Tag Archives: wool

Transformations: turning discarded tapestry into bags

Some time ago, I bought two pieces of tapestry (the embroidery kind, not the woven kind) at the Guild trading table, where the cast offs of members go to find happy new homes. It’s one of my failings in the acquisition stakes.  There are some things I look at and think–someone dedicated many hours of their life to creating that, and here it is in a thrift store or a garage sale, discarded completely.  Sometimes that is enough, they have to come home with me.  Finally I had an idea, and I acquired enough $2 pairs of jeans to make it happen–because woollen tapestry is heavy stuff! I made denim surrounds for the tapestries, which, judging by their shapes, might have been intended to cover a seat back and perhaps a stool.  Then I worked out some linings, and sewed on patch pockets!2017-10-01 18.34.25

Once I started actually figuring out how to convert them to bags I think I understood how they came to be discarded.  They had biased in some way that meant they could not possibly have worked out in their intended applications.  the rectangular one was a trapezoid.  The one designed for a shaped seat back was not symmetrical.  I can only imagine the heartbreak of having stitched these only to discover they were not going to work.

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It’s a bit odd even in this context–but unquestionably, it can work as a bag.

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In the end I realised I had a third tapestry.  It had been reduced from $5 to 40c in an op shop in Warrnambool (country Victoria).  I bought it thinking the frame could be re-used.  But the badgers?  I am not going to hang them on my wall.  So I deconstructed the frame ready for its new life and here is the new destination of the badgers.  Where will they go next?

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Spinning up a storm

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The springtime brings on fleece washing, carding and seed planting, apparently!

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I’ve spun up all kinds of tragic fleece dyed last year, lawnmowing crossbred sheep’s wool, alpaca, blends, cochineal dyed fleece, natural fleece… there has even been some eucalypt dyeing (the orange skein in the foreground).

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I’ve spun batts created from logwood exhaust and woad exhaust and where did that even come from? batts.

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Anonymous roving from my friend’s stash.  Alpaca gifted from another friend.  Local fleece blended with dark grey alpaca with far too many burrs in it.  Possum and wool blended together.

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My winter of knitting was lovely indeed but I am loving being back to spinning as well, so it seems…

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Filed under Fibre preparation, Natural dyeing, Spinning

Hats and heartbreak

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One of my darling friends has hit a rough patch in life.  Maybe the last she will have to face, but you know how hard those things are to predict.  You may have detected this from the knitting in hospitals that I’ve mentioned a few times.  But now we’ve passed that stage.  Her family decided to move her to a nursing home nearer where they live, and far from where I live.  It’s one of those tough situations where my friend isn’t able to make big decisions for herself at present, and she has been fragile and struggling for too long.  It’s likely she will not be able to live independently again, and supporting her from far away has been very hard for her family, while many of her friends have struggles of their own that make it difficult for them to visit her.  Some of them are no longer very mobile themselves.  In this way she will be nearer three generations of her family and meet great grandchildren she has never been able to see.

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I met her at handspinners’ guild, and when I first met her she was knitting a complex Aran sweater for one of her sons (her sons are about the age of my parents, some of them are older). In recent years she has knit the same distinctive hat over and over again, and then sometimes I’ve driven her to Guild and she has enjoyed the company and sat with her knitting in her hands.  She has been unable to spin for a few years now, and couldn’t face knitting in the recent times I’ve visited her in hospital wards and nursing homes.

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Finally one of her sons and one of her daughters-in-law came here to clear out her beloved and now empty home. They were overcome by the task of figuring out what to do with her fibre stash and it was something I could do to help, to figure out how to manage that.  I spoke with her a couple of times about what she would like to happen but she couldn’t bring herself to care much.  Those wishes that she expressed to me or to her family, were all honoured.  I met that part of her family, we shared a little of our mutual grief and some of our happy experiences of our shared human treasure, and then I took away fabric, spinning equipment, wool in every stage from raw fleece to rovings and batts to spun yarn, and so much more.  Like the inside of her home, everything was impeccably organised and meticulously stored.

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I’ve organised for equipment to go to people who can use it or to the Guild for resale.  Yarns have gone to knitters–the vibrant rainbow-dyed yarns she favoured creating in the last few years to people who love colour; the mohair collection to someone who delights in mohair; fleeces were sold at the Guild to people who will appreciate and spin them; and equipment for all manner of crafts she enjoyed over the decades has been passed on to people who will use and enjoy it.  Her sewing machine is in the shop for repair prior to rehoming.  The electric spinner she never really made friends with has gone to someone else who is finding treadling harder and more painful (just as she did) and who can return to loving spinning as I result, I hope.

