I think it's pretty cool that the village I live in has a train station but then, every summer, it goes super-chilled with it's own music and arts festival...
This year I realised a long-held idea for a community art project at the festival that, tying in with the theme of the Festival this year, I called "The Big Ocean Weave",
The concept was simple - build a really big loom and invite festival-goers to weave a line or 2 with me so that, together, we would create an artwork that would be a lasting representation of the event and a positive statement about community, sustainability and resource-sharing.
My woodworking skills being minimal, I appealed for anyone in the village who could build me a loom and I'm so grateful that Ian volunteered despite not really understanding what he was volunteering to build! I showed him a home-made recycled picture frame loom of the type I use in workshops and a smaller commercial tapestry loom and asked him to make "something really big like this". He didn't disappoint - it was a great big loom! It was built using recycled wood, some from my garage, some from Ian's and a wooden pallet from a mate. And it was in 3 parts, set at different heights to be accessible to all.
Next job was to think about warp and weft. I had linen in my stash that would be suitable for warp but for weft I was going to need a LOT of fabric. I had some but again I appealed to the local community - did anyone have any large pieces of fabric, old curtains, bedding or similar fabrics that they would be willing to donate, preferably in ocean colours but I could dye fabrics so I was open to all offers? In just a week, my living room looked like a fabric shop and I had to prep it all for weaving! And so, every evening, whilst watching tv, I cut fabric, cutting it into strips, joining them together....
I watched a lot of Newsnight.....
The following is a gallery of photos from the weekend weaving. It really was a joy to see so many people involved with the weave:
At the end of the festival, I took each of the 3 weavings off their loom panels and finished them very simply, squaring them off and tidying up any loose ends but deliberately not adding or taking away from any them. And so the finished pieces looked like as follows. I don't yet know where they will hang but I hope they will find a space in the village soon where they stay as a celebration of community and a memory of one beautiful weekend in our long hot summer of 2018.
It's June 1st already - where is 2018 going?
I have spent a happy month quietly taking part in Me Made May, the annual love fest for handmade clothes. The idea is simply that participants around the world just declare that they want to take part and set themselves a challenge for the month. It's often a challenge to wear a me-made item every day and many people post their wears on Instagram every day under the hashtag mmmay18 or memademay18 so there's some fabulous inspiration there if you fancy a browse
My personal challenge for the month was about really taking some time out to work on my technical dressmaking skills and to create clothes that fit and/or flatter my new body shape (anti-cancer hormone therapy meds are not kind to the figure...). Some of my new makes were favourites right off the sewing machine, some were maybes/good learning experiences and some went straight to the rag weight bag for the charity shop! Here are some of the makes that survived the cutting room floor:
First up are the dungaree dresses - my absolute fave makes! Regardless of how flattering this shape is or not, these are so comfy and versatile that I can see them being wardrobe favourites for ages.
The first one is an upcycled make - I had a wool-mix maxi skirt that I'd bought from the local charity shop and cut it slightly to make this dungaree dress. I used a red ribbon that had come wrapped around a gift pack of pjs for the shoulder straps, using the belt loops in the original skirt for the loops, and used the small amount of scrap fabric to make a cute pocket. An almost zero-waste make!
The second is a cotton dungaree dress for the summer. It uses the same basic pattern but is less flared and has small side seam slits at the hem due to the narrower fabric width. It also has side seam pockets instead of a front pocket and I made loops and shoulder straps from some extra yardage.
Next up are a few re-models/recycles. These are experimental - I take a garment that I won't wear anyway for some reason and play with it to see what can be done.
The first is a plain white cotton t-shirt that had become grey and tired and had a small but very noticeable stain on the front. I dyed it with tea-bags to start with - nice colour but made the stain even more prominent and showed up a few more! So then I splashed bleach over it to brighten the stained areas, with a few extra splashes for added balance. Love the effect now. It's not a great colour next to my face but definitely worth trying again maybe for a skirt, a mixed fabric dress or even just for bags.
Now comes a linen top that came from Kew. Nice linen fabric, very cool in summer and a colour way that goes with lots of things. But the top had gathers on the shoulder fronts and under the bust that made it look really blousy and maternity-like - not a good look... So I took out all the shirring elastic in the gathers, cut a couple of inches off the sides with a bit of extra waist shaping and then added an invisible zip in the side seam. Result is not great (I should have taken more off the front than the back to make the armhole a better shape I think) but definitely more wearable that it was.
