Friday, 17 September 2010

The Friday Interview: Nicky from Colour It Green

Hooray, it’s the Friday interview, which means my mother gets ready with her critical faculties and a sharpened pencil so she can give me a trenchant critique over the weekend (aaaaaand I think it’s fair to say she hasn’t entirely got over Keith. I may have to give her his phone number so she can tell him just what she thinks about his opinions).

Today’s interview is with Nicky from Colour It Green, who I met on the wonderful Self Sufficientish and who also has a really good blog detailing various adventures in self sufficiency, dealing with animals, recipes etc. Colour It Green the website is well worth a look as well, as it has a lot of useful resources including really good recipes. Nicky also has a shop - selling wool products from their own sheep. Half of me thinks she has thus achieved Knitting Nirvana, and the other half of me thinks if I had charge of sheep they would probably spend a lot of time cavorting illegally around Cambridge and causing trouble, so it is perhaps best if I stick with buying other people’s wool for the moment.
A needle-felted Hegepig from the Colour It Green shop

Here are the questions!

1/ How would you describe what you make & sell?
Wool from our own sheep. Hand dyed, using either natural or commercial dyes, then carded, handspun, crocheted, felted, or needled felted. Our products range from unspun wool for spinning or other projects, to bowls, cards, pincushions, handspun wool skeins, brooches... etc.  Basically… things from our own wool!

2/ Tell us about your sheep!
At the moment we have six sheep. Sharona [note from me, Sharona!] is the old grumpy girl, and the sheep shown in my avatar. Despite her grumpy looks, she is a sweety and stomps over for a back rub. She is a Devon Closewool, as are our two youngest girls Barbie and Biry. We like the breed, they are friendly and easy going, and the wool is lovely to work with.
A Devon Closewool Sheep, with one bold stare... Sharona! Ooo you make my motor run, motor run
We also have Saffie (she was already called Saffron when we got her.. an odd name for a black sheep perhaps), she is a Zwartbles cross and she is huge! – we can’t turn her, just as well she is so easy going, we can just lift her feet to trim them, as though she was a pony!, and we have her lambs, Bertie and Betty – who is an oddity as she is patchy. We are on an alphabet naming theme now – an idea I stole from another smallholder... hence the B names…
Saffie the Sheep
We have only kept sheep for four years, and it was quite a surprise how much joy they bring. They are friendly, funny, and obviously recognise us.  They come up to us for pats and attention and ever hopeful of an interesting weed being passed over the fence.

We joke that  the pockets of a shepherd should contain foot trimmers, purple spray, dagging shears and an inhaler. The inhaler is for me as I tend to laugh so much as himself is outwitted by a sheep when we are trying to do some routine husbandry. I usually laugh myself into an asthma attack!

3/ There’s been increased awareness recently about the conditions wool is produced in, and the practices that are used to increase yield (e.g. mulesing because some sheep have been bred to have greater skin area). Has having your own sheep made you look differently at wool production from sheep to finished yarn?
Having sheep has made me much more interested in fibre – before I was just a knitter with a large yarn stash – having our own sheep and a partner who is like minded, can you imagine what my yarn stash is like now?! [yes! Note from me!]. It is a wonderful experience to be able to see the wool through from on the sheep, shorn,  washed, dyed, dried, carded, spun and knitted or crocheted, or felted into something. It also focuses the mind on the fact that it starts with an animal, and half the point of rearing our own animals is to give them a good life.

I’m totally against mulesing, and I feel certain it is not necessary. Mulesing is banned in the UK – along with many other countries, and so it is clearly possible to obtain the wool without. It seems odd to me that it is banned as a practice in this country, but the imported goods are still allowed in, so aside from the cruelty issues, it is hard on the farmers to expect them to compete. I’ve made a  personal stance to only buy wool free from mulesing. I do eat meat, I just want to raise the animals in as happy an environment as possible.
The sheep hanging out. Are they taking photographs of us? Hey are they?
4/ Are there any of your products that you particularly enjoy making?
I like all of it. My other half does the spinning – I knit and crochet. But I like it all – it feels like an adventure... each new thing I try leads to several other ideas to have a go at.  I really enjoy blending the colours on my carder, then seeing them transformed into yarn – it’s like colour therapy. I have knitted since I was a child, learned how to crochet last year, and this year decided to have a go at needle felting. I made a cute little hedgehog pin cushion and he sold! I’ve made more since. – I’m addicted already...  So much wool, so little time :-)

5/ Whenever I read your blog (about self-sufficiency on a smallholding) I’m always really inspired by the things you make and do. Working on the assumption that it is all as much fun as it looks ;-), what would you recommend starting with first to someone who wanted to lead a more self-sufficient life?
I recommend starting with a partner with the same frame of mind. [Note from me, hollow laugh ;-)]. Even if you think you will do it all and they don’t have to get involved, the commitment factor means everyone is involved... you can’t just walk out on some seedlings to go on holiday, and livestock are a huge commitment. 

That wasn’t really what you meant though was it? I guess a good starting point would be to grow just a little, even if its just herbs on the windowsill. When I first had a garden I grew tomatoes and courgettes and herbs, so scaling up was not too hard. With livestock…we started with sheep… which was a bit of a leap, but we had the fields that needed either cutting or grazing… logically, a couple of chickens in the back garden is a very good place to start. Chickens are very entertaining, can make good pets, and are more productive than a hamster :-)

Another good way to start is to go for a veg box scheme – particularly if you get one that supplies only seasonal veg – it is a good way to learn about seasonal availability, coping with a glut, making soup etc. and more importantly, how to cook veg you thought you did not like before. Also, if you eat meat, consider buying whole or half an animal at a time, as if you raise it yourself, you will need to learn how to deal with all of the cuts of meat.

6/ Are there any other spinners/ fibre artists whose work you admire, or interesting blogs you’d like to tell us about?
I’m a yarn addict… so I admire many... one of my favourites has to be Prudence Mapstone

I have always been pants at following other people’s instructions. I always want to tweak and alter and make it mine (I’m the same with recipes), so when I discovered the beautiful artwork that is known as freeform.. well I felt I had come home. Not only was it allowed… it is commended! I learned how to crochet just so I can freeform.

I also like to read blogs of other sheep owners around the world... for example Sandra who lives close to me
Rosie who lives in France
And Mick who lives in USA
To name just a few. It just feels nice to know there are others doing much the same.

7/ Where do you want to go from here in terms of your craft & shop?

You mean… I should have a plan?

Well, I love working with wool and I just want to do more and more. [that sounds a good plan to me!].

The summer has been so busy with the animals and veg patches, I am really looking forward to getting some time together to fill up my shop – with handspun wool, felted figures, bowls, flowers and so on.

I have written some patterns and we are putting together some kits with our handspun wool, and I have just started to work on some greetings cards with felted flowers that can be used as embellishments, and I have lots of ideas for new dye blends, and various felted figures!
Some lovely handspun, hand-dyed wool from the shop
Thanks for that Nicky! That was really interesting and I’ve got lots of new ideas. I’m particularly going to have a look at freeform crochet because I’m not good at following patterns either and that is just the kind of thing I would like. Also I think your tips about becoming more self sufficient are spot on (although I’m going to have to think about how I transform Partner from his current incarnation as Bernard from Black Books into more of a Tom Good figure ;-) ).

The Colour it Green shop can be found here – go, go look at wool and woolly products.

Have a lovely weekend everyone! I'm hoping to drink tea and knit through at least part of mine although I probably will have to leave the house at some point. Sigh...