I was creating samples for a crochet flower class I'll be teaching soon and found my needles having an American Beauty moment...
What other iconic movie posters can be recreated with craft supplies?
I was creating samples for a crochet flower class I'll be teaching soon and found my needles having an American Beauty moment...
What other iconic movie posters can be recreated with craft supplies?
It was with some trepidation that I tuned into the BBC's Great British Sewing Bee. To be honest, although other TV forays into craft have raised the profile of the handmade, there has tended to be a tweeness factor.
So there I was ready to produce a pragmatic, critical review and then it happened.
I fell in love.
No, not with Saville Row tailor Patrick Grant - that's the debonair chap in the centre - but with the sewing studio and the people in it.
I wanted to be running between shelves of fabric and trimmings like a kid in a Lego factory alongside Sandra and having a calming herbal tea with over-ambitious Tilly.
I identified with these people to a ridiculous extent. They talked about wanting to put their personal stamp on things. As Jane said "nobody else will be wearing what I am" and "I love it when people ask 'where did you get that?' and I can say 'I made it".
I shared Lauren's memories of having a sewing kit at a young age and others' of sewing with mothers and grandmothers. I wanted to go to the cafe and have a chat with these eight contestants.
I also identified with the pressure and the tension of the tasks. I think I make the same face as Lauren when trying to perfect on invisible zip. And anyone who has sat up late sewing on buttons or hemming a garment that needs to be worn the next day, will know exactly that sweaty finger feeling the contestants developed when told they had only 10 minutes there.
I enjoy shows like Great British Bake Off and Masterchef, but I've never had the same emotional engagement as I found with this. With this every challenge, problem and triumph had resonance with me and I was still picking up tips.
All of which makes it impossible to review this show pragmatically but I will pull out a few interesting points.
Individuality - these where eight very different people with very different styles but sewing was important to all their lives. Their individuality emerged more than you would see in Bake Off, I think, in the challenges. We had eight different A-line skirts and eight different adapted blouses rather than eight homogeneous lemon drizzle cakes.
Technical detail - I'll need to ask a sewing novice if it worked, but I was impressed with the technical information that came out about using patterns, fabric choice and fitting. There was a good deal of basic advice but also useful tips for the more experienced, such as Patrick demonstrating how a poor fit on the shoulder made the hem of a dress slope.
A project for viewers - I loved the idea of a simple laundry bag project to try at home. Oh, and why don't I own a bias binding maker?
I'm clearly too besotted to judge whether GBSB will bee a smash hit. But I do believe there is an opportunity to inspire people to dust off granny's sewing machine and convince them that sewing isn't necessarily about chintz.
Read also: Fab clothes for a fat woman's view
As in this section of a self portrait, Close works in great detail building up is work section by section on a grid. A technique he says, in the interview, that may be at some level influenced by his crocheting grandmother.
He talks about her building up a tablecloth motif by motif and how his work breaks things down in the same way. It is lovely to hear a fine artist talk about "craft" in this way and worth a listen - his interview is at 7mins 12s.
Recently I worked on a project that drew on my technical knitting skills and my knowledge of garment construction and pattern writing in new ways.
I was put in touch with Elly Arif, an MA designer at the London College of Fashion preparing for her final show. Elly was creating a menswear collection that drew on ideas emerging from the London riots and concepts of hierarchy for which she wanted over-sized knitwear. The challenge was that she wanted the pieces to have distortions so that they could be draped, pulled and pieces of the garment overlap.
So off I set with a bundle of sample yarns - all cotton - to experiment and produce a selection of bulgy swatches for Elly to look at.
For distortions where the curve ran vertically I used increases and decreases but the more horizontal/pouchy one's required short row shaping and developing an understanding of how different curves behaved in the chosen yarns.
Once I'd come up with some basic shapes and techniques that gave the effects Elly wanted, she provided me with sketches and measurements to work from.
Sketches like this were my "patterns". From my swatches I worked out the stitch and row counts, etc to work to the measurements of Elly's pattern toiles and then used what I'd learnt from the tests to reproduce the distortions from the sketches.
