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My vintage-obsessed knitting comrade Susan Crawford embarked on an exciting project about three years ago: she has taken 25 20th century knitted pieces from the textile collection of the Shetland Museum and Archive and turned them into 21st century knitting patterns.

Vintage Shetland Knitwear

In order to fund the costs of making the book, Susan started a Slushpub fundraiser, which has already well exceeded her initial target! The additional money will go to more of the photoshoot costs,  a second photographer to take ‘behind the scenes’ footage of the photoshoot to enhance the book further, additional research to make the book even better, and image licencing to increase the number of historical images included in the book.

As part of this blog tour to promote the book and raise funds, Susan has asked each contributor to share some of the bloggers’ favourite garments in the book. Originally I was going to knit one of the sample garments for the book so I’ve seen all the garments before as Susan gave me the choice, but unfortunately I had other priorities and in the end I didn’t get to knit a garment after all. So, here’s a shortlist of my favourite garments:

Short Sleeve Jumper

Short-sleeved jumper

This short-sleeved jumper appealed to me because of the unusual design, which combines a classic “all-over” with stripes and a border of diamonds. All the diagonal lines really pull the design together.

Casual Cardigan with Pockets

Casual cardigan with inset pockets

This is such a classic cardigan! It’s possibly one of the most typical Shetland knits in the collection, but I love the quiet elegance and the large collection of peerie patterns, punctuated by the recurring diamond pattern.

golf stockings

Golf stockings

How could I not like a pair of knee-high socks with some darning? Against better judgment I once knitted a pair of socks from woollen spun Shetland wool. I wore holes in them after only a few wears, and they’ve been in my mending basket for almost two years now. I wonder whether these golf stockings were knitted from a worsted-spun yarn instead.

But in the end, the garment I wanted to knit most, was the “Prisoner of War” jumper.

Prisoner of War Jumper

Prisoner of War jumper

When I attended Shetland Wool Week in 2013, this jumper was on display in the Shetland Museum. I had already seen pictures of it from Susan, but that didn’t quite prepare me for the impact of seeing the real deal. It’s knitted from fine wool, and as you can see, it’s been mended a lot, and being able to see it failry up-close was a humbling experience. This jumper was knitted for Ralph Paterson by his wife. He was wearing it when he was taken prisoner of war in Hong Kong. It brought him comfort, and reminded him of home. It must’ve been very precious to him, as it has been mended in many places, using odds and ends of yarn.

prisoner of war jumper darning detail

Darning to keep loved ones in mind

POW jumper Darned Detail Neckline

An unexpected pop of colour

POW jumper undarned detail

Not all holes were darned on this jumper; perhaps Ralph Paterson might’ve been on his way home again when he discovered this hole?

I’m looking forward to seeing Susan’s book, and you can probably guess which pattern I’m itching to cast on!

All pieces – each with their own unique story to tell – have been developed into comprehensive multi-sized knitting patterns, complete with instructions, technical advice and illustrated with colour photography shot in Shetland. With an introduction reflecting on the story of each hand-knit item this book is a treasury of Shetland knitting patterns and an insight into Shetland’s rich textile traditions.

The blog tour continues with Kate Atherley‘s blog on Wednesday, 29 July.

Please see the list below for all the stops along the tour past, present, and future:

Thursday 9th July
  
Saturday 12th July
  
Monday 13th July
    
Wednesday 15th July         
  
Friday 17th July
  
Saturday 18th July
  
Sunday 19th July
   
Monday 20th July
  
Tuesday 21st July
  
Wednesday 22nd July
  
Friday 24th July
  
Saturday 25th July
  
Sunday 26th July
   
Monday 27th July
  
Wednesday 29th July
  
Friday 31st July
  
Sunday 2nd August
  
Monday 3rd August
Tuesday 4th August
Wednesday 5th Aug
TBC
Thursday 6th August
   
Friday 7th August

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Cecelia Campochiaro may be a name you have not heard of, but I think this is about to change. She has written what I believe will become a future classic in the knitting repertoire: Sequence Knitting. I first clapped my eyes on some of her designs on Ravelry, completely by chance. I was intrigued enough to take a gamble and placed a pre-order of this book with Schoolhouse Press. When it finally arrived I was bowled over by Cecelia’s book, and I’m very pleased that she agreed to an interview.

Warning: get yourself a cup of tea before proceeding, there was much to talk about!

Cecelia Campochiaro

Cecelia Campochiaro, author of Sequence Knitting

Tom: first of all, could you give us an introduction to the concept of sequence knitting for those readers of my blog who are not familiar with it?

Cecelia: Sequence Knitting is simply about taking a sequence of stitches like “K3, P1” and repeating that sequence again and again to create a fabric. Any kind of sequence is possible, but it should be of a fixed length or the knitting will grow or shrink dramatically. The sequence and the way the sequence is repeated can both be varied to create an endless number of fabrics.

