Tuesday, 19 May 2015

How to straighten unravelled wool: Frugal ways with old knitwear

I have several balls of unravelled wool which I would like to use for the crochet afghan I have had on the go for a while now. They are years old, are pure wool, were my grandmother's (my Nan's), and I have had them in my yarn stash since I was at least 10 years old or possibly younger. They are still crimpy after all this time, and I don't know why she wound the wool up into balls without straightening it. Perhaps she intended to do that at a later date, but, a young pair of hands started to rummage in the yarn box, and it was a job that never got done.

Unravelling knitwear for my grandmother's generation was a way of life - the 'make do and mend' mentality that was so necessary during the 1940s probably never left her. I had several stripey jumpers knitted by her, re-purposed (to use a more modern phrase) from old knitwear.

Now, years later, I have a use for those crimpey balls of  wool and want to straighten them. There is more than one way to do this:
  • Use steam: apparently you can dekink yarn with steam, using a steam iron.  I don't have a steam iron to test this out, as I still use a non-steam iron that keeps going and going, with a water spray bottle. I'm not sure whether it would handle wool so set in its ways, but if anyone has successfully done this, I'd be interested to know.
  • Wind the wool into skeins, preferably with a niddy noddy, submerge in water and gently squeeze until just damp, then hang up and weight the skeins; with anything you can tie on. Washed stones are a quick way to make a weight. This works fine for newly hand-spun wool to even out the twist, but my skeins of unravelled wool just didn't play ball. Perhaps I needed heavier weights. 
  • What has worked better, has been to wind the wool into skeins and dampen, as above, but then wind round something convenient like a chair back, or....a cake cooling rack. When needs must, the mind will alight on a suitable object. This is now my method of choice for stubborn crimpey wool. 

Unravelled wool drying on a cake cooling rack
I have a crochet blanket that I started when about 10 years of age and never finished. I considered unravelling this to use in my new crochet blanket, but as it's a convenient size for a chair seat, and my cat likes it, it has found a new home.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Unplanned afghan blanket- don't plan, just jump right in

Have you ever marvelled at beautiful afghan blankets made from crochet granny squares, or patchwork quilts made from a myriad of scrap pieces of fabric? A truly kaleidoscope effect can be made with some careful arrangement and planning of colours and shapes. Log cabin squares, with light strips of fabric on one side of the square and dark strips on the other, stitched together create a subtly striped effect: so clever.

But, what if you don't want to plan? Sometimes planning stops you in your tracks. So, you think you might start something, but maybe next week when you have more time to think about it. And, you're in 'stall' mode. Perhaps for these reasons?
  • You need to rummage through the crates of yarn  or fabric in your loft or spare room. Yes, crates. A crafter often accumulates supplies by the crate load. What if, despite the mountain of scraps and offcuts you still only have almost enough yarn or fabric of the right colour or texture to create the masterpiece design you have settled your eyes upon, but, you suspect, not quite?
  • On the other hand, you might be new to this game and have to start buying from scratch - daunted by so many colours to think about
  • Not to mention the cost. Buying all the materials at once for a large project might strain the bank balance
The answer might be........Quit the planning and jump right in.

I have yarn and fabric scraps, but I'm starting with yarn and crochet as a break from sewing. New yarn, old unravelled yarn and a crafty find from a charity shop - bunches of tapestry yarn which would suffice for short rounds at the centre of granny squares. This is the ideal way to use up odds and ends, and with no need to calculate exact quantities of each, for this afghan is going to be, well, random(ish) and homespun. The same could apply to a patchwork quilt. It doesn't have to have a planned design.

Perhaps the planning is suspended and spread through the process, as after all, random pieces need to look right and get on together.

Just start, even if you don't know where you'll end up. With these traditional granny squares, some might not make it into the final blanket if they look like they don't get on with the others. But that's ok - they might live to see another day as part of something else.

Granny square
Granny squares
Granny squares on the go
The advantage is that you can buy, find or unearth yarn as you go. Granny squares are portable too: great for a project on the go (for fiddling around with while waiting in dentists' waiting rooms, travelling on the train or other circumstances that might have you twiddling your thumbs and sighing at the passing of time). Patchworking using a hand-sewn method like English Paper Piecing is apparently fairly portable too.

If you're unsure how to arrange your pieces as you go, you could always mimic the approach of frame quilts. Start with one piece, or a group of similar pieces, and build around it, adding new colours or shapes, frame by frame, like this one (Joanna Southcott's quilt).

