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I’ve got rainbows on my mind

I’ve got rainbows on my mind

First of all, happy Thanksgiving to everyone reading this in the US! I hope you had a nice celebration.

Today I’m sharing some rainbow-y fibre I created, plus a “throwback” item that I hope you’ll like.

Being an indie dyer means I get to play with dyes fairly regularly, but it had been some time since I adventured into the world of saturated rainbows. I think it was the grey London Autumn that got me inspired, I just needed to get a colour fix. Off to the dye pot I went.

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One of the things I’ve been a little obsessed with lately is how yarns look when they’re in skein format – I love it when colours look cohesive and have a certain progression to them when displayed, so I went for a red “bottom” that would change as the eyes look up. Hopefully you’ll see that this was done consciously.

I knit this into a hat (complete with a pompom) that I think looks very cheery. It’s going to be a Christmas present so I hope the recipient likes it.

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I hope you’re not fed up with bright colours yet…

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Although not technically a rainbow, this wool top came out super bright and happy (to my eyes at least). If you’ve ever dyed wool top or roving you’ll know it can be an adventure to control where the colours go. This is superwash wool (it doesn’t felt) so it wasn’t as difficult to get “right” as non-superwash fibres, but I’m still perfecting my methods. Suggestions are welcome!

This being the Felting and Fiber Studio, there should be some felting, so here is a little Piglet I made a couple of years ago and gifted to a friend. I really loved creating this little guy and think he came out really well. I got to see the sculpture again a few days ago at a friend’s house.

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Have you done any hand dyeing or needle felting lately? Share your experiences with me in the comment sections.

The magic of blocking your hand knits

The magic of blocking your hand knits

Hello, Leonor here guest-writing for this week’s post.

After reading the title, if you’re not a knitter, you’re probably wondering what I’m talking about. What on earth is blocking and why am I writing about it?

Simply put, blocking refers to the act of stretching a knitted item with the aid of specialised wires and pins, with the intention of making it look a certain way. Think of all those airy, lacy shawls you’ve seen people wear – those have been carefully and mercilessly blocked into submission.

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Above is my latest project, the Banana Leaf Shawl. It looks nice-ish, but it lacks that finesse that one usually finds in store-bought shawls. The stitches look limp and you can see the differences in my gauge. Let’s make it right.

Firstly, soak the item in room-temperature water (add a nice wool wash if you want; I used Eucalan, a no-rinse Grapefruit-scented one). Let it sit for about 15 minutes and then carefully extract the excess water. Your knit needs to be damp but not dripping.

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Now comes the fiddly part. Using blocking wires, you’ll need to catch the edges of your project so it’ll keep the shape you want (in my case, everything’s a straight line, but it can be crescent-shaped, for example).
I decided to do this just before going to bed, thinking it wouldn’t take me long – how wrong I was. After one hour, I was losing the will to live. I’d need another hour to finish getting the wire through all the edges.

Next, you’ll need to pin the wires to a surface. There are special fancy mats you can buy for that, but I got some for home gyms that are a fraction of the price and do the job nicely.

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Because I have cats, I couldn’t risk them getting hurt on the blocking pins, so I had to move my blocks vertically for the night. I then used my desk chair to keep everything upright.

Once your finished object is dry, you can take the pins out and because fibre has memory (like the mohair and silk of this shawl), it’ll keep its shape… until you wash it again. Yes, blocking needs redoing every time a knit gets wet! Don’t you have a newfound respect for all the people who knit delicate lacy shawls?

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And here’s the finished product. I hope you can see how different my Banana Leaf now looks, comparing it to the first photo – from a slightly misshapen piece to one with sharp, well-defined edges. It’s grown quite a bit, too.

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The stitches look so much better, too, neater. They’re suddenly really well defined. This shawl now looks like something one would see in a shop front, if I do say so myself.

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Even if you’re not a knitter, I hope you’ve marvelled, like I do every time, over the magic of blocking knitwear. If you fancy reading the technical bits about this particular project, head on over to my Ravelry page.

Have you ever done blocking? Can you think of any ways this technique could be used for other fibre endeavours? I’d love to read (and steal) your good ideas.

Making Socks from Start to Finish

Making Socks from Start to Finish

Our guest artist is Leonor  from Felt Buddies who is sharing a special sock story and process.

Today I’m sharing with you some sock making, from the dye pot to the finished product.

A few months ago, I got a new tattoo from my husband’s co-worker Jim (if you’re guessing my other half tattoos for a living, you’re guessing right). In exchange for his work, Jim asked me to knit him a pair of socks – he’d seen me knit whilst in the studio and was fascinated by the concept of having a garment made especially for someone. I happily obliged!