Moss Stitch swatch

Moss stitch (or seed stitch, depending on which side of the pond you live) is an example of sequence knitting we are all familiar with: repeat K1, P1 over an odd number of stitches, end with K1. 
Tom: your attention to detail is self-evident throughout the book, from the lay-out through to the text and the knitted items presented. You frequently refer to other books that make a point about details and choosing just the right technique for the job at hand, such as June Hemmons Hiatt‘s The Principles of Knitting, and Catherine Lowe‘s The Ravell’d Sleeve; both among my personal favourites for this very reason. How have they (and perhaps others) influenced your work?

Cecelia: We knitters are so fortunate to have wonderful people like June, Catherine, and of course Elizabeth Zimmerman willing to put their thoughts to paper. I devoured Elizabeth’s books in the 1990s, then I took a workshop from Catherine in the early 2000s in Menlo Park. She introduced me to the idea that knitters create the fabric, unlike sewers, and she also introduced me to June’s book. It was out of print, but I invested $350 to get a used copy. It was the most expensive book I had ever bought and I read it from cover to cover. Other influences were Kaffe Fassett, Barbara Walker, Montse Stanley, Setsuko Torii, Britt-Marie Christoffersson, and The Mason-Dixon ladies Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne.

Tom: in a previous email you mentioned you have a 60+h job and that this can make creative thinking difficult. As somebody who also has a full-time office job alongside my creative practice I have developed my own strategies and I’d be curious to know how you managed to ensure time for being creative, and write a whole book?

Cecelia: in my high-tech life I developed complex machines used in computer chip factories. These machines are created by many engineers working over a period of years. This taught me that with a good plan and continuous effort, big things can happen. When I was I writing, I would wake up early and spend an hour in the morning before going to work, and perhaps another hour or two each evening. I also traveled with a personal laptop on business trips – long flights are great for getting things done. As the book got closer to completion I had to start creating my own deadlines, and I spent many weekends working straight through to meet them. I also had a lot of help from two amazing and talented women: Vanessa Yap-Einbund, who did the book design, and Renée Lorion, who did the editing. I loved doing this project so much it really never felt like work.

Sequence Knitting Book Cover

Sequence Knitting, with a whole raft of tasty scarves on the cover

Tom: your book is a beautifully produced hardback (as a bibliophile I particularly appreciate the sewn binding.) Kate Davies has recently blogged about independent publishing in the world of knitting (link to the first of three consecutive blog posts on the subject) and she discusses the different ways of independent publishing and some of their pros and cons. What has been your motivation for independent publishing and how did you settle on the format?
Cecelia: thank you. Kate’s books and her blog are terrific. I read her articles on self-publishing with great interest.

My mother was a librarian and I was raised to value and love books. I never thought I would write a knitting book, but the concept of sequence knitting seemed so fundamental and important that I decided I had to share it in the best way I could. Once the scale of the book became clear, I wanted it to be comfortable to hold, to lay flat, and be durable. It also had to be beautiful as an object by itself. Knitting books from Japan and photography books published by Steidl were my aesthetic inspirations. I was so glad to work with Vanessa Yap-Einbund. She has a great eye.

I did not approach a traditional publisher for many reasons: I was a complete unknown in the knitting world, and I did not think anyone would take me seriously, but the bigger reason was that I was figuring out how sequence knitting worked as I developed the book. I used InDesign to write the book in spreads, and would rewrite some pages as many as 10 times as I clarified my thinking. I don’t know how I could have shared the process with anyone else given my personal learning curve and the constraints of my career in technology. Working in technology also enabled me to pay upfront for the printing.

Before I embarked on the writing, I also found out that I could have Unicorn Books and Crafts be the distributor. One of the barriers to self-publishing is distribution. There was no way I could take on the storage and shipping of books, so I really appreciate having a resource like Unicorn Books.

This also touches on the subject of how we value and pay for books. In a small communities like knitting, books are crucial for sharing information. However, several yarn shop owners have told me that they are no longer carrying books because they cannot compete with discount prices and free shipping from big companies. For now, Sequence Knitting is not available through any discount-sellers to encourage yarn shops and small on-line businesses to carry it.

a better course in knitting - het breien in betere banen - de vries-hamburger

A swatch in tweed knitting I made last year; this turns out to be a form of sequence knitting

Tom: last year I have been exploring something I called “tweed-knitting” after a 1953 Dutch knitting book; I now realise this is a flavour of sequence knitting. And although most of the swatches in the book are in a plain grey yarn, you clearly love using colour. What’s the connection between sequence knitting and colour?
Cecelia: I saw that post and would love to see that book!

