Monday, 11 May 2020

Quick Stitch - Kimono Silk Face Mask

As the UK starts to re-engage following full lockdown, each of us must keep taking actions to stay safe.  While I've been fortunate to have enjoyed good adult health, mindful of losing a sister and brother to lung conditions I am sure of the the need for face coverings in certain situations.  After much internet research, I have opted to make my face masks in recycled Kimono silk with a wool inner.  Kimono silk is a very densely woven fabric and along with wool, has the capacity to allow skin to temperature regulate in a way that cotton does not.  As we approach the summer months, I feel strongly that breathing through damp cotton masks will be at best uncomfortable.  My tests with hand washing Kimono silk in very hot soapy water showed no detriment to the fabric.  Kimono silk also has a huge feel good factor, which we surely need lots of just now.

The overall fabric requirement for my design is 40cm of Kimono silk - which is normally around 38cm wide.  First off, cut 2 squares of silk 20cm x 20cm and place the 2 pieces wrong sides together, deciding which way round any pattern will lay.  Create a French seam across what will be the top edge of the mask, by first pinning and machine stitching a scant seam with the fabric wrong sides together.  Then press this seam open and refold the fabric right sides together.  Then machine stitch the seam a second time a little deeper to enclose the edges of the raw seam edge and give a final press.  Also press over a double folded 1cm hem along the 2 raw edges opposite the seam you have created.

Top stitch each of the folded hems, as close to the edge of the fold as you can.

I find elastic next to my skin and over my ears very uncomfortable, and I think that a little extra work to create a covering is well worth the time.  To do this, cut bias strips from the remaining silk and join to make a strip 60cm x 3cm - diagonal joins are best for this and seams need to be pressed and trimmed.  Then take a piece of piping cord that is twice as long and starting in the middle of the piping cord, fold the silk strip lengthways around the piping cord.  Machine stitch across the short edge in the middle of the piping cord and then stitch a scant seam down the length to create a tube around the strip - a zipper foot will likely work best to keep alongside the piping cord as you stitch and avoid stitching through.

For anyone who has ever wrestled with turning fiddly fabric tubes, the next stage feels close to magical!  Hold the piping cord with one hand at the short end where you finished stitching, push with the other hand just above the silk short end that is stitched and gently ease the tube down over itself.  With a little gentle coaxing, the tube will pass over the stitched short edge and as you eep pushing the tube will turn the right way out.  Carefully cut the silk off the piping cord , avoiding cutting the piping cord, and press the turned strip and cut into 2 x 28cm lengths.
Now cut 2 pieces of elastic 15cm long and using a bodkin, thread each piece of elastic inside a silk tube.  Pin either end of both loops and machine or hand stitch the elastic on all ends to secure from slipping back into the silk tube.

The next step will secure the elastic loops into the side of the mask.  Fold the main silk piece wrong sides out along the seamed edge.  Now place a pin on the bottom edge at both sides, 4cm in from the left and right raw edges.  Machine stitch from the left and right edges to the pins just above the bottom hems.  Now take the elastic loops and place between the 2 layers, pinning one end under the top seam and the other end just above short stitch line you have just made.  Machine stitch a scant seam the full length of each side edge from top to bottom, being sure to catch in the 4 ends of the elastic loops.

I have placed an aluminium strip in the top of my face mask so that it can be best fitted around the nose.  These strips are just short of 9cm long and a pipe cleaner could be used as an alternative.  Turn the constructed face mask right sides out though the gap in the bottom of the mask and press all the seams flat.  Push the aluminium strip or pipe cleaner to the top of the mask and centralise.  Machine a rectangle around 3 sides to secure in place.

The final step is to place 3 horizontal pleats in the mask.  Place pins on both sides of the mask at 2cm, 4cm, 6cm and 10cm from the top edge.  Fold the 4cm marker up to the 2cm marker and pin the pleat and then fold the 10cm marker pin up to the 6cm marker pin and pin a second pleat.  Repeat on the other side and machine stitch down both sides to hold the pleats in place and the contain the seam inside.

