October half term

It's HALF TERM! Thank heavens. There is so much to do! 

Started off the break with some design work on a commission. I've been a happy user of iDraw for a while now, but it's become clear that to do all the things I'd like to do, it was time to start using Illustrator. Subscription bought (thank you, education discount) and a couple of days of practise later, I'm pleased to have a basic level of understanding already. Becoming proficient is going to take years I should think, and once again I'm eternally grateful to the people of YouTube for posting tutorials and explaining things in very short words. 

Today's painting is a small sign, testing out a new font. It was a good excuse to use the emerald green 1 Shot that had been one of the first tins of paint I bought but had never actually used... It's quite an acidic hue that stands out beautifully on the grey board. It needs a couple of additional lines and perhaps a boarder.


I also welcomed a new arrival this week, a wonderful, wonderful thing. Her name is Big Mabel, she's from Paul at Classic Carders and I'm in love with her. The carder I'd used previously was an old Louet one with much coarser tines, a bizarre ratio that meant the fibre went on much too quickly, and just wasn't suitable for the finer fibres that I like to use. Big Mabel is an absolute dream to work with, and though I've only tried her our with merino so far, the batts she produces are divine. Now I need to learn how to diz off the drum! Looking forward to playing around with various things later in the week, with a hopeful wish for some dyeing time too. 


Edit: the lines really lift it!


White rose

A second giant cross stitch design, and this one isn't as much of a success as the last one. It lacks definition unless you really fuzz your eyes or look at it from about five metres away, which means it would only work in a house much larger than average. Will have another go at this one though, on a different coloured background (I have a very pale grey which might be perfect) and perhaps tweak a few of the colours. 


It was great fun to do, even when I was 'helped' by my painting buddy, @stellashitbag. Thanks, Stel.



Script motivation

I've had so many comments about the 'shut up and get the fuck on with it' sign that I thought a needed another. This one is scripty, with a vintage style sunburst in metallic copper.  





It reminds me of the cover of Sara Bernard's Beautiful Broken Things.  

In which I learn a lesson about Perspex

With the stove fitted in the workshop, our evil little cat Stella has moved in and likes nothing more than snuggling up the chair or running over wet paint. It's adorable. But being an adorable psychopath makes getting her back out of there very difficult indeed without significant blood loss. The obvious solution was to fit a cat flap, something that I've done multiple times. The folding doors are glazed with Perspex so I knew it would be easy. Right? 




What I hadn't counted on was the damned stuff HEALING ITSELF as I cut through it. The heat generated by the jigsaw blade melted it into bubbling stuff, and lo. All the sawed bits healed.  

It was around the point where the drill bit melted and stuck fast that I started to think that maybe I'd made a mistake. The only way was forward though, so using a lighter and MAgic Tape, I managed to repair the side of the hole where it had shattered and after a little bit of battling with a Stanley knife, the cat flap was fitted! It's been set to only allow cats out of the workshop, as Sella had been known in the past to invite her various boyfriends round to hang out on the day bed. It's a workshop, not a knocking shop.  


If I keep quiet about it, no one will notice the repair. So shh.  

Autumn mittens

These were a commission from a blues lover! They're a custom pattern that one day I'll write down! The yarn is a mix of wool, silk, angora and mohair from South Africa that I have to admit was a bit of a disappointment. When I read the label I had high hopes for gorgeous, different yarn but I must confess, it knitted up into nice but unremarkable fabric. 

Comfy gloves though! I hope she likes them.  



New style

I've been working on a sign using Tobias Saul's beautiful Blackriver font and ornaments. Saul's work has been all over my Pinterest boards for ages, his style is just perfect and one that I've admired for a long time, but haven't get experimented with. This sign sums up my feelings when the day job absorbs all my time and energy!  



Using graphics programmes is relatively new to me - I've only ever really cropped images and used colour filters on them, but I've been working on getting the hang of them for more detailed design work, in the hopes that I'll have a much more precise pre-painting design that I can check, and in future share, with clients.  


As soon as I got painting on the swashes it was clear that they just weren't quite right, in the same way that you can tell a lot about a font by painting it. It is quite possible that this is down to my lack of experience in using digital design elements, so I'll be working on that.  