Some sequence knitting stitch patterns create a framework within which color can easily be explored, like broken garter. The Mason-Dixon ladies have written about improvisational color work and I share their love for starting something where the journey to make it will have color surprises, as in the version of Colormill shown further down. I spent a year just working broken garter patterns and playing with colors. Using Eisaku Noro’s yarns with sequence knitting is another way to create and enjoy amazing colors.

The swatches are all in neutral grays because I want the reader to impose their own color ideas on the stitch patterns. To me, having the swatches in a strong color predisposes the reader to think about the pattern in a biased way, and I hope people will explore many colors of their choosing. In addition to color, the fiber is important and provides another level of variety in terms of gauge and texture.

Andrus Scarf

Cecelia knitted this version of the Andrus Scarf by holding a strand of ombré fingering with a strand of a silk-mohair blend

Tom: you have approached the sequence knitting concept very methodically, and as somebody who has attempted to study maths many moons ago, I can really appreciate this. I imagine I would have a lot of fun putting together the tables with all the possible variations. Could you tell a bit more about the maths behind sequence knitting?
Cecelia: as long as one stays with knits and purls, the math is all binary just like computers. Think of a knit as a “0″ and a purl as a “1.” So a 2-digit binary number can be 00, 10, 01, and 11– and a 2-stitch sequence can be K2, KP, PK, or P2. However, many of these different combinations are redundant, which may or may not be important depending on the situation. I figured a lot of this out empirically and I’m sure I still don’t understand it all. A friend who is a statistician, Karen Biagini, helped me, and I hope some knitter-mathematicians will really do it justice in the future.

Bach Scarf Detail

Bach Scarf detail: this shows that using a plain colour yarn doesn’t mean the end result is plain, too

Tom: I find your concept very inspiring; it’s beautiful in its simplicity and got my mind racing about all the possibilities. I think it would translate easily into stranded colourwork substituting knits and purls with two different colours, but I have tried a few swatches with lace. As we’ve discussed by email, this turns out to have its own problems, and for your book you’ve made the choice of playing with knits and purls only. How come? And what other possiblities have you tried that haven’t made it into the book?

Cecelia: lace, colorwork, bobbles…the possibilities are endless! Once I decided to write a book, I had to decide how broad the scope could be. If I included lace and other ideas either the book would be longer or the descriptions would have to be shorter and it just seemed like keeping to knits and purls (with a few slip stitches) was a logical place to constrain the content. I have a lovely team of sample knitters and ideas keep coming, so we have been busily working on what I hope will be book 2. My guiding principles are first that the process must be simple, and second that the end product must be lovely. The balance between these two criteria is a fascinating puzzle. So far book 2 has some colorwork and new ways to repeat sequences. I am still pondering whether to include any lace…

Color Mill Scarf

Colormill Scarf detail; knitted in a broken garter stitch sequence, which enabled Cecelia to explore improvisational colourwork

Tom: last but not least, where is the book available from?

Cecelia: in the US it is available from many sources including local yarn shops, Schoolhouse Press, Imagiknit, Jimmy Beans Wool and others. I do not yet have a UK distributor, but Loop in London just started carrying it.

Thank you so much for asking me to be a part of your blog. I’m thrilled with the ways you are expanding on sequence knitting!!

Tom: thank you Cecelia, it was a pleasure to feature you, and I’m already looking forward to the next book!

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A few weeks ago I visited the Fries Museum archives, and their textile conservator Gieneke Arnolli shared with me many beautiful textiles related to mending and repairing. It was the first time I saw darning samplers in real life. These samplers were educational tools for young girls, teaching them how to repair woven fabrics. However, the Fries Museum also holds many samplers for learning how to repair knitted fabrics. Needless to say that as I particularly enjoy repairing knitwear, these were possibly even more exciting than the darning samplers I shared in my previous post!

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 01a

One of many knitted darning samplers. This one stands out as it was knitted from and repaired with wool

The above knitted darning sampler is different from most of the samplers in the collection, as it was knitted from and repaired with wool. Most other samplers used cotton. Incidentally, it is also similar to the technique I used for repairing the Knitting & Crochet Guild Cardigan commission. As with most of these samplers, the back of the fabric is just as beautiful and interesting as the front.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 01b

The back shows how the sides of the hole were folded back and edges neatly trimmed

The knitted darning samplers can be split into two main categories: the first is the sampler in the shape of a sock or stocking, knitted in the round; the second is the sampler in the shape of a rectangle, knitted flat. Often, the sampler is divided into squares, using red yarn, each containing a repair. Some girls practised the same technique over and over again, whereas others show a great range of techniques.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 02a

Darning samplers in shape of stockings, one the left stocking even the cast-on edge has been repaired

Most often the repairs were executed in red yarn, although most samplers also have at least a couple of repairs in white yarn, too. The left stocking above mostly shows woven darns. In Dutch this technique has two names, depending on what is being repaired: if a hole is repaired by weaving, then it is called ‘stoppen;’ if a thin area is reinforced by weaving, then this is called ‘doorstoppen.’

