Well, spot the sometimes-blogger who completely lost her blogging mojo… I don’t know why , I just felt that I didn’t have anything interesting to say. Or, for that matter, do… But having just annoyed myself intensely, please forgive me if I give myself an online talking-to!
So I decided to make a rag rug for our eldest son and his lovely partner, who are about to move into their own first-bought home. I know that they will be choosing their furniture & decor carefully, and of course it’s hard to gauge what might “fit” until you can see how their plans are working out – and if they’re anything like us, things don’t so much go according to the masterplan as just fall into place. They’ll do… I thought I’d just go along with something completely practical, which can be used anywhere – a bathmat, a door mat, a sleeping mat for their adorable dachshund, a boot-liner for the car. There was already a warp on the loom; I’d intended to make a mat for the back seat of my van, but kind of lost my way over winter with that as well. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the warp was made from leftover bits of an old sheet that had been cut into strips for a completely different project, several years ago.
I should have known that a cut warp was never going to be as satisfactory as a torn warp for a twined-weave project; it hadn’t been cut completely straight on the “grain”, so the warp was constantly “shedding” threads, which stick up in the finished weaving. And enough came away as I went along that I became slightly anxious that it wouldn’t be as strong in the middle as it needs to be, to take the ferocious tension. Luckily – it sufficed.
The weft strips were a few bits of my husband’s old, torn jeans, an old, frayed turquoise seersucker tablecloth and two-and-a-half reclaimed duvet covers from the recycling warehouse. Total expenditure, £2; 50p each for the 4 bought items, with half of one duvet cover and a few strips left over.
So they picked up the keys today. And I really wanted there to be a parcel for them on the doorstep, so I carried on “over, under, twist!”-ing ’til late at night on Tuesday. I was aware I’d made a bit of an error at one point, but thought, it’s never going to be completely symmetrical, it’s in the nature of the beast to be a little bit chaotic – it’s a rag-rug, it’ll do. So I carried on.
I came down on Wednesday morning, took one look, and oh my goodness – NO!!! It would NOT do. The error shrieked and glared at me; I knew I’d have to undo half of what I’d done the evening before and put it right. If it was anywhere in my sight, the wrongness would just leap out at me, even though I’m no perfectionist. So I spent a merry couple of hours twisting backwards.
The moral of this story being – STOP when you’re tired, and start making mistakes! I have known this for many years – go off & do something else, sleep on it, come back to your project when you’re refreshed and not before! But once again, I carried on long past the point where I should have stopped… Despite the setback, I still got it finished and posted in time, and it arrived today – the day they picked up the keys for their own first lovely home. Phew…
Just asking – has anyone else out there struggled to get going with projects lately? In the unforgettable words of a dear friend – are you feeling, like I was, somewhat oomph-lacking?
So, a couple of days ago, I started idly twisting a couple of old cut-off shirt seams round my fingers, and before I knew it I was twining & stitching a tiny basket, which is ideal for keeping odds & ends of thread in… I was ridiculously pleased with myself, although I know perfectly well that in days gone by, or on this day in other places in the world, any child can make these; it’s definitely not rocket science!
But it brought a long-forgotten memory to mind; I was probably about 8, and had made something very similar at school. I trotted home fairly bursting with creative pride, and handed it to my mother. “Very nice, dear,” she said, distracted, as mothers-of-many so often are. “But what did you learn today?”
So, making stuff isn’t learning; that’s what I learnt that day. Learning is words and numbers, facts, and figures. Learning is ideas and abstractions; making stuff is just – child’s play. Something to be put behind us so that we can enter the glorious adult world of using those ideas & abstractions to earn money & buy stuff, playing our rightful part in The Economy. Making stuff, if you really have to, should just be a hobby, involving buying lots of new stuff to make it with, in your “spare” time, or perhaps it should be monetised, if you’re more than competent; you could sell those! But what’s the point in bothering, if you can’t do it cheaper than a oriental wage-slave & churn out enough to supply the high street giants…? Not many of us crafters could support a family on what we could earn, any more then I can feed my family solely on what I can grow on my allotment. Yet somehow we are still driven by something inside to do it anyway.
