While waiting for paint to dry...

Sometimes the inbetween times produce some lovely results! I’ve been playing around with folk art styles for a while now and I’m loving the results. This upcycled coffee tin is my new favourite paint brush pot:  

 

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And these darning mushrooms and egg look so much better with that extra touch.  

 

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Along with some lovely little pin tins, these will be listed soon in my other Etsy shop, Knit Sew Vintage.  

Custom wedding signs

Two of my very best friends were married a couple of weeks ago and it was an absolute privilege to make them some signs for their big day!  

 

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They also had a personalised sign lined with LEDs that was so pretty and so much fun that there’s a wedding sign currently on the work bench all set to be illuminated!  

Thanks to P&N for letting me share in their big day.  

Made to order wedding signs are available now, get in touch and let me know what would fit your style!  

Custom signs

I’ve been able to work on some fantastic commissions over the last few weeks, some of which I can now share and others that will have to stay quiet until they’re given as gifts by those who requested them! 

This one was an existing design but was requested in custom colours. I love how it turned out!  Politics and profanity are always a favourite, and it felt cathartic to paint these words again as we watch our government inflict billions of pounds worth of damage on the country for no reason at all, in the name of Brexit. With the news this week that the Leave campaign broke the law on several counts, the whole ‘will of the people’ smoke screen has been blown away. How they can be continuing with this farce is beyond me.

 

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This one was commissioned by my brother to celebrate his fourth wedding anniversary with my lovely sister in law. It’s not my usual style in either content or design but I had real fun painting this up and it looks perfect in their house. Please remind me how long those flowers took though, if you ever see me drawing up similar plans.

 

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Protest placards

With Donald Trump’s planned visit to the UK just ahead, people across the country are preparing to take to the streets in protest of his views, intentions, politics and pretty much everything he stands for. Though I’m not able to go to the march myself (crowds + hot weather + noise = recipe for an anxiety attack) my voice will be there in the form of placards sold at cost to Twitter friends with the fortitude to stomp the ground in London and Edinburgh. 

 

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Saying what you mean doesn’t mean it can’t be pretty.

 

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Along with much of the world I was horrified to see the footage of parents and children being separated at borders and the children shipped off to be kept in cages. The Nazism echoes are so strong that it’s genuinely frightening. I didn’t ever think that I’d be making anti-fascism signs for real in my lifetime.  

 

 

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Says it all really.  

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I had to do a Hamilton one! And I think it’s true. One day the future equivalent of Bill Bryson will write a pop history book about this period, and when I hear awful things on the news, or see our sycophantic Prime Minister holding hands with that man, I try to imagine it being narrated by an incredulous Bryson.  

 

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Words of truth.  

Edit - May did the hand holding again and I genuinely threw up a little bit in my mouth. But I delighted to read of the Royal shade thrown by the Queen in her choice of brooches for the visit. Nicely done, your Maj.  

Freelance colleagues

AKA an excuse to talk about cats. 

One of my favourite things about working from home is getting to spend more time with our hilarious little brood of cats. If you're not a cat person, this post probably sounds like nonsense, so do feel free to skip it! 

With four cats, all of whom came to us separately, the dynamics really do play out like a workplace a lot of the time. They all have very different personalities (as well as theme songs and a complete array of nicknames) so of course, I felt it was time for us to have an employee of the week sign.

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I was going to go with the more traditional employee of the month, but two of the three I line manage have no conception of time so it seemed like it would be impossible to incentivise them monthly. Of course we then needed personnel cards for the board. With some photo jiggery pokery in Illustrator I turned some of my favourite photos of them into portraits that properly capture their individual personalities.

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Their expressions say so much! But it's time for proper introductions. If you follow me on Twitter (@nickyadkins) or Instagram (same) you'll have come across these little floofers before.

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Mina is a three-legged physicist, originally from London. Her missing leg happened before we got her as an RSPCA adoption. Being an active tripod, she has grown her tail into a counterweight to help her balance at speed. Though she has no feeling in it (and regularly attacks it) it's the strongest cat tail I've ever known. She is, without doubt, the politest, kindest little cat I've ever met in my entire life. If she'd like something she'll mew just once or twice, and if you say no will stop nagging. She does it with a look that is so sad that your heart breaks, but she does it. Her favourite things are scratches on the side of her neck that she can't scratch herself, nose kisses, strings and moths. 