Library sign

This was made to replace the old sign at Roundwood Park School in Harpenden. The old sign was hung up above the doors and against a window, so that both sides can be seen.

Somehow, I've managed to match the grey paint (Farrow and Ball's Down Pipe) to the old grey gloss paint on the door frames along the same corridor. I'd love to be able to claim that this was entirely intentional but honesty dictates that I reveal it a fluke. The font used is Trajan, super classy and classic. The shadowing is in dark green, to reflect the large numbers of plants that give the library a homely, jungle feel. 

I have to say that I wasn't massively impressed with the coverage I got from 1 Shot's white lettering enamel, and found myself hankering after the olden days when a lead base in white paint made it so opaque that it genuinely only needed one coat. Then I remembered lead poisoning and how that is a Bad Thing. So two coats it was. 



For the reverse, seen as you exit the library, it seemed only right to honour Stephen King's 70th birthday by putting his words on there. Plus, all the kids know who Stephen King is at the moment because they're all scaring themselves by watching the new film adaptation of It.  The second coat here did feel like a bit of a drag at the time, but as soon as I stepped back it, I knew it had been worth it. 


Will make sure I get a photo of it in situ soon.  

Motivational signage

Having a dedicated work space has made such a difference to how much painting I can get done! This was painted across two evenings, when I usually would have waited for the weekend but the workshop summershed is a lovely place to run off to at the end of the day, and being just outside of Wifi range feels like a proper break with the world.  

Working in a school means that I'm constantly surrounded with encouraging signs, usually in Comic Sans, printed in different colours with a letter on each piece of A4. It's hell. At least I can laugh at the occasional PowerPoint with poorly positioned clip art and claim that they're being unintentionally ironic, but the signs... No. So I thought it was time to start making my own, which will sadly never see the inside of a school but I think carries an important message for all of us, and one which I often wish I could share with my students.

Day 1 was a chance to play with shadowing. I had fun.  



The finished article: 


As it's on salvaged wood, I'd chosen to keep the old screw holes, but the more I think about it, the more inclined I am to chop it top and bottom. There's already a potential owner for this in the wings, (ok, I confess, it's my own brother. But that STILL COUNTS.) so I'll see what their preferences are.  


I am blessed with the most understanding wife in the world, but even she has had enough of painting on the kitchen table, filling the house with the stench of spirit-based paint and brush cleaner. And I'd had enough of trying to do sawing and drilling out on the garden table in all weathers, holding things between my feet and applying power tools in a way that would make Murph wince in anticipation of injury. Luckily, my feet are sturdy, but even I was cursing the lack of a secure table to clamp things too. When Murph suggested (did I mention that she is excellent?) I take over the summershed (it's a summerhouse and a shed in one) and turn it into a workspace, I was instantly grateful and also a little bit guilt-ridden as I have step by step colonised the house with craft shit and assorted tools. Taking over the summershed is the thing I'd love but wouldn't ever ask for. It's a small space, about 2m x 3m but perfect. It had been dominated by a huge daybed since we'd put it up, which was used to read on approximately three times a year and putting it on eBay didn't feel like we were giving anything up. In one weekend the old work table desk I'd had before was dug out of mum's garage, shelves went up (they look wonky but they're actually level, the whole shed is on the wonk) and it was ready to work in. Useless space was suddenly incredibly useful, and a second chair completed the picture.


It's not so much shabby chic as actually shabby, and that fits my working habits completely! No more worrying about spilling paint on the table, and feeling that I can make a mess and walk away from it knowing that I'm halfway through a job is fantastic, and it's definitely helped with controlling the indoor untidiness. Being able to set up a workmate and clamp sheets of wood properly is an absolute delight, and settling down on the rug to drill hundreds and hundreds of holes for giant cross stitch was an awful lot more fun than the daft flowerpot arrangement I came up with last time. I've run power out via an extension lead running along the garden fence, threaded through a door vent into the house so that I can have light and power tools AT THE SAME TIME. Ikr. 


