June days

Our weeks have been sunny and filled with busy days. A mix of co-parenting and running my fledgling business at the same time. It makes for long evenings and early starts, but for the time being we seem to be in a good rhythm and we are thriving as much as the tall grass in our garden.

Slowly I am working on a new collection for the summer. It will be small, a reflection of some of the different projects on the horizon for the coming months. But I like to think of it as less is more. I can’t wait to share more on that (and the projects) soon.

Warmly, Fran

Jack Bean

Earlier this week, I finished the “first draft bear” for a new pattern that’s been percolating in my mind for many months. As always, there’s still a bit of tweaking to go, but I’m generally happy with the overall result. As is my little boy.

Jack Bean (as he has been named) is sewn from 100% pure new British wool cloth, a remnant from my wedding dress. With his soft & lumpy body, he reminds me of the Waldorf style of dolls which are currently captivating my attention (when I’m not thinking about bears). He’s just perfect for cuddles at night time.

felt with the heart

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.

Helen Keller

I came across this quote by Helen Keller one grey, rainy day at the end of last year. It was during a moment when I was really struggling to know which direction to take for my wool work, and even more struggling to find the courage to pursue it. That day, these words resonated deeply with me and helped me overcome some of the creative & personal obstacles that were blocking my path.

I wanted to begin the month of May by reminding myself of these words, because they sum up so much of how I feel about the creative work I am slowly endeavouring to pursue here. And also because I am hoping they will help me muster up the courage to take the plunge in a couple of short weeks time and finally share my work with the world, when I open the doors of my little shop.


Previously in Monthly Quote: “I wish…” (Jane Austen)

about April

That was April, in mohair & wool. My birthday month brought the gift of incredible surprises & unexpected projects. All of which are keeping my head, hands & heart busy at the moment…and also keeping me away from here for now. But which I can’t wait to tell you about very soon.

about March

March was a month of rich contrasts – in equal measures both exhilarating & disappointing, both refreshing & and at times exhausting. Nearly three years down this path of motherhood, I still find myself struggling to find the balance between my role as a mother and my desire (need?) to pursue some sort of creative work. As each month opens, I hope this one will be different. That somehow I might find a more happy medium, only to wind up at the close of the month feeling the same result, overstretched and overwhelmed.

I had been intending to open the doors of my little shop this past month, only to find a variety of life events conspiring against me. After a good cry (or two), I’ve accepted the need to put this date back a little. The disappointment was crushing at first. But when that first sting had lessened, I was able to reflect on how far I’ve already come so far. And celebrate the achievements that I’ve already made.

I may not have managed to open the shop nor accomplish every task on the list. But just like that second load of laundry still sat beside the washing machine, it will wait for tomorrow. Deep down I know there is no rush, and that any progress however seemingly insignificant is progress nonetheless. Above all else, I am so grateful for the opportunity to wake up each morning and give it a good old go – washing the laundry, making yarn & bears and all that is in between.

distractions

There are always just so many distractions around here. They’re fun distractions but goodness it’s hard to get anything done quickly. Of course my primary distraction is a little blond haired, blue eyed boy. But there are others too, like this bunny. Or is it a hare?

He’s so unlike anything I’ve made before. I used some scraps of mohair I’ve been keeping safe for such a project and a sample of linen I naturally dyes last summer with walnut hulls.

One evening last week I crept down the stairs once our boy was asleep full of courage to have a go at a project that’s been bubbling in my mind for over a year. The result was this little fellow. I made him from start to finish (drafting the pattern and all) that evening. He’s a bit rough and ready, mainly because it took me more attempts than I’d like to admit to get his limbs and ears sewn in the right way and his head joint is a little on the loose side. But I learnt so much working on this project, most importantly the importance of play in the creative process. And the sense of achievement was immense. It was such fun to work from nothing to something, drafting out the pattern, cutting out the pieces, stitching & unpicking, stitching & unpicking until he was finally finished. He feels like a gauge swatch in rabbit form, bringing the seed of an idea to fruition. The pattern still needs a bit of work and the final result is a bit rough & ready…but he reminds me so much of the little folk I used to make as a child. And we already love him…

Growing wool

DSC_0041Whenever we’ve visited my parent’s-in-law this winter, we’ve spent time lending a helping hand in their allotment, pulling up carrots, beets & leeks from the frozen ground. It’s a place we’ve always enjoyed coming as a couple and now a little family, with our boy bundled up against the cold and wet in layers of wool & welly boots. On some days, as I dream of harvesting this summer’s crop of tomatoes with L, I let my eyes wander to the adjoining field where my love’s uncle keeps a tiny flock of sheep to graze amongst the apple trees. And there my mind wanders to other dreams.

DSC_0055I have the tiniest of dreams that one day we might have our very own (tiny) flock. Because flocks of sheep grow into balls of yarn, don’t they? And I find there’s something incredibly appealing about the continuity that would come from slowly working from field to fleece to finished ball of yarn using raw materials that I had been responsible for growing.

