Friday, 16 September 2016

Spring Time in The Shed

Here, in New Zealand, it is spring.

It crept up on us, this warmth and generosity of blossom.

The plum tree, always the first to display, has become a frosted delight. There are lambs and ducklings everywhere.

This week I helped with a calving.

We go into Daylight Saving mode in a week's time.

I have about six new fleeces to get spring for me is Shed-Time.

The Tin Shed
Isla and I go in there and have a great time. She lies and watches the birds. I draft while the bobbin hums.

It is a magical time. The world stops and fibres run smoothly and evenly under your fingers. You can mull and undo muddles that are in your head. The birds chatter and swoop down to collect grass for nesting. The sun changes position until it bores into the open door of the shed. For about an hour it is warm, then it adjusts its angle and shadows shoot up.

I know to stop when I start to get cold, Isla gets bored, or the spinning isn't as smooth,...usually all three.

I just love working on a new fleece.

Storage for fleeces
The important thing is keeping track of who and where your fleeces are from. This is an important selling point for me when I can tell customers the origin of the fleece.I use archive boxes and this season they have all been neatly labelled with A4 paper to cover up the scribbles. The fleeces are not processed prior to spinning. I skirt as I work.....there is always a bin with "daggy bits". These get soaked in hot water....yup....smelly and when cool, go on to the base of the young sycamore tree by the shed. The wool becomes mulch.

The raw fleece won't get moth-eaten because the lanolin acts as an insect repellent. The cardboard "breathes" allowing moisture out....much the same principle as storing mushrooms in a paper bag.

Direct drive bobbin
Yes, I do use an electric spinner. The simple reasons being two-fold; 1) Capacity 2) Smooth reliable movement. I also ply on an electric spinner. There is no drive band or wheel, so less wear and wobble.

Antiseptic Wipes
While all natural is lovely, hygiene is a must. There are still ladies out there who refuse to work with a raw fleece because they remember getting ringworm as children. I might add that would have been prior to 1950 because it was post-war that farmers here began dosing and vaccinating livestock. Anyway, a simple wipe of the hands and the equipment at the end of a day's work keeps things clean.

End of the day

....and me plying in The Shed


Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns

Friday, 12 August 2016

The Gansey

The Gansey is Finished

This was an epic project.

Weighing at almost a kilo and worked in 2mm needles (double-pointeds and circular) in a 4ply Alpaca which behaved more like a 3ply, I was more than relieved to get to the end of the cuffs and bind off.

There ARE mistakes and I know where they are.

I had wanted to study "The Gansey" for a time now. The simple textural landscape placed in columns and rows made for an honest piece of work. I read Michael Pearson's book and Alice Starmore's book and absorbed many details. Being half-irish and from the North of England, I was familiar with the myth surrounding the garments. I was also happy enough to create a Gansey that had no definite identity.....just a study project. I had no family or regional binds to consider, I was free to re-create with a purpose.

Sleeve pick-up was a little ripply.
This is where Cathy Scott's StitchMastery is invaluable. I could happily fill up all the squares with whatever columns of stitches I wanted. I chose verticals simply because the wearer wanted an all-over pattern and verticals looked good. If there is ever another Gansey it will have the half-pattern around the chest and plain for the rest.....!

Short rows gave the back of the neck a bit of height to allow the collar to tip forward.
Alpaca was a good choice for our climate; while cold right now, we do not need dense wool with the weight for such a large and worked garment. The lightness of the yarn meant pattern could give depth without becoming bulky....and, while it may not be a pleasant saving grace, the fine gauge meant I could hide odd twists and miss-placed moss stitches without it being apparent. This would not be possible with an 8ply hard-twist wool.

Alpaca also has a slight halo as evident in the photo.

Cutting the steek to create an armhole.
The Gansey was worked in the traditional method: Knit in the round to the collar-bone with ribbed columns alongside the steek, saddle-strap created and worked back and forth on DPNs, stitches picked up around arm-hole, steek cut, saddle-strap stitches placed on arm-hole stitch circular needles, and sleeves worked shoulder to cuff. NO SEAMS.

Start of saddle-strap on shoulder.
I look at the work now and I realise how pains-taking it was.

