Holiday Highlights – Part 1

We’ve been on a family holiday, staying in East Sussex, and exploring parts of Sussex and Kent.  The idea for our trip came from a book I listened to via Audible, Treachery by S. J. Parris, which was set in Canterbury.  I was last in Canterbury over 30 years ago, and I was keen to return with my husbad and son who had never visited the area. As a family we’ve always chosen holiday destinations with lots of history to explore.

Bodium CastleThis is Bodium Castle, a lovely ruin, complete with moat.

We visited on Sunday, and the weather was hot and sunny.  They have a transport buggy to take disabled visitors between the car park and the castle.  After Bodium we went to have a look at the town of Battle, where the Normans defeated King Harold in 1066.  There is a ruined Abbey in Battle, and the small town is picturesque with interesting, independent shops.


We had a short visit on the Sunday, then returned later in the week to explore it further.

Our visit to Canterbury was also on a warm, sunny day.  I had found out in advance that Canterbury has a Shopmobility service, so we started our visit by hiring a scooter.  Their scheme is excellent for visitors, as there’s no need to become a member; it costs £6.00 to hire the scooter for a day, which includes 3 hours free parking.  Canterbury Cathedral has a well thought out route for wheelchair and scooter users, including a lift to the choir, making the whole building accessible.  I was impressed with the effort that has been put into making such an ancient building user friendly for disabled people. It is as beautiful as I had remembered, and well worth a visit.image

Canterbury Cathedral


My Heartfelt Silks Adventure Part 2

As I was reviewing my blog posts I realised that I hadn’t actually written about the workshop I did at Skeeby Old Mill with Robbin of Heartfelt Silks!  How could I have forgotten? Well, MS stole my memory along with my balance and mobility.  Anyway, I’ve blathered on enough about the whole MS thing recently, and really I want to talk about making my loose locks and ruffle wrap.

When I booked the workshop it was to make a loose locks shawl/wrap, however before we arrived at the venue Iris, the organiser, had emailed to say there were some issues with the locks we’d ordered so it may be necessary to add ruffles.  That was what we all ended up doing, although I would probably have been able to do one completely in locks.

I had chosen this particular workshop because it was residential, and I was able to stay two extra nights, so that helped combat some of the inevitable fatigue.  I was a fantastic experience.  The other women on the workshop were lovely, and so friendly and helpful.  Robbin was just as I had imagined her to be from our Facebook conversations.  There is a saying ” never meet your idols”, but Robbin gave the lie to that.  She’s warm, funny, patient, good humoured, and incredibly generous with her knowledge.  I learned so much, and enjoyed every minute of the time I spent with her.

Robbin has created tools, and techniques to go with them, that push the boundaries of felt making.  Her ruffle wraps actually make the felt grow, not shrink, which can be mind boggling to experienced felt makers.  I was saddened to hear from her that traditional felt makers in the USA have been downright nasty to her.  It reminded me of the passage in the New Testament – a prophet is not without honour except in his own country.  Professional jealousy is a terrible thing.  Maybe her critics are afraid of innovation.  Personally I’m a huge fan.  I believe you can never stop learning, and I’m always willing to try new things.  If you are like me then visit Robbin’s website Heartfelt Silks and her  Facebook page by following the links.

This is me modelling my shawl, looking rather tired but happy! image

Some thoughts on living with an invisible disability in the UK.

If you’ve read the tag line on my blog you’ll know I have MS.  If you have never met me this will lead you to make one set of assumptions.  If you have met me it is highly likely that you’ve uttered the words “But you look so well”, and you’ll have made a different set of assumptions.  Well, as the old saying goes, when you assume you make an ass out of you and me.

The first assumption I want to tackle is that MS is one disease.  In fact every person’s MS is different.  Yes, the disease attacks the myelin sheath around our nerves so in that respect it is one disease, but each person’s experience of the disease is different.  Not only that, but the disease will affect us in different ways on a daily basis.  On my worst days I can’t lift my head off the pillow because I’m crushed by devastating fatigue.  I know, I know, we all get tired… The difference between feeling tired and MS fatigue is huge.  MS fatigue isn’t alleviated by rest or sleep.  I’ve had days when lifting my head off the pillow requires too much effort, and days when I can’t eat because I can’t sit up.

The second common assumption people make is that I can’t really be disabled because I’m not in a wheelchair, and therefore I shouldn’t have the Blue Badge that allows me to park in the disabled bays in car parks.  In reality if I need to walk more than 20 metres I use my mobility scooter,where practical.  For the times when I can’t use my scooter I’ve just bought this easy to fold rollator with built-in seat.  I will now be able to wait in line in a queue without worrying about maintaining my balance, my leg deciding to give way, the fatigue it will cause, and my back aching.  A wheelchair would be of no use to me, unless I had a carer to push me in it, as I couldn’t physically propel myself using my arms.image

The third assumption I want to tackle means straying into politics.  Sadly in the last 5 years, in the UK, the government has been spreading a pernicious message, with the help of some in the media, that people like me are benefits scroungers, faking symptoms in order to live off the welfare state because we are lazy.  Politicians can be heard making the statement that it is a “lifestyle choice” to live on benefits instead of working.  Believe me, the lifestyle I had when I was capable of work was not one I willingly gave up.  The drop in my income has been significant.  I didn’t choose to end my career; MS made it impossible to for me to do my job.  I don’t know how disabled people are portrayed in other countries, but in the UK we are demeaned and have become the targets of hate crime.

There are lots of positive things in my life: I have wonderfully supportive friends and family; I make the most of the things I am able to do; I’m happy!  I don’t want your pity or sympathy.  I would appreciate your understanding and occasionally I may even need your help.

