Spring means many things, but it always reminds me of our Ottawa Valley Weavers’ and Spinners’ Guild foray into growing our own flax, aka ‘The Flax Project’. Its hard to believe it was over two years ago, nearly three, that a group of us tackled the happy adventure of trying to produce our own flax crop, not once, but twice. It brought back memories of warm spring days planting and weeding, hot, hot summer days of staking and weeding (the one constant was weeding), days of harvesting, drying, retting, seeding, rippling, scutching and all those lovely bizarre words to describe specific processing of flax. Flax is grown and harvested in a community, but it is customarily spun in the winter when there is no other more pressing work to do. I find it very dusty and messy fiber to spin, or maybe I just don’t like doing that part without the shared company of fellow fiber lunatics.
So while I was clearing out bits and pieces of unfinished projects, I found my share of the flax and tow.
I also found loads of other flax that had been spun over the years.
Most have been left as singles and is ready for weaving.
Some I boiled as an experiment. Flax will lighten in colour if you boil it. It also softens significantly and your house will smell like hay soup.
Some came to me bleached, so I gave that a spin. It was extremely soft. My concern is for the durability of anything made with prebleached flax fiber. Woven flax is renamed linen for those of you who didn’t know, and linen fabric is incredibly strong, and long wearing.
There are two down sides to linen; one is that it wrinkles. I like the wrinkles of linen, especially jackets and trousers, but some people can’t stand that characteristic. The other is its tendency to fade. Linen will take colour but over time it will lose that colour and move towards white. Again, I like this in linen, and it takes ages for this to happen. A bright, bright blue will mute over years and acquire a vintage look that can only be seen in linen.
Covid enabled me to join a most remarkable group of flax enthusiast started by an extremely generous woman in Europe. Her name is Christiane; she was gifted a large quantity of flax from a lady called Berta. This was from Berta’s dowry. Christiane decided to share it with other interested spinners and reached out on social media. I asked for two stricks. A strick is what the finished combed flax. It is usually very fine, has little to no straw and is very tidy, ready for spinning.
Well!! You can imagine how this took off. In the middle of a pandemic. People desperate for knowledge, information, something challenging, interesting, contact with the rest of the world…this took on a life of its’ own. Much of this flax was grown, processed and stored pre WW2. It was of historical significance, to be part of that is pretty inspiring. Christiane knows what she has and rose to the occasion. She was gifted more dowry chests, documented more stories, and sent out more flax to more and more enthusiasts. She also sent out hand woven linen, patterns, she wrote articles, held workshops, taught about the history of flax production in Europe, specifically Austria, helped flax lovers from all over the world to connect with each other. The project became massive. She now has help to manage the administration of this mammoth undertaking.
Thanks to Christiane I now have suppliers of flax in Egypt and Canada and my treasures from Berta’s flax plus a community world wide I can go to if I run into problems and need answers.
But the question I’m sure many of you have is can flax be of any use to felters? Yes, I think so. For binding felt books, for embellishments, for stitching, linen backing on a felted image, dry felting onto a linen fabric (not sure, but the fabric is durable), there must be elements of cross compatibility.
The season for demonstrations is coming up and it looks like this year we can actually go out into the community again. I am looking forward to taking along a fully dressed distaff with some gorgeous blond flax, blowing in the breeze, a little water bowl for dipping near at hand and inspire awe in the local population, that humans can make thread out of grass. Okay, not awe, but maybe some curiosity, I’ll take curiosity.
Continuing on from stitch camp I have started stitching. I like the pieces with a lot of negative space best but thought I should try to do something outside my natural inclination. So I picked one with mostly yellow but a nice distribution of blue too to start with.
I did a bit of stitching but decided it was too soft and floppy to work well. The stitching was distorting the fabric even though it wasn’t pulled too tight. Another thing I could see, that might happen, is the messy stitching on the backside might show through the white fabric. Iron-on interfacing would solve both problems. I know I have some……somewhere. And the Iron, I have one of those too, I am sure I saw it recently.
I found the iron first, but not before a mouse had found it. The mouse (the one we caught in the fall,) had chewed up the cord. Not a nice chew in half or in one spot but all the way along. You can tell how often Iron because the mouse was caught in the fall, late September or early October. Well, I didn’t like that iron anyway it tended to leak. I will have to buy a new one. Sorry, no picture of the chewed-up cord. I tossed it out on garbage day.
I never know what to buy, so I picked the middle price and the one that says it does not leak on the box. I was tempted by the one with the retractable cord but it was digital with little buttons. I don’t think my iron needs electronics.
Then I found my one-sided iron-on interfacing.
I am less thrilled with the pieces than I was so I picked 3 of the double pieces and one of the singles to use and I will see how that goes. If I start liking them better I can do some more.
I have 2 ironing boards. on is under siege in the spare bedroom and the other one, the small one, disappeared into the packed things. so I had to do it the old-fashioned way with a wool blanket on the table. I used a small piece of sheeting for the ironing cloth.
Stitching with the interfacing is better.
When I did this bit of badly done satin stitch, I noticed the distortion starting. Adding the interfacing and ironing seems to have fixed it.
