Sunday, 13 November 2016

Go Homespun

Go Homespun

I've changed the name of my blog, from In Stitches Daily to Go Homespun. I've been thinking of changing the name for a while. Why? Well, like many bloggers, I started with a vague idea of what I wanted to write about. It was, I thought, about knitting, crochet, sewing, spinning and a little about dyeing with plants. It still is, but over time, I've found that there's a thread running through many of my posts that wound it's way in there quite naturally.

I've been gravitating (more by accident than design) towards posts about, for instance, thrifty ways to craft - re-purposing with vintage and scrap materials, designing your own sewing patterns and knitwear with a few basic skills, making your own materials from scratch by spinning and dyeing, and a little make do and mend. I've become fascinated by process as much as the end result, and traditional skills that most people once had, that were at the heart of a homespun life.

I like a little self-reliance, to be able to create and produce for myself (create more: shop less) and I see I'm not alone. Perhaps the cycle of earning money, followed by retail therapy leaves you with the feeling that there's something missing? Do you (or could you) see your home turf as your homestead? It doesn't matter where you live: countryside or town. With a few tools and materials there's an intriguing and productive world on your doorstep.

I like to think of my home turf as my urban homestead. With drawers full of tools, yarn, fabric, a garden, gradually becoming stuffed full of useful plants and an allotment up the road, I'm always busy. Along with the change of name to Go Homespun, I'll bring in a few thoughts from the allotment shed, the front garden, the backyard container garden and the kitchen. I like to hear your views too. People have different perspectives, depending on where they live. I'm intrigued by people who live in apartments, and have found inventive ways to be more productive at home - anyone?

Motives for doing this can vary, from simply cutting living expenses to being less consumerist and treading more lightly upon the earth. Overall, my mantra is 'Create at home: craft and produce more, shop less', and that's the new sub-title to my blog.

The web address for the newly named blog is

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Resourceful wedding foliage

Rustic wedding decoration

When I first thought about how the flowers and foliage would look for our wedding recently, I wanted to go rustic and natural. I thought this would be a good idea as my vision was one of botanical abundance, and otherwise, I might have to virtually buy out a florist shop for the day to conjure up the vision.

This is a departure from my usual topics that revolve around the theme of textile crafts, but I was pleased about how the wedding flowers and foliage turned out so I thought I would share some tips.

The degree to which flowers were centre stage ranged from high (in a traditional centre piece on the head table), to moderate (on guest tables) to low or non-existent in other small ensembles here and there.

Traditional centrepiece on head table

I'm lucky that my mother-in-law is very experienced at flower arranging as my creative skills are questionable in this area. She created all of this for the day almost single-handed. My only contribution was to throw out ideas (mostly generated from Pinterest), run around during the preparation gathering foliage from the garden, removing waste trimmings to the compost bin, and making up some mini arrangements myself.

I realised, whilst researching my preferred style, that our garden was brimming with the kind of foliage needed. I'm always behind on trimming shrubs and greenery, so why not be resourceful and use it?

Rustic wedding foliage

At a guess I would say that the arrangements were, overall, about 80% gathered from three gardens (my mother-in-law's, my brother-in-law's and mine). Here are some tips, relevant, I hope to any event, based on how I went about the DIY approach:
  • If you're not great at flower arrangements, find a willing person who is, and/or stick to a simple naturalistic approach 
  • Research - try Pinterest, Googling, Wedding/home and garden magazines etc 
  • Look around your garden and consider what will be at its best in the month of the event. If you have no garden, have you gardening friends willing to donate to the cause? Gardeners are often keen to showcase what they grow in their gardens. 
  • Consider foliage - different tones, leaf shapes, plain and variegated. Ideally, choose glossy leaves. Shrub leaves are often good, but not fragile, wilt-prone foliage 
  • Not enough flowers and greenery available? Try single examples (like a fern leaf or a rose) in a narrow-necked vase or bottle, or small bunches in jam jars 
Try out combinations in advance and leave them out for a few days to test for wilting During the preparations on the penultimate day , the dining room table was piled high with all kinds of greenery. It smelt like the garden - of wet leaves and the faint scent of lavender brought in from outside. It was a hive of industry, but we were waiting for my brother-in-law and Best Man to turn up. His mother and I tisk-tisked and wondered where he had got to. Eventually he appeared with a big crate of flowers and greenery, claiming there was nothing left in his garden. We set him to work. I said 'What can you do with some bottles and foliage? '. The creative mind (day job - toy designer) set to work and turned to foliage. This is what he come up with.

