Roadtrip Recap: TOFT Alpaca Farm Studio

Not to be outdone by Rachel who has already written an alpaca-filled blog post about our weekend adventure, I decided it was high time that I stopped teasing you all with empty promises of showing off my daytrip adventures and actually post some pictures with a proper recap. WARNING: Picture-heavy post ahead! 

Last weekend Rachel picked me up bright and early (she's so good to me!) and we headed off towards Warwickshire, home of the TOFT Alpaca Farm for a day-long class learning all about hand-dyeing yarn.

This way to the TOFT Studio. Are we ready to dye some yarn or what?  

This way to the TOFT Studio. Are we ready to dye some yarn or what? 

I've always loved the raw, natural beauty of the TOFT brand's aesthetic. The way it all works together, an honouring of the past but not afraid of modern influence, is stunning - it's definitely my jam. It was a delight to see that their studio and shop was was no exception:

The many yarns of TOFT Alpacas  

The many yarns of TOFT Alpacas 

Vintage bobbins with the signature TOFT all-natural colour palette  

Vintage bobbins with the signature TOFT all-natural colour palette 

  A clever use for old printing trays - art created from scraps of yarn wrapped on tiny sewing bobbins

 A clever use for old printing trays - art created from scraps of yarn wrapped on tiny sewing bobbins

  Some of the many TOFT designs on display

 Some of the many TOFT designs on display

    Inspiration in the old and new is everywhere at TOFT

  Inspiration in the old and new is everywhere at TOFT

We were welcomed by TOFT staffer, Harriet, who had coffee ready, along with some comfy chairs after our short, two hour drive:

Our wonderful hostess for the day, Harriet  

Our wonderful hostess for the day, Harriet 

  Who needs a leather club chair when you can have one slipcovered in alpaca?!

 Who needs a leather club chair when you can have one slipcovered in alpaca?!

The workshop was led by Debbie Tomkies of DT Crafts who had us jump right in with procion dyes. We started off dyeing some samples with different strengths of the same dye, for making some shade cards to take home:

    Lots of dyeing fun, the procion dyes, and Debbie at the helm

  Lots of dyeing fun, the procion dyes, and Debbie at the helm

  Little sample skeins all nestled in their dye baths

 Little sample skeins all nestled in their dye baths

After that, we each picked two colours with a partner and mixed them in different ways to see how they would turn out. And then, it was time for a walk with Harriet to see the alpacas and who told us all about the farm and the work they do at TOFT:

  Glad we brought our wellies! 

 Glad we brought our wellies! 

  Clouds rolling in - but look! Alpacas on the horizon!

 Clouds rolling in - but look! Alpacas on the horizon!

  Curious creatures, but cautious. The mommies were quick to surround the baby cria.

 Curious creatures, but cautious. The mommies were quick to surround the baby cria.

Pretty cria posing for her picture  

Pretty cria posing for her picture 

  The beautiful countryside around TOFT Manor

 The beautiful countryside around TOFT Manor

After our walk it was back to the workshop to dye learn more about the different ways to dye and try our hand at a mini skein of lace weight: 

  Clockwise from top left: my inspiration for the colours, assembling the cups in a bucket for easier dyeing,   my finished yarn,   dyei  ng the skein

 Clockwise from top left: my inspiration for the colours, assembling the cups in a bucket for easier dyeing, my finished yarn, dyeing the skein

As you can see, my blacks went a little more blue, but it was all part of the learning process and I'm quite pleased with how it turned out. 

Following a quick break for lunch, we were back at it with our full skeins. I chose a gorgeous, sheep-y smelling aran weight skein of Jacob British Wool and decided to try my hand at making a colour changing yarn - similar to some Freia Handpaints I saw on holiday in Canada. 

First I wound the wet, prepared yarn into a cake with a ball winder (Rachel was my willing swift - thank you Rach!), and then pulled it apart from the centre out into three sections. After that I dyed each section following the methods we'd already learned in the workshop: 

  Counter-clockwise starting at the top: the colour experiment from the morning was my inspiration, each portion of the skein being dyed it's own colour, the finished skein wound back into a yarn cake

 Counter-clockwise starting at the top: the colour experiment from the morning was my inspiration, each portion of the skein being dyed it's own colour, the finished skein wound back into a yarn cake

All too soon the day was at an end and it was time for our drive back to the city, our brains bursting with the creative energy leftover from a session of intense inspiration. 

