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Author: frabjousfabrica

I live in North Dorset, UK. I have been working in textiles on an off for most of my 75 years. I am mainly self taught and, with no basic grounding in art or design, picked it up as I went along, usually from books, but with occasional workshops. I have experience of all types of textile work but have now “rounded down” to felt making (both wet and needle), embroidery, crochet, and basic needlework; with the odd forays back to other techniques as needed for a particular project.
A Crown for Maris

A Crown for Maris

I had hoped to show you my finished Glorious Devon picture this post, but I’m afraid I’m not quite there yet so – (in the well known phrase from the kids’ TV show, Blue Peter) Here’s one I made earlier!

Just before our pantomime, The Little Mermaid, went into the first dress rehearsal, the wardrobe mistress asked me if I would have time to make a finalé crown for Maris.  Maris was the sister of Neptune and Aunt of Serina, the little mermaid.  It is our invariable custom choose specific colours for all the finalé costumes and this year they were to be predominantly royal blue with silver touches and for Maris’ crown I was asked to think of the effect that water makes when something is dropped into it from a height.

I had a look at Google Images for inspiration and collected together my materials ready to make a start.  These consisted of a stainless steel headband, an empty plastic milk bottle, an empty Johnson’s Baby Shampoo bottle (the colourless ones they used before they changed the colour of the shampoo and thence the bottles) some royal blue organza, pale blue organza with silver/pearl embellishments, some silver lacy type fabric and some white/iridescent beads on wires that I had salvaged from old Christmas decorations (on the assumption that I’d find a use for them some day).  You can see these in the pictures below (with substitute shampoo bottle as I’d cut up the original one before I remembered to take the photo).  In the end I did not use the white braid that you can also see.

Materials
Salvaged Christmas Decorations

My idea was to make a double splash – a tall centre splash and a shorter outer splash. (I am pretty sure that I was not going to fall foul of any copyright since I don’t think there’s any such thing as a double splash.)

I cut the outer splash from the plastic milk bottle, stapling the pieces together; and the taller one from the empty shampoo bottle.  As the shampoo bottle was not cylindrical, but flattened, I heated the cut out piece with my hair dryer and squeezed it until it became more cylindrical.  Then I glued some of the royal blue organza onto it.  I found this took quite some time to dry and fix itself so, as time was short, I painted both sides of the shorter piece with royal blue acrylic paint.

Outer Splash Unpainted
Inner Splash with Organza
Both Splashes Tried Out For Size

To represent sprayed water drops, I added some of the salvaged Christmas decorations to the outer splash, having first extended them by twisting two wires together. I used some silver glitter glue on fine wires to make similar “water drops” for the inner splash and added those. I also glued some of the embellished organza onto the outside of the tall splash. Then I fixed it inside the outer splash and stapled them together at the base. After cutting two slits in the lower edges of the crown through which the headband would fit, I covered the base inside and out with some of the silver lace type fabric to cover the staples and soften the edges a bit. I cut out some of the “wave” shapes from this fabric and glued them onto the outer splash.

Finally, I slid the crown onto the headband and it was finished.

Finished Crown

Unfortunately, when I photographed the finished crown against a dark blue background, the silver came out gold in the picture – no doubt a trick of the light.  The second picture was taken against a white background and some of the silver drops appeared black.

The wardrobe mistress was pleased with the crown, as was I, but I think it would have been better to have been much larger.  It was a bit too dainty to be seen from the back of the auditorium.

Maris – 1st Dress Rehearsal – No Makeup

GLORIOUS DEVON Part 3

GLORIOUS DEVON Part 3

Back in June last year, at the end of my 2nd post on this felt painting, having remixed the fibres for my palette and removed the fibres I had already needled into the far background of the picture, I redid that bit of work and left you with this picture of where I had got to then:

Starting work

I am pleased to say that I have made considerable progress since then and here I’ll take you along for the ride!

On my next visit to the Hideaway Workshop – my friend’s place where I tend to do most of my work on my pictures – I set to to blend fibres for the palette for the main part of the picture.

Blending Fibres for Palette

I worked on the picture for about 4 – 5 hours once a month, until I was able to take this photo of the results on 26th February 2022.

This was still work in progress and I carried on and in May I was able to take further pictures of details – Red Devon cattle in one of the far off fields; sheep moving on the hill in the middle distance; the beginnings of trees and shrubs in the near distance; and the river in the foot of the valley with woods behind.

Red Devon cattle in one of the far off fields
sheep moving on the hill in the middle distance
the beginnings of trees and shrubs in the near distance
the river in the foot of the valley with woods behind

By then I had done pretty much all I was going to do for the landscape until the final details just at the end, and I needed to get on with the horse.

Now, I was toying with a new idea about how to do this. For some time I have been considering experimenting with the type of scenery often seen in simple stage sets like our typical panto village scene with shops and other buildings. Almost all of which were flat with one side showing a village shop and the other some other building for a different scene. These would be set about the stage facing square on to the audience so that they could see only the side applicable to the current scene, with further buildings painted on the backdrop. Cast members would appear from behind these and various other scenery flats like rocks, or bushes. I don’t have any suitable photos that would illustrate this, but I do have a couple of photos of children’s toy paper theatres which also demonstrate what I mean.

Toy Paper Theatres

I thought I might be able to do something along these lines for the horse in my picture.  By affixing a fairly stiff piece of felt in the shape of the horse to the picture but leaving it’s head and the top of the body unattached and slightly proud.  I was hoping that this would give even more depth to the whole.

Knowing that if I was to needle felt a “flat-ish” horse to the required size, I would actually have to start off with a slightly bigger image – as the more it was needled, the more it would shrink and become out of scale.  So using my copier I enlarged the image of the horse by 10% and then made a tracing of the image.  As I did with the actual landscape picture, I then stitched the outlines of the horse through the tracing onto a piece of thick white felt.  This was a piece of the felt that I used for the background of the landscape, but folded into three.  I needled it and then wet felted it so that it was a solid piece of felt which would if necessary stand up on its own.

starting to stitch over the tracing
ready to colour in

I blended some fibres to make the palette I would use, having decided that the picture I had taken would be a guide to shape only and I’d have a slightly different coloured horse in my picture.