It was an interesting process but not as arduous as it sounds. Because I had come up with methods for the distortions I was able to adapt them to different sizes and even create asymmetric curves as I went.
Once I'd worked out the basic processes, I created a basic jumper pattern for the main yarn for the collection, so other knitters could come on board although I created four pieces including a jacket with a curved hem an asymmetric front closure.
But until I received the show photos here I never saw the final effect because I deliver the pieces ready to make up and I was out of the country for the show. But now I can share here as my first foray into the world of the catwalk (well since I was a v little girl modelling a party dress at a local fashion show...).
As it was my birthday this Monday, I made sure I planned the week to set aside some quality making time today.
And as the sun came out, it became all about spring colour.
This cuff of a fingerless mitt is a glorious daffodil yellow (yarn from Sparkleduck) which I've using to bring some brightness to a grey few weeks - and of course bright colours are a big fashion trend this spring.
And adding the first contrast edging to my Pinion cardigan today made me smile - it's exactly as I hoped.
All this colour made me have a bit of a poke about in my yarn stash and came across a skein or two I'd forgotten about.
In particular there is this Crazy Zauberball with orange and turquoise. I'm not sure what exactly it should be yet but the really strong colours make think of a light but dramatic statement scarf to drape over a plain top or jacket.
Once I'd reorganised the yarn and plotted future projects, turned my attention to the bead stash which has plenty of colour.
I recently learnt traditional pearl knotting and wanted to practice.
(Ok so I compensated for the natural tones with a bright background here. The day was clearly turning into one for photography practice.)
Then I turned to some more traditional practice using silk cord and semi precious stones.
I've had a string of hot pink faceted jade beads in the bead box for quite some time. The bright colour is perfect for this spring but I wanted as vintage style as well - something that could go with a tea dress for example. I had black silk beading cord which made for a strong contrast with the pink and I also had a handful of smaller watermelon tourmaline beads with pinkish tones to add extra interest.
An hour or so of happy knotting practice later - plus a little work with pliers and findings - and I had created a lovely birthday present for myself.
Because I've been a bit quiet on the blog of late (apart from this week) I haven't told you about Auntie B, demon knitter and proto-silver surfer.
She's the sort of lady who has a massive collection of vintage aran patterns, has used the same DPNs almost constantly for 30 years and until recently was more interested in whether internet cafes had good scones rather than good bandwidth. But now she's discovering the joys of Ravelry, downloading patterns and meeting other knitters online
Auntie B is the central character in my new column for Simply Knitting. And I made her up.
But she owes a lot to my real life Aunte Betty, doyenne of the WI and someone who made a impact on everyone she met. I can certainly imagine her doing all the things my character does.
So I hope the column will make people laugh and find out more about all the internet resources there are for knitters - and perhaps get to know Auntie B just a little bit.
I finally made it to Unravel this year - the yarn festival at the Maltings in Farnham, Surrey.
Saturday morning was bitterly cold which made it easier to spot other knitters emerging from the station - a fine array of woolly hats, scarves and gloves was the clue. And more knitting soon brightened our day with a yarnstorm of signs.
The show had just opened when we arrived and there was still a queue but at least everyone was entertained by a few welcoming sheep like this one.
I'd also planned to take pictures inside but it was so busy that didn't seem practical. But I can confirm there was plenty to see with yarn pretty much everywhere.
There was a fantastic variety in fibre and style of yarn and a tremendous array of colour.
I wasn't really on a shopping trip because I have plenty of yarn (I would never say "too much) but did plan to allow myself a couple of advance birthday treats (it's nearly the right day) and I was also making one particular purchase for a friend who'd asked me to look out for a merino/cashmere 4-ply in gold as highlight colour for her Pinion cardigan.
Instead I was mainly there to see what was going on, get a feel for what's popular right now, admire yarn and talk to lots of lovely knitting folk.
