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Posts Tagged ‘slow craft’

I’m not entirely sure when I started my obsession with denim yarn, but what I do know, is that the first time I read about it, was on the ever entertaining Mason-Dixon Knitting blog. Knitting with cotton is quite a departure for somebody who is totally committed to wool, but knitting something with the intent of shrinking it took it immediately to a whole new level I had never entered before!

Whitby Sweater in Rowan Original Denim, pre-wash

My Whitby Sweater before the nerve-wracking boil wash: hem to shoulder measures 30in (76cm)

The yarn I used is a denim yarn: it is rope-dyed with indigo (rope-dyed means it is dyed after the yarn is spun, just like the threads used for making denim fabric) and this means the yarn is not dyed through to the core. Over time it will fade, just like love-worn jeans. When I posted an knitting-in-progress picture on Instagram late last year, a student brought along her 20 year old denim sweater to a darning workshop.

Old Denim Yarn Sweater with fading

An old denim knit: 20 years old, and still going strong

The colour fades over the years due to wash and wear, but only where it’s exposed. So in all the nooks and crannies of each stitch, the darker colour remains, and it makes the cables really pop. The effect is so beautiful, and this made me realise that my sweater is not just slow fashion, but Extreme Slow Fashion: in 20 years time, mine will look as beautiful as this one, and be incredibly soft.

The other thing that makes for such a beautiful knit, is the super-tight gauge for the yarn weight. Unlike my Cornish Knit-frock, which was wrested from 5-ply Guernsey yarn on fine needles, the denim yarn knit gets its tight gauge from something else altogether: a boil wash. Yes, you throw your jumper fresh from the needles into a hot wash and wait for it to shrink!

Whitby Sweater in Rowan Original Denim, post-wash

After a boil wash, my sweater shrunk a whole 4in (10cm) and now hem-to-shoulder measures 26in

Denim yarn patterns take this shrinkage into account, and nobody has written better patterns for denim yarn than Jane Gottelier, who founded the Artwork knitwear label in 1977, together with her husband Patrick. In 2007 they released a knitting pattern book called “Indigo Knits” and it’s this book the Whitby Sweater pattern comes from. The book is full of hints and tips on how to get the best out of your denim yarn, from that all-important first wash, to fake fading with bleach.

It’s a good thing I’m a very patient person, as I don’t like pre-distressed clothes. It never looks quite right in my eyes. Nothing beats authentic ageing, particularly when it comes to denim. So no bleach to highlight cables for me, just years of wash and wear ahead of me.

Whitby Sweater in Rowan Original Denim, cable eleganza

Cables that pop, thanks to the shrinking process

Most denim yarn knitting patterns advise you to knit a garment in pieces, and throw them in a hot wash, together with some extra yarn, so that everything shrinks before you sew it up with the shrunk extra yarn. However, I found out through Kay from Mason-Dixon Knitting that Artwork tended to sew up their garments before the hot wash. So if it’s good enough for a luxury fashion label, it is good enough for me! I’ve grown really fond of the exposed three-needle bind-off as a way of seaming sweaters, so I used this method on all the seams here, too.

Whitby Sweater in Rowan Original Denim, 3-needle bind-off shoulder seam

Three-needle bind-off for the shoulder seam…

Whitby Sweater in Rowan Original Denim, 3-needle bind-off side seam

…And for the side and underarm seams

Another finishing touch I really like, is the transition of the main fabric to the collar, by way of some crochet.

Whitby Sweater in Rowan Original Denim, crochet chain collar transition

My favourite neckline finish with a crochet chain

I bind off all sweater pieces, seam the shoulders, and I then crochet a chain all around the neckline. I like this because it makes for a stable opening that doesn’t stretch out of shape; something that is particularly important for this heavy cotton cable knit. I then pick up a stitch through each chain to knit the collar. I used another little trick here: the first few rows were knitted on the same needle size as elsewhere for the ribbing, but after five rows I used a needle one size smaller, and after another five rows, I went down yet another needle size to complete the funnel neck.

