I have decided to enter the Royal Show this year. I decided to enter last year but missed a step and prepared (several) entries that I couldn’t enter in the end. Oh well. It isn’t as if I baked a cake and it ended in mould. I am not all that interested in the competition part, although of course it is flattering to get a ribbon, if I get a ribbon. But really, I like to be part of showing the crowds that come along that spinning and dyeing are still alive and happening nearby, that these crafts are creative as well as traditional and I like to give my friends at the Guild someone to compete with.
The hardest category for me to prepare is the ‘spinning perfection’ category. There are much better spinners than me at the Guild, and some of them are sure to enter. I count it a privilege to be beaten by people with such fine skills (and I hope it makes winning sweeter for them, that there is someone else entering). But this is an opportunity to build my skills and spin intentionally–because
sometimes often I just spin for serendipity, which is a different kind of pleasure. Even when I spin intentionally, I sometimes get surprises. Spinning is like a lot of crafts–it is simple enough to learn the basics, but you could spend an entire lifetime acquiring skill and still run out of time! This category requires three skeins of 50 g each, one fine, one medium and one bulky. Traditionally, it is presented in natural wool, even though this is not a requirement of the category. I have never seen a dyed skein in this category. This is fleece from ‘Viola’ –a gift from a friend of a friend. Viola’s breed was unknown to the giver but the consensus at the Guild (whew! there was consensus!) is that she must have parentage that is English Leicester and some other kind of heritage too.
Once of the previously mentioned Guildies of extreme spinning skill washed this fleece for me, which was such a generous and kind thing. It is beautifully clean and did not take me hours of backbreaking effort. She has a simpler method than the one I use, but I lack the equipment to do it. I carded up batts for the medium and bulky skeins and weighed out sections of the batts for each skein–2 ply for the medium skein and three ply for the bulky one.
Then I lashed on some locks and combed top for the fine skein. I am still pretty inexperienced at combing, but I am definitely improving, and top is a gorgeous preparation to spin. I have to say, the long locks on this fleece and the not-so-fine character of the fleece makes preparation a breeze.
No blood was lost! Two passes of the combs and I had lovely looking fibre ready to draw off into top…
Through a diz. I tell you, a person could take up spinning just to have tools with such wonderful names. It has helped me at Scrabble and Bananagrams no end! I do not bother with the list of two letter words with no discernible meanings but I pull out spinning and dyeing terms whenever possible. I pre-drafted the batts in their weighed-out sections and had a day of spinning and a second day when I did all the plying. It was quite a contrast to the last time I entered this category, when I seem to remember I was spinning for months. Perhaps I didn’t weigh out just enough for the entries. I seem to recall spinning an entire bobbin of each single last time, which is a significant amount of spinning.
Well, three months have passed since I was carding and combing Viola’s fleece for those ‘spinning perfection’ entries. There they are on the left. Then there is a skein of merino with dyed silkworm cocoons gifted to me by a friend (novelty category). Then an entire issue of The Guardian cut into strips and spun slowly on my wheel (novelty category). That’s right, since you’re asking, without glue. Then two skeins of Viola’s fleece which I’ll tell you more about in posts to come. Those who have been around a while will recognise some of those colours. Finally, two skeins of Malcolm the Corriedale dyed and spun a while back. These sets of two skeins are my two dyeing and spinning category entries. The entire pile of woolly goodness is sitting on top of a quilt I am entering.
I finished this a little while ago and it has a set of blocks on the front, each with a print of a species of Eucalypt, with its name embroidered in eucalyptus dyed silk thread. The back is a patchwork of pieces of eucalyptus-dyed cottons. It is machine quilted over an old flannelette sheet well past its heyday and ripe for a new life out of sight.
So–my entries are finished. They have their little labels attached. The quilt has a hanging sleeve hand sewn onto it! Most of the entries have the additional things required (accounts of dyes and breeds, samples of fibres) and a few do not. I’m just not well enough organised, and in the end decided to submit the skeins I want to show and not worry about their compliance with rules. I won’t be crushed if they don’t get a ribbon because I didn’t do all that was required. All I have to do now is take them in on the right day, and all should be well!
It isn’t a really wonderful example of quilting. I’m quite dedicated to patchwork and loved the dyeing and stitching, but I am less enthusiastic about quilting. Perhaps that is yet to grow on me! This quilt marked the beginning of embroidery growing on me for the first time since chiildhood, so it’s possible. I decided to enter partly to honour the admiration of a friend who thinks this is the best quilt ever. And partly just to speak back a little to all the floral frou-frou that dominates quilting exhibits I have seen with a little leafy goodness. And there you have my entries. Local wool, mostly local dyestuffs, local spinning and stitching–with some cotton and silk and indigo and osage orange from far away, grown and processed and woven by the hands of other people unknown to me. Showtime!