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This hilarious little shite is Stella. I genuinely think that she's a psychopath, or has some sort of mental link missing, because she is a total dick. She's the one who pushed three-legged Mina out of an upstairs window. She breaks into other people's houses, steals things, eats anything sticky, and likes nothing less than to ambush you in the dark and attack your knees. She's also the most clingy of all our cats and will go to great lengths to be with you. She sleeps on my legs at night, and during the day will sit with me in the craft room while I sew (though I have to take pins away from her, she like to steal them) and is photographed here in the bed I had to make her on the studio table to stop  her sleeping on whatever I'm painting. It's a washing up bowl with a cushion stuffed in it.  She'll ask for affection but just can't take it without also biting. Her love is a violent love and we love her for it. 

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We went to meet this one in her foster home, as she didn't cope well with being in a rescue centre. We didn't see her, because she was hiding. The first time we saw her was when she was bundled into a cat carry basket for us to take her home. For weeks she hid. My wife spent many hours lying on the floor of whatever room she was in, demonstrating that humans aren't scary. Three years on and she's a cuddly idiot who sleeps in my wife's arms with her head on the pillow, purring away like a truck. The chattiest of the four, she'll merrily squeak away at you for hours. She's not smart, bless her, and freaks out if you're wearing a coat but has now mustered the bravery to not run away as the food comes out of the packet. 

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And this is Jet. She's not listed as an employee because she is the Queen who rules us all. I adopted her 15 years ago when she was a terribly shy shadow of a cat who hid under a bed for six months, coming out only for slightly aggressive cuddle time until the unknown harms of her past were forgotten enough that she could start a new life with me. Now 22.5 years old, she is officially the oldest cat registered at the vet and though she has some complex medical problems now is still insistent about attention, food, and the need lie in the sun all day. She's been going down hill for a long while now and it feels as though she's rapidly reaching the end. Each day we assess whether she has had joy, and when she no longer does we'll be calling the vet to help her along to the next stage. 

The last 15 years have been very difficult at times, and I'm so glad that she was with me through them, and that she's spent the recent years with two adoring humans pandering to her every wish in a house that is cosy, safe, and has the perfect garden for sunbathing. The garden is currently strung with sheets that we've pegged up in an effort to keep her in the shade during this heatwave, but the warmth does her arthritis good and she's enjoying the long hot days. I'm grateful to be working from home in her final days so that I can do her bidding.

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But here it is, the inaugural Employee of the Week award! It goes to Mina, for being attentive, adorable, and for showing great respect to the Queen as she sprawls on the lawn. It nearly went to Stella but then she stood in my wet paint and bit my arm when I tried to shoo her off it. Dickhead.

A period of adjustment

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I know, it looks really tough...  

Getting used to being able to do my own thing is taking a while. The guilt factor (omg, I should be doing this marking/prepping/reading this book) is fading slightly each day, and I am completely loving being at home during the day. The urgency attached to the life part of the work life balance has faded out. IT used to be that if I had a thing to do in the evening after work, it felt too much. Take the cat to the vet, pop to a shop and pick things up... it just felt impossible after a long day of full-on school work. Now I have to remind myself that actually it’s fine. The feeling of being overwhelmed has become so much part of life that I’ve caught myself feeling it again a few times and have had to have stern words with myself and do the slightly CBT thing of reminding myself that these feelings aren’t the reality of things anymore.  

It must be working, because two weeks in I can feel my brain starting to fire up again. I can pick up knitting in the evening again. I’ve started reading again. Thinking about the stories that are half way finished and could really do with some time investment. 

Pausing in the middle of the day to sit at the garden table and take in the flowers still feels like such a luxury. I hope I don’t end up taking that for granted as it becomes the norm. Spring was late this year but the garden has sped through May and into June with grace and abundance. The dwarf mock orange up at the top of the garden by the studio has been vigorous enough to overcome even the smell of the oil-based gloss paints I use. The climbing roses (Snow Goose)  are like gorgeous fragrant pom-poms of flowers. The Iceberg rose has more blooms than ever before, and the white peony has fifteen flowers this year, meaning for the first time I felt happy to cut a huge handful of their blowsy glory for the house. 

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They scented the craft room for a week, and it was picked up by every breeze that ran through the house, so at unexpected moments you’d get a full nose full. Absolutely lovely.  

Being at home to take care of our old lady cat feels like the most important development though. She loves summer, adores the garden but refuses to use the cat flap. She is too queenly (and arthritic) for such things, so each morning my first task is to open the back door for her so that she can wait, enraged and impatient, for the sun to come over the house and warm her favourite spots. At 22 with some complex medical conditions, she doesn’t have much time left, and it is an immense comfort to know that she’s having the best care she could wish for. She’s even done some playing over the past few weeks, batting her blue catnip fish around and hissing at it when she feels it’s been impudent.  When it’s her time to go, I’ll know she had as much as we could possibly give her. 