There are no rules, except to start.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

A crafter's hallowed ground

Inspiration is a fine thing, but sometimes it can fail you.....for a while. Some time ago I embarked on a pair of patchwork curtains made of fabric remnants. I was merrily stitching squares to squares, but something was bothering me. There is one fabric which is quite bold and stands out. Does that matter? Well, we already have some quite bold wallpaper, and somehow more boldness was not what was needed.

And, there was the feeling that either larger squares were needed, or it was too 'regular'. I'd got this far, so now what? No answer sprang from the ether. So, what do when the next step, or inspiration, fails you. Throw it in a cupboard until it materialises.

It came out of the cupboard again after browsing some Kaffe Fassett books on patchwork. King of colour and pattern. Why, who else? You could say he is many a crafter's hallowed ground. Of course, the book was plucked off the library shelves., and lo and behold what I needed was there.

The work to date has not been wasted. All it needs, is a border made of smaller scraps and it would make a fine quilt.

What I have ended up with is a second creation for the curtains - an adaptation of a Kaffe Fasset design (shown as curtains in the book). It took a while to find the arrangement and some extra fabrics to make it look diffused and muted.

More on colour and pattern inspiration soon.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Five good reasons to keep a craft book stash

At our last local Crafty Creatures get together some good reasons not to feel guilty about the craft book stash came to me. One of our members was casting around for crafty ideas to update the home, so I offered to bring along some books...as I have no shortage of them - brand new, my own old books and second-hand bookshop finds.

How many times have you thought that there are so many good ideas in the book you want to buy (or have just bought) but you'll probably only make two or three of them at the most? Or, you have several books of the same type as the one glinting on the shop shelves? Does it deserve a place on your bookshelves and random piles of books around the place?  Here are five reasons to banish the guilt:

  • Someone you know might make good use of something in the book - loan it out and start a friend on a new crafting project
  • You may not make a specific project in a book, but the general idea winds it's way into becoming one of the nuts and bolts of another project
  • There are always different perspectives to be found on books on any one theme
  • Think of the value you get from the book: money saved from making your own, or new skills learnt
  • Anthony Powell said 'Books do furnish a room', so they do double duty and.... browsing your books is always a fun way to pass the time!
I happened upon ANOTHER vintage home book recently, and thought to myself  'do I really need this - have I not been doing the shabby chic, upcycling thing for years out of necessity?'. Somehow even flicking through the book re-activated the grey cells (think comic strip and light bulbs flashing above the head).

It brings to mind the Buy Nothing New campaign I mentioned in 2013 unravelled, 2014 cast on. I said I didn't think I could quite manage to buy nothing new, and that's true, but second-hand, vintage, surplus to requirements and re-purposed have become a way of life. This year crafting skills in this household (if I include Mr L too) have been put to good use, with items re-painted, cut or sawn up and re-used, patched up, re-mounted, relaid, and it all depends on a few grey cells in more or less working order, books, articles torn out of magazines, ideas photographed when out and about, and the internet, of course: a diverse reference library.

So now, what can I do with the considerable quantity of wallpaper off-cuts, fabric remnants from old sewing projects, tester pots of paint part-used, unravelled wool.......

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Return to crafting

It's been a hectic time at the In Stitches Daily household, so much so that the knitting needles, crochet hooks, drop spindles and other crafting paraphernalia have had to be put aside (hard to do) - hence a long absence.

Over the summer Mr L and I have been setting up a new allotment, to escape the wet and soggy scenario described in Spinning and watching the water levels fall. It was a shame to move from an otherwise nice spot, but watching your vegetables and fruit bushes disappear under a lake of water when the floods roll in can be demoralising. So when the offer came to move up the road (to a site that stands high and dry when all around is drenched) we couldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. Even if it meant juggling this new venture with ongoing work on the soon-to-emerge, expanded In Stitches Daily towers.

So, before some pictures of crafty WIPs and FOs from others (below), I give you these:

On the allotment strange people watch you
trying to make a flood-damaged shed live another day

William Morris Thistle wallpaper

Getting practised at wallpapering

How many tester pots can any one person need?
Parquet flooring - salvaged and revitalised
Despite the diversion from crafting activities I have managed to join a group of friends who have started up their own Crafty Creatures craft evenings. With a glass of wine/bubbly/cup of tea and nibbles to hand, we set to work. Here are the WIPs from the first session:

Some wallpaper decoupage from Claire-Marie, the host, to adorn and upcycle a lampshade that might otherwise have bitten the dust!

See the finished shade on Pinterest.

A different kind of decoupage, on to vintage glassware from Sheena. See Decadia Designs on Facebook and Decadia Designs blog

This little fella is on his way to being a stuffed owl, courtesy of Ash - still somewhat two-dimensional but aiming for three dimensions....

