A lace pillow

I found an old book about needle lace making recently. In the list of tools and equipment, it mentioned that a drum shaped lace pillow is a handy thing to have, as it allows you to support the work while still being able to use both hands.

Now I know that is obvious, but I hadn’t thought of it that way. I used to have a lace pillow, but I got rid of that when I found that I can’t get on with bobbin lace. I can set it up, & get started, and each time I think this will be the time I can make some progress. Then I put it aside carefully at the end of the session. When I go back to it, somehow the whole thing is a terrible muddle, and I can’t get started with it again.

Anyway, that pillow was a dome shape, so all the bobbins hung nicely and kept the thread under tension as work progressed. A drum sounds a much more reasonable idea for needle lace.

The instructions start “Take an old catering size baked bean tin.” I’m a governor of the local school, so I emailed Rosina, our business manager, who had a scrounging trip on my behalf into the kitchen and produced two suitable tins.

Stage one was to roll the tin in quilt wadding. I’ve just finished some patchwork, so I used the offcut from the side of the roll to save on dithering about dimensions. As you can see from the pictures, that went round a couple of times. There was no indication of how to keep the wadding in place. I didn’t like the idea of glue, and it occurred to me that the base of the tin might be a handy surface a some point. So I folded the extra bit of width down over the base and hemmed it all together, pulling as tightly as I dared.

The next stage of the instructions say to use a drab fabric to make a cover. “This is not the place for a gay print.” Yes, the book is that old! I remember being told that the best cover for a blocking board is a regular check, so you can pin against the straight lines and avoid doing too much measuring as you block your knitting to shape. So I used the palest quarter inch gingham I could find. Those squares will help to guage the size of what I’m making, as well as making sure all the straight lines are straight, and angles are square if required.

The idea is to sew the fabric into a tube, make a wide hem at each end, thread a cord through each hem, and tighten these cord to hold the cover in place. You can then undo the cord at the open end of the tin when you want to use it to store your smaller bits of equipment, threads scissors etc.

Useful details about how to get the measuring of the squashy shape right were not included in the book. So I sewed one end of the side seam, and made a very wide hem at that end to form a frill/channel for some ribbon. Then I tied up this “bag opening”, wrapped the fabric in place, pinned it down, and hemmed it on, using the same “parcel wrapping” technique to finish the bottom end.

So now I can make a shape by sticking pins into the pillow, and fill it in with needle lace. The pictures show the beginnings of a leaf shape, just to try it out. I don’t think I’ll be using the inside of the tin for storage any time soon. The rattle would get on my nerves. Now if I got round to lining it…


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Red onion skins

I heard on Woman’s Hour recently that red onion skins give green. I thought that was worth a go. Onion skins are very light, and you hear tales of people getting their friends and neighbours to save all theirs to go into the dye pot. As most people are dying enough fibre to make a garment or a quilt, while I’m only wanting to dye a silk scarf, I thought it was worth a go.

One supper from a Nadiya Hussain red onion recipe gave me more than I needed, in fact I had enough for two. I scrunched up both scarves, and put rubber bands round the bundle for one to get a marbled effect, and on the other I put some clothes pegs to give a random resist pattern.

The dye bath was pretty much the same colour as the skins that went in, but the result was a definite old gold, as so many natural dye stuffs yield. It is a nice colour, and it is quite different from the burnt orange I got with white onion skins.

So I wondered whether it was a mistake to use mordanted fabric. I just reached for the basket of alum mordanted scarves waiting to be processed, forgetting that white onion skins don’t need a mordant, so probably the red don’t either. The result was much more like the colour of a red onion.

But not green. And it proves that changing the mordant changes the result. But I didn’t have anything mordanted with another chemical handy. What else might change the dye colour? Acidity.

There was quite a lot of colour left in the second due bath, so I got out the ph indicator paper, and found that it was neutral. So I split it into two bowls, and added vinegar to one to make it acidic, and bicarbonate of soda to the other to make it alkali. Nothing terribly scientific, just enough of each to get the ph to 8 and 3.

So here are the results of the red onion experiments so far. From left to right, we have:

  • unmordanted,
  • the two alum mordanted,
  • the exhaust dye bath from the one on the left, with white vinegar added,
  • and the other half of the exhaust due bath, with bicarbonate of soda added.

So still no green. I’m guessing the bicarbonate of soda had no effect, as the paler colour is probably the result of reusing the dye. Of course, what I should have done is to split the dye bath into three, so I had an un-adapted “control”,  but I didn’t think of that in time.

So now the experiment is on pause until I have more red onion skins.

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Fascinating indigo

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI knew that indigo gives a good, flexible blue to those who know what they are doing.

I didn’t know that it gives fabric anti-bacterial and fireproofing qualities.