The right stocking above shows mostly Swiss darning or duplicate stitching. This technique of emulating knitted stitches is called ‘mazen’ in Dutch. It also shows grafting, like the two single rows of red stitches in the right stocking above. It is a way of replacing a missing single row of stitches with a new row, using a blunt darning needle. Incidentally, you might also know grafting as a way of closing the toe on a sock, instead of binding off.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 02b

 

The other side of the same stockings, showing more woven darns on the left, and duplicate stitching on the right, including in ribbing pattern at the cuff

Another technique that was part of sock repair, was reknitting the heel. You can see this in the picture above in the right stocking. For this, the heel flap and heel turn (respectively called ‘big heel’ and ‘small heel’ in Dutch) is unpicked. This leaves you with a hole which has a row of live stitches at the leg side and at the foot side, and edges that were originally the picked up stitches for the gussets. The stitches at the leg side are picked up on one needle, and the edge of each gusset is also picked up on a needle each. The heel flap is knitted as normal, but at the end of each row the last stitch is worked together with a stitch from the gusset edge. Once the heel turn is worked the last row is grafted onto the live stitches at the foot end. Tadah! A new heel!

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 04a

More Swiss darning, or ‘mazen’ on this square sampler, with a variety of different stitch patterns

The most common Swiss darn is executed on thinning fabric. This is relatively simple, as you can use the original stitches as a guideline. However, it is also possible to Swiss darn a hole. I also used this technique on my Knitting & Crochet Guild commission. The sampler above was never finished, and this gives us a glimpse of the technical aspects of Swiss darning a hole. You can see that the hole is neatened, and then a foundation is layed with sewing thread. This foundation will make Swiss darning easier, as it holds the loops of the yarn in place as the rows are worked.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 04b

The back of the sampler shows that all Swiss darns filled in holes, rather than covering thinning areas. You can also see a piece of lino or floorcloth used as a temporary stabiliser

When the holes to be Swiss darned are on the larger side, then you can first baste a piece of lino or floorcloth at the back. This will prevent the hole from being stretched out of shape. At the same time the lino or floorcloth is flexible enough to allow for easier needle and fabric manipulation.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 05

A small undergarment used to practise knitwear repairs

Not all samplers take the shape of socks or squares. I particularly liked this small undergarment. It has beautiful underarm gussets, and a lovely sideseam stitch. Clearly no learning opportunity was wasted, as I’m quite sure the girls would first have to knit the sock, stocking, or other garment, before making holes in it to learn how to repair them. I think my darning workshop students get a good deal here, as I provide them with knitted squares to practise on!

The final sampler I want to share with you may not seem as a high point: at first glance it looks rather unassuming.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 07a

The most exciting darning sampler of all!

It has yellowed a lot, the top half seems rather lumpy-bumpy, and apart from the lace stitches, not much seems to be going on. Upon closer inspection, however, I discovered that the lumps are actually sock heels. Furthermore, most of this small sampler is covered in nigh-on invisible repairs.

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 07b

The back is finished off very neatly

The repairs are exemplary on the front as well as the back. Very neatly finished, the repairs really are virtually invisible. I think this was a stocking sampler of sorts. Not only are there heels hiding, there’s also a seam stitch right through the middle, with calf decreases alongside it. Then there are the stitches often used in knitted stockings: two types of ribbing, and a number of fancy stitches that would work well on stockings. It’s like a deconstructed stocking, broken down in its essential elements. We will probably never know why the maker chose to do it this way, rather than by knitting an actual stocking.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my foray into darning samplers, and I would like to thank the Fries Museum and Gieneke Arnolli in particular for inviting me to see these textiles that are not on public display at the moment. I have learnt a lot from them, and their possibilities as sources of inspiration are like a map that will allow me to travel in many directions!

With many thanks to the Fries Museum and Gieneke Arnolli for allowing me to take pictures and giving me permission to share them on my blog.

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This is not a blog post about mending books, but a post about some of my favourite books about mending.

tomofholland collection of mending books

A small selection of my mending library

I frequently get questions about where I’ve learnt my mending skills, and what books I would recommend. Most of my skills come from old books, combined with a lot of practice. I favour old books as they tend to go more in-depth, and usually have many repair approaches depending on the fabric and what needs repairing. I’ll discuss a selection of my favourite books, in order of acquisition:

tomofholland's copy of Mend It! by Maureen Goldsworthy

Don’t just think about it, MEND IT!

A call to arms for all my mending comrades, I think Mend It! A Complete Guide to Clothes Repair is a great introduction into mending and repairing clothes. As it states on the cover, it is pretty much complete, and deals with many repair jobs. It has clear instructions with a mix of graphics and photographs. The introduction sets the scene for all of my mending books:

‘As invisible as possible…’

A cigarette burn on a good skirt – a tear in a new pair of pants […] Mend it! Not perhaps with an eye-catching darn or a thumping great patch, but with one of the many methods that will make a nearly or completely invisible repair[.]

Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m a big fan of the eye-catching darn or thumping great patch, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to do a shoddy job on the repairs! Not so in these books, where as invisible as possible is the holy grail of repair – clothes ought to end up looking as new again. For me this means they lose some of their character, and hide the fact that they have been with you for a while. They’re worth repairing because they mean something to you, so why not make it into a feature and let them tell their story?

Page from tomofholland's Mend It! book by Maureen Goldsworthy

The photographs, diagrams, and clear instructions in Mend It! guide you through many a repair job

The next book is a compilation of Make Do and Mend instruction leaflets, published by the Board of Trade during WWII.

tomofholland's copy of Make Do and Mend

Make Do and Mend; keeping family and home afloat on war rations

This book contains reproductions of the official Second World War instruction leaflets on how to run your household on war rations. So not only does it contains hints and tips on repairing, but also on how to be efficient with fuel, how to look after household linen, woollens, and shoes, and how to refashion worn out garments into something else – the idea of ‘upcycling’ is nothing new!

a page from tomofholland's Make Do and Mend book

Charming illustrations hide the hardship of living through the Second World War

The Make Do and Mend campaign was so successful we still use the phrase today. There are many things in this compilation that still make a lot of sense now. The charming illustrations in these instruction pamphlets issued by The Board of Trade do a good job of masking the hardships suffered in every day life during and after the Second World War, particularly when viewed from a distance of well over half a century. In those days, people really didn’t have any choice but to make do and mend, as there was not much new to be had. Therefore I struggle when people nowadays use the phrase ‘Make Do and Mend’ nilly-willy, when in fact what they have done is to chose to repair something rather than the throw it out and replace it – something that is often much cheaper in the 21st Century.

tomofholland's copy of Practical Home Mending Made Easy

Partical Home Mending Made Easy, printed in 1946

My other favourite mending book full of techniques for many situations, including temporary fixes when you’re on the go, was printed in 1946. Practical Home Mending Made Easy is probably also easily the most gendered of my needlework books. Many needlework books will always address the reader as being a woman, and assume that it’s only the woman who will undertake the mending and repair jobs lurking in the mending basket, but this one seems to go one step further. The preface starts with a list of the type of women who might make use of this book: a business girl with hardly time to repair that broken shoulder strap, a little girl just learning to handle needle and thread, a big girl with a new husband’s shirts to take care of, a favourite grandma with the responsibility for taking care of play clothes, a veteran housekeeper, etc. Yet there is hope for us men, too:

A mere man? Yes – the book is for you, too. You needn’t master all the information in it, but if you concentrate on a few essential pages and become  expert in button sewing, patching and darning – and you can – you will have the admiration of all your girl and women friends, and be as independent as you please.

page from tomofholland's Practical Home Mending Brooks Picken

Darning is a fine art – and not only practised by women!

The following book is in Dutch and I discussed it in the blog post about repairing a cardigan from the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection:

tomofholland's copy of Vrouwelijke Handwerken

 

The title translated from the Dutch: The Feminine Handicrafts for School and House; marking, Swiss darning and darning

 

De Vrouwelijke Handwerken voor School en Huis; Het Merken, Mazen en Stoppen (The Feminine Handicrafts for School and House; marking, Swiss darning and darning), was written in 1888 for teaching needlework, and is part of a small series – the other two volumes cover sewing and knitting. It shows how to teach marking (embroidering initials into clothes for identification purposes during laundry day,) repairing woven fabric by means of darning, and repairing knitwear by means of Swiss darning and other techniques. The illustrations in this book are absolutely stunning:

a page from tomofholland's copy of Vrouwelijke Handwerken

Beautiful and clear illustrations in a century-old book

Then there are the numerous Needlework Companions, Dictionaries and Compilations you can find in many a secondhand bookshop and carboot sale. They usually have a section on repairing, mending, and darning. I have chosen to show Weldons Encyclopedia of Needlework – they published a fair few of these, with ever changing content, so it’s always worth seeing if there is something new to learn.

tomofholland's copy of Weldons Encyclopedia of Needlework

An unassuming – even boring – cover hides a wealth of information: don’t judge a book by its covers!

a page from tomofholland's copy of Weldons Encyclopedia of Needlework

One of my favourites: Scotch darning!

This particular book brings back fond memories. I had seen it at a stall on Brighton’s Saturday street market and I never bought it as I thought they were asking a ludicrous price for it. But I always remembered seeing the Scotch darning section. As Weldons have published this encyclopdia many times, and kept changing the content, I never found it again. Until, that was, I was teaching at the Hope & Elvis Studio. Louise, owner of the studio, is a wonderful woman and I always enjoy going back there. It was languishing on her studio bookshelves and she generously gifted it to me. Every time I open this book I think about her, and Hope & Elvis.

