Friday, 30 November 2012

An ode to Instagram...

I've been a bit absent from my blog for a while, which is something I'm hoping to put right over the next few weeks.  One of the places I've been while I've not been blogging is Instagram (or IG to its friends and people short of space).

Spinning Leicester Longwool locks
My first IG photo - me spinning some curly yarn

If you haven't already heard of it, Instagram is an app for smartphones that allows you to edit photographs you've taken on your phone using various effects (called filters), which can turn out some arty and retro-looking results.  Once you've edited your photo, you share the pictures with other IG users and also via Twitter and Facebook, if you feel that way inclined.

A relatively new development is a web-based IG profile that people can view online, even if they don't have a smartphone with the Instagram app.  Mine is here and you can see all my photos and the conversations that I've had with people about my pictures.

Hunstanton hovercraft Beach hut at Hunstanton Cley windmill Sophie B on the beach at Cley
A recent holiday to Norfolk condensed into four Instagram photos

Instagram sounds simple enough, but its quite addictive and part of the fun is in finding other Instagram-ers taking photos that you like, so that you can follow their photo stream and chat to them if you're feeling friendly.  I follow a mixture of crafters, artists, cat people, rabbit people, horse people and people who tell a great story through their photos and captions.

It was inevitable that there would be cats on Instagram, since the internet as a whole is groaning with cat photos.  I've only taken a couple of cat photos so far, as I don't currently have a cat of my own and I have to either bother other people's cats, or find cat-related things to photograph...

Crabpot Books cat 
Hassling the shop cat for a photo at Crabpot Books in Norfolk

Junk shop kitten plate
One of a set of four (almost irresistible) kitten plates at a junk shop in Ulverston

One of my recent obsessions is patchwork quilting, which I got into entirely thanks to Instagram.  I started seeing pictures of amazing modern-looking quilts and other patchwork projects that people were working on and photographing as they went along.  I was soon following several inspiring quilters and learning about things I'd never heard of before, like English paper piecing, basting, batting and binding.

It wasn't long before I was up to my neck in fabric and new sewing supplies...
Basting my first ever hexagons Cutting up Liberty fabric for a quilt New rotary cutter Pile of lovely Liberty fabrics
Clockwise from top left: basting hexagons for English paper piecing... cutting squares for patchwork and shredding the scraps for spinning... amassing quite a stash of Liberty tana lawn fabric... playing with my new Tru-Cut rotary cutter

And then it wasn't too much longer before I had my first completed project, which is a frame purse made from square patchwork scraps of Liberty tana lawn fabric...
Pink square patchwork Liberty fabric clutch purse
I made this!  I'm quite proud... :)

So its been worthwhile getting into Instagram, just to discover a new craft that hadn't been on my radar before. I've made another patchwork frame purse, which I'll blog about separately so that I can include links to the places I found tutorials, supplies etc and I've got several other patchwork projects in the pipeline that I'm excited about. I just need to get on and do them!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Musician Gillian Welch supports traditional crafts...

I recently had the huge pleasure of seeing one (well, two really) of my favourite musicians play at the Manchester Apollo. I always struggle to describe Gillian Welch and her partner David Rawlings to other people, because you really have to hear their music to appreciate what they're all about.

This is a 2004 video of the song that they ended the main set with in Manchester (introducing it by saying: 'we're going to end with a good killing song...')

Caleb Meyer is one of my favourite songs and gives you an idea of Gillian and David's amazing skills as singers, songwriters and performers. Dave's guitar playing is just incredible! :D

Although I love all the albums, listening to them at home is nothing compared to seeing and hearing the songs performed live. The sound Gillian and David produce is so rich and full, especially considering its just the two of them. Also, because they're so in tune with one another (to the extent that their performances merge into one on the albums), its nice to be able to clearly see who's playing/singing what.

Its definitely the best gig I've ever seen and it seems that lots of people feel the same way - there's a great review of the Manchester gig on the Guardian website here. The set-list from the Manchester show (accompanied by lots of great comments about the gig) is on Facebook here. I really hope that at least one of their shows from this tour has been recorded and will be released either as a CD or DVD! :)

The tour was to support the most recent Gillian Welch album, The Harrow & The Harvest, which was released this year (a whole eight years since the last album!) and its easily the best yet.

Gillian and David played a couple of tracks from the new album on Later with Jools Holland, including 'The Way it Goes' (although I think the version they did at Manchester was better!)...

