Putting ideas into practice…

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!

Rug made from moth-eaten wool blankets and old bedding

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!

Miniature version of Experimental Christmas Cake. It worked! Now demolished…

Another Cautionary Tale!

It’s been a while… but I am steaming towards fully-restored health now, and beginning to take up the reins of my little business, and feel up to nattering with the world again…

stall
A stall full of vintage oddities, fabulous old fabrics and genuinely useful stuff!

I know a lot of people are – cautious – about buying second-hand craft supplies and equipment; sometimes things have “moved on” and equipment has been vastly improved, designs are very different to what people wanted 30 years ago, and some supplies may not have been quite as well-kept as one would wish. Moths, for example, do not let you know they’ve invaded your stash…

HOWEVER there are huge savings to be made if you’re not averse to profiting by other people’s mistakes. I’m about to tell you a tale that I’ve heard many times, in one form or another, over the last ten years, the last example only yesterday. Here’s her story:

“I worked hard, all the hours of the day, for many years running my own business, but all along I just wanted to find the time to sit & stitch. I love stitched textiles passionately; my home is full of them, I buy them constantly and couldn’t imagine anything more inspiring than being able to make them myself! So I’d go to exhibitions when I was away on business trips, and buy all the stuff – kits and frames, special needles, scissors and collections of thread – and stash it all away for my retirement. Anyway, I retired last summer, and joined a stitching circle, and started work on a huge project at long last.

I hated it! It’s so darn fiddly and time consuming! I’d work hard all day, then realise that I’d only actually achieved a tiny amount and half of that was wrong and would have to be unpicked. A friend suggested trying a smaller project so that I’d feel it was more manageable, but I didn’t enjoy that any more than the big one. Then I became ill and couldn’t do any more. They’ve sat there in the corner since then, and now we need to downshift and won’t have room for anything we don’t need…”

PoppyTapestry2
Poppy thinks of a use for a large unfinished tapestry…

And there was the lady who’d owned her spinning wheel from brand new, back in the 1980s, and had never actually put it together. Come retirement, again from running her own business, out it came, and was constructed with much delight. But sadly, she didn’t “take” to spinning. Having been someone who was just about instantly successful at everything she turned her hand to, we simply couldn’t get her to slow up enough to fall into the rhythm of spinning, so she became very frustrated and decided not to bother in the end.

Not to mention the large upright rug loom taking up quite a lot of space in our conservatory… I really, really do want to make beautiful Finnish-style rugs out of reclaimed textiles, but somehow I haven’t even got round to warping it up yet, and it’s been there for over a year. Admittedly I’ve had a few other things on my mind for the last six months, but once I’d got stuck in with my twining loom (which couldn’t be easier to use – you can just tear up old bedding & get straight on with it) the idea of calculating a warp & cutting thousands of wool strips before I could start to make anything with the big loom kind of receded from the top end of my to-do list!

So I’m advising you; if you’re attracted to a particular craft, try it out BEFORE investing a small fortune in equipment or dedicating a large amount of space to it. Most crafts have local groups of people working at different levels in a social setting, like the Guilds of Weavers Spinners & Dyers, or Lacemakers, or Quilters. Often these groups have equipment to try out, lend or hire out, and there are usually ways to acquire secondhand equipment and supplies inexpensively through them. Alternatively, there are friendly general craft & social groups out there, meeting in cafés, libraries and pubs, and experts prepared to share their skills and ideas for a small consideration, who will point you in the right direction for equipment & supplies.

Different equipment suits different users, too; it’s no good buying a spinning wheel just because it’s the same as everyone else has got, if it doesn’t suit your style of spinning, or you’re six inches taller or shorter than they are. Or knitting with standard cold metal needles if you have arthritis in your hands. You don’t need to spend vast amounts on fat quarters to make your first quilt; check out the 99p rails in your local charity shops as many gents’ shirts are made from pure high-quality cotton & there’s much more than a fat quarter in the back alone. As for tiered cotton skirts…

You don’t have to buy everything new. There will come a time when you know exactly what you need and only new will do, but until then, there are plenty of useful & delightful resources out there to do amazing things with; all you need to do is look…

Postcard.jpeg
Fabric postcard being made from reclaimed stained table linen & reclaimed beads from a broken necklace, on a secondhand sewing machine!