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In the meantime, I’ve found myself spinning all kinds of fibres from her stash, starting with small quantities of things that didn’t seem sensible to try to re-home. I’ve also been knitting hats from smaller quantities of her undyed handspun and some of the small balls of rainbow dyed yarn that didn’t fit into the packs that went to people who love to knit.  It has felt like a way to hold her in my mind in these times when she is suffering and yet hard to reach.  She has suffered a further injury and is back in hospital far away and in such difficulty she is hard to understand on the phone.  So, here’s to Joyce, her sense of humour, her enjoyment of wool and her love for a snug hat.

 

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Small projects, big plans

A while ago I went to The Drapery to buy zippers, and The Drapery is far more tempting to me than the chain alternatives, so I came away with a fat quarter (or something like that) of Liberty lawn.  My Mother-Out-Law loves Liberty prints, so I tried to inhabit her aesthetic and chose this one.  She is a rather petite woman, so I made four small handkerchieves and I am reliably informed that she loves them! Naturally (in her case–the other gift she enjoys is stationery) she sent me a lovely card, and observed that only another sewer would recognise the rolled hems as a special achievement.  I feel so lucky to have out-laws who are so kind and lovely.

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Then there was the very last of these bags.

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This time I chose madder and indigo dyed threads.

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The madder dyed silk in the centre of this circle was dyed at my house, (the madder and indigo purple by Beautiful Silks), and it is SO red!

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There have been other small projects piling up, but there has also been a development.  We went to the Royal Show again this year and Suffolks were the featured sheep breed.  This beauty evidently didn’t stand still (or perhaps it was me who did the wriggling).

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I tried to speak with breeders in hopes of acquiring a fleece and discovered again that I’m really quite shy.  My beloved was much better at it.  We spoke to breeders from WA and Tasmania who did not bring fleece, and then found one from Kangaroo Island who was happy enough to sell me a fleece if I was sure I wanted to spin from a meat sheep and did I realise this is sold as carpet wool? It’s so sad to think that the long history of this breed as a source of wool for specific uses such as socks, has been all but lost even among lovers of the breed.

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Malcolm called me on the weekend and we had a chat.  We agreed on one fleece and a price that I thought was too low, and what do you know?  I put one and a half times the price in an envelope and he delivered two fleeces, or is it three?  He threw in a “black” fleece because these sell for even less than the $3 or $4 per kilo that Malcolm gets for white Suffolk fleece.  Last night I skirted it at the Guild Hall and it is grey and dark brown, cream and white (I suspect, under the dirt).  I can only confirm that I won’t need another delivery in October: this is a LOT of wool.  I’ve never raised a sheep, and it’s entirely possible Malcolm doesn’t know how long it takes to spin sock yarn!  However, the fleece I skirted last night is lovely. I’ve had little access to Suffolk to date and spun what I had suspected was poor quality fleece with a very short staple.  This has a high crimp staple of at least 8-10 cm in places, and while the coloration lowers its value for industrial processing, for me it is a real asset.  I washed a small quantity before work this morning, I’m so keen to get spinning…

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Garden colours jumper

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This is the Orphans for Orphans sweater from Knitting for Peace.  This is the third time I’ve knit this design and it is an ingenious, easy pattern that lends itself to wool in odd amounts and various colours.  This one is made from handspun local wool and dyed with plants from my garden: woad, coreopsis, eucalyptus, woad + coreopsis.

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Where the woad vat was running out, the natural grey of the wool shows through. I cast it on, on an excitable day of knitting confidence when I decided it would fit someone I know!  I think in fact the likeliest candidate is the daughter of the sweethearts who gave me Knitting for Peace. She is no orphan but a delightful and extremely well loved small human.  And if not her, then some other treasure…

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Sometimes it happens that I look at a random selection of yarns and suddenly see what it could become.  This was one such case.  It has some wonkiness to be going on with, but quite frankly, any jumper that isn’t wonky before it goes onto a small person hopefully becomes wonky through sheer activity soon afterward. I’m reliably informed that the recipient is a fine appreciator of knitwear and that she held it close all the way home.  That’s a lovely start!