rustic wedding foliage

They made a nice addition to the family history photo table. He was just warming up. With tuition from mother, and flowers from his own garden, next up was....

Naturalistic flower arrangement

Some mini-arrangements, quickly put together, around the place added a little herby freshness. The smell of bay, rosemary, mint, lavender and conifer mingled on a mantelpiece.

naturalistic wedding foliage

Seeing as these were on a mantelpiece in a room which housed the bar, I don't know how much they were noticed in the drive to get another glass of wine or beer!

We did splash some cash. We bought hop bines from a Herefordshire farm, which we hung up high. West Worcestershire into Herefordshire is one of two major areas in the country for hop growing (the other being Kent), so we thought we would take advantage of a local tradition.

Hop bines as decoration

Thinking about flowers and foliage for an up and coming event? You might look at your garden (or dare I say it, your neighbour's, or your friend's) with a different eye.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

And the bride Wears Wool

Doris, Knit Vintage

Last month I got married. And, what did the bride wear? Why, wool of course - a homemade outfit made in Scottish and Welsh wool. Those who know me well would not be the least bit surprised.

Why wool? The simple answer would be that I've been a longterm lover of wool. I've been a knitter since childhood, and more recently, since learning to spin, a picture of a breed of sheep can turn my eye!

When I first thought about what to wear I was bedazzled by the possibilities. My Pinterest board expanded; I scratched my head over it a lot. A couple of friends offered to accompany me to bridal boutiques, but somehow I couldn't see myself in the silk and lace or silk and organza gowns in the shop windows. Not that I don't think they would look lovely on other brides - I do.  They're just not me, and I have no idea why. Perhaps it's my age. Afterall, I'm not 25 any more, and and the question of  'what does the more mature bride wear?' did cross my mind. So, I decided early on that I wanted to make my own outfit, and never even entered a bridal outfitters. After chasing my own tail for a while ( I do this), it seemed like the best thing to do would be to limit the possibilities. Fewer possibilities would mean fewer circles to turn in.

A few principles occurred to me along the way, and making a list of these cleared my head of extraneous clutter and gave me a way forward. My principles were that my outfit should be:
  • Made from all natural fibres
  • Made from British fabrics and fibres
  • Be wearable again, in its original form or altered
  • Be figure flattering (as far as possible for a less than ideal figure)
The older I get, the more principles I accumulate. They seem to home in and stick themselves to me. So I thought why not work with them?

Wool bridal suit
Walking to the reception - in the rain! The sun did come out.
Having copious quantities of unspun Ryeland fleece bought from a Welsh smallholder, it seemed a good idea to make a dent in this supply and knit a top. The top is knitted from a design called 'Doris' from Knit Vintage: More than 20 patterns for starlet sweaters & other knitwear from the 1930s,1940s & 1950s. We have so many ancient British breeds of sheep, and this is one of them.

Fabric production in the UK has declined greatly in the past few decades, but we can still buy some quality wool fabric, made in Britain from wool sourced from British sheep. For my suit, I bought a wool fabric from Ardalanish Mill on the Isle of Mull, Scotland. The fabric was cream Shetland Hopsack, so made from Shetland wool, and generally, I gather that their wool comes from Hebridean, Shetland and Manx Loaghtan wool from across the Highlands & Islands of Scotland and occasionally from further South - I like that. I designed the skirt and jacket myself using mostly freehand pattern drafting mentioned in Freehand pattern drafting versus standard pattern drafting. It took me some time (longer than I expected) but I got there in the end, and had a happy day wearing it.

