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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My new quilting toy

I have a new toy.

I saw various versions of the idea at the Festival of Quilts in August, but when I went to knitting and stitching in Harrogate I decided to go for it.

Basically, instead of bothering to mark out the pattern on the fabric before you start quilting, you use a stencil type piece of plastic. There are various systems available. Mine is like a tram track. You drop the feed dog, put the presser foot in the channel, and the foot is guided down your chosen path.

I’ve got basic templates: a straight line with inches and angles marked, a set of circles, and a feather.

Now this was a bit of a risk, because I’ve never been very good at free motion quilting.

But I can do it now.

And yes, I know some of them are a bit wobbly, but I’m happy with my first attempt, especially as I was trying it out on black print, which isn’t the easiest thing to see when you are stitching. The next thing I’m going to do is a flower, which I saw demonstrated with the circle template, but you need to aim for the centre, so I’ll need a paler fabric.

And in case you are wondering why I didn’t do my samples on plainer, paler fabric, it was because I needed to quilt the pieces for a bag I’m making. And as I expected, the quilted patterns don’t show up much, but that isn’t the point. I have had useful practise, and the quilting makes the fabric firmer.

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Stitch resist

I’ve never been much into craft classes. Books and the internet are my normal sources of training, because they are available when I want to know something. Which is usually so that I can start something NOW.

But every now and then, something catches my eye. I had seen that the University of Leeds had an exhibition called Resists: exploring resist-dyed textiles across cultures, which runs until 13th December 2018, and I was toying with the idea of going. But I was busy with work, and it is a long way to go. Then I saw they were running a stitch resist workshop afternoon, so combining the two seemed like a good bet.

Bintan Titisari gave us some background to this traditional Indonesian techniques, showing us the range of effects that are created on various different islands, and some of the traditional motifs. We were then let loose with cotton bags and a pencil to create our own designs. Mine combines two traditional motifs, with the general plan of representing a storm, with rain coming from the cloud motifs, a blue background, and rainbow colours appearing at random.

Once our designs were complete, we sewed along the lines with running stitch, gathered up the stitching, and tied the thread in very firm knots. This technique is a form of tie dying, where the dye can’t get at all the fabric because of the bulk of the fabric round the gathers. I intended to take a picture at this stage, but we were running out of time, so I forgot. Bother.

The next stage was to move into a lab to apply the colour. It felt very strange to be decked out in lab coats, goggles, and gloves to mix and apply Dylon, which is safe to use in your kitchen at home. We had dye in primary colours, and after soaking our bags in a background colour for 15 minutes, we moved on to carefully squirting other colours in selected places using plastic ketchup bottles, which seems rather incongruous in a lab. We could then choose whether we went for the technical option of leaving our bags to be “cooked” at 40°C for 24 hours in the University’s special colour setting oven, or taking it home and leaving it wrapped in cling film for 24 hours. I went for the latter option, to avoid going back to collect the bag. The picture shows my dyed bag being properly wrapped by two experienced textile specialists.

Once the parcel had matured for 24 hours (OK a bit longer, while I got round to it), I rinsed the bag in cold water and left it to dry, before undoing the knots and releasing the stitches. At this stage, the cotton is crinkled where the stitches used to be. It is possible to stitch both sides of the bag separately, but as you can see, to save time, I sewed through both layers at once. The two sides are slightly different, due to different amounts of extra colour being applied.

To remove some of the creases, I soaked it in water again, dried and ironed it.

I’m pleased with the result, but it is interesting to see that you can see the places where I was rushing because I was running out of time.

I always think it is interesting to reflect on what I’ve actually learned on any training course. Sometimes it isn’t what it I expected it to be. The most useful things from this course were:

  • I was reminded of a method of making a knot at the end of your thread. Hold the end of the thread on your needle with your thumb, wrap the thread round the needle 4 or 5 times, and pull the needle through the loops. How could I have forgotten that?
  • I was introduced to cotton darners. This type of needle was easy to thread, and good for any technique where you are making long lines of stitches, or large straight stitches. They are easily available in good old Samuel Taylors in Leeds, but I didn’t have time to go back there on the way to the train. I’ve had blank looks in several shops, but have now found a pack.
  • When I’ve tried this technique on my own, I have used a strong polyester thread. The thread we used was slightly rough, which helps to hold the fabric in place. This photo is not the best, but it serves as a quick reminder of the “new” needles and thread.
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My rainbow hanging

For years, I’ve been thinking about a rainbow quilt. I’d really like to do something with a colour wheel. But I’ve not gone for it yet. Some of what I see is over simple. Some ideas are too loud. I know I need to be careful with this idea, so all I do is research. Because research is what you are doing when you are not doing anything else.