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Rost

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I knit another design by Kit Couture. This design is called Rost.  I admit, I chose it without asking my dear friend if he would like it, but I was very relieved when I checked in with him and he agreed he would like it!  Quite appropriately, I finished it while he was in Norway, much closer to Denmark than usual.

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I love the design.  It starts at the neck and is knit in the round from the neck down, so the yoke is one of the earliest steps.  It was so much fun knitting this part, though I look at designs that are colour work all the way to the hem and that doesn’t seem like fun to me. This was a great match of (pattern) challenge to (my knitting) capacity. I still have some colour knitting tension issues.  My last effort was, if anything, too loose.  This time, it is a little tight.  When he tried it on while in progress, my friend admired the corrugation in the yoke and marvelled over how I could be so clever as to create it.  I decided against making a big issue out of it being a flaw!  But it did not block out (as I had hoped it would) so it’s lucky that he likes it and it looks great unless you’re examining it as a fault in the knitting.  I can live with imperfection, as it turns out. It was reassuring to try it on him a couple of times as it progressed–it is a great fit and looks fabulous on him (in my humble opinion).

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After the yoke, the body is knit down to the hem, and then each sleeve is knit on in the round.  For me, knitting in the round is the obvious way to proceed (because socks), and this is the knitting strategy I have adopted on some garments I have designed myself, learned from books adopting Scandinavian knitting processes.

If I had this design in black and white and had to choose colours for it, I would never have chosen these colours.  I think this is one boon of knitting from a kit (or from a pattern and using the prescribed yarns, something I don’t remember ever having done).  In all honesty, part of what has been so interesting about these two Kit Couture knits has been having almost all the choices made for me.  Knitting with handspun is not like this at all, and knitting these has felt so easy!  It turns out it is not the complexity of the knitting that feels hard for me in making up my own patterns or knitting with handspun, it’s the decision making. This is an extraordinary freedom, but I think I had already noticed that the degree of challenge is sometimes more than I can easily manage.  Either I lack the confidence or I just feel too tired to decide in the pieces of time in which I knit.

Repetitive, simple knitting makes up a lot of the knitting I do, and it has to. In the environments in which I knit,  counting is impossible or rude and referring to the pattern all the time, likewise inappropriate or not manageable.  Colour choice is not my strength either.  I only make wild colour choices where the risk is low.  Garments that won’t be seen (socks–I am knitting some lurid socks right now); things that will not be worn (tea cosies), recipients who make decisions for me or are excited about my random colour ways, bless them one and all.

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The kit is also unspeakably cute: all those balls of wool lined up in cute little rows in a beautiful card board box, with a darning needle, picture, instructions and some Danish liquorice treats.  And this wool was cushy (merino, my friends) and fat and even.  I love knitting handspun and some of mine is very even (while some is certainly not). Cushy is harder to achieve for me, and I haven’t knit a garment on 5.5 mms before.  Fast! Sensational, especially on something so big.  Entertainingly enough this garment required only the same kind of frankenfitting for father as Sotra required for son: everything needed to be longer than the largest size but only as wide as the smallest. This is the simple kind of fitting I can mange without difficulty.  I can’t wait to hand it over, even though today is the last day of winter! And, something about knitting these kits has made me want to knit and knit and built up my confidence for big knitting (jumpers, not socks).  There was a rash of casting on as soon as I finished it…

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Needlebooks

I made another little stack of needlebooks.  I have been accumulating tins that can become mending kits as I assemble all their elements over time.  I figure I will be teaching mending again sooner or later.

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I love how these little pieces use tiny scraps (in this case, blanket offcuts) and yet turn them into something that is useful and perhaps also lovely.  I also enjoy choosing plant dyed threads that work with the section of print I am using.  Sometimes I change thread colour as I go or as the thread remaining in that colour runs out.

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I made an exception here and used indigo dyed thread my beloved brought home from Japan for the coreopsis flower print, because–the print itself seemed to call for it.  I can feel the time drawing closer when I will need to open my stuff, steep and store jars and see what new silk thread options they offer.  How have I managed to wait so long?