And finally, the Schoolhouse Tunic that started the whole month off for me? Still a wip for now! I spent ages learning how to do a FBA (full bust adjustment) in different ways for different fit effects and now the top part fits very well but when I sew it to the bottom half of the tunic, it's still really too wide to be flattering... I'm completely dithering over whether to leave it as it or dart and shape it some more, which will mean inserting an invisible side seam zip.... Maybe next month....
I've really enjoyed my playtime this May and more sewing is definitely on the cards. To keep up with my further adventures with a sewing machine, do follow me on Instagram or Facebook.
Back from a fabulous visit to Alberta, Canada. I think I'm still a bit too jet-lagged for fine words so this is a simple photo-heavy blog post - I've chosen some photos to try and share the beauty, the peace, the moments that were so awe-inspiring, that lifted and soothed my soul ... Hope this slideshow inspires in you the same peace that it did in me....I've set it on a 9 second timing, so it's enough to give 1.5 minutes of peace. Hit play, sit back, relax and enjoy......
The new year brings a new look to my weaving kits.
I launched these kits last year but thought that they needed more sturdy packaging and this month was the perfect time for a revamp.
The yarn bowl weaving kits now come in a strong cardboard box ready for wrapping as a present or sending by post and the labelling has also had a smart new look.
Inside, the instruction leaflet has also had a rewrite using a publishing software - same content, smarter look. They are for sale from my etsy shop.
Also this month, I have launched a new e-booklet!
This 14 page PDF booklet is a longer version of the instruction leaflet that comes in the kits, with step-by-step instructions and colour photographs for weaving a yarn bowl using both weaving sticks and a peg loom. It's for sale as an instant digital download from my etsy shop.
If you have any comments on my kits or would like you know anymore about them, please do get in touch.
I don't blog very often (you will have noticed that..) but my recent weekend at The Good Life Experience so resonated with much of my work-life philosophy that I felt drawn to write about it and share some photos. Grab a cuppa, sit back and relax for a few minutes...
Spending time outdoors with good friends and good food, dancing and discovering new music, stimulating debate, and finding quality products from British craftspeople that will last for years - these are all important parts of my good life. Here are some of my festival highlights:
For a start, the weather was gorgeous all weekend, which meant long days and evenings sitting outdoors enjoying the sunshine, the sunsets and those big blue skies.
Lovely weather also meant for easy camping. George (the camper van) was parked up next to the festival site in the Scout campsite, which was spacious, peaceful and amazingly well-equipped with toilets and showers. We parked next to a huge tree, and watched dogs and small children play underneath it with leaves and twigs. The weekend was already looking like a winner before the fun had even started.
The music was a treat. In best festival fashion, the most exciting and enjoyable groups were the ones we just happened across. Just walking past the main stage for example, we were drawn in to see the Booka Brass Band, who were just terrific. We bought their CD after the set and had a very jolly drive back home with it playing on LOUD. Other musical highlights were Friday night dancing with Geordie MacKeeman and his Rhythm Boys (ditto the CD) and the delicious Sunday lunchtime treat of "Recomposed": by Max Richter, performed by Mari Samuelsen and the 12 ensemble.
Alongside the very groove-worthy Booka Brass, were plenty of other chances to dance too, including the super-fun Swing Patrol dance class.
A good festival always needs good food of course and the Good Life had plenty of that. I loved all the dahls (yes I did try them all), there was the best goats cheese I've ever had, the coffee was awesome, Calon Wen's frozen yogurt was a revelation and their cheese was deliciously tasty. And then there was just a little bit of alcohol... there were cocktails (mine's a Honey Whisky with FeverTree Ginger Ale please), Tincup whisky in the woodland bar, and Black Cow vodka, served up in the wonderful honky-tonk Black Cow Saloon.
In between the music and refreshments we also went shopping. This was really unexpected, as I'm not usually interested in shopping at festivals. But the quality and practicality of the products for sale by the small-scale vendors was exceptionally good. I love my new iron wok from Netherton Forge and we bought enough magazines and books to provide several months of quality reading and inspirations for new things to make at home.. I was particularly pleased to see Cambrian Wool there, who are working to help sustain traditional upland farms and rural communities in Wales by making Welsh wool popular and sustainably processed in the UK.
