Tweedy Times

Our new collection – Convent Donegal Tweed

At Convent & Chapel Wool Shop we understand the personal nature of the crafting process. You are creating something unique incorporating your technical skills, artistic talents and personal taste. Fibre projects are a personal expression, a relaxation and even an obsession. They’re always an achievement.

WB Yeats in Donegal Tweed

Your skill and time deserves yarn that is also authentic and individual, that has it’s own story to tell. That’s why at Convent & Chapel Wool Shop we focus on yarns made or dyed by talented artisans to complement your process and creations.

Shane McGowan in Donegal Tweed

We are excited to introduce our new Convent Donegal Tweed. Donegal Tweed has its own unique color, beauty, and quality. The process of making it is also unique, resulting in a signature color-flecked weave.

Situated in Ireland, our Convent Donegal Tweed spinning mill can trace its origin back to the centuries old tradition of tweed effect yarns domestically spun in Donegal.

These yarns came onto world markets over a hundred years ago and gave their name to the internationally famous ‘Donegal Tweed’ woven fabric and knitwear.

The company we source our yarn from operates a vertical production process from raw wool, including the dying, blending, carding and spinning, to a finished multi-coloured fleck yarn targeted at the weaving, knitting and craft industry.

Signature colour flecks throughout

All production is carried out in their mill in Donegal, Ireland. Only natural fibres are used and sourced from the finest wools from New Zealand, Australia and other international sources of quality fibre.

Convent & Chapel Wool Shop is proud to offer our customers authentic Irish Tweeds – Convent Donegal Tweed, a 10ply Aran weight of 100% pure new wool, as well as Convent Irish Tweed, an 8ply/DK weight of 70% Merino and 30% Mohair. Both come in a great range of approximately 20 colours at an accessible price. Wound into easy ready-to-use 100g balls and in some cases, on the cone.

Choose the dark and brooding Colin Farrell or maybe a deep red Bram Stoker.  Perfect for scarves, beanies, garments, blankets and throws. Perfect for colour work or on their own. Great allrounders giving you an authentic rustic creation of your own.

Available at our Rylstone shop as well as online. Happy knitting – I know we are!

Knitting For Our Supper

 

Production Line at The Convent

Being a remote rural yarn shop comes with its challenges. We’re pretty remote for a yarn shop  with an immediate population of barely 2,000 between our two towns and then a 60 (even then, no traffic lights) to 100k drive to the next towns.

Louee Lace Scarves are always a favourite

However fortunately our town attracts great visitation, particularly on the weekends, so we get lots of people coming into our shop. The downside to this is that visitors aren’t all knitters. In fact for a yarn shop, the majority of our visitors are passing through and just love to look at our shop and displays. So we make sure we have plenty of tempting hand knits on show with a good selection for sale. It seems a pity to attract so many people and not have something to offer them.

Convent Spiral Beanies always look good on display (and even better on heads!)

This means that Gemma and I are always creating gorgeous but more simple knits for the shop that can be sold but also serve dual duty in showing off yarns and pattern samples for knitters. We create many simple patterns ourselves that are available to customers, making the most of beautiful fibre textures and colours or using interesting stitches. Last week was Beanie week, with versions of ‘Snug’ using Kidsilk mixed with our new Convent Irish Tweed. This week it’s our rustic tweed ribbed wrist warmers. The cold weather has depleted our stocks of hand knits drastically!

We know our patterns work well to sell and are also great for anyone doing hand knits at the markets – simple but effective. A few tips we’d give anyone who would like to try their hand at the markets with hand knits – always use good yarns. Most people can gauge quality and will pay for it, which leads to the next point. Don’t undercharge – value your work and don’t undersell the value. Our hand knits are a valuable source of income to us and help us offer something to potential customers who love our shop but aren’t exactly in the market for a skein of artisan hand dyed yarn.

Having beautiful tempting hand knits on display has encouraged many a casual tourist back into knitting or even into picking up needles for the first time.

