Sunday, 19 June 2011


My intentions were excellent.  I was going to make a folk doll.  I was going to spin some wool.  I was going to dye some fibre.  It's funny how an encounter with a pigeon will put paid to one's plans for the weekend.

Ah well.  My logwood and cochineal dyes have arrived, as has the alum.  I've oiled and serviced my sewing machine.  I've ironed all my fabrics.  All good things, but not as good as actually making something. 

So have a picture of my stall at Musicfest's Strawberry Fayre, held a couple of weeks ago.  Just to prove that, occasionally, my weekends do go to plan.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Paper - Scissor - Solvent

More years ago than I care to recall, I used to be interested in quilling.  I was given a quilling set for my birthday, and I spent many a happy hour rolling, gluing and shaping these thin strips of multi-coloured paper.  However, living in the most rural part of rural Wales (which explains a lot about my interests) and those days being of the pre-internet age, it was impossible to replenish my supplies, so once the paper was gone, that was it.  My tools have languished in a toolbox for a couple of decades, but I've started to see a resurgence in paper craft of late, and thought there might be a way to combine my love of Japanese papers with more modern quilling.  I'm no longer interested in making quilling embellishments or cards (oh-so-80s! *shudder*) but I do like the idea of making paper beads and jewellery.  So I present my first quilling in mumble-mumble years...these are strips of paper from glossy magazines, which I'm testing before moving on to my more precious materials.  The next step will be to vary the shape of the strips.

Oh!  And as an added bonus, it turns out that they're excellent cat toys too.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Dyeing Day

Onwards to Saturday, the Ceredigion Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers' annual dyeing day.  Again, this was something that I hadn't tried before, but had wanted to since visiting Shilasdair last August.  Some preparation was required, so I'd spent the preceding fortnight spinning up 200g of Bluefaced Leicester yarn (my favourite!), and mordanting it a couple of days before the meeting.  I was really nervous about this as I don't like handling chemicals, but I got my camping stove out into the garden, rubber gloves firmly on hands, and began heating my alum solution.  The wool was dropped in an hour later - another scary moment, as boiling wool is normally something you don't want to be doing - and there it stayed, simmering away for another hour.

Two days later, and it was time to get dyeing.  It's a lengthy process, requiring each natural dye to be simmered for an hour, then strained and reheated before adding the wool for another hour.  I'd separated my wool into 13g skeins, hoping I'd have enough to try each one of the natural dyes on offer, with a couple left over for the acid dyes and indigo.  And so it was.  At the allotted time, our skeins were dropped into the steaming vats and we waited impatiently to see whether the colour had taken.  Everyone had brought different combinations of wools and both alum and tin had been used as mordants, so the range of hues produced from the same solution was astonishing.

Six hours later, and I was returning home with the skeins in the picture, the dyes being (left to right):

logwood exhaust
blackcurrant (complete with seeds!)
cochineal exhaust
dyer's greenweed
onion skin exhaust
onion skin
acid dyes

I don't know when I'll be trying this again, but I'm certainly not afraid of the process any more.  I'm very taken with the cochineal, logwood and onion skin dyes, and whilst I love the indigo, I know its preparation is a bit more complicated (requiring hydros, caustic soda and careful reduction).

So. Yes. Dyeing. There we have it.  This is what I learned:
  • It's nothing to be afraid of, as long as you weigh everything and use the correct percentages of mordant and dye.
  • Using natural dyes takes time as you need to make sure the solutions come up to temperature and that you don't shock the wool.  
  • Acid dyes are easy to use, as they're set in the microwave, and the results are vibrant.
For more information, I'd certainly recommend The Complete Guide to Natural Dyeing by Eva Lambert and Tracy Kendall (2010).

Monday, 13 June 2011

Friday's Folk Dolls

If it's Friday, then I must be making a folk doll with Maria Lalić.  I'd registered for this workshop on a whim.  Whilst I've made numerous quilts in my time, I don't have an innate talent for machine sewing, and my distinct lack of confidence can be traced to a whole school term when I tried - and failed - to sew a skirt in a cotton fabric that would do nothing but fray and unravel.  I'm a reluctant sewer, though I'm hoping to get over it.  So my first step was enrolling on this course, hoping that Maria would look kindly on my tortured efforts and that I'd have something semi-decent by the end of it.

Once again, the class was small, with six of us, Maria, and an adorable little dog ensconced happily around our worktable.  We set to work, cutting out the dolls' bodies, sewing and stuffing the arms which were then positioned and pinned in place.  Mercifully, Maria is of the 'don't think about it, just go for it' school of sewing, assuring those of us whose approach is more timid that everything will work out fine in the end (it does).  Bodies were then sewed, stuffing stuffed, and then the all-important drawing-in of the facial features: once again, a deep breath, an artistic flourish, and their characters are set.