I have a difficult place in the mill where I live. Over the modern stairs in the 1798 mill tower, there is a piece of wall. I have the black and white print of a windmill in Norfolk, given to us when we left our last choir, on the white wall where the light shines so you can see it. I really like it there, but a few steps down, there is another wall, in the shade. Often when I am going down the stairs I look at that space and think “Oh no, where is the picture?”

So I know I need something in that space. Recently, I bought a framed sketch from an artist in Hull. I thought it would fit in that space nicely, but when I got it home, the lighting in the space wasn’t up to the job. The sketch deserves more light, and I need something brighter to put on that bit of wall, in the shade. You can see the problem in the last set of pictures in this post.

Then, when I went to the Festival of Quilts I saw just what I needed. Normally, when I see a kit, it is nearly what I want, but not quite. So I was a bit miffed when for once I saw just what I wanted, but the instructions on sale were for the technique, not the actual item. So while I was there, I bought a pack of rainbow charm squares, so I could launch straight into making my hanging. It has taken a while to decide what I wanted to do with the really flexible instructions supplied by Louise Mabbs, who seems to have two websites.

As usual, I was surprised that although I like the range of colours overall, some of them I don’t like at all. I wasn’t surprised that if you take out the colours I don’t like, the result is dull.

The pack I bought has 41 squares. The instructions say you create each unit by sewing two contrasting squares together. So of course there was a brief temptation to go online and buy another pack, but that would make it too big to fit in the space on the wall. I’ll keep that idea for later.

First, I laid the colours out in order, thinking they would “join up” into a circle. I can’t help thinking the last browny red isn’t quite right. It doesn’t flow back into the other end of the rainbow.

Anyway, the first thing I tried was splitting the colours into two lines, Every other square in a line, taking out that brown.

Colours look different, but when you look at the two separately, you have 2 decent “rainbow” series. At this point, I nearly paired the squares up in this order, so the sides almost matched. Then I decided that I needed more contrast.

My first thought was to turn one of the 2 sets round. However, I wasn’t sure there would be enough contrast in the middle of the run. I wanted contrast all the way through. If I had played with the technique first, I might have had a better idea of how the contrasts work, and been more confident to go for it. But I wasn’t going to experiment first, so it wasn’t worth the risk.

I needed another idea.

As the greatest contrast is on the opposite side of the colour wheel, and as there were 20 squares per pile, I started one pile with 1st and the other with 11th.

That looked much more promising. So I made a start. In some of the pictures, you can see the pins I used to mark the order of the colours, before I had a firmer system.

This technique involves sewing two squares together, turning them right side out, folding them like an origami windmill and stitching them through the middle of the folds, as creased fabric doesn’t hold its shape like paper. Following the instructions carefully, I marked the front of each piece with chalk. I’m glad I took the precaution of pinning them to a scrap of calico with safety pins, so I didn’t get muddled, because after I’d folded the windmills I couldn’t see the number any more.

Here is a gallery of the process:

I must say, I can see why it is better to sell this as a technique than a kit. I suspect that when we buy a kit, most of us expect to end up with something that looks like the picture on the pack. With this technique, there are many points in the process where you can do something ever so slightly different and change your result. That might mean that a lot of us wouldn’t end up with the result we expected. My design evolved as I went, and I had a lot of fun doing this. It is now nearly three months since I saw the “ideal” wall hanging at the NEC, so I can’t remember how close mine is.

I think my fabric wasn’t the most suitable it could have been. The folds I pressed into it came out surprisingly quickly, which meant I had to do more stitches to hold it in place than I would have liked. And because this is a three dimensional piece, the thread seemed to wind round the sticking out sections on every stitch, which was annoying. That aspect was swinging it onto the list of things I’m unlikely to attempt again in a hurry.

