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Having just returned from a three-week holiday, I had plenty of time to look back to 2013, and look forward to 2014. Last year has been amazing, and I’m sure this will continue in the new year!

Looking back

Darning

Darning at Wool House, Somerset House

I was invited to darn at Wool House, Somerset House, as part of the very successful Campaign for Wool event. I had a great time, and Wool House put my darning sessions in the “best bits” list! It was super-busy, and I think I have enthused quite a few people about darning, and also explain why I like using 100% wool products.

Hope and Elvis Darning Workshop

2013 also saw the first of my day-long darning workshops. I went to Hope & Elvis, lovely Louise’s great studio. It’s stuffed to the gills with vintage fabrics, blankets, threads, scraps, books and any tool you would possibly need, so it was a lot of fun to explore various darning techniques. You’ll be pleased to hear I’m returning there in April.

ShetlandWoolWeek Darning at Jamieson & Smith

Last but not least, my darning skills took me to Shetland! Here’s a picture of my darning class at Jamieson & Smith. I had a great time, I met so many amazing people, with amazing skills. I left a few loose ends on purpose, so I have a good reason to return.

Knitting

Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches Lace

Early last year I exhibited at Prick Your Finger. My Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches explored many different knitting stitches and techniques, some old and rare, others common and much-used. It was a good way to learn about different techniques, and investigate them in detail.

Altered Kasha Cardigan for Wedding Outift

Rosemary had seen my Curiosity Cabinet, and thought I’d be the ideal person to take on a commission for her wedding outfit. I gladly took this on, and I knitted a Kasha Cardigan for her, with some alterations: a different collar, and three-quarter length sleeves. It was a great project to work on, and Rosemary has been wearing her cardigan many times since.

Aleatoric Fair Isle Swatch

Last year I also explored stranded colourwork, and in particular the Fair Isle tradition. Together with my comrade in wool, Felicity Ford, we devised a method to learn more about Fair Isle patterns, which took away some of the hurdles we often face when trying to knit Fair Isle. Using rules we made up and some dice, we left pattern and colour selection to chance, based on John Cage’s compositional concepts. We called this Aleatoric Fair Isle.

Spinning

Diamond Fibre Mill spinning

Other highlights include my visit to Diamond Fibre Mill, where I met Roger, who runs this small independent mill, specialising in worsted spinning, and who owns his own flock of Romney sheep.

timbertops chair spinning wheel

I also became the proud owner of an original Timbertops spinning wheel. A chair wheel no less. I haven’t had a chance to write about this yet, so keep your eyes peeled for a blog post in the near future.

Special mention

And if all that wasn’t quite enough, Kate Davies, Felicity and myself curated Wovember 2013 to celebrate wool in all its myriad forms. We posted features about growing, harvesting, processing, working, and wearing wool. I did many more things last year, so these were just some of my highlights.

Looking forward

Plans for 2014 are forming in my head, and amongst others, I’m looking forward to releasing my first cardigan pattern, using Foula wool. A bit later than expected, but it’s important to me to get everything right. I will continue working on the Aleatoric Fair Isle swatches. I’ve also taken on a very special visible mending commission to repair an upcycling attempt gone wrong. As previously mentioned, not only will I return to Hope & Elvis for a darning workshop, I will also run a Darning Master Class at Unravel at Farnham Maltings. More classes and workshops are in the pipe-line, so keep an eye out for them.

Scotch darn on sock

2014 will also be the year of exploring. I did some free-style knitting before Christmas, and I found it very liberating. I found some good books on the subject, and I have also been inspired by Rachael Matthews’s approach to making, and in particular what became her Explosion Jumper.

On the spinning front I want explore more lace-weight spinning, using wool from both classic breeds (Shetland), and unexpected breeds (Rough Fell.)

Last but not least I would like to explore more mending techniques, and in particular learn more about darning and repairing woven textiles. And I still have one or two jumpers to complete…

darned jumper

 

I don’t know about you, but I think I have plenty of things lined up, and it will be my pleasure to share them with you and write about them here.

Happy New Year!

A Wedding Outfit

Just before 2013 ends I want to share with you a special commission I took on earlier this year. It must’ve been early summer when Rosemary contacted me about knitting her a little lace jacket for her wedding outfit.

unwrapping of knitted Kasha jacket commission

Rosemary unwrapping her lace jacket on the big day

Rosemary had seen my work at Prick Your Finger, and she loved my attention to detail and technical approach to knitting. She had already chosen a beautiful dress for her wedding day, but a little lace jacket would complete the outfit. She had seen the Kasha cardigan I had knitted for Susan Crawford, and this was just what she wanted. Well, almost. Instead of the short sleeves, she wanted three-quarter length ones, and as her dress already had a lace collar, she didn’t want one on Kasha.