Having space to make stuff is something that I've come to value more and more as I've grown up. As a kid, there was always at least one room in the house where you could chop things up and sand things down, but I realise this is a luxury that many, possibly most, people just don't have. Kids growing up in families without a ridiculously crafty parent have probably never known this, and even when they're grown up and have homes of their own it might well not be practical or possible. Particularly in areas of the country where property prices and rents are so high that the entire idea of 'extra' space has been completely lost.  This is why I think maker-spaces are so important; they give people the opportunity and permission to use space to be creative and productive. And messy. I have a little 'when I'm suddenly rich' plan to open a range of spaces that can be hired cheaply and by the hour, for people who don't have any room in their homes for the things they'd like to do. I'm a lucky sod. 

Miette skirt II

With the new term just around the corner, I thought it was about time to make a new skirt for the back to work fun times.  

My first Miette skirt (pattern from Tilly and the Buttons) was my first finished, wearable item of clothing last year, and as I've got better at sewing and more confident, I now notice its downsides. FIrst off, it's too short for me. It ends just above my knees, and I'm a definite below the knees clothes wearer. I'd been clumsy with the cutting and the part where the centre seam of the pockets meet the waistband was a mess. It was easy to hide under the tie, but of course I knew it was there.  

WIth this in mind, I lengthened the skirt by 15cm, cut out much more precisely and I'm delighted with the result!  



The main fabric is a gorgeous pin dot Robert Kauffman, which I'd already made a pair of trousers from earlier in the year. It's soft, drapey, and doesn't crease as much as I thought it would. The pockets and ties are a black gabardine from the fabric shop in Hemel. Now, I have learned from books that if you're combining fabrics on a garment, it's best to choose those with a similar weight and drape, but completely ignored that rule here. Luckily, it worked!  

The gabardine gives much more structure to the waist ties, and the pockets look and function like a waitress apron which is exactly what I need for running around at the day job. Pockets ftw. It also flattens out the front a little, which my rounded tum appreciates. Thumbs up. Aside from the length, the only other alteration I made was to add a belt loop on the left hand side, as I'd found with the first skirt that the ties refused to stay put and I'd be straightening it out several times a day. 



The extra loop has made all the difference, and I can wear this version without worrying about my skirt being on the wonk. I learned how to make belt loops during the saga of trying to make the Merchant & Mills Stride trousers fit properly. If you're interested in a tutorial, this video makes it clear.  https://youtu.be/pRaf-YejFT4

The finished skirt is lovely to wear, and has received large numbers of compliments from the pocket-jealous! I have a feeling that this Miette will not be my last.  

Giant Cross-stitch

I love embroidery. I love the history of it, and the design aspect. The Monet/8 bit pointillism of it. But the assigning it to and dismissal of it as a 'female' pursuit will always rankle. And it's part of that down-playing that I think led to my thoughts on this. If I learn a new skill, my first impulse is often to shrink it, so I've decided to go the opposite way. Enbiggening time.


Using yarn that I've re-plied on the spinning wheel I've been able to get a good range of colours in affordable yarn, and I'm pretty damn good with a drill, so scaling the whole thing up felt like the right way forward. 


Have to confess, I hadn't expected the hole-drilling to be so arduous, but a combination of a well-placed flowerpot and a garden table is possibly not the ideal set-up for drilling this many holes. But I love how it's turned out - I love the boldness of it, and seeing it from a distance gives me a very happy warm feeling, and running my hands over the over-sized stitches had me squealing with glee.  



I have plans for more designs, that I'll post on here in due course. In terms of sharing these, I think they might work well as kits, which would suit me as I imagine after several of the same design it would get a little dull, but I'll see how they pan out.  I can imagine huge versions as wall-art! Watch this space. 

Trouble & Strife

The focus of the crafting through the spring and summer was our upcoming wedding, which was one of the very best days of my life. Usually I'm not a wedding fan, I struggle with the enforced sociability and the bonus points for elements that no sensible person would embrace in every day life. When we started planning, we knew that there were a lot of things that we'd be missing out, and waved goodbye to seating plans, favours, dress codes* and colour schemes. Then made a list of the things we did want and threw ourselves into a festival style day of celebration on a farm, with a ceilidh, cinema yurt, a reading tent, food vans, a gin van and a gorgeous stretch tent of loveliness. We DIYed wherever possible, and I spent many happy months crocheting the edges of 50 blankets, painting over 30 signs and bringing decorations together. 


It was a wonderful day, and the preparation and crafting made it very clear to me that my heart is not in the day job anymore.  And so, there's a plan to embrace the crafts, all the crafts, and leave the school behind.



