Sorting sheep

Grimwith ReservoirToday I went for a walkabout at Grimwith Reservoir with Karen and Catherine from the YDNPA. As you can see from the photo it was a little grey and what you can’t see is how windy it was. My face is glowing from wind burn but it’s such a beautiful spot that I don’t mind. We were lucky enough to see a couple of curlews but they flew off before I could get the camera out, however we did see a deer. A good walk.

So many ideas now. From a design perspective it would be great if the bird were bigger, from a felting perspective, I’ll probably be glad it’s not. I’m thinking about: mixing more colours into the greens to represent flowers, including structures from the locality e.g. the stone ditch border on the right and the crests whipped up by the wind on the water. I was surprised to discover that there’s been coal mining in the area. There are 17th Century buildings and even one with a heather thatch.

stoneThere are lots of ideas bouncing around in my head, it makes meI feel as though I have a large pen full of sheep in there and each time I try to sort them they dash off in different directions. Then I get sidetracked by one particularly interesting one and forget which sheep I was looking for. This is the point at which I need to take a deep breath and start reining it all back in or there’ll be so much on the curlew it’ll be in danger of being spoilt. It probably doesn’t help that I’m baking a cake, listening to my daughter recounting her day at school and writing this at the same time.

It is possible to obtain the fleece of a Swaledale sheep but time is marching on and I need to start dyeing so I’m going to use commercially available tops. I’ve also decided (as I write this) that much as I’d like to use this opportunity to learn more about natural dyes, the important aspect to me, on this project, is to use Swaledale wool and I will use chemical dyes if it becomes necessary to obtain the colours I need within the timescale.

Writing this is helping my brain to settle and focus, I’m off now to jot down a list of design ideas so I can start paring it down and refocusing on my original idea.

First Samples

As I’m now meeting Karen at the reservoir on Friday, it leaves today free to make some samples and to research and play with a few dyes. Swaledale sheep are traditionally hill sheep and the fibre is, as might be expected, a stronger, coarser fibre than the merino that many people use for felting and which means it will take longer to felt. The fibres are pale grey / black in colour which means that when dyed, you don’t get a solid colour. Depending on what project you’re doing, this can be good or bad – I think it’s going to look great on the curlew.

My first two samples are to check how the Swaledale fibres felt and how to achieve the shape of a leafless tree within the felt. The inspiration for the tree came from a photo I saw in the Mediastorehouse. I have boucle yarn which I’m keen to use to give the tree a little more texture so I’ve corded this and put it at various thicknesses both between the layers of fibre and on top. In my bit box was a felt roll which I also sandwiched between the layers. Even at 10 strands the cord loses too much definition during felting, the roll however gives a really good result so this is what I will use to create the tree on the curlew. Great – first decision made! The fibres took a little longer in the wet and set stage (sorry, felting speak – they were wetted and rubbed until holding together well) but shrank well during the rolling process used to harden the felt.

dyed_samplesMeanwhile I decided to try some dyes from the kitchen cupboard and you can see the results for yourself. The turmeric was particularly successful. After researching further I’ve decided I don’t have a lot of time to complete all my own natural dyeing so have taken the decision to use some other sheep fibres within the felt to achieve some colours. If I need browns I’ll use Shetland fibres and have sourced some pre-dyed Blue Faced Leicester from Wheeldale Woolcrafts to use for blues, reds and purples. To add further texture I’ve decided to add Teeswater and Wensleydale curls into the mix. All of these are native British breeds of sheep.

The only colours I now need to dye the fibre in are greens and yellows. I think I’ve found a great yellow already but would like to add another shade to this and I need at least three greens. My thanks to Sylvia for offering to go plant gathering and to Yvonne for pointing me at some great sites on the internet. For anyone who’d like a little more information try Country Lovers and Wild Colours. Roll on Friday, when I’ll visit the reservoir and I’m also hoping to receive my curlew then.

P.S. We went to Bradford Industrial Museum at the weekend and in the rag rug exhibition was (you’ve guessed it) a polar bear. To drive my husband totally nuts we then found a picture of a crocheted hamster. And he thought he was kidding.

Chuffed to bits

Some while ago I put myself forward to be involved in the Flight of Fancy section of the Grassington Festival. The idea is to involve artists in decorating a fibre glass curlew.

I was chuffed to get the email telling me I’d been chosen by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority to produce its curlew. The Park chose me because it liked my idea to use moorland to shore (the curlew’s natural habitat) as the base for the decoration. This year is the 60th anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) is organising celebrations, some of which are to take place at Grimwith, a reservoir surrounded by moorland in North Yorkshire.

fibreglass curlewIt’s a reservoir I’ve walked around on numerous occasions and that I can strongly identify with. The YDNPA asked that I include some Swaledale wool fibre in the felt on the curlew, as Swaledale is the predominant local sheep breed. By the end of the first conversation on 30th April I was so excited and my mind was buzzing with ideas, I couldn’t wait to start.

My original idea was to appliqué flowers across the background so I asked Karen (my YDNPA contact) what flora was to be found at Grimwith. Plants there now include heather, cotton grass, bilberry and cowberry but with the help of the farmers tit’s hoping to increase the biodiversity and encourage bog asphodel, sundew, buttwerwort, sphagnum moss, hair moss, cuckoo flower and lesser celandine. There are also rowan, downy birch, hawthorn, oak and ash trees being planted in the gills. Grimwith is also home to curlews.

It’s amazing how fast the ideas came once we’d talked. My next request of Karen was to see if she could identify a local farmer with Swaledale fleece he’d be prepared to part with. If this happens it means the curlew design will be influenced by Grimwith and be produced from very local materials. If not, I’ll buy Swaledale tops from Adelaide Walker (which come from this general locality).

Obviously, once I’ve got the wool I’ll need to dye some of it. So my next bright idea was to use natural dyes. Why I’m thinking of this I don’t know, as I’ve never used them and know little about them, but how hard can it be? We’ll soon find out! I’ve sent emails to friends Rosie and Yvonne to pick their brains and a couple more to suppliers to see what assistance they can offer. My next task is to go search the internet and see what help I can find there.

I’ve started jotting down design ideas, questions for Karen, practicalities to consider and lots of action points of things I need to do. It’s just as well I’m cracking on with it as I need to have the curlew completed by June 1st.

My idea for a habitat inspired background appliquéd with flowers, is still what I’m working to but it’s surprising to me how quickly ideas related to the specific environment have occured to me. Next Wednesday, Karen and I are to meet at Grimwith Reservoir for a walk and to seek further inspiration. I wonder what I’ll be thinking after that?

P.S. My husband’s response was “So, what next then? We’ve had felt badgers, felt curlews. How about rag-rugging a polar bear? Or crocheting a hamster?” Hmmm – I wonder.