Horse palette

I had by this time removed all the guide stitches from the landscape picture, except the lower part of the Golden Mean lines to guide me where to place the horse when completed.

Here is the horse, substantially finished, about to be cut out of his background.

And here he is having been cut out. 

I have left the top part of the body with the original depth of the backing felt and have shaved down the backs of the legs, the belly and nose so that they will be more part of the picture as opposed to appearing to stand proud of it.  I have also added coloured fibres to the sides and the rear edges for the whole horse so that no white background will be visible when the horse is attached to the landscape.  The final shape of the legs and neck will be refined at that stage, and more grass added around the muzzle and hooves.  I have left the tail and the forelock un-needled to emulate a slight breeze blowing some hairs around. I have also attached some linen threads to the back which I will use to secure the body to the picture. If I don’t do this it is possible that the horse might fall off the picture if he’s only attached by his hooves and his muzzle.

back view

And this is where I have come to a (“shuddering”) halt.

I was hoping that this would be the last post in this series; that I would have finished my picture of the horse on the Devon hillside. However the recent very hot (to us) weather we have been experiencing here in the UK has meant that I’ve had to stop work. So I was getting very behind. In addition, I seem to have acquired an RSI (repetitive strain injury) to the shoulder of my dominant right arm – to be exact “rotator cuff related shoulder pain”. Although I don’t think it was as a result solely of needle felting, I suspect that the action of frequently stabbing fibres for several hours at a time may have contributed to it. It certainly hasn’t helped it. Whatever, it has resulted in my having to put aside my needle felting for the moment. I will post again as soon as I can get back to work and finish this, which has fast become a labour of love. In the meantime this where I have got to.

Back into the Project bag
Second Quarter Challenge 2022 – I can’t do that

Second Quarter Challenge 2022 – I can’t do that

As soon as I saw what Lyn was setting as our next Challenge I thought “but I can’t do that”.  I have always stumbled when trying to understand Design because, although I can see pattern in a lot of things, I fail entirely in translating what I see into my work.  I am very literal in my thinking, and when I see abstract pieces (usually “modern” embroidery pieces) based on images of say, a broken brick, or the reflection in a window, or a rusty piece of metal, or a “fractal”, I think to myself “yes, very clever, but why?” and “what would I do with it?” and “I can’t see that on my wall” (and just occasionally “I wouldn’t give that house room!”).   This is why I tend to make my pictures or 3D sculptures as realistic as I can.

I was going to just not bother with this Challenge, and then I remembered that some years ago I had attended a course on Design – I had forgotten all about it and it is relevant to this Challenge.

In August 2015 the Association of Guilds of Weavers Spinners & Dyers included in it’s week long residential Summer School syllabus a course by Alison Daykin – “Design for the Terrified” and I was lucky enough to be allocated a place – most courses were usually over-subscribed.  Here is the introductory list of available courses from the brochure for you to drool over!

The course was described as offering “help to ‘painting and drawing challenged’ weavers, spinners, dyers, or other textile practitioners, in understanding Design and using this in their chosen medium”.  The brochure went on to say: “This course will provide simple, but effective guidelines in design, without the student feeling overwhelmed by theory. The tutor will also leave plenty of room for participants to express themselves in their chosen medium.

“By the course end students will have at least one sketchbook and understand the basics of: colour studies; textural studies; shape; line/stripes.

“Students are encouraged to make samples appropriate to their own textile skills. They may choose to bring their loom or wheel with them, or to develop further sketchbooks if they prefer.”

Frankly this description of the course frightened the life out of me and I nearly didn’t apply, not least because I would be foregoing the chance to take the offered very interesting felt making course. (It’s headline description was “… an ‘adventure with fibres and fabrics’, combining colour, texture and layering to produce felted fabrics for decorative purposes or garments” and that was what I was most interested in at the time.) However after exchanging a few emails with Alison, and reading the three blogs which she sent out about the course I decided to bite the bullet.
The first blog post puts emphasis on your “Inspiration” and resulted in a further flurry of emails with Alison, since I had no idea what it meant or what my “Inspiration” should be in this context. She basically said that I should pick a subject which I found really interesting. I was undecided whether to plump for trees, which seemed a very big subject, or sea shells – almost as big but of which I had recently started a collection. In the end I went with sea shells.

Sea Shell collection with Sea Urchin “
skeletons”

The second and third blog posts and a “round robin” email from Alison encouraged us to bring along as many different types of art media as we might be able to lay our hands on, including different types and colours of paper and “mark making” equipment. In addition we were asked to only bring one image of our inspiration, but as many copies of it as possible. (As I hadn’t been able to choose just one shell my image consisted of most of my collection, which also included sea urchin “skeletons”.) We would also need to take a notice board (if we hadn’t already made a mood board – “Er …. what’s one of them?”) so that we could pin up various bits and pieces as we went through the course. We would also need the equipment and materials required to make samples in our chosen technique. As I didn’t know which shell would be my inspiration the “materials” consisted of most of my stashes of fibres, fabric & yarns!
I’m sure you’ve all heard of the saying “everything but the kitchen sink” – very apt, my poor car was groaning when I set off with all this stuff plus clothes etc., and I had yet to fit in the friend I was giving a lift to, plus all her stuff and her walking aid. (She was still a bit frail after an illness.)

The Summer School was based at Moreton Morrell Agricultural College in Warwickshire, where (after we got lost twice on the way) I met Alison and the rest of the class members. There were weavers, spinners, an embroiderer and a felt maker – me.
Alison showed us her own work, and took us through her process for designing woven fabrics for specific purposes, showing us her mood boards and pictures of finished fabrics “in situ”. Here is a much abbreviated view of how she followed one inspiration from an image of ancient ruins to cloth samples.

She then started us off on our own design journey. Alison suggested to me that I should pick my favourite shell from the picture of my collection and make an enlarged drawing of the shell, both in monochrome and in colour and using different media. I had a go at this, although my drawing skills are minimal. This was before she had found that we would be able to have access to the college’s print facilities, where we could get photographs printed, and colour and monochrome photocopies made on a copier, which was capable of enlarging. We all made great use of this facility – zeroing in on just part of our inspiration image and having multiple copies made on different colour papers as well as plain white – which enabled us to speed up our progress through the stages of the design processes that Alison had mapped out for us.