Some very unlady-like words were spoken over this gansey!

Way back at the start with the pattern chart.
I will continue with my Aran studies from here on. 

The Gansey informed the Aran.

My other interest in Irish history is being inspired by the knitting. The Congested Areas Board in Ireland in the mid 19th century set up a development scheme for the West of Ireland where entire villages in the North-East of England and Scotland were re-located to the Aran islands with boats, nets and given housing. The idea was to have the local Islanders work as boat hands and fishermen alongside the imported fisher families and to learn the Herring Fishing trade. The thinking was, the imported families would share their skills, and the islanders would learn the trade and continue it on thereby becoming self-sustaining. 

It also solved the problem too of over-fishing of the herring in the waters of the North-East of England and Scotland and the subsequent hardship endured by the villages along that stretch of coast. Herring was plentiful in the North Atlantic at that time.

Picture was found with Google. These women knitted while waiting for the fleet to come in. 

What actually happened was that the women got to chatting...and then knitting was brought out....and then stitches were copied, explained, tried out, and Ganseys were explained, and one thing led to another.

The Aran jersey was always there as a country garment and appearing in the Country shop window in Dublin in 1940's.

It was the Clancy Brothers appearing on Network Television in USA that rocketed its global appeal.

Detail of saddle-strap going into sleeve cuff.

-Am knitting blankets with wool sliver on broomkstick needles....and not really enjoying it. You'd think I would after the fussiness of the gansey, but I'm finding it difficult to maintain a good even gauge and shape.

-Have a studio visit coming up over Labour Weekend and it has forced me to generally be organised with displays and stuff. 

-Quietly thinking of a cardigan for myself....yes me.

In Blessing

Many thanks and take care

Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Not The Global Market Report...just the local market report.

Farmers' Markets are a fickle experience.

Each one has its own particular feel.

Some are riven by politics and others by snobbery.

There is a culture to markets in general and it is split along Produce/Craft lines as well as Town/Country lines.

With wool I merge all of the above. 

I use three markets and they all have their own clientele and vendors.

I love watching people, especially the vendors.

Invariably there is always the older, loud woman who knows everything and everyone. Her product never changes and she is back every week.

There is the bright young eager one who turns up early and well-organised with a fabulous product and totally cleans up. They are not asked back.

Then there are the dishevelled but charming late-comers with an average product. They do no sales pitch yet they rake in cash just by smiling and tiredly sipping their lattes. They are asked to come in winter when numbers are low.

There are three more types, and these ones I have yet to crack.

There's the little gentle souls who create and collect useful odds and ends for sale and re-sale. They smile and nod and chat freely. I've had entire life-stories. They rarely make a sale and their stall is well, old-school and a bit scruffy. They set up early and leave late. The market is their life.

There's the hard-bitten man/woman selling a product on commission. They are very trying. They threaten to give up each week. They make no friends.

And lastly, the back-bone stall-holder; usually the charity the market exists for....the one that sells sausages in a bread bun or surplus veges from the community gardens. The stall is managed by a rotating schedule of stalwart volunteers.  They are the checkpoint for information and support. They are the heroes.

Packing for market
Actually, I love the market atmosphere. I am glad for this web-site to back me up on details. I am truly fortunate to be able to show-case the wool in a market setting...

....and this morning at The Harvest Market at Te Whare Oranga O Parakai I did particularly well so I am genially disposed to all things market.


Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns

Saturday, 11 June 2016

A Prisoner of One's Project

The Author Has Stepped Away From Her Chair

There's that one project you just can't budge.

The one that so tugged and tempted you. That idea that seemed so benign and called to your very soul...that one classic garment you JUST HAD TO MAKE in order to feel complete.

That project that stood between you and the world.

That project that you designed, that you nursed along, that you bleated on an on about, that project that you firmly took deep breaths over and plunged in. That project that your good friend raised her eyebrows over concerned for your well-being, yes, that one.

That project that where you had iddy-biddy stitches to un-pick, and you're working on 2mm needles. The one where the yarn splits.....and turns to angora when you re-knit it AFTER un-picking.

