Making thread from nettles

What can you do with nettles?

Well, you can leave them for the butterflies. The easiest option.

Or you can make nettle tea, by leaving them to fester in water for a few weeks, then diluting the result to feed your plants.

Or then there is nettle soup. Which I have never got round to doing. However, I suspect it is more likely than using them to make thread.

I enjoyed watching this video about the process of turning fresh nettles into cloth.

But I am pretty sure I will never get round to it myself. Too many other games on the list ahead of that plan, I’m afraid.

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Amazing landscape rugs

When I was little, I had a square of lino, printed with a town map.  It kept us occupied for hours, driving dinky cars down the streets, and making up all sorts of stories about what was going on in that town. Then we could roll it up, and prop it up in the corner, out of the way, until next time.

These landscape rugs are in a totally different league. I can’t see that I’d want to be rolling them up, although you would need a very special place to display some of them. Get a whole new perspective on the Argentinian landscape!

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Recycled looms

Now, I know you can make looms out of all sorts of things. The big, serious ones cost loads of money, but on a smaller scale, there is a lot of scope for using your initiative.

There are instructions online for using old picture frames, or sturdy cardboard tubes from the middle of fabric bales.

But this post about using parts from electrical gadgets must take the prize. I love the idea of using a telephone receiver for a heddle!

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Tapestry commissioned by Henry VIII found

I’m sure I’m not the only one who opens things up in a new tab, because it might be interesting, and I haven’t got time to look at it now.

And every now and then, I find my browser has loads of tabs open, because I need to click on the links in the books I work on to check they go to the right place, and I don’t always bother to close the tab straight away.

This morning, I was closing down some clutter when I found this article about a rediscovered tapestry, part of a collectiion depicting the life of St Paul.

I have no idea where I picked the link up from, but I just thought I’d share.

And there is also a nice little video about the Bayeux tapestry into the bargain.

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My peacock fire screen

It isn’t unusual for ideas to come together to form a plan, but I don’t remember the inspiration for a project coming from two ideas found on the same trip.

A couple of summers ago, I went on a trip to Scampston Hall, between Malton and Scarborough. They had an embroidery exhibition of work inspired by the local landscape. There were a couple of group projects, where a picture of a suitable size had been divided up into squares, each of which had been embroidered by a different person, using whatever technique seemed appropriate. The result was a series of very different embroideries, with a variety of colours and textures, but they all worked together as parts of the picture.

On the way home, we stopped at the Stained Glass Centre near Filey for a cup of tea. In front of the tea room window was a rather splendid peacock fire screen. Now I need a fire screen. The one my Mum made when she was a teenager died a few years ago, about 30 years after Dad said the leg wouldn’t last long and couldn’t be mended again. But a stained glass screen is going to look best in front of a window, so the light can shine through.

Both these ideas were burbling round my head. Then one day I found an old book about making felt toys. It had a pattern for a peacock. A quick rummage in the stash produced some hessian that was about the right side, and some suitable colour felt. I enlarged the pattern to fit on the hessian, and made a start.

The ideas for the feathers are a little more challenging. Several ideas just haven’t worked, but here are the ones that are finished or nearly finished so far.

I reckon I am almost half way there…

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Elephants quilt

I’ve had this idea brewing for several years now. Grey patchwork elephants on a red background. There has been a bit of a delay, while I collect fabrics. I don’t really do grey, apart from flannel skirts, and somehow my stash is more russet than red.

And then there is the design. After a bit of experimenting, I’ve drawn out three sizes of elephant on squared paper, so I thought I would have a go. Here are the first three elephants.

Those of you who are into this sort of thing will notice a bit of a wobble in a couple of places. After many years of using the side of the presser foot to make even, equal size seams for patchwork, I now have a proper patchwork foot. It has a mark along the front every 1/8″. All I have to do is line the edge of the fabric with the second tick along, and I have an accurate 1/4″ seam. Marvellous!

The problem is that I’m not used to it yet. The gap at the front of the foot is somehow putting me off. I’m seeing 1/8 inch gap in the foot, plus another 1/8 ” on the foot. I start using the correct marking, but suddenly I’ve only got a 1/8″ seam. So in these blocks, I have most seams at the proper 1/4″, some at 1/8″, and some start at 1/4″ and then wobble over to 1/8″. And I only realised how much I’d varied when I put it all together. So some of the seams need redoing, but for the current purpose of seeing if the blocks work, they will do.

The size of this quilt is dictated by a rather splendid piece of machine patchwork in shades of gold that I have had in my stash for a while. As I have three sizes of elephant, it makes sense to have them walking across the quilt in a line. To balance things up, I’m alternating between processions to the left and the right. Each line needs something solid to walk on. It would be easy for those pathways to form boxes, which I don’t really want. So I thought I’d fill in the background with some traditional blocks and borders. Which is another variable to play with. Here is the current version of plan. Three cheers for pencil, I say!

I was telling my friend about this idea, and she asked whether the elephants are African or Indian. As the size of the ear is governed by how much shaping can be made in a square grid, I’m not really sure whether you can be fussy about this distinction.

But that lead to the fascinating idea of having Indian and African fabrics to make the distinction. I thought this would be quite straight forward, but my trip round the Festival of Quilts and some surfing suggests that this isn’t going to work. There was a whole stall of African prints, but they were all too colourful to be used in a grey elephant. And traditional Indian style designs like paisleys seem to be out of fashion at the moment.

Still, by the time I’ve got this idea finalised, they may be back in fashion again…

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Making patterns with salt

This technique with salt is an idea from watercolour painting. It is often described in books with dire warnings against using it too often.