*Actually that's a little inaccurate. We did ask all of our guests to wear clothes.   

The summer of sewing

Several months ago I made the decision that this summer would be The Summer Of Sewing. Yes, I gave it capital letters, which means it is official. As an end of term present, I was gifted Happy Homemade: Sew Chic by Yoshiko Tsakiori, a Japanese pattern book that I'd been admiring and thought it was time to make a start! This is my first time making actual garments, so it's been a bot of a steep learning curve, but I'm really enjoying it. 


The first project I tried was the blouse with frilled sleeves. I made it out of a cotton fabric I'd had sitting in a drawer for several years after falling in love with the print. It reminds me of kobolds, little figures from Germanic folklore who ride snowflakes down to the ground. 


Having measured myself very carefully and according to the book, I set to work spending an entire day learning how to copy and cut patterns badly, how to gather and how to set in sleeves. When it was all done I held it up proudly to realise that I had made the BIGGEST TOP EVER. It is huge. But actually not too badly made! Aside from the basic run-the-fabric-through-the-sewing-machine bit there was practically nothing familiar to me in making it at all. Buoyed up by this, I set about making the Straight-cut Sarouel Pants. If I thought the kobold top cake out large, you should have seen these things. They were hilarious. I could have put a hoop around the waist and worn them as clown trousers. I wore them to show my beloved and bless her, she managed not to laugh until I had left the room. I tried recutting them, narrowing the crotch band, but in the end decided just to cut the whole thing out and just have the two legs. By a stroke of extra-ordinary luck, they looked great! And having looked like I was wearing a nappy, it was nice to be able to wear them without giggling at myself. I've read a few blog posts from people who have made these and loved the odd shape of them, but I just couldn't pull them off.  The leftover trousers are great though, and were a favourite on our weekend trip to Venice. Airy, loose fitting and if the other clothes being worn by tourists were anything to go by, actually fashionable too. Woah.

My most recent project was the Pinafore Dress, which I completely love. Having taken the hint from previous patterns, I made it in the size below what my measurements said I was, and it's a good fit. I adore the fabric, but discovered quite quickly that a double layered fabric is quite easy to mess up and pull out of shape, particularly around facings. So the armholes are a bit squiffy. I love the finished dress though, it's comfortable, somehow flattering in a shapeless kind of way (my favourite - give me a sack dress over a fitted one any day) and the right size to be either worn loose or layered. The layering here, despite August, is due to the large number of mosquitos in Venice who decided that I was the tastiest dish they'd ever had. I'm now covered in awful welts and blisters as well as feeling slightly anaemic. 


Though I do still go terribly slowly, I'm getting the hang of top stitching and feel quite proud of the pockets in particular. You can see here the two sides of the fabric, large gingham on one side and small on the other.


I can see this dress getting worn a lot, and think it's a pattern I'll make again in different fabric too. 

What next...?

Sunday garden


Tea and knitting in the garden this morning. This is handspun yarn, whose colour inspiration was a photo of verdigris and rust. I'm knitting up a pair of vanilla socks to really show it off for my sister's birthday. Two at a time toe up, and I'm going to be making the gusset from the centre of the sole as I did with the rusty socks a short while ago. I really like that heel.

The news earlier this year warned of slug and snailmegeddon, and it's certainly the case here. I've already put down two treatments of nematodes, a natural slug killer, but still there're wreaking their damage. I had two hostas yesterday. Today I only have one! The plants are really starting to take off now that the weather is warmer. The rose I moved to make space for Grandad's memorial tree has settled in well, though the mild winter is manifesting in black spot and ridiculous quantities of aphids. In an ideal world, the garden would be completely organic, but this year I've resorted to an anti-fungal treatment. I'm hoping that if I can keep on top of it this year, and resist feeding the plants too much, they'll have a year of really strong growth which will set them up for next year. Long term thinking about gardens is so much easier and more rewarding when you know that you'll be here to see it!  

The jasmine on the weak trellis is already getting out of hand, which is no surprise considering our fence owning neighbours cut it all back with a hedge trimmer last September. Lots of the established plants have just started flowering, though the seedlings are way behind. They've been very weak this year, and I'm not sure if it's the weather to blame or a lack of skill on my part. 

