Thursday, 4 February 2016

Book Review - Making is connecting

Although this post is mainly a book review I'm going to give some back story first. My brother tends to give me books for Christmas and Birthday gifts, and there is often what I have taken to calling an 'improving' one amongst them. I shouldn't tease, because he is very good at choosing, and his gifts have inspired me to read lots of books on subject I would probably never have picked for myself. 

Last Christmas' improving book was very suitable for me 

What did I learn from this book? Basically (and slightly facetiously) that my knitting, sewing and blogging is make me happier and making the world a better place! :)

More seriously the author, David Gauntlett, argues that by creating and sharing we are contributing not only to our own personal happiness, but that by building (real and virtual) networks we can create a healthy community and work towards improving society as a whole. 

As a former history student I especially enjoyed the first chapter which explored the philosophies of John Ruskin and William Morris, encouraging everyone to make things, which will increase happiness, encourage self-expression, and make a mark on the word. According to Ruskin its important to value the imperfect in what is made;
go forth again to gaze upon the old cathedral front ... examine once more the ugly goblins, and formless monsters, and stern statues, anatomyless and rigid; but do not mock at them, for they are signs of the life and liberty of every workman who struck the stone; a freedom of thought
Carvings from Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire

The book goes on to look at crafting today, to stress the importance of the process over the end product, and to see the possibility in the web, especially web 2.0, for enabling community building. He name checked Ravelry, 'the superb social network for knitter'. He goes on to explore the theory of social capital and the role of creativity in acting as a form of social glue, and improving not just our own life but the community as a whole.

I'm not going to attempt any analysis or criticism of the theories put forward in the book, I don't feel competent too. But what I will say is that I really enjoyed reading this book, it introduced new and interesting ideas to me, and made me think about what my creativity means to me. My crafting does make me happier, after a long day at work I love to come home and sew, or knit, or blog about doing these things. It has also introduced me to lots of lovely and supportive communities and individuals I would not otherwise have met. It had also probably given me more confidence in myself, and self expression. Maybe I didn't need to read this book to realise these things, but it made me think about them more, and I learnt new things along the way. So, if you haven't read it already, I'd certainly recommend this book and hopefully it will leave you with some new ideas and, like me, a warm fuzzy glow inside for being a crafter :)

William Morris

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

A plethora of pants and the economies of scale in sewing

The boyfriend is always asking me why I don't save time by picking one pattern and 'churning out' loads of the same garment at one time. (I should say that his main hobby is brewing, in which the economies of scale are rather more applicable than in sewing - double the ingredient = double the amount of beer, with very little more effort). I normally roll my eyes at him when he says this, try to explain about how sewing work, while pointing out that I don't want all my dresses or tops to be the same shape and style. However, it hit me last week that there are some items that making multiple version of could work; pants, as in under.

I've been storing up my left over stretch fabric and lace for a while now planning to turn it into undies, and this weekend I got stitching. As I knew I had enough to make half a dozen pairs I though thought this might be an occasion to test out the economies of scale in sewing.  

I have two patterns for pants, both of which I've used before, one for 2 way stretch fabric (from The Secrets of Sewing Lingerie) and one for 4 way stretch fabric (Butterick B6031).  Taking the methodical approach I sorted and pressed the fabrics (3 lots for each pattern) and matched them with the stretch lace and thread.

Sorry poor light for this photo

It was at this point I hit a slight stumbling block - my threads were all different colours. This meant it wouldn't be possible to do each step to all three pairs at the same time, without a large amount of fiddly swapping on thread. Instead I would have to make one pair after another.

Over Saturday and Sunday afternoons I 'churned out' six pairs of pants. Doing all the cutting, followed by all the sewing. I can't say for certain it was quicker than making six pairs separately on six different occasions as I've never timed make one pair, but I think it might have done. The pants are fairly simple to make, and by the time I'd got to the third pair I didn't even have to think about the next step, I was on auto pilot.

So lucky me I now have six new pairs of fancy pants, I especially like the black and white stripes with silver lace! Also, I now have two matching pant and t-shirt combinations. Not so luckily, it would seem that the boyfriend might have had a point, and that in some cases 'churning out' loads of the same project in sewing can save time!

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Would you like a silk parachute to make underwear from?

