Wednesday 31 December 2014

looking back

As the old year passes, I take to the hills. Not literally, not physically. But in my mind's eye. 
Drifting off into that place between waking and dreaming, there is no real time to mull over 2014 before I surrender to sleep. No need really either. These past twelve months, I've done enough mulling to last a lifetime.

But it's good to take a cursory glance back across my shoulder, back down the mountain of the year. For it is only now that I can see it has all been worth it, that I did the right thing to keep going, to keep on hoping and not bail out when the going got tough.
That is what 2014 has taught me, to keep on matter how slowly.

Because as is often the way out in these mountains, it's only when you've slogged for hours up that hillside, worked through the sweat and the tears to stand high on the crest with the sun on your face that you can truly measure just how far you've come. 
Here on the cusp of the mountain, it's finally easy to see where I've been...and where I'm going next...
Joining in with these gorgeous and inspiring girls: 

Sunday 14 December 2014


December, already. With it's misty mornings and first sprinklings of snow. I've not been well of late, and have been spending seemingly every waking moment either curled up in bed, or nestled in an armchair by the fire.

November began full of intention and plenty of exciting projects on the go, but quickly trailed off into a mist of extreme fatigue, aches and foggy head.

Things are a little better than those first few weeks I spent camped out in our sitting room, sleeping pretty much day and night by the fire. But there's still not much energy around these parts just now, and I'm having to listen to my body and pull right back. 

So work has sadly had to come to an end for the foreseeable future. And not a lot of spinning or knitting either.

Instead, plenty of home-made tisanes to keep the fluids up, snuggling up on our woollen mattress, heaped up with woollen blankets and a podcast or two in my ears when I'm feeling up to it.

Tuesday 4 November 2014

néou aran (spun)

I've fallen in love with the Caora sweater and would love to make one with my own hand-spun yarn. The gorgeous chunky garter stitch calls for a bulky weight (7 wpi) yarn. So a few weeks back, I spent the morning sampling as I was curious to see just how thick I could go. 

In no time at all, I had spun up some fat singles and was fairly satisfied with the results. It was a real joy to try spinning a thicker yarn, even if they were a little more lumpy bumpy than I've been producing recently, but apparently it's very normal to find it harder to produce regular thicker yarns than thin. Then came plying the singles together, which was a whole different matter! 

Within minutes I was having trouble drawing the plied yarn onto the bobbin, which no matter of fiddling with the tension seemed to solve. I ended up having to ply in fits and starts, pretty much hand winding the entire length of the plied yarn onto the bobbin! It felt as if I had regressed back to being a complete novice spinner...although unlike my first attempts, this yarn is not over-plied thank goodness!  

Although I've ended up with a slightly slubby (uneven) yarn, weighing somewhere between Bulky and Aran (7-8 wpi), the finished yarn is really gorgeous - beautifully balanced and very soft to the touch. I can just imagine how wonderful it would be to wrap myself up in the Caora sweater on poorly days. I'd love to spin enough to cast on, but I think I've sadly discovered the limits of my 19th century spinning wheel - it just is not happy producing chunky yarn. 

Looks like I might have to start saving up for a more modern wheel, with a bigger orifice and jumbo flyer.... 

"néou aran"

Ingredients: 70g of washed and carded wool. The fibre used was white Berichon du Cher from Gèdre.

Spinning: Two singles spun from rolags in the Z direction, using the woollen technique.  

Plying: two singles plied in the S direction until balanced. 

Finishing: Wound off into a skein, washed and dried weighted to set the ply.

Quantity: 67g giving 40m of finished yarn
WPI: 7-8
Yarn Weight: Bulky/Aran

Monday 3 November 2014


We're already two days into Wovember, an initiative set up by a group of wonderful wool enthusiasts from native UK. What better way to ease slowly into the dew drenched, misty mornings of November with a whole month dedicated to celebrating the wonder of wool in all it's shapes and forms? Who knows, it might be snowing down here in the village by the weekend!

This next month, I'll be wearing as much pure wool as possible as a way of celebrating the unique qualities of wool as a renewable, natural resource. I'll also be sharing a variety of stories, from the personal to the (possibly!) political, exploring different aspects of wool where I am. Not only from here in my little valley in the Pyrenees, but also further afield in some of the corners of France I've visited this year. Telling tales from yesteryear and today of growing, harvesting, processing and promoting wool, from farm to yarn as it were. 