One thing I was a bit nervous about, was sewing in ends. Although this denim yarn isn’t as slippery as a mercerised cotton, I did notice that during knitting it, knots from knotting together the end of one ball to the beginning of the next, easily came undone. So I left very long tails, and all wove them in in the same direction in the seams, so that they would be able to shrink, without puckering up the seams.

Whitby Sweater in Rowan Original Denim, tail ends inside

Erm, yes, that is a tail (and knot!) NOT at the end of a row…

I really enjoyed knitting this sweater. It was a slow knit, but compared to how long I’m planning to wear it, it was done in a flash, and I’m dreaming about designing my own sweater in denim yarn. So I’ll share the only picture I have so far of me wearing it. You can see me in conversation with Sarah Corbett, founder of the Craftivist Collective. We had a really lovely afternoon together, and I can’t wait to share with you what we have been up to, so keep an eye for a new blog post soon!

Whitby Sweater, Tom and Sarah Corbett Craftivists Collective

Sarah Corbett, me, and That Sweater

 

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The last couple of months has been a very productive one. I can’t reveal everything just yet, but it did involve a lot of hand-stitching of fabrics, and re-reading some of my old books on mending and repairing, such as old Dutch lesson plans to teach girls the art of marking and darning.

Merken Stoppen en Mazen, Nuttige Handwerken

The Female Handicrafts for School and Home, and Useful Needlework. Both are lesson plans to teach girls the art of marking and darning

I have written about these books before, but I looked through them again when I was preparing for one of my workshops a little while ago at Hope & Elvis. In particular The Female Handicrafts contains a lot of detail, starting with the very basics.

How to mark household linen

A page from The Female Handicrafts. showing some letters of the alphabet

For instance, the first chapter on marking household linen, starts with the easy letters with lots of vertical elements, such as the letter “I”. It then moves on to those with strong diagonal lines, and finishes on those which have curves. To learn this, it advocates starting with an open-weave plain fabric, such as scrim. Marking your household linen was important, as many people took their washing to the laundry house, and this way you could check whether nothing was missing and that you actually got your own things back.

Darning fabric technique

A page from Useful Needlework

Likewise, Useful Needlework starts with the simple re-inforcing technique of weaving thread through the fabric, again using something like scrim to get a feel for the technique, before moving on to finer work. Needless to say, I’ve stocked up on scrim, and I have my darning threads at the ready!

msm-stoppen-2

Easy start with darning…

darning in pattern, damask darning

…followed by an intermediate step of adding stripes and checks…

msm-stoppen-3

finishing with something altogether more complex

For the aforementioned workshop at Hope & Elvis I got everybody to make a sewing sampler, based on the samplers I’d seen at Goldsmiths earlier this year, as part of  the A Remedy for Rents exhibition.

20151215CHG_3238

Plain sewing samplers from the Whiteland College College

It was my first foray into teaching something sewing-based, and we all made a small sampler using old textiles. The edges were hemmed using four different hemming techniques, then we made three different types of patches. I had selected the different techniques based on practicality, still useful today. They included amongst others: slip stitch hem, herringbone hem, hemming stitch, napery hem stitch, calico or oversewn patch, tailored patch, and flannel patch. For those who wanted more, I also taught how to hand-work a buttonhole. I don’t believe hand-worked buttonholes are any better or stronger than machine-made ones, but I do think they look very nice.

Tailored buttonhole by Annie Hewins 1879, Whitelands College Collection

Hand-worked buttonhole, found on a sampler in the Whitelands College collection

I’ve also spent a lot of time sewing patches onto sturdy linen tea towels (I will share this project in a couple of weeks) and it became apparent pretty soon that I will have to start using a thimble. I enjoy hand-sewing, and whenever I sew, I tend to do a lot of finishing by hand. When sewing woollen trousers, this is quite easily done without a thimble, but it’s a different story with those tea towels. The needles I use are rather fine, so the eye of the needle is almost as sharp as the point! Teaching myself to use a thimble might take some practice and perseverance, but I’ve found an old tailor’s apprentice trick to get me started.