The last book to share is a bit of an oddity. I haven’t had a chance to read any of it yet, but it seems to combine a personal repair journey with repair techniques for anything ranging from China to furniture, to clothes. There are very few pictures or diagrams, but the cover is a gem:

tomofholland's copy of Mending and Repairing

Vignettes on the cover of Mending and Repairing

Lastly, you may wonder what that flanelette plaid shirt is doing there, serving as a backdrop for my books?

Flanelette Plaid shirt darning by tomofholland

Labour of Love – repairing my partner’s comfy shirt

My partner often wears this XXL oversized nightshirt instead of a housecoat – I shall be talking about the repairs in another blog post soon, so keep an eye out!

——–

Bibliography:

Goldsworthy, M; Mend It! A Complete Guide to Clothes Repair; 1979, Book Blub Associates by arrangement with Mills & Boon Ltd, London

Norman, J (foreword); Make Do and Mend; Keeping Family and Home Afloat on War Rations; 2007, Michael O’Mara Books Limited, London

Brooks Picken, M; Practical Home Mending Made Easy; 1946, Odhams Press Ltd. London

Author unknown; Weldons Encyclopedia of Needlework; The Waverly Book Co. Ltd, London

Teunisse, A and Velden, van der, AM; De Vrouwelijke Handwerken voor School en Huis; Het Merken, Mazen en Stoppen; 1916 (12th revised edition) Versluys, Amsterdam

Leland, CG; Mending and Repairing; Chatto & Windus, London

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Around Wovember 2012 ago I was introduced to spinning by my comrade in wool Felicity ‘Felix’ Ford. I started off with a drop spindle, and soon got caught by the spinning bug. It was not long before I started dreaming about spinning wheels. As is my nature, I started reading up on them, and I soon realised that if I wanted a decent wheel I could afford, I would be best off getting a second-hand wheel from a good make.

And when it comes to good wheels, it would be hard to beat a Timbertops. This make just kept popping up in on-line forums, and I decided I would hold out until I would find one for sale. Timbertops Wheels were originally made to order by husband-and-wife team James and Anne Williamson to exacting standards. Last summer my patience was rewarded. The East Sussex Guild of Spinners, Weavers & Dyers had an original Timbertops Chair Wheel for sale. This model of spinning wheel was supposedly originally made by using the frame of an old chair, and appears to be more common in the USA than in the UK. As you can imagine, the footprint of this wheel is rather small, which was perfect for my one-bedroom flat.

So it was with much excitement I went on a road trip with my friend Sue to collect the wheel in The Garden of England (as the county of Kent is known in the UK.) Kent didn’t disappoint, and we kept finding ourselves travelling down smaller and smaller roads, in increasingly beautiful and bucolic surroundings. Eileen, the seller of the wheel, had given us very good directions, but just in case we miss it, she put up a sign for us at the last turn.

Signage to collect Timbertops Spinning wheel

A sign pointing towards my spinning wheel!

Over a cup of tea, Eileen told us the history of the wheel. She purchased the wheel from Jim Williamson at Timbertops about 25 years ago when she and her husband moved to the country and purchased a few sheep to keep the grass in the paddock down.  It was one of the first chair wheels that he made and he fitted a maiden on the right hand side so that left or right handed people could use it by swapping the flyer assembly over.  The wheel was in good condition but Eileen hadn’t used it for about 10 years,  as she has developed arthritis nearly everywhere. Consequently her hands and back play up very badly if she tried to sit and spin. Although Eileen can no longer spin, her hands are not idle, and she showed us some beautiful knitting and quilting pieces she was working on.

Timbertops Spinning Wheel left mother-of-all

A close-up of the left-side mother-of-all, you can also see the leather drive-band of the accelerator. The little handle sticking out just in front of the wheel is in fact the handle of the orifice hook placed in its own little home

The chair wheel is a spinning wheel with a double-treadle, and it has not one, but two fly wheels placed one above the other. the treadles drive the lower wheel, which in turn accelerates the upper wheel by means of a leather drive-band. The upper wheel in turn drives both the flyer and bobbin, as it also has a double-drive. In addition, it has two mother-of-alls, one on the left and one on the right. This means you can have the flyer assembly on either side of the wheel, and as I’m left-handed I prefer it on the right-hand side. This wheel doesn’t do things in halves!

The wheel has been turned from oak, and the attention to detail is superb. Everything is in proportion, and I particularly like that the orifice hook has its own little home next to the upright of the upper wheel. I was very lucky to also get a skein ‘unwinder’ (for want of a better word), a lazy kate, and twelve bobbins, all made by Jim Williamson.