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Flowers at my Fingertips Hussif

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In another radical transformation of vintage woolen blanket, I (more or less) followed the instructions for the Flowers at My Fingertips hussif/sewing kit from Christine Vejar’s The Modern Natural Dyer. You can have a sense of what she did (and some pictures of her hussif) by following this link. Above are prints from maroon coreopsis flowers I had in the garden at the time I was dyeing. I bought the plant at the Seed Freedom Festival and have just loved it. It is not enjoying winter though.

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These are prunus leaves from a neighbourhood tree.  I cut binding from some linen pants that entered their second life some time ago.

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Some parts of the binding went more smoothly than others, but in the end the edge was reasonably neat.

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So now I have a sewing toolkit that rolls up.  I really just wanted to make this pattern and try the dyeing strategy out, at a time of year when I had African marigolds, Mexican marigolds, Alyogyne Huegelii flowers, salvias and more to try out, and then realised that I also had something close enough to woolen flannel to try them on.  I’ll figure out where it will go to live later!

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Striped jumper for a fairy goddess-son

In a development that I could not have predicted, I have been recruited onto the English translation team for a Danish knitting business that specialises in knitting and embroidery kits.  A friend who now lives in Denmark was doing some of the translation and they were looking for an English speaking knitter. This is about as far from local and bespoke as it is possible to get! Anyway–it has led to my receiving knitting kits from Kit Couture.  This is my first effort: the Sotra Pullover.

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Well.  There was knitting the body on the way home from my folks’ place (by train) with a bag full of mandarins and mutant spring onions bigger than some leeks I’ve met from their garden.

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I forgot everything I knew about knitting jogless jogs (making the transition from one stripe to another less visible) and dropped all the joins back to try again at one point.  Then faced the reality that the wearer will not notice, and even if he noticed, would not care.  I managed to knit the ends in and was not facing hours of darning in ends at the end of all those stripes.  Thank you, Kaffe Fassett.  One of Kaffe’s books was the place I learned this was possible, and this is the place I have really used this strategy to the maximum.  This is one of the reasons I read knitting books: the real gift from a book may not be a pattern you knit from it!

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Here I am knitting a sleeve in public somewhere with my grease marked backpack as an aesthetically questionable backdrop.

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The exciting moment when I joined sleeves to body the night before and am preparing to take the whole thing to work so I can knit on the train, in a seminar and then in the bus home again… that blue patch at the top is the indigo and woad dyed bag the jumper is going into.

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My fairy goddess-son is perfect in every way, but evidently not quite the same shape as the models in Copenhagen.  So this version is a Frankenfit in which I am knitting the 4 year old size in width and the 10 year old size (and then some) in length.

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It is approximately the opposite situation to the Frankenfit necessary for me to use a Vogue pattern, in which it has always been the case that the Vogue Body and my body are not very similar.

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The colours are rather lovely, I think.  This experience has made me realise that I usually confront a lot more choices and decisions when making a jumper.  My handspun is not always even, not always one of the routine thicknesses for which knitting patterns are made, not the colours in anyone’s picture, and I often design my own jumpers.  This has its upsides and joys, but there was something differently gleeful about only having to figure out how to make width and length come together (not too challenging).  And–Kit Couture’s pattern was designed to be knit from the bottom up, seamlessly and in the round.  One of the ways I prefer to knit. Fantastic.

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The day we celebrated solstice with many friends, it finished blocking and drying. I tied it with handmade string, packed it into a bag for safekeeping, and handed it over.  I think it worked out pretty well, and my very dear goddess-son looks right at home in it…

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Another Wanderlust bag

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you will not be surprised that I was unable to stop at two of these bags.  The pattern is ‘The Wanderlust Bag’ from The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar.

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I’ll be honest with you, I often find the projects included in dyeing and other craft books tedious.  It seems as though there is a publishing requirement to include them, but often they are uninspiring to me.  I guess this makes me an outlier as a reader of such books: I am sure publishers do market research on these things.  This pattern, though… oh my goodness.  It’s love for me.  Vejar has an entirely different dyeing strategy modelled in this project but I am sure she would be untroubled by my putting her design to alternative naturally dyed use.

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I have been trying to work my way to the bottom of the zipper collection.  I used all those suitable to this project and… had to go and buy more rather than stop or use the bright purple ones.  Where did they come from?? (The likely answer is, the op shop–possibly in the 1980s when I did sew purple things quite a bit). Apparently stopping was not an option either.  Prepare for more photos soon, because I am amassing a collection, and I am not bored in the slightest….

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