DSC_0030That said, we are also realists and understand that caring for one sheep let alone a whole flock would be both an enormous responsibility & commitment. And yet somehow, coming up to Brittany and moving to this place has really felt like a step closer to this dream as well as a few others. There is ample space in the garden of our current abode for us to keep a couple of local Breton breed Ouessant sheep, and we had fully intended to be hunting for a pair of ewes with the start of spring. However unforeseen circumstances in our family mean that for now, that project (along with the chickens) will have to wait for another day. My love thought the disappointment would be crushing for me, but somehow even just to know it would technically have been possible is rather exciting. And whilst I wait patiently, I am content to meet as many local sheep as possible, and try out their fleeces (more on that later). To meet shepherds, sheep breeders and farmers. To talk to them about their many experiences of raising sheep in these green hills and gather their wool to transform into hand spun yarn and felt. And also gain some hands on experience at handling & living with sheep before we get some of our own.

DSC_0032

sheep & wool

baregeoise-1It might already be apparent to those of you reading here or elsewhere that I love wool. I’m fascinated by everything that the world of wool has to offer us and it seems that I have, quite unintentionally, made it one of my life goals to surround myself with all things wool related. Wool, as my beloved dictionary tells me is the “outer coat that grows on sheep” that is “used to make things such as clothes, blankets and carpets“. It seems so simple and obvious. And yet.

I have a confession to make.  

I grew up in the West Country, in the beautiful county of Dorset. An area, like much of Britain, whose countryside is quintessential sheep rearing country.   And yet it wasn’t until recently, very recently, that I started paying attention to sheep. Really paying attention.

Like most people, I could recognise a sheep when I saw one. They have woolly coats, live in fields, eat grass and have lambs in spring. But those basic things apart, sheep were only sheep. I would not have been able to name the specific breed. Or what part of the world it belonged to. Or known what it was doing in that particular field or why it was there.

It was only in 2013/14 when I first started seriously becoming interested in where my yarn came from that I began to realise that not all sheep are the same. That there are different breeds which have been developed over time to become adapted to the land they live on. And that these adaptations make for an infinite number of possibilities, in terms of shape and size and character of the animal. And therefore also in the fleece.

Quite soon after taking up the wheel and spindle in spring 2014, I realised that these new activities had opened up a new source of joy for me. At the time, I was living in a sheep rearing valley in the French Pyrénées. It was possible to spin yarn from sheep I’d met whilst out walking in the mountains. Or as Annie Claire has so beautifully put it, “to tighten the gap between pasture and pullover”, as it were.

From the moment I was invited to select my first fleeces from a friend’s farm, I felt a deep rooted satisfaction when I held my first finished skeins in my hands. Knowing that I’d worked with it from raw, stinky fleece through to final, washed and blocked yarn. Even if it was a bit lumpy and bumpy.

So far, all of the raw fleeces I’ve worked with have come from sheep that were born and raised in the valley where we used to live. Some from the local rare breed the Barégeoise, (see the photo above). Other fleeces came from other traditional (French) South West stock. Beginner that I was, very early on into my experiments I nonetheless started noticing differences in the way the fleeces responded to the various stages involved in spinning yarn: scouring, carding, spinning, plying and blocking. It quickly became apparent that if I were to do justice to the fleeces, it was important to become familiar not only with the various characteristics of the breeds but also the history and fibre traditions associated with each.

And now we are living in Brittany, a region where wool (but also flax & hemp) are deeply embedded into the landscape & textile traditions, offering me ample opportunities to try my hand at new types of wool & fibres as we explore the area around us.

Perhaps one day, we’ll have a  patch of land. Where we’ll live in a tiny round house made of fleece and spend our days getting grubby. Him tending to a little permaculture veggie plot, me looking after a little dye garden and our own (tiny) flock of sheep. Then I’ll not only be able to meet the sheep whose fleeces I work with, but I’ll know them intimately.

Until then, I can enjoy the wondrous fibres by working directly with fleeces and yarns that have been grown elsewhere and cared for by other hands. And so in keeping with my personal slow wool project, I’ve decided to start sharing some of my sheepy discoveries and experiments with breed specific fleeces and yarns from here in France, my native Britain and perhaps, occasionally, a little further afield.

slow wool

spinning wheel

March will always be a precious month to me. Near it’s end, we will celebrate the start of Spring, welcoming in all the hope & joy that can be found in Mother Nature’s re-awakening. And in my own little life, March has been a month of two significant new beginnings. The first, was in 2009 when I first moved to France to begin an exciting adventure in a mountain village school as a language teacher. The second came in 2014 when I “met” real wool for the very first time on a mountainside…and two weeks later I had found a second hand spinning wheel and was teaching myself to spin. Four years later, I am quietly working on opening the doors of my little shop in time for the arrival of Spring. And so it seems fitting this month to share a series of posts I had previously published elsewhere, to give you a glimpse into this project which has been slowly percolating since that very first skein of hand spun yarn.