I don’t know what stitching to do. I know it’s all just an exercise but I still want it to look good. I did some seed stitch and that is probably my favourite so far. I thought it was done but looking at it now it needs something else across the join down near the bottom between the woven circle and the yellow seed stitch I think.
Since I started writing this post I started the second piece. One of the more blue ones. I decided to use some green thread as there are some green spots where the blue and yellow paint crossed.
So far so good. I find it hard to decide where to stitch and what to stitch. I am enjoying it and I hope my stitching will improve with the practice. I find it hard to get my needle to go in or come up exactly where |I want it to. I am using a rounded tip needle. Perhaps a sharp one would work better but I didn’t have one with me. Another thing to look for. It is probably stuck in a piece of foam with some felting needles in a project bag or box.
It wasn’t until I started editing the pictures that I noticed this piece has a parrot in it. It is funny how we don’t see things until we take a picture of them. Do you see it too?
The January Meeting of our local Weavers and Spinners guild had a Zoom presentation on silk from the owners of Sanjo Silk (B.C. Canada). They talked about the different types of silk, about some of their acquisition trips to buy silk and showed us some of what they had in their store. It was all quite inspiring with the silk giving lots of ideas for future spinning or projects.
1 web page of Sanjo silk showing some of the silk they offer (Fiber, Yarn and cool odd stuff)
After the meeting, there was an inquiry if there would be interest in a group purchase to reduce the cost of shipping. Their website offered free shipping over $200.00 Canadian (before taxes). There was another discount if we had a higher number too, but we doubted we could spend that much. We had a small number of enthusiastic shoppers express interest and our new Yarn Convener set out to organize our shopping.
We perused the website www.sanjosilk.com/ and selected our drool-able lists. We then added the costs up and each sent our list to Deborah. She collected our payments, tallied the master list and sent out the order. She organized it all through E-Transfers, (I had never sent money by an E-Transfer, it was all very exciting!) She even organized E-refunds when we had collective spend enough for a further price reduction!!
Deborah had some cool stats that may interest you.
After not very long a LARGE box arrived! Deborah did a sort of the loot into each of our lists then dispersed it among the group.
2 the box arrives!!
3 our combined loot out of the box
I had a specific interest in my acquisitions; I was interested mainly in some of the colours that silk comes in besides white. I chose 3 options for further investigation. (Tussah, Muga and Eri)
4-5 Mr. Mer helps me set up for the fibre photoshoot
The Peduncle tussah silk was a silvery brown. This is fibre from the pediculus (foot) of the cocoon. On their website, it is described as Pewter in fibre form, with a stunning lustre of Brownish-grey. It was the least expensive of the three coloured silks I selected at $11.25 for 50g. I am sorry I did not get more it would be exquisitely blended with fine dark wool.
6-7 Peduncle tussah silk
The Golden Muga silk was a blond colour. This one was described as “liquid gold”. They did warn that there is a lot of natural variation between batches they receive. The differences are caused by variations in diet and environment for the silkworms. They suggest you get enough for an entire project at once so you don’t have variations within the colour range by getting different batches. This one was $16.90 for 50g. I think I would like to see what variation is available so may order again and hope to get it from another batch.
8-9 Golden Muga silk
The Red Eri Silk was a Fox colour orange/gold. Their website described it as a deep Orange-butterscotch, soft Luxuriously lustrous and long staple-length fibre, prepared in a thick roving. I am wondering if Mrs. Mer would like some of this blended with another fibre for her hair and possibly some fishy body highlight. This was $18.80 for 50g.
10-11 Red Eri Silk
While browsing I spotted the oddest looking “cocoons” I have ever seen, full of little holes and in a golden colour. I had to add them to the list! They were listed as Gold Cricula Cocoons (wild) from Indonesia. They further explain that this is the outer part that attaches to the tree branch. The strong gold colour is from the Sericin, if it is removed the silk will be a pale yellow. It was suggested that you can “soak your cricula cocoons in water (with a dash of pH-neutral soap); reshape them, enhancing their dome shape with your fingers; let them dry. Or iron them flat for use in 2D projects”. My brain immediately started thinking about a top for Mrs. Mer!! I am sure that you will think of much more exciting things to try with this cool cocoon attachment! A bag of 5g (a large handful) was $7.00.
12-13 Gold Cricula Cocoons (wild) from Indonesia
The next two selections were similar to each other. The first was 100% Silk Carrier Rods (7 casings for $6.00.) the description was that “they’re actually part of the silk-reeling process. These carrier rods are stiff, strong, and smooth. Some are straight, some curved – they’re very sculptural. And they dye beautifully. (Also see our Silk Casings, which are thinner and finer.)”
14-15 Silk Carrier Rods
Yes, I got the bag of the 100% Silk Casings too, they were priced at $6.00 for 14gr. Their description was; “Although these curious items look a bit “insectoid”, they aren’t. They are bi-products of the silk spinning industry. Each one is unique. They’re similar to the Carrier Rods we also carry, but they’re thinner, finer, and more pliable. Some are ridgey and corrugated, some are not. Each package is a variety of shapes and configurations. Use them for jewelry, to embellish art pieces, or just enjoy their stunning good looks.
