Sunday, 15 November 2020

Quick Stitch - Huggable Hottie

It's that time of year when a hot water bottle adds great value to my life and I imagine for many others too.  The most important thing about 'hotties', as I call them, is that they are huggable - and of course that the fabric keeps the water hot for as long as possible.  I've been creating 'nuno felt' this autumn and it is an ideal textile for a cozy hottie cover - it looks beautiful and is easy and relatively inexpensive to create.

Nuno felt is a technique developed in the 90s by Australian textile artist Polly Stirling - 'nuno' being the Japanese word for cloth.  The technique is one of the gently wet felting wool fibres with an open weave textile.  The nuno felt I've started with making is with merino wool and thin silk fabric.  In absence of nuno felt to create a hottie cover, a thin fabric such as cotton can be bonded or stitched to commercial felt to achieve a textile of a similar weight with heat retention qualities.

The following instructions can be used to make a cover for any size hot water bottle.  First to make a pattern by taking piece of paper that's larger than your bottle and draw a line 1/2" wider than the bottle edge all the way around the main body of the bottle and 3/4" around the bottle top.  Shape the top so that the widest point is continued in a straight line down to the bottle shoulders - the angle of my photograph is a little misleading on this point.

The cut out one side of the pattern and fold in half lengthways and use the first cut line to cut out the other pattern side - this will ensure symmetry.

Then take the main body pattern and draw a horizontal line around 1-2" beneath the pattern 'shoulders'.  Trace around the top part of the pattern onto another piece of paper and extend down at least 2" below the horizontal line you have drawn.

Now to cut out 3 pieces in your nuno felt or chosen fabric - 1 main body, 1 top piece and 1 bottom piece.  Now is the time to add any embellishments to the respective pieces.

The top and bottom pieces both need to be finished along the straight edge.  I machine overstitched the  raw edges and folded over and machine stitched very scant seams - I was aiming to keep the bulk down and ensure that the top and bottom pieces overlapped when stitched to the main body.

To attach to the main body, put the top piece down first and then the bottom piece - right sides together.  Pin all the way around and machine stitch as small as seam as you can.

I also overlocked stitched all the way around the edge for a neat finish and to secure the seam.

There are lots of ways of making simple closures and a 'thread loop' is a particularly easy way to hand stitch a sturdy and pretty finish with a button.  Hand stitch a button to the top of the bottom section, creating a 'shank' to enable easier use.  Create thread loops in the bottom of the top section - here's a short video on how to do.

I hope that you have enjoyed this simple tutorial and find it useful to create delightful huggable hotties over the winter months - small comforts can make such a huge difference to our restricted lives this winter and I would be delighted to receive photos of your comfort creations.

Saturday, 7 November 2020

Nurturing Textile Creativity

For me, 2020 will be the year that I nurtured my textile creativity like no other before.  With so much that had felt certain rocked to the core, like many, I focused as much energy as possible on using newly available time in a positive way.  And so at the end of a summer of much reflection, I journeyed to the North of England - my area of birth and my paternal ancestors.  Walking on Bamburgh beach on the North East coast on a bright and blustery day, I had the joy of blowing away cobwebs that had accumulated in force.

My journey to Northumberland was on much more than a whim.  My hours of lockdown contemplation had landed some uncomfortable realisations and of particular note was how many creative textile experiences I had denied myself.  Take wet felting, I am passionate about textiles and wool and yet I had avoided wet felting for years because of a fear of lack of physical strength.  Pondering this sad assessment, I recalled wet felter and willow weaver Anna Turnbull of Biteabout Arts, who had come onto my radar after a chance find of an exhibition of her amazing St Cuthberts Cloak in Wooler Church.  I had really enjoyed chatting with Anna at Woolfest last year and remembering that she was a teacher, I made a plan of action.

And so on a bright Sunday morning after a number of twists and turns, I arrived at Biteabout Farm near Wooler, feeling happy that I had got myself as far as starting my challenge.  Anna has made a fabulous studio where she teaches her felting and willow weaving skills and encouraged by Anna's quiet and friendly disposition, I settled down at my work table by this attractive window.

Chatting amicably while I followed Anna's instruction, it was most interesting how quickly I made progress and how my long held concerns barely surfaced.  Before I knew it, I was putting down my 2nd layer of merino fibre and looking forward to a hearty and delicious home made soup lunch.

