Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Saying "Goodbye" to 2016

Sunset light on the hills

This piece of writing has been brewing for a wee while in my head and while important to "get it out and down" it is not a rant, more a firm assessment of the year that is just finishing.

Next year I turn 55. It's a weird age....not old but not youthful either. I have become a bit more solid at the waist and I am doing my level best to accept it. I stopped dyeing the hair some years ago but have noticed my "bob" on far too many other women. I think I am facing the horror of being counted in that tribe of females I really don't want to be part of: Middle-Aged and Grey, driving a small hatchback and living mostly alone. 

I face it down regularly now, though not always calmly, and I defiantly cling to a sense of style outside of T-shirts and leggings. Today is a Liberty print sleeveless top with half-belt and 3/4 capris...and always war-paint!

I do my best.

This year has been a "crossroads" year for me. I have heard other women frame the years from 53-56 in much the same terms; the years when they stopped pleasing everyone, the years when they only started to really live their own lives, the year when they no longer had to care for parents and actually began to look after themselves.

I have heard women of these years talk about how they were determined to do that course, or open that studio, or finish that degree, do that Great Walk, or travel to that place.

For too many of us these years mean we get to suddenly be ourselves when it was denied prior by family responsibilities and obligations.

In my case, I made a firm decision not to tolerate tantrums from the adults in my life.

It wasn't easy to explain to everyone and it still is not completely understood, but it will, in the future. 

Essentially I now remove myself from potentially toxic situations and I am a great deal happier for it. 

I made the decision earlier this year and it's a life-changing one.

2016 was the year I charted the Family Map and found very interesting dusty corners of our history.... 

2016 was the year I reached out to my Irish Diaspora through Facebook. I found cousins, aunts, and photographs !!!!!

I began research on the Workhouse system in Mayo, Ireland.

I worked a gansey in alpaca for Chris...

Chris' Alpaca

I did the markets and sold wool...

I held an Open Studio in October and developed my profile as an honest artisan.

I maintained this web-site and set up a Facebook page too.

In short, I worked hard and just stopped putting up with rubbish. I am well-used to saying "no". 

I am learning not feel guilty about stuff from the past...this is the hard bit. Guilt gnaws at you.

But, if you watch any Teflon-Coated politician you can learn a lot about the Dark Art of not caring.

Seeing an end to 2016

Look out 2017: Big Stuff....more research.....and better writing.

Take care,

Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Techo-Bug Baby Dragon

Highway 16 Cowl in its first launch onto Ravelry

Most of you will have realised that my knitting patterns are free. 

All of them are tested and two are professionally tech-edited.

One of them is due a re-write soon. I do this regularly anyway, and always after feedback.

Charging for patterns is a simple technological problem for me due to Tax Regulations overseas; Ethically I have no problem with Tax, but the system put in place for e-sales into the EU does not give me any confidence. I did research the whole process and it seemed simple enough but at the back of it all were the three monsters - The Fear of Being Audited By HMRC, The Need For Fast, Reliable Broadband, and Global Time Differences.

I have had enough experience with Government Departments to know that you need to have sufficient evidence for your defence and a willingness to work with whatever requests and impositions are put on you. Being audited by the Inland Revenue Department is scary and it's in your best interests not to invite suspicion. 

Fast, Reliable Broadband on the outer edge of Auckland City is a myth, a desirable and coveted thing...an aspiration perhaps. 

....and lastly, Global Time Differences for me here in NZ mean delays and waiting up at night to make a futile overseas phone call to a call-centre that is closed.

So, the decision to keep my life simple meant not charging for patterns.


-that does not mean the monsters are all appeased. I still have another one, a baby monster if you like, a playful dragon who roars and charges around occasionally through the back of Ravelry, Scribd and Blogspot chewing through links and nudging pages off their URL.