I know I’m not the only one to be dismayed by how creativity has just fallen out of our educational system; it’s simply not valued in any way by those who make the decisions unless they can see it as a way of gaining a competitive edge in the world. Music, drama & textiles are hanging on by a thread, but very few adults follow through with their interest once they realise they’re not going to be the next superstar or “designer” name. And children only have a basis to explore their potential talents if one of the adults around them happen to be interested in & actually doing such things, and is willing to help that child learn. You won’t do something if you think you might get it wrong or look a bit silly, but especially not if you don’t even know that it can be done.
There are massive commercial pressures to keep people a little bit helpless, a little bit stressed and anxious, because then they’ll keep right on buying stuff, which keeps The Economy ticking over. Also, why put sweat and effort into learning to make something when you could just buy one, or 3D print it? So gradually, our collective competence is dwindling away…
Making or growing stuff, actually manipulating matter with developing skill, applying and combining ideas, and ending up with something genuinely useful and quite possibly beautiful too, is deeply satisfying, even on the level of a tiny basket made from rags. It doesn’t have to win a Turner prize to be worth doing. Why are we allowing future generations to be deprived of this delight?
A long time ago, I discovered that the word “Thrift” doesn’t quite mean what people generally think. (Although there is an element of words eventually coming to mean what people think they mean, rather than what they originally meant. Just don’t tell Humpty Dumpty.) It didn’t, and shouldn’t, mean penny-pinching miserliness; it came from the same root as “thrive”, just as “frugal” originally meant much the same as “fruitful”. Once I’d wrapped my head around the idea of thrift as something positive, it put a different slant on my attempts to live within our means as we raised our biggish family on one-and-a-little-bit incomes whilst paying a fairly hefty mortgage to afford a home big enough for us not to actually fall over each other. It became a challenge to get the very best out of the resources actually available to us, rather than to become bitter & envious, and strive after ever more money and ever more stuff.
There are all sorts of interesting thoughts hovering around this; why are we continually encouraged to buy, buy, buy; to upgrade things that aren’t broken, to cook with fresh ingredients from the other side of the planet, to constantly change our clothes & decor at the whim of fashion editors & celebrities, to replace rather than repair? Is this a sane way to try to run the world? Why is our own time rarely recognised as an important resource, only time that someone else pays you for? However, the central fact is that, given that you actually do have enough (a key concept) of everything vital, it’s an interesting challenge to see what more you can do with the resources, of any sort, that do come your way.
Hence my determination not to just throw away (and where exactly is away?) the little strips of not-so-usable fabric that resulted from demolishing 20-something shirts, some old jeans, and a couple of skirts for free or very-inexpensive fabric. The hems, side-seams & plackets, mostly; I have another project or two in mind for the collars and cuffs. And thanks to lockdown 3 here in the UK, I have plenty of time to put my plans into action for a while. So, here’s the finished hem-and-seam rug:
I do know how very lucky I am, to have the time and the space to make things, but something inside me won’t let me not make things, and of course there are plenty of other things I should probably be doing, like housework. The things I make may be simple & easy, and I really don’t need another rug, but it’s given me great pleasure to turn some things that under other circumstances could be seen as “waste” into something genuinely useful and colourful.
For the next few days, I need to concentrate on getting a few seeds started, and a part-done cot quilt that needs finishing before the “user” arrives! But then – where next with my massive “to do” pile and my random assortment of “resources”…?
… the family have eaten leftovers for a week, my allotment’s a weedy mess, the house is a tip, we’re back in lockdown again, I have 101 half-done or not-even-started projects lying around, and what am I doing?
Weaving shirt-seams, of course! I have 3 big bags of little strips of fabric cluttering up my sewing room, from dismantling lots of shirts/jeans/pyjamas/tablecloths & tea-towels for quilt fabric & other projects, and there’s only so many you can use as plant-ties. I’d been keeping them for a course on Weaving with Waste that I’d booked onto last September, which sadly couldn’t take place. There’ll be another one, of course, Once All This Has Blown Over (OATHBO in certain online quarters) but just imagine how much more I’ll have accumulated by then. Though my New Year’s resolutions, as usual, include putting myself on a Fabric Diet ; no more fabric will be acquired (new or otherwise) until at least half of what I currently have as been used up or sold on.