Because I own my own fibre business, I have a lot of sock yarn available to dye at my pleasure. After talking to Jim about his colour preferences, I got to work. I loved that he asked me for three of my favourite things in socks:

  • Mismatched colours with contrasting heels and toes;
  • Bright colours (you can’t get brighter than magenta and purple!)
  • Socks that glow under UV light.

I had some yarn I was keeping for a special occasion and this was the perfect time to use it. It’s a very soft alpaca/merino/nylon blend.

For some reason, at the time I thought it was a good idea to break down the yarn into four pieces – two for the main body, two for the heels and toes. I’ve no idea why I did this, since I was only using two colours, but hey. I simply weighed the skein and took out 15 grams for each foot to make the smaller parts.

I then soaked the fibre in some water and synthrapol in preparation for dyeing. Synthrapol is a wetting agent and helps the wool absorb more dye. It’s also excellent to rinse out fibres.

After the yarn was thoroughly wet, I made my dye stock using professional-grade acid dyes and to the pots I went.

After adding the colour to the water, I placed one little skein and one big one in the pot and let the fibre sit for a few minutes without any heat. Because this yarn isn’t treated to be superwash (non-felting), the dye takes longer to penetrate the fibre, so I wanted to give it some time to get to every bit of wool.

I then turned the heat on and once the water started simmering, let it be for about 10 minutes, turned it off and let the wool cool completely in the pot. This allows for the remaining dye to be soaked up, and also makes for a brighter finished colour work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to turn my skein of yarn into a ball, I used an umbrella swift (pictured above, on the left) to hold the fibre whilst I pulled it onto a skein winder (above right) to make a neat ball. I have all the cool gadgets!

Once the yarn was dyed, washed, rinsed and dry, it was time for knitting. I had made an impression of Jim’s foot beforehand and used it as my template to make sure they’d fit. If you’re curious, this is a technique taught in a pattern called Fish Lips Kiss Heel that makes for fail-safe sock fitting (and heel-making). It’s available on Ravelry at a very low price and I highly recommend it.

And here’s the finished socks! I still had to weave in the ends in this picture, but I’m happy to report that’s been done since and I have presented this squishy pair to a very enthusiastic Jim.

Now, for a fun little extra: I asked for a photo of him wearing the socks for my social media. Be careful what you wish for! Jim took the picture, alright – he got down to his underwear and struck a hilarious sexy pose for me. If a bit of skin doesn’t offend you and you like a good laugh, hop on to my Instagram @feltbuddies and look for yourself. There’s a black and white photo with a disclaimer about the partial nudity, and after you swipe there’s Jim happily wearing my socks… J

 

Thanks Leonor!  If you’d like to follow more of her fiber adventures,  you can see her work here:  https://www.feltbuddies.co.uk/

 

The Year Ahead

The Year Ahead

I’m ahead of myself this year, usually I start by planning to be more organised, but I bought some new tubs a few weeks ago and cleared up a few piles off my desk! And yesterday I sorted through a large box of fabric from the well being centre and put it more tidily into different bags and labelled them. One of the bags is lots of ready cut strips for making experimental nuno samplers. There are lots of unusual fabrics in there for beginners to try before they pick up any ideas of which fabrics ‘work’ and which ‘don’t’.

One of the first things I need to do this year is write a constitution for our group. We have our own light hearted rules, such as ‘You’re not allowed to be disappointed, we don’t make failures, we make unintentional discoveries’! but maybe we’ll keep that as our motto 🙂

Looking back at the things I made last year, I saw a lot of things I started to learn, but never really progressed with. One ‘unintentional discovery’ I made was that I quite like freestyle crochet:

I would like to learn how to do it properly though, so I can maybe make something, or at least freestyle a lot better! Another thing I didn’t really progress with is spinning. I did spend a few days practising and made some yarn I liked:

But I think trying to spin some Superwash, which spins about as well as it felts, put me off a bit:

I want to learn to spin on a wheel so I can knit some really cool jumpers, or at least a funky hat, but not being able to do a good job of sewing up is quite limiting:

And only really being able to knit with chunky pencil roving on fat needles is too:

So, I’d like to learn to knit better, or more, or just differently! And I’m really looking forward to the Surface Design challenges this year, I’ve already started thinking about mine for the 4th Quarter. If you missed Ruth’s post the other day, have a look here. Have you made any plans for the year ahead?

Cords and Knitting

Cords and Knitting

I haven’t had chance to do much felting lately, apart from making a few ‘spare’ cords for future use.