And lovely they all were too. For example one lady offered me a seat on her stand - I think it could have been Debonnaire - because she'd overheard someone asking me about my back problems and I didn't look well.
Nearby I admired Millamia's new designs for adults and was recognised as "one of the people who told us we should do an adult collection". I was particularly chuffed because it was a single conversation at another show several months ago.
At Sparkleduck I got a chance to show Heather what I'd been doing with some spectacular yellow yarn I'd ordered from her earlier in the week (of which more in a forthcoming blog).
And there was a chance to catch up with Anna from Onehandknits and Sarah from The Bothered Owl - a talented designer and a clever accessory maker respectively as well as being lovely people I don't see enough of.
Then there was catching up with friends and meeting online ones face to face at last as well as bead sourcing, yarn squishing and admiring at so many stands including Fyberspates, SkeinQueen and EasyKnits where I was completely smitten with this pumpkin coloured sparkly 4-ply.
It's likely to turn into a lacy scarf or a shallow crescent-shaped shawl that will look stunning over a dark jacket or coat.
It just hasn't quite decided what it will be yet.
Oranges and browns were clearly my colours of the moment on Saturday. Almost as soon as I arrived, I spotted some Fibre Harvest Alpaca laceweight in a coppery colour (officially Rust) and a skein had to come home with me especially as it was on offer for the show.
But all morning I kept thinking about a dark colourway they had as well. So much so that after a lunchtime sit down for a cuppa I was plotting a striped circular shawl. And so the inevitable happened...
I could easily have spent much longer at Unravel, if it hadn't been for the opportunity to indulge one of my other passions.
My second ticket of the day was to see England versus France in the Six Nations Rugby Champs at Twickenham - and believe me after that (and the 3 trains between Farnham and Twickenham) I was truly unravelled but still very happy.
Standing on a train platform the other day I could have been transported back to the 80s. To the right a poster for a Stallone movie, to the left a Schwarzenegger one. A new Bowie single out. Oh yes, and headlines about recession.
But it was a very 21st century phenomenon that really made me think of the 80s – the podcast I was listening to featured Sir Christopher Frayling, former head of the Royal College of Art and author of On Craftsmanship towards a new Bauhaus, talking about the current devaluing of arts education – especially in relation to design and making.
Like outgoing chair of the Arts Council in England Liz Forgan, he was decrying the fact that arts subjects have been left out of the core curriculum for the reforms of secondary education in England.
Frayling was also talking about how the Russell Group of universities did not recognise arts and design subjects as important.
It was this downgrading of the value of arts, design and making that took me back to the 1980s and an interview for a place at Cambridge that may well have set me on a very different course to the one my teachers anticipated back then.
Me in the 80s - I'm the stoppy one on the left!
At that point being very able at maths and sciences I was on track for an engineering degree. I already had gained my maths A level a year early and thanks to a combination of my own desire to pursue all by interests, a school that believed in diversity and my natural traits of overachieving and bloodymindness, was now studying for art, further maths and physics A levels, as well as fitting in a Drama O level/GCSE.
So there I was in Cambridge meeting a senior member of the engineering department feeling nervous but OK because I’d already achieved one of the standards for entry. So it was a shock to be described as a “typical female” who couldn’t make up her mind about science v arts. The attitude was that art was a waste of my time – despite my arguments that spacial awareness and an aesthetic sense were in my view important skills exhibited by many engineers.
This was the first time I had really encountered the attitude that art and design was a lesser type of education or skills. It was a shock – especially to someone who came from a family filled with artists and makers.
It was that experience that made me think beyond my expected career path and I’ve spent all my adult life in one creative sector or another – theatre, TV, publishing, craft.
Over the years there has been a change in this divide between science and engineering and the designers and makers – note the rise in discipline of product design. So it is depressing to think that education in the UK might be returning to the attitudes I experienced in that dim Cambridge study. It also goes hand in hand with the lack of publicity given to the value of design and making skills, include heritage crafts, to the UK economy.
We risk returning to the assumption that art education is about creating pretty pictures and not about how visual skills can equip people to find different types of solutions to problems. And those different approaches can be as important to great innovation as research in lab.