Two pretty fabric flower motifs for a girl's dress from Emily.

A return to some crochet motifs for me, started some time ago, to be integrated into a square crochet mesh poncho.

I'm looking forward to the next evening of convivial sewing, cutting and sticking, or whatever crafts we feel inclined to bring along.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Preparing the loom

In preparation for an event, Archaeology of the Dark Ages at Bishops Wood Environmental Centre (near Stourport, Worcestershire), mentioned in the last post, I've been helping to set up a Saxon style warp-weighted loom.

Nina, Deborah and I battled with metres (or yards, in old money) of flax yarn for several hours as this is a job that takes some time and patience. Nina was formerly a Worcestershire Young Archaeologists Club member and spent many a weekend with the group engaged in tasks like this. She is now a Cambridge University Archaeology student. Deborah Overton led Archaeology outreach at Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service for many years and was the instigator of building the replica warp-weighted loom to demonstrate weaving at events.

First we had to measure out our warp, and in the absence of a warping frame we adopted a Heath Robinson approach and measured the warp out around two trees. The pole that Nina is holding created our 'portee cross' which separates two groups of warps in a cross so that they can be slipped over the cloth beam, or bar that holds the weaving..

Setting up the warp

Setting up the warp

We'd offered to set up this loom for use with school groups, but at the event we will have use of a loom in a replica Saxon hall on the site. With a fire burning and food cooking, it should be atmospheric but at this stage we had use of a spare room for the day.

Reconstructed Saxon Hall
Reconstructed Saxon hall, photo courtesy Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service
We tied on the stone weights......

Hanging warp weights

Hanging warp weights

The warp threads on the loom needed to be corralled and organised......

We initially tied a continuous  heddle leash but weren't very happy with the results.

Tying the heddle

The heavy weights, all of slightly uneven weight made this difficult, so we went back another day and used individual heddles for each warp. Either method can be used, it just depends on which is best suited, or which you prefer.

We were not able to start with a header band (are skills are not yet that advanced), but nevertheless we were able to, at least, start a few rows of weaving.

It's going to be a busy day. I'll also be running a flax processing session, helping with a drop spindle spinning session, and possibly speaking about this....

Burnt Saxon hall
Replica Saxon hall burnt in a fire in 2008, photo courtesy John Ryhmer
It was burnt in a fire in 2008 - an unfortunate event, that, nevertheless, leaves us with a visually interesting monument, educational resource, and site for research. But that's another story.......

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Norwegian warp-weighted loom weavers

I'm re-visiting the ancient (as in thousands of years old) craft of warp-weighted loom weaving in order to share some links to film made in the 1940s and 1950s in Norway. I'm sure many who are interested in weaving will be glad the films are still in existence. Last November I described the process in a post about Warp-weighted loom weaving and flax processing after attending a workshop in Wales. Since then one of our group, Roy Cameron of the Scottish Crannog Centre, emailed me with a link to this particular film (below).

I clicked on the link and was fascinated straight away. Two women were carrying out the process that we at the workshop, with our 'Learner Driver' plates on, were fumbling our way through - all fingers and thumbs. In remote parts of Norway it was a part of their everyday lives, so they could probably almost sleep-walk their way through it, judging by the ease with which they tied on the stones to weight the warp (all of a suitable weight), tied the leash threads, twined a thread to space the warps and started weaving. I know the film is speeded up, but you still get a sense of the seamlessness and rhythm of the work.

The date is 1947. Lovers of vintage clothes may like the quintessentially WWII (or thereafter) clothes of the two weavers. At the end of the film there are links to similar films, several of warp-weighted weaving held by the Norsk Folkmuseum. In one of the films, the same weaver seen in the film above walks along a beach, picking up stones one after the other, that would nicely weight the warps on her loom. Borne out of practice, she has an expert eye. I'm sure my attempts would be much slower!

Thank you Roy for sending the link. I know he has been working hard on building a loom which will feature in an exhibition about the weaving process. The centre is due to open in April, so if you fancy a trip to Perthshire in Scotland, here are some of the specific Special Events.

My attempts in this direction lately have got as far as laying down some more home-grown flax to dew ret on the ground, which I will process and hopefully will be weaving with, in time.
Retting flax
Dew retting flax
I will be weaving on a warp-weighted loom at an event, Archaeology of the Dark Ages at Bishops Wood Environmental Centre near Stourport in Worcestershire on 27th April. I will be also running a flax processing session and helping with a drop spindle spinning session. Do come along if you are within striking distance.
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