One of the “tricks” which Alison showed us was to take two images, cut (or tear) them into strips (leaving one side of the paper still intact, and then to weave the two images.  This did produce some interesting results.

We also cut strips across an image and used this to reference yarn (in my case fibre) wraps. Using this method enabled us to achieve a colour swatch giving combinations, quantities and placement of harmonious colours.

Showing the progress from picture strip to felted swatch

Once we had all played around with these ideas for a day, we were encouraged to get on and start creating samples in our chosen techniques, keeping in mind how we might use the finished work. As I was interested in making felt for clothing and accessories, I had brought with me copies of designs from specific sewing patterns and tried to pick the patterns that would best suit. I had by this time branched out to using as inspiration two different Sea Urchin skeletons, one Cone shell (and when no-one was looking I did a bit of crochet based on the end of a Conch type shell).

As you can see, I’m still leaning towards the literal/representational side of designing.

Alison also encouraged us to take our cameras and go out around the college grounds and look for more inspirations for design. At this stage we had all got used to looking beyond the obvious and came up with some unusual images. This was the one I chose to do something with – don’t ask me why – it’s just a picture of the wood surround (and my toes) to a raised flower bed outside the portacabin which was our workshop, where we all congregated for coffee, snacks and chat.

Being full of enthusiasm for the project, I cut down the photograph to a corner and then cut out the image of part of the surround.

which I then had enlarged and with several copies started to develop the design

This is the design I finally ended up with.

There are five versions in this picture, the basic design on top with four colour changes of the small “pops” of colour.  And here is the jacket pattern and a tracing of the design.

The last day of the course was mainly taken up with visiting the rooms where the other courses had been taking place for a grand Show & Tell. To this end, we had packed up all our equipment and materials and set up our notice boards and work tables as displays of what we had been doing. Here are mine

And here are some of the displays of other class members’ work.  Not all of them I’m afraid, I had camera shake by then so I’ve only included the less blurred ones.

The whole Summer School experience was great, with evening entertainments, a fashion show, a display of entries for the Certificate of Achievement “exams”, a traders’ market (I spent too much money as usual) and a trip to Stratford Upon Avon for a tour of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Theatre with a chance to see some of their costumes “up close and personal”. 

We inhabited a bubble, with little contact with the outside world.  (There wasn’t even a signal for our mobile phones, short of climbing a hill and standing in the middle of the road.)  A wonderful experience and I’ve enjoyed revisiting it.

I am afraid that by the time I got home again I reverted to type and have not made any fabrics, felted or woven, from any of the designs. I just did what I usually end up doing after returning from a workshop – I put everything away and forgot about it! So I still don’t have a 2nd Quarter Challenge piece to show you; though as a result of writing this post and after seeing some of the pieces which FFS members have posted, I do feel better about the possibility of designing from random observations and images.

I am looking forward to seeing what the next quarter’s Challenge will be.

We Need a New Door Stop

We Need a New Door Stop

Recently we have acquired a new bookcase for our living room.  It was actually made to fit in the space between the front wall and the door of the room.  However it has a sort of lip around the top, the corner of which was banged by the glass of the open door if we were not careful.

2 Views of the book case against the glass (with some of my menagerie in view on the book case)

Obviously we needed something to stop the door before it fully opened. After some thought I decided that it needed to be tall (so that we didn’t have to bend down too far to move it – the floor gets further away the older you get), but it needed to be thin too otherwise the door wouldn’t open far enough to let one of us safely into the room, especially with drinks in hand.

I wanted it to go with the colour of the carpet and I knew that I had somewhere in my stash a blue wool sweater that I had felted (on purpose) by putting it through the washing machine. I finally rooted it out and decided that I would use one of the sleeves, which had a pattern knitted into it.

The Other Sleeve – what’s left of it – the pattern looks a bit hazy but hang in there, you’ll see it later.

Initially I thought that I would make a tall thin pyramid shape to fit in the gap between the side of the book case and the door. I sewed up the cuff of the sleeve and, to make sure it didn’t keep falling over, I begged a piece of flat lead sheet from my husband which I fitted into the bottom of the stuffed sleeve, and then sewed up what had been the shoulder to make the base. 

Well it was ok, but I thought it needed a bit more interest and decided to turn the door stop into a cat.

Out came the felting needles and my scoured merino, which I use as core fibres. Then for the “top coat” I sorted through the blues in my stash – normally jealously guarded because I don’t have a lot now as I use them for sky in my pictures – and found some which almost matched the main blue of the sleeve. Obviously he wasn’t going to be a realistic cat so I tried to “cartoonise” his features, and rather than give him needle felted eyes as I might normally do I fished out some bright orange glass eyes from another stash which would go well with his dark blue face. I used some of the blue to make a wet felt sheet, out of which I cut his ears.

Having made his head, I attached it to the tall thin pyramid. It’s sewn as well as needled on, but even so I was concerned that if he was picked up by his head it might come off. I made a piece of blue cord and attached that as a loop behind his head so that he might be moved safely. And here we have him.

Smiley Door Cat

Not long after this, we acquired a new pinky-grey bathroom carpet and also new pink and grey towels to replace very tired old red ones. Until then we had been using the bathroom scales as a door stop – that door will slam very hard if the wind gets up when the window is open. So now I decided that we would need another door cat.

When we got the new carpet we did not change the basic colour scheme as we didn’t want the hassle of changing the suite (vintage Pampas) or the tiles. The colour scheme is essentially derived from the tiles, which are pink and grey with some crimson detailing. Originally we had a red-ish carpet and red and dark grey towels, but when I bought those towels I could not get a bath mat to match, so I made one by stitching two red hand towels back to back.

Bathroom Tile

As the new carpet shed fibres quite a lot to begin with I thought of making the new door cat out of that fibre, but after a little more thought I realised that that would not be a good idea. We would keep falling over a camouflaged cat in the gloom of a late night visit!

