Hooters Hall

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Taking a new path: the next 10 years

12th January 2020 — It’s a bit damp in our wood today


Winter 2019 was a wet one. Our sodden paddocks turned into acres of thick, sticky mud, which the sheep were intent on getting stuck in despite our best efforts to keep them on dry ground. The wood was flooded for weeks and our land seemed determined to return to the original wetland landscape of the fens despite the best efforts of the drainage ditches.

The long hot Summer of 2019 felt like a distant fairytale of a drier time that we might never see again and then the storms came battering the polytunnel and drenching the land again and again.

As Spring blossoms the land is finally dry, the mud has receded and the grass is growing making it easy to dismiss winter 2019 as just a bad year but we know climate change means that isn’t the case.

So we’ve been thinking about how we manage our land and what our smallholding goals are.

We’ve had a sucessful 9 years of mixed smallholding and fibre farming, selling our produce online and at the farm gate, building our flock of Jacob sheep and herd of goats but now we’re taking our smallholding in a new direction.

There are two parts to the next chapter of Hooters Hall.

Firstly the land. We currently use all of our land for grazing and it’s laid out as a series of paddocks apart from one small area.

At the very end of our six acres there is a strip of wild land that borders the main drain (part of the network of drainage ditches that keep Fenland dry). Left to it’s own devices for at least 20 years this wild patch is carpeted in thick tussocky grass that provides a perfect hunting habitat for owls and hums with insect life over the summer months . It’s also a secluded overnight resting place for deer that roam the Fenland countryside and if you get up early enough you can catch a glimpse them before they bound away across the fields for the day.

Our plan for the next 10 years is to allow more of our land to rewild itself in this way and to convert the remaining grazing areas to wild flower meadows. We’ll be planting more native trees along the borders of our land and creating scrapes, (seasonal ponds) to attract birds and other wildlife.

We’ll still have sheep and goats but plan to reduce the numbers of grazing livestock as we progress the rewilding of our land.

This isn’t a quick change initiative we’re making plans for the next 10 years which I’m sure we’ll adapt and improve over time.

Our aim is to create an environmentally beneficial, species rich smallholding in harmony with nature.

The second part of our plan is focused on craft, which has always been a big part of what we do at Hooters Hall, particularly fibre crafts such as handspinning, natural dyeing, weaving and knitting.

It’s been a great experience learning and sharing skills while selling what we make to people all over the world but now we want to have a different focus.

We want to move beyond the sharing of skills and making a product to explore the practice of mindfulness in craft, and the benefits this has for wellbeing.

I’ll be making use of my professional skills as a consultant psychiatrist to do this and sharing my thoughts on our blog and social media.

I want to collate a practical, informative resource that details the deeper benefits of craft and why making is important for wellbeing.

There will of course be a lot to learn and no doubt unforeseen hurdles to overcome but we’re excited about the changes we’re making and as we progress with this project we hope to find new ways to share Hooters Hall.

Plant Dyes: A Character Study of Red, Yellow and Blue

Red

Madder, common madder, dyer’s madder, a distant relative to the coffee plant, Rubia tinctorum is a master of disguise and deceit. A perennial plant that can grow a metre tall yet hides its height with weak stems that flop towards the ground without a support. Not that madder doesn’t want your attention. Every stem and leaf wears a coat of tiny hooks. Get too close and madder will grab you tight, a thousand tiny barbs seeking an irritant embrace.

Madder lives for years but would have you believe it dies every winter. As the days shorten it stars in a tragedy of faked decline. Leaves dry and stems wither. A bed of madder will take on the appearance of a mulch of straw, spread across the soil. Then in early April, amongst the lifeless husks of last year’s growth, you will see a collection of tiny buds. Vibrant and jewel like against the dried decay they herald madder’s resurrection as once again it returns.

Madder blossoms at the end of June. Small unimportant pale yellow flowers. Tiny stars that transform for madder’s summertime deceit. Each flower becomes a perfect swollen green sphere. A berry that darkens to a luscious blackcurrant but the similarity is on looks alone, the fruit is inedible. As summer progresses the berries of madder dry and shrink revealing peppercorn seeds, another visual mimicry.

