Monday, 19 June 2017

The Meadowsweet Cushion

This is cushion 2 in the series - being a collection of cushions, all with a story,  to sit on our library 'under stairs' daybed which we have have commissioned by our local brilliant  carpenter known to us as 'Chris the carpenter'.
The post here describes 'the  meadowsweet  cushion'. 
Once I had decided that I would make a variety of cushions I decided that I would do one in hand embroidery. It is years since I did anything like this from scratch but have continued to do bits such as 'mend/ replace' the embroidery on a bag I made from one of my aunt's cushion covers - more about that here. 
This was in another league  as I was not just embroidering over a transfer pattern, I was going to make the design from a photo of meadowsweet in our lane. So there were issues about the size of the design and placement on the cushion. I did not wish to draw a design in pen / pencil that I then stitched over. 
I decided to: 
1. Mark out the 4 quarters of the cushion in tacking stitch and also give an outline frame  so as not to be tempted to take the design too close to the seam  with the back of the cushion. I had already neatened the raw edges of the back and front of the shrunk fabric of the  cushion with the overlocker - this had been preshrunk by washing and ironing damp to avoid creases forming.
2. Sketch the design onto a full size sheet of plain paper and use this to mark the main features on the cushion cover by tacking stitches. 

Part of my wish with choosing the meadowsweet was to be able to do lots of French knots to represent the frothiness of the flower heads. My other self imposed 'rule' was that the colours should be the colours of the room, mainly greys and tealish/ light royal  blue but with cream and taupe of the sofa. 

I planned this design for the right of the cushion and with a selected set of embroidery threads I took this little kit with us on our holiday to Teesdale and Cumbria earlier in the year. ( Postcript : the weather was so brilliant that I did much less embroidery that I intended! But who's not to get out and enjoy lovely scenery in lovely weather? ) 

So when we were back and  had recovered from the break, I took up the embroidery with increased vigour and used it to keep me awake in the evenings while 'watching' the TV. I was really pleased with how the  meadowsweet flower heads were coming out and I allowed myself to digress from my strict colour scheme to add some olive green for a leaf. This was rather an afterthought. 

One morning - in my quality thinking time in the shower - I had a thought that I could add some of my meadowsweet dyed yarns to the left and the choice of embroidery thread in the dark olive would help to tie the two sides of the cushion together. 

I am pleased with the cushion which evolved during the embroidery process and is also another item in my meadowsweet series  from last year's wool week yoked jumper set. 

Saturday, 17 June 2017

The Future of Wool Week And Promote Shetland

This is an unusual posting from me! 
Shetland Council have not renewed the grant to Promote Shetland. There are 3 important people in this team, that in my opinion have done a great job in doing just that 'Promoting Shetland'. 
This is the letter I have written to the council, hoping that with enough 'encouragement' they will think again about this decision. 

14th June 2017


An open letter to Shetland Islands Council


Dear Sir/Madam,

I note the decision not to renew The Promote Shetland contract from 30th June 2017. Please reconsider this decision. 

I note that you wish to move from ' much less about heritage tourism' rather about attracting people, particularly young people, to live, work and study and invest in Shetland'. This seems a strange decision to me when you already have in Promote Shetland what I consider an incredible group of people working at promoting Shetland. They are building on the past but looking to the future. Surely to build on those industries that are well established and expanding is valuable and to suggest not using expertise of 3 of the team seems to be very short sighted. 

I write as someone who first visited Shetland in 2000, for the birds and the knitting. We couldn't believe how well promoted everything was and it made our journey there painless and stress free. Whilst I was there I was taught to spin by the very talented Elizabeth Johnson. This is something that for nearly20 years has changed my life.  We returned in 2012 (poor health keeping us away in between) and determined to visit as soon as we could to Wool Week. I go to numerous ' wool related events' but nothing is even remotely in the same league as wool week. I have now been twice and returning again this year. I have told many people about it anothers that I know are now going to Shetland for wool week. If you multiply this by the number of people who attend Wool Week each year you will see how successful just this event is in promoting people to visit. By looking at the programme you will also see that it is now including other ‘businesses’ not just wool. These are how successful ventures evolve. Once people see what Shetland is like some will move and they are likely to have a plan of how they make a go of it. This must be true of the other 'tourist activities' that are so well promoted and run. Of course this is saying nothing about those friends that now buy wool related supplies from Shetland who would not have thought of it in the past. I am so impressed by the organisation of Wool Week that I have spoken about it to others running different events who can learn lessons from 'how it is done' in Shetland. 


I must mention things like my sheer enjoyment and pride in learning from and calling as 'friends' experts in the knitting field. My friends, back in Norfolk and beyond now ask about when books etc by these people are being published, how they can get them etc. 


I hope you get the message, to ' not help' wool week to succeed seems to me, and I suspect any far sighted personasa poor and wrong decision. To have a goldmine like this needs to be seized and encouraged not put in jeopardy. 


I do hope you will reconsider this decision.



Monday, 5 June 2017

Medieval Spinning

I feel very lucky to have acquired 3 medieval lead whorls from the vicinity of my village so that I can see how they spin. I am very grateful to the member of the History Group for this opportunity. I have put two whorls in store and am trying with one of them. 
It looks like this : 


Weight is 31.4g total diameter is 2.1. cm, height 1 cm and the diameter of the hole is 8 mm. I first tried to spin by putting a bamboo chopstick through the centre- the elastic band is a purely a safety measure on my part!  The whorl appears to have been used like this:

I did manage to spin some local Norfolk Horn fleece and as you can see it is giving  a fine thread. However, the whorl does not spin for long and I couldn't believe it was used for lots of spinning like this. 

So having spent some time, looking at medieval photos and researching further it became obvious that I needed a different shaped spindle. It is likely that a distaff - in medieval times - was held in the left  hand and the spindle was twisted / flicked by the right hand - in a continuous movement. (1) I also obtained advice on the shape of the cop needed, double ended with a swollen centre as this will put less pressure on the whorl which is just pushed up the spindle. 

I knew just the man to help me with my search for a spindle - David Whatley- a very skilled artist and craftsman. So Bank Holiday Monday saw us at his studio in Diss(2)  while I explained what I thought I needed. David had sourced some local spindle wood and sized up the whorl, discussed size with me etc and set about making a spindle. It was fantastic to see the small branch turn into the beautiful spindle. I am in awe of the skill and understanding shown. 

This is the whorl on the spindle and you can see that I have managed to spin quite finely. By increasing the diameter of the yarn produced slightly ( to about 2 diameters of sewing thread) I could get a good result. The pointed top end is a joy to use as very little hand movement is needed to get a rotation. ( I am using it as a more usual drop spindle with a half hitch at the moment). We have talked about a further refinement later for when I use it with the distaff. 

Having completed the spindle wood spindle, David made spindle two out of oak. This has a less fine grain than the spindle wood but came up a beautiful colour with oil. 

I was VERY pleased with these. 

So now I have local fleece, a local whorl and local wood made into spindles and know the story behind each. This is all very special. 

I am in the early stages of preparing some posts about spinning in the past in my local area, so keep watching! 

(2) David is a member of Designermakers 21 in Diss, a very special place housing 12 professional craftspeople. You can visit Thursday - Saturday 10- 5.