So I thought I might find another felted sleeve, but couldn’t come up with something the right colour. Then, because we still had touches of red in the room, I decided that I would deconstruct the old red bath mat and use one of the pieces for the cat’s body. I had already given away the rest of the old towels to my friend for her dogs.

I felt that a “loaf cat” pose would be best, less likely to tip over if the wind caught the door, but I’d need too much lead sheet to make it a suitable weight. So I visited the garden and found a triangular(ish) shaped piece of rock, washed it and wrapped it in a couple of layers of non-woven cotton towels, secured with masking (painter’s) tape. I made myself a paper pattern of the body and cut out two body sides and a gusset for the base and chest. I cut out the pattern pieces from the towel and stitched it all up (first inserting the wrapped rock and stuffing it with polyester stuffing.

I had seen a cartoon of a smiling cat, which had enormous ears, which looked really cheeky. I thought I’d have a go at making one like that. I started with the core fibre again and got the head substantially how I’d like it and then thought about fibres for the coating.

Head ready to be covered in “Top Coat” (for some reason enlarged umpteen sizes)

I did not have exactly the right red, so had to blend a couple of pieces of pre-dyed merino tops which seemed to work ok. I did the same to make a pinky-grey blend for the chest, face and inside of the ears. I had decided that I would make the cat’s chest a similar colour to the carpet which meant that I had to make a wet felted sheet of the pinky-grey batt to cover the original red towelling. I cut the felt into the shape of the chest gusset, leaving enough for a pair of large ears.

I needled some of the red onto the back of the ears, and this resulted in a darker pink on the inside where the needles had pushed fibres right through, which was actually a benefit I think. I needled the blended red on to the back of the cat’s head and neck, and the pinky-grey onto the face, attached the ears and gave him a darker pink nose. I “shadowed” the smile and blinking eyes and I also gave him some laughter lines.

Nearly finished head, along with my felting cushion and a trapped needle holder

Then I stitched the head onto the neck, and the chest piece over his front, catching in the head at the neck.  I covered the join with more needled fibres and, using another piece of towel, attached a handle to the back of his neck so that he could be moved without his head coming off.

Loving Blinks from the new Door Ward

My husband has already named him Yoda.  We each confessed the other day that we both chat to him (in fact I pick him up and cuddle him too – he just fits into one arm)

What about the poor tatty sheep at the beginning of this post? Well, many years ago now, when I was a fairly new needle felter, I decided that I’d like to make myself a door stop for my bedroom door. I had acquired from our Guild a Jacob fleece, which, as it turned out, was ideal for needle felting. It certainly wasn’t a lot of good for wet felting – it wouldn’t, whatever I did to it. I suppose I must have had an old ram’s coarse and kempy fleece palmed off on me, when I was too naïve to know what I was getting – no wonder it was cheap!

Anyway, I got a body shaped pebble out of the garden, and washed it, wrapped it in some of the un- wetfelted fleece and started in with a No.36 felting needle (I only had 36 triangle and 38 star needles in those days- oh and a No.19 which was so thick it wouldn’t really go through anything I had with any ease). I bust quite a few needles before the pebble was covered. I added a neck to one end and then decided that my sheep would need eyes and a pair of horns. At that time I did not know that Jacob sheep often have 4 horns and wear them as if they had put them on in a hurry in the morning whilst still half asleep!

I made the horns and eyeballs using pipe cleaners and white Fimo polymer clay, baked and painted with acrylic paints. At that stage in my career I had not thought of using PVA glue on needled fleece to make horns. I needled a head shape around the horns and eyes, and then attached it to the neck. It did not occur to me to strengthen the neck with the ends of the pipe cleaners, I had cut these short and just put the horns on either end, and did the same with the eyes.

Well it all worked and for years he sat by my door, getting moved when necessary with my foot.  Now he’s a sad old thing, but being sentimental I can’t bear to get rid of him, even though he’s lost a horn and is definitely the worse for wear.  Perhaps I’ll give him a “makeover” sometime.

Poor Old Jacob, grown old and infirm in service

 

 

Fleece Challenge

Fleece Challenge

Back at the beginning of the Century, when I was a fairly new member of the Dorset Guild of Weavers Spinners & Dyers, and an enthusiastic entrant for challenges, the Association of Guilds of Weavers Spinners & Dyers (referred to by older members as “National”) via it’s quarterly magazine “The Journal” decided to run a Rare Breed Challenge.

National would provide a quantity of raw (unprocessed) fleece to any member of a Guild who entered with the intention that the member would process the fleece and send in a report for publication in the Journal. I thought that I should have a go.

The piece of fleece that arrived in October 2001 weighed 5¼  oz (145 gr.) before washing.  The staple was 4” long with a pronounced crimp, and it was quite oily. 

Staple

I placed the whole sample in my “patent fleece washer” (about which more sometime in the future) and left it to soak in plain rainwater for two days. The garden benefitted from the mucky water afterwards.
The fleece was drained but not dried, and then given two further long soaks in rainwater and Fairy liquid. A final overnight soak in rainwater and Woolite was followed by two rinses in rainwater (it must have been a wet autumn). The fleece was drained again and then spread out on a rack in the airing cupboard to finish drying.

Raw Fleece, as it arrived
Washed Fleece

I was surprised to find that almost all of the lanoline had been removed from the fleece, despite the fact that the rainwater had not been heated at any time. However, as this was the first time that I had washed fleece, I should possibly have expected this result. Because the fleece was so dry, I added a smidgin of Johnson’s Baby Oil as I carded it. At least to begin with – until I got fed up with the smell and added some lavender oil.

I decided to make a shawl or stole, because the fibres felt a little too scratchy for a scarf or anything which would be close to the skin. I did not think that there would be sufficient yarn to make a garment to be worn on top of other clothes. I felt that a fine yarn to make into a lacy article would be best – it would go further than a thicker yarn and, with care, be “light and airy”.

I wanted to spin much more finely than I have done in the past and had read somewhere that thin rolags would be better for fine spinning. So when carding, I separated each bat into two layers (one from one carder and one from the other) and formed the rolags round a knitting needle to make long thin rolags.