But then I did a quick check on the artist’s name, and found her book on Amazon, which has some tempting ideas.

 

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The theory of home made natural inks

When I get myself organised, I am going to try making inks and watercolours out of natural dyestuffs.

But it does take some organisation.

This post is just the sort of thing that should inspire me, but actually makes the dithering worse. It shows all the beautiful colours you can make from Buckthorn, but you need to add various substances to change the acidity to get the range. This means several issues:

  • I need to get all the relevant substances lined up beforehand.
  • I need enough bottles and jars to store the results.
  • I need to be meticulous about record keeping. In the heat of the moment. Hmm.

All of that is much harder than cooking the dyestuff in the slow cooker, and then adding a couple of scarves.

Then I started to wonder where my nearest Buckthorn tree is. And would it be worth growing some? Then I remembered that sometimes the same name is used on both sides of the Atlantic for different trees. So I hit Google.

First I found Purging Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), which looks like the plant in the post. The Woodland Trust (who seem like a good source) say “Traditionally the fruits and bark were used to make a yellow dye.” This is the one Jenny Dean mentions, which is a good sign. But I don’t see anything about fastness.

The Woodland Trust also have an entry for Alder buckthorn (Frangula alnus), which says “A yellow dye is obtained from the leaves and bark. It is used in Russia and turns black when mixed with salts of iron. A green dye is obtained from the unripe fruit, and a blue or grey dye is obtained from the ripe berries.”

Well, I’ve got space, so I could try both. Then I started looking for a nice copyright free picture that I could put in this post. And I found that it is a big problem for homeowners in Minnesota. It is an invasive, fast grower, that has deep roots and harbours pests.

Oh, and there is the Sea Buckthorn, which has four times the amount of vitamin C in its berries than a lemon has, and I live by the sea…

OK, time to do something useful. Or at leat time to look at some more pretty colours.

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Coloured warps

For therapeutic reasons, I just have to share this post about coloured warp yarns.

I don’t use coloured warp.

And the postage from the US would be ridiculous.

And I haven’t opened the last lot of warp I bought yet.

But just look at those colours…

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The end of my Zazzle experiment

My experiment with Zazzle has come to an end. It seemed like a good idea, but it hasn’t really worked. The principle is sensible. I upload a picture, and “place it” on one of their products, and then the article is ready to be purchased by anyone using their shop. They print to order, and despatch it straight to the customer. When they sell one, I get a commission. But there are various problems:
  • They are based in the US, so postage costs are high, and shipping times are long.
  • Their selling prices are a tad on the high side, unless you have a voucher code. My plan was to keep an eye out for these codes, and tweet about them. Somehow, I never seemed to manage that. I often don’t notice the email telling me about an offer before it expires.
  • They recommend that you post products on social media at least twice a day. So I gave it a go. My twitter following had been steady for a long time, but since I started tweeting about Zazzle,  the total has gone down by about 80.
So I’ve done a bit of research, and found Two Fifteen, a company based in Blackpool. It is broadly similar, except I list the products on my Etsy shop, and when someone orders one of those items, Two Fifteen print it and despatch it. The end result is much lower prices and faster shipping. I tried using the same photographs for these new products, but the new system warned me that some were not of a high enough quality for printing in the relevant size. Which suggests that the quality of the product should be better. Just one gripe so far. Etsy has space for up to 10 pictures per listing, but this system only provides one mock up of high quality. For some products there are alternative views, but only lower quality pictures can be uploaded to Etsy. Which is a bit ironic, isn’t it?
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New tapestry bobbins in action

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Weaving tapestry tends to mean that you have several colours on the go at once.

Which means a choice between lots of loose ends, and winding the thread onto some form of small piece of card, or another type of bobbin.

I can’t get on with cardboard bobbins. They get battered too quickly, and collapse on me at inconvenient moments. Wooden ones sound much more appealing.

The traditional shape of a tapestry bobbin has a shaft to hold the thread, a knob to keep it there, and a pointed end to help with threading it through the warp. And of course the pointed end can be used for beating the weft down into place.