 

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...

Peace at last!

Shawl, "blocking" after a little light fulling...

At long last I’ve caught up with myself a bit. After keeping my head down all week learning how to use my tri-loom (which I’m afraid I did buy new; I ran out of time to make one, even if  several 7′ lengths of seasoned oak had somehow materialised) I’ve finally completed a commission I was given back in the summer, for a shawl in rich browns, gold & oranges.  It’s been a learning process… I know now that the tri-loom produces a much more substantial & even weave than the scrap loom, but as the threads are under far more tension, haloed, “sticky” or underspun yarns are not the best materials to pick. So if they are what I happen to have to work with, back to the scrap loom, which is a much quicker technique too. But for top-quality stuff, the tri-loom it shall be.

In the meantime, my car has been filling up with goodies – there’s fabric, yarn, several nice handcranked sewing machines including a “Queen Alexandra” Jones FCS in fine shape, a sturdy 50s concertina sewing box and some very interesting books in there, as far as I remember! (Not to mention a bale of barley straw for the chickens & rabbits – it’s dry in there, and not in anyone’s way.)  But there they will probably have to stay until after the weekend, as we have guests and there’s enough “clutter” already inside.  I’ve also been busy networking on the Transition front; we’re planning a “Skills Taster” day early next year and I’m having quite a lot of fun going round to various groups & asking them to come & demonstrate.

I’ve also sold off my Louet S20 spinning wheel. I’m sad it had to go, but since my diagnosis I’ve realised why it had started to hurt to spin for any length of time on it; I needed a double-treadle or wide-treadle wheel. I chased a few on Ebay and won one, an EasySpin, which is absolutely beautiful & spins very nicely too, but is made of some kind of hardwood which is very brittle where it’s cut thin, such as the bobbin ends. So it’s not up to everyday life in a hectic household; I will try to hang onto it until I have my workshop as I do love it, but don’t want to risk damaging it. So what to use? As I already had quite a few Louet accessories & spares & their wheels seem to suit my style of spinning, as well as having a relatively small footprint, the answer was obvious. So I’ve dug into my rapidly-decreasing little savings pot & acquired a very lovely brand-new Louet S75, which I hope will be my “forever after” wheel. I haven’t had time to do much on her yet, but am working on two gorgeous Gotland fleeces, in very different colours but both beautifully soft, blended with a little angelina, and will post a pic when I’ve plied the first two bobbins-full together. The wheel is a dream to spin on; light & easy to treadle and very smooth, with the classic big Louet bobbins & good-size orifice. Lighter than the S20 to move, too, but with rubber feet so she doesn’t slip gently away from me as the S20 used to.

So now I have to behave myself for at least a year – NO more new equipment! I have enough supplies to keep me busy until next summer, by which time I should have acquired my bionic hip & be able to run my stall again, well stocked up!  Anything I really think I need will have to come to me secondhand or rescued, be made by me, or wait until my birthday and/or Christmas 2010. It shouldn’t be a hardship; I’m very lucky to have as much equipment as I do, and I really don’t have room for any more. So that’s my challenge to myself for the next year; to do what I need or want to do with what I already have, or can make for myself, am given or rescue.

Fibrefest report…

All fibrefested out...
All fibrefested out...

Right – so many impressions, it’s hard to know where to start. It was an overwhelming feast of colours and textures, the sound of happy voices and the beam of excited & contented smiles. The weather was a bit grey and a bit drizzly, and a cool wind blew up at the car park (quite a hike from the Mill, for anyone who’s not overly mobile) but I’m glad it wasn’t sunnier as it could have become very stuffy inside the marquees.