Carding the fleece.
“Pencil” Rolags

I had also heard that it would be easier to spin finely if I padded out my bobbins. (You can tell that I’m mainly self taught from watching others spin or reading books, as I don’t know the mechanics behind these theories – but I’m was learning.) I used foam pipe insulation around the spindle of my bobbins and this worked very well.

It appeared to be quite easy to spin finely, at least for the first two bobbins. After that I was using the rolags from the bottom of the pile. They had suffered from compression and were more difficult to spin without too many slubs appearing. I plied the first two bobbins and took off the resulting two-ply yarn onto my niddy noddy. This is a very handy size. It was made for me by my brother-in-law and each full round measures a yard. I was therefore easily able to calculate that the length of my first skein was 118 yards. I set the ply by dipping the skein in cold (tap) water and Fairy liquid.

When it had dried I found that, despite having been spun semi-worsted, the yarn was quite fluffy. I felt that this would result in a blurring of most pattern stitches and decided therefore to try Broomstick crochet. I made a sample (a very rare occurrence for me) and found that, if I combined Broomstick with Tunisian crochet, I could make quite an attractive triangular shawl.

In case you are not conversant with Tunisian Crochet, let me give you a brief lesson. The hook used for these stitches is crossed between a knitting needle and a standard crochet hook – i.e. a knitting needle with a hook at the opposite end to the knob. (It is also possible to get a double (hooked) ended Tunisian hook for more complicated work). Each row is worked in two halves – a forward and a return row. Tunisian Simple stitch forward row is in fact unfinished Double (Single in US) Crochet. The final loop of each stitch is left on the hook so that at the end of the row you have a hook full of stitches, as in knitting. The return row is made by chaining off the stitches so that you end up with just one loop on the hook and are ready to start the next row.

According to Muriel Kent (author of Exciting Crochet – a Course in Broomstick & Tunisian Crochet) Tunisian Crochet is known as Afghan Crochet in North America and has also been called Russian Stitch. She reports that it is a very old craft, older than both knitting and ordinary crochet, and that an example had been found in an Egyptian tomb.
Broomstick crochet (or Witchcraft Lace!) is thought to have originated in North America, the principle being to make loops of a regular size by placing them onto a Broomstick – or very thick knitting needle – and to remove them in regular groups with double (single) crochet.

As I had not yet spun up all the prepared fleece, I had no idea how much yarn I would have in total. Also as time was now getting on, I thought I had better start on the shawl straight away, rather than wait until I had completed the spinning and plying. The safest way to cope with not knowing how much yarn I would finish up with was to start at the point and to increase at either end of the rows as I went along. Then, if I started to run out of yarn, I could avoid more easily ending up with an odd shape.

In the end the stitches I used were not quite those in the sample.  I have used “Tunisian Broomstick” rather than Tunisian and Broomstick.  After forming the Broomstick loops on a 20 mm Broomstick pin, I took them off in groups of six using a 4½ mm Tunisian crochet hook.  Instead of finishing each double crochet in the usual way, I left the last loop on the hook, Tunisian fashion, and then chained them all off. The next row was Tunisian treble (double treble?) stitch, and the increase was carried out at each end of this row – doubling the 12 stitches above the first and last “fan” of Broomstick stitches. This was done by passing he hook through the stitch on the previous row for one stitch, and then between that stitch and the next on the previous row for the new stitch, six times, increasing the stitches on the hook by twelve in total. These three rows form the pattern and give a right angled triangle.

Starting the Shawl
Tunisian Broomstick

I did not get the shawl finished before I had to send in the report, so there was no photo of it, but I note that I did enter it in our Guild Special Exhibition in 2002 which formed part of the Dorset Arts & Crafts Exhibition that year.

Theatre Textiles – Intermission

Theatre Textiles – Intermission

I had intended that the next Theatre Textiles post would be about the costumes which I had made for us once we had transferred to our new venue. However in the meantime I had started work on part of a costume for our next Pantomime – The Little Mermaid. No, not the Disney version, but even so the Director has decided that the Sea Witch will be part human/part octopus (to be named Iphelia – pronounced I-feel-ya, which gives an idea of how our pantos appeal to adults as well as children!) and I have been asked to dress her. Other than make the designs and collect fabrics and accessories matching the palette of purple and “sludge” green, there isn’t much I can do until the part is cast.

The piece of the costume that I have started on is the necklace which Iphelia will wear when she takes full human form for part of the panto. So I decided that I should keep detailed notes and photos of what I’m doing so that I could tell you about it.
I have designed her “human” costume so that it will have as many references to octopuses (octopi?) as possible. I was inspired by a necklace which I saw on the BBC News website (can’t remember what it was about though) and I did a quick screen clip which I added to my “costume ideas” folder. The necklace is, I think, of a snake about to devour a cabochon stone. I had also spotted, some time ago, part of a piece which appeared to be a tentacle holding a sphere. Nothing like an octopus but the stone made me think of an octopus “head”.

I thought that the tentacles could issue from behind a large stone and form the links to the rest of the necklace. Since the necklace will be worn with a top which is asymmetrical and therefore has an off centre neckline, I wanted a necklace which was also asymmetrical. This would mean that it would have to be very light so that it wouldn’t keep slipping round while it’s being worn. I knew that I could make felt look like something other than wool – I had made the horns for my highland cow from just felt, plus lots of PVA glue and a bit of graphite from a soft pencil, so I didn’t see why I couldn’t make the necklace in a similar way.

cow horns

I want the necklace to look like proper jewellery from a distance, that is a large cabochon for the head with bead eyes, with the tentacles smooth and shiny.
Let’s see if I can do it.

Equipment, materials and design ideas

I decided that the best way to make the tentacles bendable would be to use a wire armature and since I still have a quantity of craft pipe cleaners I went for them. I would use my core wools – scoured merino – and some coloured tops for the surface layer.

Starting the tentacles

I carded some scoured merino and wrapped 8 half lengths of pipe cleaner, leaving an end uncovered on each. Then I made an octopus head shaped “stone” from the core wool and covered it in deep purple merino tops.