And finally, I'll be endeavouring to complete two woolly challenges within the next thirty days, as part of the WAL (wool-along). I'm hoping to stretch my fledgling dressmaking skills by attempting to sew my first garment in 100% woollen cloth. And I've also set myself a spinning challenge - to spin as many metres of 2 ply sports weight yarn as possible from a recently shorn local fleece before the month is out.

If you're taking part in Wovemeber, and/or have set yourself a woolly challenge, I'd love to hear about it - please share in the comments below. I'd also love to hear your own personal stories of wool where you are, feel free to drop me a line! 

Saturday 1 November 2014


I've been reading Liesl's gorgeous blog since the spring, having first stumbled upon it whilst searching for a recipe for natural dyeing with walnut husks. Since then, I've been enjoying reading her adventures as she takes her first steps in rearing chickens, watching her progress in her monthly sock knitting challenge and of course finding endless inspiration (and helpful hints) in her experimentations with natural dyes.

I was delighted (and honoured!) to be asked to participate in her 3 questions can read my answers over here!

Friday 31 October 2014


There are times when it can feel as if the rough and tumble of life has left us washed up on the rocks, forgotten in the sand by the retreating tide. Just like this little starfish I found on the foreshore last weekend. 

But just as on the foreshore the tide will always turn, so too in life things will inevitably change. It can be hard to stay calm whilst we're waiting. Sometimes it's easy to loose perspective and get swept away by such feelings, to feel as if we'll be marooned forever. 

It's at times like these we have to hold on tight to all the good things we have. To remember that we are not alone. And to acknowledge that all things must pass. Even the really hard stuff. 

And sometimes when all that is to hard, we have to surrender and let those wonderful people who are there by our sides look out for us. Let them pluck us from the sand and safely put us back in the sea, as it were. Because we are all holding each others lives. And together we can get through the strongest of tempests.

All things will pass. Just as everything will be ok. Because he is by my side. As he has been for the past five years.  

Thursday 30 October 2014

cotton top (sewn)

pattern: New Look 6483 

A couple of weeks ago, I took another scrap of old sheet, a pattern borrowed from my Ma and started sewing a simple cotton top. 

It was my first time "going solo" on a dressmaking project, as neither of my two regular sewing gurus were on hand to help me when I got stuck. Which did happen rather a lot. 

There were lots of new processes to discover (stay-stitching, interfacing, layering seams...) as well as exciting new elements in the construction of the garment itself (shoulder seams, side slits, bust darts). Even a little hand sewing (sewing a button loop). All in all, I think things turned out rather well, even if I didn't fully understand how to tackle the shoulder seam until after. At least I'll know for the next one, and I'm sure there will be one very soon! 

Perhaps the trickiest part to deal with on my own was the little matter of fitting the garment, a fundamental element which I hadn't really dealt with before. Thankfully by the time I was ready to sew the side seams, we had arrived up here in Brittany and my mother in law was on hand to give me a little master-class to ensure that it didn't gape around the arm-pits.

Location: Port Bara beach, Quibéron (Morbihan)

ps: Ma, if you're reading this (which I'm sure you are!) rest assured, I did press the top properly before I put it just got a little crinkled in the car on the way to the beach...

Wednesday 29 October 2014


Children ran along the boardwalk that through the dunes and down towards the sea. We inched forward at a slower pace, no less enamoured by the view. As we reached the shoreline, I deeply inhaled the unmistakable saltiness.

Sea air and sunshine are always a tonic. Just what I need to help me mentally prepare for winter in the valley.

Location: Batz-sur-Mer

Monday 27 October 2014


We set off for a walk on an October weekend, welly-footed, nets and buckets in hand. Our destination was a series of rock pools near La Turballe. Hidden in the beneath the glittering water amongst the sand and seaweed was a treasure trove of periwinkles, oysters, mussels and shrimps.

Saturday 25 October 2014


There were mussels and oysters, waiting to be gathered in the sandy foreshore. We walked to the edge of the sandbar and watched the oystercatchers, dunlins and herring gulls fishing in the shallows. Overhead, flocks of migrating Canada geese flew across the wide arc of the sky. 

We splashed in the eddies, sometimes our wellies wading just that little bit too far. We gathered shells, skimmed stones and filled our lungs with as much fresh air as we could manage.

