Sunday, 1 September 2013

Washing Fleece

It’s been a glorious summer when I ought to have been washing my fleeces for the winter but somehow there have been other things to do.

I have a Shetland fleece that is rather special. I chose it myself from the fleece store at Jamieson and Smith in Lerwick. I have spun some of it ‘in the grease’ to obtain a very fine yarn – in both respects ( more later perhaps)

The Shetland fleece – it does have a lot of lanolin etc in it and looks quite yellow!


However, I have decided that the fleece now needs washing for the winter. My aim is to maintain the crimp and some of the lanolin if possible. On doing some research I found the FSM (fermented suint method). I have not tried this before and decided, after much thinking, to try it with my Shetland fleece – well some of it. So I set up the bath just over a week ago and it seemed to be working well. I have now done lots of rinsing and spun it in the washing machine on a slow spin (in a pillow case to protect it). I am SO pleased with the result so far. The fleece is so white and there is some lanolin still present which should help the fine spinning considerably. I am amazed as I was very sceptical as to whether this would work.

The added advantages of this method are that only rainwater is used (at normal temperature) & it washes itself so to speak. The big disadvantage is the smell – not something to do inside the house!

‘So far, so good’ as the saying goes. So the next batch has gone in today and that should be done in 2 to 3 days, as I have set up the bath. You use the same water and apparently it gets better.

I’m so impressed that I have set up another bath with some of my lovely Jacob fleece from my friend Rebecca W in Norfolk. The fleece is not so oily so it might take longer to get the bath established.


Thursday, 15 August 2013

Embroidery from the RSSK Collection at Gawthorpe

Well what a wonderful unexpected surprise I have just had.  I have been poorly recently and not got out much recently so it was a treat to get to the library in Alsager last week. I flicked through an embroidery book and noticed a reference to Macintosh early on so decided to take the book home. What a gem it is. The book is Early 20th Century Embroidery Techniques, written and beautifully illustrated by Gail Marsh the ex curator of the RBSK textile collection at Gawthorpe Hall, Padiham, Yorkshire . My husband looked on the Internet and found out about the collection noticing that there was an embroidery exploration day on August 9th, just the thing to cheer me up.

The course was extremely well planned and organised - gloves and a magnifying glass were placed out for us. The curator Rachel Terry was supported by a very helpful volunteer and throughout the afternoon both of them made every effort to allow us to appreciate the chosen items to the full. Rachel is extremely knowledgeable about the items (approximately 50 were chosen for the afternoon). The best word I can use about the afternoon is excellent. The course is held in the textile library - a real treat in itself. If you are interested in embroidery (in its widest sense) , patchwork or lace do watch out for other courses based on the rich and fascinating RBSK collection, you will not be disappointed. I am looking forward to returning.

Monday, 8 April 2013

A classic man’s jumper in WOOL

It’s not easy to find the ideal man’s jumper- especially if he wants it to fit (why not?),  to be wool & to be a colour of his choosing- not just the colours that happen to be in the shops at that time.

True you can find men’s wool jumpers in a bigger range than I think for women’s jumpers, but they are usually very fine knit and therefore lack warmth in wearing. Of course they also miss the fact that they are not a custom fit and may not have the ideal ‘neck’.

So, having got the fit right (this is not the first I have knitted in this design), the next step is to decide on the yarn. This yarn is Knoll Supersoft Nm 11.5/2 from my friend Sally at It’s a great yarn for the knitting machine and I guess for hand knitting too. It comes in a lovely large range of colours too.

Then to think about the features that will really make it a high quality garment – fully fashioned decreases for the sleeves, my custom neckline to the right depth, virtually invisible machine constructed shoulder seams, side and armhole seams to match and more importantly to me seams in the ribbing that can’t be found. These details are a delight to produce and do make all the difference to a plain garment where there is nowhere to hide!

A stage in the construction of the perfect depth neckline


More about other features that I mention above can be found on my website under knitting (designer).

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Sleeves too long -a refit needed

Are we evolving shorter arms? It might seem so if you've tried to buy a jumper or cardigan recently! From talking to friends it's just not me who seems to have shrinking arms. The problem is made worse by the fact that if a jumper is of synthetic construction then the sleeves are likely to stretch even more during its life.
I recently measured the sleeves on such a jumper and found they were 4” inches too long.
Permanent action was needed.
So I decided to shorten the sleeves and make a feature of them.

The buttons match the ones on the shoulder.
So this has turned from an irritating jumper into one that I love!
I hope this has given you some ideas for any re- fitting needed in your wardrobe. Let's just have clothes that we love and that love us!

