Archive for May, 2009

If I’ve been a bit quiet this week…

May 29, 2009

…it’s because I’ve been going flat out trying to get my Web Shop open. I’m not 100% there yet, but I’m very pleased to say that it is now online, at VintageCraftStuff, although there are only about 11 “products” up there so far & you can’t buy anything yet! There’s quite a lot of work left to do; everything has to be weighed & measured for the postage calculator, for example, and I have the best part of 100 books to list, not to mention everything else! But at last I feel I’m getting somewhere. I’d love to open a real shop, but rent & rates round here are too high for the sort of turnover I’d anticipate, and I don’t want to get bogged down with commuting.

Otherwise, there’s been another attack of freegan raspberries, but this time I nearly left them too long (about 10 hours) before picking them over and sadly lost over half to mould, so only ended up with 4 smallish jars of raspberry jam. Last week, I was given a big box of celery, which has kept my dehydrator busy all week and will flavour our soups throughout the winter.  We enjoyed our day at the Pavilion hugely and gave away over 50 Morsbags; I came away with lots of ideas and hoping against hope that I might finally be able to do a Permaculture Design Course in the not-too-distant future; there’ll be one running locally before too long. Twice I’ve signed up for them elsewhere, only to have them cancelled when there weren’t enough students.

And I’m over the moon with my latest lovely acquisition from the Tip; I had to part with my lovely Willcox & Gibbs “Silent Automatic” treadle as I didn’t use it enough to justify the floor space it took up. But now I have a handcranked version, even earlier (mid 1880s?) which is tiny so I can keep it! They are really good with “difficult” threads; something to do with the tension mechanism, I suspect, so it is genuinely useful as well as “cute” in Jo’s opinion. I’ll post a pic tomorrow.

And the skein of scrap yarn has become a cosy fingercrochet hat, which I love & will wear. There’ll be more in the pipeline; it’s great fun to spin so I’m on the hunt for genuine scraps now!

Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear….

May 21, 2009
Spin your scrap yarn into something beautiful & useful!

Spin your scrap yarn into something beautiful & useful!

Well, what a totally irresistible idea. I’ve never been that interested in producing “Art Yarns” but when I saw what Grace’s husband had spun up out of scrap roving, I couldn’t help admiring it and thinking, well maybe

I had a bag of fabric scraps to take down to the Tip yesterday; more than I could store or handle within the foreseeable future. And I’d poked some scraps of commercial yarn in there too, two colours of Zanzibar and some tangled pink & black eyelash from the gothic sweater that never was; yarn too saggy for pattern. Perhaps I could do something with those and the very lumpy batt of mixed pink sparkly mohair and Dorset Down? Not to mention some tiny scraps of lace and ribbon…

So off to my trusty computer, via several blogs, Ravelry & YouTube, I sat down at my wheel and span up my scraps! Then wrapped/plied them with some leftover cotton perlé from the knitting machine; this was a step too far in some ways as there wasn’t quite enough twist where I’d used the lace and ribbon. So I needed to wrap & tie it by hand in a couple of places, but it’s not bad for a first effort.

I can see I’ll have to set myself some rules, if I do this again – and it’s a lot of fun, so I probably will – like only using genuine scraps that would otherwise be of no practical use. Or it’ll get very expensive & I’ll end up creating scraps instead of using them up, which would defeat the object rather.

Now, what to do with 42 yards of “Art” Yarn? A finger-crochet hat, maybe?

Ideas, please! What will I do with this?

Ideas, please! What will I do with this?

Just a quickie…

May 20, 2009

If you’re around the Bournemouth area this Saturday, pop in & see me “bagging” at the last day of the Bournemouth & Poole Big Green Fortnight, in the Pavilion, Westover Road. This is in conjunction with the Transition BH group; when I joined it, the first message I received was about Morsbags, which is just – well , serendipitious! So I duly volunteered, and am working my socks off to make bags & prepare enough for us all to make on the day.

See you there!

In praise of the amateur…

May 17, 2009

How often does perfectionism stop us from achieving worthwhile things? Or even trying to do them?

I’m thinking of one lady who earnestly said to me, “Oooh, you are brave! I’d never have dreamt of spinning in public for at least the first seven years,” when I volunteered to help out with something. Now, I could interpret that as a warning that I’m only going to make a fool of myself if I try to run before I can walk, though I really don’t think she meant it that way. But I don’t actually mind making a fool of myself, anyway; I’ve had a lot of laughs and met some lovely people that way. And whilst I admire hugely the consummate craftsmanship of those who spin the finest laceweight yarns to knit stunning, gossamer-thin ring shawls, I’m not sure that that tempts many people to try their hand at something new; I know that I was terrified I’d spoil what they were doing, the first few times I tried. Of course, I duly did. But then a kind lady spinning rough & ready rug yarn let me have a go, and it didn’t matter that I overtwisted, then undertwisted, then got my jumper tangled up in it, because we were both laughing so hard. I then went home, sat down with my own wheel and made mistakes perfectly happily until I’d got into the swing of it.

