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.
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