Monday, June 20, 2011

Music Bag

Darling daughter has been ferrying her music between piano lessons, violin lessons and choir in a succession of grotty plastic bags for ages, and they fall apart easily when pointy book corners poke through the plastic! We decided that action was necessary and a couple of weekends ago we spent a pleasant (if cold...) afternoon on the verandah felting this bag.

I bought an open-weave men's cotton shirt from the Op Shop to use as a base, cutting it into the front, back and handles and - bravely! - deciding NOT to stitch the cotton backing together before felting on the basis that the multiple layers of wool should be enough to hold it in one piece by the time I'd finished... This is typical me: I've not really done any nuno felting before, so I take a quick look at a book or two, assemble the materials and have a go, while vaguely trying to remember all the injunctions about how to lay out seems around a resist that I was taught a couple of years ago.

Anyway, with a bit of effort it seems to have worked! The "seams" are very strong (probably because they've got 4 layers of fleece them plus turn-overs holding the cotton backing together down the sides and along the bottom), the top edges are straight and the wool is properly felted. Daughter and I laid it all out together, which took an hour or so, and then she made the straps while I battled with the bag. We used the bubble-wrap and rolling pin method which saved some time. I then blanket-stitched the top edge in a contrasting colour, using the same embroidery thread to sew on the handles. And last weekend we finished it off by making the lining (complete with pen-holders and an internal pocket!) from some old sari fabric on the sewing machine. Darling daughter chose the lining material, helped to cut out the pattern, stipulated the placement of pockets etc., and sewed it on my machine, and then I hemmed it in place and reinforced where the handles are attached.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bookbinding with children

A weekend or so ago I fulfilled a promise I made to a friend's children who came to my January craft classes and wanted to do more book making. I said I'd have them over some time to learn how to make a coptic-bound sketchbook, so they came for a sleepover and we spent 7 absolutely intense hours making these books. The children were aged 8, 9 and 10 and they did brilliant work!

The oldest child is about to go to Switzerland for 6 months to spend time with her grandparents and attend a Swiss school, which will no doubt help her language skills and her self-confidence, so I suggested that we make wrap-around felt covers for the books because I can imagine her particular sketchbook getting damaged in her bag as she travels. We also made pockets in the books and used lots of different sorts of paper (squared paper, graph paper, pastel paper, plain paper and - fortuitously! - some pages taken from an old Swiss calendar showing beautiful photo-landscapes of mountain scenes). One of the girls has a bit of a thing about elephants and she chose a grey felt for her book cover: we used the excess felt to make two ears and a trunk, and I embroidered little eyes, a mouth and a tail on her cover so she has a really unique book!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Back to school

In this climate many kids go to school with their own drink bottle, ready to fill it up with water regularly to avoid dehydration. The best bottles (in my humble opinion!) are made of stainless steel which means that they don't leach nasty phthalates or degrade quickly or sit in landfill sites for a few hundred years! Unfortunately they aren't insulated and usually the necks aren't wide enough to fill with icecubes and you can't put them in the freezer... so what you need is an insulated bottle cover.

First find a wool blazer (I got mine in the second-hand store), then shrink it in a really hot wash to felt the fibres. Then cut both sleeves off and put one inside the other (right side out). Pull the wrist end of each sleeve together and stitch firmly to form a base, then over-sew one top edge over the other top edge to hide the raw edges and create the top of bottle cover. I slipped elastic into the top seam and tightened it a bit: enough to stop the cover slipping off the bottle in darling daughter's school bag but not enough to prevent the bottle being removed for washing. Then I embroidered her name on it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The end of the week

The children in my craft workshops have worked SOOOOOOO hard this week! I'm particularly impressed with their dedication to learning to knit. Here are the three baby owls who joined Wolly and Bob...

I'll be teaching again on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday next week and spending the next couple of days plotting new craft activities to keep them amused! Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Holiday Craft Workshops

This week I've been running children's craft workshops from my studio for the first time. It's Thursday morning so I've done three out of the five days on offer this week, and I'm exhausted but happy! So far six children have been with me this week and we've worked on papermaking, felting and - once our handmade paper was dry - book making.

A bucket of paper pulp to start! I soaked the shredded paper on Sunday night and on Monday morning the kids helped me blend it up into 'Paper Soup', and then sieve it into 'Paper Porridge'.

These are my moulds and deckles in A3, A4 and B5 sizes. The kids were great at sharing AND at cleaning up after themselves!

Ordinary cleaning cloths like these are used between each sheet of wet paper...

Here we are working outside on the verandah, couching fresh sheets of paper onto wet cloths and layering them up into piles on rectangles of 'felts' (or in this case, cheap carpet!)

We squeezed the paper piles between boards using clamps. The children had a lot of fun trying to tighten up the clamps!