That project that remains stubbornly short of its completion no matter how many tens of hours you put in...there hardly seems progress.

And you begin to get firm about it's control on you and set deadlines for construction stages. 

You set aside whole days....bundles of days AND evenings.

You present arguments to yourself and your contacts that you cannot be contacted for the time you have set aside.

At First It Was Straightforward
You work and work.

You are relieved when Monday coffee is called off......more time to work!

You now have a resolve to pull it all together and get the body done. You count the pattern repeats to give yourself an idea of the distance needed.

You work.

And work....

And you stay away from the computer, limiting yourself.

You enjoy the small rewards of chocolate, or a wine.

Friends don't ask how you are...they sense the distracted tone of voice and just know you are really elsewhere.

Frantically, manically, you check....and check...

You think of the photos you will show, think of the bubbles you will pop...and the smug way you can explain the shoulder-strap which is yet to come...

...and yet, ...with a half-choked sob realise that in fact, it would be better if ONE MORE pattern repeat was included.

Did the tension change?....yup, probably.

Did I knit too tightly?.....perhaps?

The Point At Which The Author Thought She Had Completed The Body

A calm and considered approach can only be achieved by a drive in the country where I picked up another gorgeous fleece from my supplier Rosemary Donaldson. We chatted to the sheep and to her, and she stroked my dog's face. We all calmed down.

Author Realises She Has Another Diamond Pattern Round To Complete And Is Distraught.

At least I was allowed out of and away from my prison.

And really, it does only mean an extra two days of knitting.

Pride is what did it....believing I could achieve what my sensible knitting friend, Debbie Pengelly said was mad!...and she was right.

Only an immature knitter would tackle a gansey with patterning ALL THE WAY up the body in Alpaca which, while milled as a 4ply, knits as a 2ply....hence my earlier howl.
The Gansey Is Pronounced "One Diamon Short"

But I AM, in secret........, rather liking it's whole look.

That keeps me going...

Plus the chocolate....

....and the wine

I'll be with this project for some time to come.


Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns

Friday, 20 May 2016

My Latest Obsession

Chris' Gansey


In my world it would be fair to say that 2014 was My Year of Lace-Knitting.

I researched, learned, sample and completed a shawl....A (One) shawl. 

Planning for Shawl
Well, there was just one shawl but I did a "Prototype Shawl" before-hand to "learn". This was design story in itself. 

I had turned on my heel out of a Charity Shop when the Baby Blanket I took in was rejected as having too many holes in it. True, the moths had got in and with washing, the fabric had peeled back around said holes. I had been using it as a throw and couch protector. I took the blanket back with a firm jaw and resolved to re-purpose the wool....and so it was the Prototype Shawl was born.

The Prototype Shawl...with Connor

The project was time-consuming but worth the confidence it gave.

Then I took a deep breath, changed the pattern a wee bit, bought a cone of 2ply Alpaca Lace Weight yarn and settled to work. 

Kaipara River Valley Shawl
Lace-knitting is a bit of hurdle for knitters.....and it's one you have to tackle with grit and determination....and muttering!..which I did plenty of. 

It becomes an obsession and you start to see motifs and representations of the natural world in the relief texture created with stitches and gaps. You drool over Shetland Lace books and find that the work in Estonian Lace work is quite understandable; One connects on stitches. 

It's in the blocking that your heart soars to the skies. Once pinned out to stretch you can admire and acknowledge your work....and all that counting...and the un-lady-like language!

Blocking Frame
So, I am now blessed with another obsession, Aran-knitting.

It really has taken over my life.

...and it should.

It is a BIG part of my heritage.

Like lace, I had avoided it, skirted around it, put it off and pretended I couldn't risk it...or at least telling myself that our weather didn't warrant such heavy wool work.

I have nearly all the books.

I know the history.....I know Alice Starmore's work.....I know Michael Pearson's work. I know about the Congested Areas Board in the West of Ireland and how they brought herring fishing families from the North-East of England across to the Aran Islands to develop the fishing industry. The herring industry failed but the Geordie women knitting quayside shared their cabling techniques with the Aran women and the style evolved.