This short video shows some of the traditional Japanese processes involved in growing and using indigo.

I have read that indigo doesn’t grow well in northern climates, and if it does, it is unlikely that our summer will be long enough for the pigment to mature. This video emphasises the difference between the growing conditions in the part of Japan shown and East Yorkshire. They have a river running just below the surface, warming the soil.

I think I’ll stick to trying to grow woad.

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An experiment with the peg loom

I’ve had my peg loom for a while. I originally got it to make a rag rug to protect our heads from a low doorway. I wove a rectangle with strips of old sheets and curtains that had been used as dust sheets. Although I liked the result, I wanted something with a bit more impact. So I made a second layer with some pile to it.

Then I decided to do an experimental piece of art, and made this windmill banner.

Since then, I’ve had loads of ideas, & read a lot about peg looms, but not actually done anything with it.

So it is time that changed.

A peg loom is a very simple gadget. You have a series of regularly spaced holes to hold your pegs, and the warps are tied to the pegs. You weave on the pegs, and when that gets full, you push the fabric down onto the weft strings.

The result is a thick and flexible fabric. You can create all sorts of patterns, but you have to be prepared to go with the flow a little. You can’t aim for exact measurements, because everything depends on the type of weft you use, and how tightly you squidge it down. WordPress doesn’t recognise that term, probably because it is a little technical for it.

So I thought I’d make a mirror frame. Here is a collage of what I did:

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Time for resolutions again

imageIf you are on Twitter, have a look at @damienkempf. He has put together a series of New Year resolutions based on medieval paintings.

My favourite is this one: be more fashionable.

Whether that is a good idea or not depends on what the fashion is at the time.

As the picture demonstrates.


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A shelf unit from pallets

I like using natural dyes. The problem is that a lot of them are rather smelly to process.  And that process takes hours, so the whole house gets to share the smell. In warmer climates, people set up some form of camping stove outside, so that they can enjoy the weather and avoid the smell.

In a Yorkshire winter, cooking outside isn’t so appealing.

I’ve got a studio attached to the house, and the connecting door is very convenient. But any smell in there will find its way into the rest of the house. So I’m setting up a dye house a separate garage. There are various bits and pieces that I need to have handy when I’m out there, and of course there are some things that need to be kept in the garage anyway. So I need a storage unit.

I saved the pallets from the recent building work, and I’ve seen lots of ideas on Pinterest for turning them into furniture. Of course, my pallets don’t seem to work for any of the plans I’ve seen, so I’ve had to use my initiative. With the aid of a jig saw, some cable ties and a bit of MDF, this is what I’ve made. 

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Stocking up on scarf rings

I’m getting low on the embroidered scarf rings, so I’ve been making some more.

I like the flowers best, but the green swirls were fun to do.

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A packing session

I’ve got a bit behind with my scarf packing. It is partly because I’d rather be making than packing. It doesn’t help that I do like having all the colours about the place.

But that can’t go on for ever, so I’ve had a packing session.

And here are all of them spread out, ironed, and on their way into bags.

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Big progress with the studio

My studio has been a work in progress for a while. I have been using the garage for its new purpose for a long time now, but it has been a dark and gloomy place.

But this week, there was a big step forward. The old garage doors have gone. They were beautifully made wooden ones, but as the opening is nice and wide, they were very heavy. They had sagged on their hinges.

That meant that on the rare occasions I opened the doors, it was very difficult to lift them enough to move them. And there was usually a howling gale coming in over the top of the door. And if the wind was coming from the north on a rainy day, the puddle went about a third of the way across the floor.

So something had to be done. After a lot of thought, I’ve gone for single garage doors, with windows in the top, and windows down the side. Light is flooding in, and it is actually warm now. As this is side of the house faces north, that light is the ideal sort for a studio.

Once the lads have finished sealing round the outside, I will be emptying the greenhouse into tubs to go across the ramp in front of the windows, which will cheer the view up considerably. Assuming my carefully selected windproof plants can settle down, so fingers crossed there.

And then there is a list of things to sort out before the place is how I want it. A sink needs to go in, I need some curtains for when I’m in there after dark…

But I’m well on my way now!


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A blue batch of solar dyeing

Most easily available natural dyestuffs give beige gold or beige.

So discovering something that gives blue is a very useful event.

Black beans. Ordinary ones, from the local supermarket.

They went into the jars of water at the beginning of September, and produced a surprising amount of colour by the following day.

After a few weeks of rather disappointing autumn weather, the scarves I put in were a lovely pale blue.

So the next tasks on the to do list are:

  • Try the same beans with electric power in the slow cookers. This may produce a darker colour.
  • Try over dyeing fabric that has already been dyed gold. Logically that should come out a nice green. If the blue tint is overpowered by the gold, that one may not work.



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