Sunday 26 November 2023

Quick Stitch - Origami Box

It's interesting how early childhood activities find their way back around!  Origami paper folding was one such activity that my small fingers delighted dabbling with - did I ever master the jumping frog?!  Origami made a lasting impression all the same and folding with fabulous fabric adds to the appeal.  Reworking this box project from a few years back with recycled Kimono fabrics was most pleasurable - it's a very simple, yet striking project that can be created using any thin fabrics that give a sharp fold. 

The starting point is cutting 12 equal circles of fabric, 6 each in two toning fabrics.  Cut one of the pair of circles  needs to be cut 0.25cm larger all around as this will become the box lid.  Then to take one of each circle colour and stitch right sides together with as scant a seam as possible, leaving a gap of around 3cm in the seam for turning.  Then turn the circles right sides out, neatly hand stitch the gap closed and carefully press the seams.

Then the origami bit comes into play by folding in the circled edges to create a squar.  Do this for all size pieces, noting with of the 6 is the slightly larger piece for the lid.  Then the points of each square ae folded back on themselves to make a smaller square, keeping tabs on that larger piece. 

A stiff insert is then made for the box sides - I used traditional pelmet vilene with an adhesive on one side - stiff card could also be used.  Cut 5 inserts to tuck into the inside corners of the folded box sides and cut a slightly larger piece for the lid piece.  Cut pieces of fabric larger than the inserts (1cm all the way around) and adhere these pieces to one side of the stiff insert.  Fold over the edges and adhere to the back side of the card/vilene.

Tuck an insert into the corners on the back of each of the box sides - again remembering which one is the lid.  The final construction into a box starts with the base piece and neatly hand stitching one of the side pieces to each of the 4 sides.  I used polyster beading tread for this as a single strand is very strong and I changed colour on each seam for best toning.  I then stitched up the box sides and finally stitched on the larger lid piece.  There are many creative possibilites for making this box by mixing up fabrics - Jo's use here of recycled Indian textiles at a recent workshop is going to look stunning - along with the fabric choices of others and I will post final pictures here soon :)

Wednesday 18 October 2023

Welsh Woollen Wanderings

For all that the Welsh border is a skip and a hop from my home county, Wales has strangely remained unexplored textile territory.  Extending my wanderings in a westerly direction across the dramatic Prince of Wales Bridge has been very long overdue - as I've often been reminded when observing on the horizon from one of my favourite Somerset coastline chill outs.

My first wandering in Wales this year actually began on a Spring return journey from my Northern homeland - my first ever drive down the Welsh/English border to Builth Wells.  This medieval market town has been the venue of Wonderwool Wales since its inauguration in in 2006 - to promote wool and fibre producers in Wales.  A highly successful and popular annual event, Wonderwool is now attended by traders and visitors from far and wide across the UK, and I have greatly enjoyed being one of the latter.

I have found much that is new and novel to enjoy during my Wonderwool visits and this year my eyes delighted on this simple display of sheep breed fibre in it's raw and spun form.  This said, I'm becoming increasingly aware that wool is far from a simple affair and with the UK having over 70 sheep breeds to explore, I'm confident that it is going to take many years of wandering to get any where close to seeing every single one!

I so enjoy spinning fleece from the breeds that I research and it s fascinating how differently the fibre from each one feels and responds in my fingers.  I ever appreciate advice from others who are more skilled, especially when the friendly spinner is demonstrating on a spinning wheel as beautiful as this Herring Alpha.  The nuances of carding, drafting, spinning and plying are many and they are sure to generate lively debates!  Thankfully spinners are a friendly breed in the main and they are happy to share and inspire those seeking to develop their skills.

And of course there are those amazing animals without which there would be no wool!  Fossilised remains suggest that wild sheep evolved over 10 million years ago and that a wool industry has existed in the UK for over 4000 years.  Breeding over time has led to many different sheep breeds and I love finding new ones and learning about their history.  Here is a fine male specimin of a Balwen Welsh Mountain sheep that I saw at Wonderwool - I believe!

For all of the delights to see at Wonderwool, and of course to touch, it is these friendly chats that open new doors for me to wander through.  It was one such chat this year with friendly mill owner Roger Poulson of Curlew Weavers that wetted my appetite to finally get my act together and learn more about Welsh wool textiles.  Roger's parents  started his mill at Rhydlewis, Llandysul in 1961 and fibre has been worked at the mill ever since in a variety of ways.  Curlew has a long tradition for weaving woollen fabric and this distinctive and very appealing stripe has been one of their staple designs.