PS: It’s better to ask a well intentioned question rather than making an ill informed assumption.

Woolfest 2015

I had a fabulous time at Woolfest and enjoyed every minute of my day.  I think I last visited around 2007, and a lot has changed since then.  There were an amazing number of stalls, with a huge range of products.  I had a rough idea of what I wanted to buy, partly from the preliminary posts from some of the sellers in the Woolfest Facebook group, and partly from knowledge acquired over the last couple of years.  As you will have realised from my post about the two day workshop,with Robbin Firth of Heartfelt Silks, I love making felt, so I know I wanted some fibres for felt making.  I also knew I wanted a small hand bowser for wetting my fibres, some silk fibres, and to investigate the various drum carders on offer.  I also wanted to see what was new, interesting, and useful.

I chose two demonstrations to attend, one by Sew Sister, and one by Artybird Carnforth. The first one was in the morning, the second was in the afternoon when I was really glad to be able to sit down for half an hour!  The Sew Sister demo was of a technique that Sue had developed.  She discovered through experimenting that stitching fine cotton fabric to needlepunch (wool prefelt) and throwing it in a 40 degree wash gave wonderful textured surfaces.  Kate from Artybird Carnforth is a felt making tutor on their City and Guilds course.  She demonstrated making two pieces of felt with different fibres, one with Norwegian wool batts, and one with South African merino wool batts.  Her teaching was excellent, and I came away feeling that I had added to my knowledge of felt and wool fibres.

So what did I buy?  My first purchase was a book showing how to create clothing from handwoven fabric.  I bought a Brinkley loom two years ago, and this book seemed perfect for inspiring me to use it  more, and to weave with garment making in mind.  I then had a look at the rare breeds section, complete with sheep, and bought a Shetland Moorit fleece.  It’s been hard work trying to get it clean, and I think in future I’ll only buy scoured fleeces.  I knew from the photos on Facebook that I wanted to buy silk “bricks” from Hilltop Cloud, and I ended up buying four as the colours were so beautiful.  I also bought a drop spindle kit for learning to spin with – now I need a teacher.  I found someone selling discounted knitting yarn, and I bought a large skein of white viscose that I can dye myself.  I’d spotted very reasonably priced skeins of turquoise linen on the Texere stand, so I had to have some, given my Irish linen roots.  I also got some gold trilobal nylon to add a touch of sparkle from Texere.  At Wingham Wool Work I found the bowser I wanted, plus a niddy-noddy for wrapping skeins of yarn properly.

My biggest purchase was an Ashford Classic drum carder from P & M Woolcraft where it was significantly cheaper than the Ashford agents, and other suppliers.  I’ve already carded all my rather scrunched up, tired, 11 year old merino tops, that I bought on holiday in New Zealand and never got around to using.  Carding them into batts has softened them up and given them a new lease of life.  I was also able to create interesting colour blends, and I’ve only just begun.  I’ve decided to offer a drum carding service, and there are more details on The Thread Shed Studio Facebook page about that.

My Woolfest Haul

Cockermouth is a lovely small town, with interesting independent shops, and lots of places to eat.  I would recommend it as a short break destination.  We booked our stay through Sally’s Cottages, who I would give 5 stars to for service and friendliness.  I’d love to hear from anyone else who visited Woolfest this year, and compare notes.

A few of my favourite things – Part 1

We all have them, those things we wouldn’t be without, although they are probably not the ones that Julie Andrews sings about in The Sound of Music.  Some of them will be treasured possessions from childhood, like my friend’s 65 year old teddy bear called Edward.  Others may be modern gadgets like the  Amazon Kindle.   I bought my Kindle several years ago so that I could read before going to sleep and not need to have the light on.  If you are a cook, card maker, quilter, or knitter you will have certain tools that you go to again and again.  This post gives you details of some of mine, along with the links to get more information about them.

The Heartfelt Silks Palm Washboards – I couldn’t do wet felting without these; I had actually given up felt making before I found them..  The only real palm washboards are these one from Heartfelt Silks, anything else is a copy of Robbin’s patented design.  Only buy a palm washboard if it has Heartfelt Silks name on it.

Clip on magnifying glasses from eBay – these clip onto your regular glasses and enable you to see fine detail for doing drawn thread embroidery.

Another purchase I made from Amazon  was the the generic quarter inch presser foot  ideal for patchwork, and considerably cheaper than the branded ones, but works just as well as long as your machine is low shank and takes snap on feet.  These generic feet fit my 20 year old Viking.

Lastly, if you have a Bernina 1008, as I do, this snap on foot shank adaptor will enable you to use generic presser feet, and save a lot of money.

If you have a favourite tool, gadget, or craft item please let me know.

My Heartfelt Silks Adventure Begins

I’m off to Yorkshire today, to the Skeeby Old Mill Centre, for a workshop with Robbin Firth of Heartfelt Silks.  I am unbelievably excited about this because I have wanted to attend one of Robbin’s workshops for years, but she lives in the USA, and this is the first time she’s come to the UK.  I chose this particular workshop, from the ones available in the North of England, because it is residential, so I can manage my fatigue better.  MS fatigue is difficult to manage as even getting plenty of rest and sleep doesn’t guarantee that fatigue will be lessened, however being able to avoid driving 60 miles on the day the workshop begins will be beneficial.  We have two days of making a very special wet felted shawl with Robbin using the Heartfelt Silks special palm washboards, which cuts out the rolling process that had made making felt impossible for me for a few years as it is too physically demanding. I bought a set a palm washboards from Robbin and Harry’s Etsy shop two years ago, and they are a joy to use. They are also beautiful objects in their own right, as Harry handcrafts them himself from wood.  Now, I just need to go and pack my bag.  I’ll be back on Saturday to tell you all about it.