I sample with a child's jersey:

Connor's Aran

I am now in the middle of a jersey in alpaca. The gauge is small. There is good and bad in this decision; 1. Mistakes are more easily absorbed and covered over in small stitches. 2. It takes FOREVER to complete.

I will complete it.....

Chart for Chris' Gansey
But there is still another project in me and it's bugging me.

Cakes of wool at my stall.

I was sitting at the stall at the Hobsonville Point Market looking at my cakes of wool thinking....."That hand-spun 8 ply wool would look gorgeous as a man's jersey...." and the idea WON'T go away, which usually means it has to be followed before it will leave me.

I can talk on and on to anyone who will listen about My Theory On Inspiration and Creativity. 

So I am completing a jersey and dreaming of the next.....TOTAL OBSESSION.

This has been aided and abetted by news and photos from a MacBride Family reunion in Dublin over Easter. There is a strong family link to the 1916 Uprising in Dublin.

This will be an Arts project as much as a garment process......and Exhibition Space might be involved....(cough.)

I am watching Pinterest, Ravelry and am not fainting at the sights......again, a good omen.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Bossy Women

Photo courtesy of PhotoLIBPA

For too many years, I have lived in the shadow of bossy women.

I am certain there are many of you reading this who understand completely. They arrive in your life in roles of authority -usually over yourself. They appear as teachers, nuns, aunties, mothers, nurses, librarians, bus-drivers, sisters, Girl Guide leaders, and so on. You cannot avoid them if you are a child; they are a part of your world.

Somehow, they become just normal, and you adjust and meekly do as told. You learn to refrain from anything but acceptable behaviour. In my case it was part of a British identity, a sort of vestige of the endurance of a nation in the Second World War. 

Growing up, the roles played by bossy women are replaced by shopkeepers, clerks, university lecturers, sisters-in-law and mothers-in-law. Familial female bossy types kept the Family tight,organised and ring-fenced. Everyone knew the rules and kept to them...mostly.

Bossy women did the feminist world no favours -often they were at odds politically anyway. You'd think they could respect each other but no. This confused me for a long time. 

Outspoken did not always mean right. Angry did not always mean correct. Clever, was what I liked. I admired the calm, measured responsiveness I witnessed in the teachers around me in High School teaching.

It took me years to undo the haughty style I defaulted to when annoyed at school. I learned from the clever as well as women. I abandoned the brittle examples I had been surrounded by as a child and practised counting to 10 before replying to a barbed comment or a wind-up from a disruptive student or parent. I remained calmer and got through the day with better energy.

Looking back this was all so simple to see now but somehow at the time one is held in the grip of a jealous, controlling, roiling (as in jam), endurance test.

I walked away from all that...and went knitting.

I have to admit, that while I tried really hard at being calm in teaching, it did not work all the time. That's when you need support because you are standing up to something far larger than you can manage and you are a bit-part in it all.

Back to the cleverness. Now, I am no fan of our present government, but one of our ministers, Paula Bennett (-can be a bit bossy sometimes), has just recently dealt a blow to the blokey-jokey slogans art-worked onto rental camper vans so popular with young back-packer tourists. She is clever. Sure, she is working her behind off to prove herself because that's how our PM runs his cabinet, but bless her, she has done what other male ministers before her ought to have done.

And to finish, a paeon to Victoria Wood. She knew about bossy it's the librarian.

Take care,

Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns

Monday, 11 April 2016

What I Did Over The Summer Part 2


This will be a photo essay on my Summer's Work.

I completed a long-held dream to spin four fleeces (four colours) and design a pattern for the wool.

Here is what I have prepared for an up-coming market....

.....somehow one's wool looks so much better with a label on.

Cakes of hand-spun 8ply.

Samples of Slip-Over in 8ply Hand-Knit with newly-minted Pattern
Samples in different sizes and colours.

Three sizes Large, Medium and Small.
Pattern for Slip-Over for hand-spun 8ply.
Skeins washed and dried.
And so now am a bit bushed.....and the internet frayed my nerves today while trying to up-load my important summer work.

You can buy the Simple Slip-Over Pattern by using the Pay-Pal button on this web-site. It comes in three sizes, One Year old, Two Years Old and Three to Four Years.

Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns