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Author: rachaelp

three braids of hand dyed fibre in purple, gold, bronze and green, sitting on a grey background

Fibre wrangling – a story of transformation

sealy macwheely and friend standing in front of a colourful wall of yarn in a yarn shop

Meet the Yarn Shop Owner – Sealy MacWheely

Welcome to the second feature where I celebrate my lovely stockists. This time it’s the turn of Katie from Sealy MacWheely, whose exuberant approach to colour and texture I’ve admired for years.  I’m delighted she’s chosen to stock my hand-dyed yarns in her shop in Kirkintilloch, near Glasgow.

What made you want to open a yarn shop?

The full story of how I fell into spinning involves a bag of alpaca poo and a boring summer during my time at university. (Note from me – that’s a story I need to hear one day).  That being said, the yarn shop dream in its current form was envisioned only a couple of years ago as an epiphany whilst suffering from the flu. I envisioned a space which celebrates the beauty of handmade and local crafts and is welcoming to everybody with an interest in yarn and fibre, irrespective of proficiency.

It took a lot of hard work getting from that point to where I am now, juggling my own small business with a full-time job, but it was definitely the spark that lit the touch paper. I am a strong believer that everything happens for a reason and looking around the shop today it almost doesn’t feel real!

How long have you been a knitter/spinner/crocheter/felter/all of the above?

Like many crafters, I was first taught to knit by my beloved Grandma as a child but I barely managed more than a basic garter stitch square before giving up my needles for a few years. At age 19 whilst at uni I discovered the drop spindle and never looked back. That was nearly ten years ago now and I have since added weaving and occasional felting to my repertoire. My return to knitting has been quite gradual over the last decade but it’s impossible to be surrounded by so much beautiful yarn on a daily basis without being inspired. Crochet, however, has been a very recent addition and so far I can manage granny squares but cannot for the life of me read a pattern!

What’s your favourite thing about your shop?  What do you think your customers like about it?

Hands down the thing I love most about my shop is the brightness and variety of the colours! It’s the first thing most of my customers comment on too so I imagine they share the same sentiment. I find it fascinating how each dyer has their own distinct style and colourways, each one is so different and unique!

How do you choose what yarns to stock?  It must be mind boggling!

Sealy MacWheely is a bit unusual for an LYS in that I exclusively stock hand dyed or local yarns. I am really proud of the fact that I met each of my makers in person prior to opening the shop, mainly at festivals, and would describe each of them as a friend. We are so lucky to have such an amazing community of indie dyers and craftspeople in the UK and really the only pre-requisite for being included in the shop is that they are all lovely (and talented) people.

What’s your yarn philosophy? What does yarn mean to you?

I am first and foremost a spinner, it is the fibre itself which drew me towards yarn and I am fascinated by the full process of producing a finished garment from a pile of smelly, greasy fluff. The sense of accomplishment you feel after making something from scratch is irreplaceable and although I no longer have the time to fully process a fleece on a regular basis I am now hooked on every element of yarn creation.

What would you like people to know about your shop?

Sealy MacWheely is more than just a shop, it is a community space that is welcome to all, irrespective of skill, experience, age, race, sexuality, religion or ability. Just say the word and I will have the kettle on and the biscuits out in the Knit’n’Natter room! The shop itself was partially funded through a successful Kickstarter Campaign and as such I think of it as being created by and for the Yarn-loving community!

 

A plum of industrial smoke rising above a dark orange sunset

A Viscose Story

One of the things I really love about working with fibres and textiles is the variety of wonderful materials I am able to get my hands on: wool, alpaca, silk, bamboo, milk, pearl, the list goes on.  Natural fibres fascinate me and I’ve always seen viscose and rayon as natural and biodegradable. They are plant-based and I thought they were more sustainable and have less impact on the environment than cotton or acrylic.

One of my customers commented on a post I put on Facebook recently. She’d recently read a book called Fake Silk that shocked her, and she wanted me to know about it.  I had to confess ignorance. I had done some research into the sustainability of the fibres that I use, such as bamboo and other cellulose-based materials.  My conclusions were that viscose had less environmental impact than cotton, and was generally more sustainable, coming from renewable sources.

After reading Fake Silk and investigating further, I realised I should have dug deeper.  I did not know quite how bad the pollution from viscose processing plans actually is in Southeast Asia, India and China, where 83% of viscose is produced, or the effect that this has on people working in and living near these factories.

Viscose production

Viscose and Rayon production uses a chemical called carbon disulfide, which is used to dissolve the wood pulp before the whole solution is extruded like spaghetti into sulphuric acid baths, creating the viscose threads. Viscose began its ascendence in the mid 19th Century. The effects of exposure to carbon disulfide fumes have been documented repeatedly since then.  The findings have been ignored or repressed by the viscose producing companies.

Carbon disulfide has been linked to heart disease, fertility problems, serious eye damage (keratitis), psychosis, increased risk of suicide or violent behaviour and more.   It’s seriously life-limiting, life-changing stuff. The safe level of carbon disulfide exposure is extremely low, requiring significant health and safety measures to be put in place. The requirements are so stringent, viscose production in the US and UK has ceased altogether.

Drinking water in communities around the factories is unsafe. The air that people breathe is harming them every single day because of our insatiable need for cheap fashion and household goods.  Anyone who watched Stacey Dooley’s expose on fast fashion will have seen the horrific impact that viscose factories are having on communities in Indonesia. There is simply no incentive for the clothing companies or the government to insist on the regulation of factory conditions while the money is pouring in.

If you are interested in learning more in detail, this fantastic and extremely well-written report from Changing Markets is a must-read. It’s a gut-wrenching wake-up call to the reality of the viscose industry.

My viscose supply chain

The company that supplies the viscose that I use has assured me that they are produced on a closed loop system. These systems feed the chemicals and water used in production back into the factory process. While this is reassuring, I haven’t seen any proof of this in terms of documentation or supply chain transparency. I’ve given this a lot of thought over several months. My conscience tells me I can’t continue to use these fibres until I have this certification in my hands.

How does this affect Cat & Sparrow UK?

As a result, I’ll be using only viscose fibres that I know are sustainably and responsibly produced – Tencel and Seacell. I’ll be phasing bamboo and other viscose fibres out of my blends.  For example, the Tyrion blend used to include black diamond bamboo, which has now been replaced with bronze-coloured peduncle silk. I’ve replaced the bamboo in my Merino/bamboo blend with Tencel.  Any blends that do include bamboo or pearl or other viscose will remain in the shop until they have sold out, and then I will either discontinue them or replace the viscose with something else.

There are so many responsibly produced natural fibres out there that really, this doesn’t limit my options.  It just means I can explore more natural fibres, which is really exciting. I hope you’ll continue on this journey of exploration with me!

 

 

Copy of 'Handywoman' by Kate Davies on a red table

Book Review – Handywoman by Kate Davies

Kate Davies is one of my favourite designers. To be fair, I haven’t knitted all that many sweaters, but Kate’s always fit really well and they’re so well designed.  I’ve got Miss Rachel’s Yoke on my to-do list, and I can’t wait – I’ll be doing that in handspun, so it’ll be quite a fun project.

I was hoping to get Handywoman for Christmas, but I realised, too late, that I hadn’t actually told anyone. So, after Christmas, I hopped on to the internet and went to Ysolda to buy it. Ysolda is also one of my favourite designers. The ‘books and magazines’ section of her shop makes my heart sing. (You can buy it direct from Kate, but I wanted a Clara Parks book too.)

I didn’t really know what to expect when I started Kate’s book, but one of the things that struck me immediately was her voice. She writes with such steadiness and thoughtfulness, no word wasted, and yet her writing is full of emotion. It takes real skill to write like this, when the rhythm of the words lends the act of reading as much joy as the subject matter.  Reading it felt like a satisfying conversation with a good friend.

As the cover points out, this is not a book about Kate’s triumph over adversity. Each chapter talks about her stroke and subsequent and ongoing recovery from a different perspective, rather than chronologically. You can read it from start to finish or dip in and out, reading the chapters according to what interests you. She talks mainly about how differently things appear to her post-stroke, from the way that people react to her as a disabled person to her wonder and appreciation of how complex and wonderful are our brains and bodies.

She conveys this wonder and appreciation to the reader so brilliantly; when she talked about the complexity of actions such as picking up a mug or brushing one’s hair, I found myself suddenly studying the myriad tiny operations that go into these actions and feeling delight and amazement at my own extraordinary abilities. When she talks about interdependence, she reveals our intertwining relationships with the people and objects around us as a wonderful resource of support, solace and human connection. Each chapter is a gem, but there are two in particular that I loved.

Da Allover

The first, Da Allover, is about Kate’s relationship with Shetland. She talks about the landscape, the history and heritage, the skill and passion of the people she met with such emotion that it made me cry. I immediately began planning my first trip to Shetland AND an allover Fairisle sweater AND a new range of fibres using Shetland wool, which I already love and use a lot.  If this chapter does not give the reader an appreciation for the cultural and social importance of wool and wool craft, I don’t know what will.

Design for All

The second chapter that really grabbed my heart was Design for All.  I’ve often looked at the world around me and wondered why it is largely designed without thought for people with different physical abilities.  In this chapter, she talks about the history of Swedish inclusive design and lays out the case for it with such clarity that I suddenly found myself freshly shocked and amazed at how and why people are excluded from society, and in so many ways that I hadn’t even considered.  Again, she inspired me to start thinking more about the things I can do to be more inclusive and thoughtful in the way that I work and live.

I could wax lyrical about this book for hours, but as far as a review goes, I think this is one of the most enjoyable, thought-provoking books I’ve read in a long, long time.  I know I’m going to dip back in and out of it regularly, to reread the passages that gave me insights, inspired me to do or be more, or made me feel deep joy in humanity and creation.  It’s a tour de force. Thank you, Kate.

 

 

Nikki Small and her family outside Ewe Felty Thing in Llandudno

Meet the Yarn Shop Owner – Ewe Felty Thing

Welcome to the first in an occasional series called ‘Meet the Yarn Shop Owner’.  This is where I introduce you to one of my stockists and ask them a few questions so you can get to know their yarn philosophy and general delightfulness.

First up is Nikki Small, who runs Ewe Felty Thing in Llandudno.  Nikki stocks Cat & Sparrow UK hand-dyed yarn and batts, and her shop is a fibre and yarn cornucopia.

So, Nikki, the $64,000 question. What made you want to open a yarn shop?

I have wanted a yarn shop for over 10 years now. I have always loved visiting yarn shops, and it’s my idea of heaven. I’d been doing various things that were wool-related for a while, and selling things that I had made, but was getting into dyeing yarn when the opportunity arose to have some space at a local farm park. I got to the point of going to put in furniture when the owner changed their mind and I was completely devastated… however, that old saying of ‘everything happens for a reason’ really was true. One of my friends ran a shop where she already sold some of my products, and so I went in to talk to her about having a bit more space, and it turned out that she was looking for someone to sublet her back room. The timing was such a coincidence that I had to go for it, and it was absolutely amazing! I loved my little back room shop so much! Things went so well that 6 months later, when the lady running the shop needed to take a step back, I was in a position to be able to take over the entire shop, and now have my very own proper grown-up wool shop, Ewe Felty Thing, in Llandudno. It’s my happy place, and I never feel like I’m coming to work!

How long have you been a knitter/spinner/crocheter/felter/all of the above?

Ooh, a long time! I started knitting properly when I was about 18. I had glandular fever and was very poorly, and my aunt and uncle were having a baby, so with some help from my mum I knitted a babygrow/sleeping bag out of snuggly fluffy yarn, and that was it – I was hooked! I have been crocheting (very poorly, mainly plain double crochet!) since about then as well, but have recently got more into it and can now happily follow patterns. I started learning to spin about 10 years ago, with a drop spindle which was given to me by a friend who knew how much I was enjoying knitting. It took me a while to get into it and properly get the hang of it, but I really love it and relish being able to go from fibre to finished object! I felt as well, and that was something I was introduced to about 5 years ago. My children were at school near Hereford, and I was lucky enough to be invited by some of the other mums to a felting class that took place weekly, funded by the Hereford County Council as one of their ‘continuing learning’ enterprises. I turned up and was absolutely in my element! I don’t think I can imagine not having a wool craft in my life, and I love that there are so many different things that you can do, so you can never get bored! It’s quite the opposite – there are far too many things to do than there are hours in the day!

What’s your favourite thing about your shop?  What do you think your customers like about it?

My ‘colour wall’ is probably the favourite bit of the shop. I stock yarns from 17 different hand dyers, and they are all displayed on a mahoosive set of bookshelves along one side of the shop. I love arranging and rearranging them and spending time choosing what to use for projects. The customers really love it as well. They can see it from the window and it leads them into the shop, and it can be a bit overwhelming with all the choice!

How do you choose what yarns to stock?  It must be mind boggling!

Ah, that’s actually been quite easy so far! Because I mainly stock hand-dyed yarns, the quality is almost always brilliant. When I was first about to open, I contacted a few hand dyers through forums and asked whether anyone would be interested in having their yarns in my shop, and was completely bowled over by the response. After that, I’ve been lucky enough to meet new dyers, local artisans etc who have all wanted to be involved as well.

What’s your yarn philosophy? What does yarn mean to you?

The yarn in my shop is all of a quality that I am proud to stock, and that it is a joy to craft with. There is a place for acrylic and mass-produced, however, it isn’t in my shop. I like to support smaller producers as I think that the quality of the yarn is much better, I know if merino is used, then it isn’t from mulesed flocks, I have several dyers that use British wool, which supports the local farmers as well. I think that we should be using much more wool than acrylic for a huge number of reasons, not least being that environmentally it is sooo much better. Wool is also better for us, being able to keep us both cool or warm, it can be lanolised (putting the sheep’s own natural lanolin back into the yarn) to make it waterproof, which is brilliant for outerwear or for covers for cloth nappies, it’s biodegradable, and it hangs and wears in a far more beautiful way than plastic yarns do. So yes – all about quality, uniqueness and proper wool in this shop!!

What would you like people to know about your shop?

That we’re fun, friendly, full of fibre, and usually have cake!!
spun muga silk

Fibre in Focus – Muga Silk

Hello and welcome to this episode of Fibre in Focus!  This time, I’ll be talking about Muga silk, one of my favourite fibres to work with, to touch and to look at.  It’s just divine.

An Exhalted History

Muga silk, or Assam silk, is one of the rarest silks in the world. It is made only in Assam in eastern India by cultivation of the Assam silk moth (Anthaerea Assamensis).  It’s one of three types of silk that come from the region, the others being Pat silk and Eri silk, which I will talk about in another post.

There is no record of when Muga silk production began in India.  Kautiliya, a philosopher, economist, teacher and royal advisor  who lived between the fourth and third centuries BCE, mentioned the production of a golden silk in ancient Assam in his writings. It’s thought that the cultivation of different types of silk moths was introduced by Tibeto-Burman migrants centuries before he wrote about it. It’s during the Ahom dynasty, which ruled Assam for 600 years from 1228 that Muga silk really took off as a luxury commodity.

During the Ahom rule, Muga silk was reserved for royalty and for high ranking government officers and aristocrats. The silk is the most gorgeous soft golden colour, and it seems to be more durable than other silks. Its natural lustre also increases with wash and wear, making it perfect for heirloom fabrics.  The Ahom rulers used the appeal and desirability of Muga silk to help trade with other regions, and also overseas.  Visiting dignitaries were often gifted clothing made from Muga silk.  Royal looms were operated by female weavers within the palace, and the fabric woven on them was destined only for the royal family. Many of these weavers were personally trained in the art by some of the Ahom queens.

Its fame spread. Demand for the fabric even from within the upper echelons of society was hard to meet and so production was outsourced into the region.  Almost every woman and many men in the region were proficient in spinning and hand weaving. A girl was considered unfit for marriage if she could not operate a loom.

And then came the British…

Unfortunately for the industry, it did not thrive as it could have done during the British Colonial rule. Although the British did see some value in silk exports, they were more focused on trying to open up the markets for new cottons and wool fabrics produced in burgeoning mills of the industrial revolution.  The increase in tea plantations to satisfy tea export demands also put a strain on the labour market, reducing the number of people available to work in silk production. Don’t you just love learning even more about reprehensible stuff your country used to do?

The British occupation notwithstanding, production of silk was, and remains extremely important to the economy of Assam. In 2007, Muga silk received geographical indication (GI) protection, which means that genuine Muga silk can only be produced in Assam. Thanks to the increased demand for natural fibres, this is great news for Muga silk farmers who have accumulated centuries of experience in Assam silk moth sericulture.

What’s it like to work with?

Gorgeous!  It’s similar to Tussah silk, which is unsurprising as it comes from the same moth family. It has a staple length of around six inches, and it’s unbelievably lustrous and soft.  It’s not super long and shiny like mulberry silk, which can be tricky to spin, but has a slightly ‘catchy’ texture. I find this helps with spinning, because it doesn’t slip about or slub easily. It’s easy to make a very even thread with Muga, and it works well spun fine or chunky.