I intend that it will see the light of day again in various combinations. The top and jacket with a 50s print skirt? The skirt needs some thinking about. Full length or shortened? That's the next question...

Wool bridal suit

Saturday, 17 September 2016

No Nylon Socks

Socks aren't an article of clothing that I would most associate with nylon. Sportswear, yes, but socks?   However, sometime ago, I saw a link to a No Nylon Sock KAL Project (a KAL, or Knit-a-Long, run by Joeli Creates) promoted in a Woolsack newsletter. I wasn't in a position to join in with the project at the time, and it is now over, but I made a mental note about why the project was set up. It seems the project involved trialling how well different fibres used in a handknit sock stand up to wear and tear, compared to a yarn that includes nylon. The project was a response to research into synthetic fibres and other plastics in our oceans, and the problems they are causing. See this article in The Guardian about synthetic fibres and microbeads in the food chain.

Now, I've come back round to thinking about sock knitting as I'm planning ahead what I might like to knit over the autumn and winter. I'd also bought a discounted Rowan book of mainly sock patterns bought at the haberdashery closing down sale that I mentioned in Ode to the haberdashery department, so my thoughts turned to.... socks.

I like the look of the Fine Art Sock yarn in the Rowan book but noticed that it contains 25% polyamide. Despite how pleasing it is in the eye,  I couldn't help but think of the tiny little nylon fibres escaping from the washing machine or down the plug hole, and from my house,  swirling down the River Severn,  past the trendy bars along Bristol waterfront,  into the Severn Estuary,  then the Atlantic ocean. How long before they wash up on a palm-fringed Caribbean shore,  or get sucked up by a turtle? That's about 25g per pair of socks on a long journey, wash by wash. 

'Perhaps I'm being too purist?' I thought. Some may think I've lost my marbles. After all, a little nylon from the socks emerging from the needles of knitters around the country,  or even the world, must be infinitesimally small compared to all the synthetic fibres wearing off the clothes people wear. Where do you draw the line between significant and not significant?

We've managed,  though,  without nylon in our socks for centuries.  Having parked that thought in my mind, intending to return to it, I rummaged in the yarn stash, pulled out some 4ply yarn and colour matched it with some, as yet, unspun wool tops waiting to be spun into, potentially, 4ply sock yarn? I know that there are several techniques that make handknit socks more durable, or more easily mended. I returned to the idea of exploring these, so I've researched a little online and present here a list of 

No Nylon Sock Knitting tricks:
  • Knit with a tighter ply yarn or spin yarn for sock knitting with more plies (3 ply rather than 2ply) 
  • Knit tighter than the regular tension 
  • Knit the heel with a stitch pattern that pads and elasticises the heel. Try a slip stitch heel
  • Use a sock pattern where the sole of the sock is knitted separately to the rest of the foot – a moccasin sock 
  • Use a yarn with some mohair or silk for strength and durability to take the place of nylon
  • Darn the heel and toe when new to reinforce from the start 
  • Avoid merino wool – it's a soft, not very durable wool 
And, a Low Nylon option:
  • Knit with a regular yarn but knit in nylon thread just to reinforce the heel and the toes 
I have previously knit a pair of moccasin socks from Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac. The upper part of the foot is knitted, then stitches picked up, and the sole of the foot knitted in. The sole of the foot can then be unravelled and re-knitted when holes appear. I knitted these for Mr L, who unfortunately put them in the washing machine on a non-wool cycle which shrunk and felted them. To a size that fit me perfectly. Who shot himself in the foot then? I have an unexpected pair of socks, but I can't test the unravelling of the sole now that they have felted. I need to knit another pair. Elizabeth Zimmermann did recommend knitting in nylon at the heel and toe, which I did, but I want to also test a slip stitch heel and maybe a moss stitch toe for durability?

How much do mohair or silk fibres take the place of nylon in adding strength to the yarn? Does anyone know?