But that's enough about the music, what I really wanted to talk about is craft-related! :D

When I bought my copy of The Harrow & The Harvest album, I was initially a bit flummoxed by the thick piece of printed card in the CD case where there is usually a little booklet (I'm a lyrics geek and love it when they're all in the booklet!) but a bit of research on the internet revealed it to be a hand-crafted letterpress printed piece of artwork.

And very impressive it is too...
Gillian Welch album cover

I already had Gillian and David pegged as the kind of people who appreciate things being done in a traditional, non-digital style, so it didn't surprise me to discover they were keen on traditional, handmade crafts like small-scale letterpress printing.

I was really pleased to find this video about the process involved in printing 100,000 little pieces of art for an album cover...

And then I found that Gillian and David had made a little video about how to coffee-stain your CD insert to make it the 'antiqued' darker shade that they'd initially hoped the card they used would be!

I never thought I'd see a Gillian Welch and David Rawlings craft video! :D

Anyway, another craft-related discovery came when I got my hands on a signed copy of The Harrow & The Harvest poster at the Manchester gig (I only just nabbed one, they were sold out by the interval!).

The poster is another lovely letterpress print...
Gillian Welch Harrow and Harvest poster
(The photo of it on my sofa doesn't really do it justice but I haven't had the chance to get it framed yet!).

This print was done at a different American company and I think I've tracked it down to one called Hatch Show Print in Nashville, which has been going since 1879.

This is a video about how they print these traditional-looking posters (Ade thinks they look like 'wanted' posters like you see in Westerns!) at Hatch Show Print...

I love the fact that cats are a big part of life at Hatch Show Print! :)

All the care and attention that went into the artwork for this wonderful album makes it worth waiting eight years for! :D

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Feltmaking courses at Hesta Scene...

I recently went on a couple of feltmaking courses with a lovely friend from work called Sue and we had a great time! The courses were held in the studio at Hesta Scene, a craft shop/gallery in Caldbeck, which is roughly north of the middle of Cumbria. 'Hesta' is a Cumbrian dialect word meaning 'have you', so 'Hesta Scene?' is a variation of 'have you seen?'.

The studio is a lovely space (I always love being in a studio surrounded by wool!) and the other ladies on the course were so friendly. My friend Sue (on the right) had that happy smile on her face for the whole two days!
Felting workshop

The first course was beginners feltmaking... making a felted picture and a scarf in a day. I'm not really a beginner feltmaker but I'd seen photos of this kind of thing on the website...
Poppy felted wall hanging
and knew I'd be able to learn a lot from a tutor who's able to make such lovely felted pictures!

I took along a postcard for inspiration that I bought at an exhibition of Maggi Hambling's amazing wave paintings at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge last year. I was blown away by the paintings (many of which are HUGE and full of incredible colour and texture) and wished that I could have spent some time spinning or felting in the gallery, taking inspiration from the pictures. As it was, I just bought all the books and postcards that were for sale at the exhibition and felt slightly sad that none of them came close to reproducing the experience of seeing the paintings in real life :(

Anyway, enough moaning, this is the postcard that I took to the felt course...
Wave postcard
Its an oil painting called 'Rising wave'.

I laid out my fibres, mostly dyed Merino wool but with the odd bit of silk and a few Bluefaced Leicester fleece curls...
Wave picture before wetting
I loved how it looked at this point... it seemed a shame to get it wet!

But I carefully sprinkled it with hot soapy water and rubbed it through a net curtain so that the design didn't shift about. And then rolled and rolled and rolled it some more in the bamboo blind until I had this...
Wave picture after wetting and rolling
Its still quite wet in the picture above and I haven't got a decent dry photo of it yet. I'd like to get it framed so I'll get a picture of it then.

What I have got is a picture of it winning second prize at Lowick Show last Saturday in the 'item in any other craft not already specified' class!
Class number 79

Second place felt picture
I was really impressed that it got placed because I thought the judges might not know what it was, let alone think it was any good! :D

Anyway, back to the feltmaking... when we'd finished for the morning, me and Sue went to the Watermill Cafe just up the road for a delicious lunch and then came back to work on some felted lattice scarves.

Here's mine all laid out ready to cover with a net and sprinkle with hot soapy water...
Laying out a lattice scarf

And here's Sue doing the fun bit that comes after the rolling...
Sue throwing her felted scarf
The flinging! Very therapeutic! :D

Here's my finished scarf...
Lattice scarf
(Scarves are so hard to photograph well on a flat surface!)