16 Silk Casings
From the meeting, I remember they described both as waste products of the silk reeling industry. It is good to have what was considered waste be available to us, I am sure we will find a use for it! I had considered from the web picture possibilities for horns but I don’t think I have enough of the ribbed shape to do that. It is still weird and will likely percolate many odd ideas in the future. In the meantime, I will just enjoy their oddness and may add a few to my demo stuff. Oh, note that they have been cut off so the length of the fibre if separated would be short.
Lastly, I did get a white silk blend with Linin, I think this was a mill end, 97% Eri Silk and 3% Linen (trace amounts). The mill that made this has some debate as to exactly how much linen is included but it will be 3% or less. I seem to have a section where I can’t feel or see anything that looks like Linin. Oh well, it is still gorgeous! The Erin is a shot-stale fibre because the silkworm is not killed but allowed to break and leave its cocoon,( aka; Peace Silk). This fibre has been prepared using a woollen prep. It is described as having a soft and lofty character. It is also described as similar to cotton sliver fibre prep. 100g bag (about 3.5 oz.) was $15.60
17-18 97% Eri Silk and 3% Linen
If we order again, I may try a similar option of 65% Bombay Silk 35% Linen (flax) Spinning Fibre, it was slightly more expensive but had more Flax fibre content. That one is 100g for $19.00.
It is nice to have a selection of fibres to inspire you, or have just the right option available as you are in the middle of a project and just need a bit of something. Being part of a guild and thus easier to organize a group order (we saved a lot on shipping and got a bit of a discount too!) was a great help. Deborah did a fantastic job getting us all organized. I hope we did not overwhelm her and we can try this again! I would like to be able to shop locally (we should be out of partial shutdown by the time I post this, I hope!) but in the meantime, let’s enjoy the bits of fibre shopping we are able to do and live vicariously through looking at each other’s acquisitions.
Did you have a flash of inspiration looking at casings, cocoons or rods? Are you thinking about foxes after looking at the photos of Red Eri Silk?
Now a word about felting
Remember if you are wanting to felt with silk it is not as narcissistic as wool, so it won’t want to stick to itself the way that wool does. Using a tiny wisp of wool over the silk to help lock it in place or blending it with wool as you are preparing your fibres will help it stick. Silk can be used to add a lustre or pop of colour amongst the wool. Ann has applied it on the outer surface of vessels then used a razor to save back the wool and expose more of the silk to great effect. I have used silk fibres mixed with other fibres like alpaca or Icelandic tog as part of the outer coat of some of my animal sculptures to keep the hair/pelt from felting or matting to the body.
If you are going to be working with silk it’s a good idea to start moisturizing your hands a few days before you start. I also use extra-fine files for my nails. Silk, even though it is reluctant to felt when you want it to, will cling to your fingers and anything else you didn’t want it to stick to. Bernadette, who also posts blogs here, has done a lot of spinning with silk and silk blends she may have some good suggestions for you about keeping it under control!
Since we moved to our new home in May we have been steadily adorning the walls with the pieces of art that moved with us, as we were deciding what to hang where, Mr TB pointed out that more than half of the art work on our walls is made from wool. I couldn’t disagree but still felt compelled to make a new piece to hang in the hallway, opposite the front door. Something colourful and cheery to greet any visitors. Much to my surprise, instead of complaining that we have too much wool on the walls, Mr TB helped me hang it…
I really wanted to play with a piece of silk purchased at Fibretron (a fibre festival in Hamilton, NZ), it has this wonderful wavy texture and can be peeled into fine sheets a little like silk hankies. I used some to decorate a large sheet of felt, layering and blending different colours as I went.
Once felted, I cut up the sheet into large petal shapes and continued felting them while shaping and blocking them, before laying them out to find an appealing arrangement.
At this stage I felt like the centre really needed something, a complimentary colour perhaps? So I had a play with some different colours…
But they didn’t quite feel right.
I have recently been playing with making different sculptural flower shapes and had one sitting on my bench. This looked much better, this is the piece after I had started gluing and sewing the petals together:
I tried making another central flower in the same blues as the large petals but it didn’t look half as good, it’s funny how some, unplanned, random elements just work together isn’t it? More on the blue flower at the end of this post…
Here is the final piece assembled and hanging on the wall:
It had been hanging on the wall less than a week before one the fluffy terrorists discovered that, if he jumped really high (4 feet off the ground), he could rip the petals off and add to his collection of toys. So far the hanging has lost 2 petals….
There were quite a few pieces of felt left over after making this hanging so I re-purposed them to enlarge the small blue flower I made with the intention of it becoming the centre:
Now I feel inspired to make a whole bunch of these to create an artificial flower bouquet….
Summer has finally arrived here in Auckland, I hope the weather is being kind wherever you are.
Imagine this: you’ve planned that project in your head. You’ve gone through all the steps and know what needs doing. You have all the materials, and you’re getting ready to work on it. It’s going to be epic!
Except… something goes terribly wrong and the end result is nothing like what you expected.