I have done some things: my Other Half has a second pair of cosy PJ bottoms made from an old flannelette sheet. They were cut out months ago when I made the first pair, and put aside in my enormous “to do” pile. DD2 has mended PJs and a new pair too, from some soft but sturdy brushed cotton found in a charity shop last spring at £3 for about 4m of 60″ wide fabric in a cheery red & white plaid. And I’ve finally managed to make a pair of what my great-aunt would have called, in a breathless whisper, “Underthings” (i.e. knickers) from an old t-shirt; not rocket science, I know, and of course I could just buy a pack of new ones, but it pleases me to re-use pretty & still-decent fabric & keep my money safe from those who peddle poor-quality “underthings” that fall apart in a few weeks. I’m pleased to report that they fit well and are very comfortable!
I’ve also cut out & attempted to sew a warm top from blanket-type fabric acquired new, as a treat, a couple of years ago. Needless to say, I struggled with this. My overlocker didn’t seem to “like” the fabric & kept breaking one specific thread. At first I thought the thread must be weak, so changed it, but the next reel also broke every few stitches. Then I thought I must somehow have bent the needle, so changed that. But now I’ve realised that it was “pilot error”; the loopers & needles need to be threaded in a specific order, and once one thread had broken & been replaced, that order was undone and the machine was struggling to form stitches correctly. I’m hoping I still have enough fabric to sort it out, as I may need to re-make the sleeves entirely, I’d chewed so much off them before stopping to read the instructions… oh dear. You can’t cure stupid, as they say, by changing the needle!
So yes, plenty going on here, and there are still about 98 projects in the “to-do” pile, so I’m looking on lockdown 3 as a chance to clear as much from that pile as possible. Let’s see if I can end up with a chance to see the floor of the sewing room/spare bedroom once more…
Summer has gone away now… always a bittersweet moment, as the landscape settles down to doze gently through the winter down here in the soft southern English hills. And the rains have come; not just the odd grey day of gentle drizzle, but hammering squalls and vicious gusts tearing the beautiful autumn leaves from the trees. Not quite the weather I was hoping for, to tidy my allotment up for the winter.
So it’s time to put some of those crafty ideas into practice! Something I’ve been gathering resources for for a couple of years: a twined-weave rug made from moth-eaten (literally) & felted old blankets, on a warp of discarded polycotton duvet cover. It’s taken forever to get round to actually starting it; once I started, it just took the odd hour here & there over 3 days. The pile of holey old blankets has shrunk considerably (sorry, Remi, my miniature dachshund “grand-puppy”, who loves to sleep in them) but there are plenty more where they came from!
The loops of warp visible at the ends will disappear in a day or two, as the tension “relaxes” & evens out. I could use them to anchor a fringe, but I decided this rug should be “crisp”, with the stripes just speaking for themselves, if that makes sense. Although there seem to be about 5 different colours going on, there were actually only 3 blankets; the effect of any given “thread” depends on how I cut the blanket up; all 3 were plaid/check patterned, with different colours criss-crossing. Luckily I have a hand-cranked American strip-cutting machine, which makes light work of demolishing them, as it would have been a nightmare to cut them up with scissors. The bedding for the warp can just be torn into 2″ strips.
I finished it in between making our Christmas cake & pudding (slightly experimental, as I added home-grown quinces into both of these) baking some hob-nobs and cheesy flapjacks, making some “pink” soup (i.e. with home-grown beetroot) from leftover vegetables & gravy, and concocting dinner from what was left of Sunday’s roast. Tomorrow, I may do nothing at all… or I may escape to the allotment, weather permitting!