This is the second dye workshop I've had the privilege of attending and have to say that a full day was the way to go over the two hours that I'd done previously. I'm still not about to start dyeing my own yarn though, but I do appreciate learning and knowing more about the process. Understanding the mechanics behind our materials as fibre artists can be just as important as the materials and creating with them is. I've always loved hand-dyed yarns and definitely have even more of an appreciation now for the amount of work that goes into each individual skein.

As for my lovely little bulls-eye skein? I think it is destined to be a toasty toque for wearing at the ice rink this winter while Mr. H is at hockey practice. I'm thinking about Buzzba (can you just SEE that pointy top in the lime green??) but would love to hear your suggestions too! 

A sunny spring day in London

It was beautiful and sunny in London yesterday. Still only +7C mind you, but beautiful and sunny enough to make me throw caution to the wind and leave the house in cropped pants and barefoot in ballet flats!

Granted, I was wearing my fabulous alpaca pom pom hat so my head was warm. Didn't your grandma tell you that you lose heat through your head? So if your head is warm the rest of you is too? Suffice to say, I was toasty.

After a sprint from the bus up to Platform 1 at Clapham Junction to meet Rachel (good woman was waiting for me with an americano just the way I like it!), we were off on the overground to Kensington Olympia for the Spring Knitting and Stitching Show.

The queue had started to form well before the opening time of 10am.

The queue had started to form well before the opening time of 10am.

 The scoping began before the doors opened too. Check out this clearly awesome knitter's bag!

The scoping began before the doors opened too. Check out this clearly awesome knitter's bag!

Once inside, Rachel and I were immediately captivated by the large display of quilts by some clearly, very talented quilters:

 Amazing blend of colour and design.

Amazing blend of colour and design.

 A quilt done in the traditional Hawaiian style.

A quilt done in the traditional Hawaiian style.

 I loved the simplicity of this one...

I loved the simplicity of this one...

 ...next to the complexity of this one. What a riot of colour!

...next to the complexity of this one. What a riot of colour!

 The quilts were amazing in their construction...

The quilts were amazing in their construction...

 ...and even more mind-blowing up close.

...and even more mind-blowing up close.

When we were finally able to drag ourselves away, I'm surprised we didn't buy everything in sight at the strategically placed Liberty fabrics booth next to the exhibit to start a new quilting project right there!

There was a good mix of booths of quilting, cross stitch and through to another section we started to see a lot more booths with yarn and knitting:

 Teapots! Aren't they fabulous?

Teapots! Aren't they fabulous?

 Not yarn, but this entire picture is made of sewing thread. Wow.

Not yarn, but this entire picture is made of sewing thread. Wow.

 Shortly after I took this I ended up diving into this pile to try and reach a yummy bag of yarn. I threw it back though, and was rewarded with a delicious alpaca find later on!

Shortly after I took this I ended up diving into this pile to try and reach a yummy bag of yarn. I threw it back though, and was rewarded with a delicious alpaca find later on!

I don't have any pictures, but I did come home with some cute octopus buttons for a baby sweater (no baby in mind, just thought they were cute!), and a skein of Spud & Chloe "just in case" I don't have enough for the sleeves on the dinosaur jumper. Oh, and an alpaca dress from the folks at The TOFT Alpaca Shop. They were selling off some samples and well, I couldn't resist. And it was such a good deal, I made Rachel buy one too!

Once we were yarned out we headed down the Kensington High Street in search of food. I think our new favourite find is the "food court" at Whole Foods where we celebrated our late day for the school run with burritos and Coronas. Incredibly civilized. Then some more world-domination with our sooper-sekrit project!

Those photos will have to wait though, since now I'm off to meet up with Rach again today. We're both on the volunteer roster for the spinning demos at Wool House today and it's time for me to run for the train. Again!

Half-term and a new hat

My little guy's second half-term is now at and end, thank goodness. Not that I don't think a little break in the school routine isn't a good thing, but having two weeks off (as opposed to one, like other British schools) definitely starts to seem a little excessive in the second week when you can tell the kids are feeling the absence of routine as painfully as the parents are.

If there's one thing I kept solidly to over these last few weeks though, it's been bedtime. In our world, allowing bedtime to be disrupted over two weeks just means that it's going to be at least another two weeks once school starts to get things onto an even keel again. Besides, with my mom visiting and the little guy tiring us out with activities during the day, it's meant that we can relax with a glass of wine once he's been tucked in and it's lights out!

