Back to the spindle

The last few months have been (as you might imagine) a bit of a whirlwind. My stash and I are currently on opposite sides of the world (both the small stash in Maine and the larger stash in the UK), and it’s currently 35 degrees C where I am, so there is a conspicuous lack of holiday crafting going on.

What I have had with me in the last couple of months is my lovely 3D printed Turtlemade spindle (a gift from Alli via Cat & Sparrow) and a bit of Porpoise Fur fibre that had been languishing in the unsold stock pile for quite a while.

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The fibre is 70% Bluefaced Leicester/30% trilobial nylon. It spins like straight BFL, but the nylon adds some sparkle in interesting ways - it isn’t a fully mixed blend, so there are streaks of nylon in the top that shine, a bit like a silk blend.

So over the past two months I’ve slowly worked away at this 100 g, and this week I finished the singles and the plying! I managed to fit all the singles onto my not-very-large spindle in a monster cop,

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wound off on an improvised niddy noddy,

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and ended up with 164 yd/150 m of lovely, perfectly balanced (!), DK to sport weight yarn.

It is very well timed that I’ve finished this yarn now, as I’m about to head off to Cairns which has a dearth of yarn shops. Now I have something to knit with, the question becomes what to make with it? Suggestions welcome!

All Change

Today is my 46th birthday, and so it seems like a good time to explain what has been and is going on with me and mine.

We originally came to the UK in 2009 for what was meant to be three years. It has been a fantastic outcome that those initial three years have turned into almost ten, and we've loved it! But over the past year it has become apparent that there are real forces pulling us back in the direction of the States. We are very lucky in that our parents are all still in good shape, but they are definitely slowing down so there is a motivation to be closer.

More importantly however, we have two children who - despite having lived in London for the vast majority of their lives - self-identify and are identified by their peers as American. But they don't actually know what that means. 

A little less than a year ago my husband and I had one of those conversations where we suddenly realised that we had a huge opportunity to change things up in a major way. He had been at the same company for more than 15 years, and was ready for something different. I was a year into a new full-time career, and was realising exactly how portable it could be. Add in ageing parents and the girls, and we started floating the idea of taking a step back and looking for new opportunities, while exposing the kids to new experiences.

The end result of many months of conversations and soul-searching is that we are taking a gap year - somewhat belated as we both finished high school almost 30 years ago! We will be going on a whirlwind travel adventure that includes a couple of road trips across the US to really introduce the girls to their homeland, four months in Asia and Oceania, and the space to figure out what we want to do when we grow up. Normal everyday life is so busy and full of stuff that it has been impossible for us (like so many others) to carve out any spare energy to contemplate alternatives to the current status quo. We are extraordinarily lucky to be able to take this time out and figure out what comes next, and I am looking forward to seeing what new and exciting doors open up as a result!

So that's the Cliff Notes version of the story behind the Porpoise Fur hiatus. I fully expect to be back dyeing in the future, once we get ourselves settled and sorted out on the other end of this year. Without a clear idea of when that will be I don't want to put any firm timelines on the return! If you haven't already signed up to the newsletter, please do so here, and I will keep everyone posted when Porpoise Fur is back! And the 25% off sale is still on until 10 September, so please head over to the Shop to stock up.


Lab Goddess Fibre Club - 2017 Third Quarter Round Up

The third quarter of the 2017 Lab Goddess Fibre Club is done and dusted, so it's time to share all the goodies from the last round with you.

July brought Cobalamin on Wensleydale, inspired by British scientist Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, a chemist and X-ray crystallographer. Dorothy Hodgkin was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964 for her work in determining the structure of Vitamin B12 (also called cobalamin).

Cobalamin on Wensleydale

Cobalamin on Wensleydale

To date, she remains the only British woman to have been awarded any of the three Nobel prizes in science (Physics, Chemistry and Physiology or Medicine).

August brought us to another British scientist, Dame Nancy Rothwell, a physiologist and neuroscientist whose research has investigated energy balance regulation, obesity and wasting syndrome, and now focuses on inflammatory processes that damage the brain after stroke. The August colourway, Anakinra, was named for a drug that Dr. Rothwell is currently working with to see if it can prevent stroke damage, and was dyed on Finnish, a medium wool.

Anakinra on Finnish

Anakinra on Finnish

The quarter finished with a special base, 80% organic Merino/20% mulberry silk that I've been hoarding for quite a while, waiting for the right project.

Substance X on 80% organic Merino/20% mulberry silk

Substance X on 80% organic Merino/20% mulberry silk

This colourway was inspired by Alma Levant Hayden, an African-American chemist who was instrumental in debunking Krebiozen, a 1960s miracle cure for cancer which actually did nothing of the sort. Instead of a revolutionary new medical advance, Krebiozen turned out to be nothing more than creatine, a naturally occurring organic acid produced by the liver.

Slots are still available for the last round of the Lab Goddess Fibre Club for 2017, and I hope you'll join us!

Trying new things

Over the past weeks as I've been preparing for Yarndale at the end of the month, I've been playing around with some new dye techniques, and finding some fantastic ways to put colour on fibre!