First body

I wet felted the tentacles, smoothing them out as much as possible. While the tentacles were still wet I curled up 3 of them and fixed them with light wire to help them “remember” the curves when they had dried – at which point I lost the curled up ones. (I blame The Borrowers.) As a result I had to make three more tentacles and, since they were to be curled anyway and I needed them quickly, I just made wet felted cords which were curled up.

New Curls

By the time these were dried the Borrowers had obviously decided that they didn’t want the original curled tentacles as they had reappeared. I tried various positions of body and tentacles to see how the necklace might look.

mock up of layout

That was when I decided that the octopus body should not be purple but green, looking a bit like jade, and that the tentacles needed to be purple rather than the muddy green I had pulled out to use. So I stripped off the purple tops from the body and replaced it with more carded scoured merino. Then I wet felted it and gave it a good coating of PVA glue, and I also PVA’d the tentacles.

Colour change

When they had dried I got out the metal nail file and the emery board. A good filing with these smoothed out all the ridges and bumps caused by the hairy surface under the glue.
I gave them a couple of coats of Chinese Evergreen acrylic paint on the body, and of Mulberry Cream on the tentacles. These were “match pot” paints which I had acquired from a local DIY store. I find that decorating acrylic paint samples are very useful, since they have very good coverage and a fantastic range of colours. When I have a project like this, I visit and select from as many of the local(ish) stores as I can as they usually all carry a different range and therefore different colour choices.

When the paint had dried I decided that I would give the tentacles a coat of metallic purple paint (which I had acquired some time ago from a branch of The Range’s artists supplies). If it turned out the way I hoped it should look a bit like enamelling. I liked the result and, with the addition of a coat or two of clear nail varnish, it could be said to resemble enamel.

More Paint and Nail Varnish

I thought that the “jade” body stone might look good with a little purple “marbling” so added a few fine lines of a lilac coloured acrylic match paint, rubbed it a bit with my thumb and then varnished that too.
Then I filed, painted and varnished the curled tentacles. Since I needed to have only two tentacles reaching up to each side of Iphelia’s neck, the rest would need to be curled around elsewhere. I thought that they could be grasping smaller pieces of “jade”, so I painted some wooden beads green and varnished those too. Having shaped the tentacles as I thought might be best, I gave everything another varnish.

When the varnish had dried I fitted the, now green, beads in the curled tentacles and stitched them in where necessary. One of them actually fitted over the tip of the tentacle and didn’t need stitching. I gave those tentacles a further final varnish to fix the beads firmly.
It then occurred to me that to make the tentacles look more like jewellery I could make use of some of the jewellery findings which I had accumulated. I found some cord tips and, having added them to the ends of the tentacles without beads, painted them with an iridescent nail varnish since their “silver” colour had deteriorated to dull grey.

Varnished parts and Tentacles before brightening the cord tips

As I was about to assemble the octopus I realised that it hadn’t got any eyes and, although it is possible to sew through the painted and varnished surface, I decided that I didn’t want to risk poking a needle through in the wrong place. I needed to glue something down, but I’ve learned not to trust glue on stage. It always lets go just at the wrong time. Belt and braces are best!. I remembered then that I had acquired some glitter glue some time ago and having turned it out (eventually)I decided to just use blobs of it as the eyes. If they came off I doubted it would be noticed. I also decided that a “setting” was needed for the “cabochon” so I added a little braid which was painted and varnished.

Next I had to find a piece of the right green ribbon which I would permanently attach to one side of the necklace, and with a hook on the other end which could latch round the opposite side. Since the necklace would need to be removed quickly during the quick change which the actor would have, I would need to find a fastening that wasn’t fiddly. I had some furrier’s hooks and eyes, which are large and wrapped with yarn. I used a hook which I painted with the Chinese Evergreen acrylic and stitched that to the other end of the ribbon. And we were done.

Here is the finished piece. Hopefully in due course you will see it worn by the actor in costume.

Finished necklace

Experimental Archaeology – Swanskin

Experimental Archaeology – Swanskin

I am lucky enough to live in Sturminster Newton, Dorset, England (known affectionately by locals as Stur). One of our Town’s claims to fame is our Watermill. There has been a Watermill on the river Stour here for at least 1000 years. The original mill was a Grist Mill – that is for grinding corn, but in the early 1600s a Fulling (or Tucking) Mill was built adjacent to the Grist Mill.
This was largely to facilitate the greater production of a fabric which had been produced in and around Stur since the 1570s. This fabric was called Swanskin. It was a tough, course white woollen fabric, made from locally spun and woven wool, which was then scoured, fulled and the surface teazed and fulled again. Fishermen working out of Newfoundland, many of whom were recruited from Stur, greatly prized the Swanskin for its all-weather, waterproof qualities, as did the British Army and Navy.
Originally the fulling would have been done by fullers treading the fabric in troughs filled with all sorts of nasty stuff, including urine. Once the fulling mill was built this hard work was done mechanically. The woven fabric, in its troughs of nastiness, was hammered by large wooden stocks which were driven by gears from the waterwheel. Eventually the fulled cloth was hung out to dry along the river bank, stretched out on tenter frames by tenterhooks.
A report about Manufacturing in Dorset dated around 1812 reads:

“There is a manufactory in the neighbourhood of Shaftesbury of a kind of flannel called swanskin, which is a coarse white woollen cloth, used for soldiers’ clothing, and made from 18d. to 2s. a yard; but this is of little consequence to Shaftesbury, the chief trade in this article being carried on at Sturminster Newton, where about 1200 people are employed in it, and where between 4000 and 5000 pieces, containing 35 yards in length, in a piece, yard wide, are annually made.

At present the woollen manufactures are almost confined to Sturminster and Lyme Regis, at which latter place broad-cloth and flannels are made in considerable quantities.

At Sturminster there are four or five clothiers, and about 300 weavers; sometimes 700 or 800 people are employed in the manufactory of Swansdown, (sic.) but the trade is not so considerable as was formerly the case.”

