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May 2011

Yarn review: Excelana 4ply

Excelana is something unusual in the world of yarn, designed to be old-fashioned. Developed by vintage knitting guru Susan Crawford and yarn producer John Arbon of Fibre Harvest, the range is intended to evoking vintage wools from the 'Golden Age of Knitting' in both feel and colour palette.

image from

According to Susan and John it is: "100% British wool, spun from the fleece of the Exmoor Blueface, which live on the moors of North Devon. A cross between the Exmoor Horn and the Bluefaced Leicester, the fleece of the Exmoor Blueface creates a lustrous yarn with a soft handle, great stretch and excellent stitch definition, affording the knitter a pleasurable knitting experience."

All of which leads me to imagine they know the names of all the sheep involved. image from

I tried out on Sun-Ray Ribbing from Susan's collection of vintage knits A Stitch in Time - exactly the sort of pattern the yarn is intended for.

I found the bounce of the yarn perfect for the pattern which needs a lot of spring and found it a great knitting experience - soft on the hands and no splitting. Also good stitch definition which is something I value because I enjoy textured and lace knits.

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I used the cornflower blue - which is a classic mid blue with a lot of depth.

The 100% wool does give it more volume than some more modern style 4-plys which is worth bearing in mind when choosing patterns.



Shiny, shiny - a wealth of silver techniques

I've recently taken a couple more silver courses at the London Jewellery School, the main one being the two-day intermediate clay workshops where we learnt so many techniques it was hard to keep count.

This is a course for people who have some experience in basic metal clay techniques and is designed to show the range of things you can do with this material.

We started by learning about cork clay, a material that will burn off in a kiln at the temperature you fire preciou s metal clay which means you can use it to help build hollow shapes. We also buried a cubic zirconium stone in our cork cores before using silver clay in syringes to create freehand filligree cages. 

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 The colour here is due to another technique - dipping the piece in a "liver of sulphur" solution which can produce a range of colours which you can also affect by judicious polishing and burnishing. What is hard to convey is the fact that there is a stone rattling about in the cage - if you listen very carefully to this video clip you may hear it.


After that there was the first of my ring disasters - I may be rechristened "Death to Rings". In this case we were making a motif to sit on a wire wrap ring. The wire part was fine but unfortunately my ring tipped over when drying and I ended up with a blob rather than a motif.

More successful was the session on creating bezels to set cabochon stones. This involved using a strip of silver, worked on a mandrel, to make the bezel to fit your stone and then setting that in the silver clay piece. Then after firing we placed our stones and hammered our bezels into shape.

I'm particularly pleased with my intentionally organic lapis flower.

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We also had a go at making full round rings in silver clay - I shattered mine when filing it before firing, so least said best on this point.

Hollow silver beads seam more my style as can be seen from this "walnut" made from two pieces and joined.

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 After all of this we were introduced to gold. Both setting a gold nugget in a piece and applying gold leaf as decoration. I used both techniques on the same piece to create this gift for a friend. 

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 Amazingly I still had enough materials and time to fire a pair of earings.

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Despite my track record with rings, I do have one success to share. I have also taken a beginner's silver one-day course where we made silver rings from cutting our metal strip through annealing, texturing, shaping and soldering to create the final piece.



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