Friday, 14 September 2012

Shetland gloves - 'almost too good to wear'

Left hand glove showing back and right hand glove showing palm
So said my friend Jim as I took these very beautiful gloves out for the first time this year.  I was biking into Dundee from Carnoustie, a not too hilly 11 mile ride with a number of alternatives on the route, and decided to wear these and being fingerless they are perfect for biking, but it was with a sense of trepidation that I unwrapped them from their tissue paper.  They made my outfit, it's not quite cold yet so I was wearing an a-line wool skirt with a grey poncho over the top and cavalry boots.  The bike helmet spoilt the look a little but needs must!

My mum bought these for me in Shetland and they are knitted in the undyed colours of the wool which vary from white through these delicate shades of brown and beige to black, the shading used in these gloves is just exquisite, and I'm not even sure whether I love the lattice work on the palm or the nordic star on the reverse more.  They smell vaguely and not unpleasantly of sheep and are a most cherished gift.  It's funny to think that wool from these hardy sheep was once a necessary staple, and is now a luxury!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Crochet - watch this space

The one thing I haven't tried which you think I would have is crochet.  Yesterday Caitlin taught me how to.  Book now on order from library, and I suppose I'll have to get used to my 8 going on 9 year old knowing more than me.  Though thanks to the current school project I do know a lot about wolverines, sea otters and bobcats...

Hannah's Austrian outfit

Hannah the Hedgehog sat on my shelf
When I was in hospital I sat and sewed an outfit for my daughter Caitlin's toy hedgehog.  3 years earlier on our last holiday to Austria I had made Hannah from a kit I bought in Jedburgh years earlier while staying with my best friend who had just moved to the Borders.  At the time we went into St Johann (im Tirol) where there is a good haberdashery shop and Caitlin and I chose fabric and buttons to make Hannah an Austrian outfit but never got round to it.

The fabrics and buttons are very typical, silver and wood are traditional materials used in Austria for buttons, the edelweiss (meaning pretty white flower!) was an obvious choice.  It should be noted that the mountain gentian, not the edelweiss, is the national flower of Austria.  It's not all Sound of Music!  These fabrics are very typical, complementary plains and stripes with lots of flower and leaf patterning.  In Austria clothes are very expensive and the traditional dresses with apron (dirndl) are often made from bought fabric so the St Johann shop always has a tasty choice.

So finally I was marooned and the action of hand rather than machine sewing was a wonderfully meditative one, like sewing Evie's quilt, getting each stitch just so.  It's like drawing, and if you're sewing people tend to come over and ooh and aah then leave you much alone.  I strongly believe the enforced downtime was a form of message and this luxury of time was deeply healing.

To hand sew I used cotton thread and what are known as betweens.  These are needles designed for hand quilting that are shorter and narrower than regular sharp needles which have a small eye, they make a lovely small neat stitch.  The fabric was all cotton and I added an apron which was just a rectangle of fabric pleated and held in place by being stitched into a band along the top.  A traditional Austrian dress is sleeveless with a usually white blouse worn underneath with puffy sleeves and lace around the neckline.  For Hannah's dress I adapted the attached sleeves to look like this by putting elastic in the cuffs so they pulled in and could be pushed up.  You can actually see from the picture where the same fabric was used 3 years apart.  When I made Hannah I lost one of the pieces for the base of her feet and cut a piece of replacement fabric from the green fabric I was going to use to make her dress.  Then I made the dress 3 years later!  Fabric choices and directional choices were all Caitlin's, pleasure and pleasedness all mine!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

My first Knit-a-Long (KAL)

My Bernat KAL
I finally finished my Bernat KAL and was very glad of it, I took it to Austria with me and it's softness was a great comfort when I was recovering like a Victorian lady in an alpine sanatorium!  It was a great experience, I like doing mystery quilts / blankets because it's quite often a pattern you wouldn't usually do or might be daunted by the thought of doing so much.  I ordered the wool directly from the United States and even with postage it was so reasonable, and I've got plenty of wool left over for gloves etc!  It is so nice to have something I made for myself, I do spend so much time creating for others.  Obviously my 8 year old tried to acquire it, but no chance!  It is a regular feature on my lap in the evenings and round my shoulders, especially as the season turns and the days begin to shorten and get colder here in Scotland.

The wool is Bernat's Waverley, an 100% acrylic Aran weight (US worsted weight) 180m/197yds to 100g/3.5oz.  Despite it (or maybe because it was?!) acrylic it is so soft, but you can't break it, it has to be cut with scissors.  I have tried.  The wool tension is 18 stitches and 24 rows to 10 by 10cm / 4" by 4" on 5mm (UK 6, US 8) needles on the band, but I knit loose so I found I needed to use 4.5mm (UK 7, US 7) needles after doing the tension swatch.

The colours I used were as follows, there are many beautiful photos on the Bernat KAL forum of the other combinations people used:
Beige #55615 Sun Drift
Green #55290 Turtle Green
Yellow #55640 Gypsy Gold
Pink #55425 Bitter Rose
Red #55435 Incense

My major issue was with the difference in tension between the sides of the squares.  The squares are quite big at around 9 inches and even with blocking and borders there was a lot of give in them.  But it is just the right size to wrap around you and feel hugged!

Fear and creativity

'To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong'

So says Joseph Chilton Pearce and it is the fear that has me frozen like a deer in headlights.  I see and want desperately to express how I see the world but feel so disappointed when I cannot, it is so hard at times to keep pushing on to reach that place of absorption where I'm lost in play and colour, to set myself aside.  My world, as ever, falls into the interstices between worlds.  I am not a scrapbooker, I find manufactured stamps and papers too restrictive and prescriptive.  As usual, I make things harder for myself by wanting to make my own papers, stamps and books.  Thankfully I have an ally in the wonderful Kirsty O'Connor and attended at half of her second course at Fran Marquis' studio in Arbroath (my fault, not hers!) the weekend before last.  I learned how to stitch papers into beautiful books and now am thoroughly hooked on the potential for journalling in completely my own way, set free from bound diaries and trying to work out how to stick bulky items like knitting swatches into them!

My Japanese bound sketchbook - a pattern called tortoiseshell
When we were on holiday in Austria this year I took with me two writing pads and some pages of coloured paper cut to the same size as the writing and wrote a daily diary of what was going on, collecting ephemera such as receipts, maps, flyers etc.  It turned into quite an unusual holiday diary when I fell ill one day in and was hospitalised on Friday the 13th (never superstitious before!) with pneumonia for four days, but I incorporated information about an illness I had never known anything about before.  It's still a work in progress, but when I can afford a paper drill I will bind it japanese style.

I taught my first Young Quilters workshop at the Regional Day in Perth last weekend making bunting, I didn't quite get the timing right and gave the kids too much to do, so my thoughts turn to the next one in March and the idea of creating books to contain samples.  I am currently finishing off a small embroidered panel, mostly french knots and stem stitch, which my husband gave me many years ago.  I have samples from workshops I have happily attended at the Festival of Quilts and the Knitting and Stitching Show, and a whole aida panel of blackwork.  I try to keep a diary of a quilt while I'm making it, because I'm really interested in the history of textiles and so often I would like to know how something was made and what the thought processes are.  I'd like to see the commercial patterns and threads that the person used, not just the finished article.  So I decided to create a sample book that would contain not just the pieces of sample work but also any commercial patterns and instructions.  For the next Regional Day this would mean creating simple covers with holes made with an eyelet puncher and lacing them together, so that pages can be inserted at will.  It's a work in progress, but I'm hopeful, it feels right.