 

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Freedom!

That's it, folks. After nine years of being a school librarian it doesn't seem real yet, I only left on Friday, which also marked the start of half term, so I think in my mind it's just a temporary break before I go back to the school, back to the library and the rigid structure of a day marked by bells, lessons and breaks. I'm prepared for it to take my brain six weeks for it to properly dawn, a pretend summer holiday's length, before I fully realise this freedom. 

Short term plans include getting a good grip on the timings of board prep and painting for the signs, a photography session and updates for my Etsy shop. The skill areas I'm working on developing are my blends and freehand lining. One of my leaving presents from work was a tin of Smith's Cream (I'd love to say that work just knew me so well that they instinctively got me the right thing but my library assistant just asked me what I wanted) which is revolutionising the blendability so I'm seeing improvements already. Still a way to go before I can hope it acheive anywhere near the perfect ombre effects I've seen in others' work. Practise, practise and yet more practise. 

 

Big decisions

Looking back, I probably should have realised that I'd stopped enjoying my dream job when I started calling it the day job instead. After years of bad managers, budget cuts and manipulations, the dream bit was just gone. As a big believer in the 'do what you love' approach to work, it took me even longer than that to make the decision that it is time to do just that. So, from late May, I'll be full time making and doing again. I can't wait! 

Those who know me from years ago will know that this is my second time going freestyle with work; just over a decade ago I left my teaching career behind to become a craft bookbinder. With online sales, an insane craft fair schedule, and bloody hard work, I had a wonderful year of mucking around with lovely bits of leather and stacks of paper. It was all just starting to properly take off when word came of the dream job and I swerved sideways into that. That year was a fantastic experience though, and has taught me so much.

I know now that I'm rubbish with accounts and have signed up for Quickbooks. I know that craft fairs are hard effing work and you seldom get the profits for the cost of your stall. Some people manage this, my mum's one of them, but it doesn't work for me. The sale and promotion of things online has jumped forward so far in the large decade that that's where I'll be aiming first off. I know where my passions lie and have embraced the fact that I'll not be doing and making just one thing. There'll be painting, spinning, reading, writing, everything. It feels as though I'm going to actually be entirely me for the first time ever, that all the separate parts will be coming together. 

On an entirely selfish and non-professional front, I'm so looking forward to being at home more, to not ending each day utterly wrung out and exhausted by the energy it takes being a die-hard introvert in an environment filled with excellent but demanding little human beings. I'll get to make something every single day. Our epileptic, arthritic, digestively challenged 22 year old lady cat, Jet, will have someone here with her so that if she has a fit or a fall she'll be taken care of. 

Being able to make this move is a huge privilege formed of many layers from having a good education, a crafty upbringing, a supportive family etc, but the biggest advantage on my side is the presence of my excellent wife, who is not only willing but actually enthusiastic about the risk we're taking, financially and personally.  Thanks, Murph. 

Seed sowing time

It seems strange that only a couple of weeks ago the garden was under several inches of snow. Now that the cold spell is over it looks as though spring is properly underway, with bulbs springing up all over the place. Suspect some have been eaten by mice though, as I’m sure I planted more than that! Perhaps it’s a good thing that I’m supporting the local rodent population while the cats reduce it...

Every year I sow seeds, often hundreds of them, and usually end up with hundreds of strangly, weak little plants. Part of the problem is that I feel responsible for every sprout that comes up. I planted them, and they’ve been strong enough to grow, so every one of them must be planted out, coddled, then mourned when their weak stems inevitably succum to slugmageddon. The plan for 2018 is to be ruthless. Instead of large trays which I then pick out and deliver to scores of black plastic plugs, I’ve used biodegradable recycled paper pots and planted 3-4 seeds in each one. Only the strongest will be allowed to survive. Resisting the temptation to plant up the weaker ones instead of letting them die in the compost bin will be difficult, but it must be done.  Hoping that this (ruthless) throwing out (murdering) of the weak will mean a more successful crop of lovely flowers! The gardening budget is reduced this year as I’ll going self employed in May, so there’ll be no last-ditch runs to the garden centre for annuals in late spring. 

 

Update: 

Three days in and I’m already seeing Cosmos and Alysoms coming up.  Let the Hunger Games begin. 

Spring is on the way

Weekends in the winter months are the only times I get to see our little garden in daylight, and today there's proof that spring is coming. It's not quite within shouting distance but it is there.  