I was delighted to finally visit Roger at his mill on a bright autumn day and to hear many interesting stories about his life as a Welsh mill owner.  The need to adapt the mill processes to an ever changing market and to understand what makes for saleable goods has been key to the mill's survival.  It was really heartening to hear that Roger is currently extending the mill buildings and that his son has joined him.

For the past 20 years Curlew Weavers has specialised in processing rare breed fibre for owners of small flocks throughout the UK.  An area of growing interest, I have learnt from chatting with rare breed owners that it can be very difficult and costly to get small amounts of fibre processed and spun and or/woven and Curlew fills this ever growing requirement of small holding breeders.  These fibre natural colours have particularly called me in this year and I have enjoyed experimenting with them with natural dyes throughout the summer months.

My research happily continued at at the nearby National Wool Museum of Wales, housed in old Cambrian Mills buildings in Drefach Felindre in the Teifi valley.  From its opening in the mid 19th century the Cambrian Mills expanded to become the largest of the 52 mills in Drefach Felindre.  The mill was destroyed by fire in 1919 and the current buildings were rebuilt in the years following.  With a boom for wool fabric during the two World Wars, the area became known as the 'Huddersfield of Wales' and provided employment for most families living in the area.  Sadly wool production declined in post war years and after losing its foothold to mills in the North, the buildings were converted to the current museum in 1976.

It was likely one of the first mills to produce Welsh tartans, after bringing in unpopular weaving expertise from Scotland - a particularly alluring woollen design for me!

Processing wool was, and still, is a messy affair and this image dispels any romantic notions of working life in a mill in times past.  Wool fibres are all very different to process and even today, there are some that mill owners today are keen to avoid.

Heavy duty machinery was required for all textiles process and this in turn generated work for other manufacturing industries.  This cold press for shawls was just one of many machines vital to woollen processing during the industrial revolution - and I have often noted the many names of Northern manufacturers emboldened in the metal casings.  

Cambrian Mill weaver Raymond Jones and his wife Diane set up 'Melin Teifi' in one of the old Cambrian Mill buildings in 1982.  They had worked at Cambrian Mill for over 20 years and wanted to continue with the work that was 'all that they ever knew'.

One of Raymond's woollen fabrics has long been on my radar, as he has most recently been the weaver for the distinctive wool fabric used in the Quaker Tapestry Panels.  I have long relished this delicately striped fabric first that was first desgned and woven in Somerset and I have encouraged others to similarly enjoy using in their heartfelt textile creations.

Now retired after weaving for 60 years, Raymond is now training staff at the museum to ensure that the Melin Teifi looms continue.  I had the great pleasure of visiting Raymond and his wife Diane in their nearby home amd I will long remember chatting with them over coffee about their weaving lives and choosing a few of his woven wool fabrics to take back to Somerset.

With river water in abundance in Wales, in the late 19th century there were around 325 woollen mills in operation, completing various aspects of wool manufacturing.  Melin Tregwynt is one of the very few who are fortunate to continue in 2023 with around 30 employees.  Starting its life as a 17th century corn mill, it took another 100 years before wool became its mainstay.  The mill once performed every stage of wool production, from raw fleece to finished material and provided, work and a sense of community.  

As with all Welsh woollen mills, Tregwynt has long developed distinct weaving designs and this was on the looms on the day of my visit - a very pleasing geometric pattern in naturalistic colours.

Their shop next door to the mill stocked designs and colours to feast my eyes upon and provided me with the most pleasurable task of choosing a modest purchase to take away with me!

Solva Woollen Mill is one of the oldest mills in Wales and also continues a thriving operation in 2023.  Located one mile inland of the very attractive River Solva inlet, it has a weaving shed and shop tucked away in the picturesque Prendergast woodland.

Their 'portuculis' pattern, also known as 'Caernarfon', is an iconic Welsh textile pattern and like many textiles it is usually woven as a double weave cloth.  These old designs are steeped in history and it is believed that this particular pattern was the precursor of many North America folk art traditions that became widespread following Welsh emigration in the late 18th century.

Colour pallettes are of equal importance in all weaving designs and this display at Solva Mill typifies the colours used in their current day designs.  Traditionally worked in 2 or 4 colours, Welsh mills now also produce contemporary designs that include a few more colours.