Our beanie mantle is a customer favourite

We’re now finding that Convent & Chapel Wool Shop is a name on many knitters “must visit” lists and are becoming a destination shop, attracting our share of visitors to our amazing town and region. We have lots of people on their national road trips making sure Rylstone is one of their stops and are even finding international visitors asking their hosts to include Rylstone on their itinerary – and are not disappointed when they arrive.

Of course, we also love and greatly appreciate our online customers, although we wish we could ask them what they are making with some of the wonderful order combinations we receive and would love to see their finished projects.

‘Snug’ – our gorgeous Convent Tweed and Kidsilk Beanies

The Convent on Display

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I purchased the Convent in Kandos over 4 years ago now. Since then, this beautiful building has seen a few changes inside and out. She’s had to become accustomed to being a home to me and has also opened her doors and garden gates each year to the public for various community events.

ACP_2897Her next big event is the CWA Kandos Gardens Fair on 7 & 8 April and I’m already hard at work getting the garden into shape during some challenging dry seasons. Whilst the timing wasn’t perfect, I organised a photo shoot with the talented Amber Hooper from Amber Creative to take a series of shots to help with promotion (and because I just wanted to have some lovely photos of the Convent).

ACP_3189These photos were taken at dusk just prior to Christmas and do justice to the Convent and the amazing Kandos surrounds.

Moving here has been such a fantastic experience and I wonder how many others should just take a leap of faith and discover how great a country lifestyle is, particularly in one of the smaller rural communities. Life is still busy and challenging but it’s by choice and with challenges you choose. Living in a community is so different with its own rewards and obligations, unlike in the city or suburbs and certainly focusses your priorities.ACP_3065

Four years on and this is still an adventure that I hope continues for many years to come.

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Three Years!!!

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Setting up shop pre opening

It seems like a year ago, but Convent & Chapel Wool Shop has just clocked up three years since opening in November 2014. And what a great three years they’ve been, with hopefully many more on the horizon.

We’ve met so many new people and feel like we’re establishing ourselves as part of a vibrant and thriving community. It’s been fun to look back on old photos and see how much we’ve changed. We thought we’d kicked off with lots of stock in the shop but now we can see how much we’ve expanded our range and pretty much managed to insulate the building with yarn from wall to wall and floor to ceiling.

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Local celebrities!!

It’s been a learning and growing experience for us, providing us with another career along with a change of lifestyle from Sydney to the real rural country at our prime. What a change from a corporate career to a professional knitter!

We’ve had lots of comments along the way:

“Why would you open a wool shop in such a small town?” Because we live here.

“It’s a dying art” – Umm, no. It’s always been really popular and even moreso now with the internet.

“I think it would ruin it for me – making my hobby my job” – We’d much rather work at something we love.

OK, so maybe not everyone would do this, but it’s working for us and we love it when visitors are surprised and delighted when they enter our world.

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Showtime!

There’s been so many highlights, including our love for participating in Shows, with one of the best being Gemma scooping the pool at last year’s Sydney Royal Easter Show . Winning the Fine Lace category, being in the Cabinet of Excellence and taking out the Margot Chick Award, something we’ve both long coveted, was pretty amazing.

We’d hate to guess how many kilometres of yarn we’ve knitted during that time and have lost count of the Rylstone Ridge and Louee Lace scarves, not to mention Kandos Classic and Rylstone Ribbed Beanies.

We’ve also been supported by some wonderful suppliers – both locally and internationally – that we’ve formed great relationships with. We’ve been to fibre festivals, done classes and exhibitions – things five years ago that would never have been on our horizons.

As for the future, our lovely landlords (the Rylstone & District Historical Society who own the Bridge View Inn) have kindly given us permission to use part of the hallway as a gallery, so we can set up permanent exhibitions. We also have exciting new arrivals on the horizon and, of course, lots more knitting. Our list of patterns and yarns we want to try never gets any shorter.

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It’s important to us and other retailers, who take the risk and make the commitment to a small independent bricks and mortar shop, that we have your support. There are lots of challenges in business today, competing with the big name retailers and small online businesses. However we believe that businesses who can still offer shopfronts and personal service have an important role to play. We also try to give our online customers a great experience and feel we know many of them personally.

