While I was at dye camp, I had access to plants I usually would not be able to use, and silk fabrics that I don’t usually have, and so of course, experiments occurred…
I thought you might enjoy seeing them!
While I was at dye camp, I had access to plants I usually would not be able to use, and silk fabrics that I don’t usually have, and so of course, experiments occurred…
I thought you might enjoy seeing them!
It’s spring! Well, maybe not where you live. But it is where I live! the first poppy came out!
Bark is peeling…
My part of the country is better known for droughts than flooding rains, but we had a close call and neighbours on our street were flooded. This is just round the corner…
And this is one of my planting sites, with salt bush to the right and water pouring down the bike path to the left!
So I planted out sheoak seed of two kinds.
And the last few months’ collection of E Scoparia seed. I’ve been tucking all the gumnuts I find into this bowl and there is a satisfying drift of tiny seeds at the bottom.
And there were, needless to say, also saltbush seeds involved. And now, we wait!
This sewing machine was found in a shed. It was unwanted by the new resident, so it came to me for cleaning, oiling and a look over. You see it here with some of the upper casing removed to allow lubrication. It is now on its way to new users in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yangkunytjatjara lands. Meanwhile at our place, the threadbare flourbag shirt got some more patches added. Here, the glue stitching I mentioned in my last post holding them in position.
Here, the inside view.
And here, the finished–for now–view of the back.
Threads dyed with pansy, dyer’s chamomile and eucalyptus.
I took up my friend’s jeans. I feel like I have almost got top stitching denim sorted!
Top tips: use a jeans needle. If using top stitching thread, thread the needle by hand (should you have any other options, don’t use them); and leave ordinary thread in the bobbin. Use a 4mm stitch at least.
Buttons replaced in position and stitched down so they don’t get away. I had to laugh when one button fell off at work the day of the second mending workshop!
And another sewing machine cleaned, oiled, tested and ready to go to its new owners. My grandmother lived in a country town where getting your machine serviced was not easy to arrange (cost may have been an issue too). She was a fearless tender to her own machine and those of all her friends and told me many times that cleaning and oiling fixed most troubles. So I am in her footsteps here, but in this case with a manual to guide me. I took this machine apart and oiled all. the. places. It really whirs along! It is now headed to asylum seekers who have been released from increasingly notorious conditions in detention on Nauru, who were tailors in their country of origin and will make great use of this well maintained machine. It came to me because I was working on the mending kits and a lovely volunteer in an op shop asked if I could re-home a machine she knew needed to find a new home. I feel sure its new use would please the original owner very much.
I still have some upholstery fabric left from having some chairs re-covered. It is natural linen, a lovely fabric. I have been wondering what to do with it. One day I went to an exhibition of Papunya artists in the City Gallery of Flinders University (on the ground floor of the State Library) and I came home longing to embroider. I can’t exactly say why. Perhaps it is partly that some of these glorious paintings are such clear manifestations of the principle that many tiny marks can make a whole that is sheer wonder. I marvelled at the capacity of these artists to hold entire desert landscapes and the stories of these places in their minds, and from these to create spectacular images which somehow communicate the story and the place. Even if I cannot begin to grasp all that they might have in mind in creating these works, I can still stand in awe.
I don’t need to be able to create wonder. I don’t expect to, and I don’t mind. But stitches are tiny. Perhaps the immediate thing was simply the invitation to begin.
These threads have been dyed with indigo, pansy, hibiscus and eucalyptus. I love their subtlety and the slight sheen of the silk thread against the matte texture of the linen. I love the effects of uneven dyeing, as it turns out. Even dyeing is overrated! Once I had decided I was done (which is a com0plicated thing in itself, I find), I settled on yet another bag.
The lining is made of patchworked silk scraps dyed with all kinds of plants.
And then, just because I can never make just one… I made another with a different piece of upholstery fabric and some scraps of recycled fabric of different weights.
This is an oatmeal Blue Faced Leicester dyed by The Thylacine and spun three ply by me.
It is rather fine, but I decided to knit a hat anyway and settled on one from Barbara Walker’s Knitting from the top, which is more of a concept plan than a pattern. Perfect for handspun. And then it turned out I could use the DPNs a friend surprised me by giving me a while back (I had helped her out with i-cord, and it was sheer pleasure, but I think that may have triggered the gift in some way). They are a rather unusual size, delectably pretty and perfect for the job.
While this hat was on the needles, I decided to cast on another in grey corriedale, dyed with eucalyptus and spun three ply and about 10 ply (worsted). I made a rolled brim hat from Knitting for Peace. Easy and fast. My picture taking was interrupted by our house guest, who turned out to be camera shy.