Me in the Highway 16 Lace Cowl hiding from the Techo-Bug Dragon
I use Blogspot for my web-page because it is free and it carries graphics and text reasonably well. I use Ravelry for display as it is free, perfect for knitters and formats information beautifully. I use Scribd for hosting my patterns because it is free and I can load large files there. To make all three sites hold hands, I have to point the links from Ravelry and Blogspot onto Scribd. Most of the time these web-sites all play nicely, but it doesn't take much before the baby Techo-Bug Dragon stomps around waving his head and tail knocking things over.

It's when they fall over that I generally start getting messages from knitters. I am eternally grateful for the patience of these people...and again, Gobal Time Differences come into the mix so delays abound. 

Whether it was wisdom or common sense or whether moving up a technological notch was just going to be too much for me to handle, I am relieved that the worry of pleasing paying customers by selling downloads of patterns never became a thing. I can relax knowing that "Free" means "I am willing to share so long as you know that this web-site is not a Hot-Shot Slick Techo thang!" ....it's a humble little venture and I am learning as I go along.

Highway16 Cowl without the Tech-Bug Dragon
So if you ever have trouble reaching the relevant sites I can send the file to you personally....have done that a few times already.

I do not want to move from free and accessible sites but it may be necessary if you and I are constantly being let down.

The pattern above (and down-loadable from the side-bar) was the latest to suffer from the Dragon Baby Tech-Bugs. It's still a popular one. I still wear the sample and it's a good entry into lace-knitting.

Please take care,


Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns

Thursday, 3 November 2016

The Balanced Row....or....spot the mistake

Can you spot the mistake in this chart?

For too long lace charts were a silent menace to me.

Their matching cousins, "The Abbreviations"  were just mean, jeering, playground bullies.

SSK translated as a string of curses while K2Tog was the nickname of a thug. 

I could manage with the charts in the Burda Magazines because visually it was all laid out and as I come from a dressmaking background, I had no dilemma with garment construction.

Lace-knitting was a mystery and only for The Few.

While the battle for mastery of knitting was a personal battle for me, printed instructions for lace were undergoing their own global truce talks. In the Eighties charts were becoming more standardised in magazines and books while the matching abbreviations slunk off into two positions, American or British. Interestingly it was the Europeans who charmingly continued on in charts or with basic schematic drawings expecting one to make fabric to match; Fabulously unconcerned by customer queries.

Soooooo........here in 2016, feelings have thawed and British and American designers and publishers have simply put UK and US abbreviation versions together in the key alongside UK and US needle sizes. 

And here is where I get to explaining that the software programme I use carries more then one standard abbreviation for the symbol that represents the stitch...even I have had to disseminate the vagueries of decades of cold-war knitting symbols.

So when I began designing for lace-knitting, I was indeed more than a little nervous about the responsibility.

Have you worked out the mistake in that chart at the top?.....there's a clue in the key as one stitch symbol has been highlighted.

The mistake is not so much about THE WRONG STITCH but more about the "adding up" of all the stitches at the end of the row.

This is the corrected version......rows 7 and 15 would have been one stitch too long if you had followed the chart at the top. In the amended version I have placed a double centred decrease to capture that extra stitch and give symmetry to the design.

....and this all came about because I picked that original pattern from a Stitch Dictionary and I never thought there would be a mistake...shows you!

Fish Scale Lace as part of the Kilsalagh Lace Stole
I am grateful to my friend Pat McCormack who undertook a review of this early pattern of mine. It is now ready for download in the side-bar.

Take care,

Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Blending a Combed Top and Sorting a Fleece

In The Tin Shed Yarns Shed
If you are going to spin a whole fleece from scratch and it's not all one colour, you need to have a plan.

Here are 13 Steps and Four Big Decisions you will be making before starting the huge task of spinning a whole fleece.

1. Go somewhere where you can make a dusty mess and lay an old sheet on the floor/ground. This is nice to do in the summer when the light is good and the warmth makes the lanolin in the fleece shine. Get two large baskets (see mine above) and an old bucket. Make yourself a cup of coffee because you will be working quite hard for the next hour or so.

2. Tip out the entire fleece onto the sheet and spread it out. Don't break up the staples....just roll bunched bits out.

3. Stand back and assess the colours in your fleece. Is it grey-dominant?......brown-dominant?

4. FIRST BIG DECISION Decide what colour you really like and what will be a "support" or accent colour; In other words, work out the rough percentage of dominant and accent colour.