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The lilac leaf pods are practically tumescent! The plan is to transparent prime this into a light and airy little tree.  

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The climbing roses (Snowgoose) are doing well, I'm so impressed how this one has thrived despite several transplants in the last four years.  

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The winter flowering cherry tree up by the workshop is doing well, despite there being nutrient-grabbing fruit trees on the other side of the fence. It's over 8ft tall now and starting to give a sense of how it will shelter the end of the garden.  

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This winter's triumph has been the clematis, Winter Beauty. It was first planted three years ago and barely seemed to grow at all until last spring when it started clambering away up the trellis. Look at it now! This is its first flowering and it's beautiful.  

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I will have to be careful to make sure the white passionflower on its left doesn't smother it once it gets going.  

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Last week's sign seemed hopeful in its message, but now feels more prophetic. There are some big changes lined up for 2018. Bring on spring.  

Dyeing synthetic fibres

Having used up the last of the hand dyed fire star that I’d bought from Fibre East last year, I was feeling the lack of its subtle sparkle and thought it was time for a dyeing session! I realised to my horror when picking up my dyeing notebook that it’s been well over a year since I did any. Sorry little dyes, I do still love you! 

I’ve only dyed natural protein fibres (wools, specifically merino and BFL) before but I was going to be working with nylon (trilobial nylon) and synthetic cashmere (which seems to be comprised of magical softness and fairy hair) and my main concern was the possibility of accidentally melting the nylon. As with most kids, I suffered several disasters with dolls’ and My Little Ponies’  hair ending up in clumped, solid messes. After some quick research, I decided that steaming the fibre in clingfilm would be the safest bet. 

There were no meltages! Phew. And look at the glorious blue that resulted in both fibres...

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To say I was excited about the colour was a little bit of an understatement, so I quickly did two more batches of 20g of each fibre. Lesson number one was that when steaming it is all too easy to leave undyed patches. More smooshing, and probably a little more dye fixed that, though over-dyeing with a second shade worked brilliantly.  

 

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Look at those colours! Steaming in clingfilm felt a lot less labourious that the small batch vat dying I’ve done before and it so much more practical for smaller quantities. I can’t wait to do more.  

Disaster sharing time though...  I also tried this with rose fibre.

No, it didn’t melt. But completely failing to appreciate the different cell structure of cellulose fibres and thinking I could dye them with acid dyes was a mistake I’ll not make again! 

 

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Utterly ruined, and half the dye was released when rinsing so it was just awful. Further research and a panicked tweet to a friend who works in the textiles department yielded the explanation. Reactive dyes, not acid dyes on cellulose (plant) fibres. Lesson learned.  

Cloning mission #1

Many years ago, I gifted a Holden shawl to my mum, in Malabrigo Eggplant. Though she's a gifted knitter, the financial restraints handled by a single mum raising three kids meant that there was no way she'd ever spend that much on yarn, so its soft, cosy squashableness was something of a revelation. She wore it nearly to death, then accidentally put it in the tumbledryer. Farewell, shawl, hello woollen hanky. 

 Malabrigo Eggplant. 

Malabrigo Eggplant. 

In the mean time, I'd knitted three more Holden Shawls, so when she asked for a replacement, it felt far too little of a challenge. I set about spinning up a special blend of purples and greys that I thought would be perfect, but when I showed the finished yarn to mum she declared it purple. The original scarf, she said, was grey. Definitely grey. And so my cloning mission was set.

The first attempt came out way too mucky and cloudy, but the resulting batt turned out to be an excellent addition to the final blend. 

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Much closer! 

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While dizzing the first of these batts off into roving, I thought for a moment that I'd actually got the hang of taking it off evening, then of course the wheel of fortune turned and it screwed up. Typical! But the later two were much better and I do feel as though it's a thing I can do now. It's not completely even, but I wouldn't be unhappy to be handed a bundle of this stuff. 

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Much closer the Malabrigo, don't you think? The middle one there was the last one I did and has slightly less of the original batt in it, so it's come out darker. Once this is yarn, I'll be using this to make the last few rows as glancing quickly through the project photos on Ravelry, I really like those that have a slightly darker outer. I'm calling this colour blend Definitely Grey, Not Purple. 

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Sign staples

This weekend was spent designing and painting up some example name signs for my Etsy store. I agonised about which names to use for a while then decided to use those of my favourite students. It made painting them weirdly special!  