So thank you to everyone who has been part of our journey so far. We feel like it’s still near the start and looking forward to every step to come.

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Now part of the Rylstone streetscape

The End of Winter

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Never at it’s best at the end of Winter but the pruning is over and this bed will burst with life from Spring through to Autumn.

Winter here is harsh. Cold (but rarely snowing), cruel frosts but, this year, unfortunately very little rain. By the end of Winter I start to despair for the garden. It all looks so grey/yellow and bare, with little sign of life or greenery.

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This little fella self-seeded and decided to stay. A welcome addition, even if unplanned and in an awkward position.

It’s now nearly four years since I moved here and this year I realised that I’ve been so conditioned to Sydney North Shore gardens that are dominated by evergreens including camellias, azaleas and all-pervading buxus hedges that the yellowness of the landscape here is still a little disturbing. Gardens here are different – more deciduous trees and shrubs, veggie beds and with the frosts, grass will never stay green.

The upside is that Winter is perfect for knitting and has a lot less competition for time, given the garden is dormant. Come Spring, the garden starts to come alive. The last few weeks I’ve been madly pruning – paying a steep price for now having over 100 roses that are doing very well at the Convent. It’s also feeding, watering and mulching time. Water is a problem given I can’t remember the last time we had decent rain fall.

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Not so Tortured Filbert will have grassy green leaves soon. I’m enjoying the catkins that just keep dropping longer and longer.

It’s so rewarding to watch plants that seem so lifeless spring back – and certainly reassuring that I haven’t killed them. Many of the plants are now three to four years old and establishing themselves, which is also intriguing to watch, with a few becoming fast favourites. I bought Tortured Filbert as I was fascinated by the name and felt a bit sorry for any plant that could be called that. However he is a stunning little hazelnut specimen with an amazing twisted structure and the cutest catkins that are currently getting longer and longer.

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Blue Streak Willow – just lucky with this one that it’s such a beautiful tree. Look at the pussy willows just before it goes into leaf.

Another gorgeous plant is Salix Acutifolia ‘Blue Streak’ that I bought from Lambleys, one of my favourite online nurseries. It came in a tiny tube pot and was originally planted in a garden bed. A year later I needed help to move it – obviously a vigorous plant – and it now sits between the Chapel and Grotto (not many people can use that phrase on their Blog!). It’s just displaying gorgeous little pussy willows at the moment and looks like it will explode into growth soon.

One of the first trees I planted was the somewhat Convent appropriate Judas Tree which always has lovely blossoms and pretty leaf growth. It, too is about to flower. The garden was so bare with no established shade trees so I’ve been keen for the Manchurian Pears to grow. They’ve been reliable and I think this year will hit their straps.

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The pair of Wisterias have taken a surprisingly short time to get themselves in shape.

At my last home in Sydney, a neighbour had a wonderful Wisteria that was kept to a standard shape – an ever thickening trunk and heavy weeping strands of flowers. This seemed a perfect option to go under the Convent windows and break up some of the harshness of the exterior. It also seems to be working and the plants are now heavy with buds – although more endless pruning for me to keep it in shape.

Anyway, the knitting is slowing a little although shop hand knit staples (beanies, mitts and scarves) are less in demand, so at this time of the year I try and move towards more detailed lace knitting and always promise myself that I’ll get my Show knitting under control early (never happens!!!).

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The two Manchurian Pears that should become prominent in the front yard are just starting to hit their straps.

The Next Phase

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New gates at each end. This is the rear of the property.

Winter has been a good time to let the garden rest and get on with lots of knitting for the shop. However it’s starting to warm up and Spring isn’t far away. Priorities are about to change!

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The paddock in earlier days

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Internal access from the Convent block through a small gate set in the privet hedge.

Over the past year I’ve been cleaning up the block next door, or “the paddock” as it’s more commonly referred to. I have just over half an acre of land that the Convent sits on and also own the quarter acre next door which has just been a rough block up until now. I’ve had it cleared of the old scrub and last week fencing and gates went up, so now it’s time to start doing some work.