I just haven’t been able to write anything for the last few months. I’m not sure why; it’s not as if I haven’t been doing things, and plenty of them, but it’s seemed somehow like time apart from the mainstream of life. Part of me desperately wanted to record the sheer strangeness going on all around, but a larger part of me felt that committing it to type might make it real, somehow. A sort of feeling that if I held my breath, didn’t do anything, didn’t acknowledge the situation, it might kind of just fade away…
Anyway, the spell has been broken by the necessity of getting a newsletter out; there wasn’t much to put in it, so I ended up writing an article-ette to bulk it out, then suddenly, Bingo! The brakes in my head came off. And I have to report, it is real. At the start of all this, back in spring, I think we all hoped that in a few weeks, it would all be behind us, just another something-and-nothing. But it isn’t; it’s becoming apparent that that was just the start and we have a long & sometimes rocky road ahead of us. There have been many moments when it seemed that someone somewhere was playing a gigantic joke on us (drive 30 miles to test your eyes? You cannot be serious, that could actually be lethal) but no, it’s for real, the lunatics are in charge of the asylum and they’re not about to fly away over the cuckoo’s nest.
Where I live, we’ve been relatively lucky in that the virus has yet to gain much of a foothold. By and large, people have done what our leaders asked them to, and it’s easy for us to get out into the fresh air and stay socially distanced. But the price has been not seeing our families; we had a wedding in the family, the bridegroom being one of our sons, and my Other Half and I had to stay elsewhere so that he could be with his siblings before the ceremony & not break the Rule of Six. (All kudos to the bride & groom for staying calm and switching their arrangements several times at the drop of a government diktat, at considerable expense.) My mother had a spell in hospital and decided that she couldn’t bear to live alone any longer; we’ve found her a wonderful care home, which she’s enjoying hugely, but we can’t visit her except to yell up to her balcony, and we certainly can’t give her a hug. These are small sadnesses, and we know we’re very lucky in the great scheme of things, but they are also little rips in the social fabric that binds us all together, and we all know what happens to little rips that don’t get mended swiftly.
There are – undercurrents – that worry me. More and more places are refusing to accept cash, ostensibly because coins and notes may harbour the virus. But as our banks & government have been flying the kite of a cashless society for a long time now, this seems to be playing into their hands. Then what happens to those who are refused bank accounts, often for reasons beyond their control, like debts run up by a previous partner or occupant of their home? How can markets, independent traders, workshops & studios flourish without cash where the mobile connections aren’t reliable, i.e. anywhere outside major population centres?
It’s getting harder to get hold of big things that you really need. I won’t bore you with my greenhouse saga, but it took 5 months to actually acquire one, having originally ordered (and paid) in early April, and it was a nightmare to put together. In the end, though, I’m very pleased with it. It took 2 months to get hold of a new & much-needed freezer, which isn’t the make or model I wanted, but at least it’s the right size and actually here; the one I wanted is still unavailable. Apparently it’s equally hard to get hold of a new TV now too; “supply chain” problems. Interesting…
You can’t actually see a doctor or dentist unless you’re on the verge of expiring. Phone consultations are better than nothing, but they can’t see the lump on your eyebrow that you hadn’t noticed or the fact you’re rather yellow. And so much blame is being misdirected – “NHS” Track & Trace, anyone? – which has nothing to do with the NHS itself and everything to do with money-grubbing super-corporations trying to dig their fingers into our pie, with appalling incompetence that would have got any public servant sacked & disgraced. But how can we hold our “leaders” to account when they’ve made it absolutely clear that they simply don’t give a damn what we think?
How do we know who to listen to? We’re told that policy decisions are “following the science” but whose science? Who’s paying for that science? It does rather seem that those with the highest responsibility are cherrypicking the science that they want us to follow, but have no intention of following it themselves?
Anyway, enough! What have I been up to? (Apart from growing stuff, failing to earn anything much (there are no vintage markets going on down here, and all the summer festivals & events were cancelled, and look likely to be next year, too) and trying to find ways that our family can celebrate things like weddings more or less together?) Well, not as much as I would like to be able to say. I taught myself to knot netting at the beginning, so that my peas could have something tough but soft to scramble up. The wild rabbits that infest our allotment site ate my peas. The rabbits also ate my carrots, my runner beans (including most of the ones that re-sprouted from last year’s roots) and nearly everything except beetroot & chard. (Which did give me the chance to learn to appreciate fresh home-grown beetroot, which is actually quite yummy.)