While felt making is certainly a physical process, I was delighted to find that it was way more achievable that my long held perceptions.  Like most crafts, it is all in technique and as Anna guided me in applying the correct amount of soap and water, by early afternoon my felted piece was looking very promising.

A little more rolling and pummeling and my felting was complete and ready to be pulled onto glass lamps.  I look at my lamp every day and marvel at its completion and wonder how I had denied myself such a rewarding experience for so long.  I am so grateful to Anna for making my learning session happen and for so generously sharing her knowledge and in doing so opening a new door that may have otherwise remained firmly shut.

My time at Biteabout Farm was over all too quickly and this very attractive creation caught my eye as I took one last look at her work.  Anna purchases much of her willow from the Somerset Levels and I have a mind that this stunning willow and felt bag may yet find its way back!

With a few extra days for taking in the natural beauty of the Northumberland, I also followed up a recommendation to visit Whistlebare in the nearby Cheviot Hills.  What a glorious greeting to be met at by these gorgeous Angora goats as I drove along Whistlebare's picturesque driveway.  Whistlebare produces mohair and other yarns from their own goats and sheep with the utmost care and attention to each stage of production.

The newly extended Whistlebare studio was a delight to safely visit and savour the yarn and patterns that they produce.  Such friendly and knowledge people who are delighted to share information about their products and to help customers make informed choices, I highly recommend a visit to all yarn lovers who are in the area.

Of course I had to take a little something away with at least another small challenge.  Circular needles are new to me this summer and lacy knitting with Whistlebare beautiful Angora wool is work in progress - I have lots of long winter nights ahead to crack this one!

I left my biggest challenge of the year sitting quietly in the wings to the point that it only just happened.  Living with mild dyslexia and struggles with counting, I have long told myself that pattern weaving was one textile skill that would never be for me.   When a visit some years ago to Farfield Mill at Sedburgh repeatedly came to mind, I rustled up a last minute visit for some end of summer inspiration.  This renovated 19th century woolen mill has been saved from closure on several occasions and is now home to numerous textile artists of various persuasions.

On the day of my visit, Keith Barber of Gneiss Rugs was working away on his Harris Tweed rugs and chatting with me about his creations.  Making use of top quality Harris Tweed selvedges that would otherwise go to landfill, Keith's rugs are woven on a peg loom - likely one of the oldest forms of weaving.

The stripy in their Hebridian colours rugs reflect the 'Gneiss' rock structure that can be found on the Isle of Lewis.  With 3000 grams of wool in each rug, they are incredible value for money and this short informative video shows the beginning to end rug making process.

Laura's Loom studio certainly had lots of colourful textile inspiration and examples of her work from British wool from Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales.

Bee Textile had some very interesting woolly work in progress and I wished that I had been able to chat with her about this piece particularly.

As indeed was the case for knitwear designer, Angela Bradley.  Her yarn filled studio posed many questions and left me with a strong desire to try my hand at yet another textile skill!

And so it was to be at Farfield Mill, that I sampled pattern weaving for the first time with visiting Cumbrian weaver Jan Beadle of Woolclip.  The experience of simple silk shuttling felt vaguely familiar yet strangely demanding.  While I certainly felt satisfied to have achieved at least a little dodgery pattern weaving, I quickly found that this creative textile experience needed lots more more planning and certainly time to partake.

And so this autumn I have been taking a slow and steady path to learn weaving on an 8-shaft loom with much appreciated guidance and support from local weaver Sally Parker.  Working with Sally's recommendation to use beautiful Tencel yarn for my first start to end weaving experience and I am following a traditional twill pattern without much of a to do!  Even better I am really enjoying the experience of slow shuttling in the comfort of my Somerset Levels studio and hope that I may yet inspire others to have a go at this very grounding textile craft.

As we head into the final weeks of this unprecedented year, I have returned to reflecting all that I have learnt.  I feel enormously grateful for the fortune of good health and that I have found ways to thrive despite the upheaval and restrictions.  I have learnt beyond doubt that my creative imagination can go off at a serious tangent and when this happens, I can miss out on very rewarding experiences.  Above all else, I have found that there are always ways and means to nurture nuggets of textile creativity that keep tapping at my door :)

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Quick Stitch - Felted Soap

While the title of this post is in keeping with my offerings for easy stitch makes, the truth of the matter is that it has nothing to do with stitching!  However, it is very much do with wool which has continued as a huge textile passion this summer.  In a year where we have needed to wash our hand like never before, making felted soap felt like a very fitting project.  Plus it's a fun and easy to make that has several benefits over conventional soap bars - it makes soap last longer, gently exfoliates hands and never leaves a residue after use.  Better still, the results that can be achieved are beautiful. 