All four of us on the course had such a great day that we wanted to do some more feltmaking as soon as possible, so we pestered Julie, our tutor, into putting on an extra nuno felting course especially for us! She was very obliging and organised one to take place just a few weeks later :)

In the morning we did some nuno samples on cotton muslin and silk chiffon so that we got an idea of how the wool bonded to the fabric and what the effect looked like.

Here's my cotton muslin sample...
Making a muslin nuno sample
I experimented with circles and lines made with some of my handspun yarn and areas of fleecy curls.

My silk chiffon sample was similar. Here are both finished samples (the silk one on top)...
Nuno samples
The crinkled textures in nuno felting are lovely. The wool fibres work their way through the weave of the fabric and then the fabric crinkles up as the wool shrinks during the felting process.

After another delicious lunch with Sue at the Watermill Cafe, it was time to make scarves. I must have been concentrating too much to take photos at this point because I only have one of my finished scarf, being modelled by one of the dress forms in the studio...
My nuno scarf on the dress form

I took another photo of it when I got home but it doesn't look as exciting flat...
Nuno scarf
Maybe scarf-making is a good excuse to invest in a dress form?! :)

Monday, 5 September 2011

Woad balls!

I've been meaning to blog about our visit to the woad centre in Norfolk. I'd read about Woad-inc in Selvedge magazine a long time ago (and wanted to check it out) but had forgotten about it until I saw it mentioned in one of the leaflets I picked up during our Norfolk holiday. Once I realised that we could take a little detour on the way home to call in, there was no stopping me!

Woad centre sign
Whoo! That's my kind of sign! :D

Woad is a natural dye plant that produces a lovely blue colour. There were some large self-seeded plants in seed outside the buildings (a good clue that we were in the right place!)...
Woad plant in seed

Inside the exhibition area were some beautiful woad-dyed yarns and fabrics and examples of finished articles of clothing dyed with woad (which I tried not to photograph closely because they are specially commissioned designs)...
Woad dyed yarns and fabric

There were lots of lovely shibori dyed silk scarves...
Woad dyed silk scarf
The silk seems to take the dye really well... each scarf was different but they were all stunning.

The people who run Woad-inc grow their own woad and make it into a dye powder using their own special method. They also make woad balls, which are intriguing looking things, a bit bigger than a tennis ball...
Woad balls

Woad balls were created as a way of preserving the woad leaf harvest for use when fresh leaves weren't available or just to store the woad conveniently until it was time to use it. In order to use them, the dried balls must be broken up (they're quite hard), dampened with water and then left in a heap to ferment for a fortnight. Apparently you only get the blue colour if the leaves are dried in a ball shape. Loose-dried leaves don't produce the colour. It must have been a real breakthrough when the woad-growers of the past found that out!

I was fascinated by a display of old photographs showing the stages in traditional woad ball production...
Traditional woad production display
Apparently the photos were taken in Lincolnshire, as quite a lot of woad was grown there.

This handsome horse with a cart-load of woad leaves is standing outside a thatched roller house, where the leaves were crushed using kind of rolling chopping machine, which was powered by another horse...
Horse and cart of woad by roller house

The balls were formed by hand from the crushed leaves and then stacked on racks, where they fermented slightly and then dried out...
Placing woad balls in drying houses

There's nothing like a bit of Lincolnshire-based textile-related history to get me enthused, so I bought some woad balls in the shop and was given a basic instruction leaflet and a website to check out for more information.

The website is Jenny Dean's Wild Colour, which is a great resource for natural plant dyeing. A quick search for 'woad balls' on the website pulls up several posts about Jenny's experiments dyeing with woad balls... I just need to have a read and then I'll (hopefully) be ready to carry out my own woad ball dyeing! I'll keep you posted on my progress! :D

Monday, 1 August 2011

Windmills and wildlife in, er... Norfolk!

I've already done a blog post called windmills and wildlife in Lincolnshire, from our recent holiday to Norfolk, via Lincolnshire... but it must have been a theme for the holiday because we had a day of windmills and wildlife once we were in Norfolk too!

This time the windmill was a wind powered water pump rather than a flour grinding mill like the one we saw in Lincolnshire.

Horsey Windpump is a National Trust property overlooking Horsey Mere in the Norfolk Broads national park...
Horsey Windpump 2
Sadly (in my opinion) it seems to be pronounced 'Hor-zee' rather than 'Horse-ee'. Its a nice enough place though and you can walk right up to the top to take in the views across the broads.