The land is pretty rough – shale and clay, so I’ll be taking my time building up the soil and planting gradually. So far I’ve started at one end – lots of cardboard getting put down and mulch going on top. Given it’s pruning time, lots of light pruning and leaves are making their way to the other side of the galvanised fence. First cab off the rank is potatoes. Last year I had huge success with some substantial “no dig” beds of potatoes layered with straw mulch and a sprinkling of Dynamic Lifter. This year I have the advantage of horse poo courtesy of Poppy the horse down the road.

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Some rockery beds are already in place at the front of the block from decades ago – now sans tyre plantings.

Either end of the block will be some pretties – I have roses on order that should be OK. Some of the block has some rockery work in place that should work well for the rose and perennial beds but the balance of the paddock will mainly be produce. Some bordering for veggie beds will take place shortly.

Desiree, Sebago and Dutch Cream potatoes doing multiple duties – food, breaking up and enriching soil.

The photos look pretty bleak and colourless – it’s been a very dry Winter with harsh frosts – this will green up in no time with better weather and a little TLC. Anyway, this will keep me going for quite some time.

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Gates at the front of the property – the views are stunning.

Bridge View Inn, Rylstone – Our Wool Home

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Early days when we first opened the shop

As much as we love our shop, we often worry about a lack of space – it’s just two rooms in an old hotel. But every time we take a good look around, we always find a few more areas we can fit some shelving space. I think we’ve added over 24 more bays since we first thought we’d run out of space, including 12 more this week. And we still think we can fit more in! Of course we also make use of our front verandah, the hallway and back courtyard – it’s all put to work.

Our shop is perfectly situated in the gorgeous old town of Rylstone, about 40 minutes from Mudgee, about 75 minutes from Bathurst and Lithgow and about 3 hours from Sydney. Housed in the historic, Bridge View Inn, it’s hard to imagine a much better setting.

IMG_1847Our landlords are the Rylstone & District Historical Society. They purchased the lovely old sandstone building in the 1960’s and have since done a great job in restoring it to it’s former glory. Built as an Inn in the 1870’s, it’s been home to many businesses including a popular restaurant as well as the local bank – you can still see the cement slabs that were laid to hold the safes. It’s now home to 29Nine99, run by the lovely NaLan. This has become a super popular and famous Yum Cha House, featured on Better Homes & Gardens, Sydney Weekender and Andy and Ben Eat Australia. If you’re visiting us, you must have some yum cha! We also share with a barber, upstairs is a well appointed character 2 bedroom apartment (complete with open fire) for holiday rentals, and the Cottage Museum out the back run by the Historic Society. This link gives more history about the building – just ignore the reference at the end to the Thai massage being a tenant – that’s now us! A bit of a change!

The building has so much character, including the restored mural in the dining room (that Gemma and I both think looks a bit demonic for our tastes). Our shop has it’s own charm – our “back” room is also fondly called ‘The Snug’ and was originally the Ladies Bar. It seems to be happy in it’s current role displaying wool and also houses our lovely green leather Chesterfield lounge – if we have any spare time during the day, you can find Gemma and me sitting and knitting here. The Bridge View Inn was also one of the locations used in filming ‘The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith’. Local lore has it that the film crew brought in the overmantle mirror behind our countertop as a prop and left it there. You can see our countertop and the mirror in bar scenes in the movie.

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A scene from ‘The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith’ with our overmantle mirror and shop counter (with a different bench top). That’s ‘The Snug’ through the doorway.

Our shop counter has it’s own history having originally been part of the Cudgegong Post Office. Windermere Dam was built in the 70’s to provide a water supply for the area. In the making, the small town of Cudgegong was flooded and the lovely old counter was moved to our Inn.

Anyway, we’re very happy in our shop and in our town. We’d love you to drop by and spend the day (or weekend, or week) exploring our region. I’m sure neither our shop or area will disappoint. We may even have the fire on if it’s really cold!