I just used some colours I had out from when I’d made some felted soap:

I did start on a couple of knitting projects though. I just wanted something to do, so haven’t decided definitely what this first one might be, but a headband was one idea. It’s made with the pencil roving waste from World of Wool:

I also started some other knitting, this is with ‘proper’ pencil roving, I thought I might make it long enough to make a simple bag out of:

I have a nice green version of the wool too:

One thing which has stopped me doing many knitting projects is my first attempt at sewing up. I don’t know if you remember some pieces I made a while ago:

I made them with the intention of sewing them into arm warmers. I don’t think I ever showed them sewn up. I watched lots of videos and could not work it out, so in the end someone at a knitting group did one for me and I copied. Well, they look pretty horrible:

I’d planned to use the same pencil roving waste to sew up, but was told it’d be better to use something thinner. I was even talked out of using pencil roving, like the variegated one, and used Arran or something similar. I have a couple of other pieces I’d made for arm warmers, but they’ve stayed knitted rectangles because I don’t want to ruin them!

If anyone has any suggestions or can point me in the right direction for tutorials (think ‘explain like I’m 5’ kind of thing!!) I’d be very grateful 🙂

Landscapes and Knitting

Landscapes and Knitting

Ruth did a post a few days ago about a landscape tutorial on the Start2 website. I hadn’t come across that tutorial before and thought Ruth’s paintings were brilliant, so having been stuck in a recliner for a week and half with flu, I was itching to do something creative so gave it a go. I had some thick but cheap sketchbook paper and also a variety of printer paper samples to try it on. This first one is the sketchbook paper:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd this is the textured printer paper sample:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey need flattening and cropping. I was disappointed they weren’t as nice as Ruth’s, but if I’d seen them before Ruth’s I’m sure I’d have been more impressed 🙂 I wish I had the artistic skills to add to them to improve them. I’m at least going to look for a white gel pen.

Start2 is the online resource for Start, an arts for good health centre. I did a couple of courses there in the last few months, and just a few weeks ago started going to a knitting group there too. I’d only really done knit stitch until I started going, apart from one row of purl I’d tried and wasn’t sure I’d done right. We had a pattern for making a small camera or phone pouch, but of course I had the wrong sized needles and yarn, so I’m making mine a bit bigger. I started with knit stitch then tried alternating knit and purl rows. I’d only done a few when I got confused doing purl and was wrapping the yarn around the wrong way so went back to knit then tried again. Once I got more confident on week 2, I added in another colour, well 2 really because I had blue aran yarn and had to double up some 4 ply.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s a speckled beige colour which reminds me of Hob-Nob biscuits and a bluey grey, I think they work well together:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeing ill was a good time to practise my knitting. I thought I’d make a knitting needle holder. I used white aran and doubled up some blue 4 ply:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt wants to curl up so I pinned it down. I like this angle:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI even made holes for a drawstring:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m not sure what I’ll do for the bottom, I did try to make a square, but it didn’t seem right so I’ll wait till the next knitting group to decide. And I still haven’t learned to sew seams, so that’s next on the list 🙂

Scarves For Nuno and Knitting

Scarves For Nuno and Knitting

I bought some gorgeous scarves yesterday for nuno felting. The first two are different coloured versions of a blue peacock one I bought and sampled not so long ago:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe others are from a stall which sells 3 scarves for £5. It does make me feel a bit uneasy because it probably means they were made in some sweat shop in Bangladesh or China, but then a lot of the people who’ve turned their noses up at my extremely reasonable prices think I only deserve sweat shop wages anyway.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI recently finished knitting some pieces I want to make into arm warmers. They’re just rectangles made with pencil roving waste and very similar to a piece I made a while ago when I first tried the roving out:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe reason I haven’t joined the seams together yet is because I don’t know how to. I did ask on a group on Facebook, but I couldn’t really follow the suggestions. So, if you know of a tutorial or video which shows how to join knit stitch seams together so clearly that a cack handed 5 year old could follow it and do it neatly, I’d be really grateful! (no offence intended to left handers!) This is a ‘cuff’ I made by attempting to join seams together. I knitted 5 strands of plotulopi together to make a sample, then used the left over to join it up. This is the front:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd this is the dog’s dinner I made of joining it together:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAny help greatly appreciated!

