In which I am very, very late, otherwise known as "hey, the Tour de Fleece starts on Saturday - want to spin with me?"

The last 6 weeks or so have been a completely ridiculous blur of very long work days, coupled with trying to get fibre club out the door and keeping up with a bunch of tech editing that all seems to have landed at once. In other words, complete chaos.

But this morning (a full week and a half after finishing the work thing that took over my life), I finally felt like I had a) some breathing room, and b) had recovered enough to be able to think a bit about other things. Imagine my surprise when I realised that the Tour de France starts in a mere five days! So I've started the Team Porpoise Fur 2017 thread on Ravelry, posted to the wildcard thread in the Tour de Fleece group and spammed the Yarn in the City group hoping to drum up some team mates. 

The whole thing is very simple: set yourself a challenge for the duration of the Tour de Fleece/France (1st July - 23rd July) and go for it! Some people pull vast piles of fibre out of their stash and commit to spinning pounds of yarn, some people challenge themselves to learn a new technique or try something outside of their comfort zone, some people aim to spin a little bit every day. Whatever is a challenge for you is all good!

Once again this year, my Tour de Fleece is going to be somewhat impaired by a bit of travelling, but my goals are as follows:

  1. Spin the four exclusive TdF colourways from this year
  2. Spin up at least four of my oldest Hello Yarn Fibre Club offerings
  3. Spin at least a little bit every day

If you'd like to get some of this year's TdF colourways, this is your last chance! The pre-orders are supposed to close today, but given my lateness, I'm going to leave them open until the end of the day tomorrow, 27 June. You can find them here, and all the details on the inspiration here.

I can't wait to start!!!!

Tour de Fleece 2017

The Giro is underway and the days are getting longer, which means it must be time to get ready for the Tour de Fleece! This is the third year I've done special colourways for the TdF, and I'm excited to share them with you.

First we have the colourway that highlights one of the stages not in France: this is Christkindlmarkt, to honour the start of this year's race in Düsseldorf. One of the great events in the Düsseldorf calendar is their annual Christmas market, so this colourway blends warms reds, pinks and oranges with a hint of bright green.

Christkindlmarkt on Charollais.jpg
Christkindlmarkt.jpg

Interestingly, according to Wikipedia (the source of all true facts, I'm sure!), this year's Tour was originally scheduled to start in London, but that TfL pulled out a week before the announcement of the location. Too bad...it would have been fun to do a London colourway, but hopefully there's another chance!

Moving on to Stage 4, we have the gradient colourway, this year drawn from legends around La Planche des Belles Filles, which translates to "board of the beautiful girls" and is the mountaintop finish of Stage 5. There are two stories around the origin of this name. One is that it comes from the local environment and the preponderance of beech trees; in the 16th century, the area was described as having many "belles fahys" (beech trees), which was then corrupted into Belles Filles. Planche (board) is derived from the name of a nearby small town, Plancher-les-Mines.

The other, more disturbing story, comes from the time of the Thirty Years' War (1616-1648), and holds that young women from the town fled into the mountains to escape approaching Swedish mercenaries. Rather than surrender, the girls chose to drown themselves in the lake. One of the soldiers engraved an epitaph for "les belles filles" on a board as a memorial. Needless to say, I used the beech tree image as the inspiration for this year's gradient, Fagus.

Fagus on Charollais.jpg
Fagus.jpg

Next up is the obligatory wine-inspired combination: this is Cabernet Franc, inspired by the black grape variety grown in the wine growing region of Bergerac, which the riders will visit on Stage 10. This colour was drawn from images of the grape itself rather then the deep reds that it is used to make.

Cabernet Franc on Charollais
Cabernet Franc

Finally, we have Brigantium, inspired by the start of Stage 18, where the riders will begin in the high  mountain village of Briançon, and climb up to the top of the Col d'Izoard. This colourway blends the blues and greys of the mountains and sky with the orange of some of the older architecture. The name is taken from the name of the original Roman settlement in Briançon, which was mentioned by Ptolemy in his writings.

Brigantium
Brigantium

All of these colourways will be dyed to order on Charollais, this year's exclusive base. As they are dyed-to-order, I'll be shipping weekly only so there may be a bit of a delay in receiving your fibre, but I will do my best to get them out as soon as possible!

The Tour de Fleece 2017 colourways will be available from 10:00 am on Sunday, 21 May through Sunday, June 26 only, so that I can get the last batches out for the start of the race on 1 July. To get first crack at the TdF2017 colours, sign up to the newsletter below for early access to the shop update from 9:00 pm Saturday night. And I hope to see lots of you spinning away with Team Porpoise Fur for the Tour de Fleece!

Tour de Fleece is coming!

May means that I'm spending lots of time at the dye pots, playing with colours to come up with this year's Tour de Fleece exclusive colourways. I've got three of them nailed down, and am finalising the last one so look for those to be revealed over the next few weeks!