Beautiful wool fibres blends are are the basis for this project and they readily available on the internet.  Here are a few of the blended merino fibres that I purchased online this year from some of my favourite retailers - the fibres of merino wool work best for felting.  I always have fibres for sale in my Spring Farm studio for anyone who lives locally and is looking to source.

Getting hold of soap this summer was a little harder to start with and my desire for pebble shaped soaps even more so.  I found some fabulous traditional shaped French rose scented soap in my local health shop and decided to have a go with rounding the corners off with a vegetable peeler.  This did the trick perfectly and gave a slightly more pleasing rounded shape.

The first step is to gather all that you need for the felting process - wool fibre, a piece of tulle net and a small bowl each of hot and cold water.  Then take a length of blended fibre - long enough to wrap around the shortest side of the soap with a bit of overlap.  The most important thing here is to pull the fibre length rather and cut and it's also important to felt a couple of thin layers rather than one thick one.

Then wrap the encased soap in a piece of Tulle net with a generous overlap and dunk this into water as hot as your had can stand to expand the fibres.  Start to felt with small light circular motions with your finger tips, gradually increasing the pressure and size of the circles.  Keep checking that the net is free and not getting caught up in wool as the wool starts to felt - when this starts to happen it's time to move onto the next stage.

Now to pull another length of fibre to wrap around the soap in the other direction - it's best to dry your hands off before you do this.  

As before, wrap the fibre carefully around the damp soap, making sure this time that all the soap bar is covered.

Wrap the tulle net around again and dunk in hot water and start to gently rub with circular motions.  Increase the pressure as before and when the net starts to attach to the soap, remove and continue the felting process straight onto the fibres.  

Leave the felted soap to dry and then wrap in a pretty ribbon to make a delightful gift.  I have made for numerous gifts this summer and have assured all recipients that they really can use!  The felting process continues as the soap is used and after lots and lots of hand washing, only a shrunken wool casing is left. As to what to use the final felted pieces for, well that's a creative project for another day!

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Chasing Butterflies

Being out and about with my camera this summer has provided great joy at a time when my world has felt fractured.  After weeks of confinement, the colourful world of butterflies was a fabulous subject to absorb myself into and I have been enjoying a rewarding journey of learning ever since.  Butterflies are believed to have existed on Earth for 200 million years and with us humans only clocking up 2.8 million years, they clearly have the edge in terms of ancestral rights.  Their cultural meanings are many, freedom, beauty, comfort, transformation - to name just a few.  The peacock butterfly is one of the most commonly seen of the 59 butterfly species in England, and its iridescent colouring makes it one of the most striking.  I have seen frequently on nature walks this summer and I read with interest that the they are said to signify the need for more passion in life.

Orange is a long standing favourite colour and has often dominated the places that I have lived - it is said to be a colour of health and wellbeing.  I was therefore delighted to see my first ever Silver-washed Fritillary butterflies on a most wonderful woodland walk in Langford Budville.  A slightly lighter shade of orange than the male, this female was the first sighting and was similarly enjoying a lunchtime feed in the summer sunshine.  

The Small Tortoiseshell is an orange butterfly commonly sighted in the British Isles from Spring right the way through to Autumn.  On a soothing sunny stroll along Poets Walk in Clevedon, there was this fine specimen doing what it most enjoys, nectaring on a flower.   Sightings of orange butterflies are said to highlight the importance of gut instinct and making healthy decisions.

A capture of a blue butterfly took a great deal of patience on my part, and an acknowledgement that I would have faired better much earlier in the summer. It seems a little unfair to call this a 'Common Blue' as this first open winged capture looks pretty sophisticated to me!  It is said that blue symbolises loyalty and the ability to connect, communicate and express - all of which feel super important at time when even the strongest links have been tested to the hilt.

The Speckled Wood butterfly may look a touch dowdy by comparison to its more colourful cousins.  A school uniform colour that resulted in years of avoidance, brown is a colour that I have come to much appreciate since living on the Somerset Levels.  This primary earth colour dominates my studio decor and I feel helps to create a stable and secure atmosphere.  The Speckled Wood frequents woodland and scrubland and this particular specimen was sighted close by to my studio at Westhay on the Avalon Marshes - resting quietly on a gate warmed by the summer sun.

