It is less than 3 months to the Cheshire Fibre Festival and between now and then I will be providing lots of information about the event. First is an introduction to one of the vendors, and my co-organiser, Nic. But rather than me introducing her she’s taking over the blog today – so make a cuppa, sit back and read all about Nic, by Nic!
Hello, I’m Nic and I’m the one woman whirlwind and dyeing ninja behind Yarns From The Plain . The aim of today’s post is to introduce myself as one of the vendors and co-organiser of the Cheshire Fibre Festival, but sometimes it’s hard to know where to start with these things. My first forays into knitting and crochet? My biggest successes? My most horrendous failures? My wide and varied career before all this? What happened to lead me here? After all, Valerie wants to keep her readers entertained, not send them into a catatonic state…
So, to help me organise the stream of consciousness that is my life, I thought I would use some subheadings (after all, I always used to tell my pupils to have a structure).
I can’t ever remember learning to knit, but Mum and I both assume she taught me. I remember making things with holes in for a long time. I also remember two squares I made for Brownies that were to go towards Oxfam blankets – probably for Cambodia. I remember those in bright yellow and blue. My date pointed out they were Oxford United colours. I also made Big Ted his own version of a Dr Who scarf and when I found it in my parents’ loft several years ago, I was quite impressed with my consistent tension.
Crochet is easier – I distinctly remember being taught by Mrs Crowdy in the Craft Room at Thame Summer Playscheme one year. She taught me how to make granny squares with half trebles (although I thought they were called trebles). I seem to remember wanting to make a tabard with them (sorry, but I was a child of the 70s) and for the best part of 30 years, that was the extent of my crochet. Seriously. In fact, I wasn’t really sure about how to fasten off neatly enough for a finished edge, so I started one granny square around about 1985 and just kept adding onto it, sporadically over the years until it was 6’6” across. I still wasn’t finished, but about 10 years ago I decided I was being ridiculous, and got it out of the bag and threw it onto the chair I was sitting in at the time.
My first degree is in Chemistry and I started out as a Graduate Trainee Commissioning Officer in the nuclear industry in West Cumbria. That involved a lot of writing Operating Instructions, Emergency Instructions, training of Control Room Operators and some scrambling around five stories of scaffolding checking pipework. After four years I took voluntary severance and retrained as a Primary Teacher, relocating to Manchester and then Cheshire, where I’ve lived for the last 20 years. Throughout that tine, I have continued to make things – cross stich kits, soft toys, cards; always making. About 10 years ago I knitted a fun fur scarf and then at the end of that year I made a baby blanket for a colleague, realised it was reducing my stress, and haven’t stopped since.
Beyond needles and hooks
On one trip to a wool show I bought a drop spindle. It took me a long time to get spinning with it, but finally it broke through and my parents bought me a wheel for my 40th birthday. I love spinning! And all that glorious fluff! Of course, I then was always looking for the perfect colour to work with. I went on a one day dyeing course and enjoyed that, bought some materials and promptly put them away (story of my life!)
In 2012, I got involved in the Woolsack project, making cushions out of wool from British reared animals to give to any home or visiting Olympian that wanted them. I knitted, crocheted, spun, wove and felted a range of cushions, including some where I dyed fibre prior to spinning and knitting it and others where I dyed commercially available British yarn.
Woolsack cushions – spun from own hand-dyed yarn
It was a blast, and as I worked through the project I became more and more interested in British produced yarns and fibres. It became an itch I wanted to scratch and in 2013 I tried very hard to only buy British (didn’t succeed, but almost did!) Towards the end of that year I had tried to dye some fibre and kept not quite getting the right shade. Coupled with some undyed yarn I had bought at Yarndale and then subsequently dyed, I took along a couple of boxes of my hand dyed yarn and fibre at the Spinning Guild one day. Guild members swarmed all over it like locusts!
From there to here
During 2014 I continued to dye small amounts of yarn and fibre in the holidays, but continued working full time in a senior leadership role in an Outstanding primary school. The start of the new academic year coincided with an amazing opportunity to apply for a part-time HNC course in Contemporary Constructed Textiles, specialising in weaving. I realised that even if the Governors agreed to let me have unpaid leave to attend once a term, I would not be able to continue with my workload and take on the additional work of my course, so I took the decision to leave at Christmas and set the business up alongside my college work.
Yarns From The Plain’s ethos
I love colour and I love British, so that is the key thing that underpins my work here. All my fibres are British or British Overseas Territory in origin. So are my yarns and I am delighted to say that currently all my yarns are prepared in Britain from British (or BOT) fibre and all but two of the twelve bases I currently have in stock are spun in the UK. Everything is done by hand at home – the dyeing, the drying, the rewinding, the labelling, the production lines when making up kits. It’s a joy, and I love my woolly life, even if I had underestimated just what a 50kg delivery of yarn would look like…