We unpacked the clamps and used a rolling pin and a brayer to roll individual sheets of paper up onto the newly-cleaned windows! There were enough windows so that we could have one each plus a spare for the paper I made 'for everyone'

These are some of the books we made yesterday

We made simple pamphlet books, tried out Japanese Stab bindings, made a star book from folded coloured papers and a wagon book. The children were much more interested in the process of constructing different kinds of book than actually creating the contents, and were trying to squeeze as many different binding techniques out of me as possible!

It's been a really interesting learning experience for me, not least because my group this week has been equal numbers of boys and girls, with ages ranging from 5 to 12 so I've had to be flexible enough to teach across a range of ages and skills. Later on today some of the group will be back to learn how to knit. I'll let you know how I go...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Meet Bob! Free knitting tutorial #2

I felt that Wolly needed a companion, so enter Bob! Bob is also simple to make.

I cast on 16 stitches and knitted a stripe pattern of 3 rows of garter stitch and 1 row of purl until I'd made 7 stripes. Then I swapped to stocking stitch for 6 rows.

Then I started decreasing at the beginning and end of each knit row until I had 10 stitches left; then I knitted another row and started increasing at the beginning and end of each knit row until I had 16 stitches again. Then I did another 6 rows of stocking stitch and started the 3 knit rows/1 purl row pattern until I'd matched the other side.

I made Bob up in exactly the same way as Wolly, knitting the same legs for him. I added a cute crest made from some spare 'ends' left over from sewing up Wolly, and although you can't see it, I made a little tail for him in the same way!

Darling daughter thinks they're really cute so once they've done their birdy duties as examples in my classes this week they'll probably find their way onto her bed, joining her other toys!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Te-wit te-woo! Free knitted owl tutorial!

I was searching for some easy peasy knitting projects suitable for my children's craft classes which - yikes! - start on Monday, and after trawling the internet for a while I realised that I could easily make up my own. So I did. Meet Wolly the Owl (well he needed a name, didn't he? And I used to call owls 'wols' when I was little. So there).

You could adapt this very easily to make it smaller (fewer rows of knitting for very new knitters), and you could adjust yarn thickness and needle size to make it bigger or smaller. And who know what you could do with different yarns, stripes or whatever?

First, knit a rectangle. I cast on 20 stitches using 8-ply pure wool on 6mm needles. I knitted 18 rows in garter stitch, then 24 rows in stocking stitch and another 18 rows in garter stitch and then cast off knitwise.

The legs were a hoot (sorry): using a pair of 6mm double-ended needles I cast on 7 stitches in a contrasting colour and knitted 2 rows in garter stitch. I then cast off one stitch at the beginning of each of the next 4 rows to leave 3 stitches on the needle. I then knitted about 3"/7.5cm of i-cord which is very easy: simply knit the three stitches but don't turn the knitting around... just move the right hand needle to your left hand and, bringing the wool around the back, knit three stitches again, trying to pull the wool a bit tighter on the first stitch. Keep doing this and you make a really nifty cord! I've used it many times for ties, cords or knitted string and it's quick and easy.

I cut out small pieces of scrap felt for the eyes and beak and wings, pinning the wings on so that I would sew them in with the seam. Ditto with the legs. I sewed the eyes on using blanket stitch and just put a few stitches across the middle of the beak before I sewed up the side seams and the bottom seam.

The only 'complication' with sewing Wolly up was that although I turned him inside out to sew up most of the side seams, I went from bottom to top and for the last 1"/2cm I turned him back the right way in and sewed up his ears from the outside - this simply meant that the seam allowance sticks out rather than being turned in, which makes his ears stick out too.

I stuffed him with some polyester stuffing I had left over from another project but he could easily have been stuffed with fleece.

I really like his wonky character... and the fact that he took less than 2 hours to make - and I'm not a speedy knitter!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Apparently I'm stylish!

Goodness me. Who knew?! Many thanks to Fiona from Handmade by Fiona for nominating me... and I'm going to blow her cover completely by revealing that she is, in fact... my sister! Fiona's about to move back to Germany (much to her delight) after a couple of years freezing to death in Toronto, Canada.

I gather that there are various rules about being nominated for this award, the first of which is that I have to tell you seven things about myself.

  • I'm ambidextrous. At one point in mid-1970's Britain there was a spate of gruesome news reports about people who'd lost limbs (and even a head, as I recall) by doing stupid things like waving out of car windows. Somehow this was conflated in my 9- or 10- year old mind with notions of improved efficiency through ergonomics: I read a fascinating text book from Bognor Regis Library about how to improve efficiency with the result that I decided to teach myself to do lots of things with my other hand and even my feet just in case... I was a strange child.