I’m sure we’ve all been there. Craft long enough and, be it due to bad luck or simple statistics, something will go wrong.
The problem: The yarn above is a colourway of mine called Love Heart Meow. At first glance, it looks exactly as it should, except something went wrong during the dyeing process and the end result is “muddy.” You can’t really tell in the photo, but in real life I can definitely see it and it’s driving me mad.
The solution: I’m going to overdye it. I find that when things don’t go as planned, a blue overdye can save things around. Who knows, maybe I’ll create a new colourway?
(Shameless plugin moment: I’m getting back to blogging in my own website and I’ll be sharing the over dyeing process over there very soon! I’ll of course still be working on new content for our lovely blog here.)
A while back I was doing an exchange with a dyer friend of mine and decided to send her some hand dyed silk cocoons. Silk comes at a price for the poor silk worm, so I was very keen to “make it count” (yes, I’m the soppy type).
I carefully dyed each cocoon, making it so that the exterior and the interior were slightly different and adding variation in shade/colour. I was rather chuffed with the result.
Of course, I then proceeded to ruin things beautifully. I don’t know what happened in my brain but I decided to set the colours with more acid… by dunking the cocoons in hot water.
If you’ve ever dyed these precious things, you’ll know they need to be steam set if you want them to retain their shape. Hot water is most emphatically not the right thing to do, as I remembered even as I was dunking them in the H2O.
The problem: I had a hot mess in my hands, the cocoons all melted into each other, were soft and (to me, at the time) completely useless.
The temporary solution: Remove from water and back away from the project! Make some tea. Curse out loud. Come back later.
The real solution: After keeping whole thing away from sight a while, I looked at it again. It was a mess, but I could make it into something different. The colours were pretty. Then it hit me…
Tah-dah, wall art to the rescue. The colours are actually brighter in real life.
I sewed the Cocoon Combo to some black felt, added some beads and shiny embroidered stars in gold and silver. The shape of the thing was asking for an oval embroidery hoop, so I bought one in a suitable size and Bob’s your uncle.
It looks like something done on purpose, doesn’t it? It’ll be our secret.
Now, this wouldn’t be a post by yours truly if I didn’t add a little sewing, would it?
While perusing one of my usual fabric supply sites I stumbled upon the most fun cat fabric. As with most things in the crafty brain, I had the “button” sorted but not the “suit,” so to speak. I had to come up with something to create with that fabric!
I decided on the Metamorphic Dress by Sew Liberated because it looked comfy and, best of all, asked for two complementary fabrics (the cat fabric had a “friend” that I thought made the cats look even cuter. Aaand, I’ll stop using metaphors now.)
I love this dress. It works great on its own or as a top layer, making it good for more seasons. It’s meant to be reversible, but this one isn’t (there are reasons but I shan’t go into them).
One great thing about being short is, I never need as much fabric to make something as the pattern says I do. After careful calculations, I knew exactly how much to buy and order it I did.
The bad thing is, if you don’t have extra and make a mistake… well.
I was on the phone with my other half and got distracted. Instead of cutting the top layer a specific way, I did it wrongly. I immediately noticed the disaster, but it was too late. My soul hurt. I didn’t want to order more fabric because of this!
The problem: No extra fabric and the huge unwillingness to buy more. I was doomed.
The temporary solution: The same as with the cocoons! Back away from the project. Make some tea. Curse out loud. Come back later.
The real solution: I had a little extra of the gingham fabric. Patchwork to the saving.
I had only made a mistake with one half of the fabric, so that became the back. I cut that piece in two and added a strip of the under layer fabric to the middle. It almost looks like it’s a proper feature, at least to my eyes.
I’ll have to confess I felt rather smug after this. My solution worked, I didn’t have to buy extra fabric and my dress is perfectly wearable.
My smugness was somewhat abated after my mum saw the dress and said it looked like a maid’s apron, but that’s another story…
That’s it, three examples of things that didn’t go as planned but had a solution. If you let your brain think about it for a while in the background, I bet you’ll come up with alternative endings for your “mistakes.” Like the cliché goes, mistakes can be opportunities to do better later. Beats giving up, right?
Finally, the random photo of the day:
My lovely osteopath Jane went on holiday to the Shetland Islands and I asked her to send me some sheep pics. She obliged and I thought I’d share them with you.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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 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.
A few blogs ago Welshfelters posted about upcycling/recycling a chinese lantern. That got me thinking about the project I’ve been plonking away on for ages now – recycling silk. I really love silk in almost all its forms, not too crazy about silk noil, but everything else is just lovely, the texture, the colours, the gloss, the sound. I have ASMR, so even thinking about silk gives me a case of the shivers.
When one of our guild members was down sizing and offered some used kimono for sale at an excellent price, I was first in line and happily took home a box of bright red, blue, brown, and orange silky bits. The construction of these kimono was amazing, all hand sewn, all exquisitely designed and all in deplorable condition. The fabric has deteriorated along the fold lines and has some tears, so re-purposing is one of the best options for most of the fabric. Hand washing and disassembly followed, along with a bit of ironing, just to make life a little easier when cutting time came.
