Sunday, 25 November 2012

Work in Progress


Stripe-less party ring. (as if being without electricity for the day wasn't bad enough)
Always there when you need him.


Thursday, 1 November 2012

A Flock of Bluebirds

At the end of July I was contacted quite out of the blue by someone I used to work with about a potential commission for their new business. Since I worked with her in Liverpool Krisi had set up her own company, Bluebird Tea Co, with partner Mike and they'd been busy building a following at fairs, festivals and events all over the country. (You can read more about their story on the brilliantly written blog ThatBluebirdGirl.) Obviously in July we were all thinking about Christmas, right? Well, I know I was, and so were they because they very kindly asked if I'd be interested in making some decorations for their Christmas gift packs!

As I'd never done anything quite like this before in terms of the size of the request (currently 320 birds!) I tried to keep the designs simple but interesting. Fortunately Bluebird have a very strong brand identity so there was a lot to work with, and we decided to create a little felt bluebird the reflected the company but would also be something special to hang on your tree. I started with some Pinterest research, and then a bit of scribbling.
 I tried out a few shapes and stitching samples.

 When I had a shortlist of four birds I sourced materials, costed each design and sent the samples off to the guys at Bluebird.
After a brief back and forth of messages on Facebook we came to a final design, and I soon got to work!
How I go about cutting repeat shapes is constantly changing as I try to find the quickest method.
Production line.
Sepearating batches of bird parts into bags has been very helpful.
Perhaps I would get more done if I didn't waste time doing things like this?
Nearly there!
See all those threads? I have to tidy them off, one by one...
A stack of finished birds, complete with my labels.
If you want some funky loose leaf tea and a little handmade birdie too then keep an eye on Bluebird Tea Co's website for their Christmas gift packs or go and visit them at one of the many events they'll be doing. (I did spy on their website that they'll be stocking up Turl Street Kitchen in Oxford with their teas, so if you're in the area you should get down there, the food is delicious!)

Sunday, 28 October 2012

City Break, Pt 2.

As I mentioned in the first part of my City Break posts, I was in a bit of a rush to get to the Louise Gardiner talk at GNCCF, meaning I had to do some speed viewing in the City Gallery. I think I first came across the work of Louise Gardiner through Flickr or Pinterest, on one of my many internet benders looking for interesting thread work and textile artists. The talk took place at the Manchester People's Museum and centred mainly on her work for the Collect showcase at the Saatchi Gallery. If you're interested there's a video on her website that was made specifically about the 5 canvases she created for the showcase, and gives you an idea of the level of work going into each one, and how she arrived at the concept.

Aside from how extraordinary her work is she was a really inspiring speaker, and a lot of the points she made about working as a creative really struck a chord. In particular how important it is to 'say yes to exciting oppportunities' and that only in doing so can you raise your game. Other wise words being that 'if you start thinking about the end you'll never begin' (so true) and a belief in the virtues of sherry and drum n bass when working on your machine (quite a contrast to my tea and Radio 4, perhaps I need to branch out).

I'd done a little free machine work at school, but nothing since, though I'd been meaning to give it another go. Needless to say when I got home I ordered myself a free-machine foot and now I'm itching to use it. (I took the advice of Caroline at Redneedle Sewing when making my purchase)

As for the rest of GNCCF, I have to admit, it's been three weeks since I was there and I didn't make quite as many notes as perhaps I should have done, so I'll keep it brief and give a little rundown of my favourite exhibitors.

  • Lynsey Walters' hand stitched felt jewellery and accessories were beautifully crafted and showed real attention to detail and colour. (Google Image search her name and you'll instantly see what I mean.)
  • Rosie's Armoire was a beautiflly presented stall, brimming with furnishings, bags and purses that are hand-printed with images of old letters and documents. One thing I love is old handwriting and paper so this was heaven for me.
  • I'm really interested in weaving and there were a some really great stands from weavers, like Sarah Tyssen and Sue Christian.
Shamefully I'm very good at remembering the work I can relate to my own, but, no matter how much I liked it when I saw it ,if it's ceramics or jewellery or furniture I have a hard time distinguishing it afterwards. You'll just have to take my word for it that there were some really incredible exhibitors in all those mediums, I just can't remember which I liked best! The full list of exhibitors is here, so I'd recommend having a leisurely browse through because there's bound to be something you love, and we should all support handmade, and when better than Christmas?

Too early for Christmas references? Sorry, I'll get my coat.  

Thursday, 11 October 2012

City Break, Part 1.