In early 2016 I was asked by the curator of our town’s Museum and Mill Society (now known as the Sturminster Newton Heritage Trust) if I could produce a sample of Swanskin for the Museum since it appears that there is no example of actual swanskin now in existence.  As Swanskin was such an important part of the town’s history, the Museum wanted to create an exhibit for future reference.  This I did, so far as I could, and I also wrote them a report on the process, which I repeat here – it was of course written for the edification of members of the general public, most of whom would not be conversant with spinning and weaving terms, so please don’t think I’m trying to “teach granny to suck eggs”.

“Swanskin – Experimental Archaeology

“In order to try to recreate the processes in the manufacture of Swanskin some research was carried out by Kathleen Sanderson (a member of the Dorset Guild of Weavers Spinners and Dyers). It appeared that the likely breed of sheep from which the fleece was obtained was the Portland. This breed was found in fact over much of Dorset in the 17th Century.
“Kathleen found however that the fleece from today’s much improved breed of Portland sheep was finer and more delicate than would have been the case in 1600. She therefore blended Exmoor fleece with the Portland to obtain as near as possible the coarser, more hardwearing fibres originally used.
Originally the wool would have been spun “in the grease” – that is still containing (inter alia) the natural lanolin. The resultant yarn would have been woven in this state so that the resultant cloth would have had to be washed and treated with fuller’s earth (scoured) to remove the oils and other detritus like plant material and insect life.

Spun and Plied Yarn, with fibres

“The sample shown was spun after scouring because this had been necessary to facilitate the blending of the two fleeces.
The yarn was plied and then twill woven – that is instead of the basic over one, under one, over one – of plain weave, the weft was taken over two and under two on the first pass then over one under two over two on the next. This results in characteristic diagonal lines in the weave.
“When “fulled” twill woven fabric becomes denser than would a fabric with plain weave.

“I wove the sample in this fashion on a frame loom. After the weaving, the sample was wetted and fuller’s earth rubbed into it on both sides, just to make sure that all the grease and oils had been removed. This was rinsed out, the sample soaped and rubbed by hand to start the felting or fulling process.
“This process would have been carried out by “Fullers” or “Walkers” in the 11th and 12th centuries. Though they would have done it by treading or walking on the fabric in wooden troughs rather than using their hands. At Sturminster Fulling Mill swanskin was fulled at the Mill using water power to move fulling stocks. These hammered the fabric until it was fulled or felted sufficiently to make it water repellent.
“The sample was fulled in a washing machine, first at a temperature of 40° with a very hard rubber ball acting as a fulling stock. This was repeated once more and then at a temperature of 90° until the sample was fully felted. When the sample was almost dry it was ironed with a steam iron on both sides and then fully dried.
The original swanskin cloth would of course have been dried on tentering frames in the open air.

“Once the Sample was dry it was brushed with a flick carder (the modern equivalent of using a frame covered in teasels) on one side only in order to raise a nap on the fabric.”

The mill was open to the public again this year, after having had to be closed during lockdowns.  It is possible that, during the first lockdown, some of you may have seen reports about the fact that the mill reverted to milling flour which was provided to local bakers.  Many people over here took to making their own bread so that there was a general shortage of bread flour, and, since approaches were received from people from all over the globe trying to buy bread flour from our miller, I assume that this was the same almost everywhere. 

I have added below some internet links about the Mill and our Society (Sorry – Trust!), and some of the news stories from last year –  Google has lots more.

Oh and a couple of my felt paintings of the mill – adding a bit of artist’s licence!

https://sturminsternewton-museum.co.uk/mill/

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-dorset-52369075

https://www.9news.com.au/national/coronavirus-flour-shortage-ancient-mill-turned-museum-grinds-back-to-life/e1c0fe1b-9ff5-42ec-bbcf-d311325a5f0a

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/29/uk/english-mill-flour-resumes-production-scli-gbr-intl/index.html

Theatre Textiles Part 1

Theatre Textiles Part 1

After I had retired from full time work in 2006 I was finally able to join SNADS – our local amateur dramatic society. I live in a small market town in Dorset and SNADS was the main source of entertainment for our area at that time (as it had been since 1930, although newspaper archives indicate that it was around at least as early as 1883). I had seen most of the productions which they had put on since we moved there in 1999 and longed to join in, not only on stage, but behind the scenes. During any one year there are at least 4 productions – Pantomime in February, Spring Play in May, a Variety Show/Revue in the summer and the Autumn play in early October, and as soon as that was over, the round started again with preparations for the following year’s Panto.

We had a fantastic wardrobe mistress, but she needed help with costumes, especially at Panto time as there was so much to do.

My first foray into costume was to make a full head cat mask for the summer review. Two of our members were to sing Rossini’s Cat Duet and the director decided that it would be fun to have a disreputable tom cat watching them from the side-lines. I had recently learned to wet felt 3D items using a resist, so I made the mask from wet felted pieces and needle felted details. I didn’t want the actor’s eyes to show through and anyway, I needed to give the cat it’s proper “slit” irises. So I stitched into the eye holes a piece of doubled yellow organza and just painted the vertical slit. (It is quite possible to see what’s going on through organza if it is held close to your face.) How to give him a proper nose? I needled the correct shaped nose on the mask, then I painted on some artist’s gesso, let it dry and added some more. Gesso is textured so it was necessary to file the nose to make it a bit smoother, also the gesso is white, so I painted the nose with black enamel paint which I nicked from my husband’s paint store (he’s a model maker). After a couple of coats of that, Tom had a shiny(ish) black nose. Add some “bitten” ears and “wonky” whiskers and he was nearly done. The cat’s mouth was open – it allowed the actor to breathe and gave Tom naughty grin. Finally I gave him a pink tongue and white tips to his ears.

Disreputable Tom Cat

The next production that I was involved in was the pantomime Cinderella, written and directed by one of our members. I was asked by the wardrobe mistress if I would dress both the Fairy (“Fairy Nuff”) and Buttons’ dog, Beau. The director wasn’t quite clear about what kind of dog Beau should be, except that he was to be comic. So I did a sort of 3D needle felt sketch of the dog’s head as I saw it – black and white with one ear cocked.

“Sketch” for Buttons’ Dog

However I’d got it wrong – Beau was to be a black poodle. 