There were interesting talks throughout the weekend too - we particularly liked the very entertaining Mark Shayler on "what is Britain for if we don't make things?" And the whole site was decorated with a beautiful aesthetic - see photos below - making it a feast for all the senses.
A good life experience indeed. And dog-friendly - hooray! Big Sky's dog is still struggling with his travel anxiety problem so missed the fun this year but fingers-crossed for next year. In a society that seems to be becoming increasingly dog-unfriendly, this festival was an exemplar of how festivals really can be for a whole family.
If you have done a workshop with me, you will know that I'm a big fan of recycling, whether it's using old picture frames as looms or weaving with recycled fabrics. I always suggest using old sheets and clothes to weave bathmats or baskets on a simple wooden peg loom for example and relatives often give me their old fabrics for me to cut up and re-purpose. Some time ago I was also given a huge bundle of rug wool thrums - odds and ends of yarns, the leftovers or offcuts from production weaving looms. They looked like this:
I am very pleased that today they look like this:
My studio is very cold in winter but now it has a warm and cheery curtain covering the front door so that I can still work in there in the dark and chilly evenings. I wove the thrums in random strips of colour on a black wool warp on my Saori loom, then cut the fabric into lengths and sewed it all together. There is a lining fabric for extra warmth - I cut the lining off some old curtains that my mum had given me and dyed it grey, then cut and sewed it to make it match the size of the curtain. The curtain tape on the back of the curtain and the curtain hooks were taken off the same old curtain. Here's a close-up of the new curtain fabric:
My mum will say that they are too long and will get dirty at the bottom. They will keep the draught out though :)
I used 14 different handspun yarns in this collection and handwove the pieces on rigid heddle looms. The yarns include polwarth, teeswater (from Exmoor), mule (that's a blue faced leicester cross) and merino. The cushions are all backed with handdyed pure wool fabric and the fillings are plump feather cushion inners.
Some of these pieces are available from my etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/bigskytextiles or, if you live in the Bristol area, you can also find some lavender cushions and squishy feather cushions at the very lovely shop Tilly's Vintage Treasures in Backwell.
"Knit on with confidence and hope, through all crises"
A friend of mine recently told me about this quote from the famous knitter, Elizabeth Zimmerman. Apparantly its a very famous quote but it was new to me and struck home as quite perfect for me at the moment, hence the title of my first blog post for a while.
I am currently taking some time away from craft markets and my etsy shop while I am having treatment for breast cancer. Obviously I can't not create though and I have been reaching for knitting a lot in recent months. At the same time, I joined the Tour de Fleece this year for the first time. For those new to the Tour, the basic idea is that yarn spinners spin on every day that the Tour de France cyclists cycle on the Tour and participants set themselves a personal challenge for the duration. And blimey what a duration it was - I had no idea before this year how long the Tour de France was. As afficionados say apparently, "Chapeau!" (hats off!) to the riders for taking part in what is an incredibly difficult challenge.
My personal Tour challenge was to learn to spin tailspun yarn. Using a bag of gorgeous dark brown Wensleydale locks, I practised a few different techniques and settled on one that suited these very long locks, ending up with 900g of finished tailspun yarn!
Then I tail spun some hand dyed Wensleydale locks:
So what to do with the tailspun yarn? I met with some Ravelry friends and showed them the yarn, explaining that "its all about waves and the sea and I'm thinking of some sort of shrug..." Immediately, Ann knew the pattern I needed: Thinking of Waves by yellowcosmo
I played around for a while with a contrast yarn for the blue and settled on a calming off-white yarn I spun some time ago - I have lost the note of what fibres are in this yarn but I definitely remember cashmere, angora and alpaca amongst the mix - a real luxury yarn.
Given that I was working with a much thicker yarn than the one called for in the pattern, I knew I had to adapt the pattern to avoid a shawl that would impossibly big so the shawl that I made was, in the end, more inspired by than faithful to the original pattern. And it has issues as a result - it ended up being 160cm wide when finished which was about right but there are more stitches in a couple of sections than I would like. Overall though, I am very happy with the result - it's light but warm, practical but extravagant. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of spinning the yarn for this shawl and then knitting it and it makes me feel very comforted when I wear it.