And I can see why: it is addictive.

When you add salt to wet paint, the crystals absorb the moisture and make a pattern.  The result depends on so many variables that you can’t control the process. Relevant factors include:

  • The size of the salt crystals.
  • The amount of pigment in the paint.
  • The amount of moisture in the paint.
  • Any moisture or colour in the salt from previous uses.
  • How long the paint has been on the fabric, because if any of the paint has dried, the salt won’t have any effect. So the atmospheric conditions are also relevant.
  • Where the salt falls.

Salt after it has been used for this technique

As the salt takes up the moisture, some of the colour is sucked out, leaving the background fabric showing through. In other places the colour of the paint is intensified. Each crystal marks its own place on the surface to form the pattern.

With these scarves, I marked some shapes on the silk in batik wax, so that the flow of colours was limited. Then I painted blends of a couple of different silk paints, letting them mix on the fabric, before adding the salt.

It is important to leave the salt on until it is properly dry, or the patterns will smudge. I try to leave it for at least 24 hours, just in case. Once the salt comes off, the scarves need to be pressed between absorbent paper to remove the wax lines and fix the colour.

Here are some pictures of the process for three different colour ways.

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A new helper in the studio

On duty next to the sewing machine

Following my trip to the Festival of Quilts at the NEC recently, I have a new helper.

According to the instructions that came with her from The Quilters’ Trading Post, her name is Dawn.

I’m not sure about that, because so far she has been too shy to say anything.

Anyway, as you can see, she is making herself jolly useful around the sewing room and the studio, holding bits and bobs, and being a nice cheerful presence.

Helping with the ironing

Her conical body is really sturdy, but it took rather more rice (topped up with lentils) than I had anticipated. Must remember to buy some more.

You can also see my new rack for spools of thread: another treasure from the same foraging trip.

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More experiments with the new sewing machine

Did I mention I have a new sewing machine?

Well, having done some worthy straight lines, I decided I would do something more frivolous. Rather than being completely aimless, I thought I would make a cover for my over locker. Leaving it out all the time isn’t sensible, as dust can’t be good for it. On the other hand, putting it back into the cardboard box and lifting it back onto the top shelf each time is just a bit too much effort.

So I cut out some suitable rectangles of calico, drew on some shapes of about the right size in pencil, and started sewing random patterns in a variety of colours of thread. And I it didn’t take me long to find that, although I liked the results, there was a bit more to it than I bargained for.

Firstly, there was a vast difference in the width of the stitch, which wasn’t apparent from the instructions. Then there was the placement of the stitch. Some of them start in the middle of the band they produce, while others start at side, leaving either an unexpected gap, or going right over what I had just done. And the final problem was that, even with my glasses on, it is difficult to be sure of the difference between some of the stitches. Indeed sometimes it turns out they are the same stitch on two vastly different scales.

So I got another bit of fabric, and worked down the menu, marking the number of the option with a Sharpie from time to time. That turned out to be a very good idea. Not only do I have an easy reference for the main options, but also I have some streamers to hang over the ugly pipes and wires in the corner of the studio. All it took was an off cut of dowelling, slotted into two cup hooks of unknown origin that are in the corner of the ceiling.

Then I went back to the cover. Once I didn’t have any more room for experiments, I set about sewing it together. I had this theory about using a fold for the bottom, to avoid messing about with a hem. As I suspected might happen, the sewing changed the dimensions of the pieces, so the arch of the cover isn’t quite as symmetrical as I had planned. But that didn’t matter, as I had taken the precaution of not bothering to cut out accurate shapes. And anyway, as Mum used to say, a proper pressing session does wonders when you are shaping fabric.

Which lead me to the final discovery of this project. I had been merrily using up scraps of thread, with no regard for anything on the label. Let’s face it, some didn’t actually have a label. Some of it must have had more man made fibre in than I normally buy, because it melted. I now have:

  1. Some interesting dotted patterns near the seams, where I have melted the thread that touched the iron.
  2. Some scruffy unpressed seams, where I chickened out. Which means the finished article is a bit more of an amorphous blob than I had planned.
  3. A chance to test that infallible iron cleaner someone recommended.

So overall, I have gained from this project. I have learned how to use my new toy. I have bitten the bullet about getting a set of samples I can follow in the future. I have recycles some left over materials into something useful. And I don’t have to feel guilty about not bothering to put the over locker away.

I am thinking of it as a one off piece of abstract artwork.

Well, it keeps me amused…


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The studio has plumbing!

I have a new sink in the studio!

OK, so it is a newly installed sink.

Up until now, the water supply in the studio has been a large jug. Any rinsing out has happened, very carefully, in the kitchen sink.

Working in the kitchen rather undermines the whole point of having a studio, which is supposed to be a place I can concentrate on being creative, rather than keeping the place clean. But when the alternative is rinsing in a bucket, the kitchen makes sense, although carrying a bucket full of dye through the house is a bit worrying.

But not any more. My chum Ruby stood in the studio one day and said “What you need in here is a sink. Do you want one of my old Belfast ones?” So in due course, she brought it round. I chiselled out the compost from the overflow, and Stan has plumbed it in for me.

Now I can stand in the studio, resting my forearms on the top of the sink, dangling my fingers in the water where I can just reach the bottom to swirl the things I’m rinsing out.

No doubt you will have spotted a notable feature: the elegant soap dish, which contains olive oil soap for cleaning paint brushes. Originally, it was just the nearest container of the right size, but somehow it just seems right…



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