Kasha Alteration three-quarter sleeves

A gorgeous wedding bouquet and three-quarter sleeves

I had to search around a bit for a suitable yarn, but after consulting with Susan, Rosemary and I settled on Alice sock-weight yarn from Juno Fibre Arts. This luxurious blend of alpaca, silk, and cashmere is very soft, has a nice drape and great stitch definition. The colourway is called Oyster, which is very appropriate considering I found some 1920s mother-of-pearl buttons for the jacket.

Kasha cardigan with mother of pearl buttons

1920s mother-of-pearl buttons for the perfect finish

In the above picture you can also see I used a tubular cast-on. I played around a little bit with the right needle-size for the cast-on, to make sure it wouldn’t flare or draw in too much, bearing in mind that the yarn was quite drapey, and therefore might not snap back into shape as easily as a 100% wool yarn would.

Kasha cardigan alternative collar

An alternative collar for Kasha in reverse stocking stitch

Leaving off the collar was easy, as in the original pattern the collar is knitted separately. I replaced it with a few rows of reverse stocking stitch, and left it to curl up naturally. The original pattern asks for large sleeve pads, which Rosemary felt were too big, so in the end I knitted small sausage shapes, and these can be put in with teeny-tiny snap buttons. The sleeve pads give a little bit more structure to the jacket for a more formal look, but can be taken out for less formal occasions.

shoulder pads with snap buttons

teeny-tiny snap buttons for the shoulder pads

Instead of knitting the front and back pieces separately, which would then need to be seamed together, I knitted them all in one piece. Although knitting seemed to progress slowly in the beginning, it saved me a lot of time at the end. Sometimes I think a sewn side seam can give more structure to a garment, but in this particular pattern the side seam would zig-zag anyway, so there was no structural advantage to keep them.

After teasing you with all these close-ups, I will now present to you Rosemary’s Kasha cardigan in its full glory:

Kasha Cardigan with modified sleeves and collar

 

Kasha just before wrapping up in tissue paper

Rosemary in her Kasha cardigan and her husband

Rosemary and her husband; what a handsome couple!

As an aside, Rosemary and her husband are great appreciators of art and crafts, and for their wedding day they also got a corn dolly made by Elaine Lindsay, which is absolutely stunning. A corn dolly was traditionally made for the spirit that lives in the wheat or corn fields, and which would be without a house after harvesting the last sheaf. The corn dolly would be taken home and in spring it would be plowed back into the land when the new wheat was sown. Corn dollies come in many different shapes and many villages and towns had their own design; Rosemary and Richard was based on the Mordiford heart.

Mordiford Corn Dolly

Rosemary and Richard’s Mordiford corn dolly with their initials worked in

More knitterly details on this commission can be found on my Ravelry project page.

Being a great believer in sustainable fashion and appreciating the clothes you have, I was so pleased to hear is that Rosemary has been wearing her cardigan many times since the wedding. What a great way to be reminded of a beautiful day.

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

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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


Wovember is well underway now, and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself getting woolly content to all the Wovember readers, together with Kate Davies and Felicity Ford. Wovember celebrates the wool for what it is, and one of the ways we’re celebrating is with a WAL, or Wool-Along: start and finish a project made from 100% wool during the month of Wovember! Find out more on the Wovember blog.

My WAL project is my first ever machine-knit garment. A cardigan, knitted in Jamieson’s of Shetland Spindrift in the colourway Grouse. I picked up a 900g cone during my visit to their mill in Sandness. As I have a single-bed knitting machine, I cannot do ribbing on it. The usual way would be to first hand-knit the ribbing, and then transfer the stitches to the knitting machine. Then you can continue using the knitting machine and knit the panels for your garment.

GrouseCardiganPanels

Grouse Cardigan panel pieces, surrounded by loads of woolly items. And yes, that’s the Foula Cardigan in progress – to be revealed at the end of Wovember

I copied the pattern pieces’ measurements from an existing, shop-bought cardigan. As this had slightly shrunk in the wash, I had to add a margin to all the pieces in order to make it fit. As I wasn’t quite sure if this was going to work out, I decided to do things in a different order. I first knitted the pieces, so I could seam them together and try it on, before adding the ribbing. If reknitting would be necessary, then I would at least only have to reknit the machine-knit part of it, which would take much less time. To make it easier to pick up stitches for the ribbing, I started the pieces with some rows of waste yarn in a contrasting colour.

GrouseCardiganSeamed

Grouse Cardigan, seamed together, with waste yarn still in place

As the Spindrift yarn is rather delicate, I decided to seam these pieces together with a back stitch, rather than the more usual mattress stitch, as this results in a more elastic seam, and thus less chance of the seam breaking with wear. I used short pieces (about 15in long,) and it was easy enough to add on some more by spit-splicing.

