A stitch in time…

Mending is a thing right now, and that makes me very happy! For a very long time I haven’t wanted to support the fast-fashion industry, partly because of the horrendous level of waste engendered, partly because of the chemicals and processes used, and partly because of their exploitation of desperate workers . Yes, I know, those workers do need to support themselves & their families, but our addiction to cheap “disposable” clothing has forced their employers to push prices, and therefore wages, down to the minimum, and their hours up to the maximum, leading to people becoming economically enslaved & working in dangerous & demeaning situations. There has to be a better way, for all concerned.

I do try to buy well, when I have to buy at all, but I don’t have the kind of money to buy the clothes I’d ethically approve of, and, to be fair, they’re probably not designed for people like me anyway. (What looks good on a 6′ size 6 model drifting through a field of sunlit daisies looks quite silly on a short, round lady of a certain age trudging up a muddy allotment path.) So when I do invest in something I like and that suits me, I want it to last. Especially when I’ve bought it secondhand; chances are I won’t be able to find a replacement easily.

So mending has been part of my way of life for a long time (I grew up in the 60s & 70s, when it was quite mainstream, if not something to be proud of) and I’m beginning to see it not as a chore, but as a creative process. I learnt early in life how to do more-or-less invisible mends, but thanks to those indefatigable engines of creativity, the Japanese, and the public’s growing awareness of our looming environmental predicaments, “visible mends” have caught people’s imaginations lately and have even become saleable. My skills are suddenly in demand, with the added twist that I can start to have some fun with the idea now!

So I thought I’d share the process of retrieving a rather nice polo-necked jumper; not a top-notch “designer” garment, but a respectable make and made from cashmere, a rightly-expensive fibre that I’d struggle to justify buying new for myself. I found this one at the recycling warehouse, for 50p, well-nibbled; one of the main problems with cashmere is that clothes moths simply adore it. (The other is its tendency to shrink & felt if not treated with the utmost respect.) Luckily they’re not good at surviving very low temperatures, so it spent a month in my freezer before being assessed for mending or upcycling; if I’d judged it too hard to mend, it could have become fingerless gloves, or possibly leg-warmers, or any number of smaller, useful items.

Moth-nibbled cashmere jumper

There were lots of holes around the hem, and on one cuff. Apart from that, there were very few holes on the body, arms or neck, just a few tiny nibbles. So I machine-stitched around the ribbing (thank you to my friends on the Fashion-on-the-Ration thread on the MSE forums for the idea!) above the worst of the damage, and cut the lower bits away, then stabilised the few mostly-tiny holes left by stitching all round them with cotton, tightening & tying-off. Both cuffs were stitched & cut off, for symmetry’s sake, even though one had been undamaged.

The worst of the damage cut away

Luckily I had some tiny sample skeins of cashmere in sympathetic colours, so I crocheted round the cut edges (straightforward double-crochet, or single for our American friends, basing each stitch just above the machine-stitched line) in one direction in a lighter blue, then the opposite way in a darker one. The last step was to felt round the edges slightly to bond the different yarns, by dipping them in hot water & soap & rubbing them gently between my fingers for a few minutes. Then it was washed & dried.

A bit more wearable…

I’m going to wear this one myself, mostly underneath other garments, and am perfectly happy that it now has what looks like a little lacy trim!

Just right for trudging up allotment paths!

As a “vintage” market trader, I’ve always mended worthwhile items to sell on, as well as for my own use, and have never considered wearing mended clothes to be a sign of moral deficiency. We have to stop shopping ’til we drop & throwing or giving stuff away after a couple of uses. Instead we need to buy carefully & consciously, and take proper care of what we have, wherever it come from. Part of taking care is mending when necessary, visibly or otherwise. Learning to mend could save you lots of money, or make it possible to buy things of a quality that would otherwise be out of reach. It’s a better use of precious time than endless binge-watching TV, and can even be combined with it once it becomes automatic.

Darned vintage cardi by Susan Duckworth, visibly-patched 5 y.o. Levis & crochet-hemmed Johnstons of Elgin cashmere jumper.

And when things go beyond the point of mend-abilty – upcycle. Felted jumpers make wonderful cushion covers!

A favourite jumper, shrunk & felted way past wearable, makes a cosy cushion…

Use up your scraps!

It’s been a good week, in many ways – any week in which an elderly Bernina virtually lands in my lap is a good week. But yesterday I enjoyed best of all; I sold one of my scrap-yarn shawls, crocheted on a 15mm double-ended Tunisian hook, and the gentleman who bought it for his wife evidently thought it was the most glamorous thing he  could possibly have found for her, which was lovely. And then I did a fingercrochet workshop.