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Another Special Weekend at the Convent

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Teen’s McCarthy used the Grotto as the setting to her Bush Mary performance

It’s been so long since I’ve written a post. That doesn’t mean I’ve been quiet – just the opposite. What with the shop, the garden, local activities and managing the shop website and personal and commercial Facebook pages (oh, and Instagram), unfortunately the blog seems to fall behind, which is a pity given I can provide more detail and photos here than quick grabs on the other mediums.

IMG_2975Anyway, the last few months have been dominated BY the garden, particularly getting it in good condition for Cementa17, our biannual contemporary arts festival that uses the Convent as a venue, the shop which takes up lots of time, and Show knitting.

Last weekend was Cementa17 with over 40 contemporary artists displaying their works all around our small town. Thousands of people are attracted to the town over 4 days and nights of exhibitions and entertainment.

The Convent is one of the venues used for artists and this year we made the most of having so many visitors by also hosting lunch and Devonshire teas in the garden to raise funds for Kandos CWA.

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Ceramics display by Paris Norton

Two artists exhibited – a performance of the Bush Mary’s by Teena McCarthy and a ceramics display by Paris Norton.

The garden comes up well in Autumn, which is also the time we have our local Garden Fair, the year between Cementa’s, and made a great location for those wishing to have a quiet moment sitting in the garden treating themselves to tea and scones with jam and cream.

Many thanks to all those who volunteered so willingly and gave their time to help out. It was a great weekend.

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Putting the Elderflowers to Work -Elderflower Syrup

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The variegated Elderflower, nearly two years old – no shrinking violet

I have two beautiful Elderflower bushes – both very different in appearance but both vigorous and prolific. The plainer green one that suckers all over the place is about three years old and flowers madly a little later in Summer. At the moment there are no signs of flowers developing but lots of green bushy growth cropping up all over the place. The second is less than two years old, has stunning variegated leaves and a far more architectural growth habit. It’s flowering like crazy right now and last year, unlike it’s older relative, also developed elderberries.

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Last year’s Elderflower Champagne

The previous Summer, the flowers were put to use in Elderflower Champagne, which was a huge success. I recently timidly opened one of the many bottles stashed in my cellar to see if they were still bubbly and was delighted to find it even better than before! Maturing with age like some of us.

This time around I’m trying Elderflower Syrup (same as Elderflower Cordial). I’ve used this Jamie Oliver recipe that sounded interesting with the addition of honey – but it’s so simple with just Elderflowers (lots), sugar, honey, lemons and water. The first batch was doubled so I have plenty and am looking forward to using it as a cordial, fruit syrup and maybe even in some elderflower sorbet, not to mention as a cocktail with some Prosecco!

Next up some more Elderflower champagne – it’s such a treat to sit in the evening next to my new fishpond with an icy glass of this drink and just chill with the dogs.

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The finished product – I’m sure there will be plenty more in the future

 

Spring Has Sprung

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The two standard wisterias under the front windows seem to have settled in well.

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The front circular bed changes with seasons. For now it’s dominated by Ranunculus. Later the new roses will shine and then the white Cosmos will fill it out.

Well at least I hope it has. Winter has taken its time departing (not that I’m complaining as a wool shop owner!) but it would be nice for the rain to ease off, winds die down and sun to show its face.

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Every Convent should have a Judas Tree and this lovely plant has always been reliable.

The last week has shown some promise and the garden is starting to respond, although it seems the grass always responds first and is badly in need of mowing. This is the third year here permanently and about four years since I first set my eyes on the Convent and discovered Kandos. It’s also the first year where I can see the plants doing what I had hoped they would. Roses are bursting with growth, some of the plants that had struggled seem to have found their feet, vacant spaces are beginning to fill, trees are beginning to fill out and climbers are, well, starting their climbing journey.

These are just the first touches of colour coming into the garden and I’m anticipating some great displays through Spring, Summer and Autumn. With expanded veg patches, I’m also hoping to be well fed by my garden – the chooks are certainly enjoying spinach at the moment and rewarding me with lots of eggs.

I have some more plants to put in and I’m eager to play with my water plants with my new fishpond, which is yet to have fish introduced to it.

Let’s hope the weather is now on the improve (not that I mind regular rain) and the garden continues to flourish.