Jasmine, weighing down the trellis

Jasmine, weighing down the trellis

The peonies are preparing to bloom, and the viburnum has its first flowers this year, though it's still only ten inches high! No lilac flowers this year, but there have been tonnes around HItchin. Seeing them established in other gardens has made me determined to train ours as a small tree, instead of the spreading shrub that it can be. 




And look at the new growth on this thing!  



Fatsia  japonica

Fatsia  japonica

This shrub and I are old friends. It was in a large ceramic pot and left in my care when someone's mother was moving house and never reclaimed.  For several years it lived outside my front door, surviving droughts, snow and freezing winters, always making the effort to out on new growth even though it was entirely pot-bound. I used to promise it that one day I'd plant it in the ground, and when we moved in here, I was able to keep that promise. Getting it out of the pot was the biggest challenge! In the end I had to resort to picking it up and dropping it on a paving slab, smashing the pot to smitherines. It spent last year settling in to the damp, deep soil it gets on the right hand side of the garden and this spring is taking off with a sense of real joy. Plant joy. 


Still loving the accidentally black shed

Still loving the accidentally black shed

I'm looking forward to seeing how everything grows this summer. 

Yarn crush




Quite lovely! Managed to get about four breaks in it while I plied, which was very irritating. Suspect I'd been whizzing along with the joy of a double treadle and didn't quite get enough twist in some places. Damn it. Still, it's beautiful yarn. I might have to make some more... 

On the wheel

Loving Hermione's new double treadle! Spinning up some rolags made out of a dusky duck egg blue and a hint of royal blue, with a dash of gorgeous green fire star that I got at Fibre East last year. 



I'm not a big fan of synthetic fibres, but it's a good way of putting a sheen in there, and a depth of colour, without using silk.  

It's spinning up into a gorgeous peacock blue with just enough colour variation to keep it interesting. Will be impatient to see how it plies! 



Converting an Ashford Traditional wheel to double treadle

I've found more and more that the spinning I enjoy the most is fine spinning, to create sock-weight yarns. Psychologists would probably say that this is probably due to the fact that I mostly knit with sock-weight yarn, but that's far too logical and simplistic. It feels as though I get to see a greater range in the fibre when I spin finely, and I love watching it build up on the bobbin, then delight in plying it and getting something that looks different again.  

Hermione, my Traditional wheel, only had a single treadle, and when going at speed on a high ratio I'd have to put both my feet on the treadle and bounce my legs up and down. This did not go down terribly well with Mina, my feline spinning buddy. When I played with Kizzy, my Traveller, for a couple of hours/days, I'd always miss the double treadle when switching back. There was, however, a simple solution to this problem. Treadle conversion! Luckily, Ashford do a kit. But just buying that would be FAR TOO SIMPLE. There must be more challenge! So I set myself the goal of only buying the kit when I'd made enough money from my little Etsy shop on the side. It would essentially pay for itself. This last week I stumbled on an excellent buyer who decided that she wanted three of my rarer wool holders and then I knew it was time. But then, that would have been too simple. A quick bit of research revealed a used conversion on eBay. I regularly search for spinning wheels and accessories while combing the listings for vintage knitting equipment, but this was the first time I'd ever seen a treadle kit listed. IT MUST BE FATE, I thought. So I bought it.  

And today it arrived, swathed in bubble wrap from the kind seller who accepted my offer on it. Hurrah, I thought. Of course, there were no instructions. I reasoned that it couldn't be that hard, and set about with a hammer, a drill bit conveniently the same diameter as the hub pin, and a hex key. Usually, this is a recipe for if not disaster, then at least several hours of swearing, hitting things, and an eventual trip to the hardware shop. But it is testament to the quality of Ashford wheels that within an hour, Hermione had a double treadle up and running.  


What a lovely pair

What a lovely pair

Check. Them. Out. Fun times. 

This was the bit that caused the most swearing:  




Getting the cam rod through the hub. Trying to get it through, while holding up the wheel and trying to get it at the right angle to go all the way through was a little fiddly, with plenty of opportunity for getting fingers trapped. I was about five minutes away from asking my Beloved for help, but persevered and was rewarded. It was even fairly easy to get the pin lined up and bashed through with a hammer!  

So, thank you Ashford, for making such good things.