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From fibre to carder to roving

With the arrival of my new friend, Big Mabel, I've been having great fun. My first batt, slightly graduated blue, was so much fun to make. Turning the handle on the drum carder is so satisfying, seeing the first few strands of fibre being caught by the feeder drum and watching as it's pulled in, then the effortless magic of seeing it transfer to the main drum, perfectly combed and evenly spread. The resulting batt was luxurious in its density and a thing of beauty in itself. The fibre spun up beautifully, easily and quickly.

Previous blending was done on a blending board, pulled out into rolags and though fun to start with, quickly became very slow and labourious. Getting enough rolags made up for 100g of yarn took ages, and spinning them up would mean contending with uneven spread, and those occassional little neps that refused to tease out. Anything that stops the flow of spinning is frustrating, and the experience was never quite what I'd hoped for. Not so a Big Mabel batt!

I worked across it, tearing off strips and pre-drafting. As the complexity of the colour became focused on the bobbin, I could see that it was going to make gorgeous yarn and it did. Chain plying it was so satisfying, and the evenness of the single meant that there were no weaknesses along its length so no breakages. Win! The finished yarn is just drying, photos to follow. 

As they're intended for spinning, a smooth batt is exactly what I'm aiming for, and Big Mabel makes it so easy. Here's the process:

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The fibres used are two shades of purple merino, (Amethyst and Storm) with black (Raven) and grey (Ash) to add depth. As a sparkle addict, of course I had to throw in a fair quantity of Angelina! This shade is called forest blaze, and it sparkles alternately orange, green and slightly purple

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Look at how beautifully it took to the drum! The key lesson I've learned so far is to make sure I don't add too much fibre at once. It's the top tip that I picked up from the tutorial videos I'd watched online too, but it's not until you have a go that you can get a sense of just how much is too much, which is what I learned in the batt I made after the blues one. The horrible thing is that you can see it rucking up under the feeder drum and you know it's going to come through lumpy but once it starts you can't stop it. And once the fibres are caught, trying to hold them back will only pull them onto the feeder drum where they'll catch too far down to be transfered. In the picture above, you can see my current measure of the 'right' amount of fibre to go through on each pass. 

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I took the advice of various helpful videos and added the Angelina straight onto the main drum. It's just too flyaway to feed through properly. The finishing brush pictured at the back of the drum below is a complete godsend for flyaway fibres! I'd previously used a paintbrush as an ad hoc finishing brush, which worked well but a proper fitted one is well worth the money if you're shelling out on an expensive piece of kit. 

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The final colour added was the grey, because I wanted to be sure that there was only a little bit used. The inspiration for this batt was a tiny ball of leftover yarn that I'd used to make a scarf for my mum a couple of years ago and I have absolutely no idea which yarn it was! The scarf was very much loved, but eventually accidentally machine washed. Woe. So the plan is to make her a new one for Christmas, with yarn as close to the original as I can manage. 

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Doffing and removing the batt is one of the most satisfying things I'e ever experienced. Look at it! How cleanly it comes away, how straight the fibres are! 

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Yeeeesssss...

Ahem.

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Et voila! Gorgeous. But having spun up a couple of batts now, I know that you can get small sections of yarn that are entirely one colour or the other, or a much denser clump of sparkle. So I decided to put it through the carder again, for a second pass. 

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The batt was split into three long sections, then a handful of of each section pulled off at a time. This meant that every collection of fibre fed into the carder would contain a fairly even quantity of each colour and sparkle.

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It's so much more even on the second pass that I was slightly worried I'd just made mud! By this stage I felt a real attachment to this fibre though. I knew it through and through.

Then it was time to try something new. Using a diz to turn the batt into roving. As a spinner, a length of continuous roving is the ideal. Pulling batts into strips does work, but you end up with fibres everywhere and if you're trying to a graduated colour, you stand more chance of just getting stripes.  I'd seen videos on how to do this, but had the sneaking suspicion that it was waaaay harder than it looked. 

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And you know what? It was tricky. Some of the fibre it picked up was a fair way across, so I'm going to need a lot more practise. 

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But IT WORKED! I made roving! Look at it. Look how its held together simply by passing it through a hole. Look at the direction of the fibres, and how there's a consistency to it though it's still possible to see the four colours used and the sparkles. I love it.

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This is the whole batt in roving form, approximately 50g. What amazed me was how much fibre could be fed through the diz hole (is there a proper word for the diz hole?) As you can see from the image below, the diz I used (from the wonderful Succaplokki on Etsy - their needle gauges are my favourite gauges ever) has many options, and I used the third hole which is only a couple of mm across. Quite excited about trying the smaller two in future! 

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A second batt means that I should have enough yarn for mum's scarf. And joyously, I can always make more. Can't wait to spin this up.