Inside the windpump there were some great old photographs of local people from the past, such as this reed cutter...
Gathering reeds on Horsey Mere
Apparently there's currently a drive to get people cutting reeds in the traditional way again, and apprentices are being sought to learn the trade on the Norfolk Broads. It'll be a nice new career for someone, although the job sounds like very hard work and you probably spend most of the day with wet feet.

I got myself a nice Horsey Windpump tea towel (my second windmill-related souvenir tea towel!)...
Horsey Windpump tea towel

Once we'd checked out the windpump, we went for a wander around Horsey Mere and saw several amazing Swallowtail butterflies! They were huge! Flapping around the reeds and going about their business. I'd only ever seen one passing by briefly last time we were in Norfolk so it was a treat to be able to watch them for longer and really appreciate them. No photos unfortunately... they were a bit too far away and didn't stay still for long!

Next stop was Hickling Broad national nature reserve, which is managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Most of it looks like this...
Boardwalk view
Mmm... reed-beds! :)

There was an interesting selection of thatched bird hides...
Long thatched hide

And the Wildlife Trust runs guided boat trips around the reserve, so we booked ourselves on one of those and had an educational ride in a lovely boat...
View from the boat pick up point 2

We saw some other people out on the water, enjoying the sun in their impressive yacht...
Yacht on Hickling Broad
But I bet they weren't learning all about Egyptian geese like we were!


Friday, 15 July 2011

The people inside The Book of Forgotten Crafts Part 3...

This is the last of my posts about a book I bought called The Book of Forgotten Crafts. When I bought the book, I realised that I knew some of the people inside it (which was a new experience for me!) so I decided to blog about each of them.

Part 1 was all about local oak swill basket maker Owen Jones and part 2 was about wooden bowl maker Robin Wood. This third instalment is about Jane Meredith, who is a multi-talented fibre artist living in Herefordshire.

Here are some of Jane's pages from the book...
Dyer and felt maker

Jane runs plant dyed wool courses from her home by the river Wye and also teaches feltmaking, hand spinning and weaving using a peg loom or a Brinkley loom. I was lucky enough to go on one of Jane's three day workshops with my Mum in July 2007 and we had a great time playing with rainbows of lovely naturally dyed wool!

On the first day we dyed up mountains of fleece in an array of bubbling dyepots, many of which were full of plants from Jane's amazing dye garden (I'd love to have my own dye garden one day!)...
One of the other flower dyepots

We labelled each piece of fleece with a peg, which was marked with the mordant used and the name of the dye plant...
One of the flower dyepots
This helped us to identify which combinations produced which results and we each put together a sample card to take home.

The dyed fleece looked lovely hung out to dry...
Dyed wool drying line 1

Jane also prepared an indigo dyebath for us to try, which resulted in a lovely washing line of blues and greens...
Indigo drying line

On the second day we used some of the fleece we'd dyed to weave a woolly mat on a peg loom. Peg looms are very simple, but can produce lovely results, especially if you're weaving with beautifully textured, curly fleece...
Peg looming in progress

Wool on the peg loom
Mmm... curls! :)

The third day was spent doing a variety of things. We could have a go at feltmaking in Jane's kitchen...
Making felt in Jane's kitchen

Or weaving with a Brinkley loom, which is another simple-but-effective kind of loom. The main element of this loom is the ingenious heddle, which is turned over after each row of weaving to raise and lower each set of warp threads so that the weft threads can pass between them...
Mum's shed

Putting the warp onto the Brinkley loom is great fun... it's fast, energetic and involves the use of a broom handle! I love the results you can get from this kind of loom. You can go for a full-on, fleecy texture sensation, like my friend Liz did with hers...
Close up of Brinkley loom scarf

Or use yarn for the weft, which results in a more sedate, lighter and smoother fabric...
Close up of Brinkley loom weaving

A few people also had a go on a drop spindle and I think it was through watching Jane spinning alpaca fibre on her spinning wheel in the evenings that I became interested in learning how to spin :)

The venue for Jane's courses is so lovely, right next to the river Wye...
Basket of curly grey wool

View from my bedroom window

It was a fantastic few days! :D

If you'd like to see some more photos from the workshop I went on, the full set is on Flickr here.

If you're interested in trying a plant dyed wool course, check out the workshops page on Jane's website. Or if you're at a fibre festival of some kind, keep an eye out for Jane's colourful stand, where you're likely to find her demonstrating how to use a Brinkley loom, like she was at Woolfest this year...
Jane Meredith weaving
(Jane's got a handy list of diary dates for shows and talks on her website here).