As far as I remember, there’s some research out there somewhere that shows that people learn skills best when they’re taught by someone who isn’t (or doesn’t seem to be) too far ahead of them. So I’m a bit disturbed by the drive to professionalise everyone everywhere who might be in any danger of passing their skills on; I already know several people who have “crashed” out of courses designed to turn them into “teachers/lecturers” when all they wanted to do was help other people start up in a rewarding hobby. Not to mention some of the outrageous demands of excessive legislation; one friend, who could (and indeed should) be teaching patterncutting, isn’t, because she can’t provide disabled access. In her own home. How many people with the kind of disability that would make access a problem would want to learn patterncutting in someone’s home? So the rest of us are denied access to her skills too, and she’s denied a source of much-needed income… I wouldn’t wish for one moment to cause any offence or distress to anyone, especially not a disabled would-be pattern-cutter. But political correctness and “professionalism” run riot are having exactly the opposite effect to enhancing diversity and opportunity, both here and in other ways I can think of.  

However, mostly it’s our own innate shyness and anxiety about getting things wrong that stops us from “having a go” and that’s something that we can, and indeed must, get over. If we’re going to learn how to make the best of a warmer, more unpredictable world, with less conventional energy available, we have to turn up our sleeves and get stuck in, without fretting that no-one else is doing it, or that we might get it wrong somehow. So next time you see a lady of a certain age making a fool of herself with a bit of craft equipment and a big grin on her face, please come on over & join me! 

PS – please would whoever searched for “passap machine knitting course dorset” in the last couple of days get in touch? There are several of us out here hunting for one; I have a lead to follow up & together we either have bargaining power or the possibility of working it all out between us!

Baa baa, black sheep; yes, we have some wool…

May 15, 2009

Last week I spotted an advert on the local “Waste-Not-Want-Not” group – similar concept to Freecycle, but allows lending etc. – for 3 black fleeces, in central Wimborne. I hesitated for a moment; the last local-ish black fleece I’d had wasn’t very good quality. But free is free, and useful is useful; off & on I’m making a big peg-loom rug, so even rug-grade wool is useful, especially dark stuff. So I dashed off a quick email, and was pleasantly surprised to get a phone call back within half an hour. I picked the fleeces up last Friday, and was delighted to find that they are gorgeous; mostly midnight black, so soft you want to curl up in it, not too oily, and so clean you’d think these sheep lived indoors. The locks are about 5″ long and have a nice gentle crimp so it’s blissfully easy to spin; I just pulled some out of the bag and spun away. There was only one problem; by the time I picked them up there were no longer three, there were five…

So I fired off emails to a couple of local spinners, Jill and Grace, and went round to see my spinning neighbour Linda. Luckily they were all interested, so I’ve rehomed most of it with them, as I’d never get through all of that myself before it started to go downhill, and I have a backlog of that lovely creamy Dorset too. Some also went off with my friend Annie, who is in the process of mastering the drop spindle, so I’m left with one and a bit fleeces. And an inkle loom!

Jill’s husband made her an inkle loom a couple of months ago, but had enough wood over to make a second. I’d said I’d be very interested in giving that a home, but as they’d just managed to produce a grandchild at the same time as putting their house on the market, I wasn’t expecting it anytime soon. However, when she came to pick up her black fleece, the loom came with her! So that’s kept me occupied for a few happy hours, watching YouTube videos to work out how to warp it up & weave with it, then actually producing my first few bands. I made myself a shuttle out of some driftwood that was just about the perfect shape to start with; all I had to do was carve a notch at each end to wind the weft thread round. It’s very smooth and one edge tapers sharply, ideal for beating the weft into place.

Thank you, Jill & Mr. Jill!

Thank you, Jill & Mr. Jill!

And I’d run out of KoolAid, so I asked on an American website I’ve belonged to for many years whether anyone would be prepared to send some over to me. It’s really expensive to buy over here, and there’s only a very limited range of colours available. Bless her cotton socks, a parcel arrived from Carolyn in Virginia this week with 50 sachets in, padded out with some lovely silver Mylar and some multicoloured silk waste for spinning. You should just see what happens when you spin a little Mylar into the black wool, which has a quiet gleam all of its own. It’s so lovely I’m almost afraid to do anything with it!

Black wool spun up with silver Mylar - thank you, Carolyn!

Black wool spun up with silver Mylar - thank you, Carolyn!