After some discussion with the wardrobe mistress, we decided that the actor would wear a black polo necked top, thick black tights and black gloves. I managed to find a piece of curly black faux fur to make a short jacket, with enough left over to make pompon for the top of the head and the end of the tail, the long dangly ears and wrist and ankle rings to simulate the correct style poodle cut. I was to make a full head mask. For this I made a wet felt hood using a resist and a further piece of flat felt incorporating some of the curly faux fur trimmed from the bought fabric. A lot of that moulted out though because it was nylon or polyester and very slippery. Enough was fixed in however to give the right effect.

I made a needle felted muzzle – again with the mouth open to reveal the red tongue and white teeth, and to allow the actor to breathe.  The nose I made in the same way as for the tom cat – shaped with the felting needle, gessoed and painted.  The muzzle was attached to the hood/face with stitching and felting needles.  Some of the flat felt was cut to represent the dog’s lips and attached by stitching and needle felting to the muzzle.  The “Disney-esque” eyes were again painted organza and were stitched on the inside of the mask. 

The ears and head pompon were also stitched on.  I added a piece of brown fabric and a belt buckle around the dog’s throat to simulate a collar and allow the mask to be firmly secured over the actor’s polo necked top.  I have worn this costume myself a couple of times in subsequent Carnival processions – great fun.

Beau

Since the actress cast for the part of Fairy Nuff had a figure which could easily cope with a glamourous costume, for the base I was given a basque that fitted her. She was to appear out of a compost heap at the edge of the stage, so I set to and made lots of autumn coloured leaf shapes – mainly oak – out of different brown bronze and gold metallic organzas. I sandwiched sparkly bits between layers of organza. I machined stitched around the edges and along the veins of each leaf and then cut out the shapes with a soldering iron. This sealed the edges and prevented fraying. Then, with the basque on a dressmaker’s dummy I attached large pieces of bronze organza for the tail, and then added the strategically placed leaves.

The wings were made from two lengths of flat wire (originally from a pop-up fabric laundry container) covered with more organza, this time creamy white but with sparkles and sequins added. These were attached to the back of the costume by stitching the wire to the shoulder straps of the basque and covering the join with some dark bronze/gold chiffon.

The crown was made from bronze Christmas decorations (that year bronze was in fashion over here – UK). I used bronze plastic icicles, some foil stars and some more organza leaves attached to a head band. I can’t remember what the wand tip was made from – possibly a bunch of tinsel.

I actually got a speaking part in this Panto – only a couple of lines but a step up from what I’d had before.
I don’t have a proper photo, this was before my husband had a digital camera, however I’ve managed to extract a clip from the video we had made of the show. It’s a bit fuzzy if enlarged but I think you can get the gist. I’m in the gold dress with my exclusive “Toilet Duck” perfume, and my punchline? “It drives the men Quackers!”

Guests at the Ball with “perfume”!

After this show, we had one final “adult” Revue and then we moved to where we are now based. Try this link it should show you the hall we left, Sturminster Hall, and eventually the Community and Arts building, The Exchange, which is now our home. https://stur-exchange.co.uk/about/
Unfortunately it seems that a second link, on the above page, may not yet be working – this is a new website in the process of being fully set up so here’s the brochure which was produced the year after it opened.

The Exchange Brochure 2008

The staircase balustrade is wrought iron made by a local craftsman and represents the river Stour which runs through our town. All the Rooms in The Exchange are named after rivers and streams running close by, and it is just beginning to open again to live theatre as well as community groups.

We at SNADS started off our return with an Adult Cabaret a couple of weeks ago, for once without a male Balloon Dance or a ladies Fan Dance, but there was a Pole Dance!

More about my exploits with SNADS (including an explanation of the picture of the wicked queen) later. Watch this space.

Glorious Devon Part 2

Glorious Devon Part 2

At the end of Part 1 I mentioned that I had made a tracing of the basic position of the main features of the picture, with the intention of using that to mark the important features onto the background by stitching.

These pictures show the tracing, and part of the initial background marking.

This picture shows all the marking out I have done at this stage, as I like to work these pictures from the far distance first and work towards the foreground, so that I have a better chance of getting perspective and depth right. The tracing is still intact as I have just released it from the backing by running a needle along the line of the stitches, cutting though the tracing paper without (so far) tearing it.

You may note that the tracing does not show the horse. I made a separate tracing of that, so that I can place it correctly when the picture is sufficiently advanced and so that I get the size right.

The next step is my palette of felt “paints” Having collected from my stash of merino tops those colours that I thought might be useful, and using my dog comb-carders, I started to blend various colours to create those I would need for the hill in the far background.

However as I was doing it in the evening, using my daylight lamp, I found that it is not really “daylight”, just bright. When looked at in the real daylight it was clear that most of the colours are wrong. After I had used them to fill in the far distant hills, I saw that they looked even more like sky than in the original photo. So I enlarged that section of the original photo and used that to recreate the palette.

The hills still look a bit on the blue side in this picture, but not as blue as I had needled into the picture. Also it is clear that in my picture I had not made the nearer hills misty enough. So I set to and removed all the colours I had added and did some more blending in the real daylight.  Here is what I managed to come up with by sitting beside the window while I was doing it.  It was a bit overcast  outside but I understand that that is the best light to work in if you haven’t got a north facing window.  Mine faces west and when the sun is shining in the afternoon I can’t see for squinting.

Here’s what I came up with. Much better.

I’m going to have to try to find replacements for the carders though, one of the handles has snapped off. My husband’s “patched” it with a bit of brass and some screws (he works in metal!) but it won’t last much longer. Mind you they don’t owe me anything, I bought them about 6 or 7 years ago and I only paid £1. each for them!

So now I have to go back to the picture and remove what I have done; and on Thursday, when my friend is reopening her workshop, I’ll have a full day to make a fresh start.  I can’t wait.

In fact I’ve just been to a second full day’s workshop so I’ve made fair progress.  I have added the Golden Mean lines so that I can make sure that I can show things that I want to emphasise where I want them to be “artistically”.

My last picture shows where I’ve got to todate. Watch this space!

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