Two baskets, two colours, one fleece....being processed in the shed. 
5. Sort the fleece into your two colours. Use baskets or hessian sacks or cardboard boxes for storage. 

6. Pull out "daggy" bits * and any staples shorter than your little finger, place in the old bucket and leave to soak in hot water....for as long as you can stand. Pour the fluid over your roses and use the wet left-overs as mulch around the base of a tree or bush.

7. Sit back, take stock, and have another coffee. Basically you have done the first step. While you were sorting you probably came across really soft underbelly wool and really wiry protective wool. Some spinners like to do a further sort at this point and totally remove the soft belly wool for other projects. The two types of wool have different properties and need further work to make them usable. This is a technical consideration that comes in all fleeces, coloured or not.

8. SECOND BIG DECISION Your next decision is whether to spin in the direction of the fleece's fibres or whether to spin across the direction of the fibres. You would have been muttering to yourself about this decision all through the colour sorting. If you are not sure, do some sampling. If you are going to spin across the fibre direction (worsted) you will be in for a lot more preparation from here on, but you will have a finer, well-blended yarn.

Preparing wool staples for worsted spinning. These will be combed individually, laid out across a flat carding surface then rolled with a flick carder into an airy sausage from tip to cut end. These sausages (rolags) are then spun individually from the inside out into a fine single. There is little drafting at the wheel.....the fibre preparation should be enough not to need it. It's a method used for lace knitting.
9. I will continue in the woollen spun method. I like to use a hackle and wool-comb. Drum-carders were popular when fleeces were not so readily available and when spinners were forced to work with shorter staples. You could make rolags as described above. Colour-blenders (me too) took to them in the nineties with new enthusiasm. These days, a new lot of spinners want whole fibres, and want control over the whole process. A hackle allows for combing, blending and wool preparation in one step....and it's one piece of equipment. So.....go get your hackle out, or at least clamp your wool-combs to your work-bench.

My double-toothed hackle 

10. Organise your life so that you get time each day for getting the fleece combed and blended. In a morning I can get TWO loads pulled through the hackle and spun. This provides me with 50gm of singles for 4ply.

11. THIRD BIG DECISION. Am I making yarn to match mill-spun or just what I feel like? I will only comment on density here; get yourself a Spinner's Yarn Gauge. To work consistently producing the same density means checking with one of these contraptions. If you live and operate outside of the US you will have to translate back into metric measurements.

12. There is only one more decision after this. 

My current fleece is brown dominant with a grey outer coat. I have layered the hackle with 2 parts brown and one part grey. I pull the wool through a diz working up and down and from right to left, clearing all the wool stacked in the hackle.

Starting a stack in the hackle. 
13. FOURTH BIG DECISION What amounts are you working to?....50gm balls?....100gm skeins?. You will need some kitchen scales and after a while you will will be considering volume and capacity on your bobbins. Two bobbins of 50gm amounts will ply up to 100gm....that's a lot for a small bobbin on a small wheel.

In the middle of all this work you will find that you are;

a) Organised
b) Happy
c) Proud of your consistency
d) Working more smoothly
e) Knowledgeable on all-things-fleecy
f) Considering equipment with more capacity
g) And if nothing else, tenacious.

Combed top pulled through a hackle ready for a high-twist spin for 4ply yarn.

Or......send your entire fleece off to a machine-carder.


Fiona MacBride

Tin Shed Yarns

* Daggy" bits are those parts of the fleece coated in excrement.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Know Your Variables

The Author's Studio

There is something fundamentally different about the way artistic people and scientific people go about seeing and solving problems.

You all know what I mean. There are those who plan out a garden and remain completely cool and calm and know exactly what they are envisaging. They will probably remove generous old citrus trees to achieve that goal but it will be done with precision, measurements, a spreadsheet, weed mat, some truck deliveries of top soil and gravel and serious assessments in gumboots. The garden will be completed swiftly and it will be very straightforward.