All-in-all, this means I have a lesson plan of sorts for myself. I’m going to take it all back to the beginning: teach myself how to use a thimble, and then start marking, darning, and patching according to my Dutch books. I hope that this will lead to new inspiration and new off-shoot projects. I will be sharing my pursuits here, and perhaps you’d like to join in! Therefore I will post not only completed work, but also a heads-up post with what I’m planning to concentrate on next. Keep an eye out for the first post in the next one or two weeks.

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Happy new year to all my blog readers! Now that it is 2016, I would like to reflect on what 2015 brought me, and my thoughts about the year ahead.

Tea Hat with toast, marmalade and Wood's Ware in Beryl

A knitted ‘tea hat’, made from my handspun yarn, was the start to 2015

The year just gone has been really rather busy for me, despite wanting to take it a bit slower. But then there were so many exciting places to go, amazing people to see, and creative projects to make! Here are some recurring themes in my year:

Community

pitt rivers class picture

Darning Master Class at the Pitt Rivers Museum

First and foremost I feel part of a textile community, and 2015 really reinforced this belonging. Attending events and venues such as Edinburgh Yarn Festival, Shetland Wool Week, Pitt Rivers Museum, and In the Loop 4, where I managed to meet up with friends old and new played a big part in this.  They all provided fertile ground for discussions about knitting, fibre, and wool. But it wasn’t all serious, it was a good way to catch up with old friends, and meet others for the first time, even if I knew their work well, or knew them through social media. It always feels good to meet like-minded people, discuss shared interests, and continue the conversations afterwards. It was nice to see friends taking on new projects and run away with them, and being able to help them out.

Creativity in Technique

Heraldic Sweater Front View 2

Creativity in technique: my Heraldic Sweater, combining sequence knitting and patching

In 2015 I learnt a lot of new things and many of these revolve around technique. Some bigger than others, ranging from a new-to-me superstretchy cast-on (double needle cast on, see June Hemmons Hiatt’s Principles of Knitting) to a whole new way of creating complicated textured fabrics using simple techniques, called Sequence Knitting. My interest in 1980s knitwear has blossomed last year: once you can see past the boxy shapes, a heady mix of technique, colour, and texture is revealed, and nothing was deemed too complicated. A collaboration with Wolf & Gypsy Vintage allowed me to explore the repair of woven textiles.

Wolf and Gypsy Trousers VMP Detail

hand-stitched patches, and a tailored buttonhole in this piece for Wolf & Gypsy Vintage

‘Slowness’

Handspun from Shetland Wool Week 2015

Handspun yarns from a workshop I attended at Shetland Wool Week, with apologies for the poor picture quality

Last year I’ve been thinking a lot about taking time in my creative practice. In a shift of focus from trying to keep things looking new and perfect to favouring the old and imperfect, means I’ve stopped looking at repair as a chore, but as a creative challenge in its own right. Instead of fixing something that is broken, which implies the item was finished, I now continue working on something that wasn’t complete yet.

Slowtober‘ has given me a lot of thought about the materials I use, whether these are secondhand or new, and as I explained in the linked post, there is lots of food for thought. One material that made me really happy, though, is Louise Spong’s South Down Yarns. The sheep that provide the wool roam the South Downs near where I live, and if you read my interview with her and Jenny Dean over on the Wovember blog, you will learn about the provenance of the yarn, and the sensitive way how it is dyed.

And this leads me neatly to the year ahead.

And for 2016…

Darning sampler 1892 diagonal slash darn back

Frozen in time: a mend on an antique darning sampler that will never be completed

In 2016 I will continue walking down the slow path I’ve turned onto, taking step after thoughtful step. Some of the plans I had made for last year didn’t come to fruition, so this year I’m going to be even more careful with the time I have for being creative. As I want to take things slow, it doesn’t bother me unduly that I didn’t start certain things, and it’s always good to have plenty of ideas. Here are some of them:

I would like to spend more time spinning; I have plenty of fleece to keep me busy, and I’d love to spin a sweater’s worth of yarn.

The Wolf & Gypsy Vintage collaboration, my interest in antique darning samplers, and my old books on clothes repair mean I would like to spend more time teaching myself more sewing skills, and I’d love to make a modern version of a ‘plain sewing’ sampler.