Polished wood is nice to hold, and slides well through the weft, but it can be difficult to find. There are some beautiful ones available, made of exotic woods. The first few I bought were very plain ordinary wood. Although they were nicely turned, the finishing wasn’t quite as good as it could have been. There are slightly rough patches that catch on the warp.

So when I decided I needed more bobbins, I thought I would investigate the nicer ones. As you might expect, they are not that easy to find. You can’t just wander into the local craft shop and pick some up. These came from Australia, as you can probably guess from the names of the woods, like Bungeroo, Tasmanian Myrtle, Hairy Wattle, and Rose Sheoak.

I’ll be buying more of these from my fellow Etsy seller, WoodenTreen, where you can also buy all sorts of other beautiful craft tools.

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Watercolour experiments

From time to time, I read about new ways of using art materials. There have been a few suggestions about using watercolour paint on textiles. Now I am a big fan of watercolour. I love the way the colours merge and flow on the paper, so I thought it was worth running a few tests. It could be useful for the background of pictures.

I have also been reading that Inktense coloured pencils are good on textiles. Inktense can be used like normal coloured pencils, but when you run a damp paint brush over it turns into brightly coloured ink on the page.

So here we go with some scraps of unbleached calico.

I decided to test a range of colours with different characteristics:

  • Cerulean blue is an opaque colour (bottom left).
  • Ultramarine blue is a transparent colour (bottom right).
  • Prussian blue is renowned for its staining quality. If you want a stormy sky and plan to lift out paint to make the clouds, choose another blue (top left).
  • Then I added in rose madder, just because it is one of my favourite transparent colours (top right). It was sone of Turner’s favourites, so it must be good.

The first test was to paint on dry fabric. I was quite surprised how little the brush strokes spread on this surface. The edges are relatively straight.

The next step was to paint on damp fabric. The paint I used was the same strength. As you can see:

  • The edges are softer.
  • The colours are paler. This is particularly interesting, as I added some stronger colour on part of each patch to see if it made a difference. It didn’t. It just spread out. As you can see, there is no shading, or th blooking that sometimes happens on paper when you add to paint that is drying.
  • Where the patches meet, they have not flowed into eachother to mix into another colour.

Once the sample was dry, it looked like this. Not quite what I was expecting, but still plenty of potential for textiles.

I decided to move on to the next wave of experiments before worrying about fastness.

So I moved on to my Inktense pencils. You can get these colours in sticks, but I reckon I’m better off with the protection of some wood round my colour, so I’ve gone for the pencil version.

As far as I know, all the colours in the range have the same characteristics, so I just picked two colours at random.

For this experiment, I just scribbled a couple of patches of colour with each pencil. For each colour, the top picture shows the original pencil, and the lower one shows what happens when it is brushed with water.

Which suggest this might be a useful technique.

Apart from testing for water fastness, that was as far as the original plan went.

But then I remembered reading that Aloe Vera gel works well instead of water when working on textiles. Apparently it improves the flow of the colour on the fabric.

So I rubbed a little gel on the untreated sample of each colour. In the second picture, you can see:

  • a line of the original pencil,
  • then the sample of each colour rubbed over with a little gel,
  • then the sample of each colour painted with water.

Interestingly, the colour shows more on the back of the sample where the gel has been used than the water.

I was surprised, because there is also more colour on the front. Again, I can see applications for both these pencil techniques, varying the flow of the pigment by using water or gel. I suspect you can vary the spread by diluting the gel.

So then there is the final question. Are these colours wash fast? I put my samples on a piece of absorbant paper, sprayed it thouroughly with water, and left it. The idea is that if a colour is not wash fast, it will bleed out onto the paper below it.

I had planned to take a picture of the  paper underneath, to show the colour that had bled from the samples. But when I came to look, there was a very slight trace of the cerulean blue on the paper, but not so much that it would come out noticably on a photograph.

So my conclusion is that watercolour and inktense pencil are useful for artwork on textiles, but not worth the risk on an item of clothing. There is too much risk that, for example, the scarf created with this technique would mark your best white blouse.

The different effects cause by water and Aloe Vera gel are definitely worth thinking about.

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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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