Fourth Quarter Challenge

Fourth Quarter Challenge

What happened to the other 2 Quarterly challenges?! As Ruth said, this year we’re focusing on felting techniques. My first thought (rather obviously, most of you will think) was embellishments. I’ve blathered on enough about embellishment fibres in the past year, so I thought maybe something we can get for free or even which might usually get thrown away. So I settled on ‘Threads and Yarns’. They might be ‘free’, but also it might not be something everybody just saves as a matter of course, so I thought giving you a few months warning will help you prepare well in advance.
So, what kind of things was I thinking of? The everyday things we use in felting and fibre art, nothing special, nothing we have to go out and buy, all we have to do is not throw it away. Things like sewing thread, long bits, short bits, natural, synthetic, even silk:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEmbroidery threads and floss:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow about all those annoying threads that unravel when we tear some fabric, and have to pull off to neaten it? The bits of cotton:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThreads unravelled from gauze, scrim or cheesecloth:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShiny and sparkly organza:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe stuff that refuses to unattach from our hands after tearing silk:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd any other scraps of threads unravelled or unwoven from fabrics and scarves we’ve torn, dismantled and deconstructed to use in our fibre art:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then there are yarns. Any yarns … bought, made, natural, synthetic; neat, chunky, plied or arty. Big or small, it doesn’t matter if it’s a foot or so, or the odd few inches left at the end of a project.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou might even have a pile of knitting you unpicked, save that too!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOther things which come to mind are bits of twine and garden string, that raffia stuff you get wrapped around flowers, the tassels cut from the ends of scarves. All you’ll need now is some envelopes, bags or tubs to save them in and something to label them so you don’t lose track. And I’ll try to come up with a few uses for them in the next 9 months! 😉

A Peek at the Knitting and Stitching Show in London 2015

A Peek at the Knitting and Stitching Show in London 2015

Our guest artist/author/photographer today is Leonor Calaca from Felt Buddies.

If you’re in Europe and a fibre aficionado, you’ve probably heard of the Knitting & Stitching Show. It happens in a few different locations and dates in the UK, and is probably the largest fabric/fibre event in Europe when hosted in Alexandra Palace here in London.

As it happens, the Alexandra Palace (or Ally Pally as it’s also known) is only 45 minutes away, on foot, from my place; as it happens as well, I’ve been volunteering for the past two years as a member of the London Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, to work a few hours a day at a booth that serves as a hub for all such UK guilds. Not because I’m such a wonderful and helpful person, mind you, but because this means I get a free pass to come and go anytime during those 5 days (and, at £16 for entry only, I think it’s well worth my time).

Last year I got all mesmerised by the fibres and materials I saw, and almost went bankrupt. This year I decided to be good,  more sensible and buy only the things I absolutely needed, which worked to an extent. I also decided to focus more on my energy on the really good exhibitions, and that’s what I’m going to write about.

Let’s start with an embroidery. How lovely and detailed is that?

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Art wasn’t just in 2D, the sculptures were very interesting as well.

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A glass and wool sculpture by Helen Pailing. She aims to use remnants from the glass and wool industry and incorporate them in a way that makes them not only art, but something you can keep instead of take to a landfill.

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The Wishing Tree by Eileen McNulty. Just look at those little details.

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I don’t know the author of this one, but here is ‘Palace,’ made with cocoon stripping paper and silk organza. The theme of this booth was vessels.

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Elena Thomson embroidered a sieve. Would you have thought of that? I think this would be wonderful to confuse old ladies.

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‘Stumpwork’ by Alana Chenevix-Trench.

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And a lovely sheep by Margarita O’Byrne.

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Then I went to Studio Art Quilt’s Associates (SAQA) booth that just blew my mind. I had no idea these detailed works of art could be made in that technique. The theme was Food For Thought and this is ‘Mushroom Frittata’ by Jean Sredi.

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‘Pepitas’ by Vicky Bahnhoff.

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‘Yum! Pineapple Upside Down Cake’ by Diane Powers-Harris. Yes, this is still a quilt.

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‘Il Mercato’ by Jeannie Moore

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‘Elegant Edibles’ by Jennifer Day.

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Who doesn’t love dolls?

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This one was my favourite: what a grumpy face.

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These two sculptures surprised me, as they’re made from a traditional paper folding technique native to the Philippines.

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And I saved the best for last: a fishmongers called Kate’s Plaice! Everything you see here is either knitted or sewn, and the details just make it extraordinary.

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The artist herself.

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Did you go to the K&S? What caught your eye? And am I going mad for taking more time to look at art instead of yummy yarn?

Thank you Leonor for taking us on this great fibre adventure!

Knitting

Knitting

I know you’ve been dying to know how my handspun yarn knitted, so here’s the little rectangle I made:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere’s the other side:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd here’s a close up:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI still can’t do the cast off so it doesn’t pull and seem tight compared to the rest of it. I plan to felt this piece when I get the chance, by hand, not in the washer. This is another piece I’ve made specifically for felting, I promised Nada I’d make a piece with the pencil roving to see how it felted:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s quite chunky:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother piece I made recently turned out really nice, the colours and shine are gorgeous:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis has a really nice texture:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen you open the yarn out, it’s actually a kind of netting, I bought it with felting in mind before I could knit:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ll show the photos when the top pieces have been felted.

 

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