It feels fitting that my story of Welsh wool wanderings so far concludes with this watery capture.  The inlet at Solva is the source of the river that long generated power for Solva Woollen Mill and it gave me numerous hours of pleasure during my visit.  Wool and water are intrinsically linked and while no longer required as a production power source, it remains key to parts of modern day woollen processes.  It also without doubt continues to provide inspiration in abundance - for me and many many others :)

Saturday 5 August 2023

Tea Bag Fabric

Tea is consumed aplenty in my Spring Farm studio, although not by me - a childhood aversion from mandatory sweet, milky tea has never abated!  All the same, I was totally wowed this Spring by this magnificant wedding dress created in used tea bags by Cornish Textile Artist - Jane Gray - the colours just glowed even on a grey low light day.  With sustainable fabrics becoming increasingly difficult to find, I thought that I would try my hand at making some tea bag fabric this summer and my kindly students have been helping out by drinking tea in abundance :)

So here's my starting point - a typical view in my kitchen area at the end of one of my workshop days.  My tea bag of choice took a little researching as I sadly came to find that polypropylene plastic is still used in quite a few brands tea bags.  With a strong desire to use an eco-friendly bag, I ultimately followed Jane Gray's lead and plumped for 'Clipper' Everyday Organic Tea for my initial experiments.  The great thing about the drying process, is that it's pretty simple and I can leave the tea bags scrunched up as they are after use.  A warm window sill is ideal, although I have to remember to check after a few days as tea bags can grow mold pretty quickly!

Once they have got to the point of just being slightly damp, I open them out to finish drying off completely.  Here are a few of my first dried bags in all their glory, with a beautiful patina and delicate patterns on the bag fabric.  This appealing and organic colouring is created by 'tannin' which black tea has in abundance, and provides a strong and lightfast bond on natural textiles.  The tea bags need to be completely dry before the tea is emptied out, at which point the used tea will feel powdery inside the bag.

Emptying the tea bag takes a bit of patience, particularly to open completely out.  I decided from the off that my first project would best show the colouring, tones and markings in a single layer.  My fingers had to learn how to best tear the bag - I found that the longer side tore more easily than the shorter one and I ended up over tearing a fair few bags at the beginning by being too heavy handed.  I eventurally found a light touch which allowed my fingers to gently nibble away and create lovely soft edges.

And so after lots of tea supping, the day finally arrived when it felt like I had sufficent processed tea bags to attempt my first fabric sample.  I have created 'fabric' from all sorts of papery products over the years, however, it felt important that this fabric had minimal additions.  Knowing that the project I had it mind would require a fair amount of stitching and prodding, I tried various options to create a stable fabric and it was interesting how precious these little bags that had once easily been discarded became!  Thankfully my day of experimenting came good and here is the backed fabric sample that I found stood up to a many lines of silk hand stitching - hooray!  

And here is my first tea bag project after my summer of collecting.  I created a kind of patchwork on my backing and it is interesting how the bags reflect the light differently depending on which direction they are laid.  I embroidered this notebook cover with natural dye silks and lined with tea dyed silk.  It's interesting that for all that I have avoided the colour brown for many a year, I'm feeling quite excited at the prospect of making my next tea bag project in my new favorite colour - brown!

Sunday 18 June 2023

Orkney Sheep & Seaweed

Seaweed and sheep may sound a rather contrived combination, yet it is very much a pairing that engaged many of my days this Spring. This long awaited shot taken one beautiful May morning was proceeded by a journey of 755 miles via road, ferry and the smallest aeroplane I have ever travelled on.  Getting myself single-handedly to the Orkney island of North Ronaldsay had taken time, patience and a fair bit of holding my nerve - all of which paid off.

North Ronaldsay sheep are a primitive breed that live in the main around the 12 miles of coastline of this most northly Orkney island of the same name.  The story of their shoreline and seaweed eating lifestyle has become a popular one to tell.  This tale began in the early 1800s with the creation of a 5ft high dyke being built around the island's shoreline, to keep the sheep from ravaging precious farmland.  While a successful creation for landowners and sheep alike, maintaining such an immense structure intact on an island exposed to fierce elements is a mammoth task for a declined island population.  An annual festival now helps to secure extra resources to enable repairs to the dyke, however, wall breeches throughout the year are inevitable.  Combined with the fact that North Ronaldsay sheep can jump up considerable heights, it was soon evident that they happily eat grass and seaweed in equal measures - which can have serious consequences.

My day of obsessive observation on North Ronaldsay was truly illuminating and it felt like stepping back in time on many levels.  With many similarities to the bone structure of sheep found at Stone Age village of Skara Brae, modern day North Ronaldsay sheep are also indentical to the remains of Iron Age sheep found throughout the Orkney Islands.  Their fleece coloured from the softest cream to the deepest chocolate brown and many shades in between, consists of a double coat of fine inner fleece, and outer guard hair and some kemp.  Both males and females can have horns, although the former are by far the most spectacular.