If you're short on ideas for your wardrobe challenges you could fix up a session with me for some practical solutions.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Thoughts on sewing and the sewing bee

I try and have a positive outlook and to those of you that attend my workshops you will know I do my best to be encouraging. If you think you have a disaster we virtually always find a way round it. I am passionate about encouraging textile making skills in all who shows any interest.

So I was really looking forward to the Sewing Bee. Did you this last night? I don't know what I expected from this, but it wasn't this programme. I was very disappointed. To me the joy is as much in the process as the outcome- I believe in the principle of the slow textile movement. To me quality of the finished piece is very important if I am putting in time making and designing.

Some of my key ingredients for a really good fit and finish- a body double, making a toile and in most cases interfacing.
If I am making a garment for the first time I would make a toile and fit that. I think the programme reinforced my view that this pays. Fail to plan means plan to fail came to mind during the programme! The problem seems to be the format of the programme, although the participants might have been chosen for interesting viewing. Listening to their comments during the programme did make me concerned about some lack of basic showing skills.

So I come back to what is the purpose of the programme? Is it to get people sewing? If this is the case racing against a clock will result in disappointment. Is it to show basic sewing skills? If so, designing a garment for an unknown model in a short time seems ambitious.

Patrick was extremely smart, knowledgeable and I felt quite encouraging. But was May the same, did her dress fit well, was it stylish, was it inspirational?
What did you think?

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Handspun Collar

Continuing to work towards a thicker cowl, this is the ultimate. It is another collar really, but hand knitted as a short scarf.  I saw the pattern on Ravelry and thought it a great idea. It is a sampler of 6 cable patterns and such fun to do. It’s called a cable sampler neck wrap if you look for it. You work seven squares of different patterns with a nice rib border all round. There are instructions to get the buttonhole in the right place too. I decided it was just right for some of white yarn from ‘Elf’ one of my lovely Jacob fleece from m friend Becky in Norfolk.

The finished collar is lovely, and I am going to fix the button is such a way that I can change it easily.

What is amazing is it just looks the wrong shade of cream with me new cream jumper – this (latter) is very bleached and rather than match the two ‘clash’ to my critical eye. I so like the effect with the blue ‘shell’ button that I am thinking about dyeing the entire collar a lighter shade of blue! This looks like a chance to experiment with my acid dyes to get the exact shade I want. What fun.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Fashined lace Cowl

I've been investigating transfer lace on my knitting machine and making time to understand how the machine works. Having spent several days on this I am now in a position where I can develop my own lace where there are several stitch movements before you even knit a row. This is called fashioned lace as you’ll know if you are a machine knitter- if a hand lace knitter  its  lace like feather and fan.
So I decided to knit another lace cowl- thicker than the last fine one but not very thick. I choose a 4 ply acrylic so I could steam press the cowl so it has a good drape.
I called the pattern I did horseshoe lace and having worked out how to hand tool it, I decided  or use a punchcard although I was a little anxious about having 3 stitches on a needle in the pattern. I've devised a custom cast off to mirror the curves that develop at the cast on edge during knitting.

The key to a good result is to take it slowly and check each transfer carefully.
Success first time and another cowl for the cream jumper, both of which I love.
I've added a little custom button modification to help stabilise it as I move.
This confirms, to me, taking time over the planning, making and finishing and attention to detail.
Now for cowl number 3- thicker still!

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Cowl in fine lace machine knitting

Having knitted the Betty Mouatt cowl by  Kate Davies I had thought about what I really wanted from a cowl. (This one I regard as a collar)
So my criteria are:
Wear with my new 100% wool jumper that I designed and made
To have movement
Lace texture
To be a 'one- off'

I had several ideas and then thought I'd start a series... So the next few blogs are about this.

I have some very fine cream crepe yarn from Metropolitan Knitting. I have used it for several things but still seem to have lots left.
I have my own great machine knit 'tuck' texture pattern that I use so thought I'd combine the two.
I spent a time practising with my body model to get my ideal size and drape. To me getting the planning right is SO important.
The finished result is beyond my wildest dreams- the drape & colour are brilliant. All elements work well together & fully justify my design time.