Last Friday I took myself on a day trip to Manchester, somewhere I do not visit anywhere near enough, considering it's only 40 minutes away on the train. I'd spotted the adverts for the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair a few weeks back, and then a newsletter for the First Cut exhibition at Manchester City Gallery landed in my inbox. Add to that a long overdue visit to Platt Hall Gallery of Costume and I had a cracking day planned.
A minor 'gas meter battery failing' incident (no hot water and a head full of shampoo lather, rinsing my hair with kettle water in the kitchen sink, four wrong gas emergency hotline numbers and far too much hold music) threatened to scupper my plans, but I made it to Manchester reasonably early. Too early in fact, as Platt Hall doesn't open until 1pm and I hadn't checked the opening times. There isn't a huge amount to see in Platt Fields Park, except the ducks.
 I saw a signpost for the 'Teenage Village' but daren't investigate further, and I found myself unexpectedly detained by a friendly, if slightly odd, man who insisted that you couldn't work in fashion without learning sugarcraft and that I was in town with the Labour conference and friends with Nick Robinson. I politely declined a request to be his penpal.

Platt Hall itself is a beautifully restored Georgian mansion, a testament to the success of Manchester's textiles industry in the 18th century.
I Want It Now.
 The costume collection at the hall is fairly wide ranging, from the 17th century to the present day, and covering men's, women's and children's wear, with an impressive array footwear, hats and bags. My personal highlights were the dresses by Biba and Ossie Clarke from the 60s and 70s, and as always the 19th century held my attention for sometime.

In addition to the permanent collection there was a temporary exhibit of West African textiles, which included this beautiful loom.

Clickety clack, clickety clack.
One day I WILL learn to weave.
 The First Cut, an exhibition of works in paper by contemporary artists is housed primarily at the City Gallery, but there were a few costume related pieces at Platt Hall, including this dress by Violise Lunn. Suspended in one of the upstairs galleries, it is a beautifully delicate piece that seems very much at home in it's opulent surroundings.
 Hopping on a bus full of students back in to the centre (including a brush with that ubiquitous C list celeb, the ex-Hollyoaks actor) I made a beeline for the City Gallery. I hadn't actually looked too hard at where it was so my beeline was none too straight.
I was running out of time by this point as I had planned on attending a talk by Louise Gardiner at the GNCCF, so I dashed past the Pre-Raphaelites and went straight for the paper. Most well known in the exhibit would be Rob Ryan and his silhouette papercutting, represented in some large works and originals of his popular greetings cards. My own favourite was the work of  Claire Brewster, who uses old maps to create intricately cut birds, by themselves or in a huge flock taking flight across the gallery wall, the maps of northern towns give these garden birds a tropical hue.

The First Cut exhibition is on until the 27th of January, and is completely free, so if you're in the North West I strongly reccomend it. I'm certainly going to go back and take it in a bit more slowly, along with the rest of the City Gallery's permanent collection.
I'll be covering my visit to GNCCF in my next post, expect sherry and drum n bass. You have been warned.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Hen Party Purses

I led my first workshop on Saturday!
 I'd been asked by Craft Creative, after helping with a yarnbombing project they organised, to come up with a few workshop ideas for their Christmas events. Craft Creative are an events company who specialise in running crafty parties and workshops, both in Liverpool and Glasgow. Perfect for an alternative night out where you can eat, drink, socialise, and learn a new skill at the same time! One of my ideas was for a hand stitched coin purse, not something I'd ever made to sell myself but I thought it was a fun way to combine basic embroidery with using clasp frames and small enough to complete in a couple of hours. I was lucky enough to be booked by Craft Creative to lead this workshop with the hen party of a very crafty bride.

 I stocked up on Liberty prints so they could make their purses extra special.

And while I was planning I had what I think might be the best idea I've ever had. (you have my permission to use it for yourself.)

 The location was great to work in, plenty of room for all the materials we needed and lots of light and space. I'd never taught a group of people before, though I'd done a bit of one to one teaching through my work as a costume designer, but I thought I'd be ok (both my parents are teachers so I was relying on some genetic advantage). I'd done all my prep so we just had to dive in, needless to say it didn't stay this organised...

Much cutting, sewing and glueing (which proved to be the most tricky part) later...


...everyone had a beautiful, handmade purse!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Tutorial: Hand Knit Chevron Baubles

I first made these baubles last year, using a colour slip pattern from my Good Housekeeping Needlecrafts book, it seemed an easier way of getting colour and pattern into the design without having to juggle 2 or more yarns at once, as I had been with my snowflake and heart baubles. The chevron pattern is incredibly easy to learn and simple to do, and as a smaller project the bauble design covers a few different techniques in a very straightforward way so it would be a great starter for less experienced knitters. Hopefully I've explained it well enough and have included some helpful pictures so that you can all make your own with very little trouble!

2 colours of yarn, I’ve used Cascade 220 DK, but you can use anything that matches the tension of 20 sts and 25 rows to 4”.
1 pair 4mm needles.
1 tapestry needle for sewing up.
1x 7cm diameter polystyrene or spun paper ball.
1x 4mm crochet hook or a 40cm length of coordinating ribbon.