Whilst thinking about writing this post, I came across a thought-provoking video called Forget Shorter Showers. A somewhat apocalyptic view of the destruction being wrought upon the earth. The author, Derrick Jenson argues that retreating into our own personal little acts of eco-consiousness (that would probably include me avoiding nylon in socks) will not do much to save the earth, so for instance, forget taking shorter showers. 

We need to tackle the big polluters  - the industrial giants and agri-industry. I agree, but there's a sneaky little feeling that it misses a point. After all, who are the people who are most likely to petition against the big polluters or for changing national and inter-national laws? Those very people who try to recycle more, save water and eschew plastic. The ban on free plastic bags in shops probably started with a few people who started taking their own bags whilst shopping, made a bit of a noise about it, and it grew from there. So, these things are rarely straight forward, and from little acorns bigger things do grow.

What if a few sock knitters returned to the old fashioned socks knitting ways,  then in response to their desperate search for no-nylon sock yarn (with tighter twist and/or with natural strengthening fibres), more yarn producers obliged? Such yarn is hard to get hold of in the UK,  for instance. Patterns for tighter knit socks and slip stitch heels might become more common. You never know, you might even find socks  like that to buy (yes, even cotton - knit socks usually include nylon - I just checked). It's just a thought.... 

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

No new clothes: The Seamless Pledge

I've joined the Seamless Pledge, and this is the pledge:

I, Liz Pearson, take the Seamless pledge for a year. I will abstain from buying any new clothes until the end of my pledge. I will find ways to be fashionable without breaking the bank and without contributing to the cycle of fast fashion consuming the high street. I will trawl through charity shops, I will attend clothes swaps, I will look for second-hand items on eBay and I will craft my own clothes with my own two hands.

I've been thinking of joining this pledge for some time, and in fact, I haven't bought any new clothes since November 2015. It's mostly been prompted by the fact that I have copious quantities of yarn and fabric - to the point that I often say to friends that I have enough materials to make myself a whole new wardrobe, and really, I don't need to set foot in a clothes shop. Much as the idea of a whole new wardrobe sounds appealing, what I actually need is just to add clothes to it occasionally. Why spend money on more clothes (fueling the fast fashion industry) when I have the material to hand in my loft? If I don't use more of my stash soon, I may need to reinforce the loft floor. An extra prompt came from a book I have called My Little Black Book of Fashion Sewing: Hints, tips and resources for sewing a stylish wardrobe by Cheryl Watson. A little known book, I think, but I've found it very useful.

There's a chapter in the book about motivation strategies to get, or keep yourself working on something. Little tips, like if you feel that you're short of time, try sewing/knitting/making in 25 minute bursts, say while waiting for something to cook in the oven. Aim to sew a couple of seams - take it in bite-size chunks. The chapter ends with some aspirational pledges, and this was one that I thought I could achieve.

I'm intending to make (knit/sew/crochet), make do and mend, buy from charity shops (I've a nose for clothes in good condition that look like they've barely been worn), alter and re-purpose.

I've been make-do-and-mending a little of late because I've found a batch of clothes wearing and becoming tatty. I mentioned mending a pair of jeans for #MenditMay: re-mend it, and I have more than one pair of jeans to mend. I've taken some some clothes to charity shops that don't really suit me and swapped them for something more suitable. They often need altering to fit, but that's ok. Here's a nice Laura Ashley tweedy jacket from a charity shop that's a little too large but I can see a way of taking in seams to make it fit. This and the dark jeans I found are in very good condition.

re-purposing clothes
Charity Shop Make-over
So far so good. I've been doing this for years - it's just a matter of cutting out the buying new and getting more enthusiastic about mending.

My next challenge (not included in the Seamless pledge) is to stop adding to my stash. That really is my problem area. I just can't seem to help myself. Recently my neighbour told me that she was de-cluttering her loft and was getting rid of some dressmaking and upholstery fabrics. Would I like to take any of this? I started off saying 'no I've too much fabric of my own, but I have friends who might be interested'. After posting a message on Facebook to friends, I helped get rid of a small number of pieces to a good home, but then I couldn't resist a few pieces myself. A gremlin wriggled in my brain. It said 'Free fabric, needs a good home - yours!'. So here we are:

Three pieces of wool fabric, some denim and a pretty print. My argument goes that I intended to make a new winter coat this year as the last one I made (years ago) is looking worse for wear. I have no plain wool fabric. One of these fabrics might make a hip-length coat. The pretty print would make a lovely top. The denim - eh, I have some dark denim. Now, I must stop or the ceiling below the loft is going to sag....