When we arrived, at about 12.30 on the Saturday, the marquees were heaving and it was a bit of a mad crush. Next time (do we really have to wait two years?!) we’ll come down on Friday night so that we can be earlybirds and wander freely amongst the glorious colours & textures & intriguing devices, deciding at our leisure who’s got what we really, really want. Then when the stampede arrives, we’ll trot off to the workshops, which I didn’t get around to booking this year. I loved it all, especially meeting the animals & farmers, & I got everything I’d gone for, and more. I picked up a fabulous Gotland lambs fleece by arrangement, and couldn’t resist a small bag of white Wensleydale locks for dyeing, felting & spinning experiments. A big thank-you the lovely ladies of the Crochet Design & Threads of Life stall, who were so encouraging to me with my whacky double-ended ideas and my two friends, who are new to crochet. From them I got two double-ended Tunisian hooks, one rigid, the other with a cable, to add to my collection. From The Mulberry Dyer, an honest-it’s-not-Kumihimo wooden disk, with stand and bobbins. From the Threshing Barn, a new modern bobbin for my elderly Louet (so I can ply at the same ratio I’m spinning at – I already had two) and a circular weaving kit. I didn’t mean to buy that, it just refused to leave my hand. I enjoyed the swapshop, picked up lots of inexpensive yarns from a variety of inspiring stalls and the Mill’s own bargain bin, some rather more expensive (but scrumptious!) ones too, and a little gold Angelina, learnt to knit without needles at the WoolFish, bought some chicken buttons from Injabulo & a packet of Madder from Jane Deane. Best of all, a little upright rigid-heddle LeClerc loom from the Swapshop… happy bunny here! But we had a go with the sock-knitter and oh dear, I think I need one of those too…

Over it all, the mill is an insistent presence; a tall & slender but sturdy redbrick chimney soars into the sky like a fairytale tower, roofs jumble at odd angles and little pathways beg to be followed under mismatched windows and zigzagged cast-iron stairways. The river murmurs along the back of the mill, with abundantly productive kitchen gardens running from the mill buildings down to the water’s edge; the millstream is channelled to the front and streams down into the massive waterwheel. Inside, mellow light filters through dusty windows, racks and shelving down into serried ranks of wooden bobbins and iron spikes. Machines whirr into life, seemingly randomly, as you walk through. The repetitive clatter & thump of the working loom sounded oddly like some mad rock drummer working out a new rhythm and the operator, young, bearded and earphoned, could have been the recording engineer. In the boiler house, two great iron faces peered reflectively out of the walls; next door a massive drive wheel was looped around with gigantic cotton ropes which vanished upwards into the light through a long slit in the wall. Odd-looking valves and coils stand on metal spires like surreal samovars and there are dial faces whichever way you turn. If Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria had designed a mill, this would be it. My camera was working overtime…

Can’t wait for the next one…

DSCF1503

Baa baa, black sheep; yes, we have some wool…

Last week I spotted an advert on the local “Waste-Not-Want-Not” group – similar concept to Freecycle, but allows lending etc. – for 3 black fleeces, in central Wimborne. I hesitated for a moment; the last local-ish black fleece I’d had wasn’t very good quality. But free is free, and useful is useful; off & on I’m making a big peg-loom rug, so even rug-grade wool is useful, especially dark stuff. So I dashed off a quick email, and was pleasantly surprised to get a phone call back within half an hour. I picked the fleeces up last Friday, and was delighted to find that they are gorgeous; mostly midnight black, so soft you want to curl up in it, not too oily, and so clean you’d think these sheep lived indoors. The locks are about 5″ long and have a nice gentle crimp so it’s blissfully easy to spin; I just pulled some out of the bag and spun away. There was only one problem; by the time I picked them up there were no longer three, there were five…

So I fired off emails to a couple of local spinners, Jill and Grace, and went round to see my spinning neighbour Linda. Luckily they were all interested, so I’ve rehomed most of it with them, as I’d never get through all of that myself before it started to go downhill, and I have a backlog of that lovely creamy Dorset too. Some also went off with my friend Annie, who is in the process of mastering the drop spindle, so I’m left with one and a bit fleeces. And an inkle loom!

Jill’s husband made her an inkle loom a couple of months ago, but had enough wood over to make a second. I’d said I’d be very interested in giving that a home, but as they’d just managed to produce a grandchild at the same time as putting their house on the market, I wasn’t expecting it anytime soon. However, when she came to pick up her black fleece, the loom came with her! So that’s kept me occupied for a few happy hours, watching YouTube videos to work out how to warp it up & weave with it, then actually producing my first few bands. I made myself a shuttle out of some driftwood that was just about the perfect shape to start with; all I had to do was carve a notch at each end to wind the weft thread round. It’s very smooth and one edge tapers sharply, ideal for beating the weft into place.

