse truck acknowledging            the obscene fact that two Blokes sat down to have a beer while three women                    worked at unloading one Bloke's gear. Neither. Offered. To. Help....AT. ALL.

        Took us three women two hours to clear that horse-truck out. And they watched the          whole time. 
HIM: You would have been fuming.
HER: Oh I was...and I carried on fuming in the horse-truck for the one and half hour drive 
        home with Jill. Poor Jill.
HIM: Was it worth it?
HER: Oh it was worth seeing Dot happy in the new place. Yes. Was it worth being angry              about? I don't know. It kept me going all day though....that anger.
HIM: More wine?

Written with the help of Oisin and Isla

Many thanks,
Fiona MacBride
Tin Shed Yarns

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Planning a Big Project -aka Writing a List

Blocking on the Frame
My Big Project now complete.

For a day I wasn't quite myself because the there was no compulsion to knit.

It was ended and the studio was needing a tidy-up. The 1.73m square shawl was up on the frame in the shed being stretched to its limits and my hands were obsessively tidying, labelling wool samples and photographing the Opus.

I spring-cleaned the house....washing china;

Spring-cleaned display china

Within a week I was back in the shed with fleece in my hands planning again....spinning is the greatest "resolver" of nerves.

The point of finishing a big project with some sanity (I had not lost my mind....maybe my patience a bit) is to be organised; This is why SO many Works In Process become Works in Decommission. 

Advice to me when 8yrs old was "Never start a project until you have finished the one in front of you" and I was scared enough to remember it and follow it.

I have to be clear here -I will never start a project unless I have complete and total control over it's process. Sounds like my typical controlling self but it is the ONLY way to remain sane and have a garment worth the effort at the end.

Working the edging of the shawl.
To handle a project of any size it's important that you are familiar with all of its components. This work involved dyeing, so I needed to re-familiarise myself with that process before starting.

I confess, I did leave choosing the edging stitch right up until I got to it because I just wasn't entirely sure if I was going to be working a side-on knitted edge or not. So yes, one component was not 100% established.

The best things to help are the simplest ones:

1. Get a Manila Folder (I use a ring-binder with dividers for my projects).

2. Use grid paper (I remove the staples from maths exercise books so I have a full A3 size to work with).

3. Use a pencil and an eraser.

4. Scribble your ideas....get them down. Use the backs of surplus print-outs from the printer for non-grid work. Keep everything together in the Manila Folder.

5. Use a Bull-dog clip or large paper-clips to maintain order.

6. Date your scribbles.

7. Itemise the main components and tick-off when you have agreed on the patterns. In my case I had a Centre Pattern, a Border Pattern and an Edge Pattern so that was three things.

8. Establish your construction method -If it's a jersey will you work top-down or bottom up? Will there be steeks? etc. Doing this decides the "joining" features which are intrinsic to your project such as picking up stitches to join vertical and horizontal edges.

9. Sample and swatch for gauge in the pattern you are knitting the project. Determine your stitch count and pattern repeats and determine the rate you are picking up stitches along vertical edges. I was using 8ply so my rate was 2 stitches out of three.

10. Do the maths for the whole project set-up and draw the pattern on your grid paper. If these means learning chart symbols then do it. If your pattern involves a 90 corner then slow down, draw the 45 degree line and be prepared to swear a bit. Don't assume you can knit immediately without drawing the corners first.

Plan and draw corners or any awkward bits well before starting.

11. Get stitch-markers. Get good needles. Get the gear needed for blocking and finishing such as a wool needle, buttons etc.

12. Get the diary out and plan the events you need to be attend and clear your diary for the rest. Establish a routine (I only knit in day-light and in the mornings) where you can work for three hours a day.

13. If the project is for a deadline do the maths for the time needed and add a week for finishing and the usual chaos and drama that goes with being human.

14. Plan a finishing present for yourself...mine is always a glass of bubbles.

Plan your Finishing Present to yourself before actually finishing it....then you can look forward to it.
15. Keep your file with all its bits of paper and samples...they'll be useful one day.

Shawl blocking on my big frame  -with part of dog.

This project took three months from spinning the wool to completion. I worked most days and the only delay was fiddling and faddling over the edging stitch. I could afford that time as I had planned for it.

It's all in the preparation and planning.

Take care,

...and thanks.

Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns
View from Front Door of Tin Shed Yarns

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Keeping Consistent and Meeting the Needs of Knitters.

8ply hand-spun wool in cakes
One of the big favours we spinners perform for the world is linking knitters with farmers.

Knitters are a good bunch usually but they CAN get preoccupied with what their yarn should look and feel like. Too many rely totally on mill-spun yarn blends and do not consider what the raw product actually looks like. I am finding fewer and fewer can confidently substitute a different yarn to work the pattern they are wanting to use. This concerns me because it is exactly the hold the yarn companies want over knitters.....and for a long time that meant women.

My rule for being skilled in something is.....

-when you know what to do when it goes wrong.

My other rule for confidence is.............

-when you see the possibilities of a project appear before you even with only 2/3 of the necessary materials in front of you.

My rule for being in control is............

-when you know what will work because you did the two things above and you really enjoyed it.
A local fleece spun as a 4ply.
When working with raw fleeces and spinning them up for spinners I find that I am asked 2 questions:

                1. What ply is it? (actually the question usually comes out as "What kind of                            wool is it?....I mean what type of wool....I mean is it Double Knit or Single?)

                2. Is it scratchy?

I then have some common ground to cover because they aren't quite ready to "come over to my side". 

My answer to this constant defensiveness (which it is) is to work harder to meet their understandings. 

What the knitters were wanting was wool like they used already -in a consistent 4ply or 8ply density. They also wanted labels and a contact number. This I have done from the outset but hey.....

The biggest thing to get knitters to listen was to produce patterns that "spoke" to them.

Basic Beanie Pattern

Consistent production of singles and plies is something I take particular pride in. I use a wee tool to help as a guide...

After you have got your head around the maths....and it IS worth it -you can check for consistency.

Please understand that you are now in the world of "Wraps Per Inch". Personally, I keep a sample of the yarn single I want at hand and check it throughout the day.

I also recommend this diagram for consideration...

There are any number of charts and guides on yarn densities available on-line. Often they are written for Imperial measurements and are popular with the US markets. When dealing with Ravelry it's one of those details you need to include with any pattern published.

The study of yarn construction becomes important when you are back dealing with customers who are used to mill-spun wool. The fact that you have taken the time and trouble to learn and be confident with the numbers puts you in better shape.

Skeined, plied wool.
I won't discuss the "Is it scratchy?" question here. That's for another time.

Tin Shed Yarns

Fiona MacBride