A few years ago another friend had gifted me fabric cutters; Bliss and Frazer. They are both vintage models and well loved. When they first came into my care, I really had no immediate purpose for them but knew that ‘someday’ they would be put to good use. Along with recycling fabric, good tools also need to be kept in useful condition, so they went for a spa treatment to a talented gentleman who fixed a damaged bearing, sharpened the blades, retooled the wheel plate and generally got them both up and running optimally.
Silk is brutal on fabric cutters.
The blade is showing signs of becoming dull, so I will probably switch to a rotary blade and ruler, which seems to work just fine. The rotary cutter has the added benefit of replacement blades that can be recycled and replaced as needed. I’ll save the fabric cutters for wool and cotton. Using the ruler and rotary cutter to cut width doesn’t yield consistent results, or as consistent as the fabric cutter, but with silk I don’t think that’s a significant issue. There are a couple of ways I can make the strips of cut silk into a single piece of ‘yarn’.
I can spin it together and then hold it together a little more with a ply of silk thrums thread.
I can do a splice and spin it as a single which allows for the little tails to become a design element in the yarn.
or I can just weave it in as a rag technique and alternate with the silk thrums. In the end, I’m going to call it art yarn and who will challenge the inconsistency of the yarn!
All fabric that is used in our daily lives will wear out, but when it comes to a fiber that is so costly to make, so valuable and lovely I want to put the extra effort into keeping it out of the rag bag for as long as possible. Most, if not all fabrics can be given a second life before they can be purposed as rags. The ingenuity of our predecessors was impressive and there is no reason not to emulate them. Sheets, curtains, judo gis, towels, suits can all be remade into carpets, place-mats, cushion covers, dish rags, clothing material, blankets, quilts, scarves, the list goes on a long as your imagination permits. And yes rags, that’s a valid repurpose.
My plan for these red and orange silk kimonos and the red silk thrums is to weave material for a medium weight jacket for the winter. Something very simple in design, similar to a kimono but without any fitting or lining. My cousin in Japan is hunting an obi or two for me to use as trim. Hopefully this will be functional and attractive once I can solve the problem of the silk bleeding like crazy. But that is a challenge for another day.
Not all the kimono could be cut, at least not by me. This is going to be a project for another day.
I just love this fibre because it makes both amazing wet and needle felted items. It comes in batt format in 49 dyed and 9 natural colours. At 27 micron it is a rougher fibre and has a moderate staple length of 3-5cm.
I fell for this fibre not just because of its felting qualities, but also because the product is made by happy sheep that spend their summers up in the high Swiss alps — travelling on ancient roman roads to get there. After they are shorn in a traditional manner, the wool is transported to a small Swiss family business where it is washed only with washing soda (aka sodium carbonate or soda ash is a natural cleaner and a powerful water softener. It’s very basic with a pH of 11). The washing process is environmentally friendly and the wastewater is safely returned to the local mountain stream. The wool is dyed carefully and without any harsh chemicals — using just natural vinegar and acid dyes. The wool is dried outside on warm metal roofing (weather permitting). In winter the warmth created by the dyeing process is used to heat the building.
The fibre is exceptionally clean as the carding machines have special vacuums installed to remove VM (Vegetable Matter naturally occurring in sheep fleeces) and ensure it doesn’t get back into the wool.
Due to the ease of felting with Swiss Mountain Sheep wool, kids love working with it. The fibre can also be laid out very thin to create transparent felts.
Combine Swiss Mountain sheep with Maori or other Bergschaf yarns. You can also combine it with 18/19 micron to create an inner layer that is next to skin soft when making garments. I love making slippers with an inner layer of 18/19 micron merino batt or Kap Merino and the outer layer being Swiss Mountain, combining softness with hard wearing wool.
Yak and Mulberry Luxury Roving
A custom blend made for The Olive Sparrow — this is a commercially triple-blended roving/top which mixes the silk with the yak to create a lovely variegated roving. Although it requires some gentle coaxing to wet felt due to the high content of mulberry silk, the resulting felt is an absolute dream to wear right next to the skin.
The yak fibre is naturally fawn coloured, the mulberry silk is undyed.
To produce yak fibre for felting, the soft fine under hair is the desirable element of this animal’s coat and is removed commercially by dehairing, which separates the soft under hair from the coarse outer hair, known as guard-hair.
This also makes a lovely spun yarn.
Using acid dyes on this fibre is very interesting — the yak and its brown/yellow undertones combined with the undyed silk to absorbs colours differently and will make mottled/variegated tones. As the fibre is very fine, it lends itself to be dyed after felting or spinning.
The fibre length is 75-80mm.
I love using mint fibre in the same way as mulberry silk — the softly off-white colour and the slight mat sheen give a look between the extra shiny mulberry silk and the much softer gloss of tussah silk.
Mint is a new biodegradable cellulose fibre that is infused with mint powder that is extracted from peppermint leaves. It does not smell of mint and has a lovely soft and cottony texture. This soft golden fibre has antibacterial properties and natural cooling properties. Mint infused roving can be dyed using natural plant dyes and mordants or other dyes suitable for cellulose fibres. Perfect for spinning and blending with fibres such as cotton, silk, wool and Linen. Great surface inclusion for wet felting. A wonderful vegan needle felting alternative.