I just love it and will do several in different colours & possibly alternative patterns.
It goes with the cream jumper beautifully and confirms my choice of doing a round neck on the jumper was a great decision.
So the first creative month of the year ended, but there are now two more cowls – so more soon.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Cream Knit Jumper

This was a project I had been planning for ages and winter hibernation enabled me to complete it. I find a cream/ off white jumper to be a very useful wardrobe staple.
I have found it impossible to find one to buy. My criteria are not unreasonable - 100% wool; not super fine but not bulky, sleeves
that do not reach over my hands; length that doesn’t go way beyond my hips; round neck.
So the solution is to 'design' my own and produce it by machine knitting. About a year ago I led a workshop to make a personal fit 'bodice' block - the aim being to use this for a stretch jersey or knitted top.
So I had the block, the yarn I chose was Yeoman's merino Polo (2/30Nm).
I spent some time experimenting to get a firm rib cast on and to produce a virtually invisible shoulder join. I use my own custom fit neckline and  I do  the main construction using my Janome sewing machine.
Obviously so fine a knit in such a light colour in a plain stocking stitch leaves nowhere to hide. Any error will show.
The result is a jumper I love, with a perfect fit and it's wonderfully warm. The added bonus is that I can knit another from the remaining yarn.

In terms of time this has been expensive but I enjoy the process of making and I have (to me) a perfect jumper!
I have chosen a round neck jumper on purpose as I will now design a number of neckline accessories to enable the jumper to have several different looks - all part of my drive towards a sustainable wardrobe.

More details of the jumper details are on web site under 'knitting'.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not …. believe to be beautiful’

Where ever possible I try and stick to this part of the famous William Morris quote.
I did not love my current slippers. They were functional leather moccasins with a nice pink/ purple cord but unfortunately had rather been scrimped on leather and so had worn away from the cord. Hence I needed new slippers.

Having looked at about 100 pairs online I did not see one pair that I liked. So more thinking needed. My favourite slippers of all time were the felt pair that I made in 2005, Monet inspired and a real delight. Image on my website! I have worn them up and as I am in the middle of a felt hat period - workshop etc I am not taking on another felting project.

Then I remembered that my friend Sally Williams has Icelandic wool to knit slippers and then felt in the washing machine. So I now have the most gorgeous comfortable warm pair of slippers. I enjoyed knitting them and added matching leather soles (as I did the Monet slippers previously). I am delighted with them.

Sally keeps a pedigree flock of Icelandic sheep in the Peak District and uses their natural coloured yarn and her own plant dyed yarn to produce a range of knitted and felted woollen products including bags, fingerless gloves, snoods. She also has yarn, fleece & kits; well worth a look at

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Repairing a grey cardigan

Well this creative activity was repairing. I have a cotton leopard’s print cardigan that I always go to when I need to wear an extra layer in the house. It is surprisingly warm and quite thick – I bought it in a sale in an exclusive ladies shop in our village.
I have been meaning to make a replacement as it is a good size and shape although it has the same problem as all my ‘bought’ jumpers and cardigans do. However, I put my finger through the sleeve just above the bottom of the cuff whilst taking it off one evening. Fortunately for me the problem with bought jumpers is that the sleeves are always far too long!

Another lucky thing for me was that there was not a traditional ribbed cuff on this cardigan; it was just turned up into a hem. So the repair meant stitching around the sleeve just above hole with my fantastic Elna overlocker. This cut off the waste for me. Then taking it to my ‘normal’ sewing machine and turning up a hem. I stitched this in the same custom zig zag stitch that I use for constructing my machine knitwear. It produces  a slight give. I stitched it from the right side and used my magnetic measure so that I could ensure the line of stitching was exactly the same distance from the edge of the sleeve – on both sleeves!

So, I have a cardigan with a little more life in it and a mental note to get on with designing and making the new one.


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Pyjama Jacket

This is my January re-purposed item. I have been irritated by a leading brand of pyjama jacket that I bought a  while back . I liked the overall finish – the padded section at the back yoke, the hook on the back, the edging around the bottom and the velvet ribbon around the cuff.  I also prefer to support UK companies, although I can find out that the pyjamas are hand made (not sure what that means) but there is no country of origin mentioned. I think this means that they are UK made so another big plus for me.
Unfortunately on wearing, it was obvious that a short cut had been taken. The velvet sleeve ribbon trim rather than being turned under as one would expect to neaten had been heated and melted to seal. This was extremely uncomfortable when lent on and to my perfectionist tendencies spoilt the garment.

So, I decided that I could do better. I had a hardly worn ‘Oxford’ shirt in a great cotton fabric in a fantastic pink colour, much brighter than my uncomfortable one! What was even better was the fact that the shirt was virtually identical in size to the pyjama jacket. So the only challenge was the cuffs. Double cuffs and cufflinks are not actually suitable.
I duly removed the cuffs, stitched up the sleeve plackets and then decided that around the sleeve edge was the proper place for my satin binding - a little touch of luxury.