I was a little surprised when my dad greeted me on my return home for Christmas with this questions! But, I was delighted to accept this somewhat unexpected offer.

It does raise the further question, which has probably occurred to you reader, why does my dad have a silk parachute? Well, ... my dad and uncle jointly own a large seventeenth century house in south Wales, Treowen, where they grew up with their siblings.

All along the front of the house under the snow covered roof is an 80 foot in length attic, known in the family as the long attic (I think you will agree at 80 foot it is long). As the long attic is not currently habitable, it has no floor and knee high roof supports (imagine a hurdle track with hurdles made of solid oak), it has been used by the extended family as a dumping ground for the last 50 plus years.

My uncle and father have decided to do work on the long attic to make it habitable, and this has meant they need to clear out generations of 'junk', Over the last month they have been producing all sorts of things from the attic; old letters and school reports, two pallet of books, old furniture and a silk parachute. No one is quite clear what the parachute was doing there, or how it got there in the first place, but it's mine now :)

I've washed it, which has removed the 'attic' smell and most of the bat droppings. The silk is now clean and mostly still in great condition, but it is a not very attractive beige colour. My dilemma now is what to do with the parachute? 

I did a bit of research online into the historical use of parachute silk in women's clothing, and during the second world war they were used to make underwear and even wedding dresses.  I'm not surprised at this as there is a huge amount of fabric in the parachute.


Not currently in need of a wedding dress I think underwear is they way to go, so in keeping with the wartime theme I consulted by grandmother's copy of Sew and Save. Published in 1941 this handbooks gives advice to women who want to be 'attractively dressed' on the ration. It covers everything from planning your wardrobe, to making and mending your clothes. Interestingly the chapter on 'Making your own undies' has been heavily underlined and annotated by my grandmother. I like the idea that 70 odd years latter I could be making the same things she did, following the same instructions.

Not a great picture, but hopefully you can see. I like the advice she has underlined about how many pairs of undies you need in stock; three is seems - 'one set on your back, one in the wash, and one clean and ready for any emergency that may crop up'. Good advice.

I've never owned one, let alone, three pairs of silk undies before, but hopefully I will soon...

Monday, 4 January 2016

Facing up to my yarn stash

I spent the first day of the New Year happily sorting through my yarn stash and matching up the yarns with potential project. At least I was happy until I realised I was adding the twentieth project to my queue on Ravelry. Crikey, how much yarn do I have?!?

The hateful, sorry, helpful calculator on Ravelry answered my question, informing me that I have 44 different stashed yarns, with a total of 23,969 yards to knit (excluding two large cones of wool which I have no idea of the length). Based on previous years knitting I have enough yarn to keep me going for at least four years. Yikes!!!

I'm not saying I'm not going to buy any yarn this year, cause that would be a silly resolution I couldn't keep (I need to get some yarn to make my dad's traditional birthday sock for a start). I think this year's knitting resolution had better be to reduce my stash. I'd like to say I'll get it down to 15,000 yards but maybe we'll just go for under 20,000. 

To finish off this post and to get me in the mood for my knitting challenge, here are just some of the  items from my queue, which I will (hopefully) be knitting from my stash this year.


Once I've finished the three projects I have on the needles at the moment ... one of which has been on the go for over three years now.

Friday, 1 January 2016

A Seasonal Literary Crafter

It's been a while since I've posted anything, but I'm determined to get back into the habit for the New Year and I'm starting of with a suitably seasonal literary crafter;

They have a big gilded star at the Austin Friars, which they hang in their great hall on New Year's Eve. For a week it shines out, to welcome their guests at Epiphany. From Summer onwards, he [Thomas Cromwell] and Liz would be thinking of costumes for the Three Kings, coveting and hoarding scraps of any strange cloth they saw, any new trimmings; then from October, Liz would be sewing in secrecy, improving on last year's robes by patching them over with new shining panels, quilting a shoulder and weighting a hem, and building each year some fantastical new crowns.

Liz Cromwell from Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall.


Sunday, 15 November 2015

Third time a [Winter] Star

I bought this rather lovely sparkly yarn at the HandmAid sale last year, and its been causing me no end of problems ever since! First off, it was label-less so I didn't know what I had. This was not such a big problem as one of my knitting friends identified it at Dublin Dye Sparkle Lace, which gave me the yardage and meant I could make an informed decision on what to make with it.