For the UK to be a success we need the skills of science and engineering and the skills of art and design to turn the ideas of the former into great products.
Did you know that doe to EU law changes, the information you find on a yarn label or ball band is being restricted?
If you don't, then you haven't been talking to me at a knitting show, reading the Planet Handmade blog or in any other way been in communication over yarn lately.
It's a topic that I've been researching a lot lately and one guaranteed to make me cross. In simple terms the EU has set out to make textile labelling clearer and end problems like a jumper being advertised as "wool" when it's 80% acrylic. As part of the changes the EU has issued a list of what names of fibres can be used on labels and what comes under each name. Unfortunately the process doesn't seem to have involved anyone who actually buys textiles.
So yarn producers can no longer put specific sheep breed names in the official composition information on their labels - all fibre from sheep and lambswool in "wool". So out are labels saying "100% merino", "75% BFL, 25% nylon", or "100% Britsh lambswool" - these are now "100% wool", "100% wool, 25% nylon", and "100% wool". Not exactly informative is it?
Baby alpaca must be labelled "alpaca" or "wool" - huh? - and bamboo is not a recognised fibre (it probably comes under viscose), to give some more examples.
There are more examples in my feature in The Knitter this month (November 2012).
There is some good news though, my research with the EU and the feedback yarn producers are getting from trading standards suggest that more fibre can be given elsewhere on a label. So your yarn may say 100% wool and all wool sourced from merino sheep, or say 100% alpaca and be called Baby Alpaca DK.
But it does make life more difficult for those of us who buy yarn based on its composition. We may have to work harder to find out what's in a yarn and I'll certainly be more wary of buying any yarn just labelled 100% wool unless I can give it a good touch test to ensure that doesn't mean "100% over priced, poor quality, scratchy stuff that happens to have come from a sheep".
I've just come across a new book that says a lot of what I’ve always said about craft skills – and my dressmaking, knitting, etc, pre-dates the latest DIY fashion trend by decades – they allow you to be individual. Having the skills to make your own piece of jewellery or customise a jacket doesn’t mean you have something that’s second best. Instead you have the latest look your way, garments that fit properly or the item you’ve only previously been able to imagine.
That is very much the theme of Material World: The Modern Craft Bible by Perri Lewis.
The book is much more about giving readers the basic skills and plenty of advice on how to use them, rather than a prescriptive set of rules. In other words helping people unleash their own creativity.
I work part-time for the London Jewellery School and am ever fascinated how a group of six people being taught the same techniques and using the same materials can up with very different looks or styles in the pieces they produce in a workshop.
Across a range of craft skills Perri offers advice on the right tools and has collected some fantastic tips. I particularly like the idea of buying high street jewellery from the sale rack as “parts” for your own creations, or cheap garments for the buttons or embellishments because that can cost less than buying something similar separately.
The crafts covered are embroidery and cross-stitch, decoupage, printing, embellishment, macrame, quilling, leatherwork, millinery, jewellery, patchwork and tailoring.
Given my large collection of craft books and the amount of new skill information for me in Material World, I might have said that this is a great book for people looking to start or expand their crafting with lots to get them going. But there is another layer to the book which makes it attractive even to those with too many crafting years (and books) to count. It also features a series of interviews from designers, crafters and artists on everything from colour in embroidery to the much debated "what is craft? what is art?"conundrum.
The comments from designers and makers are a great addition to a manual like this. Whether it be Emma Bridgewater explaining that designing isn’t about sitting staring at a daunting blank piece of paper but rather collecting and channelling a set of thoughts and skills you already have, or milliner Philip Treacy telling you to break the rules and experiment.
Treacy also talks about the smile test – when someone tries on one of his hats and get a real sparkle in their eye, he knows he’s got it right. Something I certainly recognise from my knitwear and jewellery successes whether for myself or others.
This is certainly a worth addition the the craft shelf/bookcase/room.
Material World is out this week published by Virgin, £18.99