I also have more ideas for creative knitting, and like the Heraldic Sweater pictured above, they combine technique with elements left to chance. As always, I look forward to sharing my pursuits here on my blog, and I hope you will enjoy strolling along in the most leisurely fashion. Happy new year!

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In the last twelve months or so I have started to gain an appreciation for Taking Time. Although (hand-) knitting probably isn’t the fastest craft known to man as it is, I have never shied away from projects that take a particularly long time to complete, such as this holy communion shawl.

Shetland Lace Shawl Rose Trellis

A Shetland Lace Shawl in Cobweb weight yarn

However, I’m now more consciously slowing down. As I become more interested in using specific traditional techniques for specific tasks, I also feel an urge to take my time to to do the best job possible.

I think my interest in this started when I took up spinning. Working with wool is a tactile experience I enjoy, and now I’m seeking out opportunities to enhance this experience. Taking time to handle the fibre at the various stages allow me to explore its material qualities.

Of course, knitting in itself allows me that tactile experience by its very nature. But instead of using a skein holder and ball winder, I now prefer to use my knees to hold the skein, and wind a ball by hand. The rhythm of winding, going from left knee to right and back again, feeling the yarn glide through one hand, feeling the ball of yarn grow in the other, I can get to know the yarn I’ll be knitting up later. How smooth is the yarn, how bouncy is the ball? I dream about the project that it will become, contemplate how I can enhance the fibre’s inherent qualities.

Handspun yarn and handwound balls

Handspun yarns and handwound balls

But as a spinner I can create even more opportunities to explore these tactile qualities. I love getting a raw fleece and process it from scratch. Laying out the fleece, sorting it, scouring it, preparing it for spinning; this all requires a lot of handling. Raw fleece feels greasy and at places, dirty, and smells strongly of sheep. It takes me right back to my childhood, visiting my grandparents’ sheep farm. During the scouring and drying the fibre transforms through its contact with water and soap. This process can’t be rushed, and it creates space to think about what this fleece might want to become.

Consciously taking time when performing tasks makes them more meaningful to me. It clears the mind and allows me to contemplate the more esoteric aspects of my work. Preparing and spinning Shetland wool makes me think about the importance of wool in Shetland’s economy and society and particularly how it affected women’s lives (if you are interested in this subject, then Myth And Materiality in a Woman’s World: Shetland, 1800-2000 by Lynn Abrahams is a good place to start.)

Fries Museum Knitted Darning Sampler 02a

Knitted darning samplers in the Fries Museum

When I’m darning, I think not only about when this was a necessity, but also about the amazing darning samplers I have seen at the Fries Museum, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands. Young girls were taught to knit and darn and had to take time to create perfectly executed darning samplers. I also noticed during my visit to the Fries Museum, that the clothes in their collection were rarely repaired to the same high standard. I can only assume that the women couldn’t afford to spend a lot of time on this task, undoubtedly one of many when running a household, big or small.

Things become more personal when I take on a specific darning commission, the most poignant example perhaps being the repair of Bernadette’s jumper.

The Visible Mending Programme - repaired jumper

Bernadette’s jumper visibly mended

Just a normal jumper to most people, even if they recognise the good knitting skills that went into it, this jumper is very valuable indeed to Bernadette. One of the few items made by her mother that she still owed, and a botched attempt to turn it into cushion cover made this a very special mend.

As Bernadette had given me the background story of this jumper, her relationship with her mother, and why she attempted to turn it into a cushion cover, the repair felt very intimate. While preparing the pieces of the jumper for repair I let my mind wander and it allowed me to refine my repair approach. I wanted to show that this was not repaired by the person who originally made this jumper, and I used a variation of the cable stitch pattern to highlight this. Although I had never met her mother, taking my time to perform a beautiful repair, allowed me to contemplate this woman while I picked up stitches she had knitted many years ago; a very intimate act.

Shetland Lace Shawl for my Mother

A Shetland Lace Shawl for my Mother

In summary, giving yourself permission to take time has, I believe, many benefits. There is time for contemplation, exploring material qualities, and re-inforcing the connections between all the things I do. It makes my work a creative, deep and rich experience that I wouldn’t want to miss for all in the world.

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