At about this point, there was a hiatus and that first hat sat on the needles until holidays rolled around. And then, there was an absolute outbreak that continued for some time after we returned from holidays. There were some with oddments of experimental yarns (some early corespun in this case).
Here is some handspun natural polwarth with some Noro sock yarn for contrast. Blocking wouldn’t hurt it a bit.
Indigo dyes, logwood exhaust dye, eucalyptus bark dyes…
Mohair, alpaca blend… you name it! I even used up random commercial black yarn.
I made some doll and bear hats. What else are oddments for?
Then came the day I cast on with some super thick, super soft eucalyptus dyed wool of mystery and stopped. Last night I managed to finish, finally. I lashed out and blocked this one just to show I can.
Most of these are Jared Flood’s Turn A Square. More or less. That first hat–I did finish it, and it was claimed by a friend while we were on holiday. I don’t think she would really want her photo on the interwebs, so you’ll just have to trust me about it being finished. However, half the skein remains so there may yet be a reprise. If I can ever bear to knit another hat! I am the person doing all these repetitive series of makes, and even I find it hard to understand…
This time: garment construction. It was a sewing circle, after all!
To begin, for those who haven’t worked this out for themselves, let it be understood that I am a pretty plain sewer. I like sewing, I have some skills, I’ve been doing it a long time. But, I tend to use patterns, amend patterns created by others, make changes driven by sheer lack of cloth or my own mistakes, or construct a pattern from an existing garment. I don’t just look at a piece of fabric, form a concept and apply scissors. India Flint does, and she has written a new little book about the underpinning concepts which I hope will be available to others at some stage… I’ve been kindly gifted a stapled copy. Some of her approaches to creating new garments from old (‘refashioning’ to some) are also set out beautifully in Second Skin.
But the thing is, having the concepts doesn’t get me from here to there. Practice would be needed, of course! But confidence, too–and these two things have a relationship to one another. I know when I went to the first workshop I did with India I listened and watched and was inspired as she demonstrated and explained. I remember wondering why I hadn’t organised my life so I could do exactly this every day. And then I had my own expanse of cloth and my own scissors and my heart sank just about immediately.
It’s a statement of the extremely obvious that India has spent a lifetime thinking about art and garment construction and honing her skills at all related things, and I have not. This knowledge and experience cannot be transferred from one mind to another like a thumb drive plugged into a hard drive. For one thing, it would be more like the hard drive being plugged into the thumb drive! But more than this, I experience doubt that my mental architecture could ever equip me to do this kind of design work. Which is fine. The rich diversity of human minds and creativity is part of what makes life wondrous.
I noticed all manner of things. I have a few good ideas and only so much time, so while I get stuck on some things, I have more ideas than I can carry out already. India had so many ideas about what I could do with the few things I had with me, that my mind boggled. I couldn’t come close to carrying them all out. But when it came to deciding which ones to act on, I found myself up against all kinds of things, from sheer inability to believe that I could carry that idea out, confidence that I would not wear the resulting garment, and sheer inability to conjure up what that would look like or how it could be done, in my own mind.
I have the concept that many of the sewing ‘rules’ I have been taught are the kind that a more skilled person can adjust, skirt around or safely ignore because they know the exceptions and have superior skills. But I can feel myself clinging to them like some kind of misplaced sense of a lifebuoy. It’s only fabric, after all!
Well. The thing is, a learning experience is about expanding your mind. Even if you can feel the strain! So here I am modelling a linen shirt from the op shop, in the process of becoming–an apron? A frock? I thought apron, but by the time it came home, my beloved felt that it was, essentially, a frock. I can’t say she’s a real expert in frocks, but she has an opinion. I am continually being struck by my own inflexibility about what I’ll wear. I have courageous moments of branching out, but I am just nailed on to some core concepts. For one thing, when India thinks of an apron, she thinks this (you’ll have to scroll down, but Sweetpea’s blog is a special place, so don’t hurry over it). When I think of an apron I think of a rectangle of black cotton with two tape ties. I have two, and have had them since I was making my living cooking, long ago!
Anyway, back to the main story. This strategy for shape shifting (shirt to apron) is set out in Second Skin, and I’ve read it a few times without feeling any inclination to try it out. But here it is! It ended up with some recycled raw silk sewn on so it became longer and more flowing. More and more frock-like, one could say. I finished sewing it in Mansfield and it has been sitting quietly at home waiting for the transformation of the dye pot. I am still trying to figure out whether there is any chance of my wearing a shirt-apron-frock. But you never know! And if I can’t, well, I am sure someone else will.
