carding wool

We’ve had a series of early autumn afternoons that were just right for sitting out on the porch, drenched in pale sunshine, and doing some handwork. I’ve been carding wool.

carding wool

This is a bit of local fleece, already washed by a friend. It’s full of woody bits, so carding outside is perfect as it sends them flying. I love the action of pulling at the fibres, with the carders brushing in opposite directions, large arm movements and strong ones. The sound! Therapeutic. And a workout, the pleasing, destructive-productive kind, like wedging clay or hammering hot iron. Then small movements, with the carders paired handle-to-handle, to roll up the fibre again, all clean and brushed out in beautiful alignment, ready to spin, or full, or needle-felt, or stuff into some kind of wonderfully useful thing, which is what I’m doing with it. Speaking of ready to spin, I’ve set up the old spinning wheel I’d brought from England, I want to show you very soon.

You might like to read about our experiments in dyeing wool with plants, too.

dyeing wool

The casual mentorship by family and friends in my life, introducing me to skills, tools, techniques, gives me tremendous courage. For months I’ve been actively avoiding a fleece, a wonderful big Jacob’s fleece that my sweetheart bought for a few quid at the farm shop. I’d never so much as watched someone washing or carding a fleece. Finally, my sweet friend Caz’s invitation to bring some wool and do some plant-dyeing over at Trefoil Farm School moved me to action. You know, the morning of our date. In fact it wasn’t difficult, or that messy. Out in the garden I clipped the tougher bits of wool from the fleece and put the rest into a tub of luke-warm, dish-soapy water, gently worked it, and repeated. Just to clean it a little and remove some of the oils. It’s amazing what scares me!

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At the farm school, such a peaceful place, handmade buildings and everything beautiful, we set up at a table outside and the children all helped to card some wool. More about carding later – I’m very much in love with it!

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The wool and yarn were placed in hot water, to soak before the dyebath.

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Caz has a gorgeous collection of dyer’s books. We used Wild Colour, a copy of which I plan to get my hands on. Tansy!

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We used dried tansy, prepare the day before. I think Caz had cooked the plant material and left it to soak and release more colour.

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The plant-dye was strained off;

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A mordant, one chosen to pop up the yellow colour, was added, carefully;

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And all the wool added to the pot and set on the stove to heat for half an hour. The effect when dry was very subtle. More experimentation!

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Most exciting of this process of dyeing wool with plants is feeling like we can begin wonderful experiments in colour now, with that courage you get from being shown how by a good friend. I have a red cabbage in the fridge and nettles in the garden that I might try first.

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You might like a couple of images I made of the plant-dying, spinning and weaving projects Caz does with the sweet children at the farm school. I think her fibre work is so beautiful. Thank you Caz, and everyone at Trefoil for the tremendous inspiration!

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