I think Elizabeth would approve.
It's all a bit grey round here at this time of year. The sky is full of grey rain, the garden is resting, and there are no flowers in bloom. So I have been looking at my stash of brightly coloured yarns and thinking about how to put some of that colour outdoors. My initial ideas were around yarn-bombing but I knit too slowly to produce anything very substantial before the Spring, so that really left crochet and weaving. And so the "Four Seasons" garden banner project evolved...
I have been playing a bit with Saori-style weaving recently and like it very much so all the banners are in that style.
In each banner I tried to convey the colours and the feelings of that season.
Spring, seen here on the left, is full of flowers and cool but sunny skies. It hangs on the cherry tree in the garden, which will soon be a riot of purple blossom.
Summer skies are bright blue and warm days are spent by the sea and the beach. There is always lots of ice-cream too - mint choc chip for me and vanila (with a flake) for my son.
Autumn is a favourite time, the colours are warm and rich and the sun still shines through the abundance of growth in the garden. This banner hangs by the swing seat in the garden, where I love to sit and enjoy the late sun.
Winter is cold, maybe snowy, always frosty. Mists hang over the fields around our house. Sometimes the muddy puddles in the park ice over. Skies are cold blue. There are some spaces in the weaving to symbolise the bare trees at this time of year.
Sometimes the most treasured things are crafted into life slowly...
Way back in 2010, my family and I were at the North Somerset Agricultural Show on May Bank Holiday Monday. We go every year, and every year we find something new to see and enjoy. This year, we were checking out the sheep (OK we do that every year...) and I spotted a gorgeous ewe with long, luscious ringlets...
A chat with her owner, Dr Margaret Rutherford, revealed the ewe's name to be Florence, one of Margaret's Christon Flock of Black Leicester Longwools.
Florence wasn't due for shearing for a while but Margaret offered to let me know when it happened and to put the fleece aside for me. Many months went by but one day I received the email - Florence had been busy, travelling around the country winning one award after another for her luscious locks, culminating in Fleece Competition Champion at the National Sheep Association Sheep 2010 competition
To my mind, longwools are the most difficult of fleeces, consuming vast amounts of preparation time as every long, wavy lock has to be flicked, combed or teased individually, and every time I finish one longwool fleece,I think it has to be my last. But they are also the most rewarding; prepare and spin them right and you are rewarded with gorgeous, shiny yarn that still holds the bounce and ringlet appearance of the original fleece.
I spin mostly from fleece, rather than commercially prepared fibres, and I rarely start with a plan of what I am going to do with the fleece or the final yarn. Instead I try to let the fleece be what I feel it wants to be, and Florence's fleece wanted to be a thin, lightly spun yarn that retained a lot of the original curl. If i had prep'ed it more, it would have been even finer and smoother but that would have been less "Florence" to me.
Becasue it was a big fleece and I spun it quite finely, the final yarn took many months to spin, ply, wind into hanks, wash and wind into balls.
When finished, the yarn measured 15wpi (wraps per inch), making it a double knit yarn, though it feels thinner than that to me. I haven't tried knitting any of it yet to test that out, as it has always seemed to me to want to be a woven yarn.
And last week, 3.5 years after finding Florence in the show field, I finally finished my scarf woven with her fleece.
I don't often follow patterns but I knew I wanted a wave in the weave to accentuate the wave of the original fleece and so I chose a scarf pattern from Handwoven magazine - its the one on the front cover here: http://www.weavingtoday.com/blogs/handwoven-issues/archive/2012/12/05/handwoven-january-february-2013.aspx.
The other yarns I used were my handspun chocolate-brown icelandic/wensleydale yarn, handspun browny-yellow yarn (can't remember what that was..) and two vintage commercial yarns from my stash - a grey wool and a bright yellow for a bit of zing.
When I finished the scarf, it still felt a little bit rough but after a machine wool wash (I wash all my woollens in the machine these days), it has bloomed into a lovely soft comforter for chilly winter days.
It's been a slow make but that doesn't matter at all and I will enjoy wearing it for even more years than it took me to make it.
Thanks Florence x