This year I'm going to try running a dye-to-order model for the TdF colourways. In previous year's I've dyed up batches of fibre, but that hasn't always mirrored the demand, so sometimes I end up with lots of leftovers which can sit around for quite a while as I can't sell them. Similarly, since I use an exclusive base each time around that isn't normally carried in the shop, I can end up with undyed base that I may or may not be able to use for something else. Long story short: with limited dye time available, I need to find a more efficient way to produce the TdF colourways.

Preorders will be available starting from the shop update next Sunday (21 May), and I'll be getting colour previews up this week. I can reveal that the base this year is another French breed: the Charollais. This breed originated in east central France from a cross between the Leicester Longwool with local land-race breeds, but are now bred in the UK, and are used to produce high quality lambs for meat. Charollais produce fleece with a staple length of 4-6 cm, and a diameter of 29-30.5 microns. The wool is used in dress fabrics, flannel and knitting wool in the UK.

I've been spinning up some of my initial dye experiments, and am finding this to be a fine fibre, but the staple is quite short! It makes for a bouncy yarn if spun in a woolen style to preserve the elasticity, and I'm looking forward to knitting it up!

  Image from http://coldharbour-charollais.co.uk/special.php?pageno=53

Image from http://coldharbour-charollais.co.uk/special.php?pageno=53

Lab Goddess Fibre Club March 2017

I've come back from two weeks on holiday to discover that while I was away, the leaves have come out and spring is truly arrived! (As my hayfever can attest!) What better moment to share the most recent Lab Goddess Fibre Club colourway?

  Surinamensium on Bluefaced Leicester

Surinamensium on Bluefaced Leicester

Surinamensium is inspired by entymologist and scientific illustrator Maria Sibylla Merian, who lived from 1647-1717. Trained from childhood as an artist, Merian painted her first images of insects and plants at age 13. Her first book of natural illustrations was published in 1675 and in 1699 the city of Amsterdam gave her a grant to travel to South America, where she spent the next two years travelling through the colonies, sketching.

In 1705, her most famous work - Metamorphosis insectorium Surinamensium - was published, and was one of the first books to detail insect metamorphosis, a process which had been largely ignored as insects were considered unworthy of scientific interest. 

  The image that inspired the colours used in the March Fibre Club.

The image that inspired the colours used in the March Fibre Club.

I wanted greens for the March colourway, but coupled those with blue, brown and mauve from the moth's wings. I can't wait to see how this colourway spins up, as the contrast in the depth of shade of the different colours should make for some interesting pops in the finished yarn.

This month marks the start of the second Fibre Club of 2017 and slots are still available - they will be closing as of early tomorrow morning, so if you'd like to join in please don't wait! I'm off to enjoy the fresh spring greens and start spinning up my Surinamensium - happy bank holiday to you all!

Lab Goddess Fibre Club February 2017

Things have been a bit crazy this month getting ready for EYF, but I'm very happy with how the club colourway turned out this time around!

  Network on my new Sock Blend (50% Corriedale/25% Southdown/25% nylon)

Network on my new Sock Blend (50% Corriedale/25% Southdown/25% nylon)

For this month’s inspiration, I chose a woman about whom very little is known. Alessandra Giliani is believed to have been born in San Giovanni, Italy, in 1307, and died at the tender age of 19, possibly due to sepsis. Although the details of her life are mostly lost, she is celebrated as the first female anatomist in the Western World. Giliani worked as a surgical assistant to Mondino de’Liuzzi, the father of modern anatomy, and a professor at the University of Bologna. She was reported as a brilliant dissectionist (prosecutor) and developed a method for visualising the circulatory system by filling the blood vessels with a hardened coloured dye.

When I read that last bit of information, I had an immediate flashback to the start of my postdoctoral fellowship, when I began working in a lab that studied the blood-brain barrier. One of the images that struck me while I was doing some background reading was one like this:

This is a cast of the brain’s blood vessel network, showing the vast complexity of the structure, and giving an idea of what types of casts Giliani may have produced in her studies of the circulatory system.

Circulating blood is typically represented as either red (oxygenated) or blue (deoxygenated), so I chose to take different shades of each of those colours and dye this month’s fibre using a technique that allows them to blend and merge randomly. Sometimes they blend a lot, sometime less so, giving a colourway that is always a bit of a surprise when it comes out of the dyepots!

This month’s fibre is my new Sock Blend, a blend of 50% Corriedale/25% Southdown/25% nylon. Corriedale is one of my favourite fibres for newer spinners, as it is very straightforward to spin. I’ve added some Southdown, one of the Down breeds, to give a bit more bounce and elasticity, as well as perhaps a tiny bit of resistance to felting. Last, but not least, is a healthy dose of nylon to make a strong, wear-resistant yarn. If you do spin this for socks, I recommend lots of twist for the singles and plying – it doesn’t have to feel super soft and drapey in the skein, but it will need to be durable and wear well. You can find more of the sock blend in the Shop if you'd like to try it out!