Q-2 Two tools you use all the time?
I use my ball brauser — I generally have two on the go at the same time. I also love the hand-pumped vegetable sprayers from the garden centre to wet-out large areas. When doing a sculptural piece, handheld massage tools make shrinking of specific areas very fast. Thin painter’s plastic as one layer on bubble wrap — and I always use the bubble side down when initially starting to felt.
Q-1 One fibre art technique you love the most?
Having been blessed with learning handwork techniques from grade 2 onwards, my arsenal of techniques means that I often will blend them all together in a project. Because of the shop keeping me quite busy and still being needed as a mother, most of my creative time I spend making dolls or knitting simple items. Yet especially in doll making, I frequently wet felt garments for the dolls. Doll making lets me use all my skills. In wet felting, I love making long voluminous shawls — generally using at least a 4m length and 30” width. I also love working with Teeswater locks — washing, sorting, dying them. I sew them into wefts for my dolls and use them as fringes in shawls.
What is your business?
The Olive Sparrow.
Good Hand-Made Goods made by You and Me
Here is a bit of background information about how this all came to be:
The Olive Sparrow is me, Monika Aebischer, I am a felter and a natural fibre doll artist. I quite proudly call myself a crazy when it comes to collecting books about wet and needle felting. In a previous life, I was a mixed media artist with work in galleries across Canada. Sadly during the 2008 financial crash, the art market collapsed and I was forced to re-invent myself. As I had fallen in love with felt making during my student years at the Ontario College of Art and Design and had taken some wet felting workshops in Switzerland, it seemed to be the right direction to go. It also worked very well with my doll making — I needle felt the heads of my dolls and also make felted clothing for some of them. While growing up in Switzerland as part of my apprenticeship in selling women’s clothing, I studied fibres and textile manufacturing.
The Olive Sparrow shop started as a way to bring supplies to my felting students — I taught a 5-day felting intensive workshop at Loyalist College for 4 years every summer from 2011 – 2015. Every year I would import specialty felting fibres from Europe for my students. These students then wanted to purchase fibre after the workshop. Learning that there are several Fibre Festivals around Ontario made me realize that there was an opportunity to share these fibres with other felters. My painting studio slowly turned into a shop — alongside my selling on Etsy. I decided that the shop was going to focus on Felting supplies and not be another general fibre shop. I also decided that the focus will be on European felting fibres, rather than local fibres.
After 20 years in that space, I was forced to move in 2018, as the old building was being turned into condos. Now located in the East end of Toronto, the shop is in an industrial building — and open by appointment. There are about 600 square feet full of fibre, commercial 100% wool felt, Waldorf doll supplies, Sajou notions from France and select other items. The shop is also somewhat flexible, in that it can be transformed into a workshop space for 1-3 students.
Before we were in this Pandemic, the Olive Sparrow could be found at various fibre festivals — Twist, Picton, Woodstock, Peterborough, Knitter’s Frolic, Kitchener/Waterloo knitters festival, and other smaller events. 2020 has meant a focus on building out the online presence and extending inventory.
What kind of items do you sell?
Too many to list, however, here is a sampling —
18/19 micron roving in over 100 colours
24 Micron roving
Swiss Mountain Sheep batt
19 micron merino Batt
Pre-felt (both in 40 x 40 cm sheets) and by the meter
Maori and Maori/Bergschaft batt
100% wool felt by the sheet and many colours by the meter
Unicorn Power Scour
Premium locks – Teeswater extra length
Wool felt balls/hearts/stars from Nepal
Silk – Mulberry, Tussah
The Olive Sparrow locks in Vogue
Hand Dyed locks
The Olive Sparrow is an official DHG Dyehouse reseller — carrying all of the pre-felt colours, as well as an extensive selection of 19 micron roving, 19 micron batt, sari silk waste, mulberry silk and a variety of other fibres.
What do you think makes your business different from similar ones?
Unique premium products from Europe — all our goods are imported from Europe. Volume discounts to help small-scale makers. Teaching workshops – private and customized — creativity counselling. Very hands-on knowledgeable. A brick and mortar shop that is open by appointment and sells online.
Where are you located?
Toronto, Ontario, Canada – at 19 Waterman Avenue — which is an industrial area just south of Eglinton and just off the Don Valley Parkway.
I promise we are almost done, but I suspect you wanted to see the culmination shots from this year’s harvest!
This year we had planted two rows of flax, which did not look too excessive until we started to harvest it. Even with the flax being shorter this year, we still doubled the number of stocks we were dealing with. So, it took 3 Saturdays to finish the processing of the line this time. We did not finish all the tow into batts, there is a small bag of hackle waste left. This year we kept the best feeling drum carder waste to try combing the tow into top.