Then there’s the Jones Spool treadle that I rescued on Freecycle… my heart sank when I saw it; it had been out in their garden for quite some time, there’s a LOT of rust and the veneer on the table had bleached and started to lift. But half a pot of Swarfega, quite a lot of bike spray, and half a pint of Danish Oil and it’s starting to look & sound a little like the thoroughbred it once was.

All this has made the week pass very quickly & easily, which is just as well as I’ve spent most of it suffering – and I do mean suffering – with a horrible cold. And the weather’s gone downhill, so we couldn’t spend much time in the garden. All good rainy day fun…

When life starts blowing raspberries at you…

May 15, 2009

…get out your preserving pan!

A couple of the stalls at our local market are happy to give their “unfit for human consumption” greens away to local pet owners, and I’m a regular beneficiary of this bounty; my chickens eat “freegan” greens for 5 days out of 7, most weeks, and roadside dandelions or allotment weeds for the rest of the time. And once in a while, a little work with a sharp eye and a knife leaves something I’m happy to feed to my kids too; we had a very good stir-fry last weekend that only cost about £3 to feed seven people, thanks to a sack of sweetheart cabbages that weren’t nearly as grotty inside as their outer leaves suggested.

Anyway, today I was given a sack with a load of broccoli on top, some of it clearly still very palateable. I duly thanked them and started home, but something was drippping from the bottom of the sack – red juice. Beetroot, I thought. But when I got home & opened it up, there were hordes of cartons of squished raspberries; there were a few little flecks of mould and quite a few flecks of wandering broccoli, but when I’d sorted through I was left with 1.8Kg of squashy but useable raspberries. Jam time! Luckily I had plenty of sugar in. So out came my carefully-saved jamjars, and my big saucepan, and we now have 6½ jars of delicious homemade raspberry jam! Off now to make the scones, using kefir made with Freecycled grains and stainless steel scone cutters gleaned a couple of years ago from the tip. Time to start saving jars again, and it won’t matter quite so much that most of our homegrown raspberries never make it as far as the kitchen door…

Nearly-freegan Jam!

Nearly-freegan Jam!

And job done!

May 8, 2009
The finished article

The finished article

I’m quite proud of it. It’s washed OK, considering the wide variety of fibre types in the weaving, some of them only guessed at, and I found another use for the old picklocks; they are inserted at regular intervals around the edge to stretch it gently into shape as it dries. I have since been out and fingercombed through the fringe, then trimmed it roughly to a manageable length. I’m not giving this one away! It’s a little stiffer, but also warmer, than the first one I wove, completely out of scrap & leftover yarns, but as far as I remember most of that one was acrylic. I’ve done better with the shape of this one; I was more careful with the tension, as far as you can be, but also the loom kept its shape far better than the hardboard did. I was a bit anxious that the wool & other animal fibres would shrink at the fulling stage and distort the shape, but thankfully that doesn’t seem to have happened – everything has tightened & evened up a little, that’s all.

Now I’m looking forwards to wearing it – perhaps at our famous Wimborne Folk Festival next month?

Update: following a couple of requests elsewhere, I’ve added a page describing how I made the loom: see

Nearly there…

May 7, 2009

The last shawl took me months to complete. But this one is nearly done in just over a week; as far as I can work out, the difference has been down to;

1) a longer needle. I don’t know what the technical name is or what it was originally for, but this needle is over 12″ long, straight and quite sturdy with a big eye. I’d have said some kind of knitting implement, maybe? The only problem is that it has a sharp point; a blunt one would have been better for this job. I swapped to a “proper” weaving needle towards the end as the big one was too long for the far corner.

2) the “loom” is much less wobbly than the hardboard square was. It has stood up to the weaving process very well, in fact, and I expect to be able to use it again.

3) not using eyelash yarn – that was a total nightmare to keep track of…

4) moving the loom around to adjust the working height; on the floor when I was working near the top, then steadily moving it up onto first a chair, then on top of the budgies’ cage towards the end. Said budgies went very quiet, though I can’t say the same for the cockatiel, who evidently thought it was all very funny.

It is now finished and off the loom; tomorrow I will “full” it and see how it’s turned out. There’s rather more rescued yarn in there than I realised, too; about half, in the end.

Worth every penny...

Worth every penny...

The pure new wool hanging down from the top came from a charity stall at the market at the weekend; I only wanted to buy the plain undyed stuff but he insisted I took the whole lot for the same ridiculously-low price. My neighbour trotted off happily with three skeins of black, I kept the three skeins of assorted blues, and we spent a happy afternoon “handpainting” the three plain ones with Kool-Aid sent by kind e-friends in the States. Excellent fun! The blue wool will be appearing in another weaving project soon; not sure what we’ll do with our gloriously-technicolour handpainted wool, but I’ll think of something. Not to mention the three black fleeces I’ve “won” on Freecycle this week and have to pick up at the Market tomorrow…

Wish me luck with the fulling, tomorrow!