An indigo vat

Scarves drying

After my woad experiment in the summer, I intended to have another go with a different recipe. But the woad crop wasn’t good enough.

So now I’m trying with powdered indigo from Tamil Nadu. I’m using the 123 method, because not only is it more environmentally friendly, but also it doesn’t involve the cooker, which means there is a lower chance of smelling the house out.

The method is simple. 1 part indigo to 2 parts  calcium hydroxide (lime, an alkali), and  3 parts fructose sugar, all mixed in warm water and combined. I’m amazed to read that sugar is one of the most acidic foodstuffs! Some people use a big bucket, but I used a big glass jar. Not only can you see what is going on, but also the narrower neck lessens the chance that extra oxygen will get in.

If you are thinking of giving it a try, it is important to hydrate the dye powder by shaking it in a lidded jar, with water and some pebbles first. If you don’t do this, you 90% of the colour is lost. It is also important to add powder to warm water at each stage, not the other way round.

The glass jar turned out to be a good move. The vat is supposed to separate out, so the sludge is at the bottom, with some reddish dye liquid above it, with a “bloom” of coppery blueish froth on the top. when I checked the following day, it looked just the same as when I mixed it, except the surface looked slightly bronze. I checked the instructions, and found that although it said leave it at room temperature, a bit later it said to keep it above 16°C. I had mixed it in the studio and left it in there overnight. On a frosty night in February, in a large room with a big window and one radiator.

So I moved it into the kitchen, where there is under floor heating. But of course, by now the liquid was cold, so it took time to get going again. But I got there. I tried 4 different tie dye techniques on scrap cotton, and two silk scarves. To act as a resist, I used a mixture of rubber bands, bulldog clips, and gathered stitching.

Here are the results!


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Hanging paintings without damaging walls

Now I haven’t tried this, but it does look promising. I find it hard to believe that you can get it off the wall easily afterwards (note the comment about the importance of pulling downwards in the post).

But on the other hand, if you want precise gaps between your pictures, this could definitely be the way forward. It isn’t always easy to assess the distance between the hanger and the top of the picture. Sometimes the string stretches slightly more than you expect. On more than one occasion I’ve re-jigged the arrangement rather than bother moving the nails.

So I might give hanging paintings with velcro idea a go at some point.

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Some basic embroidery stitches

I’ve come upon this quick guide to basic embroidery stitches, which I thought would be worth sharing. As the author says, it is amazing how much you can achieve with a few basic stitches.

Although I am surprised they have missed out herringbone stitch, which is one of my favourites. And how do people manage without feather stitch and all its variations?

But I am getting carried away. We are talking basic stitches here.

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Weaving a willow deer

At the back of my mill, there is a meadow. For a while, there was a scheme to have a summer house down at the end of the meadow. I was thinking about making some sculptures out of chicken wire, so there could be fairies at the bottom of the garden.

Realistically, the prospect of sitting on the terrace, near the house and looking at the meadow is a great deal more enticing than getting organised to carry everything down to the other end. I don’t like to be too far away from the next cup of tea.

So I need another idea.

Over Christmas, I was looking on Instagram and found some fabulous willow sculpture. I thought that might be a good plan, so I did some research, and ended up in a workshop in Sherburn in Elmet with Leilah Vyner of Dragon Willow. We made the four at the top of this post. Horace is on the right.

We began by making a series of rings. Then we each had a wooden jig, with holes about an inch in diameter, which we stuffed with willow. After making a framework by linking single bits of willow with an overhand knot, we fixed rings on at strategic points to make the basic shape. All of which seemed a bit flimsy and unpromising. Some of the strands of willow from the back of the animal were curved round to refine the shape, then all the spare bits were woven in randomly. More willow was added to shape the front. That took all morning.

After lunch, we stitched the smaller rings together into a head shape with willow, and wove into this base. Leilah made it look easy, and our basic shapes looked nothing like as good as her’s. She told us to keep weaving in some more willow, keeping an eye on the shape as we worked, and she was right. Suddenly we all had something that actually looked like a deer’s head.  A bit of flat weaving to make ears and tails, a few knots, and a bit more random weaving to fill in any gaps, and we were done.

All of which makes it sound much more straight forward than it was, but that is the bare bones of the process. You can see my work in progress below, culminating in Horace looking out of the window at home. He isn’t allowed out yet, as he hasn’t had his injections. He needs a coat of boiled linseed oil and turpentine, and before he has that, he has to dry out properly. Which reminds me, the willow only bends properly when it is wet, so the different colours you see in the pictures are from the willow drying out.

And here is the gallery of everyone else’s work:

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Twenty uses for a bulldog clip

I must say that I think the title of this post is rather pushing it.

Some of these “ideas” are only what I thought a bulldog clip was for.

But on the other hand, there has got to be some mileage in the brush holder idea.

And I rather fancy the jam jar lid palette.

I shan’t be trying the idea for hanging the end of a bottle from a nail. With my luck, I would put in just a bit too much weight, and the whole thing would ping off the wall.

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Pattern weights

Sometimes, pins just won’t do.


You might be using something where the pins would leave holes. Like leather, pvc, or paper.

You might not want the distortion you get when you lift everything up to get the pin through.