An intelligent and resilent breed, they live in groups of varying sizes called 'clowgangs'.  Some groups consist of a ram and his harem and others are mixed sex and age.  While some sheep can naturally lose their fleece, the ewes are usually clipped in the summer months after being collected into 'punds' around the foreshore - a task that requires considerable skill and strength.  It became evident soon on how quickly this nimble breed can move around and keeping pace to photograph them made for an energetic day!  

In April, pregnant ewes are generally seperated out to grass to lamb, although not all are caught and some will lamb on the rocky foreshore.  While the peddie lambs can have very different colourings to their mothers, the 'yowes' of course will always know there own.  Their mixed diet of kelp and grass has to be carefully managed, as seaweed contains high levels of copper which the breed has adapted to and this adjustment is lost when grass consumption is resumed.  Severe health problems can result and I learnt from spending a little time with island resident Helen that her job to maintain sheep health takes much dediction, time and energy.

The dietry needs of North Ronaldsay sheep aside, Orkney has a long history of using the seaweed washed up in abundance on its shores to good effect.  Throughout the 18th century, seaweed was gathered and used in a variety of ways including spreading on the land as fertiliser and burning in large pits above the waterline to produce an ash much sought after for soap and glass making.  The burning of kelp, also known as 'tang', generated considerable profits for landowners and also health problems for workers on many Orkney islands.  Low kelp drying walls can still be found on around the coastline of islands such as Westray, although thankfully kelp, wracksgrasses and all manner of other seaweeds are now left to adorn the coastlines.

And so Westray was to be the island where I went on to spend a number of delightful Spring days examining seaweed like never before.  I was amazed how much there is to learn about a natural resource that I have observed on beaches all of my life - there are over 600 species of seaweed around the British Islands alone.  Just gazinf into this small rockpool on the Bay of Swartmill was clear evidence of this and I can still recall the different textures on my fingers as I swished my hand around in the warm water.

This bay, along with that at East Sous beach, provided a small group of coast loving tapestry weavers many happy hours are we collected seaweed samples in abundance to inspire us in the days that followed.  The variety and volume we gathered from just a few bays was immense and we happily splashed around the crystal clear waters to fill our bags and buckets to overflowing.

The variety of textures and colours from our hoard enthralled us as we laid them out on a table and poured over reference books in an attempt to name them.  While the unusual names delighted us, in truth we were much more interested in feasting our eyes upon them and allowing our fingers to experience textures that were new territory for most of us.  Each seaweed piece became as precious as gold and this new commodity became all embracing and consuming.

We carefully hung pieces around our working studio and we delighted in watching how the colours changed with each passing day.  As the week progressed, there was also a recognition of our limited time and that our new treasures would mostly be lost at the weeks end.

We were most grateful that our tutor Louise Martin helped us to each dry a few carefully chosen pieces - these were my favourite three that returned with me to Somerset and I have since had framed in my much loved Glastonbury Galleries.

It was, however, my sighting of this naturally dried seaweed on rocks at the Bay of Swartmill that was to most call and inspire me to create a new and challenged tapestry weaving.  

With my North Ronaldsay experience only a few days earlier, creating a seaweed inspired tapestry in wool yarn felt very fitting.  Thankfully Louise's studio offered up a huge range of colours and ever looking to work in detail, I diligently gathered a selecion of fine yarns.  Although they were not North Ronaldsay fleece based, my expanding is from a long loved Orkney collection and is now being loved by me back in Somerset.  

We also enjoyed a few seaweed delicacies to enliven our tastebuds on weaving days - the taste of Westray kelp crisps straight from the oven was an acquired one for sure!

I opted early on the challenge myself to create a modest 'eccentric' weaving with extensive colour blending - the back of the tapestry was somewhat reminiscent of North Ronaldsay fleece!

I using a technique called 'exposed warps' which allows for warps in a weaving to be pulled  at the end and create an indulated effect.  This happens after the weaving is cut off the loom and having no idea what would happen, I took once last look before bringing scissors into action!  I am currently mounting my final piece and I will post an additional picture on completion.

And so as with all adventures, an end is reached and there is a period of reflection.  I travelled as ever this Spring with an open mind, to fully engage with all that was offered up and avoid the distraction of hopes and desires.  I'm ever aware of how easy it is to be wowed by first impressions, particularly for such a location as stunning as the Orkney Isles.  Thankfully I have long learnt that it is vital to delve beneath glittery surfaces to find pure gold.  There is no doubt that I achieved this on my return visit to the isles of sleeping whales this Spring and as I gathered seaweed one final time on Westray's idyllic Mae beach, I knew without doubt that there was still Orkney gold aplenty awaiting to be unearthed.