  • I'm a petrol head. Fast cars and particularly motorbikes are something of a passion! My mother didn't really want me to learn to drive a car because at that point her world view still included the idea that gentlemen drove ladies. Somehow I don't think I was ever 'lady' material because as soon as I could afford it I got my motorbike licence and have been addicted to them ever since. Not those retro Harley jobs, mind... too much chrome to polish. I love proper lean-forward Japanese sports bikes. I like Ducatis and Triumphs too, but my legs are too short *sigh *

  • Talking of motorbikes, I have an ENORMOUS head, geographically speaking. It's an English size 7 5/8 which translates to XXXL in most helmets. This means that I look like an alien in a motorbike helmet with my huge round head sitting on top of my narrow shoulders...

  • I have the numeric equivalent of dyslexia with numbers. Disnomia? I'm not sure, but anyway I read numbers the wrong way round and in the wrong order. Always have, always will. It's probably partly what made mathematics such a nightmare at school. As an adult I have techniques that help but I still get things wrong, which is a real pain.

  • I try and meditate with more or less success: when I need it most I'm usually too stressed out to find the time and space to do it, which is madness really since it helps so much. Hmm. Perhaps I need to reorganise some priorities there.

  • I spent some years in the early 1990s working with people with AIDS, at a time when the general public thought they could catch HIV infection from being in the same room as an HIV positive person. It taught me a lot about human dignity and about dying well. Modern drugs have completely changed the landscape: when I was working as a 'buddy' for the Terence Higgins Trust in London the life expectancy from diagnosis to death was 18 months.

  • I love tatting! It's more popular here in Australia than in the UK which is heartening because otherwise I think of it as a dying art. My grandmother taught my mother who taught me, and I fully intend to teach my daughter when she's older. She's expressed an interest but right now she has a plaster cast on her broken wrist so I think it will have to wait!

OK, so much for the seven things... now I have to think of other blogs to nominate, but I'm going to think and read in private and then come back to you in a separate post about that one.

Making your own tools #1

I would never have thought of making my own knitting needles, but that's just what the kids do at my daughter's Steiner school - and if 6, 7 and 8 year olds can do it, so can I. I'm shortly running a craft course for children and decided that it would be fun to make knitting needles for them that they could then take away, plus wooden needles are less slippery for novice knitters to hold. So here are my first attempts and the instructions too.

First, buy some thin dowel. I bought 6mm oak dowel from my local hardware store in a 2.4m length and cut it down. 2.4m conveniently cut down into 8 30cm lengths - about the length of a standard knitting needle. The dowel cut down very easily with a craft knife. I could just as easily have made 3 pairs of 40cm needles, suitable for bigger knits.

I cut a circle around one end of each needle, about 1cm in from the end, and cut a small amount away between the circle and the end to make it a bit narrower in circumference. I did this in order to fit the end of the needle into a large wooden bead.

I also whittled away a small amount at the other end of the needle...

... so that I wouldn't have to spend all day with the pencil sharpener! A standard metal sharpener works very well to create a point at the business end of the needle.

Sand the whole length of the needle with fine grade sandpaper, paying particular attention to the point and to the area where the point tapers off into the main shaft of the needle: the transition from point to shaft needs to be as smooth as possible otherwise the knitting will bunch up around here.

Finish off with a light coat of olive oil followed by beeswax rubbed all the way up the shaft of the needle, then wipe back and finally glue on the bead. Et voila!

It's a funny thing, isn't it, making your own tools. These needles are SO easy to make and yet I've always gone out and bought them. I suppose the availability of suitable dowel might be an issue, but essentially they're cheap and quick to make. I've never really thought about knitting needles but I have a quiet sense of satisfaction now that I've made some.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ruth's book

I can now post pictures of a recent present as the recipient has had it already! I've been wanting to experiment with limp binding techniques for ages because at some point I'd like to try my hand at making felt covers for books and selling them on my Etsy shop - but not quite yet!

I used a lovely golden felt I made ages ago. Technically it's probably not felted enough so it is a very soft cover for this book. I thought that perhaps an expanse of plain felt would look a bit boring as the colour and texture of this piece of felt is very uniform, so I embroidered swirls and curls in running stitch on the front side of the felt, making sure that I didn't sew all the way through to the back. The result was just what I wanted: added interest, but in a subtle way.

I used complicated instructions from Keith Smith's book on "Bookbinding without paste and glue" (I think!) but didn't get it completely right. To make long stitch binding work properly I'll need to figure out how to pull the long threads tighter. It's not as easy as it looks as you have to leave a loop of thread at the end of sewing the first section and work a kettle stitch into it at the end of the next section... basically I didn't do it very competently and although functional it's possibly just as well that the recipient isn't a bookbinder!

I used etching paper for the pages and natural coloured linen thread for sewing the sections. Then I attached a deep red flower shape cut from a felted jumper, using a disc of felt behind and a button covered in matching silk at the front to make a fastening for the felted cord used to wrap the book shut.

I like the end result, though I say so myself. The intention was to make something beautiful that would be functional and could rattle round in a bag without the pages being damaged - and I think it succeeded. I need more practice before I can sell them, but the idea is OK.