We were chilly but from Cathy Louise’s research, we needed dry, low humidity conditions for the final part of the process. Other than Remembrance Day on the 11th, which often rains, it is usually dry and cold in November here. Thus, we waited to work on it. Sure enough, day 3 was about 4 degrees Celsius, which was quite nice in the sun but quickly lost its illusion of warmth when the sun hid out behind clouds.
Day 3 the plan – get the last of the Line through the hackles and finish tow from the hackle waste with drum carders. We had Ann’s drum carder with the blue metal base from last week and Glenn had pulled out my two. One is chain driven; the other is belt driven. One is a bit coarser than the other but both are in the medium range.
1 all 3 drum carders to finish the tow
To work on the line we had a coarse, medium and fine set of homemade hackles using nails. They had a hardwood base that had been predrilled before the nails were added. We also had an antique one that was between the medium and fine ones. The old one had blacksmith-made nails that tapered and had tin on the base.
2 all the hackles
3-6 The New Hackles
7-11 the old hackles
While we worked, we compared last year’s line to this year’s. The colour is different and this years is finer (last years is in the plastic bag).
12- 19 working on the line and tow
The team worked hard until lunch arrived (more pizza). Glenn joined us after stopping at the farmers market to pick up butter tarts from Ann, it was very busy so he was running late and just in time for pizza.
20 in the foreground; Cheese and mushroom pizza, mid-ground; flax going from the course to the medium hackles and in the background; the hackle waste to go to the drum carder.
The Cow supervisors were enjoying the weather and just generally looking cute decoratively draping themselves around the field beside the coverall barn.
21 the Supervisors taking a break
Back to work finishing the last bit of line and deciding to leave the last of the hackle waste.
22-24 the last of the line
It was time to clean up the drum carders then gather and weigh the culmination of our summer’s work. Henry had brought the air compressor over to help clean the drum carders. It was a brilliant idea. I do not think my carders have ever been so clean.
25- 27 Cleaning the Drum carders
Now it was time for the bagging and weighing. Cathy Louse had brought a scale and I had one of my wool washing buckets which we used to contain the fibre on the scale. As Cathy Louse weighed it, Glenn wrote it down on the bag and Ruthann kept notes on the totals.
28-30 doing the math
We divided the line into 8 sections of 33 grams, bagged and labelled it.
31-34 Line bagged and ready to go
When the line was divided, we moved on to the batts of tow.
35-37 bagging the batts of tow
That left a bag of waste from the hackles that could be drum carded later and two bags of the waste from the drum carder. This we had set aside to try combing it since the test sample looked like it had potential.
Now for the Totals you have been waiting for!
Ruthanne said we got 271 grams of line, 556 of carded tow, 130 grams of uncarded tow and 573 grams of carder waste that we can try to comb and see what we get.
Cathy Louise and Henry calculated that we got 1530g of useable fibre from 400 square feet. Henry did the math and figured if we had done a full acre we would have had 29.52 Kg of line per acre and Carded tow 76.5Kg per acre. If we tried an acre we would have to add Sundays as well as Saturdays or we would be working at it all winter! We would likely improve with all the practice but it’s still a lot of work!
We had a larger team than the final processing day. Some wanted to experience what it was like to process flax trying some or all of the steps. some were interested in the fibre to try spinning while others were not. It was a wonderful experience to be able to participate in. It was especially welcome to look forward to seeing friends during the fibre work parties, especially during covid! Thank you again to Cathy Louise and Henry for giving up a section of their Market garden, doing the ground prep and planting and the aromatic section of retting that we missed. Thank you also to all the other members of the Flax Study Group 2020.
38 the team for the final processing, Glenn taking the picture this time!
This year the flax study group planted the seed we had harvested from last year. We had enough to double our planting and had 2 rows planted this year. We had 2 covid-modified weeding parties at 4 to 6 inches of growth but without the wonderful cake to celebrate successful weeding!
The first part of the summer was very dry and hot so the flax was ready earlier than anticipated. We left the harvested bundles of Flax resting against the garden fence to dry.
Then the weather turned and it rained and rained and rained. (I should not have been trying to wash those fleeces in the side yard! See the blog post about sentient weather.) The flax started its retting while it tried to dry. Once it had finally dried enough, we were back out (August 29th) to extract seed from stock. The seeds this year are MUCH smaller than last years, and lighter in weight. The seed pods were definitely ready to pick but the dry weather was hard on the plants (shorter in stature and smaller seeds). We used a number of seed extraction methods. The double rakes were great and the pillowcases and rolling pins were effective too. Unfortunately, winnowing (using the wind to seperate chaff from seed) was not working, not much wind and the seed was as light as the chaff) we had the best success with Henrys Sieves from the grain silos. (Brilliant idea Henry!!)
Next the Flax, now de-seeded, went to the spa. (large trough of water with therapeutic cinderblocks to hold it under!) With the retting complete, we were ready to move on to the violent part of the process; Brakes, Skutching and the lovely Hackles! We set a date in November that we hoped most of us would be available to meet again at Cathy Louises’ coverall barn (the part the cows don’t live in! They are very cute cows but I don’t want to have to share the flax with them)
Now that we are all caught up again, let’s get to the best part of Flax processing; the vicious violent bits!
