Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Last Refuge of a Scoundrel

I'd done this before - making a felt cover for a notebook.  How difficult could it be to make another?
I made this one for my daughter a few years ago when she liked to doodle a lot - before she went to art school!
So I expected it would be dead easy to create a piece of felted fabric and make an A5 sized notebook cover.  (as was the requirement for this month's Scottish Woman's Institute craft competition at my local branch)


Here's my first attempt.
It's been made by wet felting - a process whereby a robust fabric is created from carded wool - wonderfully soft merino in this case.  There's some dyed Wensleydale curls in there as well for added texture.  The process requires quite simple equipment and materials - a towel to work on as warm water is involved, bubble wrap, a reed mat, soap flakes, nylon netting as well as my chosen wool.  (I bought the wool from Queen of Purls, a lovely yarn store in the Saltmarket in Glasgow, a wee while ago.)
 Laying out the fibre is the fun creative part.
Making the fibres felt together takes elbow grease!
I was happy with the colours and the density of my felt.  Netting holds the fibres in place whilst warm soapy water combined with the agitation of rubbing with bubble wrap makes the natural fibres stick together.  Rolling the piece in the textured mat causes it to 'full'. At this stage the fabric becomes compacted so it shrinks in size - just like it would if you put your treasured woolly in the washing machine.  Trouble is, mine no longer fitted the A5 notebook!

So onto attempt number two.
This time I added some loops of a pretty variegated knitting yarn as well as silk fibres and curly locks.  A thorough rinse is required to get rid of all the soap then the piece can be reshaped whilst damp.  Again, though, I'd misjudged the size.  In order for this finished fabric to cover the notebook I had to trim off the uneven edges and glue it on.
Though it made a neat finished item, I couldn't help feeling that using glue was 'cheating'.  The felt will have to be discarded once the notebook is all used up and that seems a shame.  Ideally I wanted to make a removable cover which could be re-used, just like the one I made my daughter.

Back to the drawing board.  This time, though, I resorted to what my husband calls 'the last refuge of a scoundrel'* and I actually read some instructions!
I referred to an excellent book I own called Art in Felt and Stitch by Moy Mackay as well as this online tutorial by felt maker Angela Barrow.

Once more I assembled all the equipment I needed
and then I made a 'resist' which acts as a barrier when you don't want your felt to felt to itself!  Mine is made of packing foam as it's waterproof and not completely rigid.  It's bigger than the desired finished size to allow for shrinkage.  Here's the second attempt on the resist for size comparison.
And here's the fun part again, placing all the fibres.
I added lots more wool and silk this time
and had very clean hands after all this!
Then I wrapped the fibres around the resist so the notebook can be slipped inside the cover.
I kept measuring this time as the felt fulled and shrank so it wouldn't be too small.  I also cut down an inexpensive thin plastic chopping mat to the same size as the notebook cover and inserted it into the felted shape so it wouldn't shrink any further as it dried.
All that remained was a bit of trimming of the lining to allow the notebook to fit snugly inside.
Ta dah!  How appropriate then,  as I reveal my finished covered notebook, that it's National Stationery Week in the UK.

Time to find all my favourite pens and pencils and get scribbling.....

*For the record, in this quote Samuel Johnston is talking about patriotism being the last refuge of a scoundrel - which may be timely as another election looms!


Monday, 3 April 2017

A Bag Full of Potential

I've heard it said that the only things people happily give away for nothing are kittens and rhubarb... 
...but I'd like to add knitting wool to this list - especially after being recently 'gifted' a huge black bin bag of the stuff by the warden of the local sheltered housing complex.  The wool was no longer wanted by the weekly craft group so the warden wondered if I might find a use for it.

I said I'd try.

A few days after I got the bin bag home, I tipped it onto the floor of my craft room - only to find that it was one great big massive tangle!  The Scots word 'fankle' would sum it up pretty well.

At this point it was tempting to stick it all back in the bag the way it came but, whilst some might see a giant mess, knitters know this is simply a bag full of potential!

Sorting it out took some time.  There were very few ball bands to give any clue as to what kind of wool it was.

Finally, all the balls of yarn formed a woolly rainbow on my sofa.

Now I had to decide what to do with it and how to distribute it as there was no way I could knit it all myself..