Timbertops Chair Wheel flyer assembly

The right mother-of-all, with the flyer assembly.

As the wheel was missing one maiden (one of a pair of small upright ‘sticks’ with leather bearings that holds the flyer-and-bobbin assembly), I contacted Joan Jones from Woodland Turnery. Joan and her husband Clive took over the Timbertops business when Jim and Ann Williamson wanted to retire, and I think they are doing a great job of it, too. You can read more about Woodland Turnery on the Wovember blog here.

Timbertops Chair Wheel, Skein holder and Lazy Kate

Not only did I get the wheel, but also a skein ‘unwinder’ and a lazy kate. And twelve bobbins

The chair wheel with its accelerator mechanism is ideal for production spinning, but the flipside is that it’s not really a beginners wheel. Luckily there’s a large whorl as well as the standard one, which means I can slow the wheel right down. I’m taking my time learning to spin on this wheel; every time I sit down with it, I not only appreciate it as a spinning tool, but also the workmanship required to make it, the beautiful oak it was made from, and all the spinning that has gone on before I had it.

When I emailed Eileen to thank her for the wheel, she replied saying that “…I did have many happy hours spinning and I [was] most anxious for the wheel to find a good home with someone who would appreciate it.” Knowing how much this wheel meant to Eileen, I hope I will do her proud, and I’m looking forward to spending many happy hours with it.

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Reading a book on creative knitting is one thing, but exploring it by knitting is something else altogether. In my previous post I spoke about Creative Knitting by Mary Walker Phillips. Since then, I have been itching to get my hands on some linen and try it out for myself.

Mary Walker Phillips Exploration Swatch Wall Hanging

A linen swatch, exploring Mary Walker Phillips’s book Creative Knitting

I had not worked seriously with linen before, so this swatch is also about exploring a new material. Linen has cropped up quite a lot recently as various friends have been working with it. It’s very different from working with wool, it has no stretch at all and is very strong, which makes it ideal for wall hangings and other art pieces. But it also has its challenges, as any irregularities in your knitting will stand out.

Mary Walker Phillips Exploration Swatch Closeup 3

Fancy crossed throws combined with stocking stitch, and some lace stitches shown on top

First and foremost I was intrigued by Phillips’s use of a stitch called ‘fancy crossed throw.’ At first sight they appear to be made by throwing the yarn twice around the needle, and then dropping the second yarn-over on the return row. However, if you study them closely you can see that these stitches are twisted around themselves. They are made with a complex throw around both needle tips and are laborious to execute.

Mary Walker Phillips Exploration Swatch Closeup 2

Texture is added by wrapping stitches and bobbles; lace stitches create spaces

The linen emphasises stitch texture and its crips lines make lace stitches with their open spaces shine, creating beautiful contrasts. Phillips manages to play with this to great effect, and I admire her wall hangings. You can see one of them in an accompagnying picture in her obituary in the New York Times, from which I want to share this great quote with you: ‘What Miss Phillips did, starting in the early 1960s, was to liberate knitting from the yoke of the sweater. Where traditional knitters were classical artists, faithfully reproducing a score, Miss Phillips knit jazz. In her hands, knitting became a free-form, improvisational art, with no rules, no patterns and no utilitarian end in sight.’

By knitting this swatch – and more will follow – I know I’m simply reproducing Phillips’s ‘score,’ but that’s not the point of making them. She says in Creative Knitting: “Personal expression in knitting, as in any other creative medium, is not achieved by copying exactly what someone else has done. Rather, the aim is to translate with yarn the atmosphere of the inspiration.” They challenge me in different ways, making me approach techniques in a new light, and continue my journey of a more free-flowing form of knitting.

Mary Walker Phillips Exploration Swatch Closeup 1

Bell pattern and ladder stitch

The bell pattern and ladder stitch shown above is a good example of what Phillips means by translating with yarn the atmosphere of the inspiration. She was inspired by that Master Knitter, whose indispensible books should be mandatory reading for any knitter, Mary Thomas: “It was with the purchase of Mary Thomas’s Book of Knitting Patterns, discovered while rummaging through a secondhand book store, that I really became involved in creative knitting.” Thomas’s Book of Knitting Patterns contains quite a few variations on the bell pattern, and I can imagine how trying out some of Thomas’s stitches and patterns in swatches eventually transformed into the knitted art that Phillips is known for.

I’d like to finish my first steps on my new journey with Rachael Matthews’s comment on my Creative Knitting blog post: “It’s like the journey is to find the place, and you know where you are going but of course you never know what it looks like until you get there.”

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Welcome to the third stop on the blog tour about A Little Book of Craftivism! I’ve been following Sarah Corbett and her Craftivist Collective events for a couple of years now, and I was very excited to hear she was working on A Little Book of Craftivism. The book is now released (you can buy it here,) and I have been invited to take part in a blog tour (other tour stops at the bottom of this blog.)