K1fb – Knit into the front of the loop and without dropping the original stitch, knit into the back of it as well. Drop the original stitch. One stitch made.
M1 – Using the tip of your right needle, going front to back, pick up the strand running between the stitch just worked and the next one on the left needle. With the left needle, working front to back, transfer the new stitch over. Knit into the back of the stitch with the right needle.  One stitch made.
Sl1 – Insert right needle into next stitch as if to purl but move across without working the stitch.
K2tog – Insert right needle through the front of the next 2 stitches on the left needle and work as one. One stitch decreased.

Using whichever method you prefer, cast on 10 stitches in colour A. 8 of these are your ‘working’ stitches, with one stitch either end for your seams.
Row 1: K1, *K1fb* 8 times, K1. (18sts)
Row 2: Purl all stitches.
Row 3: K1, *K2, M1* 8 times, K1. (26 sts)
Row 4: Purl.
Row 5: K1, *K3, M1* 8 times, K1. (34 sts)
Row 6: Purl.
Row 7: K1, *K4, M1* 8 times, K1. (42 sts)
Row 8: Purl.
Row 9: K1, *K5, M1* 8 times, K1. (50 ts)
Row 10: Purl.
Patterned section
Row 11: Join in Colour B. K1, *K1, Sl3* repeat to last st, K1.
Tip: As with any colourwork it is important not to hold the working yarn too tightly across the back of the slipped stitches, or you may end up with a very wibbly cover that won’t stretch around the bauble. Keep it fairly loose but neat.
Row 12: P2, *Sl1, P3* repeat to last 2 sts, P2.
Row 13: Knit.
Row 14: Purl.
Tip: These 4 rows are the basic colour slip chevron pattern, worked over a 4 stitch repeat. You can use them for anything, but most importantly you can use yellow and black yarn for a very convincing Charlie Brown t-shirt pattern.

Row 15: Change back to colour A, repeat rows 11-14.
Row 19: Change to colour B, repeat rows 11 – 14.
Tip: You can use as many colours as you want, I’m not the yarn police.

Row 23: Change to colour A, repeat rows 11 – 12.
Row 25: K1, *K4, K2tog* 8 times, K1. (42 sts)
Row 26: Purl.
Row 27: K1, *K3, K2tog* 8 times, K1. (34 sts)
Row 28: Purl.
Row 29: K1, *K2, K2tog* 8 times, K1. (26 sts)
Row 30: Purl.
Row 31: K1, *K1, K2tog* 8 times, K1. (18 sts)
Row 32: Purl.
Row 33: K1, * K2tog* 8 times, K1. (10sts)
Break yarn leaving a long end for sewing up and using a tapestry needle thread it through the 10 sts on your needle.

If you’ve used a different weight of yarn it might be that you need to leave off buying your ball until you’ve finished the knitting and then you can take your work to the craft store and try it on a few different sizes to get one that fits, Goldilocks style. You will only look a little bit crazy.
When you’ve got your perfectly sized ball you can sew the knitting around it. Start by wrapping the work around the ball, and draw the threaded up stitches tight together to close the hole at the top, you might want to do a little knot at this point to keep the hole closed while you work on the seam.

Work your way down the seam stitches, matching the pattern on either side and catching in one stitch at a time snaking down until you reach the bottom. You don’t need to pull the stitching tight, just enough to keep the seam closed and the work as flat as possible.

When you reach the cast on edge you might need to work a few stitches across the hole to draw that shut as well. Fasten off your yarn with a knot and take the yarn through to the wrong side of the work and back out again a few cm away to hide the ends, cut your yarn.

The easiest way to make a hanging loop is to get a length of matching ribbon and thread it through a few stitches at the top and then tie it off in a bow to form a loop. If you’re using a polyester ribbon you can hold the ends near a lighter flame to melt them slightly so they won’t fray, or snip on an angle.
The other method is to join yarn in at the top of the bauble and crochet a chain the desired length, then fasten it back in to the bauble.

Voila! You now have one chevron striped bauble for your tree. Sadly only having one bauble on your tree would be ridiculous so you’ll have to make some more, but that’s ok, because you’re a pro now and you can mix your colours up however you like to make a matching set! 

What you have with this pattern is 9 rows of increases, 9 rows of decreases, and a band in the middle of 15 rows and 48 stitches, so you can do whatever you like within that shape, like plain stripes in any number of colours, or a 3 colour chevron pattern. If you’re feeling adventurous you could go for a Fairisle or Scandinavian style motif repeating around (just be warned of losing some stretch with the additional strands across the back, it might be a case of knit then fit again.) 

So, go forth and bauble! I’d love to hear your feedback as this is the first pattern I’ve ever written. If you find any errors, or think it could be improved please do share, and when you’re finished making your baubles I’d love to see them!
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