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Ode to the haberdashery department


The haberdashery department in a local store has signs up saying '50% off everything'. I should be rushing in with glee, but instead, I'm sad. It's closing down. I even had a vague feeling of panic - how ridiculous! But those last minute (or I-can-finish-this-today) haberdashery bits and bobs may be harder to find now, and I may reduced to waiting until something ordered online appears through the letterbox, or driving out of town.

Buttons, ribbons, zips, Dylon dye, needles, reels of thread, bias binding, crochet hooks, knitting needles: you name it; the haberdashery department is an emporium of useful stuff. A treasure trove for crafters with magpie-like tendencies. I'm lucky - I live close to the shops and have been able to take the spontaneous approach for so long, but the small and larger boltholes for haberdashery, fabrics and yarns have been whittled away. This winter, the sizeable furnishing fabric shop, where I bought piles of very useful curtain remnants, closed down. Sigh. There goes another one.

It's a sign of the times. Businesses need turnover and perhaps there aren't enough of us out there making, or make-do-and mending 'stuff'. Internet shopping too comes into play here.

Even I might seem as if I've been idle as my blog has been sorely neglected, but though blog post thoughts accumulate, I have been busy and somewhat distracted. I have been making my own wedding outfit, and because there's a deadline (fast approaching) I've been tightly focused on this one project. But the trot into town for buttons, and the '50% OFF EVERYTHING' sign stopped me in my tracks.

So what can we do? Get out there and buy from our local shops. Encourage our non-crafting friends to join us. I'm part of a group of friends called Crafty Creatures who get together once a month at each other's houses to craft the evening away, sup wine and munch on nibbles. Friends have said 'It sounds fun, but I'm not very crafty', but we say to come along anyway. We have a small contingent who aren't very crafty but come along, absorb the atmosphere and occasionally join in when someone runs a tutorial session. Little by little they're dipping their toes in the water., They're the future visitors to the haberdashery shop or store (as are their children). An environmental centre near to me is running Make Do and Mend sessions. You never know, the tide might turn!

Monday, 30 May 2016

#MenditMay: re-mend it

On the last day of Mend It May I'm reviewing what's on my mend-it pile. It occurred to me that I have some re-mends to do and some mending that I know will eventually turn into re-mend projects, simply because there are weak spots where you put more wear and tear on your clothes.

elbow patch

A couple of years ago I decided to mend a jacket that suited visible patching because it is 'grungy' in style. It's comfortable and I like it. I patched up worn parts on the elbows and cuffs (the places where most of us find wear and tear). I used curtain fabric scraps that I had to hand. I knew the fabrics were prone to fraying, but as I liked them I figured a little needlework in time would fix the problem.

A trimming of frayed fibres and over-stitching with embroidery cotton, and it'll be ready to wear again. More wear further round the cuffs means additional patches too.

A pair of jeans has a large rip in the derrière. My jeans always rip here first so I thought that as this was rather a big mend and they'll wear here again I might as well consign them to the rags pile. Mending and re-mending, patching and over-patching is a foreign concept in our throw-away society, but there is a backlash, and one sign of that is that Boro mending has been gaining popularity on Pinterest. Boro is a Japanese textile that has been repeatedly patched, often to such an extent that the original textile is hard to discern. See an image I have on my  Not a patch on patchwork Pinterest board.

They might be gardening/DIY jeans but they'll still be a surviving favourite pair, and if it prays on my mind that I am short of time for mending at the moment (that's a perennial feeling) then I can always remember that it would probably take more time to search for a new pair of jeans that fit well than it would to make the repair. It looks like, in time, I will have a Boro patched behind.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...