And of course being me, that's meant relaxing with a glass of wine AND my knitting! I've been working pretty steadily on this:

 WIP:  Bedouin Bag in Three Sizes  by Nora J. Bellows. I'm doing the smallest size. 

WIP: Bedouin Bag in Three Sizes by Nora J. Bellows. I'm doing the smallest size. 

I am completely in love with the colour. Coupled with the bright and happy chartreuse, turquoise and olive print fabric I found to line it with, this has the potential of being my go-to bag this summer.

The only problem with the bag in it's pre-felted state, especially now that I'm even farther along in the knitting, is that it is MASSIVE and can no longer easily be taken anywhere (double-stranding five skeins of Cascade 220 - so far! - will do that). Not that I've let that stop me mind you, but I did decide at the beginning of the week to take along something a little smaller. I cast on Monday evening for the alpaca pom pom beanie kit that I bought at Unravel and by Tuesday evening I was weaving in the ends:

Pattern:  Pom Pom Beanie  by The TOFT Alpaca Shop   Yarn:  Toft Alpaca Chunky Weight Alpaca  in Steel   Yardage (for the Pre-Process Stashdown 2013): 95 yards    Click the photo to link to my Ravelry project notes

Pattern: Pom Pom Beanie by The TOFT Alpaca Shop
Yarn: Toft Alpaca Chunky Weight Alpaca in Steel
Yardage (for the Pre-Process Stashdown 2013): 95 yards 
Click the photo to link to my Ravelry project notes

It didn't matter that the weather warmed up as soon as I finished it - I wore it anyway. That's how much I love this hat. I love the look of it, the nice, snug fit (especially over my ears!), the versatile colour and especially, ESPECIALLY the alpaca fur pom pom that came in the kit.

Thanks to my mom for capturing these great pics while we were visiting the Tower of London this week.

Thanks to my mom for capturing these great pics while we were visiting the Tower of London this week.

I've been surprised at the number of toques that I've seen in London this winter, but even more surprised by the number of them that have been sported with ginormous pom poms on them. Being Canadian I knew I could rock that look but I'm really happy to have it bring me a little London style too!

Catching up

It's still half term here at our house. My son's school gets two weeks as opposed to the one that most British schools get and while I think we do a good job of filling the days (my mom is here so we've been having a great visit and seeing various sights) and keeping the little guy on a regular schedule, mommy's regular routine has been completely thrown out the window.

Things have also been ramping up a bit for me work-wise so that's keeping me busy too, and then of course there were two more knitting/craft-related shows that I went to. One was a craft trade show, where I met some fabulous folks and also the lovely gals from the UK Handknitting Association. Their organisation keeps track of all kinds of knitting and crochet goings-on in the UK and their website has a ton of resources from retailers to suggestions for charitable knitting.

The other show was Unravel, which I attended with Rachel this past Sunday. Rachel seems to think I was using her for a ride to Farnham and while I cheerfully acknowledge being a ride-mooch, I do enjoy her company! Unravel was held at Farnham Maltings - a cool arts-and-culture-and-community kind of space made up of a bunch of different buildings and the show took over almost every available space. We wandered through room after room of exhibitors, down hallways and on multiple floors until we were yarned out (sadly, this meant I didn't go back to look at a couple of yarn-y stalls and I never did get that tea towel that said "Oh how I'd rather be knitting". Oh well.).

Sadly, I didn't get a lot of photos, but I did get some good loot:

A ball of 100% alpaca in a chunky weight from  Toft Alpacas  and an alpaca fur pom pom (a kit to make their  Pom Pom Hat ), a ball of  Bigwigs Angora  DK (50% angora, 50% merino), 25g of Bigwigs Angora fibre, and two little lavender sachets for my sweater drawers.

A ball of 100% alpaca in a chunky weight from Toft Alpacas and an alpaca fur pom pom (a kit to make their Pom Pom Hat), a ball of Bigwigs Angora DK (50% angora, 50% merino), 25g of Bigwigs Angora fibre, and two little lavender sachets for my sweater drawers.

As you can see, the hat was very quick to get on the needles. It's also been even quicker to get off since it's already finished! I need some better pics though, so will have to wait to show you.