I’m pleased to report that the cardigan fits, and all that’s left to do, is to unravel the waste yarn, pick up the stitches with a circular needle, and hand-knit the ribbing. After that I will pick up stitches on the front pieces and the collar to add a garter stitch button and collar band.

Keep an eye for my next progress post, and don’t forget to visit Wovember to embrace WOOL!

Dear readers, Wovember 2013 has arrived! Another round of Woolly Wonders to be shared with the world. Like last year, I will be working hard, together with Kate Davies and Felicity Ford, to celebrate wool in all its myriad aspects. This means I will be a bit quiet on my own blog. You can join in with the fun over at WOVEMBER!

That said, I’m planning to track my WAL progress here. What is WAL? A WAL is a Wool-Along, where we invite Wovember blog readers to join in on a woolly project of your own choice, for the month of Wovember. More details on the Wovember blog.

wal_badge

 

I’m going to work on a new pair of woollen trousers, using a herringbone tweed I bought at the Jamieson’s of Shetland mill in Sandness, my first ever machine-knit cardigan, also in Shetland wool, and last but not least, I’m already working on a Fair Isle cardigan in Foula Wool. Come join us in a woolly project. What will you be working on?

A couple of weeks ago I returned from Shetland Wool Week. I was invited to run two darning workshops, and to present the works-in-progress of the Aleatoric Fair Isle project I’m working on with Dr Felicity Ford. I have met so many amazing people, seen impossible feats of spinning and knitting, and enjoyed the landscape.

Hanging out with Felicity, who’s a sound artist, it may come as no surprise that apart from all the woolly wonders, I will now forever associate two songs with Shetland. The first one was recorded in 1960 for an oral history project for the School of Scottish Studies. The interviewer asks Rosabel Blance to talk about her own composition Da Spinning Sang (the spinning song.) He is clearly fishing for an answer with deeper meaning, but Blance is very matter-of-fact about it. But then she sings it and really, no explanation was ever necessary:

Taese da Shetlan oo till it’s clear an fine / Lyin laek a clood wi a silver shine

(tease the Shetland wool till it’s clear and fine / lying like a cloud with a silver shine)

But that’s enough poetry for now. Here are some pictures I took during Shetland Wool Week, in no particular order:

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The view from our log cabin – we stayed at Nortower Lodges, and we couldn’t have wished for a better cabin.

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The view from Fort Charlotte, in the centre of Lerwick. Luckily most days the weather was much nicer than these two pictures would have you believe.

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Felicity helping out participants of our Aleatoric Fair Isle workshop. Rolling the dice and following rules to create Fair Isle swatches proved controversial in some quarters, but I think we all had a good time in the end.

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A fine Shetland Ram at the Flock Book Ram Auction. In order to prevent an ever dimishing gene pool within their flocks, sheep farmers sell off their rams, and buy new ones frequently.

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A visit to Jamieson’s of Shetland‘s mill in Sandness. One of many banks of spinners; in many ways a very different affair from Diamond Fibres Mill, which I visited recently. Jamieson’s spin their fibres with the woollen method, resulting in a lofty, warm, yet light yarn, very suitable for Shetland wool. Diamond Fibres on the other hand, specialise in the worsted spinning method, which is much better suited for longwool (like their own flock of Romney sheep) and this makes for a smooth and lustrous yarn.

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The Textile Museum has a working loom, as found in the traditional crofts. Until my visit, I never knew that Shetland once was also famous for their tweed fabrics.

ShetlandWoolWeek_264

As part of the Flock Book Ram Auction, there was also judging of the best rams. Here are the Shetland hot shot rams, all together in a special judging area. The atmosphere was palpable and tense, as a price-winning ram means a lot to the owner.

ShetlandWoolWeek_112

And here is your good self. Elizabeth Johnston, spinner and dyer extraordinaire, showed me how the Shetland lace spinners managed to get such exceedingly fine yarn. After three hours of blood, sweat, tears, and some rather flowery language, I managed to get some extremely fine yarn. Elizabeth told me that I had started to understand the technique, but that my thread wasn’t near fine enough… The aim is to make a single ply the thickness of six individual fibres. This will then be used to make a two-ply yarn. I will keep on practising!

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This delapidated croft was not far from our lodgings, so we passed it every day.

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I also ran two darning classes. A drop-in session took place at the Shetland Museum and Archives, who helped organise Shetland Wool Week, and who invited me to come over in the first place: so a massive thanks to them for making this visit possible. Secondly, I ran a darning master class at Jamieson & Smith, pictured above. More thanks due here, as they kindly provided Felicity and me the yarns for our workshops.