They also tunnelled under the sunflowers, which depressed those somewhat & led to some strange multi-headed blooms. Once I’d realised that I had to defend everything against rabbit incursions, and my second line of beans were halfway up the poles and beginning to flower, we had a late frost – 23rd May – which killed those too, and most of the French beans, gave the potatoes a nasty headache and generally wreaked havoc. Only 4 plots got badly “hit” out of 126; it was then that we realised we’re at the bottom of a very gradual slope and cold air sinks downwards.
But that said, the courgettes went bonkers. We grew just one more plant than last year, when we had – enough, just about – but this year we ended up coming home with anything up to 12 courgettes on every visit, and giving a fair number away. 3 of the 6 plants are still going strong, as are the 3rd planting of runner beans. We only planted 3 tomato plants; the other 14 came up of their own accord. I didn’t keep on top of supporting them & pinching them out, etc., but we had a magnificent harvest before the blight struck, and ended up with a freezer full of ratatouille & passata. There’s plenty of chard, kale & leeks in the ground to see us over the winter and there are a number of “unofficial” Turk’s Turban squashes (i.e. grown from seeds from last year; they’ve come up pretty much like their parent plant & do taste good) sitting in the conservatory as well as a couple of little pumpkins. And the raspberries have been superb. For all the frustrations & setbacks, we still well & truly got our money’s-worth out of our little plot. Now it just remains to clear the beds that will be “resting” over the winter, sow a couple of lines of runner & Iron Age horse beans, and tidy up.
I discovered how to make & drink rhubarb champagne, which is delicious, but I haven’t done a lot of craft-work; I did manage to twine a new cover for a small stool with the remains of a damaged old blanket, but that’s about it. Like with writing, I didn’t have the heart to start anything, somehow. But now I’m looking forward to actually using up some of my fabric, yarn, fleece and other resources in the long dark evenings to come. There are plenty of ideas beginning to bubble away in my head; time to start putting some of them into practise!
The dark evenings and winter chill made me determined to finish the small rug/shower-room mat that had languished on my big twining loom since last spring was sprung.
That, plus the fact I’d agreed to run a little workshop on the subject of “simple forms of weaving” for our Guild’s Skills Day at the end of January. I got stuck in and finished the shower mat within a couple of evenings – it’s now in use – and warped the loom with torn-up sheets ready for the workshop. My “students” seemed to enjoy themselves and between us we did several inches of a new, full-size rug in warm shades of brown, orange & light green, still ongoing here at home. However, during the day, it did occur to me that it would be good to have some smaller looms available for people to learn the technique on and hopefully complete something small but useful within a day.
So I started looking around for some suitable wood, ordered a batch of beechwood pegs and raided a DIY superstore for eye-bolts, wing-nuts and stainless steel rods, as we also needed to buy a sander for our younger daughter’s latest project. (Which is possibly THE most expensive way of acquiring eye-bolts, all beautifully but individually packaged & priced to match!) We did have some old bed-slats in the garage roof, but eventually I decided that they were too wide to handle easily and too shallow to fix the pegs into securely. Then my eye fell on a batten that had once held a 6′ wide Roman blind… although it’s technically a soft wood, it proved to be very sturdy and quite hard to drill into, so I think it’ll stand the strain. So I chopped it into 18″ lengths, bolted those into a square, then drilled holes & inserted the pegs along the top & bottom. Once I’d sorted out a way to fix the rod down the side – random washers & wing nuts to the rescue – I had a slightly eccentric but entirely workable loom.
However it took me a couple of days, on & off round Real Life, to weave an 18″ square, which made me think it’s a little too large for what I was aiming at. So the next construction project will be a 12″ version. In the meantime I’ll be weaving a new top for a little old footstool, not to mention working on a set of matching chair pads for our mis-matched kitchen chairs. And then – I might just go 3d with it and maybe try a small basket to keep yarn in?
That’s one way to make a dent in my fabric stash! And there are plenty of others…