Back on the podcast a little while ago, Allison suggested that I should try speckled fibre. As someone who has been slow to get on the speckled yarn bandwagon, I was a little bit dubious as to how that would look on fibre and then again as handspun yarn, but I've been trying it out and I am really pleased with the results!

Sand Creatures on Merino d'Arles

Sand Creatures on Merino d'Arles

Sand Creatures as a 2-ply

Sand Creatures as a 2-ply

What's even more interesting is that the speckles on the fibre in Sand Creatures ended up blending in the handspun yarn in ways I didn't expect.

I'm really looking forward to seeing how these colourways look spun up in different ways as other spinners put their own touches on them.


While the process I've developed for speckled fibres is more time-consuming than my standard dye process, it does allow me to layer on colours in ways that end up very unexpected sometimes!

Anakinra, the August Lab Goddess Fibre Club colourway

Anakinra, the August Lab Goddess Fibre Club colourway

I'm working on a few more different variations in the run up to Yarndale (including [left] Sunshower on BFL and [right] Gorse on Superfine Falkland), so if you're intrigued, please come by and have a squish in person! I'll be on Stall 163, and I hope to see you there!

Lab Goddess Fibre Club - 2017 Second quarter round up

With the third quarter of the 2017 Lab Goddess Fibre Club about to kick off, I thought I'd share the last round of club colourways. First up is April: Olduvai on 56s English wool blend, inspired by paeloanthropologist Mary Leakey (1913 - 1996).



Mary Leakey was a world-renowned archeologist and paleontologist, who spent most of her career excavating at digs around the world, particularly in central Kenya and northern Tanzania. In 1959 she discovered the 1.75 million year old skull of a hominid that was later named Australopithicus boisei. She and her husband, Louis, discovered some of the first specimins of Homo habilis in 1960, one of the earliest hominid species to use stone tools. Over the course of her many years in the field, Mary Leakey discovered fifteen new species and one new genus. 

This colourway inspiration comes from images of the Olduvai Gorge, where Mary Leakey spent more than 20 years excavating and some of the images from our holiday in April. The overarching theme to the palette is earth tones – browns, tans, oranges, rusts – that reflect the different layers of the gorge’s walls.

Next up is May's "Visual Thinking", inspired by animal scientist Temple Granding (1947- ).

VIsual Thinking on superfine Falkland Merino

VIsual Thinking on superfine Falkland Merino

Temple Grandin is an animal scientist who revolutionised animal slaughter technology by putting humane treatment and reduction of stress at the forfront of livestock handling and the slaughterhouse industry. Diagnosed with unspecified “brain damage” at the age of two, Temple's mother came across an autism checklist when Temple was a teenager and hypothesised that most of Temple’s symptoms could be explained by autism. She was formally diagnosed as autistic in her 40s.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in human psychology, Grandin went on to complete a master’s degree and PhD in animal science. Her research was some of the first to report that animals are sensitive to their surroundings and that animals that remained calm during handling had higher weight gain. Her work also showed that an animal’s previous experience with handling would affect how it reacted to being handled later on,  in stark contrast to the view of livestock at the time.

Dr Grandin has said “I think in pictures, I don’t think in language…my mind works like Google images.” This idea of a visual language made me think about what colours might run through an internal movie reel of Temple Grandin’s work, and came up with this combination as a starting point (although many other combinations are possible).

Finally, we have June's club colourway, inspired by Russian biologist Vera Danchakoff (1879 – ?).

Pluripotent on 70% grey Shetland/30% Tussah silk

Pluripotent on 70% grey Shetland/30% Tussah silk

Vera Makhailovna Danchakoff was born in St Petersburg in 1879 and went on to become the first woman professor in Russia. Although little is known about the personal details of her life, her years as an active researcher and scientist have influenced generations of biomedical researchers.

Dr. Danchakoff’s initial research was focused on blood cell development. In a 1916 lecture, she described studies in several species that led her to postulate a common source for all the cellsmaking up mammalian blood, a cell that has since become known as a stem cell. She also hypothesised that this common mother cell was preserved after embryological development, and could give rise to pathologic conditions later in life.

Since the early 20th century, scientists have filled in the gaps in stem cell theory, and stem cells are now widely recognised to be important potential treatments for disease, and may hold the key to treating brain damage, spinal cord injury, type 1 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and a wide range of other conditions. In graduate school, I learned that the most important differentiating characteristic of stem cells was the fact that they were pluripotent, or capable of becoming many things. A neural stem cell isolated from the brain might become a neuron in one environment, but in slightly different circumstances, it might become a glial cell. A haematopoietic stem cell might become an oxygen-packed red blood cell, or it might become a bacteria-eating macrophage. It all depends on what that stem cell experiences as it differentiates.

In some ways, spinning is a bit like the process of stem cell differentiation: we may start with the same dyed fibre, but depending on how it gets prepped and spun, and how it gets used in the final item means that the possibilities and ultimate results are endless.

That wraps up the second quarter of the 2017 Lab Goddess Fibre Club. If you're interested in joining us for the third quarter, running from July - September, you can sign up now. Sign ups will close on 15 July, so don't wait too long to get yours!