My preference is to spin it super fine because it’s such a pleasure to do. Sometimes lace spinning can be, shall we say, frustrating, but I could spin Muga silk into lace all day long and not get tired of it. It would work beautifully as an embroidery threat or as a fine lace in a lacy, drapey shawl.  I like using it in my weaving as it adds little shots of gold into the fabric.

Whichever way you spin it, you do need to make sure it has a fairly high twist. It doesn’t hold together as well as wool would with a low twist, so I’d use a fast spindle or a high ratio on your wheel. That said, there are no hard and fast rules. Experimentation is a joy.

I must have some. Where can I buy it?

Aha!  Well, I import Muga silk sliver directly from India from a supplier I trust. I also like to use it in some of my batts, particularly Renaissance, because the gold goes so beautifully with this kind of dusty blue.

Next up in Fibre in Focus will be silk hankies.  Woohoo!

See you next time.  Pip pip!

 

 

Sapient Pearwood socks

Making all the things

I love seeing what other people are making with yarn and fibre. There are just so many talented people out there, making breathtaking items with delicious yarns. I don’t claim to be making anything breathtaking – in fact, my knitting is a catalogue of errors, featuring tinking, frogging, fudging and occasionally dramatic hand wringing and cries of “Why, my God, why?’

I don’t know about you, but for me, knitting seems to be something that I’m compelled to do. It knocks me down, but I get back up again. One of my first projects was a little cardigan for my then one-year old daughter. I remember throwing it to the floor and jumping on it, because I’d completed two whole rows of moss stitch on a circular needle in the wrong direction.  Always remember people, the working yarn is on the right. Still, I did pick up that jumper, and I did finish it. It’s still being worn by babies in Melbourne’s western suburbs to this day.

“So, what are you up to?” I hear you all clamour. Well….

Sapient Pearwood socks by Rachel Coopey

Sapient Pearwood socksWhat’s your record for unsuccessful cast ons? This project is definitely mine. I cast on 10 times before I got it right. I used Judy’s Magic Cast on for DPNS and forgot to knit through the back loop on the second two needles the first two times. Then there were a couple of times when I just lost the plot. Then I knit the toe increase and realised I’d done the wrong size because my gauge swatch was wrong because I knitted it continental style. I couldn’t manage that consistently when doing the increases so stuck to throwing. Result: gauge madness. Then there were two more times when I didn’t do the back loop thingy. Then some other stuff happened. I may have cried.

However, perseverance is my middle name, apparently. I will not let a project beat me. Now that I’ve actually got it cast on and going strong, I’m really enjoying it. The yarn is dyed beautifully by my friend Clare, one half of Mr B’s Yarns, in Mother of Pearl. It’s a superwash merino/nylon blend, and I love it. If you haven’t come across their yarns before, check them out. They are really gorgeous.

The pattern is simple but interesting. It features single stitch cables and intermittent twisted rib sections. I haven’t decided which heel I’m doing yet.

Linum Tee by Bristol Ivy

Linum tee in handspun yarn

I’ve actually knitted this whole tee before but had to frog it because it was too small. Don’t ask me what happened – I did a gauge swatch and everything!  It’s supposed to have quite a bit of positive ease, and I can never tell whether that’s factored into the size or not with patterns, so it might be that I just chose my actual size, rather than my size plus ease.  Sigh.

I finished it in early spring last year, put it on, considered losing a couple of stone, and then frogged the whole thing.  It’s taken until now to get to the point where I felt ready to do it all over again a size larger. I love this yarn. It’s hand spun by me from some Hilltop Cloud fibre in Romney, silk and linen. It’s light and pleasingly textured. I love its slight roughness on my skin – it’s not at all itchy or scratchy though.

The pattern itself is lovely. It features quite a lot of stocking stitch in the round, which is great for TV knitting or if you’re in the pub trying to have a conversation. I’m trying to become a continental knitter, because it seems so much faster, and so far this whole project has been knit continental style, so I’m quite pleased. The rib was done mostly with my tongue sticking out and some swearing, but it’s there, and it looks good.