A search of Ravelry brought me to Crown Tee by Jenise Hope, I love the design and felt it would look lovely with the light sparkle of my yarn. However, it was all down hill from there. The guidance given on gauge in the pattern is a little bit vague - and I had a complete nightmare of a time getting, or rather, failing to get the gauge. It was first massive, then not quite so massive and on the third attempt still huge. After the third attempt I gave up.

My second choice was Ruby Lace Top by Suzie Sparkles, I at least got the gauge right on the first attempt with this top. But, it wasn't love at first knit, or even second or third. It took me over five months to knit what is a fairly simple top, and it felt like a duty rather than a pleasure for most of the time! I don't really know why I didn't like the top, in the picture it lovely, maybe it works better in a darker yarn than the lighter colour I used.

I finally finished the top about two weeks ago and, I've never done this before, I ripped this project back within five minutes of completing it! Yikes, I don't know what possessed me (possible it was the couple of glasses of beer I had earlier in the evening) but I'm not sorry for what I did. Although it seems a terrible waste of all the knitting hours I put into the top, I think I'd know from quite early on I was never going to wear this top and I probably should have given up on knitting it some time before, but I can be stubborn at times!

However, the third (and final) project I've made with this wool has been a success - Gudrun Johnston's Norby hat.

(I'm not sleeping, just incapable of keeping my eye open when having my picture taken)

Norby is designed for 4ply yarn, so I used mine held double. I found the sizing a little problematic on this one as well, and from Ravelry it would seem I'm not the only one. The hat is meant to be a slouchy fit, but my first attempt had more than just slouch! It wasn't an insuperable problem as the pattern is a 11 stitch repeat, so it was easy enough to take out two repeats. 

This pattern is really simple and was very quick to knit, and I love the zig-zag rows of reversed stocking stitch. Although I stated in a fairly recent post that I wasn't that keen on tassels I decided that this hat looked a little lost without them.

So, after two failed attempted I've now made a project I'm happy with and I'm all ready for the winter weather! Well, maybe not all ready but I think I'm got enough yarn left over for some matching mittens.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Pattern Review: Gertie's Knit Sweetheart Top

Last month I decided to clear out my wardrobe, I took a ruthless approach and sent four bags to the charity shop, or to H&M who are now offering textile recycling. (Not only will they take my fabric scraps away and recycle them, but you get a money off voucher for each bag brought in!) As a result I'm down to a much smaller wardrobe than normal, but on the bright side that gives me the opportunity to do lots of sewing.

I decided to start on the casual side of my wardrobe, and for my first project picked the Sweetheart knit top from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual.

I wasn't too sure of the best size to make, as I fall between two sizes, so decided to make a 'wearable muslin' in the smaller size, from some knit fabric that has been hanging around in my stash for a while. I have to admit I've been slightly put off making anything from this book as you have to trace the pattern pieces from the master sheets and while I understand why it is like this, I'm a bit lazy.

There are only three piece to this top so it wasn't too much of a chore to trace, and once the pieces were all cut out it was very quick to make up. The instructions were very clear, and I used some of the early chapters in the book to pick up some new techniques for working with knit fabrics.

I'm really please with the result. The top answered my question about sizing, its the right size, except the armholes. This was my own fault as I didn't read the instructions carefully enough and cut the armhole binding to short. I even got the pattern placement worked out, with the pattern centred and well placed on both front and back.

However, this does lead to the question of do I want a top with a pink unicorn on it? Realistically, I don't think I'd wear this out of the house, but it screams PJs at me. So, I whipped up a pair of PJ bottoms using Sewaholic's Tofino pattern. I've used this pattern before and found them very comfortable, I did simplify things by leaving out the piping and the fake fabric belt tie - they are PJs after all. 

So, what did I think of the sweetheart top pattern? I loved it, it was really quick taking a couple of hours to cut out and sew, and very wearable (if not my unicorn version). Would I make it again? Yes I will, indeed I have already have. (I'm not joking about throwing most things out from my wardrobe, I'm down to my last two t-shirts). I've made a second wearable version, and have the fabric for three more, which will take advantage of the different neck and sleeve variations which come with the pattern.