I saw small brown and orange butterflies on pretty much all of my Somerset walks throughout the summer.  All the same, it took me most of the summer weeks to be able to distinguish between a Small Heath, Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper.  I am now quietly confident that this is a Gatekeeper as it has two spots in the upper wing black eye spot - the female Meadow Brown which is very similar only has one.

Finding butterflies in large numbers was particularly delightful, as was the case when I took a late afternoon walk at RSPB Ham Wall.  Red Admirals fluttered around me, warming their bodies on the sweet scented Umbellifer in the last rays of sunshine.  It is interesting that they are called Red Admirals, as their predominant colour is close to black.  Viewed by many as a dead colour and perhaps not even a colour at all, a black butterfly is said to be a reminder to embrace change and remember that with time it will pass.

Large cabbage white butterflies start their lives with a form that most vegetable gardeners intensely dislike to see.  Yet when their metamorphosis to a butterfly is complete, the simplicity of their colour and markings is one that can be truly admired by all.  The female has two dark spots on the upper wing and the male just one.  White butterflies are said to signify a requirement to fine a place of calm in a tumultuous world and this lady basking on Verbena Bonariensis in a friend's Somerset garden certainly looked serene and peaceful 

Then there is the mix of these polar colours, a combination I find very appealing.  Luckily for me, the Marble White butterfly is most commonly found in Southern England in rough grassland and  woodland clearings - exactly where I found this one!

As I lived out the last days of an unprecedented summer, I reflected on all that I have learnt.  'Chasing Butterflies' truly sums up many of my days - tentatively rebuilding daily life and wondering and often fretting that achievement might be blown away by the next breath of wind.  What I found very early on was that butterflies really do not need to be chased at all and that the best thing to do was to sit down somewhere lovely and wait patiently.  This Comma Butterfly in my Somerset Levels garden was a case in point and reminded me how beautiful things can often come to us simply with relative ease.

“May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun, and find your shoulder to light on, to bring you luck, happiness, and riches today, tomorrow and beyond.”

Irish Prayer

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Quick Stitch - Cork Appliqued Book Cover

Remembering my happy travels exploring Sardinian crafts has inspired me to experiment with stitching cork fabric.  I have long loved cork products and finding that I could purchase it by the metre was a very happy discovery.  It is a very stable fabric to work with and easy to stitch on a domestic sewing machine.  Plus it's natural colour works with any colourway and to make this applique book cover, I chose one of my favourite  colour combinations.

The first step is to measure the height of the book you are covering and the width of the front, back and spine added together.  Add 0.5" to both of these measurements and cut a piece of cork this exact size.  Then decide on a design for your cover - I'm in full blown flower mode this summer so my choice of inspiration was a done deal.  I decided that it was a great opportunity to use reverse applique and cut out petal shapes and placed a piece of vibrant Kimono silk behind.

Then a used an open zigzag stitch to secure the Kimono silk into place.  It was easiest to start stitching at the point of each petal and to manually place the needle when I was close to completing a petal to get the stitches to end in the most convenient place.

I repeated this process on the back of the book cover, reversing the design.  I allowed a good margin around the flower head design to allow for the book cover to be edged.  I also wrapped the work in progress around the book to be covered to check the final position.

Then to add a stem to the petal design by couching down a piece of plied wool.  Again I used a open zigzag and toning thread - this is a little more forgiving on stitching than a contrast.

Then to the inside of the cover which I first bonded with more Kimono silk. The sleeves for the cover were cut the same height as the cover and just short of half the book width.  One edge of each of the sleeves was seamed and stitched with a decorative stitch.  The sleeves where then pinned in place and the corners rounded off to reflect the book corners.

With the covers I have made over the years, I find that the best finish for around the edge is to zigzag with an open stitch and to encompass some kind or cord to cover the raw edges.  I used a plied wool for this cover and stitched around once to catch the wool and then stitched around a 2nd time to ensure that I had caught all the layers - it's really helpful to use an open toed foot to get the best finish to do this.

This was a very popular project with my students who completed on my Safe Stitching Saturday sessions by Zoom during the UK lockdown.  Online learning and teaching of stitch has been a whole new experience and I was glad to offer up these sessions at a time when we needed to stay indoors. This particular cover was created by Somerset stitcher Marie, who combined with a charming Viyella fabric.  Please do email me with any covers that this post inspires you to make - I would love to see and share.