Jessica Jones Cowl by SMINE

Jessica Jones CowlThis is a lovely, super simple cowl pattern in linen stitch, which is divine. It’s quite a flat stitch, and almost looks woven. It’s beautifully drapey and easy peasy to knit. I say that, but I’ve somehow gone astray a couple of rows down and stopped knitting alternate stitches. I’m going to have to tink it back, which is tiresome, but I’ll probably do it on Sunday when I’m at Frome Independent market, where I have to be on my stall all day.

I’m knitting this in Cat & Sparrow Oh-So-Fine! Lace in Rock Pool.  It’s a heavy lace in Bluefaced Leicester and silk. I love this yarn so much. It’s so smooth and silky, and it drapes really nicely.

I’m holding it double because the pattern calls for a sock yarn. It’s perfect, because even though I’m using lace weight yarn, I’m using 5mm needles and it’s growing pretty quickly. I don’t think it’ll take me long to undo my mistake, particularly as half the stitches are slipped on each row anyway. I just love how the colours are working together. That bronze is one of my favourite colours to dye at the moment. I’m yet to find something it doesn’t go with.

The project of which we shall not speak

We all have one of these, don’t we? Good. Move along. Nothing to see here.

On the wheel

Cat & Sparrow Fibre ClubI have only one spinning project on the go at the moment, which is very rare for me. It’s Cat & Sparrow’s Fibre Club instalment for May 2018, which was based on African wild dogs. It’s the most beautifully soft alpaca top from John Arbon. I dyed it a mix of deep wine red, rust and chocolate brown, and I love how it’s coming out.

I’m spinning it into a low-twist single, and I think I’ll weave it into something soft and snuggly. It will be a treat to wear – it’s like spinning a baby cloud (if clouds weren’t wet).

I’ll be doing a post every month about a previous fibre club. I always make one for myself as well, and I really enjoy spinning with them.  There won’t be any spoilers though! I’ll make sure everyone has time to receive the package and squish the contents first.

 

So, that’s it for me this month. I’ll post some pics of the projects as they grow.

Pip Pip!

Turkish Spindle Tips

Crikey! I’m on fire this week. I’ve been meaning to make a video for people who’d like a simple guide to getting started on a drop spindle, and specifically on a Turkish spindle. I’ve met loads of you at shows who have said you’d like something like this, but I’ve been afraid to step out of my comfort zone and actually get in front of the camera until now.  I enjoyed it so much I’m planning a series!  You’ll never get rid of me now, mwahahahahaaaaa.

If you’d like to see a few tips and tricks on how to spin your own leader to get started on a drop spindle, how to do a half hitch easily every time and tips for winding on to make a nice neat turtle, check me out below, and you can also subscribe to my new channel (I know, right? Hollywood beckons).

I’m the European distributor for Turtlemade spindles, which makes me happy, because I love them, and love sharing them with other people.  They’re so well balanced and light, and they come in fab colours. What’s more, they’re sustainable and biodegradable!  What’s not to love? You can find the spindles here.

Happy spinning!

Fibre in Focus – Seacell

I’ve been meaning to write blog posts about fibres I love to work with for absolutely ages, so I’m planning on this becoming a regular feature.  Hit me in the comments with any fibres you’re interested in that you’d like to know more about.

This week’s focus is Seacell, which is a pretty fabulous fibre in so many ways. It’s plant-based, sustainable, has low environmental impact, is soft, strong and absorbent (but not in a loo-paper type of way) and it’s completely biodegradable.

Production and Environmental Credentials

I could get into a very long-winded explanation of how Seacell is produced, but if you really want to know more about that in detail, you can go here. In short, Seacell fibre is a blend of wood-based cellulose and seaweed, specifically knotted wrack, which anyone in the UK will be familiar with from trips to the seaside. The wrack is harvested sustainably once every four years, which allows the wrack beds to regenerate. The drying and cutting process is natural and doesn’t involve any chemical additives.

The seaweed is then added as an active ingredient to wood cellulose and is processed using the Lyocell method, which works on a closed loop processing system. With Lyocell, this means that caustic soda, the usual solvent used to extract the cellulose, is replaced by a non-toxic organic compound called NMMO. The water in which the cellulose is processed can then be filtered and reused, reducing the amount of water used and eliminating toxic waste from the process. Even better, the wood used in the production of Lyocell is harvested from sustainable eucalyptus forests.