The mask constructed to this point gives 2 layers of densely woven fabric, which feels lightweight and in my opinion offers a greater degree of protection that many domestic cotton masks.  On my mask I added poppers to the opening at the bottom to allow me an option of inserting an additional protective layer - my choice for this is wool prefelt with easily folds and needs to be cut at around 14cm x12cm.  In terms of inserting to wool insert into the mask, think ' putting on a duvet cover' with a little wiggling at the sides!

Here is my constructed mask complete with the wool insert.  It feels much gentler on my face than cotton and time will tell how easily I get used to wearing.  These times are without a doubt an opportunity for living in uncharted territory and learning new skills and things about ourselves.  I hope that through this post that I have added a little information to the mass that is now being offered up to help find a way to live safely in our new and strange world.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Quick Stitch - Crochet Bunting

On my ongoing mission to live a slow and steady life, I've returned to making stitches that my Gran Susannah first taught me as a child.  In the years since, (just a few) I've found crochet to be a most soothing and rhythmic way of working my hands and thinking ahead for cheerful gifts, crocheted bunting has become my latest finger dalliance.

I love the gathering together supplies at the start of a new project.  This beautiful basket purchased last year from talented willow weaver Anna Turnbull at Biteabout Arts made a very fitting receptacle for the beautiful balls of Yorkshire spun carpet wool I was intending to use.  While this happens to be what I personally have rather a lot of just now, however, any sturdy yarn would be equally good for this project.

All my following explanations are for UK crochet terminology and here is a conversion chart for UK to US stitches.  The stitches needed for the project are chain, slip stitch, double crochet, half treble and treble.  For anyone who needs to know more about making these stitches, this crochet website is an excellent reference source.

The start is 6 chain stitches with short tail of yarn at the end - keep the chain stitches reasonably tight.

Then join the ends of the chain with a slip stitch to create a loop - you need to keep this slip stitch tight when first moving onto the next step.

Chain 3 stitches to act as the first treble and then work 14 treble into the central loop.  It may feel like the loop is way to small for so many stitches, however, this does work!

Then close the circle of stitches by slip stitching into the 3rd chain made for the first treble.  Cut a tail of yarn around 1.5" and draw through the remaining stitch on the hook and pull tight.

Now to start with a contrasting colour leaving another 1.5" tail.  Draw up a loop of yarn through the gap before the last treble and chain 3 stitches.

Now make another treble into the same gap and pull the yarn tails to the left.

Now while making a treble in each of the next 4 gaps, hold the tails along the top of the last row of trebles as you go and crochet the new trebles over them - I do this for around 3 stitches and then cut off the remaining thread tail.

Now to create the first triangle corner by making 2 trebles, 2 chain stitches and 2 trebles into the next gap.  Again this fits more easily than might appear.

Then stitch another 4 trebles and make the next corner of the triangle into the following gap in the same way.

A further 4 treble stitches will take you up to the beginning of this round.

This round is closed off by making 2 trebles into the same gap as the first 3 chains and treble.  Follow this with 2 more chain and slip stitch to the 3rd chain that started the round.  Cut the thread and draw through the loop on the hook and pull tight.

The third round starts in the same way as the last one - with a new colour make 3 chain and 1 treble into the gap before you tied off.

The stitches along the first side are then as follows - 1 treble, 1 half treble, 3 double crochet, 1 half treble and 1 treble.  This will take you up to the first corner where you make as before - 2 trebles, 2 chain and 2 trebles into the corner loop.

Repeat with the following 2 sides and join up into the last corner as before and tie  and cut off the yarn.

The 4th and final round starts a little differently, with 2 chain and 2 half trebles into the first corner.

Then make 10 doubles along the first side.

The corners of the last round are made with 2 half trebles, 2 chain and another 2 trebles.  Stitch 10 double crochet along the next side as before.

Make the next corner and complete the final side with double crochet.  Join into the final corner with 2 half trebles and 2 chain and slip stitch to the 2nd chain at the beginning of the round.  Weave the final yarn tail in to the first stitches and give your first flag a press.  Now enjoy making as many flags as you need in as many colours as you like.

