One of the wonderful, and potentially stressful, things about smallholding is the scope. There is so much more than simply raising animals and growing crops. What will you cook with all these varied ingredients? Will you get into preserving such as dehydrating, jams, chutneys, sauces, pickling, juices, homebrew, cordials, vinegars? Then there is dairy production, churning your own butter, yoghurts, cheeses, ice creams. What about baking, savoury and sweet?
The desire to smallhold often comes hand in hand with a desire to be more self sufficient and also to have a lower impact on the planet, smallholders are often quite eco aware. Are you going to make your own cleaning products like soaps? What about building things for yourself? From BBQs and sheds to smokers and solar panels, smallholders often tackle it all. What about carving with wood for art rather than function?
Then you look at what else your animals can give you, meat for sure but with sheep at least you have the by-product of the fleece which needs to be shorn each year. You can spin it (with a drop spindle or wheel), felt it (wet and needle), dye it, make rugs, make ‘vegetarian sheepskins’, weave with it. Don’t forget products from animals that have gone for meat, you have horns, skins, feathers and bones that can also have a use. There’s always a wealth of new skills you can tackle and I have a desire to have a go at them all! In fact I’ve made a pretty good dent on that list already:
Today I wanted to talk a bit about the crafting with wool. This is something I was passionate about for a few years. In the space of a couple of months whilst we were Scotland, with the help of youtube videos, I taught myself to knit. I wasn’t very good to start with but I worked at it and became quite competent. My Mum juggled being a seamstress alongside nursing but I have never been very good with the sewing machine.
I fell in love with my new found ability to make something. It also allowed me to sit down and still feel productive, a bonus when you have a strong drive to always be ‘doing’ but a body that isn’t very healthy. I had a little dabble at crochet but the confusion between US and UK terms seemed to put me off. I can turn my hands to most knitting without much thought but crochet takes much more concentration for me.
I then discovered fibre. I could knit with real wool and using ‘spit and splice’ to join wool was a revelation that made me look at my stash of acrylic wool with a bit of disdain! Then of course came the need to know more.
What about spinning? A wonderful man showed me how to spin with a drop spindle made out of a twig and CD using bits of wool we collected from the fences in a field whilst camping. I was soon the owner of a drop spindle and a lot of roving. Suddenly I was presented with a lovely gift of a spinning wheel. Well once you are spinning it makes sense to go to the source and I ended up with fleece, both that I had bought and that I had been gifted with. That required processing and after a very lucky Christmas I had a drum carder.
Now I had too much fleece to spin and I ended up buying a peg loom to turn the growing pile of fleece into gifts one Christmas. I even bought a dying kit but never plucked up the courage to use it. My mother in law presented me with a huge loom that is wrapped up as individual pieces, I still haven’t plucked up the courage to unwrap it and put it together yet. Can you see how it is a slippery slope? At the very least I was always walking with at least one knitting project and I mean that literally, I could walk and knit at the same time.
Then I had my daughter and my focus switched to mothering. I didn’t seem to have time between moving to the smallholding and trying to raise her to do much crafting. I have tried a couple of times to pick up a knitting or crochet project but it has been slow progress and I have had very few finished objects since I had her. I have managed to make two peg loom rugs which are getting a lot of use. I did a demo on it at an event for our smallholding club which re-ignited the flame a little.
Our smallholding club (which I love) has been having a wave of starting up small interest groups (winemaking, wooly crafts, cheese making adding to the existing music, growing and baking groups). Despite being pregnant and seeing the imminent demise of ‘me’ time I signed up to the group. We have only had two meetings (one a month) but my word my passion for crafting has been reignited. After the first one I took some time to grab the rovings I made about 5 years ago and dusted off the drop spindle. I need to work on my technique again but it’s at the very least smoother than when I first started with it so I haven’t slid too far backwards.
Next we had a felting meeting coming up. I had briefly dabbled with needle felting whilst at a camp last year. I made a very thin crescent moon and then forgot about it all. The aim was to do something with the bits of our fleece that are too small to be used in the pegloom rugs (the main destination for our fleeces). I figured I might be able to pick up some tips at this meeting so I dusted it off, grabbed some raw Castlemilk wool that I had bought when smallholding was still a dream and had a go at making a sheep. It’s certainly mammalian, I’m not sure if it is a sheep and you haven’t got much of a chance of guessing it was meant to be a Castlemilk but it was a experiment and I was quite happy. It took me about an hour. My awful start at knitting gives me hope that I can master this skill, I won’t be put off by a rough start!
The felting meeting was great, we made a wet felt flower with pre-dyed wool and it is something I can see me doing with Chi. It was meant to be a poppy but it came out quite big so I’m not sure I will wear it but it does look lovely. It’s something I can see myself doing during the summer months with Chi.
Following that I decided to have a go at the needle felt sheep with clean, carded wool. I bit the bullet and decided to give washing fleece in the washing machine a go as people in the group were confirming it worked. It was a bit terrifying and I did felt one (used a denim cycle instead of wool as they are next to each other) but it is working well and I think I could get through a lot of fleece this way! The fleece shown was very dirty to start with and was a bit dirty after the wash so I put it through for a second run. It came out cleaner but still a bit dirty on the tips. It wasn’t a great one to start with but it didn’t felt, the body side is a bit more tangled on the net bag one though, not quite felted but you can see it starting. I’ll go with pillow cases from here on out.
The drum carder got a dusting off due to another smallholder in the group being excited about them and getting one. I carded my freshly washed wool and set about making a new sheep. It’s very different working with carded wool than with raw fleece, the sheep has been a lot easier to put together and isn’t half as lumpy. I’m still working on getting the proportions right, the back legs are a bit thick, and the head is giving me some trouble but it feels like I am improving which is the aim.
Now another friend is experimenting with acid dyes on spun wool and I’m starting to eye up my dusty dying kit and thinking about putting together that loom. I have 5 reasonably sized white fleeces, 2 huge white fleeces, 1 huge black fleece and 19 of our own fleeces sitting around getting dusty so I have plenty to choose from for experiments.
All in all I am feeling reinvigorated about crafting and I love it. It is something I have really missed. I know baby is due in August but I am hoping I can find some way to keep going to the meetings and keep a bit of me time for crafting this time around. In the meantime I’m going to get as much as I can made before baby arrives. Hopefully this has given you a bit of an intro about me as a crafter and will help my future posts make a bit more sense!
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