This process really made me think that when I run my fingers through the choices at a garage sale or op shop, I see something that could be taken apart ready to begin again. Where I see a shaped garment that could become flat pieces and then from flat pieces be converted into something else, India seems to me, to see one three dimensional thing that could become other three dimensional things. While we were working in Crockett Cottage, she was taking two pairs of men’s trousers and turning them into one long, glorious skirt of many pockets. It was a thing of wonder to behold this process, let alone the insertion of a silk lining. There is a sample of the finished glory here. Below, a garment made from hemp and cotton knit and the sleeves from the linen short that became a frock, with sheoak leaf prints.
On my way home I had enough time in Melbourne betwixt the bus from Mansfield to the Melbourne central railway station and the Airport shuttle to nip out and see some of Blue at the National Gallery of Victoria. Let it be said that this adventure involved taking my public transport courage in both hands: two trams each way and half an hour at the Gallery. It was so worth it! I could not take pictures. But see images here and here and here. There were fragments of Egyptian garments from many, many hundreds of years ago. Examples of indigo work from a wide variety of weaving and embroidery traditions from China, Japan, Indonesia, India and Europe. At one point I was surprised to find myself answering another wanderer who was asking out loud whether something was woven or embroidered. Clearly I have acquired some knowledge about weaving from hanging about with weavers! Garments ranged from elaborate finery to those constructed entirely from rags in the boro style, and a rather extraordinary rain- and wind-protective cape made of two layers of cotton or hemp, with a layer of waxed paper sewn between them. They were constructed from cotton, linen, hemp, silk, elm fibre. If you have the chance, I recommend this exhibition highly. It can’t help but inspire and amaze to see such evidence of the skill and ingenuity and sheer hard work of peoples from past and (in some cases) continuing traditions and to learn a little about the significance of indigo and the creation of cloth and clothing to them.
At last! I have finished a larger version of the Rhode Island Red hat. It took some doing. I cast on at least three times. I was clearly having some problems with sizing, and thinking straight. Plus, inexperience with provisional cast ons. I cast on once at home and knit the entire band… enormously…
Then twice more in a hotel in Melbourne. It was a comedy of errors! But I started to lose my sense of humour by the time I had knit the band three entire times, instead of knitting the whole hat!
I may have put the hat in the naughty corner for some weeks at that point, as th0ugh the hat was the one creating the trouble. But now, it’s done and it’s glorious!
Last night it headed out into the world to warm the head of a delightful friend who is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a chicken fancier with an entire flock of hens to tend to in all weathers. Plus, more plans for rare breeds. And, it’s her birthday any minute now. She has a wonderful chuckle, and this hat brought out the chuckling. And she liked the softness of this lovely pet polwarth sheep a lot too.
I have decided to enter the Royal Show this year. I decided to enter last year but missed a step and prepared (several) entries that I couldn’t enter in the end. Oh well. It isn’t as if I baked a cake and it ended in mould. I am not all that interested in the competition part, although of course it is flattering to get a ribbon, if I get a ribbon. But really, I like to be part of showing the crowds that come along that spinning and dyeing are still alive and happening nearby, that these crafts are creative as well as traditional and I like to give my friends at the Guild someone to compete with.
The hardest category for me to prepare is the ‘spinning perfection’ category. There are much better spinners than me at the Guild, and some of them are sure to enter. I count it a privilege to be beaten by people with such fine skills (and I hope it makes winning sweeter for them, that there is someone else entering). But this is an opportunity to build my skills and spin intentionally–because
sometimes often I just spin for serendipity, which is a different kind of pleasure. Even when I spin intentionally, I sometimes get surprises. Spinning is like a lot of crafts–it is simple enough to learn the basics, but you could spend an entire lifetime acquiring skill and still run out of time! This category requires three skeins of 50 g each, one fine, one medium and one bulky. Traditionally, it is presented in natural wool, even though this is not a requirement of the category. I have never seen a dyed skein in this category. This is fleece from ‘Viola’ –a gift from a friend of a friend. Viola’s breed was unknown to the giver but the consensus at the Guild (whew! there was consensus!) is that she must have parentage that is English Leicester and some other kind of heritage too.
Once of the previously mentioned Guildies of extreme spinning skill washed this fleece for me, which was such a generous and kind thing. It is beautifully clean and did not take me hours of backbreaking effort. She has a simpler method than the one I use, but I lack the equipment to do it. I carded up batts for the medium and bulky skeins and weighed out sections of the batts for each skein–2 ply for the medium skein and three ply for the bulky one.
Then I lashed on some locks and combed top for the fine skein. I am still pretty inexperienced at combing, but I am definitely improving, and top is a gorgeous preparation to spin. I have to say, the long locks on this fleece and the not-so-fine character of the fleece makes preparation a breeze.