Artistic people tend to embrace romanticism and some chaos. Their garden has a sort of plan...mostly based around what is already there. The citrus tree remains, the top soil goes down on top of with old newspapers and cardboard, and crumbling bricks are scavenged, cleaned, and used as edgings. Stolen cuttings nursed on the kitchen window sill are carefully stowed in the soil, and the wild nasturtium is nudged over to pretty it all up. And that is just one corner. The rest will come when there are enough old newspapers and cuttings.

The Garden at Tin Shed Yarns
You might sense that I fit the latter.

Well yes and no.

I have lived with a completely focused scientific person and maybe some of that clear-sighted appraisal rubbed off.

To be honest, when it comes to my work in knit design I have to think as an engineer. The romance of a gentle curved edge on a shawl comes after some numbers are studied. It's getting easier now. 

For too many years I didn't trust numbers because all too often I would have my tenuous understanding of a maths principle pulled from under me by colder aggressive people who just seemed to know more and skipped all the steps to get the answer first. The fact that a mathematical problem could be worked through steps and carefully and by calm thinking, a single number would emerge as the answer, was in itself a strange and thrilling thing for me. Numbers slowly became more reliable and trustworthy simply because they were no longer put before me as a test. They no longer scared me.

This all came together when I trained to be a teacher. 

Non-Scientific Scribbles by The Author....aka designing.
Maths became not a matter of what you know or how swiftly you come up with the answer, but more about how you think your way through a problem...sifting the factors and laying aside what is not important. 

It was huge relief to find I was not the only one who thought algebra was another language altogether...one I was denied entry to because I didn't keep up with the rest of the class. 

I was much better at sorting out things in chaos; I could easily and calmly identify problems coming at me and could prioritise my attention and energy. I would have made a good triage nurse.

...but algebraic functions daunted me for too many years.....they were a decisive judgement on my ability and I was scared of them.

A new project bristling with markers.
In the end, I went into primary teaching armed with two important skills; 1. I completely understood the fear around maths. 2; I completely understood the fear around learning to swim as an older child.

I was good at teaching both....because I had been scared of both. 

Then, a hundred years later (well 10yrs maybe), a university lecturer in architecture was bemoaning having to take her first year students through the whole business of logarithms and how trying it was because none of them had really learnt about them. She talked of having to get the maths department to unearth the old logarithm tables books. I nodded at the memory of those awful, bewildering pages. I was almost keeping up with her when she shot a cold comment at me, "Of course you know why we have to teach them about logarithms don't you?....."

You see, here I took a deep breath, smiled, and said "I struggled with algebra so you will have to tell me about why you need logarithms in architecture." I wasn't ashamed. just honest.

Blessedly she went on with her story, and she said something that changed my life forever: When you design a theatre you need to know about sound waves and logarithms are the maths behind the rate at which something might happen. Architects have to predict how sound waves will bounce around a space. 

In films there is a technique where the character stares straight ahead and the surrounding world sucks back isolating that person in a moment of dumb-struck enlightenment. That was me then at that moment when I understood why we studied logarithms in maths.

Hand spun wool in a project requiring some maths to work out a lace insertion.
In a knit project, some parts will remain constant and others will change with increases. It means you must know the variables....all your variables...before you commit to writing a pattern. In NCEA maths (National Certificate of Education and Achievement), problems have to be broken down from the words into numbers or variables. This alone is the single most difficult step for any 15 yr old. Artistic types get caught up in all the relationships between the people who are borrowing or lending money to each other in the maths problem while the scientific types are completely ignoring them and often don't know how to nurture friendships anyway. 

Not attaching emotions to numbers is an exercise in detachment....anyone who plans their budget knows this.

Renewing one's relationship with maths over the years is a grown-up challenging thing to do. How else can you plan the metreage of fabric in a quilt unless you know exactly how big that triangle motif will be.....that's The Sine and Cosine Rule jumping up and laughing in your face again, just like it did when you were 15.

Flick it aside and take ownership...it's your project, take control and do it well!

All the best,

Fiona MacBride

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 through....so 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