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Sarah’s Little Book of craftivism provides a wealth of information and ideas for those people who do care about social issues, but don’t feel comfortable running around with a placard and shouting out loud, for whatever reason. In fact, Sarah called herself a burnt-out activist doing just that. She decided to do things differently, and she found other ways to get her voice heard. A Little Book of Craftivism not only shares the journey from a lone Craftivist to a whole Craftivist Collective, but it also shows you how you can join in. And that’s the great thing about it all: you cannot do all of these things on your own, so you can either join an existing project (you can see what’s going on at the Craftivist Collective website,) start your own event as part of one of these projects, or be inspired to highlight an issue that’s important to you and find out how to engage other people.

The first time I got wind of Sarah planning her book, was when she asked around on twitter how one would describe craftivism in 140 characters. I replied with: “@craftivists shows, inspires and facilitates craftsters to unite their individual creative powers to raise awareness of social issues.” As Sarah is someone who inspires me and many other people, I wanted to know who inspires her. Sarah said:

“I’m inspired by many people from political leaders such as Martin Luther King & Ghandi, filmmakers shining a light on injustices but making hopeful films to inspire us all to be the change we wish to see in the world and see that individuals can make a difference. I’m inspired reading the magazine Dumbo Feather which is in depth interviews with inspiring people around the world doing innovative, kind work & by people I meet who see a need and decide that they have the skills & passions to tackle them such as JP Flintoff who wrote ‘How to Change the World’ book for The School of Life series.” [as an aside, I can recommend Flintoff’s book, too!]

After talking to Sarah a few times, and now having read the book I realised that standing at the back and saying: “oh yes, that looks like a really good idea” just isn’t going to cut the mustard. My way of craftivism is often of a very practical nature: like helping out Fran from Skulls and Ponies to take pictures when she handed her “Don’t Blow It” Hanky to Caroline Lucas, MP.

Obviously I jumped at the chance to support Sarah with a Pop-Up Craftivist event at Brighton and Hove Museums, helping people to stitch a thoughtful message on a footprint.

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Sarah Corbett and her Pop-Up Craftivist Kit enter Brighton Museum

SarahCorbettPopUpCraftivistKit

The Pop-Up Craftivist Kit, with inspirational slogan in case the chips are momentarily down

Earlier this year I went to Lisa-Anne Auerbach’s Chicken Stricken workshop at Prick Your Finger (Chicken Strikken is a 21st century  interpretation of a 1970s Danish movement, using subversive knitwear design to highlight social issues and feminism.) There, we talked about putting personal slogans and messages on your clothes, and how in this opinionated world where everybody can and does use social media to raise their voice, many people still feel a great reluctance to wear a jumper with a statement like the ones Craftivists often embroider on hankies, masks and mini-banners. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Sarah Corbett without her craftivist belt: so I wanted to know how she felt about wearing a statement as part of her outfit. Her reply:

“I think a lot before I stitch any slogan in my craftivism work to make sure it’s not attacking the reader, it’s not negative and it’s not telling people what to do (which can stop people thinking deeply about the issues). I always try and make the slogans hopeful, clearly links to social justice, positive and provocative so people are interested in thinking more about what it means to them and their role in society. The response has been really positive with people asking me what my belt means, or a badge I’m wearing or my banners hanging up & are often a great tool as a catalyst for a respectful conversation. If my slogans where telling people “the answer” then I would feel reluctant to wear then too because it seems very top down and possibly arrogant which is why I stick to provoking thought in an encouraging way.”

Since reading A Little Book of Craftivism, I think that the craftivism-mindset has managed to permeate more of my crafty pursuits.  I care a lot about sustainable fashion and a Slow Wardrobe. No need to chuck out a favourite, comfortable jumper if it has a hole: you can repair it instead, and wear your darn as a badge of honour! This has always been one of the drivers to run my darning workshops, but I now make sure to emphasise this during my classes. I also stress that I’ve learnt through making my own clothes (knitting and sometimes sewing) that it takes time, skill, and effort to make garments, and that this actually also applies to the clothes you buy in the High Street. I ask my darning class attendees to think about how it is possible that these clothes are so cheap; and to honour the invisible, but skilled person who has stitched it together for you, by making sure they last as long as possible. And another aside: I hope to make it to the next Sew It Forward event this Thursday, where Zoe Robinson from The Good Wardrobe has teamed up with John-Paul Flintoff, to share skills, and to ask you: who made your clothes?

All this to say: I can heartily recommend A Little Book of Craftivism; you can find out what others have to say about it here:

2nd December: Crafty Magazine http://www.craftymag.com/

3rd December: Helen Le Caplain http://mancunianvintage.com/

4th December: Tom Van Deijnen http://tomofholland.com/

5th December: Laura Kim http://www.otesha.org.uk/blog


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