An idea was cast on in the back of my mind about the middle of 2014, not long after I had fallen in love with wool & spinning. Since then, there has been a baby and this whole new life as a mama to get my head (& heart) around. But all the while, in those quiet moments between, I’ve been listening and reading and crafting and dreaming. And just like a piece of knitting, those different strands have been slowly growing and growing. Recently, the time felt right to pick up those ideas again and try them on for size, just as I might a pair of socks in progress. That idea is slow wool

It might sound pretentious. Or possible a tiny bit hippy dippy. But I don’t really mind. For me, it’s more than a concept, or a label. Rather, it’s a coming together of a variety of different threads into a coherent expression of my personal understanding and approach to a natural resource which I’ve come to love deeply. A woolly manifesto, of sorts.

So here are some of those threads…

Slow wool expresses first and foremost a personal love affair with a natural material which has been quietly unfolding since I moved permanently to France in 2012.

But why wool, you might ask? Wool is a natural resource. It is 100% sustainable, biodegradable and renewable. It can be utilized in an infinite number of uses. To insulate our homes. To stuff the mattresses on our beds. To weave the carpets beneath our feet or the cloth on our backs. It’s fibres can be rubbed together to produce felt, for making blankets or slippers or oven gloves. Or twisted together to produce yarn, which in turn can be transformed with knitting needles, crochet hook or loom. In almost all cultures on the world, wool has been the golden thread running through our shared histories.

Wool in all it’s many beautiful forms can be processed in a way which is respectful to the land on which it is grown. To the sheep from whose backs it is shorn. And to the human hands which skilfully work with it to transform it from raw material into finished item. Or not.

Slow wool is therefore partly my own quiet resistance to mass production. To fast fashion. To disrespectful treatment of the land, of animals and of fellow human beings. It is a conscious decision to embrace the art of authentic craft and pure raw materials, to seek the stories behind the fibres that run through my fingers. To create not only with my hands, but also my head and my heart. It was born of my dismay at many of the current realities of the wool & textile industry both locally and world wide. It also grew from a desire to make a deeper connection to the landscape and sheep rearing traditions of the landscape y where I have chosen to make my home.

And on a more personal note,  slow wool also serves as a reminder to myself to be more mindful in my making. To refuse to be rushed. To pace myself. To not put too much pressure on myself to produce. As Inge put it so succinctly, to remember that “I am not a factory“.

I believe deeply that the acceptance of slow is essential to create beautiful things. But also for me to live well and sustainably within the confines of my chronic health condition, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS). Refusing to be rushed, slow wool is therefore also a conscious reminder to myself to take things one step at a time.

I wish

“I wish, as well as everybody else, to be perfectly happy; but like everybody else, it must be in my own way.” Jane Austen

At the start of each month, my dear friend Ruth picks a quote that applies to what she’s experiencing or focusing on at the time and shares it on her lovely blog.  I always enjoy reading these posts, as they not only bring me to some new, but also offer a glimpse into some of the ups & downs of fellow maker friends. So I’d like to follow suit and start each month off with a quote too.


I came across Jane Austen’s words almost ten years ago, around the time I was in my second year of University and really struggling with my health. The demands of studying for a highly academic degree in a large city far from my parents had taken their toll during my first term and I went back after Christmas on the brink of a major relapse. I found myself with two choices, both equally difficult. Change from full time to part time study, which would mean that my degree would take me six years to complete instead of the usual three. Or stop everything and return home. I chose to remain, but it was one of the most painful decision I have ever had to make. For four successive years, I had to watch on from the sidelines as dear friends made during that academic year graduated at the start of each summer and left me behind. I was genuinely delighted to see them fly off into the world, but also so disheartened each time. It felt as though life had ground to a halt and I would be an eternal Undergraduate, stuck wandering the stacks at the Arts & Social Sciences Library forever. Looking back now, of course it’s easy to see that everything has turned out alright in the end. I eventually graduated in 2012 (aged 25) with a swish of my academic robe and a First Class Honours Degree to my name. But at the time I found it hard to accept the incredibly slow pace my health was forcing on me, and the feeling of stagnation that it brought with it.

I come back to this quote, time and time again, when I need to be reminded that it is not only okay to do things in my own way, but actually the only way. Because otherwise I cannot be true to myself. Recently when I’ve felt the little niggles of external pressure with regard to pursuing this little dream, I try to remind myself of Austen’s words. If slow and steady is my way, then I should fully embrace this path, and make it my own. No one but me can live my life for me, and so ultimately, I need to work to my strengths and do what works best for me. Which surely is the whole point to working for myself, after all?