Madder’s perennial drama of growth, death, resurrection and impersonation distracts from its true utility. Below ground are the roots. A secure vault that once unlocked by the dyer’s craft will reveal the red of alizarin.

As above ground madder cycles through its annual death and rebirth the roots maintain a steady growth. At three years you can harvest enough root to dye with. At five years the roots are pencil thick and at their best for dyeing. Unharvested the roots will continue to grow, at fifteen years they can thicken to an inch or more.

In a final attempt to disguise and deceive harvested madder roots have a yellow heart when cut. Then slowly air reacts with the root, turning the chemical key to unlock the secret store of red.

Yellow

Weld, dyer’s rocket, dyer’s weed, woold or yellow weed. The names give a clue to the nature of Reseda luteola. An itinerant plant whose fine black seeds hitch a ride on the wind and settle in neglected spaces. Weld will grow thick stemmed and lush on rich moist soils but the ease of a comfortable environment robs it of usefulness as a dye plant. The best weld for dyeing grows thin stemmed in dry, sandy soils.

Unfussy in it’s search for a home and willing to colonise more inhospitable land, once weld has settled on a place it doesn’t take kindly to being moved on. Replanting leads to a deep sulk and failure to thrive. It’s not that weld is being contrary or ungrateful for the human attention that replanting brings. It’s a biennial and in it’s first year the growth is mainly below the soil. A deep taproot, impossible to replant in it’s entirety, searches out nutrients to feed the unimposing rosette of green that hugs the ground above.

In the second year weld abandons its cautious, unassuming form. It reaches for the sky with a flower stalk that shoots wildly high. The exuberant transformation reveals weld’s main character flaw — impetuosity. A character flaw that means dormant seeds will take a chance and germinate at anytime of year if there’s a hint of warmth. Some plants will even rush to complete an entire life cycle in one season. They abandon the careful storage of nutrients and race towards sexual maturity. Desperate to reveal their flower spike in all its glory. The architecture of the flower spike is the showiest part of weld. The actual flowers are small, neatly arranged yellow to green blossoms that cloak the length of the spike.

If threatened by drought or physical damage weld again revels in impetuosity and throws caution to the wind. Reasoning it’s better to reproduce and spread more seed than hunker down in the safety of that unimposing green rosette.

Blue

Isatis tinctoria, woad, dyer’s Woad or glastum is a biennial immigrant from the Caucasus now a settled resident of Europe and western North America. Woad is a confident plant, staking a claim on new pastures with such zeal that in certain states it is listed as a noxious weed and targeted for eradication. A single colony of woad in Montana increased its territory from 0.8 to 40.5 ha in two years.

It’s not just the confidence of woad that has given it such a bad reputation in certain botanical circles. An impolite guest at the all you can eat buffet of soil nutrients, woad has a gluttonous appetite for nitrogen. Selfish woad doesn’t share and will empty the larder for a hunger that’s never sated. It reaches right to the back of the cupboard for sustenance with a taproot that can grow up to 1.5m in length.

It should come as no surprise that such a significant anchorage brings with it both an admirable and frustrating quality — persistance. If Woad is happy and well fed it will stay put, ignoring all polite hints to move on. That’s not to say Woad is a homebody. Wind is woad’s chosen method of travel. Though it’s not adverse to taking advantage of any passing creatures that might be going it’s way. Bunches of black seeds with individual wings sway in the breeze and then take flight. An average plant will send 500 offspring to colonise new worlds. A more prolific plant can send up to 1000.

To make sure its seeds can catch the wind and fly woad grows tall. Delicate stems topped with sprays of yellow blossoms hold their heads high above botanical neighbours. Making sure the Woad offspring have a headstart in the race to find new soils.