Fortunately I know a number of ladies in my local area who knit for charity so pictured below is the wool I gave them and the projects they support.

Phyllis knits vests which are sent to Malawi so the very poorest families can take their babies home in cosy clothing rather than being wrapped in newspaper, which coined the term 'fish and chip' babies and led to the development of this simple garment.  I've included an image from a nearby church newsletter as there are no photos of any sent from Oldmeldrum - despite over 3000 having been knitted by local ladies so far!

Gladys makes toys which also go to Africa to bring joy to children who have none.  I gave her lots of mixed colours and baby wool as she also knits baby garments for charity.
June knits lots of things, including these characters, which she sells locally on behalf of a Scottish autism charity.  I'm gifting her all the novelty yarns.
I sent a package away to the charity Knit For Peace who use donated wool in their work with marginalised sections of society, such as in prisons, where they set up knitting groups.

There was some chunky stuff in tweedy browns and purples which was rather coarse but which I believe to be 100% wool so I made a hat for my husband, Geoff, to try it out.

The pattern is called Chunkeanie and is generously shared free by hat designer extraordinaire Woolly Wormhead here.  Geoff has worn it to golf and can testify that his new hat is really cosy.  There's enough to make five more so I've another on the needles as you can see.
Even after all that sorting, gifting and knitting, I was still left with lots of small oddments in bright colours.

I wanted to make something myself to give back to the sheltered housing residents.

Recently I'd been inspired after seeing photos on Instagram of crocheted African flower motifs made into a blanket  by Heather of the blog The Patchwork Heart so I decided to have a go.  I followed this tutorial by Sarah-Jayne who writes a lovely lifestyle, crochet and craft blog with clear crochet instructions called

Here's my first attempts at African flowers.
Soon I was making the flowers in every spare moment and my kitchen table was covered in motifs!  They're quite addictive.

My Mum has been living in sheltered housing in the village for nearly two years now and it was her suggestion that I made a couple of cushions for the resident's lounge.
Each cushion comprises 28 motifs so I made 56 of them altogether.  The motifs are joined by crochet and there's a button opening for removal of the cushion pad.

I raided my button jar for all the colourful ones!

I'd better hand them over before I get too used to seeing them on the craft room sofa.

I won't see everything that's made with the wool from the massive bag but I know there's potential for a lot of knitting to make a lot of people happy - and that makes me happy too.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

What - no golfclubs?

My incredulous husband made this remark when he heard I was going to Dornoch, home of the famous 400 year old golf course, with its Royal title, which is ranked number 5 in the world.

This weekend, though, I was attending the Dornoch Fibre Fest with my friend, Alison.  It was knitting needles and crochet hooks rather than drivers and putters, and balls of yarn rather than the white dimpled variety, that we had in mind as we travelled three hours north to the picturesque cathedral town.
The event is a celebration of fibre and woollen crafts and comprised classes, demonstrations, drop-in sessions as well as retail opportunities and was held in two venues in the town.  The gaily decorated lamp posts helped direct visitors from one hall to the other.
Alison and I aren't newcomers to the fibre festival circuit, having enjoyed previous trips together to Edinburgh Yarn Festival last March and the Highland Wool Festival at Dingwall in May 2015.

It was a delight to see stallholders we'd met before and some new vendors too.  Here's Helen from Ripplescrafts, Laurence and Clive from Gongcrafts and Julie from Black Isle Yarns.  It was lovely to blether and I may have purchased some yarn from them all along the way!
Fibre festivals are friendly, colourful, enticing places.  At Dornoch there was squishable hand-dyed yarns from dedicated small batch producers as well as beautiful undyed natural fibres.  There were cute kits to make kids garments, fabrics, threads, spinning supplies and all the knitting accoutrements and paraphernalia one could wish for.  Sellers and buyers shared their love of crafts, inspiring each other and swapping pattern details, and there was a happy atmosphere.
As well as enjoying morning coffee and lunch at the venue, and to keep up our energy levels, we visited Dornoch Patisserie and Cafe for coffee with warm white chocolate and raspberry bread pudding - delicious!  I just loved the illustration on their menu.
The festival also featured a cushion competition.  Entries could be of any design using mixed media so I entered the baable cushion I'd made which I wrote about here.