There are some health giving properties ascribed to Seacell that sound almost magical, and of which I am healthily sceptical, Manufacturers claim that because the health-giving minerals and vitamins found in seaweed transfer through our skin into our systems, we benefit from wearing Seacell in more ways than just our comfort. For more information on this controversy, go here and here. I’m remaining on the fence until more scientific evidence is available!

What’s it like to spin?

Some people compare Seacell to silk when it comes to spinning, but I don’t find them particularly similar. They are both beautifully lustrous, but Seacell is smooth and much more slippery, and its fibres are shorter than silk fibres tend to be – it has a staple length of around 3-5 inches. The fibres slide over each other easily and, like bamboo, it can be tricky to control the consistency of the yarn. I haven’t tried spinning it into single ply yarn but I have heard that Seacell singles can come apart quite easily thanks to its slippery qualities. That suggests to me that it needs a pretty high amount of twist, and probably does much better as a plied yarn as a result.

It does make an exceptionally smooth and drapey two ply yarn, which is lovely to handle and feels very soft to the touch. It lacks natural elasticity, so blending it with other fibres works really well, especially if you want to make something like socks with it.

Where can I get hold of this magical stuff?

Well, it’s funny you should ask that… One of the first ever blends I designed uses Seacell, and I love it. It’s a mix of alpaca, Seacell and silk, and it’s beautifully soft, fluffy and drapey while being warm, light and breathable. Alpaca takes dye in a soft and muted way, silk with brilliance and Seacell not at all, so it’s lovely to spin with in terms of depth and complexity of colour too.  You can find it here in some deliciously sumptuous colourways.

If you want to try Seacell in its unblended form, you can get it from World of Wool or Adelaide Walker.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little in depth look into one of my favourite fibres. Next up – Muga silk.


Zen Garden
Alpaca/Seacell/Silk – Zen Garden
Orchid
Alpaca/Seacell/Silk – Orchid
Tequila Sunrise
Alpaca/Seacell/Silk – Tequila Sunrise

 

 

 

 

The 20-day Sustainable Fashion Challenge

Photo by Karly Santiago on Unsplash

A Single Step

Since beginning my journey from novice knitter through to spinner, dyer and sometime weaver, I’ve started to think differently about the clothes I wear and the materials I use. I never used to be one to think overly about the environment. I knew that I should conserve energy and water where possible, and I recycled, mostly, and worried about global warming a bit, but that was it.

When I was living in Australia, I fell in with a dangerous group of permaculturalists and craftivists. Before long I was thinking about organic gardening, companion planting instead of pesticides and using crocheted vaginas as a way to express my feminist agenda, such as it was (thanks Rayna Fahey!). Those friendships opened my eyes, and I’ve been gradually awakened to the effect that my choices have on the world around me. I’m not perfect, obviously. I haven’t given up plastic, although I do avoid unnecessary packaging. I occasionally buy a plastic bottle full of water or iced tea, and then hate myself for it. I often always forget to take my Keep Cup to the coffee shop.

Perfection is overrated.

In my opinion, it’s better to do anything than to do nothing at all, because doing something, no matter how small, might lead you to doing other, greater things.  I also want to set a good example to my children, who are distressed by sea creatures suffocating on plastic bags and the fact that in 30 years time there will be more people, but fewer areas of the world that can produce food.

Also, my work as a dyer has opened my eyes to the environmental impact of the materials I choose to use and to sell. I’ve been doing a lot of reading around the sustainability and environmental impact of certain fibres, and I want to be able to make informed choices about what I’m putting out there. I need to put my money where my mouth is, and so I’ve decided to learn more, and try to put this learning to practical use by taking part in the 20-day Sustainable Fashion Challenge, started by Summer Edwards in 2015.

The task for day 1 is to rate your sustainable fashion knowledge out of 5.  I’d say I’m a 2. I think I know quite a lot, but it’s very likely much less than I think I know. Such is my experience with just about everything. Let’s see if I can get to a 5 by May.

Join me

I’m going to try to document this challenge as much as possible on Instragram and here on the blog. It won’t be a daily update, because heck, I’m snowed under as it is, and blog post writing is a fairly time-consuming effort for me. I write something thoughtful and then have to check it obsessively for grammatical errors and over-use of commas. However, I think it’ll be quite interesting. Hopefully you will too. I’ll be using the hashtag #20dayssustfash.

See you there!  Pip pip!