Woad isn’t always self serving though. It has a generous side. The rosette of dark green leaves, that provide the famous blue dye, are a product of woad’s insatiable appetite for nitrogen. It’s thanks to woad’s greed that they can be harvested more than once in a season. Planted in March the crop will be ready from July to September. If your Woad is feeling particularly generous the harvest might be extended to November and if frost is avoided even all year round. Greedy, selfish, persistant, woad is a utilitarian provider at heart

A Trio of Shepherding Hats

A few weeks ago I shared a knitting pattern for what I like to call my shepherding hat. It’s a basic beanie shape, knitted using my handspun dk weight yarn and designed to keep your head and ears cosy when busy shepherding. You can find the pattern here Shepherding Hat Knitting Pattern

I’ve been playing around with the pattern a bit and designed a hat that you can add colourwork or stripes to easily. Basically it has less ribbing and I’ve siplified the design so that there aren’t any decreases to knit.

Here’s a picture of the Shepherding hats that I’ve knitted. I’ve used the natural dark and white Jacob yarn as well as the blended Jacob.

The hat pattern is a single size that should fit most adults. Casting on 88 stitches gives you a hat that has a 56cm circumference. If you want to change the size increase or decrease the number of cast on stitches. Eight stitches is approximately 5cm so reducing the number of stitches to 80 will make your hat circumference about 51cm. You will need to make sure the number of cast on stitches is divisible by 8 for the crown shaping to work.

You can keep your hat plain and simple or if you’re feeling more adventurous  incorporate your own  stranded colourwork or stripe pattern.

The Hooters Hall Shepherding Hat Pattern 2

What you need

  • 3.5 mm 40cm circular needles
  • 4mm 40cm circular needles
  • 4 mm double pointed needles
  • 150g of Hooters Hall dk handspun yarn (if you want to knit stripes or colourwork you will need varying amounts of the colours depending on what colourwork or striped design you choose)
  • Tapestry needle
  • Stitch marker

This pattern is one size for adults hat circumference 56cm. You need to be able to knit in the round and do knit and purl stitches

K = knit

P= Purl

K1P1 = Knit one Purl one ribbing

 

The pattern

Cast on 88 sts using 3.5mm 40cm circular needle

K1 P1 and join in the round placing a stitch marker at the start of the round.Continue K1P1 ribbing for 4 more rounds (5 rounds in total.) If you want to make the ribbing longer you can. You can also choose to do a Knit 2 Purl 2 ribbing as an alternative.

Change to 4mm needles and Knit all stitches. Continue knitting until the hat measures 13cm from the brim or whatever height you prefer. You can knit all in one colour or change the colour of yarn and knit stripes.

You can also knit a stranded colourwork pattern just choose a pattern that will fit into 88 stitches. (work out how many stitches a single pattern repeat covers and divide 88 by this number if the result is a whole number then the pattern will fit)

Crown decrease (decrease 8 sts every other round) switch to 4mm double pointed needles when necessary, for me this is usually at round 7.

If you have changed the size of your hat by increasing or decreasing the number of stitches you will need to adjust which round you start on for the crown shaping.

For example if you reduced the number of cast on stitches to 80 you would start on round 3 below.

If you have increased the number of cast on stitches to e.g. 96 you would need to add 2 rounds round at the beginning. Firstly K10 K2tog repeat to end of round then a round of knit all stitches before starting at round 1 below.

Round 1. K9 K2tog repeat to end of round (80sts)

Round 2. Knit all stitches

Round 3.K8 K2tog repeat to end of round (72sts)

Round 4. Knit all stitches

Round 5. K7 K2tog repeat to end of round (64 sts)

Round 6. Knit all stitches

Round 7. K6 K2tog repeat to end of round (56 sts)

Round 8. Knit all stitches

Round 9. K5 K2tog repeat to end of round  (48 sts)

Round 10. Knit all stitches

Round 11. K4 k2tog repeat to end of round (40 sts)

Round 12. Knit all stitches

Round 13. K3 K2tog repeat to end of round (32 sts)

Round 14. Knit all stitches

Round 15. K2 k2tog repeat to end of round (24 sts)

Round 16. Knit all stitches

Round 17. K1 k2tog repeat to end of round (16 sts)

Round 18. Knit all stitches

Round 19. K2tog (8 sts)

Break yarn and using tapestry needle pull yarn through remaining stitches.

Weave in ends.

Block. Dunk your hat in warm water. Remove and roll up in a dry towel. Place over a balloon or head sized object and leave to dry.

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