Inevitably, the legs on my doll ended up being way too wonky - this is where the quick unpick is your friend - but I managed to get them attached properly after a quick lunch break.  Then it was time to decide whether we'd be making a Welsh Lady or a Mumma Doll; opting for the latter, I then set about making a dress and gilet, adding Mary-Janes and styling her hair.  It was at this point that I realised that my doll seemed to have something of a Japanese style about her; it was definitely unintentional, but I was really pleased!

The final stage was creating display boxes for each doll, adorning the outside with scraps of the fabric used for the clothes.  I was as surprised as anyone to realise that I had actually made a doll.  Whilst my sewing won't win any awards, it's far better than I could have hoped, and - crucially - the doll isn't falling to bits.  As with the woven scarf, I now want to make another one, refining my technique, and seeing where I can take this new skill.  Diolch, Maria - another fantastic course!

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Weaving for Pleasure

I've wanted to try my hand at weaving for a while, but I've spent the last year concentrating on my spinning and knitting.  When I saw a rigid heddle loom course had been organised during the Wool and Willow Festival I made immediate enquiries, hoping desperately that it hadn't already been booked up.  It hadn't.  I smiled with glee; I really was going to learn how to weave!

The course was being taught by Joanna Kingston of Esgair Fibres.  A quick Google search revealed that I'd bought one of her woven scarves earlier in the year, when I was looking to buy something special for my mother's birthday; I couldn't wait to meet her, as I'd really admired her use of colour and texture.

We were a small group of six, and Joanna soon had us seated at an array of rigid heddle looms - mine was the 32", though I was going to be weaving a scarf of some 7 - 8" across.  Our first task was to choose our warp and weft yarns - no easy task given the delicious selection that Joanna had brought with her.  Initially, I'd considered using some of my own handspun, but as I wanted to learn exactly how weaving works I decided that I'd stick to commercial yarn for this session, and could move on to my own yarn when I'm ready to start experimenting.  In the end I opted for a linen mix for the warp and a variegated red Noro bouclé for the weft, neither of which are too dissimilar from the materials I've been using in my knitting.

Warping the loom took around two hours, but Joanna took us through each stage methodically and calmly, thus reassuring us that this is not something to fear.  The secret to good weaving is good warping.  It's important to take your time.  Knot everything securely.  Check your tension.  Check it again.  If something's slightly off, re-do it - it's worth it in the end.  Unlike knitting, weaving isn't very forgiving if you make a mistake with your warp (and missing one of the slots on the reed is a definite no-no).  Slow down.  Concentrate.  Get into a rhythm.  Enjoy the process.  It's wonderfully meditative when you get into it...

There was just enough time to get going with the actual weaving just before lunch.  I was amazed at how quickly the piece began to grow; when you've been used to fine or relatively complicated knitting, you're resolved to the fact that you're not going to see a finished product for a considerable time.  I was determined to finish by the end of the day, as I really wanted to learn every stage of making a scarf, and wanted something wearable to take home with me.  So it was a case of head down and weave away:

I really couldn't tell you where the afternoon went.  All I know is that those four hours were pure bliss.  Each one of us attempted a different style of scarf, and it was lovely to stop and have a chat to see how each one was coming along.  I also had a wonderful time nattering with Joanna; it's not often that I get a chance to wax lyrical with a fellow yarn addict, so when that opportunity presents itself, there's no stopping me.  I can't help it: I'm obsessed.   She's also very patient and generous with her knowledge.  She knows the pleasure of weaving and wants others to share in that experience - if you ever get the chance to attend one of her workshops, then you really should.

And here it is, the finished article:

I'm ridiculously happy with the end result.  There's always a certain amount of trepidation attached to learning a new craft, but a good teacher will give you encouragement and constructive criticism, leaving you itching to start your next project.  I can't wait. 

(Later on, I found that I'd appeared on the Festival's blog: here's the photo.)

Friday, 10 June 2011

Wool and Willow 2011 (i)

I've just spent two wonderful days at 2011's Wool and Willow Festival in Llanidloes.  Based in The Minerva Arts Centre, the festival is a celebration of sustainable fibre crafts and textiles, with information, demonstrations and a marketplace.  I was familiar with some of the exhibitors (Zalingai, Ruth Packham, The Rainbow Room, Tecstiliau Melindwr, and Hay's Wool and Willow Shop), but it was wonderful to see some new producers, specifically Cwmchwefru Farm, Esgair Fibres and Maria Lalić).  But I wasn't here just to buy.  I was here to attend two courses and try out some new crafts.

More tomorrow...