No blood was lost! Two passes of the combs and I had lovely looking fibre ready to draw off into top…
Through a diz. I tell you, a person could take up spinning just to have tools with such wonderful names. It has helped me at Scrabble and Bananagrams no end! I do not bother with the list of two letter words with no discernible meanings but I pull out spinning and dyeing terms whenever possible. I pre-drafted the batts in their weighed-out sections and had a day of spinning and a second day when I did all the plying. It was quite a contrast to the last time I entered this category, when I seem to remember I was spinning for months. Perhaps I didn’t weigh out just enough for the entries. I seem to recall spinning an entire bobbin of each single last time, which is a significant amount of spinning.
Well, three months have passed since I was carding and combing Viola’s fleece for those ‘spinning perfection’ entries. There they are on the left. Then there is a skein of merino with dyed silkworm cocoons gifted to me by a friend (novelty category). Then an entire issue of The Guardian cut into strips and spun slowly on my wheel (novelty category). That’s right, since you’re asking, without glue. Then two skeins of Viola’s fleece which I’ll tell you more about in posts to come. Those who have been around a while will recognise some of those colours. Finally, two skeins of Malcolm the Corriedale dyed and spun a while back. These sets of two skeins are my two dyeing and spinning category entries. The entire pile of woolly goodness is sitting on top of a quilt I am entering.
I finished this a little while ago and it has a set of blocks on the front, each with a print of a species of Eucalypt, with its name embroidered in eucalyptus dyed silk thread. The back is a patchwork of pieces of eucalyptus-dyed cottons. It is machine quilted over an old flannelette sheet well past its heyday and ripe for a new life out of sight.
So–my entries are finished. They have their little labels attached. The quilt has a hanging sleeve hand sewn onto it! Most of the entries have the additional things required (accounts of dyes and breeds, samples of fibres) and a few do not. I’m just not well enough organised, and in the end decided to submit the skeins I want to show and not worry about their compliance with rules. I won’t be crushed if they don’t get a ribbon because I didn’t do all that was required. All I have to do now is take them in on the right day, and all should be well!
It isn’t a really wonderful example of quilting. I’m quite dedicated to patchwork and loved the dyeing and stitching, but I am less enthusiastic about quilting. Perhaps that is yet to grow on me! This quilt marked the beginning of embroidery growing on me for the first time since chiildhood, so it’s possible. I decided to enter partly to honour the admiration of a friend who thinks this is the best quilt ever. And partly just to speak back a little to all the floral frou-frou that dominates quilting exhibits I have seen with a little leafy goodness. And there you have my entries. Local wool, mostly local dyestuffs, local spinning and stitching–with some cotton and silk and indigo and osage orange from far away, grown and processed and woven by the hands of other people unknown to me. Showtime!
My needle and I moved on to another little indigo dyed bag that arrived at our house as a printed calico bag full of bath salts. Here it is on a table in a coffee shop, in progress.
I love the way the silk thread has a little sheen over the matte background of the calico.
This one is stitched with silk thread dyed with cold processed austral indigo (silvery grey), indigo, eucalyptus cinerea exhaust and plum pine.
I like these subtle colours, even though some of them felt really disappointing when first they emerged from the dye. They work beautifully in this context, I think. Another lesson in life from the dye pot!
In the latest issue of Knitty, there is a stranded colourwork hat featuring a Rhode Island Red chicken design by Pam Sluter. I don’t know Pam, but clearly we share a love of chickens, wool and knitting. In short, I had one of those moments, and decided to cast on RIGHT AWAY! Because, I have these handspun yarns. Mmmm. Polwarth, my friends. Soft as anything. Perfect for a little hat.
I had an early period of doubt, because provisional cast on, and then three circular needles in play for a while. I held my nerve. I consulted a book on cast ons and bind offs. I love a good book.
I tried to talk myself out of taking it on the bus. Because charted patterns are not really ideal for bus knitting and I have a perfectly charming sock on the go. No hope of resistance. I kept wondering if the woman on the other side of the aisle could really be staring at me as intently as she seemed to be from the corner of my eye. How can my eye possibly be following the chart, keeping track of two yarns on the needles, and still noticing a total stranger? Eventually as we neared our destination I looked over. Yes! She was utterly intent. It appeared we didn’t share much common language so I showed her the picture. She grinned.
Here is the finished hat, being blocked over a big jar. But you know, not a jar as big as my head.
I did not do a gauge swatch. Risk taking knitting, I tell you! I went up a needle size as even when not using two colours, I tend to be on the tight side with knitting, and stranded colourwork has a tendency to mysteriously come out smaller than planned. Especially in the hands of a novice. Especially with long floats. Well. Not truly a mystery, then! This is the medium size and I have to say, nowhere near fitting on my head. I didn’t swatch because I was quite prepared to give this hat to whomever might like it and fit into it… and I am thinking of starting out with one of my very small friends. Who would look cuter than any button in this…