11/07/2020 Covid canceled our Guild sale but that leaves the Saturday free to start in on the flax. We met at the coverall barn on a fabulously wonderful un-fall-like day. It was so nice we worked in front of the barn, enjoying mild weather, the sun and no rain!
Step 1 Braking;
The first step was braking the flax stocks to loosen and start the removal of the outer stock covering (the boon) from the long inner fibres which will become the linen. Bernadette, Ann and Cathy Louise experimented with hand braking before sending it to the brake but that was not as helpful as we had hoped. If you did not have access to a flax brake this may be an option for you but it would take a lot of working the stocks to loosen the boon.
Glenn and Gord were our main brakers this year. Glenn’s knee has been bothering him (postal work has not been diminished by Covid) so he quickly gave up on standing and has perfected the seated braking position.
We had a couple of flax videos posted on our OVWSG flax study group Facebook page they were unfortunately in German (about Hackling) and in Russian about braking. From the video, Glenn modified his technique on the second Saturday to add scraping movements to the end of the braking. This seemed to make the next step a little easier.
The technique seems to be to hold the root end, start at the tip (where the seeds were) and brake towards the roots flipping which side of the bundle is facing up. This first pass was done vigorously. Then work from the tip towards roots a little at a time still flipping the bundle but scraping gently each section as it is finished. Then flip and work the roots, which often broke off.
23 the fibre is handed off to the next step
Step 2 Skutching;
As we got going, we had two primary brakers and 2-3 skutchers and the rest of us were on Hackle duty or taking photos. Skutching is a percussive movement hitting or flicking the stocks to loosen and remove as much of the outer layer as possible. The Skutching team were finding that splitting the bundle (by gently tugging on the ends) then reorienting the stocks parallel and continuing to skutch was effective.
30 fibre is sent to the next step
There was an intermittent breeze that kept depositing fibre into the shrubberies. (Sort of like pre-Christmas tinsel) I am sure the birds were sorry we didn’t do this part in the spring.
31-33 Early Christmas tincil
Step 3 Hackles!!
The next step is my favourite part, the Hackles. They’re like a very sharp multi-pitch Viking comb that is clamped to the table. The flax is dragged through the top of the sharp pointy bloodletting teeth, removing even more of the boon. I watched the German video about Hackles, it was highly informative even with my only random words of German. He definitely was adamant about the angle, I think? I tried to mimic his diagonal pull through with change of direction on exiting the hackles. I also tried the flipping one side up then the other for each pass. This left the flax quite clean.
The hackling starts through the coarsest teeth then moves to finer and finer. Each step removes more boon. I was able to take out a few stubborn bits by flicking at them with a fingernail. We also were drafting off the hackles as the tow built up in it. The remnants still trapped in the comb, we bagged to process with the drum carder next week.
44 some of the line
Just so you don’t think we were horribly overworked, we did break for Pizza
We did quite well today but only got about half way through the harvest, well we did double the planting we did this year! So far, the flax is short but very fine. We bagged the tow for next week and made little stricks of the line. We did do a lot of work but it doesn’t show from the pile remaining!
Some of the flax has a distinct hue of green. The rest looks very familiar.
11/14/2020 Day 2, similar in process to day 1 but with less sun or good temperatures.
It was much colder today, still no fluffy solid rain or serious cloud dandruff, yet (Yeah!!) so we moved into the coverall to work. The hacklers were by the barn door, while it provided great light there was a cool breeze. We continued to work on the braking and finished it off, leaving one bundle to compare with last years. We continued working on the skutching and hackling and added making batts with the tow.
Our tow team today was Deborah and Cathy Louise.
Deborah and Cathy Louise worked together to make batts of the tow. We tried one pass but decided to try a second pass which was markedly improved. They tried a third pass, but it was deemed very similar to the second pass. We found the waste from the drum carder to be very soft and have kept it. We tried hand combing it with small 2 pitch hand combs with a good test result. We will collect the carding waste and comb it later. Using the drum carder caused a lot of the chaff/boon to drop out underneath it.
67-68 first and second pass
69-70 Second and third pass
71-72 Drum carder waste combed
We compared last year’s plant after retting to this year and saw a difference in height and this year’s plants are much finer in the stock. They were planted about 2 weeks earlier, but also harvested earlier than last year. We did not harvest too soon since the plants had flowered and were producing seeds so it was the correct time to harvest. It was extremely dry this summer until we harvested then it rained, a lot!
We got most of the skutching finished today too.
We bagged up the batts of tow we created today. We will be weighing the amounts of line and tow we have created likely next week.
We will be back to work for our last day of processing this year next Saturday. There is a bit more to hackle then all the tow to process. When we are done, we will weigh out the tow and line and see what our yield was this year. Although the flax was definitely reduced in height the fineness of the fiber is spectacular, even the tow is soft and quite nice. I am looking forward to getting one of the flax wheels upstairs and put to work spinning part of this year’s harvest.
The spot we had the flax growing this summer is turned for winter and garlic has been planted there. It has been an amazing experience working with the flax team. Next year is a bit up in the air, we will hope to be changing planting locations or we may wind up taking a summer off.