Thank you, Jill & Mr. Jill!
Thank you, Jill & Mr. Jill!

And I’d run out of KoolAid, so I asked on an American website I’ve belonged to for many years whether anyone would be prepared to send some over to me. It’s really expensive to buy over here, and there’s only a very limited range of colours available. Bless her cotton socks, a parcel arrived from Carolyn in Virginia this week with 50 sachets in, padded out with some lovely silver Mylar and some multicoloured silk waste for spinning. You should just see what happens when you spin a little Mylar into the black wool, which has a quiet gleam all of its own. It’s so lovely I’m almost afraid to do anything with it!

Black wool spun up with silver Mylar - thank you, Carolyn!
Black wool spun up with silver Mylar - thank you, Carolyn!

Then there’s the Jones Spool treadle that I rescued on Freecycle… my heart sank when I saw it; it had been out in their garden for quite some time, there’s a LOT of rust and the veneer on the table had bleached and started to lift. But half a pot of Swarfega, quite a lot of bike spray, and half a pint of Danish Oil and it’s starting to look & sound a little like the thoroughbred it once was.

All this has made the week pass very quickly & easily, which is just as well as I’ve spent most of it suffering – and I do mean suffering – with a horrible cold. And the weather’s gone downhill, so we couldn’t spend much time in the garden. All good rainy day fun…

Nearly there…

The last shawl took me months to complete. But this one is nearly done in just over a week; as far as I can work out, the difference has been down to;

1) a longer needle. I don’t know what the technical name is or what it was originally for, but this needle is over 12″ long, straight and quite sturdy with a big eye. I’d have said some kind of knitting implement, maybe? The only problem is that it has a sharp point; a blunt one would have been better for this job. I swapped to a “proper” weaving needle towards the end as the big one was too long for the far corner.

2) the “loom” is much less wobbly than the hardboard square was. It has stood up to the weaving process very well, in fact, and I expect to be able to use it again.

3) not using eyelash yarn – that was a total nightmare to keep track of…

4) moving the loom around to adjust the working height; on the floor when I was working near the top, then steadily moving it up onto first a chair, then on top of the budgies’ cage towards the end. Said budgies went very quiet, though I can’t say the same for the cockatiel, who evidently thought it was all very funny.

It is now finished and off the loom; tomorrow I will “full” it and see how it’s turned out. There’s rather more rescued yarn in there than I realised, too; about half, in the end.

Worth every penny...
Worth every penny...

The pure new wool hanging down from the top came from a charity stall at the market at the weekend; I only wanted to buy the plain undyed stuff but he insisted I took the whole lot for the same ridiculously-low price. My neighbour trotted off happily with three skeins of black, I kept the three skeins of assorted blues, and we spent a happy afternoon “handpainting” the three plain ones with Kool-Aid sent by kind e-friends in the States. Excellent fun! The blue wool will be appearing in another weaving project soon; not sure what we’ll do with our gloriously-technicolour handpainted wool, but I’ll think of something. Not to mention the three black fleeces I’ve “won” on Freecycle this week and have to pick up at the Market tomorrow…

Wish me luck with the fulling, tomorrow!

Weaving dreams…

Trying desperately to justify my extravagance at the Knit, Stitch & Creative Crafts show at the Bath & West showground last week, I took it into my head to create another shawl with the lovely yarns that somehow found their way home with me. The last one I wove was on a 4′ square of hardboard, which sadly has warped so far that there’s no way I can use it again. So I picked up some bits of wooden moulding at the Dorset Scrapstore, and spent a few noisy hours knocking tacks at ½cm intervals down two of them. Then I joined four into a square, using old electric sewing machine drive belts as giant rubber bands to join the corners.  A couple of 7′ bamboo canes, tied with an oddment of old shirt, made a crosspiece that has “tied” my improvised loom together, and today I’ve warped it up and started to weave…

<Warped up...

 

And belted up!
It’s cheating, really, using new yarns that I haven’t spun myself. But it may take me some time to turn out stuff as lovely as these… And there are some scraps & leftovers in there too; some odd bits of Paton’s Spirit, for example. So it’s not completely out of order. Really…
Next project is a Tri-loom, using more (& sturdier) Scrapstore moulding. And I should be able to finish the Charkha soon, too.