You might not want the bother of putting the pins into the pattern just to take them all out again a few minutes later.

Then the answer is to use pattern weights. Chunky pebbles do the trick, if you can find ones flat enough. Tins hold the pattern down, but sometimes cutting round them is difficult. The height gets in the way. A set of weights from kitchen scales can be useful, but of course their sizes vary, so you might find that you have used the crucial one already.

So the answer is a set of proper pattern weights, with flat bottoms, in a sensible size for the job. For a while, I have been getting round to making myself some fabric weights. I have seen lots of pictures on line. Equilateral triangles, cut from pretty scraps, stuffed with rice will do the job. A 2″ base triangle seemed like a sensible size.

Eventually I got round to making a trial one. The size seems about right, and the tetrahedron shape means it is easy to pick up. But it seems a bit on the light side.

But now I’ve found some really pretty ones on Etsy. The only difficulty is deciding which diameter to get. I suspect this would still be a difficult decision if you were standing in a real shop and could see and feel them. This is the sort of knowledge that comes with experience. I went for the middle sized ones, partly because the middle size is often the most flexible. But also because a set of 6 gives you a decent number, with no duplicated pictures.


My collection at the moment

And how to do they compare weight wise? The bought ones weigh 47g. The home made one weighs 24g. Well that will be why mine feels light then. My guess is that I need to use 2.5″ triangles to get a comparable weight. Having tried these weights out, I’m not bothering to make any more. Cutting out my new dress was much quicker than using pins, and the weights stayed put nicely.

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Peacock fire screen update

Over Christmas, I’ve been working on my fire screen project again, so this post is an update following on from the post I published in September.

Obviously, a crucial part of the whole thing is the method of attaching the feathers to the bird. Originally, I was thinking that it needed to be quite sturdy, so I was thinking of asking somebody competent to cut a suitable piece of wood, and drill holes to hold the pieces of dowel that forms the middle of the feather. But that idea works best when the feathers are a nice even shape, with identical width.

Which they aren’t.

So I thought I would see what I can do with fabric. I made two piramid shapes out of felt, to support the back of the bird, and stop it from moving from side to side. The outer side is embroidered, of course, to blend in. Then I cut two semi-circles of calico, and sewed channels in them, to take the dowels. That looked promising, so I attached it to the piramids. Then I cut a felt cover for the dowel holding calico, partly to make it blend in, and partly so that I can sew the lower end of the feathers to the holder, as I cut it larger. The front of this felt cover needed decoration, but I wasn’t sure how much would be visible, and I didn’t want it to get in the way of the structural stitching, which will come later. So I’ve just done some random machine embroidery.

These pictures show the feathers, slotted into the holder, cut to size. As they are not yet sewn in, they are laid out on the living room floor, with the bird slotted in to check the effect. I’m hoping that the fact the bird stayed balanced there for some time without further support is a good omen!

I’m now thinking of making some smaller feathers, with just the upper half visible, to full in the gaps. And I’m also thinking of fixing a horizontal dowel (or two) at the back, to stop the feathers spreading sideways, or twirling in their sockets.

And the prospect of sewing the feathers into the base, and the base onto the bird isn’t particularly appealing. Still, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

But it may take some time…

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Happy New Year!

Sarah C Swett’s post headed “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” has some wise words for the New Year.

And, as usual, some quirky ideas about textile related matters!

One day, I will try some of these ideas…

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Knitting videos

Here is a collection of knitting videos, including some interesting ways to knit with colours.

The last time I looked, they were up to episode 66, so there is plenty to get your teeth into there!

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Knitting faces in the crowd

It is surprising how inspiration comes.

I was rummaging in a basket of odd balls of yarn, as you do, and I found this “flesh” coloured smooth cotton.

Which reminded me of my long standing doll project, where I have some knitted dolls, and use them as models for unusual garments. This is a wonderful game, as it allows me to:

  • Play at being a doll designer.
  • Experiment to see how patterns and shapes work. It is amazing how many designs look fab in the pictures, but a mock up reveals that it only looks nice if you are careful how you stand and move about. It is also surprising how many patterns for really chunky yarn knit up nicely for a doll if you use 4 ply and the smallest needles you can manage,
  • Play with novelty yarns that need buying, but I’m not going to wear in a full size garment.

Anyway, I wasn’t convinced there was enough of this cotton to make a whole doll, so I put it down again. And then I thought of making pictures.

I have seen some interesting paintings of crowd scenes, with a variety of faces looking out of the frame. And I loved the Antony Gormley check installation Field for the British Isles when it came to Scunthorpe. Although ideas have been lurking for a while, I haven’t actually got round to doing anything.

So I experimented.

The first idea was to knit some bobbles on a reverse stocking stitch ground. Bigger ones were too round, and smaller ones didn’t give enough space for embroidery to make a face.

So then I tried increasing for a bobble in one stitch, and then working a few rows all across the piece before decreasing. I decided not to plan a design, because that would lead to some annoying endless dithering, so I just went for it and made it up as I went along. After blocking it out, I embroidered faces, hair and hats. One end of the head was a bit too open, so I made that the top of the head, stitched it up a bit, and covered it with hair and hats. I decided not to go for faces on this one. That is on the list for future experiments.

This one is now for sale on Etsy.

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