This morning I finally decided what to do with some yarn oddments: some natural black Hebridean and plant-dyed mill-spun Cheviot. It was going to be for a scarf, but now I’m thinking of felting it and cutting it into lengths for purses.
Denise: As Jonathan has already remarked, here and elsewhere, I’m recovering from my operation much more quickly – and apparently more completely – than anyone had expected. That said, there’s only so much repair work a body can take, so I really have to avoid heavy strains on my abdomen. It seems though, that doesn’t mean giving up this or that task, but rather modifying how I do them, and of course that’s still likely to mean J doing some of the things I used to.
Spinning, for example. I had feared that I might have to entirely give up spinning with a wheel, and instead rely on an electric spinner. We’ve had an Ashford electric spinner since just after my first operation a few years ago, but I found it too slow (especially tedious for plying!), and though J likes to use it, both for his own production spinning, and when he’s teaching students to spin. We both criticise it for the various switches and knobs can only be operated by hand, and are awkward to reach: it would be better with a foot pedal like that provided with a sewing machine.
I have looked on the internet for other electric spinners, but they are all very expensive, and I can’t seem to get information on how the controls work, and how ‘fast’ it is. And there’s something else that holds me back: an electric spinner is not, simply not, deep down, the same – culturally, aesthetically, even practically – the same as spinning with a wheel. If there were only electric spinners – no wheels, it’s unlikely either of us would ever have been inspired to spin in the first place.
So, in recent days, I’ve experimented with other types of spinning wheels. We have those as well – in fact we have an entire fleet of spinning wheels! We use most of them for tuition purposes: in fact I’ve used them only in order to be able to teach others to use them. I’ve recently looked into how I get on with our Ashford Traveller – not just for spinning-for-pleasure, but spinning-for-profit.
The Traveller uses the same flyer and bobbin configuration as the Ashford Traditional, but with a smaller wheel: the drive ratio is significantly lower as a result – and thus also the potential maximum production rate. This means that for the same amount of finished wool, the power applied through the legs, feet and joints is less on the Traveller – but I’d need to keep up that effort for longer.
[J: The total work effort is the same however. If D were electrically powered: less kW, more h, the same kWh in total!]
The Traveller has another feature which – in my circumstances – truly makes a decisive difference. Unlike the Traditional, the Traveller is not powered by foot … but by feet – two feet, to be precise. Instead of one largish treadle board, with a single connecting rod and crank, the Traveller has two smaller boards, each connected to the drive wheel axle via its own rod and crank.
J says they’re opposed to each other, which to me sounds like a criticism, but he says it nodding approvingly, so he clearly thinks otherwise.
[J: A few years ago, Ashford started offering the Traditional with a double-treadle option. All three of our Traditionals all pre-date that innovation!]
What it means is this: when one treadle is up, the other is down, and as you press one down, the other comes back up. Yup, like cycle pedals, J says. ‘Gotcha!’
This means the work effort is shared between both feet, both ankles, legs, knees and hips. And I’m finding that I work with a more ‘symmetrical’ and balanced posture. I feel more relaxed.
In fact, I feel relaxed enough about restarting productive spinning that I’ve decided to produce some skeins of handspun wool for you lovely people to order from the Hebridean Woolshed’s website – in time for Christmas. I’ve recently sold – from existing stock – some Uist Landscapes hand-spun merino, and we’ve received tentative enquiries from others for skeins of Atlantic, Peat Stack or other colours from this range. So, we’ve decided on this …
We’ve re-opened our website for online purchases of Uist Landscapes hand-spun merino DK yarns. Orders received by 10th December will be hand-spun to order, and delivered to you by Christmas. (For delivery to outside the UK, please enquire as soon as possible.)
Normal service resumes!
Denise: We’re ‘wall dressing’ at Carrick. Here’s two paintings – well, limited edition prints of paintings! – by a leading Uist artist, Judith Entwistle-Baker. They’re fairly big – emphasizing the dramatic scenes of St Kilda (an archipelago – now uninhabited – 50 miles or so west of the Outer Hebrides). One of these will be hung in the lobby, the other in the hall.
[Click on either picture to see it full size.]
Jonathan: Tomorrow, Denise will be on the morning flight from Benbecula to Stornoway. She’ll be back a week later. She’ll be having a very quiet time. Breakfast in bed. Reading in bed. Knitting in bed. Everything in bed. But it’ll not be a holiday!