So with a little thought I have a very comfortable high quality cotton pyjama jacket and no more discomfort from a top that had, in my view,  a very unfortunate short cut.

Monday, 4 February 2013


This is a bit of a cheat as there is one basic pattern, but 3 projects.

I initially knitted one of these in 2006 and it is still going strong and got lots of great comments when worn as a summer top. With the very cold weather I intend this current set to be under layers!

My aim being that they will fit perfectly, be something I have made and so hopefully will love, use up some of my yarn & not use up air miles as all the ones in the shops seem to come an awfully long way. To my mind they do not cost enough for the workers to be paid sensibly!

The original was machine knitted and I used acrylic which I steam pressed (on purpose) to ‘kill’ the yarn and make it very flexible. I hand knitted the ribs afterwards as I wanted a very loose edge. The picot edging at the top front is made by crochet. The side seams are using my custom finish on my Janome.

I decided to use acrylic again as I quite like the finish and there are no worries using a normal wash in the washing machine.

The first I knitted in this batch was cream. I used my previous pattern (drawn from my own body block). I decided to make it a slightly looser tension- to hug slightly less. To add a bit of luxury I added satin binding under the arms. Being a perfectionist I spent a long time getting just the right finish. It is nice but I am not sure I will repeat it.

I then made another in cream but without the satin. I like it just as much as the one with the satin. It does seem a bit wasted under the arm.  However, I have in my mind another project for the satin edging!

So then I moved back to the pink and made one in pink, a slightly tighter hug. So now I have three choose from, depending on my mood: cream but a bit of luxury satin, plain cream or tightly hugging pink!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Lace collar

If you've looked at my web site recent you'll have seen that I've used yarns in this lace collar  that I prepared as demonstration for a cochineal dyeing workshop.  The yarn is wool (commercial) and I knitted the collar to see how the colours would work together. I was intending to use the yarn to dye a sufficient amount of yarn to knit a Fair Isle jumper or probably cardigan – using my knitting machine. (This is over 30 years old and a Brother KH830 for those who understand these things!)

This has been a very useful exercise – not least because I do not like how the yarn stitches sit together – this is due to the structure of the yarn. I will knit my fair isle jumper/cardigan in Shetland wool, which ‘fulls’ when washed and the oil is removed and gives a much better finish. The yarn in this collar moves too much & the threads don’t mesh together – it seems unlike wool!

Then, really out of character for me I used a pattern just as it was - not a wise move in this case! The stitch is cockleshell lace, a beautiful traditional Shetland stitch. The pattern is from Kate Davies. I chose to knit the smaller cowl and although the tension sample appeared spot on the finished item is a collar rather than a cowl. I would have preferred a wider cowl that fell in soft folds with a smaller depth. Hence I am calling it a lace collar.

I am disappointed that the amazing lace design doesn't show up as I feel it should. There's a competition between the colours and texture. There's a lot to said for using one colour - a plain neutral- to really show up an intricate design. Item 10 [see later post] is the cowl I designed to finish the month.

It was an interesting exercise and shows how little bits of yarn can be used– there was 10 g maximum of each colour!  It has really helped me know which colours to use (& which not to use) in my dye session  for the  projected fair isle jumper/cardigan.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

A creative month of January

January is just finished and what a creative month it has been due mainly to hibernating thanks to the weather- either heavy rain or snow.
The result being I have nine completed projects.

I am trying to follow my ‘philosophy’. The image shows this displayed in my studio above my ‘demonstration’ clothes! On top of this I am using natural fibres wherever I can; trying to use fibres and fabrics from my store ; using my design and making skills and only ending up with things that I really love and are special.
(It says retain, reduce, recycle, repair, repurpose, remodel, refit)
So the completed list goes:
Lace collar- hand knit in wool with cochineal naturally dyed yarns

Camisoles*- own design then machine knitted, three completed

Virtually new Oxford (cotton) shirt re purposed into pyjama jacket

My 'house' favourite cotton cardigan saved from landfill by a cunning repair

Slippers knitted (Icelandic wool) then felted - kit from a friend

Cream fine merino wool machine knit jumper - again to my own design & block

Fine lace cowl*- machine knit

The asterisked (*) ones are in synthetic materials – reasons explained later

The tenth project won't be completed until this month. It is a felt cloche hat that I need to work with in a workshop I am teaching. Let's hope for no snow this time so we're not disappointed again.

I will be summarising these projects in the following posts in an attempt to inspire you to pick up your needles and have a wardrobe you enjoy.