How could I have gone so long without the wonderful feeling of creating something useful and hopefully attractive too, just using my fingers and yarns that no-one wanted, or that were otherwise surplus to requirements, in a  very short space of time? It’s so simple, it’s easy to forget how rewarding it is. For those of you who haven’t yet come across it, fingercrochet is exactly what it says on the tin – crochet done on your finger, without a hook. You just wrap the yarn around a finger – I’ve recently discovered that my ring finger works best – and use that instead of a hook. Because it’s a fairly big implement, in my case at least, you need to use either very chunky yarn, or several strands, to achieve any kind of “coverage” but because the stitches are so big, you can make a hat up very fast. You soon find that your finger, although not as smooth as a metal hook, is rather more helpful and bendable, and that you can feel the tension in a way that simply isn’t possible with a hook.

My one “pupil” was very dubious that she would be going home with a fully-formed hat inside two hours. But not only did she complete it, she had time to make a pompom to add to the top! I’ve added a new page for the pattern (and also now for a matching collar) so that all of you who crochet can make one at home… I look forward to seeing your photos, here or on Ravelry.

Sarah models one of the fingercrochet hats...

It’s been a while…

…because I’ve been busy. Very very busy, in fact, in the nicest possible way, because there suddenly seems to be a lot of interest in what I’m doing, So I’m taking the plunge & have rented a small workshop/shop in the centre of our little town, to open up TheCraftSpace.co; website to be set up over the next few days.
I’m really excited but there’s a lot of work to do; the unit needs painting & some other stuff like hot water & flooring sorted out, and I’m trying to source just about all the fittings secondhand, recycled or reclaimed, with one or two exceptions for electrical safety’s sake. There’s a side room for my VintageCraftStuff, and also some gallery space to display our own creations and those of other local crafters. There’ll be human-powered sewing machines & spinning wheels, giant knitting needles, inkle looms, spinning & felting supplies, handspun yarn, and reclaimed fabric, yarn and buttons for sale, and of course, books and magazines… open for retail Mon-Fri, 11-4 pm.
The idea is to run FREE lunchtime “craftalong” sessions – bring your sarnies, or buy something yummie & inexpensive from the Riverside Cafe next door, and sit & stitch/knit/crochet/whittle – whatever, as long as it’s creative! – for free in good company, anytime from 12-2 pm. Then 2-4 pm will be inexpensive have-a-go themed workshops, probably about £4 per person including materials (if it can be done) on simple basic stuff – cardmaking, scrapbooking, bookmaking, wet felting, needlefelting, learn to spin/knit/crochet/stiitch – and there will be expert workshops in the evenings & some weekends, with more advanced tutors. Everything will be small scale, partly because of space limitations but also because it’s nicer & easier to learn that way.
There’s a little garden space at the back to grow a few dye plants, herbs & flowers in tubs & baskets, and sit & stitch or spin in the sunshine on nice days. The river runs right outside the door, so it’s a very green & natural space for a town-centre location.
So I’m really, really busy trying to sort all the background stuff like insurance, website & fittings out right now. I’ll post again just before we open, so wish me luck, watch this space & plan to come & visit us when you’re down this way!

The Dishcloth Files…

I've been busy...

Life has been astonishingly busy for the past few months. My feet haven’t touched the ground since the end of exam time; I blew a fuse and booked a holiday to Spain to recover, which was most unsustainable but a wonderful, relaxing break in a beautiful, unspoilt spot with crystal-clear water & lots of much-needed sunshine. And cheaper than the area we normally go to, where our relatives live, too. Now we’ve survived the trauma of A level results (they both did really, really well) and are preparing to send two of the Offspring out into the world, whilst “Real Life” continues to whirl past at breakneck speed. And I’ve discovered dishcloths!

I signed up for a dishcloth swap on one of my favourite forums (Creative Living – originally a wild seedling that popped up from HF-W’s River Cottage site) and started looking on Ravelry for suitable (free) crochet patterns. Needless to say, there are hundreds to choose from; I now have a complete file full of intriguing little patterns awaiting a spare moment or two… I picked one that particularly appealed, grabbed a ball of charity shop yarn that I was virtually certain was cotton, and started hooking. About an hour later, I realised that I’d forgotten to translate it from American to English (we call different stitches by the same names) but it was so nearly finished that I just carried on. The resulting item was both pretty & practical and hardly took any time or concentration; an ideal stick-it-in-your-pocket-for-quiet-moments project, in effect. So I hunted up another couple of balls of cotton, one recycled from an unpicked beach bag and one left over from another project, and made a different one, then another – I’m hooked, in more ways than one!

Dishcloths are soooo simple. They only take a couple of hours and they’re an ideal project for using up odd scraps. Each one can be different and you can afford to experiment, as on that scale it only takes a moment to put any glaring incongruities right. It doesn’t matter if they don’t lie flat or aren’t completely regular in shape. And they’re useful too, which makes them a decently thoughtful little gift for anyone who doesn’t like aimless clutter, or already has quite enough of it, like us. I picked up a couple of cones of almost-certainly-cotton yarn at the Dorset Scrapstore (which I’m just about to pick the expert brains over on Ravelry for a proper ID for) and carried on…

There are probably 1001 other things I should be doing or sorting out, but these are keeping my fingers busy, using up oddments, and probably keeping my blood pressure down too. In other words, dishcloths are a  practical recycler’s dream…

And there's more where these came from...