To join the flags together, double crochet across one of the sides of each and put 2 chain stitches between each flag before repeating with the next.  You will see that each flag has an upper and lower side and it looks best to keep all the flags the same way around.  Finally chain a sufficient length on either end to allow it to be tied into position.  One final press and you are ready to hang.

In complicated and fast moving times, the simplicity of this project was relaxing and very enjoyable.  The first flag takes a while to get a rythmn going and after that it's all about the joy of stitching and choosing colour.  I have a mind that I will be repeating project this project a fair few times for a good while yet and I hope that it gives a little feel good factor for others too.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Quick Stitch - Hopeful Heart

I consider myself to be in a hugely privileged position in a world that is awash with uncertainty.  I ask myself every day how to contribute at a time when the best thing that most of us can do is to remain alone.  The answer is the same every time, I must keep a hopeful heart and try where possible to help others to do likewise.  I'm certain that my tactics are being replicated by millions - I continue to be amazed every day by the creative activities of others.  In my attempt to keep active this week I have created this simple stitch project that can be made by anyone who just wants something to do with their fingers at a time when concentration is in short supply.

The project requires only my simple template, a couple of small pieces of fabric and a few embroidery threads.  Choose a fabric that your absolutely love for maximum impact, be it new or something that you have cut up.  I chose to work with beautiful Harris Tweed to remind me of my amazing visit to Harris & Lewis a few years ago.  For anyone sharing my Harris Tweed passion, lovely Alisha of Handmaiden sells craft bundles and is doing all she can to continue to post out orders.  To get going, I cut 2 large heart shapes and 2 small heart shapes in a contrasting fabric.  For anyone having access to a product like bondaweb, then this can be used for the smaller heart.

The construction starts by sticking the small heart on the bigger one - use any glue product that you have to hand to do this and will not stain the fabric.  Then I searched my threads box for a few toning hand embroidery threads - thin knitting yarns would also make a great alternative.

Then relax for a few moments and have a think about what hand embroidery stitches you would like to start with.  I started very simple and couched down a piece of wool around the smaller heart by over stitching.

Then I just kept making simple stitches to make for a pleasing design.  For anyone who has yet to try their hand at hand embroidery stitches, you may find my information on basic hand embroidery stitches helpful.

I found adding to my design as I went along very satisfying and I got a bit more adventurous as I settled into my embroidery session.  Take your time and savour the slow work with your hands - I find this so helpful as a means of slowing down my over active mind.

Then to the construction, by blanket stitching around the edge of the heart, leaving a gap on one side for filling.  I also plaited a hanging loop to be stitched in at the top centre.

The final step is to fill the heart with anything soft that you have to hand and then complete the edge stitching and stitch the filling gap closed.  My Hopeful Heart is now hanging where I will see it every day and be reminded that come what may, keeping faith is the best thing I can do.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Slow Stitches - Rug Hooking

In a world that is changing at speed in unprecedented ways, this week I have allowed myself the indulgence of slow working my makers hands.  I am very aware of how lacking this feels when so many people are giving and risking so much in the world.  I remind myself frequently that slow working with our hands can be vital to quietening the mind and maintaining general wellbeing while being apart from others.

As it happens, the rug hooking technique I've been using this week began in another challenging era.  During the height of the industrial revolution, 19th century Yorkshire mill owners allowed their  impoverished workers to take home 9" offcuts of wool called 'thrums' and the craft of rug hooking was born to add a little comfort to miserable living conditions.  Using a small metal hook, the wool lengths were 'hooked' onto old hessian sacks by pulling up loops of the wool through the small holes.  As this craft caught on, those without access to wool used thin strips of pretty much any fabric that would otherwise have gone to waste.  Being household items with heavy use, the examples of hooked rugs that remain are generally more decorative than functional.

In keeping with the initial using waste principle, my rug hooking experiments have been carried out with offcuts of English spun carpet wool from a kindly Somerset rug maker.  I was highly delighted on the happy the day of collecting my bag of wool - albeit that it quickly became clear that a tad of sorting out would be required!  Thankfully balling and skeining wool are both rather therapeutic tasks and with a welcome helping hand, I now have a colourful stock for my use and to help others get started.  Chunky knitting yarn could also be used and it's a brilliant opportunity for knitters to use up oddments.