Friday 24 October 2014

la gare, Nantes

It's rush hour in Nantes by the time we arrive at the train station. The place is crowded with people, tourists taking photos, office workers pouring out from buses and trams and dashing towards the platforms in their tight trousers, smart suits and high heeled shoes. As we wait for our train in our creased clothes and with our rucksacks on our backs, we are surrounded by commuters. We eavesdrop on their conversations, snatching snippets of their daily grind. We laugh firstly at their funny clothes, their harrassed expressions, the fact that their telephones seem to be an extension of themselves. And then we laught at ourselves. I hadn't realised just how much I've turned into a country bumpkin...

Thursday 23 October 2014

sock yarn

 I love knitting socks and so was initially enthralled with the idea of spinning to later join in with one of Liesl's future monthly sock challenges. After doing a little research, I realised that sock yarn needs to be not only strong, smooth and elastic but also very sturdy - sturdy enough to withstand the abrasion caused by the rubbing motion of foot and shoe. Whilst I could easily knit the sock cuff out of any yarn, the foot portion would need to be spun from a good worsted yarn. Worsted yarn has all the attributes that a sock yarn needs: it's smooth, resilient and very, very strong. It also resists felting, which is a real plus as sometimes my feet get wet whilst out walking!

So for now, sock yarn is beyond me. I possess neither the tools (a reasonable set of wool combs) or the skills (worsted draw) to easily make a worsted yarn. However, I'll be filing that idea away for a future project...

I'm hoping that sometime next year I'll produce some sock weight yarn strong enough to withstand the inevitable wear that comes with a pair of socks. But for now, I'm happy to use up some yarn that I've had in my yarn stash since I was in my final year of university.


It's half term, so here we are in Brittany for the next ten days. Staying with my belle-famille, catching up with friends, picking home grown flowers, wild-crafting in the rock-pools and along the shoreline, breathing in the sea air. And hopefully plenty of knitting and sewing too.

Tuesday 21 October 2014

tarte aux pommes

A bowl of apples from our secret orchard were turned into a delicious (gluten and dairy free) tarte aux pommes in the hands of my chéri. Just the thing to raise the spirits on a particularly poorly day at the end of last week. 

(Needles to say, it was so delicious, there wasn't time to photograph it before *abracadabra* it had been magicked away...)  

Monday 20 October 2014

rainbow socks (WIP)

It feels like an age since I last knitted a pair of socks. Liesl's sock KAL is the perfect excuse to get some cast on, and use up some stashed yarn.

Sunday 19 October 2014

in equal measure

Day and night in equal measure. Enough rest, not too many worries. 

From it's daily rising to it's setting, the sun doesn't hurry across the sky. She takes her time, going at her own rhythm. No need to rush, her daily path is already drawn. 

As we gently slide into autumn, it's the moment to take heart from the sun, to slow down and put balance at the centre once again.

Location: Messanges beach, at sunset. (Les Landes)

Friday 17 October 2014

cotton top (WIP)

I had an itching to to sew something, it's been a while since I last had the sewing machine out, after all. 

Impossible to think about corduroy trousers, woollen pinafore dresses or other such wintry clothes at the moment, when it's been over twenty five degrees every day since the weekend.  For the time being, I'm keeping things seasonal (and simple) and stitching a simple (recycled) cotton top. 

It's my first time going solo with darts and facings and other such scary things, after all.

Wednesday 15 October 2014


Ripe sloe berries out in the hedgerows then in our foraging basket are a sure sign that summer's coming to an end...but that sloe gin (or patxaran) for Christmas is in sight. 

Tuesday 14 October 2014

jacob's ladder sweater (CO)

The days are getting steadily shorter, but not any colder. If it weren't for the ferns turning the mountainside russet red, or field trips with N collecting basketfulls of walnuts, I'd swear we were at the start of summer, not autumn. 

There was only thing for it. Put on a flowery frock, walk barefoot in the summer meadows and cast on a pretty summer sweater in some recycled 4 ply cotton whilst we wait for the north wind to start blowing the leaves off the trees! 

(Not that I'm in any hurry for the snow to arrive by the way, even if I would quite like to try on my new hat...)

Monday 13 October 2014

early morning sounds

A rumble of distant thunder. The pitter patter of rain on the rooftop. The coffee pot gurgling on the stove. The snip snip snip of my scissors. The whirring of the sewing machine as it wakes up after it's long hibernation.