Stornoway, on the east coast of the northern-most island of Lewis, is the largest town of the Outer Hebrides. Indeed it is the islands’ only proper town: and as such it is the principal settlement, seat of local government, and the centre of administration and operations for many other public institutions.
Accustomed as we are to a simple quiet country life, Stornoway – and indeed much of Lewis – seems almost a foreign land. There, in Gaelic, the weather is gendered masculine – not feminine as it is here: that seems to sum up the differences very neatly! We have very little reason or inclination to go to Stornoway, and in fifteen years Denise has been there on just three occasions. Once was with me in 2005 to see Runrig at the Hebridean Celtic Festival, the other two were both last year, and for the same reason as this impending visit. Hospital. Surgery.
Hopefully this trip will sort the problem out for good. She’ll be home, hopefully, late next week, but she’ll require a long period of rest and recuperation. It could be some weeks before she’s out of bed, and perhaps even a year before it’s safe for her to do the kind of physical work she’s used to – especially in the garden. She’ll be very frustrated at times – but she’s just going to have to make the best of it.
Between the autumn and spring equinoxes, the weather in the islands is frequently severe, sometimes savage, and indoor occupations are an essential to surviving the winters. For us, winter’s a time for planning and preparing for the following summer: designing garments, spinning and dyeing yarns, weaving, knitting, packaging … along with ordering seeds and supplies for the garden, cooking marmalades, painting and decorating the holiday cottages, refreshing or even rebuilding of websites … It’s a busy time of year for us – possibly even busier than summer – but mostly spent indoors.
This year, we’ll be as busy as ever – but with a twist. Much of what Denise normally does – her daily routines and more physical tasks – will fall to me. No doubt that’ll be subject to her tuition and supervision! Without a doubt, it will! Denise will have more time for quiet thought and gentle hand-work. Together, we see this winter as an opportunity for research and reorientation – discovering new ideas, learning new skills, and steering ourselves in new directions.
New directions … or perhaps better put, new expressions. New ways to express our core values, which are at once both very simple and very complex. Keywords: Natural ; Local ; Self-made ; Hand-made ; Indigenous ; Traditional ; Skilled ; Useful ; Unique ; Simple ; Tangible ; Personal ; Intrinsic, Connected, Universal …
Over this winter, and continuing over the coming years, we’ll be steering ourselves clear of the creeping gravitational pull of mass consumerism, locking onto a path defined by those values we always have and always will hold dearest. Some of what we have been doing in recent times will fall away.
The first of our Uist Landscapes range of hand-spun merino wools was a one-off. We think it may have been in 2006 and in the colours we now call Atlantic. It was instantly popular – and still is the most in demand. Denise tried other colours. They were very popular too. We started to buy the pre-coloured merino tops in bulk, to reduce cost.
To maximize on the investment, we devised the Uist Landscapes range, and gave each colour a name. Denise perfected the spinning to produce the yarns extremely consistently, so that customers could buy a number of skeins – for a large project – with confidence ; and so that if they later found they needed more, they could order another skein or two – and it would match up with what they bought before. As a result, sales of Uist Landscapes, and everything made with them, continued to grow.
Most of the stock for each summer is built up during the preceding winter. Each year Denise has spun more than the previous winter, but each year it’s earlier and earlier in the summer that Denise finds she needs to spin more to maintain stock in the garden shop or at Kildonan. And this pressure to produce – to re-produce old ideas, is at the expense of time to think, to create the new. Isn’t this what it means to be a victim of your own success? It isn’t really what we set out to do!
Denise’s will not be able to do much spinning this winter. Plying of singles into 2-ply yarns will be out of the question for quite a few months. I don’t have the high level of skill required for this particular work. We have therefore taken the decision, in principle, to discontinue Uist Landscapes. However, as we have a lot of material in stock, it will be a few years until the last skein is sold, so for those in need of an additional skein or two, rest assured we’ll not let your project remain unfinished! Otherwise we will be using the remaining stock of merino ‘tops’ more spontaneously, with ad-hoc designs in very limited quantities – never to be repeated.
More importantly, we’ll working with a multitude of fresh ideas and new materials and techniques. What these will result in … ? Well, we may give some glimpses of work-in-progress, over the winter; but as we ourselves, right now, have absolutely no idea, you’ll have to wait until next Easter (when we re-open the Hebridean Woolshed’s garden shop for the summer) to find out!
Denise is taking with her, to hospital, a few skeins of black Shetland with silk …