The hooking technique is easiest to learn when the hessian background is stabilised on a wood frame - ideally of similar size to the desired final piece.  An old wood photo frame is a cheap and easy starter.  The hessian piece is best stabilised around the edge with masking tape or sellotape.  For anyone new to this technique, I recommend keeping to small sample size to start with - mine was 7" square.  The large lounge rug can come later!

Next up is to create or choose a design for hooking - the internet is awash with outlines for anyone who feels that drawing is not their thing. I have been drawing my designs on a piece of paper with a Sharpie marker and then trace onto the hessian, along with a square to denote the overall final size.  Here is the outline template that I created for this particular design.

Now to secure the hessian piece to the frame.  Modern drawing pins tend to buckle with even the lightest of pressure and I have found using upholstery pins or tacks is by far better.  The taped edge also helps to hold the hessian secure while working.

Now to get the hooking started - I treated myself to a traditional hooking tool with a very pleasing wooden handle to hold.  A small metal crochet hook would work equally well - a metal hook is best for plied yarn to help prevent it splitting as you work.  It's good to start in a reasonably central position and the first action is to bring up a tail of yarn that's a generous inch long at the desired point - I started at the centre of the spiral.

Then the first loop of wool is pulled up in a neighbouring hessian hole.  A very key point when you start is to work your fingers beneath hessian so that you are pretty much putting the wool onto the hook.  Whilst this may sound fiddly, doing this from the off will help to make each hooking action to be successful.  Pull up more wool than you want for the loop and then pull any excess back down with your fingers beneath the frame.

Drawing up the following wool loops can take a bit of practice - my top tip is to get your hands underneath the work doing the right thing.  As you pull up a new loop of yarn, put a finger on the last stitch you made and push upwards to hold the last stitch in place and stop it coming out.  You will almost feel a 'click' beneath your finger as the yarn between the last stitch and the one you are making pulls flat.  The aim is to keep the loops as even as possible and working in the same direction really helps - from right to left when you are right handed and visa versa when you are left handed.  To do this, turn the work as required - which meant all the time as I worked along the curve of my spiral design.

The aim is to make the hooking flat and even on the underneath side and while this feels fiddly at first, with practice it will quite quickly become second nature.  If you happen to split the wool as you pull up then pull the loop back down from the underneath and hook up again.  Another key point is that you do not need to put yarn in every hessian hole.  With practice, you will get a much more even and pleasing effect by 'eyeballing' where the next loop of yarn needs to go.

Here is my finished spiral line ready for the next stage.

Then I started filling in with a contrasting colour, again starting with a generous 1" tail - the starting tails can be cut off as soon as all of the loops in the surrounding area are in place.

While I started with a clear drawn design, I found it best to choose colours as I went to keep an open mind about tweaking my design as I went along.  Many who use this technique say that you should hook around the outline of shapes and then fill in.  Whilst this does make for a sharper outline edge, a single row of loops can sometimes start to unravel when there are no other stitches alongside to keep them in place.  Try approaching in different ways and see what works best for you.

I have also found it helpful and encouraging to work a section completely with the colours that I had in mind.  This gave me confidence in my colour choices and reduced the risk of changing my mind about colours at an advanced stage and lots of unpicking.

It's tricky to describe in words 'which way to go next' as you are working along.  Try different says of hooking the holes and pull back if you don't like the finished look.  Like all hand skills, it becomes intuitive after a while and you will find a way that works for you.  This photo of the back of my design gives a sense of the choices that I made when filling each section with colour.

This particular design is still a few days away from completion and in the mean time, here is an earlier completed sample.  I thought that the image was rather fitting for the resource I was using and those who know me well will confirm, sheep are a bit of a passion.  I'm looking at making a video over the next week or so to demonstrate the craft more fully, so do come back and have another look at this post.

As I complete this post with some degree of satisfaction, the inevitable feelings of helplessness start to reemerge.  I remind myself yet again that creativity will be a huge asset to all that lies ahead and that the task in hand for many of us now is to keep well and prepare for when we can reengage with our communities.  Stay safe and firmly focussed on the light on the horizon.