Sunday 12 October 2014


Whilst tidying up my yarn basket the other day, I came across a wonderful discovery right at the bottom: seventeen balls of gorgeous cotton four ply from an unknown yarn brand. I'd found them early in the year whilst on a rummage at one of our favourite second hand shops down the valley and forgotten about it until now. Just goes to show, sometimes it's a good idea to have a tidy-up...

Fibre: Cotton
Yarn weight: Fingering / 4 ply (14 wpi)

Stash: 17 skeins, 850g (giving 2040m) 
Price: Part of a large basket of recycled/second hand yarn costing 20€ in total. (So probably the whole lot cost me no more than a euro!)

Saturday 11 October 2014

shwook hat (spun & knitted)

Morning tea in the grey light of dawn. The last twinkles of the stars in the sky. Slowly the day breaks, pink and orange behind the summits. 

All the while, my needles are clicking back and forth. As a small patch of pale blue sky arrives, I have cast off. 

By the time the first rays of the hot sun reach our balcony an hour later, my tea has grown cold. But all the ends are woven in, and my hat is finished. 

All I need now is for this hot wind to die down and I'll be able to start wearing it!  

Pattern: Shwook hat,* knitted in honour of Shetland Wool Week, joining in with Melody's KAL.
Needles: 3.75 mm and 4.5 mm
Yarn: my own (hand-spun):


*Because the yarn didn't turn out quite as expected, I ended up having "hack" the pattern a little to make it work. Once I've properly finished ravelling the project, I'll put the details up over there.

Friday 10 October 2014


He often comes back from his mountain walks pockets bulging with gifts for me, his girl. Today, there were bilberries, rose-hips, parasol mushrooms (my favourite). And chestnuts. Our first chestnuts. Autumn must be coming after all.

Wednesday 8 October 2014


Walnuts all over. All sizes and colours. Some hiding in their green jackets, some waving to us from high in the trees' branches, some hidden amongst the golden leaves that carpet the ground. Baskets, pockets, bags and hands full. Fingers stained black. Basket-fulls of walnuts. Bucketfulls of black husks, gradually ready for a dye bath in a few weeks. Not yet chilly autumn air that is filled with the scent of early autumn.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

shwook hat (KAL)

Shetland Wool Week is finally here! And against all the odds, I've managed to get all my yarn spun, finished (and almost dry!) ready to cast on my Shwook Hat over the weekend.  

Yarn-wise, things haven't exactly turn out as I had expected when I first starting planning this project in August. I was really pleased with my first samples and especially my swatches and had decided to embark on a woolen spin as the gorgeous lofty finish and airy quality seemed more in keeping with the spirit of Shetland yarn and Fair Isle knitting.  However something must have happened from then until now and somehow without meaning to, I ended up not only spinning semi-worsted, but also in a heavier yarn weight than I was supposed to! (If you haven't already had enough technical jargon, somehow I jumped from fingering (14 wpi) to worsted-weight (9 wpi)!)

Still, c'est pas grave! I've cast on regardless, having first taken a good bit of time working out my own version of the Shwook fit my larger-than-expected yarns.

 It's looking good so far, I'm just a little concerned about the crown...

Sunday 5 October 2014

mesclats (spun)

My first time blending two colours of fibre together with my hand combs to produce a mixed yarn - “mesclats” - yarn. I’m delighted with the fuzzy texture and espeacially the colourway.


Ingredients: 35g of washed fleece, blended together whilst carding. The fleeces used were  white (20g) and brown (crossed) (15g) Berrichon du Cher, from Gèdre.

Carding:The two fleeces were blended together whilst on the handcombs before being rolled into rolags.
Spinning: Two singles spun from rolags in the Z direction, using a semi-worsted technique.
Plying: two singles plied in the S direction until balanced. 
Finishing: Wound off into a skein, washed and dried weighted to set the ply.
Quantity: 44g giving 44m of finished yarn
WPI: 9
Yarn Weight: DK


Saturday 4 October 2014

nougèr (spun)

After spinning and plying, I dyed the finished yarn using a natural plant dye prepared from the late summer leaves of the walnut tree, “nougèr” in the local dialect.


Ingredients: 32g of washed and carded wool. The fibre used was white Berrichon du Cher, from Gèdre.

Spinning: Two singles spun from rolags in the Z direction, using a semi-worsted technique. 

Plying: two singles plied in the S direction until balanced. 

Finishing: Wound off into a skein, washed and dried weighted to set the ply. Naturally dyed with foraged walnut leaves.

Quantity: 30g giving 32m of finished yarn
WPI: 9
Yarn Weight: DK