I was absolutely thrilled to learn I'd  won first prize.  My cushion also won the prize from the Shetland Sheep Society as I'd used Shetland wool for the sheep in my design.  Double first!
My prize was a beautiful candle bowl from Tain Pottery - in a design exclusive to Royal Dornoch Golf Club as they sponsored the competition.
So I didn't take my clubs to Dornoch - but I did come home with a prize from the golf club!

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Love is...

Today is my wedding anniversary.

Twenty three years if you're counting from the day we got married - but...

... we've been together way longer than that!

According to internet sources, the traditional gift to mark a 23rd wedding anniversary would be something made from silver plate.  I think I can safely speak on behalf of us both when I say can hardly think of anything we'd like less.

Things aren't much better in Italy where the gift is water.  Necessary, of course, but hardly a present everyone is clamouring for.

The card manufacturer, Hallmark, even has an alternative theme for a 23rd wedding anniversary - and that is air.  (They do suggest balloons, hot air balloon rides or airline tickets as possible gifts though.)
That got me thinking about what I could give my husband that he would really like.  After all these years together, we've both given, and received, some amazing presents.  Right now we don't need expensive gifts.  Time to get creative, think outside the box, remember that I'm focusing on purpose this year.

What if I could re-purpose something?  Something much loved in his life but in need of tlc.  What does Geoff care for more than anything (in his wardrobe)?

The answer is this much loved, but rather ancient, lambswool jumper from Boden - which recently wore away at one elbow.  I picked up the stitches, knitted a patch and needle felted it into place as the wool round about the hole was fraying badly.

In case you're a darning aficionado, and are aghast that you can see this repair, let me introduce you to visible mending and the wonderful work of Tom of Holland who says -

The Visible Mending Programme seeks to highlight that the art and craftsmanship of clothes repair is particularly relevant in a world where more and more people voice their dissatisfaction with fashion’s throwaway culture. By exploring the story behind garment and repair, the Programme reinforces the relationship between the wearer and garment,  leading to people wearing their existing clothes for longer, with the beautiful darn worn as a badge of honour.

So for this wedding anniversary I'm giving Geoff his beloved jumper back, mended again and keeping the air out of the draughty hole in the sleeve.  (The eagle-eyed will spot a previous mend in the front, darned expertly some time ago by his Mum!)

Happy anniversary, darling.

(Geoff is offshore right now but we'll go out for a nice lunch to celebrate when he comes home, possibly wearing something a bit smarter!)


Sunday, 26 February 2017

Woolly Hat Week

It's just been Woolly Hat Week here in the UK.  
The Sailor's Society asked everyone to 'Be A Hat Hero' and to wear a woolly hat to raise money to help seafarers in need.

The Society helps those who brave cold and dangerous seas to make world trade possible.  It's an international Christian charity which works in ports around the world and helps seafarers in practical ways.  Enabling contact with home which is so important for those away at sea for many months.  They also help with access to medical treatment and, in less developed countries, they build homes and schools and provide grants to bring hope and security to seafaring communities.

So, in support of The Sailor's Society, here's me and Geoff in our woolly hats!

You may know that my husband, Geoff, works in data management on board a hydrographic survey vessel on a four week work rotation (meaning he spends four weeks at sea followed by four weeks at home),  a job he has done since 1992.  You my not know that I also worked on a hydrographic survey vessel as a data processor over a three year period in the mid 1980's.

Here I am in July 1986 on board the MV Seaway Labrador with the DSV Seaway Harrier in the background at Ekofisk (probably contravening all health and safety rules nowadays!)

Though the vessels we've both worked on were mainly crewed by Norwegian sailors, as we've both worked mainly for Norwegian companies, it would be usual for some crew to hail from far more distant places such as the Cape Verde islands off Senegal or The Philippines or India.  Docking in ports such as Aberdeen and Peterhead, or Stavanger and Bergen could be a very chilly experience for those whose home ports were considerably warmer.  No wonder The Sailor's Society has an army of knitters making more than 10,000 woolly hats a year to give out to seafarers.

So I've decided to knit some hats for them.  Simple styles and serviceable colours - here's a couple I've made so far:

The Sailor's Society says "not only do the hats help keep seafarers warm, but it's a great feeling to know someone they have never met has spent time making them."

Well, that's giving me a warm glow - even when I'm not wearing my favourite handknit woolly hat!

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