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Susan Freeman found a new application for the Scotch darning technique. As you can clearly see in this picture, you can make pockets! I think I will have to add a fountain pen pocket to one of my cardigans.

ShetlandWoolWeek_3

And here is a beautiful gift from Diane Houdek, who came all the way from America for Shetland Wool Week especially. A small box with teeny tiny wooden reels of darning silk. What a magnificent addition to my collection of mending ephemera!

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The fleece in this picture was chosen as the Champion fleece during a fleece-judging competition. The fleeces are judged on, amongst others, resilience, crimp, uniformity, and presentation. Readers of Jane Cooper’s excellent blog Mrs Woolsack’s Blog, may recognise this fleece. Incidentally, Jane also maintains the Woolsack website. Woolsack was started as a Cultural Olympiad Inspire project to make British wool cushions as personal welcome gifts from the people of Britain to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic athletes. The Woolsack website now lists and links to information and sources of British wool products from spinning fibre to dyed knitting yarn and woven fabric.

Oliver Henry, Jamieson & Smith

Here you can see me with the fleece judge himself: Oliver Henry, who is the Master Woolsorter at Jamieson & Smith.

The keen observer will be wondering where that second song comes in, that for me is so inextricably linked to Shetland? Well, as part of Felicity’s lecture Listening to Shetland Wool, she composed a song, which she performed at the end.

ShetlandWoolWeek_199

Here she is, performing it in the Jamieson & Smith shop. Sandra Manson and Adam Curtis are listening intently. As Felicity was fine-tuning the song during any spare moments we had at the lodge, I can sing it from start to finish. It has proved to be a great success, and indeed, it has found its way to the internet. One word suffices, as Oliver Henry said: BRILLIANT.

Wool Week UK 2013 is in full swing, and so far I have been enjoying the effort and enthusiasm put in by most participants. As a member of Team Wovember, I wholeheartedly support their cause and it’s great that the Campaign for Wool are trying in general to get more wool into the existent and problematic fast-fashion industry. The point of the Campaign for Wool and Wool Week UK is to educate consumers about wool and its unique properties. As they explain on their website, wool is natural, renewable, biodegradable, breathable, resilient, elastic, easy-case, odour resistant, a natural insulator, and more.

Therefore I was surprised to find out that Topshop created a 80/20 wool/polyamide blend jumper to celebrate Wool Week. Having a garment promoting wool week that is actually a wool-blend dillutes this educative opportunity to teach the consumers about wool and its benefits. Worse, it actually feeds common stereotypes about wool being ‘scratchy’ and ‘unwashable,’ whereas there are 100% woollen fabrics available which are both soft and machine-washable. I started asking questions on Twitter why this was. Soon the Campaign for Wool got in touch, explaining that

“At CfW we don’t ask that the garments are 100% wool. We stipulate a 80% min which Topshop have stuck to.

This still makes the garment wool-rich but allows the retailer to hit certain price points which make it an attractive item for their customers or add embellishments and details not always possible in 100% wool.

The aim of CFW is to get as many consumers aware of wool and its benefits but we find it important to take a balanced approach that makes it easy for our valued retail supporters to join and celebrate wool week.”

As some of you may know, I was invited to participate in another Campaign for Wool Event earlier this year. Wool House at Somerset House was a resounding success, and I’m sure that the message that wool is amazing has come across to the general public. Part of this was surely due to the high standard set by the Campaign for Wool: when I accepted my invitation to run darning workshops during this event, I was asked by one of the Campaign for Wool coordinators to remember that

” [a]lso, this is all about real wool – so all activity has to be with real wool.  Sorry to point out the obvious but you would be amazed how often it does not register!!”

Why did the Campaign for Wool not insist on setting the same high standard for their valued retail supporters? I would like to have seen that Wool Week in particular should be a more risk-taking, daring, ambitious and inspiring cultural event, which raises the bar on what is possible and seeks to educate on the value and provenance of real woollen textiles? The 20% polyamide sweater is a half-hearted attempt at educating consumers on the value of wool; it’s a conservative and unimaginative manoeuvre which allows more wool to be utilised by the fashion industry while simultaneously perpetuating all of the myths which compromise the very position of wool within that industry.

A number of High Street retailers such as Cos and Sea Salt do offer 100% woollen outfits at a similar price point. And, indeed, Topshop also managed to do so, for example with this machine-washable 100% wool jumper currently on offer. I hope that for next year the Campaign for Wool can challenge any participating retailers and their design teams to excel themselves and to help stop misconceptions such as “an attractive item for their customers or add[ing] embellishments and details [are] not always possible in 100% wool.” Topshop have already shown that it is.

Meanwhile, if you want to celebrate Wool Week UK in true style, then why not buy one of the 100% woollen jumpers that Topshop (and other participants) have on offer?

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